Honestly, what I want from the Formation order is SO different from what it does that I essentially had to stop using it. When I think “stay in this formation”, I mean that wherever I had put the selected ships relative to each other, I want to build a giant grid of I-beams locking them in place. The concept of a “leader” is meaningless (though I understand it’s needed for AI), I just want the ships to stay in the exact grid in which I placed them, so that (for example) I can have the long-range weapons in the back, the mid-range weapons in the middle, and short range weapons on the vanguard, and arrange them so that if you come in range of one ship, you come in range of all of the back rows as well. Yes, this would need some little AI tweaking (you want the fleet to continue advancing beyond the bare minimum range or else only one column of ships might be firing), and ideally the whole thing would pivot to face enemies, but rigidity is what I want.
Wishful thinking aside, the current “formation” command does horrible things to your AI. The “lead” ship springs forward to make sure that all enemies focus fire on it before the other ships (which started parallel to it) get in range to help out, and your whole fleet ends up in a horrible V-shaped duck-shoot. I tried several times to counteract this effect by starting the lead ship back further, or making it slower, before I realized that it’s just the way the behavior works there’s no way around it.
I would love to have a command that would actually maintain my tight layered or reverse-v formations. I think it would help my ability to field specialized ships, like carefully located anti-fighter or point-defense frigates (between my many cruisers).