The Blackbird: Death By Electronic Warfare
Why Fly The Blackbird?
The blackbird is an electronic warfare specialized Caldari cruiser that fills a support role in PVP fleets. It tends to cost around two million isk in an area with a healthy economy. In addition to the excellent tactical advantage that it offers for such a low price, it is also one of the best PVP options for new players to pursue. This is because the skills needed to fly it effectively take weeks rather than months to train. The nature of the ECM electronic warfare used by the blackbird is such that it acts as a force multiplier when used to obtain ewar superiority against enemy fleets, allowing otherwise outclassed fleets to obtain victory.
Blackbirds are especially appealing to newer players that are interested in making a difference in fleet fights, but have not played for long enough to get into bigger or more specialized ships.
This is a very newbie-oriented guide to the nuts and bolts of fitting and flying the blackbird. I have tried to include as much exposition as possible so that the reader will understand the rationale underlying various decisions.
As with all ship fittings, a blackbird pilot must make several choices, and every choice involves a trade-off. There is no one "right way" to fit any ship, and it is always better to custom-tailor a ship fitting to the exact circumstances that it will be facing. With that in mind, I present the following general fitting outlines and the explanations for those choices.
-3 Assault Missile Launcher I
-1 Salvager I
In the high-slots should be missile launchers, as they do not require capacitor or much attention, and they are usually the weapon system of choice for Caldari ships. The choice is between the following three missile systems (weapon ranges are skill-based and approximate):
Heavy Missile Launcher: A heavier, longer-range (~37km) launcher for shooting cruiser-sized or larger targets.
Heavy Assault Missile Launcher: A close-range (~9km), high damage launcher for shooting cruiser-sized or larger targets.
Assault Missile Launcher: A medium-range (~20km), low damage launcher that specializes in shooting fast frigates. Because this is also the optimal weapon system for shooting at the ships that are most likely to "tackle" a blackbird and turn it into a pretty explosion, this is what I recommend fitting. It is also the best system for dealing with drones, which are a significant threat to blackbirds even when their enemies are jammed.
If one really is not worried about a blackbird's longevity, a pilot may opt for heavy missiles in order to add a very small amount of damage support that will be able to reach out to a decent enough range to perhaps hit an enemy. In reality, a blackbird is not going to dish out enough damage to turn the tide in any battle, so my advice is to view the missiles as a last-ditch tool for self-preservation, rather than a contributor to the total damage output of a fleet.
That Extra High-Slot
The "extra" high-slot that cannot be used for missiles may be used for whatever a pilot likes. Consider it a bonus. Depending on skills and how much room for fitting is left over once everything else is in place, the module may need to be offline. Believe it or not, this is all right. If the module is only going to be used outside of combat and danger, a combat module or two can be off-lined to free up enough CPU and grid for its usage, and then re-onlined once the need has passed. Options for fitting this extra module include:
Salvager I: Newer players often have income flow problems. Salvaging the debris leftovers of a huge battle can provide a delicious isk infusion for even veteran players, making this a strong choice.
Cynosural Field Generator I: If a blackbird pilot is in a corporation or alliance large enough to have capital ships, this rather pricey module can be used to allow allied capital ships to jump to the battlefield. Extra "cynos" are always appreciated by groups that use capital fleets. On the other hand, if there are not capitals waiting on stand-by, this module will not be useful.
Medium Remote Armor Repair System I: "Armor reps," as these are sometimes called, are always in demand after a fight. They save money and time, depending on where one is fighting, and allow a blackbird pilot's friends to prepare for the next fight. Note that these cannot be used to repair the ship that is equipped with them, they are an entirely teamwork-oriented module. In areas that have safe stations to dock in, these are less important.
-1 10mn Microwarpdrive
-5 ECM modules of various types
The Microwarpdrive, or "MWD" as it is commonly called, is the single most prevalent module type in PVP. It increases ship speed to five times what it normally is, but at a tremendous cost of capacitor, fitting space, and increased signature radius. Signature radius is a rough estimate of how big a ship is. The larger a "sig" the more damage a ship will take from missiles or turrets, and the faster other ships lock onto it. Despite these drawbacks, the MWD is essential for getting ships into position for fighting, escaping enemies, and approaching targets.
