Covert Operations (Long War)

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EXALT insignia

The Covert Operations division and the tricks EXALT get up to are similar in Long War as in vanilla.

EXALT Activities

EXALT begins operations against XCOM in May. EXALT spawns two cells after 18-24 days have passed (15-24 on Brutal/Impossible) and then immediately triggers a Sabotage operation. Thereafter, one additional cell can spawn after 7-10 (Classic: 7-11, Brutal: 6-10, Impossible: 6-9) days have past (this cooldown scales with the dynamic war option), up to a maximum of 10 cells at once.

Cell Spawning


Newly spawned cells select countries semi-randomly according to a weighted list. Each country has 0 weight by default, and countries add or subtract weighting based on a variety of factors.

Initial Weightings
Country Panic Normal Classic Brutal Impossible
0-19 0 0 0 0
20-39 1 1 0 0
40-59 2 2 1 0
60-79 2 2 2 2
80-100 1 1 2 3

Additional modifiers (on Normal / Classic / Brutal / Impossible):

  • No country in the continent has an EXALT Cell: +1 / +1 / +2 / +1
  • No countries in the continent have left the XCOM project: +1 / +1 / +1 / +2
  • All but one country in the continent has left the XCOM project: -1
  • All countries in the continent have left the XCOM project: -3
  • Only country on the continent without a satellite: +2
  • Country has a satellite: -3 / -1 / -1 / -1
  • The country contains the EXALT HQ: -1 / -1 / -1 / -0

Once all weights have been computed, the location of the EXALT cell is randomly determined, with the chance of selecting any given country equal to <weight of country> / <sum of all weights>. Any countries with existing exalt cells, as well as any countries with 0 or less weighting, are removed from this calculation.

For instance, if country A, B, and C has weighting 3, 2, and 1 respectively for a total of 6 weight, and all other countries have 0 or less weight, then country A is selected 3/6 (50%) of the time, country B is selected 2/6 (~33%) of the time, and country C is selected 1/6 (~17%) of the time.

Success Chance

Once the location is randomly selected, there is a final random roll to determine whether most cells succeed or fail to spawn, depending on whether or not the player has satellite coverage over the country.

The base success chance is 90%/100%/100%/110% (N/C/B/I)

  • If the country has a satellite and XCOM has the Stealth Satellites technology, this amount is reduced by 35%.
  • If the country just has a satellite, this chance is reduced by 20% (only on Normal and Classic).

Cells ignore this roll and are guaranteed to spawn in two circumstances: during the initial spawning of 2 cells in May when EXALT triggers as well as during cell relocation.

Cell Relocation

Cells may relocate to a different country in some instances. The relocation uses the same algorithm to select the destination as a regularly spawning cell, except the cell does not have a chance to fail to spawn.

Cell relocation triggers if:

  • A cell attempts to perform an attack against XCOM, but no valid attacks are available because the conditions to trigger them are not met.
  • XCOM attempts but fails to complete a Covert Operation against the cell.
  • XCOM successfully completes a covert operation against another cell.

When an EXALT cell relocates, it effectively counts as if a new cell had spawned; this triggers the cooldown between consecutive cell spawns, and resets the cell's attack cooldown.

EXALT Attacks

By default, active EXALT cells have a 50% chance to cause any country within the same continent it is located within to gain an additional +15 panic from any panic-increasing event.

Furthermore, each individual cell, if hidden, will conduct an attack on XCOM after a cooldown period has elapsed. This cooldown period is 7-21 days (7-15 on Brutal/Impossible), which is randomly determined in advance when it spawns, relocates, or after each attack. This cooldown is tracked separately per cell. However, at least 5/5/4/3 days must pass between consecutive EXALT attacks, in the case that there are multiple EXALT cells hidden; an attack will be paused until at least that amount of time has passed if they would otherwise be conducted at that time, triggering immediately as soon as the minimum cooldown period expires.

Exalt cells can randomly choose between three operations, assuming the minimum condition for said mission type is met:

  • Sabotage: Steals §40 x [Number of Months Elapsed] + §[0 to 99] from XCOMs reserves. This operation can push XCOM's § reserves into the negatives. Condition: can only be conducted if XCOM has 0 or more §.
  • Propaganda: Adds +40 panic in the country that the cell is located. Additionally, if there is at least one more country within the same continent who has not left the project, the operation will add an additional +20 panic to one such country, randomly selected. Condition: can only occur if the country the cell is located in has not left the council.
  • Research Hack: Removes 50% of research progress from the current research project (30% on normal). Condition: can only occur if 50% (30% on normal) of progress has been made towards the current research project.

Each attack in which the minimum condition is met is equally likely to occur (though the first attack conducted is always a Sabotage). Once an attack triggers, the cell is exposed for 2-5 days (4-7 on normal), during which time its activities are paused and XCOM can deploy a covert operative against it.

If no conditions are met for any attack to occur, the cell is simply relocated to a new country.

Covert Operatives

XCOM can prevent EXALT from conducting operations, and eventually defeat EXALT for good, by deploying Covert Operatives to EXALT cells.

