One of the basic micro management techniques in RTS games has been the cycling of front line units in order to distribute incoming damage evenly. This is normally a difficult task that requires lots of player attention, and it can be further hindered by units not returning fire when a movement command is given. Although docking damaged strike craft and corvettes squadrons is now a common practice in HW2, I did not think larger ships were capable of this type of maneuver. To my surprise, I have discovered the frigates and capital ships do act intelligently in these situations as well, and I was wondering if there is more to be explored in this area.
What I am refering to is the fact that when you order a slow turning ship to withdraw from battle, they will sometimes opt to backup directly instead of turning around, all the while facing your opponents and maintaining fire upon them. The prerequisite for this type of maneuver seems to be that some enemy ships must remain in weapons range as you backup, and the normally green/yellow movement disk will turn red to reflect this.
A maneuver like this will naturally have a big impact on battle. Even a frigate sized ship will easily save ~5 seconds of time by not executing a full 180 turn, and you can also withdraw ships with small firing arcs without sacrificing their damage output in battle (e.g. Ion Cannon Frigates). Furthermore, you can choose to withdraw ships at an angel away from your opponents, thereby forcing them to expose their flanks as you encircle them. This is most efficient when you place high value ships in the center of a line formation. As the enemy strike group approaches, just order your ships to retreat into a semi-circle, with the high value ships drawing them into a trap (e.g. marine frigates).
The much maligned frigates are exceptionally useful here since they can backup faster than a Destroyer or Battle Cruiser can move forward. If your opponent is not careful, you can peel off his escort ships and eliminate them outside the range of their Destroyers or Battle Cruisers. While this can be tricky to pull off against a human opponent, I've found that it works pretty well against the computer AI, even on expert levels. With a little practice I can win with less than 30 losses in a 1 vs. 1 match, of which most are sacrificial platforms, and this is without any rush at all.
Are moving units harder to hit even if they are slow? This could be another added benefit if true. What I would really like to see is a forced movement command so I can backup my ships even when there are no enemies in range. This would be helpful in laying out formations just before battle, and maintaining them during battle, especially for ships with short range weapons that love turning around to moon your enemies (e.g. Flak Frigates).