Each race has its own special electronic warfare abilities, of course. For instance, the Gallente warp disruption ability was absolutely vital for many fleets - albeit not as much now with the Orthrus - particularly for any fleet that focuses tackle ability on only a couple ships. This powerful ability was paired with the relatively useless sensor dampening. With the Minmatar, target painting is nice, but rarely makes a difference in small gang or solo fights, whereas the webbing range can help dictate engagement range in a meaningful way.
Perhaps owing to their status as the oldest of the four current empires, the Amarr have the best and most useful advantages for small gang and solo, the neuting range, neuting amount, and tracking disruption bonuses. Those three abilities make the Curse and Pilgrim fearsome beasts, able to hold down, suck dry, and render impotent any turret or missiles ships (with missile disruptors). Really, they only need fear drone boats.
And then, there's the Caldari ECM, the bane of nearly any fleet, of any size. If the other ECM ships can be considered a force multiplier, ECM is really a force halver. For, unlike the other abilities that all diminish the combat or defensive capability of a ship or a fleet, ECM completely annihilates it.
Or, it doesn't. An ECM ship either entirely removes an enemy vessel for the fight for the length of its successful jam, or it has absolutely no effect. It's effectiveness is based purely on chance. Even good fitting techniques - fitting the right jams for the kind of ship you're facing - only increases or decreases that chance. Ultimately, random-number generation determines the success.
That fact alone put ECM on the rebalance block. So, what should we replace it with? I certainly can't say for certain, but there are a few options being suggested.
ECM Prevents Remote Module Activation, Not Lock
This suggestion posits that ECM shouldn't prevent the victim ship from locking the target, but only activating any modules that affect another ship - both offensive and defensive. Some variants of this suggestion propose that modules should be able to activate, but never reach their intended target. An example would be that your missiles are firing, but if they fire while you're the victim of a successful ECM hit, your missiles would veer off track, your guns would start tracking the sun or a nearby asteroid, and your drones would identify a piece of passing debris as the greatest threat.
Rebalancing ECM in this fashion would create some interesting gameplay opportunities. With a "mild application", you'd have to pay attention to the icons and notifications to be aware that your weapons aren't doing the damage you think they should, and in cases where a pilot misses it, it might lead to them wasting ammo. But, the victim ship would also be able to benefit form an overall ECM nerf by no longer needing to reacquire a target lock - which can sometimes cover an ECM ship through nearly an entire jam cycle, meaning you only need to land one of every two to keep a ship effectively perma-jammed) and the victim pilot wouldn't need to remember to cycle guns; following the end of a successful jam, the guns would continue to cycle, just begin to apply damage.
This kind of rebalance could create some interesting opportunities to confuse enemy logi, as well. Seven ships may attempt reps, but even though they cycle, some may miss the mark if they're jammed. With CCP's apparent desire to disrupt cap chains and reduce overall survivability, this could create some interesting opportunities. You'd attempt to rep, you'd use cap, but when you're successfully jammed, that energy never reaches its target.
Unlike the previous suggestion, this proposal suggests to change ECM from preventing an enemy ship from locking anyone to preventing a friendly ship from being locked by anyone, similar to the way ECCM modules make it more difficult for the target ship to be jammed. This option would almost require the elimination of racial jammers; keeping them in the game would create a "no-fail" scenario, since you would only ever fit the kind of jammer that supports your ECM buddy.This option has a number of good things going for it.
- The ECM ship couldn't project defensive ECM on itself, requiring at least two ships mutually protecting each other to create the chance for true invulnerability (but a chance only; it'd still be susceptible to chance.
- No enemy ship can be removed entirely from a fight, and no pilot will be reduced to complete impotence; they can always shift damage to another target that isn't ECM-protected.
- Enemy ECM protection can be disrupted by first killing or driving off the ECM ships, which is already standard practice in fleet fights.
- ECM would retain an offensive function - albeit a significantly different one - to break logi chains and prevent defensive scram chains to counter command destroyers.
- Drone doctrines would benefit significantly; an FC could primary a ship, have the fleet set drones on the target, then ECM-jam it to prevent reps from landing.
- ECM could serve in a savior role to extract pointed/scrammed ships to help them escape the field (though we'd need to create limits to prevent ECM ships from being last-chance options to extract caught capitals).
Jam Duration Adjustment
Would ECM be as overpowered if its jam duration was only half of a jam cycle, leaving the ECM ship exposed for the other half of even a successful jam cycle? In between cycles, the target ship could - with a good enough scan resolution - lock and fire at the ECM ship, eventually driving it from the field even if every jam hits. To counter, the ECM ship would either need to stagger jams, bring additional ECM friends, or fit specifically to reduce its signature radius and increase enemy lock time. This option proposes exactly that - that while jams themselves don't change how they operate, a rebalance would decouple the cycle time and jam duration time.
This option would retain the ability for a very small ECM ship to keep its relative immunity - again, assuming all jams land, which is unlikely - from large targets with low scan resolutions, but would allow evenly sized targets a chance to retaliate in between cycles. Though, this option may require some upward tweaking to the jam calculations to allow jams to hit more frequently to offset the inherent vulnerability between cycles.
ECM Affects Targeting Maximum
Right now, ECM works by reducing your maximum locked target count to zero. But does ECM need to work this way? What if ECM reduced your effective locked target count by half with each jam that lands? A ship with a an 8 targeting max would be reduced to 4 with a single jam, to 2 with two jams, and to 1 with three jams landing. That ship could still fight, but would see its ability to split effects decline significantly. Recons like Curses, in particular, which frequently split effects against multiple ships, would be heavily affected, as would logi and enemy ewar wings.
This creates a neat little solution that allows ECM ships to have a role within fleets, but also maintains a counter; even with one locked target, the ECM ship can be vulnerable. Likely, this change would require a general buff to ECM ship defenses and perhaps signature radius to help them survive a little longer on field.
So, what other solutions do you see for ECM? I'd love to hear your ideas.