Advanced Drone Handling

Latest update: 29-01-2023

Hello and welcome to this guide. It will be all about drones and how to use them. If you understand German, you might want to check out episodes #64 and #65 of the New Eden Podcast, where I was invited to talk about drones and other things.
For everyone else, here is a list of points discussed in the following:

  1. What are Drones?
  2. Differences between T1, T2 and Faction
  3. The “best” Drone
  4. Drone Boats
  5. Useful Modules & Implants
  6. Sentry Drones
  7. Utility Drones
  8. Essential Skills
  9. Organisation & Keybindings
  10. Managing NPC Aggression
  11. Lost them?

1. What are Drones?

Drones are basically mobile guns in space. Just like ships, they have structure-, armor- and shield-hitpoints. Like turrets, they have an optimal range, speed; tracking, different damage profiles; maximum velocity and – very important – a Damage Modifier. And some nice advantage over turrets: They don’t need ammunition and can be swapped mid-fight.

drone comparison
A great chart provided by CCP comparing speed and damage.

2. T1, T2 and Faction – What’s the difference?

If you compare all those attributes you can see that the ‘Augmented’ drones are the ones with the biggest damage potential as they have the highest Damage Modifier. Also the ‘Augmented’ and ‘Integrated’ variations deal mixed damage which makes them more versatile when fighting different types of NPCs. ‘Augmented’ drones are also faster than their T2 counterparts.
The variant of the respective empires, however, have better tracking, coming into play when you want to hit small and/or fast targets like Elite NPC Frigates.

The following comparison of light combat drones are ordered after the Damage Modifier from highest to lowest.

hobgoblins comparedhornets comparedacolytes comparedwarriors compared

3. The “Best” Drone

As always in EVE – it depends. First on your skills, then on how much money you can spend, what you want to shoot, and how likely it is to lose the drones.
But if money was no concern you can order the drones from best to worst like that:

‘Augmented’ > Navy/Fleet > T2 > ‘Integrated’ > T1 

The reason I rank Navy/Fleet drones over T2 are simply more hitpoints and tracking, and – in some cases – higher speed than their T2 equivalents.
The same basically applies to every size of combat drone. You can get light, medium and heavy combat drones. The larger, the slower but also more base damage and slower tracking.

Steve is special

And then, there is Steve. Well, you can name your Gecko however you want, but Bjorn named his Steve.
A Gecko is a very special drone. It is considered a heavy drone but needs 50 Mbit/sec bandwidth. This limits the number of Geckos used on most ships to only one or two.

heavy drones vs gecko

But the Gecko makes up for this. For a heavy drone it has pretty good tracking, deals equal of every 4 damage types and is quicker than most of the other heavy drones available. Basically it is a light fighter made usable for sub capitals. The ship that probably benefits the most from using this drone is a Rattlesnake, the Guristas Battleship.

‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49

Since the last Rogue Swarm Alert event mid-September 2018 there is a new drone around. It looks like a Hammerhead but is none. The ‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49 is considered a medium-sized drone that needs 20 Mbit/sec instead of the usual 10. That means the only ships that can make effective use of all five possible drones of this type are ships with at least 100 Mbit bandwidth, like the Stratios or Machariel. A Gila has only 20 Mbit, using two regular mediums will probably still be more effective for this hull than only one of these new “medilarge” drones. On ships with enough bandwith, the drone makes up for it by dealing 32 HP base damage of every four damage types. As a consequence, the Damage Modifier is comparably low for a medium drone: 0.85 instead of 1.92 from a Hammerhead II. Still, the drone can deal potentially more damage:

Hammerhead II: 1.92 * 32 * 1 = 61.44
‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49: 0.85 * 32 * 4 = 108.8
Ogre II: 1.92 * 64 * 1 = 122.88

drone comparison - ogre subverted hammerhead
From left to right: Ogre II, ‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49, Hammerhead II;

In PvE however, the resistance profiles of  NPCs won’t allow application of all four damage types effectively. Rather one effective, one semi-effective and the other two ineffective. The reduced speed of the drone (it’s even 140 m/s slower than a Gecko) additionally limits the ability to reach targets quickly. In a brawling PvP situation where speed is not that important and you usually don’t know the resistance profile of your opponent for sure, omni-damage can be an advantage and might be an alternative to four heavy drones. Only problem might be the price tag of currently around 80 million per piece.

Summed up, the ‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49 medium drone is more a “medilarge” drone. It might be an alternative for a brawling PvP Stratios or even Machariel against slower targets. It could replace two Geckos or four heavy drones but is based on its attributes rather semi-effective in most of the common PvE scenarios.

4. Drone Boats

“Drone Boats” is no official term but is widely used to describe ships that rely heavily or exclusively on drones for combat.
Most of the time, those ships have bonuses that increase the damage, health, speed and even mining yield, which is a relic from the days before the ORE-ships where introduced. They also usually have a larger drone bay than the average ship, making different flights of drones possible.

