[Thank you, all my loyal readers who have sent me encouraging notes and donations of various sorts. Be assured I have not abandoned this blog!]
Unbeknown to many a hapless pilot in New Eden, there is a whole world of intrigue lurking in space, undetected by your ship's scanners. I'm speaking of the world of cloaked ships.
Just about any spaceship is able to equip a cloaking device. My "friend" uses a cloaking device on his Bestower, hoping thereby to escape gate camps when hauling a load through pirate-infested lowsec. In fact, many a hauler faced on jumping through a gate with a gang of pirates in heavily-tanked combat vessels has mastered this art: (1) Align toward the destination stargate or space station; (2) Immediately engage the microwarpdrive or afterburner; (3) Immediately engage the cloaking device. For a few precious moments, your ship is invulnerable to being locked by the enemy, even as you slowly gain speed approaching that needed to warp. But at any moment your cloaking device will shut off the microwarpdrive; as soon as that happens, (4) Disengage the cloaking device and issue the command to warp. Aligned and at speed, with any luck at all your hauler will be able to warp away before the pirates can lock and tackle.
But I digress. We can disregard any number of haulers in the universe cloaking for a few seconds to get away from gate camps. Similarly, we can set aside the smart miners and ratters that, at the first sign of a stranger in the solar system, warp to a safe spot and cloak for the duration.
You see, many a space pilot has died because he did not realize the apparently empty solar system he was traversing held invisible stalkers. Right now, as you read this, a scout for some pirate corporation could be approaching your ship, transmitting your location to his gang so they can warp in on top of you. Nowhere is safe--not a deadspace complex, not a "safe spot," not even a deep safe spot. There are many ways clever pilots use cloaking devices to their advantage (e.g. Stealth Bombers or Black Ops battleships), but I want to talk about just two of them. Both types will be using a special "covert ops" cloaking device, which cloaks their ship not only under impulse power but also during warp.
First is the Force Recon pilot. This pilot and his high-tech cruiser is able to hunt you down just as any other cruiser pilot might--only you don't see him coming. By the time a Force Recon ship shows up on your overview, chances are he's in range and has already issued the order to lock you as a target. You might see a Rupture at a nearby planet as he tries to resolve the exact asteroid belt you're mining, giving you time to call in your drones and warp to safety--but you'll probably not see a Pilgrim until he's within his weapons system's optimal range, ready to unleash a firestorm of destruction on you from his deadly drones. You may view your odds against that battlecruiser as favorable--only to pound your console in helpless desperation as a Falcon appears on your overview and jams you blind. You may count on your speed tank to dance around your adversaries--but not when a Rapier reaches out and touches you. You may count on your range to keep you safe from your foes--until an Arazu suddenly appears, tackling you from across the battlefield.
Force Recon ships are the ace up the sleeve of many a small gang. In many parts of New Eden, "Because of Falcon" is a colloquial expression meaning something like, "We had every advantage, in numbers, in firepower, and in support--but then it all crashed down upon us." Fortunately, in spite of their unique advantages and their shared ability to use covert ops cloaking devices, Force Recon ships are not particularly hardy vessels. A prepared pilot or small gang does have a shot at killing a Force Recon vessel when it appears--and losing a Force Recon ship hits hard in the wallet. Furthermore, covert ops cloaking devices have the weakness that they interfere with targeting systems. For a few seconds after they disengage their cloak (the more skilled the pilot, the shorter the delay), they are unable to target anything smaller than a Class 5 star. Use those precious seconds wisely, whether to make your escape or neutralize the new threat.
The second sort of invisible foe I want to discuss is the Covert Ops pilot. His Covert Ops frigate is, frankly, weak and puny. All it really has going for it is its speed, agility, and invisibility. Unfortunately, that's often all it needs. You may think your hauler is slipping through a system unnoticed, but a Covert Ops pilot may already be shadowing you. You may think your trap is well-laid, not realizing a Covert Ops pilot is scant kilometers away from your backup in the next system, reporting to your supposed prey the composition of your fleet and the identity of your pilots. You may think life is "business as usual," never suspecting that a Covert Ops ship is sitting 50km from your home station, recording names of your corporation's pilots, what sorts of ships they command, and what time of day they typically sortie--information of great interest to that corporation that just declared war on yours. The "eyes" of a well-organized combat gang are often a team of Covert Ops pilots.
Did I say all a Covert Ops frigate has going for it is speed, agility, and invisibility? I should have added "and the ability to find you anywhere in space." For Covert Ops ships are purpose-made to sport scan probe launchers that can pinpoint your exact location, whether you're in mid-warp, at a safe spot, exploring a deadspace complex, or regrouping 1,000 km. off a stargate. Many ship classes are capable of fitting scan probe launchers, of course, but at such a cost that they become good for little else (though watch out for certain Force Recon pilots); Covert Ops ships, with little purpose in the first place other than to observe and report, fill that role even more excellently when among the information they can report is the location of your safe spot.
What frequently happens is a Covert Ops pilot picks up your ship on his on-board scanner, and quickly realizes you are not at any known celestial body. He determines your range by limiting his scanner to various limits until he knows at which setting you can be detected and at what range you cannot be detected. He notes the general direction you are in in relation to his location or the location of known objects. Next, he launches a flight of combat scan probes (perhaps warping someplace out of range of your own scanner, so you won't see him as the launch of his probes briefly decloaks his ship). Within just a minute or two, any competent scanner will have the ability to warp directly to your location.
Now, if that was all there was to the matter, this would not be such a big deal; in fact, most pirates would welcome the sudden appearance of a Covert Ops vessel within range of their weapons. The problem is that there is all too often a gang that goes along with the Covert Ops pilot, and when they show up close enough to read your ship's ID number with the naked eye, why, they're generally prepared to lock you, tackle you, and have their way with you--were it not so, they would not choose to warp to you in the first place.
I hope this tale has given you something to think about. The next time you lay a trap, but nobody takes the bait...the next time your hauler, full of valuable cargo, just happens to be the one that gets ganked while a moment before your scout reported the gate was clear and the two other haulers you jumped through with escape unmolested...the next time you're tempted to warp to a "safe" spot and set your ship on autopilot while you grab a bite to eat--well, take another look at local and think invisible.