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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #86: The Asakai Meltdown

Posted Tue, Feb 05, 2013 by The Mittani

The Battle of Asakai was the most monumental event in recent EVE history - an unexpected, unplanned supercapital engagement in a backwater lowsec system snowballed out of control into a 3000-person maelstrom of carnage that lasted for more than five hours. There were no strategic goals or objectives whatsoever; it began by accident and was accelerated by error after compounded error. The entire supercapital and capital might of the CFC was almost extinguished, tossed away for nothing like a used paper cup. When the butchery was over and the CFC had lost three Titans, five or more supercarriers, more than forty dreadnaughts and thirty carriers, the leadership described the losses in hushed tones of ‘only’ having lost that much - because it could have been so, so much worse. Calling Asakai a ‘battle’ implies an equality between the forces engaged; in more sober terms, it was a massacre.

Fleet

The real question of Asakai is this: how on earth did it happen? The simplistic explanation - that the CFC fleet commander accidentally jumped his Titan into Asakai instead of bridging his support fleet - is only part of the story. The truth is that the circumstances which led the CFC into Asakai resemble nothing so much as the meltdown of a nuclear reactor or the crash of a commercial jetliner. Nuclear reactors melt down and airplanes crash not when one solitary mistake or malfunction occurs, because both planes and reactors rely on a number of redundant safeguards to prevent disasters. When a meltdown or crash happens, it is because a whole host of failures across a number of systems have taken place simultaneously, overwhelming all the safeties. EVE coalitions guard their capital and supercapital assets jealously, and a number of safeguards and rules of common use are put in place to ensure that these ships are not wasted pointlessly. For the CFC to become so embroiled in Asakai so rapidly over so little was like a reactor meltdown on a coalition level: a series of oversights, mistakes, and failures that stacked up into the largest yet most pointless fight in recent history.

So: What went wrong? What can we learn from Asakai, so that these kind of mistakes are not repeated?

Bad Intel: The stage for Asakai was set when Pearcy, a fleet commander in Fatal Ascension, notified Dabigredboat (who would later lead the CFC fleet to its doom) that there was an opportunity in Black Rise lowsec to hotdrop some of the locals at a tower which was coming out of reinforced. This was factually correct. What made this Intel poisonous was the fact that the ‘locals’ in question had a habit of summoning Pandemic Legion supercaps, and in fact had helped kill three Nyx supercarriers under Pearcy’s personal command with PL help earlier in the month.

No Intel Sanity-Check: The full details of the planned drop were not shared with any CFC directors, only the fact that an opportunity for a gank would present itself. This secrecy was held for fear of spooking the targets in case of a director-level leak, which is a laughable concern in hindsight. Dabigredboat was ignorant of Pearcy’s recent losses of supercaps to PL in Black Rise earlier that month, but they were a significant event that was known to the rest of the CFC command structure. If Dabigredboat had shared his communications with Pearcy with his fellow directors, the op would have been scrubbed: no sensible FC would follow blindly into such an obvious trap.

Battle of Asakai

Fleet Prep, Hictors: A lowsec gank must rely on Heavy Interdictors and their focused points to hold down the enemy supercapitals, as in lowsec neither interdictor bubbles or Titan doomsdays function. Despite planning a hotdrop, the CFC fleet brought a bare handful of Hictors along. By contrast, a properly-prepared gank often has 15+ Hictors ready to tie down their prey with replacements available in supercarrier and carrier ship bays to account for attrition. When the initial battle was engaged, the CFC forces outnumbered Pandemic Legion supercaps by a factor of two, but because so few CFC hictors were present, the PL supercaps were able to warp easily to safety when they began to take damage. The lack of hictors on the CFC side explains why the CFC was only able to kill a single hostile supercarrier, where the many tens of hictors on the anti-CFC side took pinned down eight or more CFC supers by the end.

Doctrinal Prep, Hictors: A supercarrier has a massive ship bay which allows it to store more than twenty Heavy Interdictors; carriers likewise can hold a number of fitted hictors. While the CFC regulates ship fittings for carriers and supercarriers - fits must meet a minimum quality, or the ships will not be reimbursed upon loss - CFC capital doctrines merely ‘suggest’ that supercarriers and carriers bring fitted dictors and hictors, rather than requiring this. A battle-ready supercarrier costs ~30b isk; five fitted hictors in the bay of each supercarrier would cost a mere 1.5 billion additional isk. ‘Suggestion’ meant that the CFC supercarriers went into battle with their Ship Maintenance Bays essentially useless, and thus unable to counteract the fleet commander’s error in failing to bring enough hictors.

Fleet Prep, Node: The plan for the Asakai drop was made more than 24 hours in advance, which was ample time to file a node reinforcement petition with CCP to ensure that the system was on a proper node. A reinforced node operates much faster; had the CFC filed the petition, the first hour of the Asakai fight may have only taken ten minutes in Time Dilation, instead of immediately stretching to 10% TiDi. This potentially could have allowed the CFC forces to engage, win with local superiority (if they had brought enough hictors) and disengage before waves of hostile reinforcements arrived. As it stood, the Asakai node was not reinforced despite the FC planning the op in advance, and when the CFC fleet jumped into the system time slowed to a crawl, allowing the rapid hostile reinforcement which turned the engagement into a rout.

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