Sins of a Solar Spymaster #81: Painful Lessons - How the South was Lost
This summer witnessed the outbreak of a massive bloc-level conflict centered on the galactic southwest - Delve, Querious and Period Basis - the Fifth Delve War. The aggressors were the Clusterf*** (Goonswarm and its allies in the Northwest, often called the CFC in polite company) with the Honey Badger Coalition (TEST, Pandemic Legion, and their allies) against the Southern Coalition (or SoCo) led by Against All Authorities, with Red Alliance, Nulli Secunda, and many, many others on the defensive. More than fifty thousand characters were involved on each side of this conflict, and the combined forces were roughly equal in power. Commentators anticipated a war of attrition that would last for months, but this did not happen - the Southern Coalition failed and imploded amidst a storm of recrimination midway into the Delve conflict, leaving Querious and Period Basis to fall to the CFC/HBC with no resistance. What errors did the SoCo make that turned Delve 2012 into such a rout?
Prior to the outbreak of war, Delve and Period Basis were held by Nulli Secunda and Vera Cruz alliance, with some space shared with Red Alliance (RA), which held Querious. TEST, based in Fountain, began attacking Nulli space by staging out of NPC Delve with Pandemic Legion (PL). In the early stages of the conflict, the fights were between TEST/PL and Nulli/RA, but when the HBC began winning against the Delve residents, Nulli and RA reached out to Against All Authorities (-A-) for help from neighboring Catch, which brought -A-, Red Overlord, and the rest of the SoCo into the war. With the HBC now outnumbered by the deployment of the SoCo, the quest for good fights escalated into a full-blown bloc war as the CFC deployed from the northwest to counteract the SoCos intervention.
The SoCo initially staged their defense of Delve from C3N, a conquerable station, but soon moved into 319 in NPC Delve out of concerns that C3N could be captured. 319 were almost adjacent to the CFC/HBC staging systems of KFIE, F20Y, and 1DH; where the CFC/HBC had three stagers, the SoCo had all their forces in one station. As hostilities escalated, the SoCo found themselves regularly camped into 319 and unable to form up properly; the CFC/HBC was never unable to form due to their distributed staging. A Pandemic Legion spy in Red Alliance was activated and sov removed in 9CG, Red Alliances capital station in Querious; this debacle took RA out of the war, trapping the assets of RA combat pilots. With the SoCo mired in 319 and 9CG lost, the CFC/HBC applied relentless siege pressure on Nulli Secundas now-evacuated capital of C3N. When Nulli Secunda had lost all of their space, they announced that they were leaving the SoCo while blaming Against All Authorities for abandoning their allies. Effective SoCo resistance ended after this, and all three regions were rapidly conquered by the CFC/HBC; Nulli Secunda, Red Alliance, and Vera Cruz lost their homes, with TEST relocating its home from Fountain to Delve. Why did this happen, and what can we learn from it?
Strategic Passivity: Defensive wars in EVE are won by outlasting and exhausting the attackers, and never ceding ground without a fight. When the CFC/HBC began taking stations in Delve, the SoCo gave up the systems and made no efforts to retake them. Every system that the CFC/HBC won could have been SBUd and sieged nightly by the SoCo to make the conquest of Delve as slow and painful as possible, but because the SoCo ceded ground, the CFC/HBC was able to focus entirely on the offensive instead of being forced to defend their gains.
Capital Dysfunction: The Dominion sovereignty system is based on grinding structures; one cannot win a sov war without massed capital and supercapital ships, otherwise the tedium of shooting I-hubs and stations will dissipate your forces. Despite having a capital fleet to match that of the CFC/HBC, the SoCo refused to risk them to defend Nulli and RA. By refusing to deploy capitals, the SoCo de facto ceded three regions before a shot was fired. As there wasnt a threat of SoCo capitals to act as a deterrent, the CFC/HBC capital group was free to form ever-larger fleets with which to sweep the SoCo aside.
Hubris: When simple overconfidence takes on a delusional aspect, it becomes hubris; the SoCo fleet commanders - despite losing stations and fearing to risk capitals - considered themselves to be utterly superior to the CFC/HBC forces, constantly rubbishing their foes capabilities and focusing purely on their pilot kill/death ratios. The SoCo deployed expensive yet suboptimal fleets composed of Lokis and were massacred repeatedly, refusing to adapt their tactics and fleet compositions in the face of failure. This hubris removed any possibility of the SoCo recognizing and correcting their strategic errors; even after the war was lost, some SoCo pilots bragged that because they had only lost three regions and not their entire homeland, they had actually won the war.
Misapplication of Force: When the SoCo didnt need numbers, they had numbers; when they needed as many ships as possible, their forces werent there. At one point the SoCo mustered 700 pilots to destroy a SBU - a strategically trivial task best suited for a mop-up crew - yet when their main conquerable staging system, C3N, was assaulted, they couldnt find more than 400 for its final timer.
Staging Errors: The CFC/HBC staged in three separate locations in unconquerable NPC Delve stations: F20Y, 1DH, and KFIE. They remembered the last time a major bloc war had broken out in Delve, which ended with Band of Brothers humiliated and camped into the PR- station 23/7 for more than a month while their empire burned around them. The SoCo moved every one of its alliances into a single NPC Delve station, 319, which was promptly camped around the clock, making it difficult for the SoCo to form for ops, even though this wasnt a PR-style hellcamp. Multiple adjacent staging systems allowed the CFC/HBC to break camps on each others stations, while the SoCo was always at risk of being caged without a hope of an allied bailout.
Missing Command Structure: The leaked Skype logs of the SoCo command channels makes it clear that the SoCo not only failed to have a coherent command structure to coordinate ops, but that they specifically avoided creating one out of hubris, stating that they dont need a Mittani. These Skype logs are fascinating, as they show the highest level of a coalition at war squabbling like children, even though tens of thousands of pilots are relying on them for leadership and the defense of their homes. The most powerful alliance in the SoCo, Against All Authorities, was expected to lead and coordinate the efforts, but -A- not only did not lead, but made it clear that -A- didnt care if their allies lost their space. By contrast, the CFC/HBC warmasters worked in close concert with one another coordinating targets, with dedicated staff diplomats ensuring that infighting did not break out.
Due to the exceptional level of penetration of the SoCo command by CFC/HBC spies, we have an impressive archive of data showing exactly how the SoCo failed. What is surprising is not that the SoCo lost, but the fact that their mistakes were so banal and elementary. The idea that a bloc would go to war in EVE without an aggressive defense, the use of capital ships, and without a command structure is jaw-dropping; such mistakes might have been commonplace in 2006, but the level of competition at the bloc level has evolved substantially over the years. If Delve 2012 is any indication, the SoCo is lucky that what remains of their bloc lives in space that is so poor that no one deigns to take it from them.