I’ve been doing some experiments with drones on the rats.
Passive is pretty easy to understand, the don’t will wait for orders.
When my drones are out on aggressive by default they will engage the rats. However, if I wait until the rats come on grid, they will often not engage, not even if the drones themselves are attacked. The rats often shoot 7 volleys before they engage if I launch them late unless I order the drones directly.
I can also unlock the rats and the drones still fire.
So this is what I think is going on. The drone needs to be able to get a lock to attack without orders. Their native locking is done at long range but takes a long time. If the parent ship gets a lock, the drone instantly gets a lock. On aggressive, it will shoot anything hostile to the mothership and itself and will try to shoot targets within its optimal range (at least I hope it does, the drones would be really stupid if they didn’t). Orders to “engage my targe” of course are prioritized. My late launching means the drones are forced to use their native locking time, which is long. Launching late and manually locking on and giving an order cancels this delay. If the drones were on patrol, their native locking has time to take effect since it can be done from far away.
Since the drone’s lock is independent of the parent ship, if the parent ship decided to lock onto something else, but had to unlock some stuff because it was capped out on locked targets, it can unlock the targets the drones are firing at and lock onto whatever it needs to do. The drones will continue to fight the target, at least until its parent ship dies or gets out of range.
If I was in a fleet and I couldn’t get a lock on the enemy, could the drones set to aggressive fight back? Based on my experience with the rats, on aggressive they will reliably shoot anything hostile to the parent ship or the drone itself, but I don’t know if they will idly watch fleetmates get shot unless micromanaged.