The most common drone ships are from Gallente and Guristas but also the Sisters of Eve and some Amarr hulls can use drones efficiently.

If you want to get started flying drone boats have a look at the Tristan (Frigate), the Algos or Dragoon if you can fly Destroyers and the Arbitrator or the Vexor for Cruiser sized vessels.

UPDATE 20-07-2019: Please note that the Vexor Navy Issue (VNI) will be a subject to change soon™. All changes are listed in detail in this devblog.

Strength & Weakness

The strength of Drone Boats is also their weakness: by choosing different flights of drones, damage types can be applied according to what suits the situation best. But other than weapon turrets, drones can be targeted, attacked and killed. In PvP, it’s often referred to as “to de-fang” your opponent by killing his drones. To avoid this drones can be recalled into the ship to break the target lock on them, just to be launched again and sent back onto the target.
The weakness is, of course, the health of your drones. If they get killed, you lose the potential to deal damage.

5. Modules & Implants

5.1 Modules

There are a few modules that can help improve your drones performance. Let me know if I have forgotten anything.

  • High Slot:
    • Drone Link Augmentor: Increases drone control range.
  • Medium Slot:
    • Drone Navigation Computer: Increases the maximum velocity of drones by X% – not orbiting velocity, continue reading to see why that’s important.
    • Stasis Webifier: Reduces the speed of a targeted ship which can help your drones to track it.
    • Target Painter: Increases the size of a targeted ship which can help your drones to track it without slowing it down like a Webifier would.
    • Omnidirectional Tracking Link: Can be loaded with different scripts for tracking range, tracking speed or used without them to increase both.
  • Low Slot:
    • Drone Damage Amplifier: Increases drone damage by X%
    • Omnidirectional Tracking Enhancer: Increases drone tracking speed by X%
    • C3-A ‘Hivaa Saitsuo’ Ballistic Control System
      + 10% of Drone Damage Bonus;
      + 7% Rate of Fire;  + 7% Missile Damage Bonus
    • C3-X ‘Hivaa Saitsuo’ Ballistic Control System
      + 15% of Drone Damage Bonus;
      + 10% Rate of Fire;  + 10% Missile Damage Bonus


Naturally, those modules are very strong on Guristas ships like the Worm, Gila and Rattlesnake; Some Khanid ships like the Curse and Sacrilege could profit from these modules too, as well as a Legion with the according to sub-system. Note that these faction modules are found in the Weapon Upgrades category.

But a Drone Damage Amplifier II (DDA) gives you a + 20.5% Drone Damage Bonus you say? You are right, it does. But you also get a stacking penalty. The more you use of them, the less effective they become. If you use missiles on the same ship the Ballistic Control should be worth taking a look at. I recommend to fiddle around with them in your preferred fitting tool or in game simulation to find the best combination for you.

drone damage amplifier stacking penalty
Stacking penalties for using more than one of the same type apply for most modules in Eve.

Why a Stasis Webifier isn’t always a good choice

If a heavy drone is orbiting a very slow or even still sitting target, the drone might not be able to track and hit the target. Why? Because drones will always try to orbit at their optimal range and at the maximum speed possible. This has an influence on the tracking of the drone. The reason why is the relative traversal speed from drone to target. If the target sits still, a heavy drone like the Ogre II can “get under their own guns” and can’t track as good as it could as if the target would be moving. A moving target is overall reducing the relative traversal speed to the drone.

Said easy: The drone is getting under their own guns.

You might think that ships like the Algos with a 25% bonus to drone maximum velocity might increase that problem. In fact, that’s not quite true. The maximum velocity of a drone is not the same speed it tries to orbit a target with. Maximum velocity of a drone just says something about how fast the drone reaches a target and if it can keep up with very fast ones. That’s why Warriors are very often used for fighting small, fast targets.

In some other niche case, where external factors influence a drone, they may even get too fast, to get back into your drone bay.

Increasing Drone Tracking

How can you compensate that? You could go crazy and web your own drones. But that’s not really practical apart from a theoretical scenario of a brawling Rattlesnake using a single Gecko. Also webbing your own drone increases the chance that it get’s shot.
A more practical option is an Omnidirectional Tracking Link. Or you can train the skill Drone Sharpshooting.

Here is a screenshot of light, medium and heavy tech 1 drones where you can compare the their individual “Turret Tracking” values.

drone attribute comparison.JPG
Left to right: light Hobgoblin, medium Hammerhead and heavy Ogre Combat Drone

So basically your drones use the same mechanic as turrets do in EVE. Turret tracking is somewhat complex and leads to far, so I’m not discussing that here.

