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Armour and Shields
Armour and Shields are passive defence components, which can improve a ship's defensive capabilities to resist avoid or absorb incoming damage, thus preventing or delaying its destruction. This protection comes at the cost of added mass and build cost for vessels.
Armour layering is the most basic way of protecting a ship from damage. Each ship has armour consisting of at least one layer of armour-plating distributed around the hull. Additional layers increase protection but reduce the top speed of the ship. The thicker the armour is the more armour it takes to add another layer, as the ship's surface area increases with each added layer.
For a detailed overview of armour, including basic mechanics, research costs and weapon penetration, see the component article.
Armour's main disadvantage is that it slows down the ship, meaning that ships with heavy armour may be forced to engage the enemy head-on and sustain damage to that armour. Armour tech decreases the weight of each armour layer, so you can add more for the same weight or build lighter and faster ships.
Armour has a good strength per HS ratio compared to other ship components. A ship with a higher armour rating can take much deeper hits from highly penetrative weapons such as lasers and still have its internals intact. Armour also adds to the maintenance needs of a ship. Damaged armour can only be repaired at a shipyard or in a hangar.
Shields are designed systems, and therefore must be designed and researched before becoming available in the class design screen. They must be activated manually and use fuel when active. In overall ship defense, the shields act as a buffer between the armour and incoming weapons fire. They absorb damage up to their rating and are slowly recharged, recharging speed depending on technology researched. Shield components scale linearly as more are added (unlike armour, which increases in cost and weight per layer added) and provide consistent protection over the entirety of the ship in contrast to the per-area protection of armour.
For a complete listing of shield technologies and their effects, please visit the shield component page.
Shields will block all weapons except for Mesons until depleted, and unlike armour will block High-Powered Microwaves, albeit at a 3x damage multiplier. Shock Damage from attacks is also absorbed by shields. Their strength-per-HS is vastly inferior to armour, but their passive regeneration enables a potentially much larger capability to absorb damage as long as the overall strength of the shields is not depleted. When activated, shields begin charging from zero strength at their normal charging rate. It is therefore possible to be caught at a tactical disadvantage if shields are not activated well prior to engaging in combat. However, this carries the strategic disadvantage of broadcasting your position to passive EM Sensors, as shields increase the EM signature of their ship by an amount equal to three times their strength.
Unlike armour, shields may be prefabricated separately using construction factories, considerably reducing a ship's overall build time.
Shields cannot be used inside of Nebulae.
Combining Armour and Shields
An effective ship should have a mix of Armour and Shields. Armour is unquestionably more efficient at blocking damage per HS dedicated to carrying it, but shields block a broader range of potential threats that armor is vulnerable to, such as High-Powered Microwaves and Shock Damage.
Given that shields have a smaller capacity to absorb damage, the division of defense tasks between the two should be as follows:
- Shields are the first line of defense, protecting against damage that is spread over a longer time period and mitigating damage that breaks through to the armor.
- Armour is the last line of defense, providing a finite amount of protection from times when the shields are overloaded by incoming damage.
Even a small shield reservoir can greatly enhance a ship's survivability. Two examples of useful combinations of light shielding and armor are listed below.
Point Defense Leakage
In a scenario where a fleet is defending against oncoming missiles, there is a near certainty that some will occasionally evade the fleet's Point Defense to score hits. A single 9-damage missile can penetrate three layers of armor, causing internal damage on small ships and exposing larger ones to gradual erosion of armour as successive strikes hit. However, even a single point of shields will reduce armor penetration by one layer. Ten points of shields would totally negate a single missile strike and blunt the damage of a second enough to limit its penetration by one armor layer. High-damage missile salvos can totally remove shields, so synergy is necessary with a reasonably thick armor layer to absorb the volleys that break through. However, even very light shielding will go a long way towards keeping that armor layer intact rather than vulnerable to penetration.
Lasers are particularly adept at penetrating armor due to their large damage per hit, propensity for Shock Damage and highly penetrative damage template. A 12-damage laser hit will penetrate through a full six layers of armor, which is very likely to cause internal damage to components if allowed to strike armor directly. In a scenario where a ship is being attacked by an enemy with two beam weapons of strength 12, a ship would suffer repeated internal damage every time the weapons fired unless they had armor six layers or more thick.
If a ship being attacked had five armor layers, Epsilon-tier shielding (3 strength, 3 recharge, a relatively modest 15000 RP per tech) and dedicated just 5 HS (250 tons) to shielding, the recharge rate would be 15 strength every 5 minutes or one point of shielding every 20 seconds. If we assume the two turrets have a decent ROF at 10 seconds, it will be taking 4 shots during that 20-second period. Even discounting the initial shield reservoir that would block one shot fully and another partially, having a mere 250 tons of shield will reduce the rate of internal damage accumulation by 25% during the initial phase of the battle. Doubling that to 500 tons of shield will also double the regeneration rate, which would block a single strike from full penetration every ten seconds and halve internal damage accumulation.
At higher tech levels, shields may take more of the burden off of armor due to increased regeneration rates. However, armor provides an essential backstop for shields when damage becomes overwhelming for brief periods. The primary consideration when designing shielded armor is the maximum penetration possible for a hit that is not mitigated by shields. If the enemy is using missiles that hit for 16 damage it would be inadvisable to use fewer than 4 armor layers, as the missiles that make it through would do immediate internal damage with less.
If the enemy is prone to using beam weapons, penetration templates offer an advantage to designs with at least 3 layers of armor as the damage needed to increase past that point does begins increasing rapidly. Designs with six layers of armor achieve very robust beam protection due to the incredibly steep cost jump past layer six (12 vs. 21 damage).
Single-hit damage needed to cause internal damage with one strike is as follows:
The damage increase for each step goes up rather steeply, which gives the defender in an engagement two distinct advantages:
- The exponential increase in armor mass per layer added is much slower than the increase in damage needed to penetrate.
- Any mitigation of the damage can result in severe penalties to penetration.
The first advantage is exploited with armor layering, the second with shields. Depending on the tactics and deployment of an enemy, either or both can be used to reduce their advantage and limit damage to ships in battle.