Assault Ships -- commonly called Assault Frigates -- are tech 2 variants of each faction's tech 1 combat frigate.
Assault Ships are a Tech II class of ship, and have significant manufacture and training requirements, compared to their Tech I counterparts. (See Frigates)
Assault Ships are tech 2 variants of each faction's tech 1 combat frigate. The tech 2 Assault Frigates have higher shields or armor, extended hardpoints, as well as increased power grid and CPU output. In addition to the direct tech 2 upgrades, Assault Ships are also given tech 2 resistances. As such, they mitigate damage much better than their tech 1 parents and are much more durable for it. However, Assault Frigates also are about twice the mass of their tech 1 parents, thus greatly lowering their manoeuvrability and speed.
Assault Frigates come in two vintages -- tacklers, also serving as solo'ers, and gunboats, serving as max damage in gangs. Tacklers generally have expanded mid slots for Electronic Warfare modules such as Warp Scramblers and Webifiers. They take these mids with the price of reduced firepower and generally fewer low slots. Gunboats, on the other hand, usually lack the mid slots in favor of expanded high slots for expanded firepower. As a general rule, Tacklers are better for solo and Gunboats for gangs, though each have their roles.
The Merlin-class combat frigate serves as the base for the Harpy and Hawk Assault Frigates. As with most tech 1 Caldari ships, Caldari Assault ships have very high shield capabilities. This, coupled with the fact that they have expanded medium hardpoints, makes them very powerful shield tanks. The downside to these ships is that they are just about the slowest of all the race's Assault Ships.
In general the Harpy is the preferred Assault Frigate for Caldari pilots. The reason for this is because of it's "Caldari Frigate" and "Assault Ship" skill bonuses. Each level of said skills increases the Optimal Range of Small Hybrid Turrets by 10%, which benefits multiply together to more than double the range of these weapons. Both skills maxed makes this ship a fearsome sniper. Using Small Railguns, the Harpy can stay a safe distance away and cause excellent damage. Because of this, they are noted for their ability to Gate Camp.
Similar in function to the Harpy, the Hawk is also designed for ranged combat, however it specializes in Missiles. The Hawk gains +10% Missile Velocity per rank of "Assault Ships" skill. This generally increases the distance a Missile can be fired by about 50%. On a second note, the Hawk also gains +5% to Shield Boosters per level of "Assault Ships", greatly increasing its survivability as a Shield Tank.
Building on the excellent Punisher Class frigate, the Vengeance and Retribution are considered the best Assault Frigates of any of the races by many pilots. As is Amarrian way, they are built around using Armor Tanking in lieu of Shield Tanking. Since both crafts have heavily modified Armor values, not to mention expanded low slots, they are without doubt the toughest of the Assault Frigates.
The Vengeance serves as the Amarr tackling ship. Featuring a 4/3/4 hardpoint layout, they can fit decent firepower, fit Scramblers and Webifiers, and still have enough low slots to complete their Armor Tanking. In addition, it is very flexible on how it balances it's firepower; it has up to 4 Launcher hardpoints and up to 3 Turret hardpoints.
However, the Vengeance has a lower damage output as well as lesser survivability than the Retribution. Featuring an impressive 5/2/5 hardpoint layout, the Retribution is built for all out combat. This extra firepower and tanking comes with a heavy price though -- the loss of any tackling equipment. Since the single mid hardpoint will have to be used for an Afterburner or MicroWarpDrive, the Retribution is rarely used solo. Supported in small gangs, however, it easily has the best survival to firepower balance.
Having a solid foundation in the Incursus Class combat frigate, the Gallente decided to upgrade to the Ishkur and Enyo Assault Frigates. These Assault Frigates are unique in their class as being the only ones to have any Drone Capacity. This follows in the Gallente combat designs well. While the ships themselves may be slightly less powerful than their brethren, the ability to bay Drones more than makes up for the loss. These Frigates are also more inclined toward Armor Tanking than Shields.
The Ishkur Assault Frigate is basically a small Drone Boat. Featuring a 25m3 drone bay natively, upgraded to 50m3 with max "Assault Ships" skill, this Frigate can really lay on the pain! Its hardpoints are also unique, using a 3/3/4 layout. However, it has 3 Turret hardpoints and 0 Launcher hardpoints, forcing the pilot to use guns for native offense.
In contrast, the Enyo focuses purely on offenses. Having an expanded 4/2/5 layout, the Enyo can pack a punch while still maintaining a solid Armor Tank. A single drone can be added into the mix for a little more usability.
