There’s an interesting challenge up right now that helps answer this question: #4931013 by Leutnant_Man. This is a pure fighter vs. fighter affair where you’re up against 18 full squadrons of Federation fighters. From what I can tell by looking at the .GSB file after the fact, it appears that it’s about 4 squadrons with no guns, just painters, and the rest with twin rockets, although at the time I thought they were all rocket/painters. Anyway, being new to the game and challenged by fighter combat, I took the opportunity to play this challenge many times with different combinations of fighters on my side. Because there’s about 300 fighters per side, you can get fairly good statistical results.
One note: Leutnant_Man’s fighters DO NOT “stick together”. I guess this is so the ones with the painters can get evenly mixed in with those without. I, however, always used the “stick together” order. I also had my guys on “last stand” orders so the cripples would continue to draw fire as long as possible, and I think the enemy did this as well although I’m not sure.
Anyway, first off, I tried what had been until that time my standard dogfighter, with a pulse laser. These lost about 2 to 1, much to my surprise. So I did that again and zoomed in close this time, which is when I noticed the rockets flying around. But I thought the flickering red lines were my own pulse lasers. See, I was using Federation hulls myself, so really couldn’t tell the difference between who was who. It wasn’t until I looked at the “by weapon” stats that I noticed I was facing rockets and painters.
Next I used my standard strafer, all speed and a laser cannon. I had more squadrons of these than the enemy because they’re so cheap. Despite their numbers, however, they got butchered while achieving very little. Hmmm, says I, these rockets are more effective than I’d been led to believe. I thought they were for killing ships, not dogfighting.
So at this point, I decided to make rocket/painters, which I’d never heard of before but which seemed to be invincible (not knowing I wasn’t fighting rocket/painters). And thinking that high speed was good, I played with the hulls of all races until I finally found the fastest possible rocket/painter, which used a Rebel hull. While this design was very much faster than the enemy, it proved a disappointment. In this fight, with equal total numbers and my guys sticking together, there was practically mutual destruction. The lead changed at every loss percentage and it looked like the winner would come down to a coin toss. However, when we were both down to about 15% I managed to hang onto a 2-3% edge until the end.
Finally, says I, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em. So, I changed back to Federation, made 18 squadrons of rocket/painters, and gave that a go. I figured this would surely be mutual destruction, given that the sides were the same (or so I thought at the time). And things WERE pretty much equal until we were both down to about 60%, at which point I started building up a lead that reached about 25% by the time I won. This happened consistently.
So, a few lessons here, although they’re situational due to the different orders.
Lots of twin rockets with a few unarmed painters, and everybody flying around at random, beats all laser-armed fighters sticking together.
This enemy also does well against formed rocket/painters, not losing by much.
Contrary to what I’d been led to believe, the slower I was compared to the enemy, the better I did. Here are the comparative speeds:
My Federation rocket/painters (which I was so sure needed a power plant to power the painter, I didn’t even notice at the time that it really doesn’t)
Engine 3 + power plant = 2.11 (with no power and Engine 2, you can get 2.51)
My Rebel Achilles rocket/painter (engine 3, no power): 2.73
Enemy Federation rocket/rocket (engine 2): 2.93
Enemy Federation painter (engine 2): 3.40
So, why did all this happen? At 1st blush, you’d think this enemy would have been self-defeating in that, with each fighter going its own way and the enemy getting spread from edge to edge of the map, there’d have soon been blindspots in their coverage. But that didn’t seem to have happened. You’d also think that by luck of the draw, sometimes I’d have taken out most of the painters early on and then it would have been a rout in my favor. And I atleast also assumed that by keeping my guys together, I would have numerical superiority at the point of attack and ground the enemy down that way. But none of these things happened. Instead, contrary to the (admittedly little) wisdom I’ve so far received, the key difference in outcomes seems to be that the slower the launch platform compared to the target, the more accurate rockets are. Why?
As you can tell, I haven’t had much success dogfighting so far. Thus, my ships have had to fend for themselves. When I’m not a Parasite (damn, flak cannons are PURE EVIL), I’ve had pretty good luck with putting 2x CDLs, 2x ultraheavy armor, and an advanced armor repair on each cruiser. The nanobots keep the fighters from getting through the armor long enough for the 2x CDLs to take them out. But then I keep my cruisers packed as tightly together as possible to spam the enemy, and thus their defenses overlap.
I haven’t had any good experiences with tractor beams. Because my CAs are packed and cooperating, they usually tractor the same fighters instead of each his own. Also, I find the tractor option cost-prohibitive in most ways. It works out like this:
2x CDLs = 2 hardpoints, 14KW, $192
1x UHA = 1 space, 0KW, $162
Total: 2 hardpoints, 1 space, 14KW, $354 (I always get an advanced armor repair anyway)
1x SCTB = 1 hardpoint, 15KW, $142
2x CPL = 2 hardpoints, 14KW, $246
Total: 3 hardpoints (of which I always want more), 29 KW (which might required a bigger generator so more $$$), and $388 (higher base price)