Decloaking is defined as the act of forcing a warp-while-cloaked capable ship out of cloak and tackling it when that ship is in close proximity to a gate after jumping into a new system. It is also the term used when attempting to force out of cloak a non-warp-while-cloaked ship that uses a Prototype Cloaking Device and MicroWarpdrive to increase his chances of evading a gate camp. Four classes of ships are capable of warping while cloaked: Covert Ops, Stealth Bombers, Force Recons (and their T3 super-charged versions), and Blockade Runners. As these are all small ships with fast align times, virtually all successful decloaking is done with interceptors.
Before attempting to learn how to decloak, it is important to understand both the ships that you will be attempting to decloak and some basics about gate-jump mechanics.
When you jump into a new system, things happen in a specific order:
1. Your pilot name appears in Local.
2. The gate that you are jumping through flashes.
3. The game chooses a random direction away from the center of the gate for your ship to appear.
4. Your ship will load grid in that direction away from the center of the gate, 10,000 meters from the closest edge of the gate model (and as a result, usually between 11 and 16 km away from the center of the gate).
5. You will remain cloaked and invulnerable until one of three things happen:
- You choose to warp toward a celestial; or,
- you begin moving your ship, by double-clicking in space, approaching an object or another ship, or similar means; or,
- 30 seconds passes.
Understanding that you will appear 10,000 meters from the edge of a gate model is also an important part of jump mechanics. The distance you appear from a gate only appears random because of the varying size of the jump gates. Most gates are standard gates and are quite small. However, some gates link constellations together. These gates are somewhat larger in size. Constellation gates are marked with red lines on the dotlan maps of a region. Still other gates are "regionals", linking regions in the game together. These gates are extremely large.
How do these facts affect decloaking? First, understanding the order things happen in the game is important. If you are part of a gate camp and your role is that of the decloaker, it is your job to watch Local for hostile targets. Note that a hostile or neutral will appear in Local before the gate flashes announcing that target's arrival, and several seconds before that target can hope to load grid. This is one of your few advantages as a decloaker, against a ship that can warp while cloaked: you get warning that combat is potentially about to occur. The target, by and large, does not.
Gate sizes are also important to decloakers, and to gate camps in general. It is extremely foolish to attempt decloak tactics, or gate-camp tactics, around a regional gate. These gates can be enormous and can require the covering of enormous distance between potential decloak points. On the largest regional gates, it is not at all uncommon for two decloak points to be 30 km from each other. If you're going to try to decloak someone, stick to standard or the smaller constellation gates.
Cloaky Ship Characteristics
It's also important to understand the characteristics of your most common targets. All ships able to warp while cloaked have one thing in common: they are all small, agile spacecraft. All of them have align-and-warp times of under ten seconds, and many of them have align-and-warp times of under five seconds. Given that they will only be visible on your screen and on your Overview for about 1.5 seconds and that it will take your decloaker some time to get up to speed itself, this does not leave you a lot of time.
Your most likely targets are going to be the four Force Recon ships, the Rapier, Arazu, Pilgrim, and Falcon. Unsurprisingly, the armor-tanking Pilgrim and Arazu are the easiest to catch. The shield-tanking Rapier is the most difficult. Stealth Bombers and Covert Ops ships will be almost impossible to catch unless their pilot makes a mistake. Happily, though, many such pilots do, so catching them is not impossible. Blockade Runners are in the middle. Nano-fit, they are nearly as agile as frigates and are therefore impossible to catch. However, the models for two of them -- the Crane and the Prorator -- are extremely large and clunky, which improves your odds. And most Blockade Runners are actually cargo-fit rather than nano-fit, which slows them and reduces their agility a great deal.
Another fact to remember about your targets is that every ship that can fit a Covert Ops Cloaking Device does not receive a speed penalty when using that device. As a result, cloakies are fast. This is the area where the Rapier in particular has a major advantage. Its agility and speed allows it to make many evasive maneuvers when trying to avoid a decloaker. These ships will also carry the momentum imparted to them by Afterburners or MicroWarpdrives into their cloak cycles, making them even faster. However, once the active cycle ends, the modules cannot be reactivated while in cloak and that speed will rapidly bleed off.
The basic facts regarding decloaking are simple: you must place a solid object within 2000 meters of the ship that is operating under cloak. One second after passing within 2000 meters of a solid object, the cloaked ship will decloak and appear both in space and on the Overview as normal. Once it appears in space and on the Overview, it can be locked normally one second after that.
