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Small Fleet Doctrine

  • Updated November 2009.
  • Updated July 2013.

Astro Empires is a game of military economy. This guide advocates deploying a more efficient fleet than one’s rival under the term “Small Fleet Doctrine.” Historically, the Small Fleet Doctrine was developed by the French to counter the naval supremacy of the Britsh Royal Navy. Rather than focus on capital ships. the French devised a solution wherein Escort ships could be used.

There are two dominant fleet doctrines in Astro Empires: Balanced and Efficient. The primary one is balanced, which mandates a balanced ratio of each unit in the fleet. The Efficient Doctrine is similar, but it looks at the relative efficiency of units in suggesting which units to add to your fleets. Ironically, the Efficient Fleet Doctrine demurs in the use of capital ships; much like the French Small Fleet Doctrine. Therefore, this guide honors the naval heritage of a doctrine that advocates for more efficient, smaller units and labels it the Small Fleet Doctrine.

At its core, AE is still a rock-paper-scissors game. Unit efficiency is relative to the units used by your rival. Efficiency is an economic term that describes a condition without waste. So, a more-efficient fleet is one that produces less economic waste. The objective is to cause the most damage to your opponent for the least cost—cost-efficiency. This guide, therefore, discusses the different units and their relative efficiency to one another, and how to develop an efficient fleet. The first section discusses the role of each fleet unit. The second section touches on base defense structures. The third section discusses implementation of the Small Fleet Doctrine. Once you have read through this article, we encourage you to read about how to manually plan attacks.

All you need to know. If you do not care to read the entire article, then here is all you probably need to know. Build Fighters to take out meat (support) ships. Build Heavy Bombers and Cruisers to take out escort ships. Ion Frigates, Ion Bombers, Battleships and Heavy Cruisers (in that order) are ideal against Capitals. In high numbers (think thousands), Cruisers are the most efficient shielded unit against Escorts, Planetary Rings and Capitals. In high numbers (think hundred-thousands), Fighters are the most efficient unit against everything. In keeping with this doctrine, do not build anything larger than a Battleship. On the offensive, always bring with you enough Recyclers to mop up all the debris at the tick.

Fleet Composition

The core problem with balanced fleet doctrine is that it convinces people that they need to build and use units that are unnecessary in a fleet. This gives your opponents an opportunity to destroy your fleet more efficiently. Balance is important. However, building units merely to create balance means you will spend too much to build a fleet. Your combat will suffer as you will not earn as much as you spend—the Pyrric victory. In this Section, we discuss each unit and their role in an efficient fleet. This precedes a short set of points to remember.

General Unit Advice

This sub-section provides general comments on the fleet units in Astro Empires.

There are four ship classes this guide recognizes:

  • Support (Meat) Ships: (Fighers to Frigates).
  • Escort Ships: These are large, units (Cruiser, Heavy Cruisers and Battleships).
  • Capital Ships: These are massive units (Dreadnought and larger).
  • Utility Ships: These are units you should never put into combat.

Generally speaking, your support fleet should be mostly Fighters with some Destroyers. Escort ships should comprise a balance of Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers. In the Small Fleet approach, capital ships are generally not built because of their inefficiency.

Table: Attacker / Defender Matchmaking

FT ? · · · · · · ·
BO ? ? ? · · · · · ·
HB · ? · · · · ·
IB · · · · · · · · · ·
CV ? ? · ? ? · · · · · · ·
DD · · · · · ? · · · · ·
FR · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
IF · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
CR · · · ? · · ·
HC · · · · ? · ·
BB · ·
DR · · ·
TI · · ·
LV ? ·
DS · · · ·
SP · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·


  • Defender units are the columns (header)
  • Attacker units are the rows (leftmost column).
  • Checked (✓) cells indicate the Attacker is efficient against the Defender. (E.g. Bomber against Ion Bomber) Use these Units
  • Dotted (·) cells indicate the Attacker is inefficient against Defender. Avoid these units.
  • Questioned (?) cells suggest the Attacker may be efficient against the Defender depending on circumstances (higher Attacker tech, for example).

Reading the chart: To see which units are efficient against what, the columns are the defenders, the attackers are the rows.

