Just curious to see everyone's strategies here... how many computer-controlled ships of your same rank class can you take on at the same time and successfully defeat?
For me, I can take on 2 computer-controlled ships of my same rank class and not have a problem. I could probably take on a 3rd if I use my BOFF abilities to recover my hull and shields. However, any more than that, and I'd probably get crushed in no time flat. Like the other day in this Deep Space Encounter facing the Terran Empire, the flagship appeared afterwards surrounded by 3 Prometheus-class vessels and a Luna class. Their torpedoes seemed to pass through my shields like they weren't even there, so I had to retreat since the only ally I had in the Deep Space Encounter warped out before the flagship arrived.
Doesn't it depend on your ship class? My tac/escort... probably not too many. My eng/star cruiser... quite a few. In fact, I recently tested my eng/cruiser build against player controlled tac/escort, eng/escort, and tac/D'kyr in a private match. It was pretty much a stalemate. The 3 of them together couldn't kill me, but I couldn't kill any of them either (well, the one squishy escort kept running away when his hull was low).
One thing to keep in mind is that Deep Space Encounters, at least in the past, have tended to be really tough, because sometimes a higher level player will enter the instance and it will be balanced to him. I thought this was going to be changed for Season 4, but it might still be an issue.
Still, surrounded by three or four foes with no escape; yeah, usually that's fatal to an Escort. And sometimes a Cruiser as well. It depends a lot on how tough they are, and whether you have any weaknesses against them.
I honestly find the mission I have the most trouble with is that Satellite repair one. Eventually like four or six foes show up, and you're on a time limit or your engineers on the satellite will die, so you can't just run. It can take some work.
Then again, learning how to hit and run can be a big help no matter your class. There's a reason why the strategy "Divide and Conquer" is so well known...
At lower levels, two, maybe three. At VA, things are quite a bit different. The power gap between players and NPCs grows pretty rapidly in later levels, mostly due to a lot of power creep over the last year with the skill system and equipment.
In my escort, I've fought 4v1 against battleships and come out alive, and as NPC escorts are generally not that difficult to outmaneuver I have no doubt I could take a reasonably large group of them.
I'm pretty sure in my escort I could take just about any number until the theoretical point that I couldn't move in, unload an alpha strike, and evasive maneuvers back out of range without getting destroyed even through my buffs and heals. As long as you can unload and get out of range, you can wait out short and medium cooldowns and heal back up and come back in guns hot over and over. I've soloed the first part of The Cure doing that, and had a pretty good try at doing the same in Infected.
Now, if you mean in a straight toe to toe slugfest, no kiting or other abuse of NPC failings, four, maybe five but I wouldn't bet money. My cruiser could easily sit and take that kind of punishment all afternoon, though.
An entire Flagship spawn group in my Lt. Cmr Eng/Cruiser. Half-way through someone +5 to me showed up and started just attacking the Flagship. He destroyed it just as I finished off the last of the group, and none of the Flagship's escorting ships fired at him once (they liked me too much). My ship was at roughly 50% hull and I think even the turbo-flush was on CD.
With one of my ships ,I have had successfull engagements with ; 6 probes and a sphere ; 9 probes ; 2spheres ; and 1 cube with a sphere in suport [nasty fight that last one] . [ These engagements where with a heg'ta ] But 2 cubes ? Only a fool fights in a burning house .