Your job as a decloaker, therefore, is to put a solid object within 2000 meters of what you are trying to decloak. Your ship is the most obvious solid object to use, and as of a recent Incursion patch, the game measures this 2000 meters from the edge, rather than the center, of your ship model, making this job easier. However, drones are also considered solid objects, and having drones orbiting your ship will markedly increase your odds of decloaking.
Therefore, there are two ways of gaining this increase in your odds:
1. Have drones of your own out and active, orbiting your ship; or,
2. have a friendly ship "assist" drones to you.
The larger the cloud of drones around your decloaker, the better your odds of a successful decloak.
It is very important -- for obvious reasons -- that the decloaker ship be fast. That is why Interceptors are favored. However, because of the quirks of decloaking, the ship shouldn't be too fast. Your most important job as a decloaker, after decloaking a target, is to get a Warp Scrambler (and a web, if possible) on the target. This will likely prevent the target from simply returning to the nearby gate and jumping through. Typical overheated scram range is around 10-11 kilometers, and it will be two seconds between the time you decloak a target and when it will be lockable. Therefore, if your ship is faster than 5000m/s, unless your reaction time is very quick, even if you decloak the target, it will be unlikely that you can also scram the target. Many decloak kills have been missed because of this simple fact and as a result, Dramiels in particular are -- in general -- poor decloakers because of their great speed, despite their large drone bays.
For these reasons, in my experience, the two best decloaking ships in the game are the Taranis and the Keres. Second-tier decloakers are the Stiletto and the Hyena. Third-tier decloakers are the Raptor, Daredevil, Imperial Navy Slicer, and the Ares. These are all ships that can be fit to the proper speed regimen: about 4000-4500 meters per second with superior agility. The key advantages of the Taranis are its unusually high DPS for a frigate and its 10m3 drone bay. The key advantages of the Keres are its 5m3 drone bay and the unusually long reach of its scram in the hands of a skilled EWAR frigate pilot. The Stiletto and Hyena both have remarkable agility, and the Stiletto also has a long reach on its scram, but be wary of making the Stiletto (or any other decloaker) too fast. If your speed will carry you out of range of your scram in two seconds, your ship is too fast.
In a pinch, though, note that any frigate can try being a decloaker! If a Rifter is all you have, a Rifter is better than no decloaker at all. Do your best to follow the process below. Having the right ship increases your odds, but even the most noob T1 frig pilot has a better chance at a successful decloak than a steely-eyed veteran in a combat battle-cruiser.
All of the principles above apply to decloaking whether in high-sec or low-sec wardecs, or in 0.0. However, the best accessory that a 0.0 decloaker can have is a bubble of some kind, whether from a Interdictor, Heavy Interdictor, or anchored bubble. This will force the cloaky ship to either reapproach the gate or approach the edge of the bubble to escape, and gives the decloaker the maximum possible time to catch its prey. Your chances of decloaking a nimble target go up dramatically if you also have a bubble.
OK. You are in the proper ship type and understand the rules of the game you're about to play. What's next? The basic process for decloaking is as follows:
- Place your decloaker at zero meters distance from the gate you will be operating around.
- If possible, shift your position on this gate so that there are as few obstructions as possible between you and the opposite side of the gate. The idea is to maximize the number of directions you can fly in.
- Ask for ships near you to "assist" their drones to you. Launch your own drones, if any.
- Stop your ship, setting and keeping speed at 0m/s. Activate your MicroWarpdrive and let it cycle.
- Watch Local. When you see a hostile target appear in Local, watch the gate. If it flashes...
- Wait for the target to decloak. If he's smart, he'll wait nearly the maximum 30 seconds. If your bubbler is smart, he'll drop his bubble the instant the target decloaks.
- Approach the target! There are many ways to do this, detailed below.
- Since your MWD is cycling, you will speed toward the target's location.
- The target will cloak. This will cause you to lose your approach target and slow down. Use the new Incursion hotkey (Ctrl-Alt-Space by default) to get back up to full speed in the direction of the target's previous location. Do this as quickly as possible!
- Click your scram to begin cycling it. If you have Thermodynamics skill, overheat your scram.
- Shut down your MWD. This will prevent you from over-shooting the target.
- If the target wasn't too fast, you'll pass close enough that you or your drones will decloak the target.
- If you see the target appear in space or on Overview, Ctrl-triple-click to lock and approach the target. If you get a successful lock, hopefully you'll also get a successful scram.
- If you don't decloak the target, begin spiraling, detailed below.