5.1.2 More Numbers!

UPDATE 2022-01-25: If you are still not scared of all these numbers and theorycrafting, you can have a look at this great simulation where Larynx Austrene did run the numbers of drones shooting at various targets at their blog drones are weird graph example

5.2 Implants

Yes, there are indeed implants for drones – just like the ‘Subverted’ JVN-UC49 they are in the game since the Rogue Drone Event in September 2018. Implants available for Slot 7 and 9.

  • Slot 7:
    • Overmind ‘Goliath’ Drone Tuner T25-10S (tank for speed)
      + 25% on Hull, Armor and Shield Hitpoints;
      – 10% on Drone Velocity
    • Overmind ‘Hawkmoth’ Drone Tuner S10-25T (speed for tank)
      – 25% on Hull, Armor and Shield Hitpoints;
      + 10% on Drone Velocity
  • Slot 9:
    • CreoDron ‘Bumblebee’ Drone Tuner T10-5D (tank for damage)
      + 10% on Hull, Armor and Shield Hitpoints;
      – 5% on Drone Velocity
    • CreoDron ‘Yellowjacket’ Drone Tuner D5-10T (damage for tank)
      – 10% on Hull, Armor and Shield Hitpoints;
      + 5% on Drone Velocity

Note that these implants will no longer have an impact on fighters with the 2019 January release.

6. Sentry Drones

“Space artillery” would be also a very fitting name for this special kind of drone. They hit hard and far, but are basically stationary. Which can be a huge problem if you suddenly need to move. This is a reason why they are very rarely used in PvP.

Targeting Range and Drone Control Range
Targeting Range & Drone Control Range in the Fitting Simulation.

After you deployed your sentry drones you need to stay within 2500 meters or less to scoop them back up. A common strategy in PvE when using sentry drones is to fit a Micro Jump Drive (MJD). With this module you can jump nearly instantly 100 km to maintain a safe distance to the NPCs, then sit still, deploy sentries and shoot the incoming NPCs. Because they will travel in a relatively straight line towards you, the drones can track them well and hit hard. When hostiles come to close, recall drones and jump again with the MJD. Not the fastest way to clear sites, but a very reliable one. Note that your ship might need Sensors Boosters to lock stuff far away. Additionally, your drones have a maximum range within they can engage a target. Hint: 5.1 can help solve that problem.

Like Combat Drones, every type of sentry drone has different ranges they can apply damage from. Gallente Garde Sentries track the best and have the highest Damage Modifier, but also have the lowest range. Caldari Wardens have the longest range but track the worst and also have the lowest Damage modifier. And like every drone they deal different types of damage. Here is a nice little reddit thread on the difference between a Imperial Navy Curator and a T2 Curator.

T1 Sentry Drone Comparison
Keep in mind that those optimal ranges are without any bonuses from skills or ships! They will increase dramatically when e.g. used on a Dominix.

7. Utility Drones

Probably the most used drone type apart from combat drones are ECM drones. While some pilots consider them dishonorable, they are often used to escape warp disruption when a fight goes sideways.

Also more or less common are repair drones. Just like the modules there are variants for hull, armor and shield and are mostly used as a logistical backup in larger fleets.
There are also target painting and webbing drones. I can’t actually remember if I have ever seen those in use apart from market orders.

8. Essential Skills

Basically, everything that can be found under the drone section in your character sheet. But here is a list of really important ones:

  1. Drones
    It’s essential to get this at level 5 since it allows you to field +1 drone per level. Five drones are also the maximum most ships can handle at once. It’s also required for tech 2 drones.
  2. Light and Medium Drone Operation
    Increases the damage of +5% per skill level. It should both be at 4 ASAP and 5 is required for tech 2 which should be goal mid-term. Any drone ship will use lights and mediums and starting out they’re the bread and butter.
  3. Drone Interfacing
    Take this to 4. Get it to 5 as soon as you get a chance. It will give your drones +10% damage per level. This is a lot!
  4. Drone Navigation
    Gives your drones +5% maximum velocity. Faster drones take less damage and get to reach their targets faster.
  5. Drone Avionics
    This increases the control range of your drones by 5000 meters per skill level. This is helpful when kiting NPCs but not crucial when you are just starting.
  6. Drone Durability
    Increases the overall tank ability of your drones by 5% (shield, armor and hull). Especially on faction drones combined with Guristas ships, this can make your drones pretty tank.
  7. Amarr/Caldari/Gallente/Minmatar Drone Specialization
    Increases the damage by +2% for every drone requiring this skill and are needed for T2. This can be skilled late when you have already most other skills high up.
  8. Sentry Drone Interfacing
    +5% Damage for Sentry drones. This get’s interesting when you can effectively fly a ship that has bonuses for sentry drones like the Dominix or the Isthar.

Keep in mind that this is not a full list!

