TLDR: The relative strength indicators ignore your defensive stations, which can really change the equation if they're strong enough.
So in a recent game, I went with a tall, materialist build. I had a (mostly) awesome starting setup — light on minerals, as I eventually discovered to my dismay — with two choke points that covered my entire empire and game me borders with 3 different AIs. Two of those AIs promptly decided they didn't like me, so I started fortifying up my borders. My relative fleet strength plummeted — hard! — even as my economic remained weak and my tech began to climb. With 2 choke points, my of my alloys went into building up my star bases into star holds — and then rapidly into star fortresses as my tech continued to leap upwards.
I wasn't exactly panicking, but I wasn't exactly happy either, as I saw that somehow, despite my best efforts to stay relevant, the two AI empires kept moving their economy and military power past mine — with military power being solidly 'overwhelming'. I planned to ride the bird down in flames to learn what I could.
Then the dreaded day came. The AI, convinced it had me completely and utterly outgunned, began to push it's weight around. I said 'no' to vassalization, and it got… annoyed with me. War, oh no, whatever shall I do?
So I bundle up my 2K fleet of corvettes and station it near the relevant border, then start making a couple of raids over the border just to be active. Nothing too terribly impressive over there, oddly enough. Oh, wait — enemy 3K fleet, complete with a selection of destroyers, showed up. Oh dear, that's definitely… more than I can take on, time to go home. I get home… and my nearly 9K Star Fortress / bastion chews that fleet up and spits it out without even noticing it. Just in time for another 3K fleet to show up and get the same treatment. At which point, the AI is rather screwed, because those were the two fleets that made it 'overwhelming'.
Turns out my fleet was so pathetic and underwhelming only because I'd put the resources that could have gone into it into my defense grid instead — a fully armed and operational star fortress chews up destroyer and corvette based fleets with a laugh. Only reason I couldn't conquer the entire AI at that point is I let my 2K fleet get mousetrapped between the remnants of his former 3K fleets (augmented by new construction, I assume, or else the AI had an additional 3K worth of fleets that forgot their morning coffee). My economy simply couldn't replace the corvettes very efficiently at this point (read: my minerals were going to consumer goods and then research rather than alloys), so I had to settle in for just laughing at the AI's pathetic attempts to penetrate my defensive perimeter. But I did go ahead and start designing a mixed cruiser/destroyer/corvette fleet as a replacement, and even putting alloys down on it now that my star fortress defense line was fully on line.
By pure coincidence (because I don't think the AI can 'get' these things), the third AI on my borders asked me for a defensive pact shortly after this. Maybe it noticed those first new-build cruisers come off the assembly line as the war finally ended.
© Post "Relative Military Might Indicator / AI Guage Should Include Fortresses Somehow" for game Stellaris.
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