Once again, I emerge from the darkness that often befalls my poor blog. Time is a precious thing, and I usually prefer to actually shoot things in space rather than simply write about them. Right now however, I'd like to talk about drones, not just a continuation of my "ravings of a Gallente loyalist" series, but on all drones, and how a very specific iteration could go a long way towards truly making drones a "primary" weapons system.
In recent iterations (and in the upcoming Odyssey 1.1 patch), CCP has made a great deal of effort to enhance pure drone ships. From changing the ships themselves to adding new modules, there are now a plethora of ships that can excel in the output of purely drone damage. While this is not a bad thing (indeed, I and my skillpoints are quite happy) I believe there have been several unintended consequences. First lets consider the ships themselves. All dedicated drone ships have had one slot removed in comparison with other ships of the same class. CCP has implied that because of abilities like untargeted damage, the ability to have any damage type you want, and the ability to things like EWAR drones are powerful enough to warrant having a lower slot layout. I'll get to some of these other things in a moment, but for now remember that we are a slot short.
New modules have been added of late that increase the ability of drone based comps. Damage, range, speed, all are now viable options for drone ship users to take. Here is the side effect: this means that pure drone boats will usually never have onboard weapons (missiles or turrets). Why? For the same reason nobody ever fit a Megathrons (prior to latest balance) 8th slot with a missile launcher and then put a BCU in a low slot. Having turrets or launchers not only takes away from the precious fitting restrictions many drone boats have, but it means that you want to focus ALL of your upgrades on your actually drones or tank. This is further compounded by the fact that... you guessed it: drone ships have one less slot for all those upgrade modules. This means that once drones have been neutralized by some means (smartbombs, targeting with smaller weapons or other drones, etc.) most current drone ships are mostly worthless. While this is not a solid rule (ships like the Navy Domi still commonly use turrets) it is rule enough to consider bridging the gap.
This stands in stark contrast to turrets or missile boats that use cavernous cargo holds to carry any kind of ammo they need: close range, long range, high DPS, or better tracking are all options that non-drone ships have at their disposal for protracted periods. The problem for drone users, and as CCP as put it the "advantage" of interchangeable drone damage types, is that only so many drones can be carried. Even huge drone bays like those on the Dominix and Armageddon can only carry a handful of different damage, range, or speed drones. Even if drones are re-balanced in and of themselves, it will not fix the underlying issue that when push comes to shove, the two main things you want out of drones are either DPS or the ability to catch targets creating the need for carrying a variety of drones rather than multiple flights of lights in order to apply "any" damage type. Furthermore, even should a turret based ship run out of ammunition, he can be resupplied by looting the battlefield and scooping the ammunition needed. While this will not ALWAYS be the case, it is not an uncommon occurrence. Enter my suggestion to fill this hole: Allow drones to be transferred from the cargohold to the drone bay.
Currently, any drones that are packaged cannot be fit during battle (unless you have a maintenance hanger). By allowing drones to be carried in a cargohold and transferred, you give the ability to be able to truly have an option in any situation, capitalizing on the wide range of drones available. This can be tempered with multiple stopgaps. A "reload" timer could be used when adding drones from the cargohold, say a minute (any number could be considered). Drones would also not be able to me moved from the drone bay back to the cargohold, meaning once moved, would have to be launched and lost or launched and abandoned (without the ability to reconnect). As drones are quite heavy, this would prohibit "endless" waves of drones, even light ones. While it would allow ships with only 25mb bandwidth to carry multiple flights of drones, it would also inhibit the ability to carry extra ammo, or cap charges, thus diminishing the ability of many popular ships.
It is clear that CCP has committed to making drones a primary weapon system, however, without giving them the ability utilize all the "benefits" they proclaim drones have, it will be very difficult from drone ships to be considered anything other than niche.
EDIT: In some of the feedback I've received, I want to make one thing clear. Yes it's true that ships like the Vagabond would be a MAJOR pain to catch and hold since tackle couldn't peel off drones, however, in trying to make drones a primary weapon system, I believe that in addition to the aforementioned changes, the number of ships that have drones should be reduced. You don't see a great number of turret ships with a random couple of missile slots for those "amazing" rockets and you don't see a lot of missile ships with turrets for the "huge" amount of extra DPS they contribute. By having soooooo many ships with drones that are already succesful ships even without said drones, you dimisnish the uniqueness of dedicated drone ships in just the same way Gallente blasters are "diminished" by having Caldari ships that often can accomplish the same thing while retaining speed or tankability.