Carriers have it all. They have a modular weapons loadout, the longest range in the game, and can heal their fleet while staying unharmed themselves, all at the same time. Supposedly, they are balanced against their antimatter stores, but this doesn't work out in game, even against direct antimatter counters. So:
Have strike fleets drain antimatter while fielded. When the antimatter is gone, the strike ships are no longer considered under "carrier support". They may decay, they may run out of ammo, or they may simpy run back to the carrier so it can recharge. This change accomplishes many things at once:
- Carrier damage output is tied indirectly to their antimatter stores. When the antimatter runs out, their ships putter out.
- Carriers have a time limit that their ships can be out, based on their antimatter storage.
- Carriers have a long wait time before the antimatter stores, and thus the ship's flight time, are at full capacity.
- Carriers that do rapid jumps will quickly be unable to field squadrons (biggest change).
What this means is that carriers need time to recharge their strength, no matter if they're countered or not. This is fine, considering that carriers do the highest, best controlled, lowest risk damage in the game. Limiting their engagement is a good counterbalance. Hit and run tactics will be hurt, as the carriers will quickly run out of flight time for their fleets. In prolonged engagements, carriers will eventually lose their edge over dedicated fighting frigates, and on the run carriers would be nearly defenseless.
Flak frigates would get a big boost, as their biggest issue is fighting the carrier's ability to replace squadrons. Currently, carriers not only replace squadrons with ease, but recharge their ability to do so while they're fighting. If carrier combat drains their ability to replace squadrons, then flak has much fewer ships it needs to take out.
In terms of how this would affect each faction:
- Advent has the best antimatter recharge, thanks to the antimatter stealing frigate and recharge station. Their carriers would be more reliant on this synergy, but shouldn't be hurt very much. Advent also get a discount on the antimatter penalty for jumping, which helps for keeping a carrier push strong.
- Tec has a culture bonus to antimatter, letting their carriers be highly durable on the defense, but the drain would hurt them on the offense. Overall Tec would likely be hurt the most.
- Vasari don't have antimatter support for their ships. However, phase gates allow carriers to get anywhere in one jump. This means they lose the least antimatter on a long trip, which is great because they won't have much help elsewhere.
Edit: Ships that are docked will of course not drain antimatter, so that the carrier can recharge. Ships that are passive(hanging around the carrier sleeping) will simply dock so that they don't drain antimatter.