Analysing the threat of w-space tower attacks

20th May 2010 – 5.32 pm

Glorious leader Fin witnesses the destruction of an active w-space tower. It doesn't happen to us, but the thought of having our home vaporised is unsettling. One colleague remarks of the invaders that 'we'd better hope they don't find us'. Perhaps, but I don't think we are as in danger as the poor chaps who get attacked. In fact, they were in a losing position from the start. The convenience of their static high-sec exit also becomes their downfall.

It was perhaps only a matter of time. Their high-sec wormhole is big enough to allow for battleships to enter and leave safely, and as the connection is static it will always lead out to high-sec empire space. That makes it easy for a fleet to travel to the new exit system, with no null-sec, low-sec, or w-space connections to traverse. Once the occupied system is found, either from empire space or from scanning outwards from a deeper w-space system, the occupants are vulnerable. A battleship fleet can be flown in, the tower attacked and put in to reinforced mode, and the battleships can leave again. All that is needed is for a scout to remain present in the w-space system. The Buzzard that we saw, and his combat probes, was no doubt from the hostile force, but we didn't realise this at the time.

Normally, the twenty-four hour period of reinforced mode is almost a guarantee of safety in w-space. Wormhole connections will implode by then, making it much more difficult to relocate the same system to return to finish the job. But the static high-sec exit makes the return much simpler. Indeed, not just the scout could remain in the system but the whole fleet, guaranteed to be able to leave quickly and safely to high-sec after the secondary attack. But the static high-sec exit also means that everyone but the scout can leave and be productive during the time the tower is in reinforced mode.

The scout only has to find the static high-sec wormhole and relay the exit system to the rest of the fleet. The battleships can then make the journey through high-sec and rendezvous with the scout to return to the system. This adds perhaps half-an-hour travel time to the operation. And there is little defence against this. The static wormhole can be collapsed, but its static nature means a new one will appear immediately. And whilst it may be true that a wormhole doesn't create its exit until it is opened, the presence of the hostile scout means that any new static wormhole will be found and activated.

Stopping the scout isn't easy either, as he only has to jump briefly in to high-sec, policed by Concord, to gather the intelligence of the current exit system, before returning and hiding, monitoring system activity. I can only think of two options that may work, but both are potentially risky and far from guaranteed. There are probably more and better options, but I am still learning w-space and PvP tactics.

First, collapse the wormhole every ten minutes or so, starting before the tower comes out of reinforced mode, beginning to repair the tower as soon as it becomes possible to do so. The continual changes of exit system may cause the battleships to alter course enough to make them give up, or offer enough time to repair and restock the tower sufficiently. But there is no guarantee that the new high-sec exit system will be far removed from the previous one, and the battleship fleet may arrive whilst you have large, expensive ships trying to collapse the wormhole, exacerbating the problems.

Second, try to trap the hostile scout outside of the wormhole. Collapse the wormhole and find the new one immediately, warping aggressive ships suited to catching covert operations boats to it. Either catch the scout trying to exit, trying to enter, or prevent him from re-entering. If any of these goals are met, collapse the wormhole again and your system is hopefully isolated, allowing the tower to be repaired in relative safety. Check occasionally for the presence of scanning probes in case a second scout is present. Of course, snaring a cov-ops boat is difficult, and more so when the other side of a wormhole is high-sec space. The pilot could also quickly grab the bookmarks and call for reinforcements to thwart the effort to collapse the wormhole quickly, even if the scout is popped and podded.

Essentially, having a high-sec exit makes returning to the system far more convenient than normal, with only a minimal presence needed to be maintained by the attackers. Living deeper in w-space negates many of these problems. A scout could indeed remain in the system and the main fleet could leave, the scout finding them a route back in. However, as I have consistently seen during my scanning, a reliable exit is uncommon. There are often occasions when our only option is to head through a capital ship-infested C6 system, the only exit is to null-sec space, or the best route to empire space is through a C1 system that doesn't have the capacity to let battleships enter. An easy route is far from guaranteed. And if a route doesn't exist, the scout has no recourse to collapse the wormhole and start again.

Collapsing our static wormhole is a valid tactic for us, though. Unlike the high-sec exit, once we collapse our wormhole we only open a new connection to w-space. The new system must then be scanned to find a route to empire space, and it is almost assured that at least one further system will need to be scanned too. We won't need to catch the scout, we can simply collapse our wormhole, wait for him to exit, and collapse the wormhole a second time whilst he is scanning for the exit route, isolating him from our system without any reliable way of finding us again.

This is not to say we are safe. If someone wants an occupied w-space system enough they will take it. Rather than leaving a scout in our system they will leave the whole fleet. But first they have to find us, and then they have to want our system. We are just another C4, with nothing particularly special present. I am confident that the attack on the C2 system was opportunistic, the convenience of the static high-sec exit providing the motivation to attack and return. We certainly need to be aware of potential invaders, but we are far from at threat as the recent attack suggests.

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