Support Ships

Generally speaking, there are three support (meat) units you want in battle: Fighters, Heavy Bombers and Destroyers. Fighters are the best in killing unshielded units. Heavy Bombers are effective in killing Escorts when there is no enemy Fighter support. Destroyers are also highly effective against Escorts; again when there is no enemy Fighter support. Corvettes are useful in raider, emergency resupply roles.

  • (FT) Fighters: Anti-support
  • (HB) H.Bombers (Bombers): Anti-escort
  • (DD) Destroyers: Anti-escort (until you have H.Bombers)
  • (CV) Corvettes: Fast Raiders

We now look at the support units in greater detail.

Fighters (FT)

Build this unit. These are the staple of all fleets in AE—defense, offense, everything. Fighters are the single most efficient ship in Astro Empires. The damage they absorb per credit is unparalleled. That makes Fighters your primary unit for use as cannon fodder. It is literal to say that you can never have too many Fighters. A fleet that runs out of Fighters will take far higher losses, and can be defeated in detail for obscene exchange rates by anyone who manages to catch them. Build thousands for base defense, and then keep building them for use with offensive fleets. You go through Fighters at an obscene rate because Fighters are basically designed to die. Application of Fighter waves in combat can significantly improve your exchange rate.

Bombers (BO)

Consider this unit. Bombers have the same armor as Fighters with twice the firepower and twice the cost. This makes them slightly less efficient. While less efficient, they can still be slightly efficient meat. Their ability to harm Cruisers makes them especially handy in the offense until you have Heavy Bombers. Use them in an anti-Cruiser role. Their relative efficiency over Heavy Bombers makes them more useful than their counterpart in an offensive role.

Heavy Bombers (HB)

Build this unit. Heavy Bombers are primarily offensive units. They carry enough punch to take out escort units—Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers—but their vulnerability to other support units and cost makes them poor defensive units. Enemy Fighters will cut them to ribbons. Heavy Bombers are best used in waves after your Fighter waves destroy the enemy’s unshielded units.

Value of Heavy Bombers: HBs are ideal units for breaking occupations, if you have a proper amount of Command Centers.

Ion Bombers (IB)

Consider this unit. Ion Bombers support an anti-capital role but are highly vulnerable to Fighters due to their low shielding. Ion Frigates, below, have a substantially higher ratio against Capital, however.

Corvettes (CV)

Consider this unit. The Corvette utility lies in its speed. They are not very useful in a battle fleet because they are too expensive compared to other support units. They are as efficient as Bombers, but their unique ability makes them better suited elsewhere. Because of shielding, CVs are considered inefficient against shielded units; unless high enough numbers of CVs are present.

Corvettes are also generally viewed as an armed scout, able to pick off rival Outpost Ships and Scouts (generally early in the game). Being smaller than Scouts, they are detected only briefly before landing. However, they lack Warp ability, preventing them from trans-galactic travel without a Jump Gate.

Corvettes are also good in a raider role. Build 500 or more and camp them at a Jump Gate for Recycler hunting and emergency resupply. They can also be used to hunt naked Frigates, if so inclined. They do not need hangars to travel between astros. Therefore, emergency resupply might help a fleet with insufficient Fighter support.

Destroyers (DD)

Build this unit. Because Cruisers and Destroyers share the Plasma weapons system, Destroyers are useful. They are very efficient in destroying naked Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers. They are inefficient against Battleships and Capital ships. They are also very inefficient against Fighter waves. So, when your opponent has a large Cruiser/Heavy Cruiser fleet, Destroyers are your counter-balance.

One tactic is to keep a lot of Destroyers at a Jump Gate to rush Cruisers or strengthen base reinforcements. They are especially useful with Command Centers, playing havoc with the enemy ratios. Their speed makes them handy at Recycler hunting. Because they are unshielded, do not leave Destroyers in hostile territory when you have to be offline.

Frigates (FR)

Consider this unit. Frigates have a mixed reputation. Small Fleet used to discourage Frigate construction. However, the value of Frigates is not that cut-and-dried. Lacking shields, they are highly vulnerable to Fighters. They have a .33 cost/armor ratio to a Fighter’s .88 ratio; which shows what you stand to lose when caught off guard. However, diligently used, Frigates are a decent tool, marginally efficient against Cruisers (.33 to .28 cost/armor ratio), and can carry Fighters (raising the overall efficiency). A Frigate/Fighter mix costs 100 credits, requires 10 Recyclers to support, and can be a lethal, quick combination…with diligence.

