Small Craft (Fighters/Gunships) can and do work, I point you to 5190684 by Yurch who probably has the best grasp on Carrier fleets at the moment. He’s put together an excellent build that is pretty much everything a Carrier based fleet should be. There are many other examples but I will concede that you pretty much need to restrict tractor beams to have a chance with a Carrier fleet.
It’s far too difficult to actually design a successful Carrier fleet though. You need to first of all be using Spincaster Engines and be sure that you don’t have any Fighters/Gunships bellow 3 speed, preferably a whole lot of them up above 4 or 5. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg - but it’s good to have some depth to the builds in GSB; I like that it takes a lot of work to eek out a little bit of something extra out of a fleet. It’s just a balancing act.
As far as Limpets go, let me just say it’s ridiculous that I’m getting spammed with giant colored circles that fill the entire screen whenever Limpets are in play.
The new beneficial Limpets are too slow to be effective with Fighters that are. You can see loads of them targeting your Fighters/Gunships all at once, and none make it in time before the ship either docks or is destroyed usually. Small Craft need to be making a U-turn and get lucky to be caught by these friendly Limpets.
Offensive Limpets are great in my opinion, but don’t hold a candle to Triple Tractor beams. To get them to work you need to utilize about 4 different things all at once - Destroyers with Target Painters, Cruisers with both types of offensive Limpets and Anti-Fighter Missiles. The Weight Limpet slows down Fighters enough for the Targeting Limpet and the Target Painters help cover the rest so that the Cruisers can keep their AA Missiles above 75% accuracy or so. This is a very effective way to cover Fighters but it’s extremely complex and expensive.
Meanwhile you could just put a Triple Tractor beam on every Cruiser and turn all your weapons into Anti-Air with one module.
I also have serious beef with the way Small Craft launch at the beginning of battle. GSB1 Fighters start where you place them if I recall, and I get that you want them to come out of the Carriers - really it’s awesome that they do in GSB2 but along with that change have come unintended consequences.
The sequence in which they launch at the start of the battle is very mysterious - it seems to be linked in some way or another to the sequence you deploy them before the battle, but not 1:1. If you drop all your slow double Torp Gunships down first - say 10 squads worth, and then your fast AA type squads after that, your 10 squads of slow Torpers will come out and start getting eaten alive before a single Dogfighter launches (usually). But it gets weird of course when you have more and more Carriers so I’m not totally clear on what the relationship is.
Finally my last and gravest point about Small Craft is that they crash the game. I hesitate to run past 2.0 speed when I’m facing Fighter fleets because I have some superstitious feeling that I have less of a chance of crashing. But in all my battles I can say for certain that Fighter fleets crash more - and it only makes sense, right? Limiting pilot quantity so that Challenges are more stable would be one extremely painful way to help this problem, but other than that I think it’s just basic math. Tons of Fighters means tons of interactions and if there’s a chance an interaction will throw a fatal error, you’re going to throw more.
I really wish I had a better report on Fighters and Gunships, but that’s how they seem to fit with the current meta.
-Small Craft are viable if Tractor Beams are disabled
-Friendly Limpets are NOT effective with Small Craft that are fast enough to be viable (but I can’t help but love them anyway!)
-Offensive Limpets ARE effective when used in concert with several other modules/ships (which may be too high for cost of entry)
-Tractor Beams (mainly the Triple) effectively turn any weapon into a high tracking 100% accuracy boss and are overpowered vs Small Craft
-Small Craft initial launch sequence is not communicated to the player and the sequence you deploy at Fleet Builder effects the battle
-GD bigass colored circles!
-GD game crashes more vs tons of Small Craft!