Frigates are the smallest armed ship class that is capable of independent operation without the support of a larger ship. The basic concept of the frigate has its roots in the earliest space flight, but the modern frigate was first employed by the Caldari as a counter to Gallente drones in the Caldari-Gallente War. Today, frigates constitute the majority of standard fleets and are utilized in a variety of roles, particularly their more advanced counterparts.
The earliest ships to be called frigates were developed by the Caldari in 23216 AD, but the concept predates their design by centuries. The Amarr utilized small, armed two-person ships called Scouts for generations, while the Gallente favored heavier, slower ships that were nonetheless too small to be properly termed cruisers. These early designs were not intended for true combat, however, being mainly utilized for reconnaissance and transport.
The Caldari were the first to exploit the strengths of the ships for combat. For decades, the Caldari had deployed single-man fighter craft which were highly maneuverable against the Federation. However, once the Gallente developed the drone, the fighters proved far too fragile to stand toe-to-toe with the automated drones. The Caldari response was relatively simple; they improved the shielding on their fighters and added extra weapons. These new ships required more crew, but retained the agility of the fighters while adding in superior survivability. Once the Caldari acquired the capsule from the Jove several years later, they were able to reduce the crew compliment to just the pilot, further strengthening the ship class.
The frigate displayed its strengths spectacularly in the Battle of Vak'Atioth. The heavier Amarr ships were unable to pin down the nimble Jove frigates, while their larger weapons were unable to score direct hits. The Jove utilized their smaller vessels to devastate the Amarr vessels, inflicting the largest single defeat in the history of the Empire.
Since then, frigates have become mainstays in every traditional navy, filling a variety of roles from scout, to tackler, to fast transport. The frigate hull has proven to be one of the most versatile in New Eden, giving rise to no less than five high-tech variant; the Interceptor, Assault Ship, Electronic Attack Ship, Stealth Bomber, and Covert Ops Ship.
Frigates are primarily defined by their small size and superior agility. Most are little bigger than shuttles or fighters, and thus retain much of the agility of their weaker cousins, but are reinforced with extra armor and shielding and additional weapons. The basic frigate is capable of inflicting a fair amount of damage for a ship its size, while being able to avoid the direct fire of larger ships while still being capable of absorbing a few shots before being destroyed.
Frigates tend to be fairly simplistic in basic design, featuring a cockpit, a single living space, a combined engineering and gunnery sections, plus a small cargo bay. Some individual frigates can vary this layout slightly, such as sacrificing cargo space for additional living quarters or a more extensive scientific section, depending on their intended usage.
Because frigates are designed for few crew, they tend to have fairly advanced automation processes in comparison to larger ships. Capsuleer ships may possess only the pilot, meaning any problems need to be solved by automation rather than relying on crew to fix.
Because of their small size, frigates do not require very large crew compliments. In fact, many smaller frigates are designed to be flown by a solo capsuleer, with no crew support whatsoever. At most, a single assistant will aide in the event of emergencies.
On non-capsuleer and larger frigates, the crews tend to number no more than a dozen at maximum, though more people can fit on board for transport. The smallest, most lightly-armed frigates usually have a crew compliment of five; a pilot, an engineer, a gunner, and two generalists who can replace the others in emergencies. Larger frigates tend to utilize more engineers and gunners, with specialists in other areas as determined for the ship's mission.
It's commonly assumed that most frigate crew members are raw recruits. In truth, because they are required to act without backup and frequently cover for others, they are usually veterans who have proven their skills in a variety of areas.