On a blackbird, the MWD is needed for getting to proper ranges around a gate before a fight, running away from potential threats that are getting too close, and maintaining the desired distance from a battle so that it can jam as much as possible without being too close to the action. Because of the high cost of using the module, blackbird pilots should take care to only use it when necessary. The technique of occasionally turning on and off a Microwarpdrive (or its lesser cousin, the Afterburner) is called "pulsing," and is a valuable technique for saving capacitor. Alternatively, an Afterburner (a.k.a. "AB") may be used. This module only doubles ship speed, but does not carry any of the penalties that MWDs do
The ECM modules are the most important part of the fitting. It is recommended that a blackbird be fit with only two races of jammers. If a pilot fits one or two ECM modules for each race, he is likely to get confused. If a pilot fits all multispectral ECM modules, he is crippling his effectiveness. But if he picks two races to victimize, fits accordingly, and manages his jams properly, he is likely to keep two or three ships of those races jammed more or less constantly for an entire battle.
I usually choose to jam Minmatar and Amarr ships, because the former are so popular in PVP, and the latter is presently undergoing something of a renaissance. Many ECM users will fit Caldari for the purpose of disabling enemy ECM ships and gaining electronic warfare superiority. There is no wrong choice here, really, just preference.
If at all possible, use tech two or named versions of the jamming modules. Pilots using tech one ECM modules will likely find themselves having capacitor problems, and making due with less range.
Optionally, this fitting may be altered by swapping out an ECM module for a Sensor Booster I (or better). This will increase the speed at which targets are locked, and also the maximum range at which they may be targeted. These bonuses are useful because blackbirds need to jam targets before too much damage is inflicted, and to switch targets as quickly as possible amidst the chaos of battle. The targeting range bonus is useful because when used with decent skills, ECM modules can actually be effective at distances farther than the Blackbird can normally lock. Sensor Boosters may also be used with scripts, which specialize the module in solely lock speed or targeting range. The targeting range script is particularly useful if a Blackbird pilot wishes to jam from as far away from a battle as possible, in order to decrease the amount of risk to which it is exposed.
-Signal Distortion Amplifier
-800mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
The signal distortion amplifier, or "SDA" as it is occasionally abbreviated, is a critical module for any ECM-using ship. It increases the range and effectiveness of ECM weapons by 10%. Think of it like a damage-increasing module, except instead of additional damage it yields a higher probability of achieving a successful jam. It is possible to fit two of them on a single blackbird, but the plates improves survivability so drastically that it is recommended for any situation that contains even a possibility of risk.
Most Caldari ships are at their best when they are shield tanking. The blackbird, however, needs its mid-slots so much that it is better off armor tanking and relying on ECM to defend itself. The "Rolled Tungsten" plates are the "best-named" variety, meaning that of the several kinds of non-tech two, non-faction plates that are available, it is the best. And it is priced accordingly, so it may be worth downgrading to a lesser plate type on a budget blackbird. The rolled tungsten offers a 4200 armor hit point boost, which is a significant improvement over the tech one steel plate 3000 hit point bonus, especially when resistances are taken into account.
Because the blackbird does not have enough spare low-slots to fit any armor hardeners, it is stuck with the inherent armor resistances, meaning that it will take the most damage from ships that do explosive damage. Explosive damage is usually dealt by projectiles fit on minmatar ships, or by certain drones, so be careful.
I want to especially stress that the armor is not there to let a blackbird take a pounding. The purpose of fitting armor plates is to impart a few more seconds to jam a tackling ship and warp out. Armor buys time, but ECM is life.