Finally, the famous Minmatar Rifter has been polished and shined into the new Jaguar and Wolf Assault Frigates. As with all Minmatar ships, these ships focus on speed and firepower rather than true defenses. Being relatively weak in Armor and Shield compared to the other races Assault Frigates, speed must be capitalized on in order to survive. It should also be noted that the Jaguar and Wolf are the only Assault Frigates to have an inbuilt EM Resistance on their shields, somewhat making up for their lacking hitpoints.
The very popular Jaguar is an excellent tackler and is the fastest of all the Assault Frigates. Featuring a 3/4/4 hardpoint layout coupled with decent shields, the Jaguar can fit most all tackling module and still throw in a Shield Booster/Extender. The lower 3 slots are often fitted with Overdrives and Nano Structures to max out the Jaguar's already high speed. It should also be noted, for PvE Missions/Ratting, the Jaguar can achieve over 10,000 effective HP with the proper fitting, making it one of the more powerful survivable ships. However, such a fit is lacking for PvP.
The Jaguar's big brother, the Wolf is somewhat of an enigma. While it boasts decent Armor and Structure HP, it's resistances are so spread out many pilots have complained that they are "untankable". Without being able to boost specific lacking Resistances, Tanking is difficult. To make up for it, the Wolf does have a solid hardpoint layout of 4/2/5, allowing for a good all around fitting. It can have good armor reaching 2k, room for an Afterburner/MWD and some basic tackling, as well as enough high hardpoints making for a powerful offensive.
Issues and Arguments
While Assault Frigates certainly are powerful, there are some known issues and arguments against using them. Most arguments are, unfortunately, well founded. These issues have not stopped some Eve pilots who just enjoy Assault Frigates. These "Assault Frigate Enthusiasts" are generally avidly loyal to their faction/fit and will stand by them in hell or high water.
Many pilots disavow Assault Frigates simply because they have too much mass for their size. Having such a huge mass leads to slow acceleration and max speed, making it difficult to fly an Assault Frigate fast enough to effectively Speed Tank. Coupled with the fact that most Assault Frigates cannot effectively Tank high damage anyways, most pilots think that Assault Frigates are "bugged".
The counter argument is, however, that Assault Frigates were never intended to Speed Tank, in fact not tank at all. While the idea of not taking damage or acting as a support frigate looks good on paper, many pilots feel that that they are built incorrectly and should emulate more their Interceptor brethren.
The Webifier Engima
Stemming from the mass problems and speed issues comes the Webifier Enigma. Since Assault Ships cannot really rely on Speed tanking to get them through combat, they must rely on Shield or Armor. This, however, puts exceptional strain on their resources. As the Assault frigate was designed for all out combat, maximizing damage, every precious hardpoint taken for use for defenses detracts from the Assault Frigates purpose. This is also a problem when you look at the Webifier; since Speed is generally a large asset to protection, most larger ships can simply Web and destroy an Assault Frigate easily. This put pressure on the pilots to shoot for Sniper builds rather than Berserker builds.
Assault Frigates are material intensive. As such, though they are supposed to cost around three million or so ISK base, they end up costing more than ten million. This has torn the community -- many pilots think that this cost -- two to three times the cost of a Cruiser -- makes them worthless, while others think that the investment for a Tech 2 ship is well worth it.
Tech 2 Modules
Undoubtedly the best modules need to be fitted to the Assault Frigates for maximum value in combat. This is another cost issue. Even calculating the ships base cost at ten million ISK, adding necessary Tech 2 modules and fitting can be very cost prohibitive, the resulting fitting costing many times over the cost of the ship.
In line with the Tech 2 Module problems, fitting even Tech 1 rigs onto an Assault Frigate can cost more than the base costs plus Tech 2 modules combined. Rigs are very expensive, yet very powerful, and as such make the Assault Frigate even more expensive compared to other more economical options such as Cruisers or even Battlecruiser.
Assault Ships are one of the more skill intensive ships to fly. Since they are generally more eclectic in their use of modules than other ships, or for that matter their tech 1 parents, it takes a long time to develop the skills to use them.
Following in that suit, being able to fly them and being able to fly them well are two different things. Many skills need to be maxed to level V in order to fit an Assault Ship properly. On the upside, Heavy Assault Ships, also knows as HACs, have all the same skill requirements plus some as the Assault Ships. Since HACs are very popular ships for Pirating and PvP, Assault Ships end up getting trained anyway.
Additionally, the two primary skills required for Assault Frigate piloting is Engineering V and Mechanic V. These two skills, while taking some time to get to their full extent, are very useful for any craft and are often trained anyway.
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