Escort Ships

Escort ships are shielded units that are generally capable of warp travel. They retain some vulnerability to support ships but primarily serve in an anti-capital, anti-escort role. This is a small class of ships, but your fleet should comprise a considerable percentage of it.

  • Ion Frigate: Anti-Capital
  • Cruiser: Anti-Escort
  • Heavy Cruiser: Anti-Fighter, Anti-Capital (Titans and smaller)
  • Battleship: Anti-Fighter, Anti-Capital (Titans and larger)

We now look at the escort units in greater detail.

Ion Frigates (IF)

Consider this unit. Ion Frigates are units of limited utility. With a high-enough Ion level (e.g. over 15), they provide the best ratios (upward of 3.9) against Levis and Death Stars—all capital ships. Combining them with Ion Bombers (two per IF) packs a stronger punch, but with a lower ratio (2.6); requiring fewer units.

  • Against LV: 1200 to 1250 Ion Frigates per LV
  • Against TI: 350 to 400 Ion Frigates per TI
  • Against Dreads: about 100 Ion Frigates per Dread

Cruisers (CR)

Build this unit. In Small Fleet Doctrine, Cruisers serve a critical role. You will want to build these by the hundreds. They are the efficient killer of escort units (Heavy Cruisers and Battleships). They are less efficient against Fighters than Heavy Cruisers, and should never be used to “naked rush” Fighters. They are inefficient against Titans and larger when your plasma tech is optimized. Cruisers protect your support fleet from Heavy Cruisers and Battleships. They are vulnerable against Heavy Bombers and Destroyers.

Cruisers are the most efficient shielded unit for taking out Planetary Rings (Prings), but it takes a hundreds of them. Make sure you have enough. Regardless, Cruisers should be the backbone of your main battle fleets.

Heavy Cruisers (HC)

Build this unit. Heavy Cruisers are the bruiser of Astro Empires. Their shields are high enough to let them nakedly rush Fighters. They are inefficient against Heavy Bombers and Destroyers, and should have Fighter support in that attack. Heavy Cruisers are efficient killers of capital ships (Dreadnoughts and Titans). When your rivals start building capital ships, then start building this unit. They are less efficient in main fleets where there are no capital ships. Titans are massively inefficient against Heavy Cruisers. However, Leviathans are massively efficient against HCs. Death Stars are immune to Heavy Cruisers, but Death Stars are floating credit banks. Therefore, you do not need build these until you start seeing Dreadnoughts and Titans.

Battleships (BS/BB)

Consider this unit. As ships get larger, they tend to become less efficient. They are significantly efficient against support units, able to destroy more than 12 times their value in Fighters and Heavy Bombers. They are inefficient against escort ships. Therefore, use Battleships to destroy support fleet in coordination with Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers.

In an anti-capital role, Battleships are generally grossly inefficient. They are balanced against Dreadnoughts. They are less efficient than Heavy Cruisers against Titans. They are the most efficient escort ship for killing Leviathans (but still require nearly three times the fleet). They are very efficient against Death Stars. Therefore, do not build Battleships for in an anti-capital role until you are faced with Leviathans and Death Stars.

Capital Ships

Captial Ships are the massive units that provide bragging rights to senior players. To younger players, they provide shock-and-awe. However, the bigger units get, the less efficient they are. The big stuff is best used against things that cannot hurt it. Small Fleet Doctrine discourages building any of these units until you have a firm grasp on their use and can effectively destroy your rival’s capital units and defend your own.

Dreadnoughts (DN)

The strength of these units is their shields. They are great for attacking bases that have defenses weaker than Disruptor Turrets, provided the defense fleet is not large enough to have a chance at killing the Dreadnought.

Dreadnoughts are a fair addition to combat fleets when attacking things that cannot kill them and are willing to tolerate the long travel times. If a Dreadnought would be destroyed in the attack, it is preferable to leave it out. Otherwise, a safe Dreadnought will help soak damage that would otherwise destroy other units. Therefore, think of Dreadnoughts as inefficient, floating shields.

