I recently got into a short-lived and somewhat pointless argument over Stabber Fleet Issues, or SFIs. A couple days ago, PIZZA with a FISTN FC fought multiple engagements with TRIBE, SQUEE and others in armor SFIs. I called them SFI AHACs and was corrected - those aren't AHACs. Why not? Because they're not Heavy Assault Cruisers, and therefore they cannot be AHACs.
Well, here's a shocker: Zealots aren't HACs either. They're Heavy Assault Ships. HAS doesn't sound cool, so most people just call them HACs. But our SFIs had all the qualities of AHACs without sharing the T2 cruiser class of Zealots. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.. you know the rest. Truth be told, any Cruiser can be an AHAC, but some do it better than others.
So. What qualities do all AHACs share?
- Armor tank. This keeps the signature radius low at the expense of speed.
- Afterburner. This allows the ship to maintain velocity without increasing sig radius.
- E-war in mid slots. Admittedly, many choose to fly Zealot AHACs with Tracking Computers instead of webs, scrams, damps, disruptors or ECM. But if the situation merits, AHACs can be outfitted with whatever they need in terms of E-war rather than rely on Recons.
As a doctrine, AHACs are intended to counter fleets which use large guns or heavy missiles to apply DPS. They hit at close range and 'sig tank' meaning the majority of incoming damage is reduced or not applied at all due to their relatively tiny signature. This is made easier with Skirmish Warfare Links, which reduce a fleet's signature radius, increase max velocity and improve the range of scrams and webs. Armored Warfare Links also help tremendously to tank incoming fire.
Before I get yelled at in the comments: All of the following fits have a scram and web for the sake of showcasing the natural optimal/falloff of the fits. Yes, I know you can/should fit Tracking Computers in certain cases, or double web or other E-war. Relax.
The cheapest example of an AHAC would be a Maller. Combining an excellent tank, small signature radius and utility midslots, it has all the qualities of an AHAC. Compared to others, though, it has poor damage projection and low DPS combined with terrible speed. The Stabber Fleet Issue is a step up, as it can fit a MWD in order to quickly close range on a distant target before switching to AB for a smaller sig radius, and the 40m3 drone bay is not insignificant for killing off tackle.
The classic AHAC is the Zealot, which has excellent damage projection and tank while keeping its signature microscopic. The Deimos has also been used as an AHAC, but the relatively poor damage projection of medium blasters combined with the troublesome fitting specs on the Deimos itself has kept it relatively obscure. Since the HAM buff, the Sacrilege has seen the light of day in rare instances as an AHAC, but beware - missiles have difficulties of their own, notably a weakness against smartbombing and a delay of alpha which enables targets to catch reps.
Beyond the Zealot, one encounters T3 Armor Cruisers, primarily flown by groups like Verge of Collapse, Black Legion and Aperture Harmonics. T3s offer a lot of benefits, like vastly superior EHP, smaller signature radius, better sensor strength to counter ECM, higher DPS and better velocity. They also have excellent base resists which have a compounding effect with the smaller signature radius and better AB velocity. The Loki, Legion and Proteus are all viable Armor T3s - in fact, after the HAM buff, the Legion can be double plated for around 220k EHP while delivering over 600 DPS, but it suffers the same delayed damage woes of the Sacrilege.
At this stage, the AHAC doctrine allows small fleets to engage much larger fleets designed to apply massive alpha to BC-sized targets. With proper logistics support, 3:1 or worse numerical inferiority means little; it requires a concerted effort with webs, painters and DPS to break a T3 AHAC tank. One notable counter in W-space involves the use of sieged Moroses with web and painter support, but this is only made possible by environmental effects; in K-space, the only true counter for an experienced T3 AHAC fleet is another T3 AHAC fleet.
With upcoming buffs to armor, specifically removing or decreasing velocity and mass penalties of plates, AHACs will be given a generous increase in mobility. It is unclear how Fozzie plans to change Faction and T2 Cruisers, but the future of the AHAC is looking bright.