The real time strategy AI is not actually a single AI, but rather consists of myriad AIs. These AIs represent the fleet commander (an Admiral), task force commanders (Commodores), ship Captains (including orbital fortresses), commanders of other battle-worthy units (such as ground-based defenses), fighter pilots, and even the (simulated) AI in a torpedo or missile.
Above all of these there may or may not be a political leader. That is, the planetary Viceroy, system Administrator, sector Governor, or even the "Big Leader" himself (whether he's there as his own idea or the player spent an IFP to interject himself onto the battle "through him").
If a computer player does attend a battle in this manner, there are three primary effects:
- The Ability Rating (and military bonuses and penalties) for that civilization's Big Leader are calculated into all leader-based decisions in that battle. This affects both the quality of the decisions made and how seriously subordinates will take them. This may or may not be an advantage.
- Political considerations will be taken into account concerning allied forces (on both sides) present at the battle.
- Some doctrinal issues such as NBC use authorization and other rules of engagement, damage tolerance, and so forth can be changed "on the spot."
Regardless of whether there is a political leader at the battle, a battle doctrine is established prior to its commencement. This includes assigning categories and missions to each task force and making decisions about doctrinal issues (mentioned above). Note that doctrinal issue decisions can be made at various times throughout the game.
Subordinate officers at any level will almost always comply with their orders (short of having some personal defect or hidden agenda that prevents this) and "do the right thing" in battle. In general, this means that they follow orders, but under appropriate circumstances it may mean acting under their own initiative.However, how quickly and efficiently they fulfill their duties is influenced by the ship crew's experience (if applicable), the Officer's ability rating, and how reasonable the orders are (e.g., a ship ordered to fire upon an enemy it can not damage will probably look for another target first). Officers can also be influenced by their personal agenda (which might include such factors as survival or the desire for revenge) which can influence their battle performance.
All Leaders have a "style" of leadership on a seven-scale from Bold to Cautious (see below). Naturally, this can influence their actions in combat.
- Levels of AI Authority
There are four levels of AI authority that can have an influence on any battle:
- Political Authority: A network of political leaders, stretching from the human or computer player (at the top) to the lowliest functionaries runs the empire. These AIs collectively establish the policies and goals that might lead to battle in the first place. In addition, there may or may not be a political leader present at the scene of the battle who is actually interjecting their command authority there. If there is, that individual will have the authority to overrule the decisions of the Fleet Admiral.
- Fleet Admirals: There is one Fleet Admiral in each sector the player controls. That Leader is responsible for overseeing all battles that occur within their sector and neighboring areas where that civilization has yet to establish a sector Seat of Government (Army Marshals and sector Governors have the same geographic boundaries for their respective areas of command authority). During real-time combat, the Fleet Admiral must coordinate the task forces at a battle in such a way that they are best able to fulfill that battle's objectives using methodology appropriate to the fleet doctrine.
- Task Force Commodores: Task Force Commodores are responsible for control and coordination between the individual ships within their task force so that they can best fulfill that task force's mission.
- Captains: The AIs for individual space combat units will be referred to as "Captains" since they primarily consist of ship captains. Technically, some "Captains" (missile AIs and fighter pilots, for instance) will get their orders from other Captains rather than from Commanders (i.e., the Fleet Admiral or their Task Force Commodore), but this is not a significant enough distinction to merit a fourth class of AI.
- AI Actions
Among numerous other things, that battle's military objective(s) must be defined. In general, these will be derived from (a) the political situation, (b) the capabilities of the fleet, and (c) the "damage tolerance" (defined below). Possible primary objectives include the following (the secondary objective is always assumed to be maximum damage to the enemy's fighting forces):
- <assault / reinforce / besiege / barrage / raid / destroy / protect> planet
- <capture / destroy / protect> <task force type / troop ships / jump ships / ships / planetary defenses / forces>
- bypass enemy forces and maneuver off the appropriate edge of the battle area
The "damage tolerance" for a battle is the "acceptable loss level" before disengagement is considered. It indicates how hard the commanders should "press" battle before retreating and is generally an indication of the strategic importance of the battle. Note that the Admiral may elect to retreat (or to order a task force to retreat) for reasons other than having exceeded the fleet's damage tolerance (for instance, if the mission is not possible with the available forces).