Dreadnoughts find their best value in trade route defense. When coupled with a pring, a Dread can efficiently defend 7,400 paces of trade routes. While a Dread may efficiently be destroyed by Heavy Cruisers and Battleships, the prings would kill whatever was brought in to kill the Dread. This causes at best a break-even situation for the attacker.

Titans (TI)

Titans are massively inefficient against Heavy Cruisers and Battleships. They are able to destroy Cruisers effectively because of the Titan’s shielding. However, the terrible speed and terrible efficiency of the Titan mean you should leave them off your list. Twenty Battleships will kill a naked Titan, as will 130 HCs; assuming technology is the same. The HCs should yield about a 2:1 kill ratio, while the BBs will yield around 1.5:1.
Titans are great to send out solo to smash bases with defenses less than rings.


Levianthans are allegedly useful for taking bases with Disruptor Turrets. However, they are still massively inefficient against a determined escort force. One should accept that taking bases is a terrible objective. The real objective is destroying your opponent’s fleet and collecting the debris. Levies are best used in stacks to chomp opposing fleet. However, if caught off guard a destroyed Levi stack might make the owner cry.

Utility Ships

Utility Ships are those ships which you need, but should never be used in combat. This guide does not discuss Outpost Ships as they have one obvious, limited role.

Retreat Your Utilities: Always retreat utility ships before attacking. They are not meant for fleet operations.

Recyclers (RC)

These are not combat units. However, they are critical to successful fleet operations. Resource denial is key to waging war in Astro Empires. You should probably have at least 1000 for effective hit-and-run tactics.

Carriers (CA)

Support ships (mostly Fightes) are useless outside the base that built them because they need transportation. Carriers are the smallest unit that can carry Fighters by the boat load. They have less survivability than Fleet Carriers, but they are also faster. Keep a group at your jumpgates for rapid reinforcement.

Fleet Carriers (FC)

Fleet Carriers sacrifice speed for survivability and portage. They have strong enough shields to shield-rape small units. If you have a calculator and you are very careful, it’s possible to include FCs in attacks to improve ratios. This is dangerous, though. Avoid this unless you are experienced. You should have lots of FCs to move all your Fighters around. Although, if speed is your goal and you are hunting with Cruisers, keep using Carriers.

Major Points to Remember

Here are the most important parts for review:

  • Fighters and Cruisers should be the bulk of your fleet—70 percent your total fleet size.
  • Keep enough HCs around to deal with the big stuff, with more than that if you want to use them in main fleets.
  • Do not build Frigates, Ion Frigates, or Ion Bombers. You are wasting your production time and money.
  • Bigger is not always better. The bigger you get, the less efficient you get. Do not build too much of the big stuff.

Small Fleet Doctrine Applied

From the previous sections, we learn that the most efficient units are Fighters, Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers. We also learn that other units can be efficient under the right circumtances. The essence of SFD is to know thine enemy. This requires you intelligently determine your rival’s technology levels. You investigate his fleet to determine where the chinks in the armor are. However, Small Fleet assumes that Heavy Cruisers are generally the largest unit you will build.

Spying on Your Rival

How do you find your rival’s technology? Sneak a Scout or Corvette into his fleet. You run through the attack sequence, stopping at the point where you would have to confirm the attack. You are rewarded with the power, armour and shield of his units. Cancel the attack and recover your spy. Use the values to calculate your needs.

What is his compostion? If there are a lot of Fighters, you will have to operate inefficiently to get rid of them. Calculate how many Fighters you need to kill his. That is your first wave. Are there many Cruisers? Then bring more Destroyers. If there are many Heavy Cruisers, then bring more Cruisers. Et cetera.

Normal Fleet Strength

In a defensive role, you should plan to cover your weaknesses. You will want a heavy Fighter support. Normal doctrine suggests 35 percent of the point value of your fleet will be Fighters. Another 40 percent should be Cruisers and Heavy Cruisers.


November 2009. Refined descriptions of Ion Bombers and Frigates to correct errors in anti-capital role. Added use of Corvette in a scout role, something Merovech has used for some time but was just lax in documenting.