Also, don’t underestimate the bonus per skill level of the ship you are flying. For example, every level of Gallente cruisers gives you a 10% bonus on drone damage and hitpoints when you are flying a Vexor. At level five that’s 50% more drone damage!

9. Organisation & Keybindings

  • You can manage your drones by assigning them into different groups. Very handy if you have more than one flight of drones in your drone bay. Just right click in the drone window when you are undocked.
    organizing drones
  • You can also set a shortcut for your favorite group of drones you want to launch with the klick of a button.
    set favorite
    Alternatively, you can just drag & drop, or right-click on your drones or drone groups to launch them. Drag & drop also works for recalling them. The default key binding to recall drones is space is Shift+R.
  • Got to ESC > Shortcuts > Drones to set your own keybindings.
    drone shortcuts
  • In the drone window, you can click on the burger menu (the stacked bars in the upper left corner) to set the behavior of the drones to “Aggressive” or “Passive”. When set “Agressive” the drones automatically attack everything that shoots – and hits – your own ship. But the aggressor has to be within the drone control range of your ship. These settings are vital for AFK-Ratting. Focus fire tells all drones to attack one target at a time. In practice this does not always work, so keep an eye on it.
    set aggression

More on Keybinds by JonnyPew

JonnyPew recently made a video showing and going more into detail about micro-managing your drones in PvE combat. If you want to speed up clearing sites with your drone boat, gives this video a look.

If you feel like you didn’t fully understand some of the things I explained in this article you can look at these pages from EVE University: Drones, Drone 101 and Drone 102
They are much more detailed and explain basically everything there is.

10. Managing NPC Aggression

When you use your drones in PvE you sooner or later will see them beeing shot.
In theory CCP has rules for what NPC ships are targeting: Frigates and destroyers are supposed to shoot at light drones, cruisers & battlecruisers shoot at medium drones. Battleships shoot at heavy drones and sentries.

I’d like to add that there are numerous cases of NPC breaking CCP stated code so basically any drone can be targeted at any moment.

Akuma Tsukai

What can you do to keep the NPCs from shooting your drones?

In general: Be active and harass them. Every kind of E-War has been proven to be effective. Not with a 100% reliability, but it sure helps. Very popular are Target Painters which increase the signature of the targeted ship and help your drones to track it better. Other E-War modules are:

  • ECM (note that every faction has their own targeting system & ECM types)
  • Weapon Disruptors
  • Sensor Dampeners

But those three are not very common in PvE because they mostly work on single targets which is not that useful if you have to deal with a whole fleet of hostiles. And since that is the most common scenario, you rather want to kill as fast as possible.

Wormhole Sites

But Wait!

… there are more methods to avoid a negative impact on your drones’ health bars:
Patience. After entering the site, wait until the NPC ships have locked your ship before you launch the drones. This way you can at least avoid some initial damage on them. It might prove useful to do this between different waves too. So the NPCs are basically forced to go for you first because the drones are just not there.

After that, you should activate your target painter, fire your guns or even remote repair your drones if you can. Those actions will always help to keep NPCs interested in your tanked ship instead of your damage dealing drones.

If you are in a site with multiple waves, recall your drones after every wave until the NPCs have started to shoot you.

There are also elite NPCs frigates you might encounter. Those are especially nasty, hard to kill and often give a flying f*** about your E-War. They just go straight for your drones. In this case, the only way to save them is to call them back into your drone bay. If you wait long enough then, the NPCs should start to shoot the ship, deploying your drone then might give it a few moments before the elite frigate goes back to shoot the drones.

11. Lost them?

If you have lost your drones because you might have warped off before recalling them – don’t worry, that has happened to everyone – you can do three things:

  1. Abandon them. And risk that they turn into rogue drones looking for purpose in the cold dark space where you carelessly have left them, you monster.
  2. Or, get back on grid when you can:
    Then you right click at your capacitor and select “Reconnect to lost drones” and your little friends will reconnect to your ship and come back like good boys, orbiting it.
    Don’t leave them out for too long because everyone else could scoop them up. NPCs sometimes also shoot them.
  3. If you left them somewhere without a point to warp back to, you can scan them out with combat probes. This can be a very profitable activity in systems where people run a lot of missions or incursions, some people just forget their shiny Geckos.

3 thoughts on “Advanced Drone Handling”

  1. I didn’t remember this covering so many aspects of drones, and upon rereading it was surprised. Pretty cool!

    I am pretty sure Cap Transfers are another useful “E-War Module” on ships that get you less drone aggro. Back when I was using two Tinker (Making cap with CTs and CT rigs) Praxii to run C3s, I never ever had to pull my drones back in. But obviously having CTs only works on Tinker setups.

    And here is some inspiration on what a Drone window might look like: eventually, you have an entry for each type of drone.

    Liked by 1 person

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