As stated above, having drones out or assisted to you will greatly increase your odds of a successful decloak. A Taranis is only a 50-meter long model. However, a Taranis with Warrior II drones orbiting it effectively becomes a 1000-1500 meter long model. Even if those Warriors are trailing several thousand meters behind the Taranis as it MWDs, their following presence will sweep a trail behind it for cloaked hostiles.
The best, most aggressive way to approach a target is to hold down your Control key and triple-click the target in space or on your Overview. Control-click will attempt to lock the target. If the target is locked, it can't cloak. The follow-up double-click will cause your ship to approach the target. As of the second Incursion patch, there is also an approach key, set by default to "Q". So, if you click the target and press "Q", you will also approach the target. You can also use the Approach button on your Selected Item display in the Overview.
Getting back up to maximum speed after the target cloaks is one of the most critical steps in this process. I strongly recommend that you either remap the default "maximum speed" key introduced in the second patch of Incursion, or -- even better -- if you have a gaming keyboard or game pad, map that key to an easily-accessible alternate key. I personally have a Logitech G15 gaming keyboard, and my "maximum speed" key is remapped to this keyboard's G6 key, easily accessible with my left hand. I begin spamming this key even before the target cloaks, assuming that he's going to do so.
Spiraling and Avoiding Decloakers
An experienced Recon pilot will avoid being decloaked by sacrificing his most optimal warp-out route or time in order to reduce the chances of a successful decloak. There are several approaches for a Recon pilot to do this, and a basic guide on decloaking can't cover them all. Still, the two most common methods are the counter-spiral and using either an Afterburner or MicroWarpdrive module.
The latter is simpler. An experienced Recon pilot will, instead of warping directly to his target, will align to the target instead and then cycle his or her Afterburner or MicroWarpdrive once. This will give the ship a great burst of speed. Only then will the pilot cloak the ship. The average speed of a Rapier, for instance, is 240m/s. However, the average speed of a MWDing Rapier is 1600m/s. That is a difference of 1360m/s. At 4500m/s and assuming a good starting point for a decloaker, it's going to take you an average of 2.8 seconds to reach the position where that Rapier cloaked. Taking into account a Rapier's relatively slow acceleration, that still means that the Rapier in question will be able to cover more than 2500 meters in that time... enough distance to greatly decrease your odds of a successful decloak.
As your decloaker reaches the position where you saw the Recon cloak, if you do not achieve a successful decloak, you can attempt a "spiral". Spiraling in this context means to create a cone-shaped search pattern in the probable direction you feel the cloaky ship is going.
Assume that you are decloaking in a gate in a pipe system, a system with only two stargates. It's a good bet that the Recon is trying to reach the other gate. As your MWD shuts down, change your alignment to approach the gate. As you do this, note the direction you are needing to fly in order to approach the gate. For this example, let's assume you need to fly directly upward to reach the opposite gate. Once your ship is aligned to the gate, change your direction by manually flying about directly upward and 30 degrees to the right. As your ship makes this course change, rotate it by 90 degrees clockwise: manually fly upward and 30 degrees "downward". Repeat this process, altering your ship's course by 90 degrees clockwise each time until you've executed this step five times. If you haven't decloaked the ship by this time, you're not going to.
An enemy Recon can anticipate and avoid this maneuver by "counter-spiraling." This involves taking an unpredictable course away from the gate in a random direction immediately after cloaking the ship. Aligning to a nearby planet is often the best option: instead of warping to the opposite gate, instead, warp to the nearby planet, then warp to the opposite gate from there, or even from a second celestial. By cloaking and then immediately changing direction, you are imitating the old World War II U-boat Captain's method of "leaving a knuckle in the water" as your ship dramatically turns away from its last known course. However, be warned that only agile ships can perform this maneuver successfully. Heavier Recons such as Pilgrims will have a difficult time building up enough speed after this dramatic turn to create enough distance to prevent a decloak.
Decloaking is a difficult skill to master, and takes a lot of patience and practice. It is strongly recommended that you practice these techniques on corp- or alliance-mates before attempting them in the field. Talk a corp- or alliance-mate into taking their Recon out with your decloaking ship. Choose an out-of-the-way gate and ask him to repeatedly jump into the system while you practice decloaking him. For the first few times, ask him to wait a few seconds before cloaking to give you the maximum time needed to practice the techniques.
With skill, experience, and practice, you'll soon master the technique and earn the praise and admiration of your allies as a decloaker. It's a valued skill, particularly in gate-camps and short roams. Good hunting!