-2 Particle Dispersion Projector I
There are several excellent rig options for blackbirds, and the price of medium rigs is low enough that even newer players should consider shelling out for them. As of this writing, the highly recommended Particle Dispersion Projector I rigs cost about 600,000 isk, apiece, making them eminently affordable. Each of these rigs increases the optimal range of all ECM modules by +20% on the ship that is rigged with them, and subtracts -10% from the maximum shield hit points of that ship. This penalty is reduced depending on how high a pilot's Electronics Superiority Rigging skill has been trained and, in any case, is unimportant because this fitting relies on armor rather than shields. Also, note that there is a "stacking penalty" when using two of this sort of rig. This means that there are diminishing returns when using modules that yield an identical bonus. In this case, this means that the second module only yields an additional +17.4% optimal range, instead of +20%. This is still more than enough to make using the second rig worthwhile.
If a blackbird is fit with two of these rigs, it becomes important to gain additional targeting range. With decent skills and modules, ECM optimal range can extend to 75km or more, with falloff even farther. This will allow a blackbird to hover contentedly at the edge of a fight, selectively turning off enemy targeting systems to protect friendlies, and ready to warp out if it begins taking significant damage.
A blackbird pilot can either switch out an ECM module for a sensor booster as described above, or use a third rig. The Ionic Field Projector I rig offers a +20% maximum targeting range bonus, and penalizes a ship's shields yet again. This penalty is also subject to the stacking penalty mentioned above.
If a pilot opts for the Sensor Booster module rather than the rigs, he may care to invest in a Particle Dispersion Augmentor I rig, which offers a +10% ECM strength, the equivalent of fitting an additional Signal Distortion Amplifier.
All of the following skills are best trained to IV or higher. If one ends up flying Falcons or Rooks (the tech two versions of the blackbird) these skills should be trained to V whenever possible.
Electronic Warfare: In addition to being the pre-requisite skill to use ECM and train the more advanced ECM skills, this reduces the capacitor needs of the ECM modules themselves. When a blackbird has five ECM
Long Distance Jamming: For the blackbird, range is life, and the farther away it is from a fight, the safer it will be. This skill increases ECM optimal range (as well as the optimal range of Tracking Disruptors, Remote Sensor Dampeners, and Target Painters) by an amazing 10% per level. For a blackbird pilot, this skill should be trained to IV as soon as possible. This skill requires Electronics IV and Electronic Warfare IV.
Frequency Modulation: This skill increases the falloff of electronic warfare modules by 10% per level. Not quite as good as Long Distance Jamming, but it only requires Electronics III and Electronic Warfare II to train, so it may be better to pick it up first. Remember: jams can still happen in falloff, but it isn't as likely.
Signal Dispersion: Though more skill intensive because it requires Electronics V and Electronic Warfare IV, this skill imparts a 5% jammer strength bonus to all ECM modules per level. A 20% bonus (when trained to IV) is nothing to laugh at, and this skill is well worth it for ECM pilots.
Paths of Progression: Scorpions, Falcons, and Rooks
Once you have some proficiency with ECM in general and the blackbird in particular, it may be time to upgrade to a scorpion. The scorpion is a caldari battleship that is essentially a larger version of the blackbird. There was a time when they were so feared that they would be the first ship to be targeted in any battle. These days they are a little less intense, but can still use ECM from as far as 180km away. This is farther than many sniping battleships can hit. The scorpions is a potent addition to any fleet, and perhaps the cheapest battleship that can have a meaningful impact on battles fought at sniper ranges. The electronic warfare skills used are the same as a blackbird, with the addition of Caldari Battleship IV and perhaps a switch to cruise missiles.
If you really love ECM and are getting tired of flying tech one ships, there are a pair of tech two options based on the blackbird hull: The falcon is an amazing ship that can warp while cloaked (like a covert ops ship) and jam with greatly increased ECM strength, albeit from closer ranges than the blackbird. It is rather like a ghost, appearing out of nowhere to support a fleet, then vanishing. The other option is the rook. It is a nasty, close-range missile boat that pins targets down with ECM and the pours on the damage. Both of these ships have their place, and both excel at their roles, which are ewar support and ganking, respectively.
I Hope You Like Jamming With Me
Well, that should do it. Find some friends and take your blackbird out for a spin. Your friends can tackle and dish out damage while you protect them from afar. Blackbirds are cheap enough to buy and fit a few of them at a time without breaking the bank, and always come in handy. Remember not to panic, learn ship names and races, and jam your little heart out.