- The Task Force Formation
Each task force consists of a core at its center and two rings (an inner ring and an outer ring based on their proximity to the core). The "objective ships" (i.e., those ships specifically designed/best able to fulfill the specific objective(s) for that task force) and "close escorts" are located within the core. The inner ring consists of the remaining escorts. The outer ring contains the picket ships. Generally, in the absence of other orders, the ships in each ring will act as follows:
These are the ships that are of an appropriate type to perform the task force's objective(s). For example, in an Assault task force these would be the transports; in a Space Superiority task forcethese would be the main attack ships. They will remain, protected at the heart of the core, until it is time to fulfill their objective(s), at which point they will do so in an appropriate manner.
Close Escort Ships
Escort ships placed in the core are, by definition, "close escort ships." These ships are placed in the core but are not of an appropriate type to perform the task force's objective(s). In other words, they don't quality as "objective ships." They protect the core ships (with their lives if necessary). Sometimes an escort or picket ship that has been badly damaged will move to the core and function as a close escort.
These ships form the first ring around the core. They do not remain spread out along the full circumference of their ring. Instead, their primary role in a task force is to move to place themselves between the core and incoming threats. If there is only one direction for incoming threats, all of the escort ships will "face it" (that is, move in such a way that they place themselves along their ring between their core ships and the threat vector). If there is a flanking threat, some escorts will screen each threatened side of the formation (in effect, stretching and weakening the task force's defenses). When the core is adequately screened, the task force's Commodore will often assign some of the escorts to perform a secondary role (such as firing "for effect" upon the enemy's escorts in an effort to destroy them).
These are the eyes and ears of the task force. They form the outermost ring and do spread themselves evenly around the task force to maintain 360 degrees of secure vigilance. Their primary role in the task force is the early detection and evaluation of enemy threats. Their secondary role is the early engagement of incoming threats. Any systems not applied toward one of these two roles may, of course, be used on targets of opportunity.
- Task Force Missions
The Fleet Admiral (or political authority) will assign a mission to each task force at the beginning of combat, updating it periodically as events there unfold. The following are the various missions that can be assigned to a task force:
Defend Position: A position in space is selected. When reached, the task force ceases movement there and goes on the defensive (i.e., "forms square," "circles the wagons," or however else you want to put it).
Defend Position is the default mission for planetary task forces (i.e., orbital and planetary defenses), and task forces that are taking heavy casualties may switch to this mission while waiting for help to arrive.
Escort Task Force: Each task force can have one (possibly two) other task forces assigned to escort it. Escorts will stay within proximity of the task force they are escorting and will engage the escorted task force's greatest threat. Generally, the escorting task forces will be Space Superiority task forces and the task force being escorted will be an Objective task force of some sort (but that may not always be the case).
Assault Target: The task force is assigned a single task force or planet as a target. It will attack that target in accordance with its doctrinal capabilities.
Maneuver: The task force is assigned a series of waypoints along which it should move and it will move to each intermediate point in succession. Its actions upon spotting an enemy force depend on its specific orders. If it has been ordered to conduct a movement in force, it will engage to destroy any weaker or similarly powerful enemies encountered, and avoid the rest. If it has been ordered to relocate, it will move in such a way as to avoid enemy forces. In either case, if it is engaged by an enemy force it can not outrun it will defend itself. The point to which a task force is ordered to maneuver may be off the map, indicating that it should retreat from combat.
Reconnaissance: This mission can take place along a series of waypoints or at a specific location. If the Reconnaissance task force is covert (it has been ordered to conduct "passive searching"), it will take all reasonable precautions to avoid detection by the enemy. If it is overt, it will evaluate spotted enemy task forces, engage those that it feels it can safely overcome, and attempt to maintain a safe distance rest. When maintaining a safe distance it will endeavor to keep the enemy task force spotted, but will retreat back toward the rest of its fleet as necessary.