I haven’t used autocannons for their historical role in awhile. Due to a lot of the issues mentioned here. They are not strong enough in the meta as anti-tackle like their old role used to be on the vagabond/stabber. With things like ramjags, garmurs, snaked inties being a common threat, their noodle like dps at 24km+ just isn’t enough to kill things in a timely manner. Plus, using barrage takes out the whole “selectable damage” when its the only ammo choice that can kite semi-decently. Have fun shooting barrage at a retri or any T2 amarr ship.
Can it still work in the current meta? Sure. But there are far better, cheaper options than either a vagabond, stabber or kite hurricane if you want to project dps. A caracal does a vagabond’s job much better if you’re just looking for anti-tackle.
While projectile reload is pretty oppressive and i would not be opposed to modifying it, i don’t think it would change much on the dynamics of autocannons. Such as in your example with the breacher/rifter. You gain 7 dps. Even if the reload was a 5 second reload, i still would most likely not reload for 7 dps.
The issue with autocannons is their dps is low and fall-off high, to give them this kind of “can hit things at a lot of ranges, just not very well” niche. The current issue is that there are way more options to hit things well at range now than there was in 2012, and there are a lot better options to brawl with than autocannons compared to 2012. Sure, you can brawl with a vagabond/cane. Come up against a ship designed to brawl, and you’re going to die though, or at most, have to disengage and run away.
How to fix autocannons? It would be a slow process so try to avoid power creep. But the 2 ideas i’ve had for awhile is:
The simplest; Buff base falloff rate by 15-20%, give autocannons back the range the TE nerf took away from them (maybe slightly more just to stay competitive in the meta).
Create weapon specific tracking enhancers with varied bonuses to apply to those specific weapons. For example:
Projectile TE = high fall-off, low optimal and general tracking bonuses
Laser TE = high optimal, very low falloff and general tracking bonuses
Hybrid TE = medium optimal, medium falloff and general tracking bonuses
This way CCP can modify the enhancers/stats to the desired effect of nerfing/buffing without effecting every weapon system.
The thing about minmatar is they have extra lows (or a flexible layout) because it was expected that you’d put TE’s on them to buff the range. Minmatar was designed around TE’s. With TE’s being nerfed, it really hit minmatar’s ability to project damage with autocannons, Which is why almost everyone has switched to artillery when wanting to project damage.