Several times now I have been volunteered for salvaging duty in w-space, looting and clearing up the wrecks from the sites of specific Sleeper interest we visit. I could try to claim that my focussed skill training has made me best suited to salvaging, but being volunteered more suggests that salvaging is seen as a less glamorous task than the testosterone-fuelled destruction that produces the wrecks. And salvaging is much more of a necessity in w-space than k-space, as Sleepers have no bounties placed on them; the only profit is from loot and salvaged electronics. It is good, in that case, that I really enjoy flying a destroyer around a wreck-strewn site and cleaning up.
In my early days as a capsuleer, I learn about the tactical overlay, using it to visually determine ranges to hostile ships in relation to my targeting range and the effective range of various modules. Over time, as my experience and skill training improves, combat becomes rather static. Unless there is a specific object I need to approach, my systems can target and hit almost any ship in the battlespace, after which they generally approach me at speed anyway. The tactical overlay remains useful for its visual display of a three-dimensional area on a two-dimensional display, keeping my sense of aesthetics happy. But unless there are multiple separate groups of hostile ships, I could just as simply use the overview and pick targets at will.
Efficient salvaging of more than a handful of wrecks, on the other hand, relies on good use of the tactical overlay, and I strive for greater efficiency in tasks. The basic method of salvaging is to fit salvager modules and tractor beams, locking on to wrecks and tractoring them in to range of the salvagers. But although the hostile ships may all be in range of your weapons, their eventual wrecks can end up tens of kilometres apart, as combat occurs in an arc subtended from your fleet's position. Even NPC ships aren't strategically ignorant enough to cluster within 5 km of each other, putting them outside the range of salvaging modules, and beyond level two missions many wrecks will be mutually out of the 20 km range of tractor beams. An efficient path needs to be found to visit all the wrecks, to at least within 20 km, and this is where it starts to get interesting.
Before I leave the site to swap in to a salvaging destroyer, I make a bookmark. It is likely, particularly in w-space, that I will already have a bookmark to the site, but an arbitrary point in space is not what I am after. With the tactical overlay on and zoomed out sufficiently, I rotate my view to find a suitable wreck to bookmark. I am not looking for a wreck central to the site, but rather a wreck that is central to the periphery of all wrecks, one from which my tractor beams will reach an optimal number of wrecks without my ship having to manoeuvre. Then I warp out to get the destroyer, returning to clean up.
Salvaging is not only about getting salvaged components, but also looting modules and other interesting items not destroyed in combat. This adds a further complication, because although the salvagers operate out to 5 km a wreck can only be looted when it is within 2·5 km of your ship. Not only that, but if a wreck is salvaged without the loot being taken, the loot is preserved by being jettisoned in a canister. As the jet-can is a separate entity and your ship initially targets the wreck, you need to re-attain lock if the canister is not within the looting distance or your ship is moving. This takes extra time and binds one of the targeting slots of your ship, which has a limited number, making it important to ensure the loot is removed from a wreck before the wreck is salvaged successfully. But you don't want to loot the wreck before starting the salvager module's ten second period, as that wastes time. A balance must be found, again striving for efficiency.
My return to the site in the salvager will place me almost on top of the bookmarked wreck, and I start locking on to targets. The initial selection only needs to ensure that all my targets are within 20 km, and that one of the wrecks is the bookmarked one. I will be close enough to the bookmarked wreck to let me loot without needing to tractor it, letting me use all the tractor beams to start pulling other wrecks in to optimal range. Now I need to strike another balance, a more dynamic one that ensures the salvagers are being put to optimal use. With the tractor beams operating at four times the range of the salvager modules, there is time spent pulling the wrecks when the salvagers cannot be used on those wrecks. However, once wrecks start coming in to range of the salvagers, which begins with the initial bookmarked wreck, I can gauge how many salvagers to dedicate to each wreck. This is not entirely straightforward.
The salvaging process is not guaranteed. After the ten second activation period, there is a chance that a salvager module will extract any available components. The odds of a successful cycle depend on the size of the wreck, the skills of the capsuleer, and any fitted salvaging rigs on the ship. Any number of salvagers can be trained on any one wreck, increasing the chances of a successful cycle by quantity, but it also increases the chances of a wasted successful cycle that could have been used on a different wreck. The task here is optimise the activation of salvagers on wrecks, such that all salvagers are being used on the maximum number of wrecks in salvaging range, which needs to take in to account the number of wrecks within salvaging range, the number of salvager modules available, and the speed with which further wrecks are being pulled in to range by tractor beams.
Personally, I don't want to see more than one salvager module being used on a single wreck when another wreck is sitting within range and without a salvager working on it, because if each salvager happens to be successful on that cycle, one of those cycles will be wasted. A wreck can only be salvaged once. And once a wreck is salvaged the debris disintegrates, freeing up another target lock, salvager module and probably a tractor beam too. So whilst modules are being pulled from wrecks and salvagers are being managed, new targets also need to be selected, locked and queued for tractoring, maintaining the maximum number of locked targets when possible, and preferably ensuring that targets opposite the projected course are pulled in for salvaging first. And I am already plotting a course.
Once all the wrecks within initial tractor beam range have been picked up, it is time to pilot along the plotted course. With four salvagers and four tractor beams, I can start moving once I have the last four wrecks within 20 km engaged by tractor beams, as I can tow as many wrecks as I can salvage. The added speed of the ship increases the complexity a little, as tractor beams pull objects at 500 m/s, so a destroyer moving at approximately half that speed will create different velocity vectors for each wreck, with those behind the ship taking longer to get in to range, and those in front approaching more quickly. The target of the ship's movement also needs to be taken in to consideration. Selecting the next closest target to move to may seem more efficient, but once the ship reaches that wreck it will slow down and stop, which will not be where the wreck initially sits once the pull of the tractor beam is taken in to account. Either a more distant yet equally convenient wreck needs to be selected, to ensure ship movement continues fully in to the next cluster of wrecks, or the selected wreck is not pulled by a tractor beam, instead pulling the wrecks around it and letting the ship naturally come to a stop next to the selected wreck.
Eventually, the clusters or wrecks will clear, leaving perhaps a few scattered wrecks still to salvage. These can be reached quickly by making use of a micro-warp drive. Again, the use of the MWD needs to be balanced. Rather than waiting for all wrecks to be salvaged before moving on, use of the tractor beams can drag wrecks along with the ship. At normal ship speeds, this is fine. But with the MWD active, a destroyer can reach speeds well in excess of the 500 m/s pull of the tractor beam, where the differential will soon move the ship further away from the wreck than the operating range of the salvager module and, eventually, the tractor beam. The speed of the ship can either be maintained to keep the wreck within salvaging range, or set to full speed to reach outlying wrecks more quickly. I prefer keeping wrecks close, as more salvager modules can be dedicated to each remaining wreck as others are salvaged themselves, speeding up the salvaging process. As soon as all towed wrecks are salvaged, full ship speed can be set to the farthest wrecks.
Once the final wrecks are salvaged, the task is complete. I head on to the next site to clear, or back to the tower or station to drop off the loot. There are also methods to optimise the salvaging process when there is more loot than can fit in the ship's hold. Of course, it is possible and adequate to salvage far more simply, but it is precisely the complexity of the strive for efficiency that appeals to me. I take in to account the ranges of separate modules, absolute and relative ship velocities, cycle times of salvagers compared to reaction times of looting wrecks, the relative position of wrecks to my ship and to each other, and try to optimise all the factors to speed through the process. To me, salvaging is normally more of a combat exercise than actual combat.