In any given war in FOTS between two powers, a player has a 50/50 chance of having an inferior main battle fleet. Over time in combat, small advantages in firepower and/or defense generate an increasing disparity between the condition of the advantaged fleet and the disadvantaged fleet. Thus, a fleet with a small starting advantage over an enemy fleet may be practically intact after sustained combat that sees its slight inferior destroyed. But had that slightly inferior fleet had only a small advantage in numbers, accuracy, firepower, or defense over what it in fact had, the situation would have been reversed. Had the inferior force known it was inferior before engaging, it may have stayed away from the slightly more powerful force and survived to pick up a countervailing advantage, such as the fixed defenses of a nearby base or minefield.
Information is a precious commodity for a fleet, one that should be purchased, at some cost, preferably as little as possible for as much information as is needed. This is a role for picket or scouting units detached from main battle fleets. The detached units provide additional detection chances, but more importantly they provide platforms that can get as much information, or nearly so, as could the main force in a given position (e.g., in weapons range of a target fleet) without the risk of endangering a main battle fleet, or of providing the enemy that information on your main battle fleet.
A picket vessel that you expect to expend if it closes to weapon range of a significant enemy force is extremely inexpensive – it only needs one LRS, no shields, no armor, no weapons. However, it can be countered by an enemy anti-picket screen with minimal weapons, one LRS, no shields, no armor, also detached from the main enemy force. (Such a design is also good for blockading enemy colonies or commerce raiding, as it is close to the minimum required for either.) This anti-scouting unit can in turn be trumped by a slightly more dangerous scout, perhaps a tiny carrier and cheap fighters, and so on. Somewhere diminishing returns come into play and anything more spent on scouting, anti-scouting, anti-anti-scouting, and so on would take too many RP’s away from the main battle fleet to be worthwhile. While information is a precious commodity, so is simple combat power.
Detachments play another role in information warfare. Initial information on sensor contacts is very limited. A VLRS of long-range sensor at the edge of its range reveals nothing but speed about the contact. If the enemy keeps his fleet all together, you can flood his comm/scan grid with many sensor contacts, most of which represent single very cheap, not very capable units, with your main battle fleet(s) lost somewhere in there. Small anti-scouting forces in adequate number can be used to sort out the large fleets from the tiny ones. If you can prevent an engagement with a force powerful enough to stop yours, you can rampage through enemy territory and pick off inferior forces, enemy fleets outside fixed defenses, fixed defenses without mobile force backup, shipyards, and so on. A single powerful enemy main battle fleet may be superior to anything you can muster, but that superiority means little if that fleet cannot catch yours while you can hurt that enemy elsewhere.
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