FreeSpace Pirates: An Essay
So You Want To Be A Pirate
Fine then. Let's get a few things straight first.
The GTVA fleet has more and bigger guns than anyone else because that's their job. Even if you by some miracle manage to outgun your local Fleet or Battlegroup, the GTVA has about 20 of those, and there is no way you can hope to match what they could decide to throw at you. If their superior equipment, superior training, and superior numbers don't scare you, then their superior logistics should. Though it would likely be considered unconscionable to do so, the GTVA can afford to trade an Aten or a Fenris for a pirate fighter wing. Why? They control the sources of production. The academies and the factories and the shipyards all belong to the GTVA, and so they can replace or create trained personnel, fightercraft, and ships far more easily than a pirate group can. They can afford to wear you down slowly, they can afford to take a few hits along the way. Don't fight them unless you have absolutely no other options, and frankly, since all ships are capable of intrasystem subspace jumps, and we know of no way to prevent them jumping, there is always another option.
Space, as the saying goes, is big. This constitutes your primary advantage. Even securing low planetary orbit in any conventional sense would require a massive investment of resources. Big as the GTVA's forces are, they cannot cover everywhere and everything. You will be able to find something you can hit, usually, and not immediately end up tangling with GTVA ships.
To counteract this, the GTVA has two important technologies, and they make a hell of an equalizer: FTL communications and FTL travel. Instantanous communication with any spot in the system is possible from any spacecraft so far as we know. This means anyone you attack can get out a distress call as quickly as it takes to form the thought. FTL travel means he can also escape anytime he likes, but worse yet, it means that help is never more than a minute or two away. From the word go, you have at best two minutes before an angry wing of Taurets or a Leviathan shows up and it all goes down the drain.
This is actually worse than it sounds. Recall from earlier that the GTVA has vastly superior resources to you. Fighters are expensive as all hell, never mind larger craft. So here's the problem: Anything the GTVA has in the system is only a couple of minutes away. You could be looking at multiple cruisers and fighter wings, or a destroyer and escorts. The GTVA knows that each of your ships is precious to you, and they know that even forcing you to expend a lot of ordnance and fuel is going to be more of a problem for you than them. With each loss very difficult to replace for you in relative terms, expect them to show no compunction against the use of massive force to ensure that you take that loss. If you give them the chance to drop the whole world on your head, they're going to do it.
So where does that leave you and your hearties? Up a creek without a paddle? Not at all. The moral of the story here is that if you scream in the presence of a bear, it's probably going to maul you. So be quiet. Be sneaky.
Put simply, if everything goes right for you, and everything goes right for the other guy, you're still going to lose. That's how the game works when you bring inferior forces to the table. So you need to find a weak link in his chain and break it, thereby making something go wrong.
FTL travel is right out. Short of disabling a ship or possibly wrecking its nav systems, we don't know of a means to do so. This will be necessary at one end at least to prevent any victims escaping (perhaps), but using it at both ends is impractical, not to mention it will bring you up against the 800-pound gorilla you were trying to avoid.
FTL communications, however, is not. We know it is possible to jam or disrupt these communications. Jamming gear should be high on the list of the things any good pirate needs. In an ideal world, it would be better yet to ensure that the gear isn’t operable before the ship ever leaves port. FS spacecraft are fantasically large, heavy, and powerful craft, and probably require equally fantastically large, heavy, and powerful amounts of computer gear. Disabling said gear via a virus or hacking, disrupting navigation functions so that a ship can’t jump or jumps where you want it to rather than where the crew does, would also be a convenient solution (and if you can manage that you can probably vent the crew into space while you’re at it).
At the point of fire you will need fighters and cargo ships or transports to suppress any escorts and seize what you came for, but a lot of your work is going to end up being clandestine, getting routing and shipping schedules and tampering with things that you need to divert ships to where they can be easily attacked; if you do well enough you can expect a "checkpoint" system where ships jump between secured areas to be implemented eventually, assuming it isn't already in place and then you have to get mafia style.
Assuming your precautions against running headlong into the 800-pound gorilla fail, what then?
The first thing to remember is that you can't be assured of any superiority over GTVA craft. They will probably have newer ships and weapons and better pilots. A numerical edge can evaporate fast due to reinforcements. There will be circumstances where you may not be able to avoid having to off a few GTVA pilots probably, and there may even be circumstances where it would be advantageous to do so (though these are hard to imagine). Nevertheless, the option of choice should always be to retreat into subspace.
However, it's not quite that simple. The GTVA has the ability to track ships into subspace (Apparently; best guess is that they can tell where ships intend to go if they see them jump and can pursue them, but cannot see them coming beforehand if they weren't observed to jump. If they can track all subspace transit regardless of location, forget the possiblity of piracy.) and predict their destination. Multiple jumps to lose any pursuers will be required.
A secure hiding place may be difficult to come by, as while space is large, it's also mostly empty, making it relatively difficult to hide behind something. Asteroid belts are good, being large and difficult (impossible, really) to keep tabs on all it once. Uninhabited planets are sort of good, as a planet is a really big place, but by the time period being discussed orbital surveillance satellites are probably pretty cheap and so a planet should not be well-regarded as base, unless ground surveillance from orbit is somehow impossible. (Which, really, it shouldn't be, as the Magellan probe proved with Venus.)
Finally, as it is reasonable to assume the GTVA keeps close tabs on jump nodes, it would be wise to avoid traversing them.
Piracy in FreeSpace is akin to standing on the edge of a cliff with your toes hanging off the edge: caution is necessary. Aggresiveness, which is normally useful and even desired in a combat pilot, gets you dead. Any group that does anything to increase their visiblity increases the likelihood of their destruction. The main objectives of a true pirate should be to minimize their profile; do the job with the minimum possible time, resources, and damage to anybody either friend or foe.