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The AI version of the Salvage mechanism.
When player units are destroyed on AI or neutral planets, the AI collects a portion of their metal cost as salvage. As with human salvage, this amount decreases slowly over time.
Once the amount of metal collected passes a certain threshold, a message saying "AI Reprisal Warning Level 1" will appear in the notification area. After a few minutes, this warning will disappear and a wave that includes the text "(Reprisal)" will launch against one of the player's planets. This wave will be 1.5 times the size of a regular wave.
If the player loses enough units quickly enough the "AI Reprisal Warning Level" will increase to 2, 3, or even 4. Each additional warning level doubles the size of the resulting reprisal wave. Level 1 is 1.5x, level 2 is 3x, level 3 is 6x, and so on. As you can see, if you've reached the point where regular waves are no longer trivial, a level 3 reprisal wave could easily be fatal. Avoid excessive losses.
Fortunately the amount of metal required to generate reprisal waves increases with AIP, but this is balanced by the fact that the total metal value of the player's fleet increases as well. In general, a total fleet wipe will cause a level 3 or so reprisal.