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Combat is one of the three archetypal pilot roles recognized by the Pilots Federation. Combat encompasses multiple sub-roles, such as Assassin, Bounty Hunter, Mercenary, and Pirate. Increasing Combat rank requires destroying other ships, and defeating pilots with higher Combat ranks rewards a greater amount of experience. Combat pilots typically use Hardpoints equipped with weapons to disable a target's shield, and then deal damage directly to the hull until the target is destroyed. Combat can be undertaken alone, in a Wing, or in Multicrew.


Combat Elite icon

Combat rank is earned through ship kills. Every ship destroyed rewards a number of experience points that contribute to increasing Combat rank, and the amount of experience points that a ship is worth depends on the pilot's rank relative to the rank of the targeted ship. For example, a pilot with the rank of Harmless who kills an Elite ship will gain a large number of points, but a pilot with the rank of Deadly who kills a ship with a rank lower than Expert will receive no points at all. Furthermore, a Deadly pilot who kills an Elite ship will receive fewer points than the Harmless pilot who kills an Elite ship. Under this system, low-ranked pilots can climb ranks faster by destroying challenging opponents and accepting the risk that entails.[1][2]

Rank Total EXP Required Cosmetic Unlocks
Harmless 0 "Harmless" Ship & Suit Decals
Mostly Harmless "Mostly Harmless" Ship & Suit Decals
Novice "Novice" Ship & Suit Decals
Competent "Competent" Ship & Suit Decals
Expert "Expert" Ship & Suit Decals
Master "Master" Ship & Suit Decals
Dangerous "Dangerous" Ship & Suit Decals
Deadly "Deadly" Ship & Suit Decals
Elite "Elite" (Combat) Ship & Suit Decals
Elite Dangerous: Odyssey required to progress
Elite I "Elite I" (Combat) Suit Decal
Elite II "Elite II" (Combat) Suit Decal
Elite III "Elite III" (Combat) Suit Decal
Elite IV "Elite IV" (Combat) Suit Decal
Elite V "Elite V" (Combat) Suit Decal

The table below lists the amount of experience points towards Combat rank that is earned depending on the Combat rank of targeted ships.

Target Rank
Player Rank
Harmless Mostly Harmless Novice Competent Expert Master Dangerous Deadly
Harmless 1.00 0.75 0.5 0.25 ? ? ? ?
Mostly Harmless 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.5 0.25 ? ? ?
Novice 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.5 0.25 ? ?
Competent 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.5 0.25 ?
Expert 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.5 0.25
Master 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75 0.5
Dangerous 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00 0.75
Deadly 2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25 1.00
Elite 3 2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50 1.25

Combat Tips

Learning to use thrusters, keeping the throttle in the blue, situational awareness, good pip control and learning to anticipate rather than react to a target's actions are valuable skills and habits.

Flight Assist

Flight Assist (FA) is a tool that, when used well, opens up many new abilities for a pilot in combat. It allows pilots to make sharper turns and more agile movements, and most importantly it allows pilots to decouple their flight vector from where they are aiming, which allows for much more unpredictable and evasive combat maneuvers.

Flight Assist is essential for more boom and zoom style combat where the attacker needs to turn and gain distance at the same time so that the bad pitch rate is less of an issue. Without mastering FA-off, even something small like an Eagle MkII can be troublesome when flying with a sluggish ship if it is equipped with nothing but gimballed weapons.[3]

Pip Management

Pip management (SYS, ENG, and WEP power management) is an essential skill. Know when energy is needed in shields and when it is safe or advantageous to divert it elsewhere. Assign macros if possible, such as by using the two 4-ways on a HOTAS to quickly switch pip settings. When fighting several enemies at the same time, keeping SYS at a full four pips at all times might be the way to go, but when fighting just one or two enemies, performance can be noticeably improved by using that energy elsewhere.[3]

Thrusters and Utilities

Using vertical thrusters properly can also be very helpful. They can make a substantial difference when trying to stay out of an enemy's frontal view and thus to avoid incoming damage, while still keeping weapons on target. Also know how to use the throttle's blue zone, and when to leave it and when to return to it.[3]

Mastering the Chaff Launcher, Shield Cell Bank, and Heatsink Launcher can also mean the difference between victory and defeat.[3]


It is recommended take a small ship, such as a Viper MkIII or Imperial Courier, and use it to practice combat and gain practical experience before tackling larger targets and bounty hunting for profit. Learning how to avoid mistakes in a cheaper ship can help a pilot to avoid mistakes in a more expensive one and pay for them at the rebuy screen. This can also help when flying larger ships, since pilots who start learning combat in larger ships tend to rely on their shields and firepower alone to overwhelm a target, and have no experience in avoiding incoming damage. This can be fatal in battles against well-armed foes.[3]


  • It takes approximately 2,225 experience points to go from Deadly to Elite Combat ranking. This equals 1,780 Elite kills, or approximately 2,400 kills based on a more average distribution of ships.[4]
  • If a player has crew members (including AI crew members), combat experience points will be evenly split between them. Having one AI crew member roughly halves the experience points gained, doubling the number of kills required in order to rank up.
  • Fighting Thargoid Interceptors requires the use of specific weapons that deal Anti-Xeno damage, as Interceptors have special resistances. Thargoid Scouts have weaker resistances and normal weapons are viable against them.
  • Thargoid Scouts were originally Elite-ranked NPC units, and rewarded the highest possible amount of Combat rank experience when destroyed. Given the relative ease and quickness with which large numbers of Scouts could be destroyed compared to other Elite-ranked ships, this made Scout hunting the most efficient method of rising in Combat rank. Frontier Developments reduced the rank of Thargoid Scouts on December 8, 2020 as part of a series of balancing changes, ending their dominance of the Combat rank meta.[5]
  • All ranks above Elite (Elite I-V) were added in Elite Dangerous: Odyssey.
  • Odyssey release patch has notably "removed the zeroing out of Rank Progression points for Combat and Mercenary Rank when killing an enemy a given number of ranks below you."[6] It remains to be tested how much experience those rank differences give and if this is also applied to the Horizons client.


See also