A covert operative can be deployed to target any exposed EXALT cell. Once a Covert Operative is deployed in the field, all EXALT cells cease all operations and activity. No new cells can spawn, no new operations can be conducted, no EXALT cells can hide, EXALT cells won't magnify panic increases, and all timers and cooldowns go on pause.

Intel Scan

EXALT cells are automatically exposed when they attack XCOM. But rather than wait for EXALT to attack XCOM and incur losses before XCOM counterattacks, XCOM can expose EXALT by performing Intel scans in the Operations room instead.

The first scan in a month costs §50, and this amount increases by §50 for each scan conducted during that month (only §25 on normal), resetting back to §50 when the month ends. For example, the first scan costs §50, the second §100, the third §150, the fourth §200, and so on; on normal, the cost would be §50, §75, §100, and §125, respectively.

If there are any active EXALT cells present when an Intel scan is triggered, they will be exposed for 2-5 days (4-7 on normal), rolled randomly. All of activities of the affected cells pause while they are exposed, but resume immediately after the elapsed period; a cell that was just about to attack may immediately strike after it hides again!


See also: EXALT Missions, EXALT Units and EXALT Pods.

Once a covert operative has been deployed to the field for 6 days, a Covert Operation mission is triggered. XCOM will need to extract its Covert Operative or they will die. Furthermore, completing the mission objectives allows the recovery of § and Intel.

The first two exalt missions will always be a Covert Data Recovery and a Covert Extraction; the first is picked randomly, while the second is always whichever one wasn't done first. Thereafter, there is exactly a 50% chance of either mission type spawning.

If completed successfully, a covert operation destroys the cell, awards XCOM § and Intel, and reduces panic in the country by 20. Furthermore, all remaining EXALT cells worldwide are relocated, resetting their attack cooldown and triggering the EXALT spawn cooldown. Conversely, if a covert operation fails, the targeted cell merely relocates and any remaining EXALT cells worldwide resume operations immediately, without resetting their cooldowns.

The number and strength enemies in a covert operation depends on the total number of covert operations attempted over the course of the campaign as well as whether or not the operation is a Data Recovery or Extraction mission. See those pages for more details.

EXALT Headquarters

See also: EXALT Base Assault Mission

To stop EXALT for good, XCOM will need to locate and take out the EXALT HQ. At any point, XCOM can accuse any country of harboring the EXALT HQ; if you guess incorrectly, the country immediately leaves XCOM (conversely, if it has already left, every country within that continent gains +40 panic), and alien research increases by 50. As a result, it is not recommended for XCOM to make wild accusations against countries without more information.

Covert Operatives are crucial to narrow the search down. As XCOM conducts successful covert operations against EXALT, covert operatives will return with Intel on the location of EXALT headquarters. Each piece of Intel conducted removes 1 potential candidate for the location of EXALT HQ, a departure from vanilla which allowed multiple countries to be ruled out by a single Intel piece.

Thus, once 15 successful operations have been conducted and 15 countries are removed, XCOM will be able to know for certain that the final remaining country harbors EXALT, and be able to make the accusation safely. Once the country has been successfully accused, XCOM will be able to raid EXALT's HQ.

Success awards XCOM with large amounts of resources and several pieces of unique loot, and ceases all subsequent EXALT activity. Failure causes the same effects a failed accusation would have, forcing the country to leave the project or causing +40 panic continent-wide.


Cells can attack as soon as 7 days after spawning, and one spawn every 6-10 days. An unlikely but plausible scenario is that a hidden cell spawns immediately after XCOM scans; thus, it's hypothetically possible for a cell to attack XCOM 7 days following a failed scan. Similarly, following a successful covert operation, it's possible an EXALT cell spawns almost immediately afterwards and strikes or, if a second cell is already active, it's possible for it to attack as soon as 7 days afterwards. Therefore, if XCOM wants to avoid all EXALT attacks, it should scan 7 days following a failed scan or successful covert operation.

Two possibilities may also occur after an unsuccessful covert operation: either 1) the cell is alone when it relocates, striking as soon as 7 days later, or 2) there are multiple cells, and any cell other than the targeted cell can strike at any time. As a result, XCOM should scan immediately following a failed covert operation if there are multiple cells active, or seven days later if there is only one.

Put simply:

  1. Wait until EXALT first attacks you in May.
  2. Deploy a covert operative immediately.
  3. After 6 days have elapsed, run the covert operation.
  4. If you failed the covert operation and there is more than one EXALT cell active, scan immediately and return at step 2. Otherwise, continue.
  5. If you have all the intel you need, raid the HQ to stop EXALT for good. Otherwise, continue.
  6. After 7 days have elapsed, scan again. If no EXALT cell is detected, scan again after 7 days (which is guaranteed to locate a cell). Repeat from step 2.

Covert operations are among the most difficult of missions, particularly in the mid and lategame. If you fail a covert operation here or there, it's not the end of the world. So long as your covert operative and soldiers extract alive, you can try again next time; the only thing you lose is some cash rewards and Intel, plus the cost of additional scans. For more information on successfully completing each mission type at the tactical layer, see the EXALT Missions page.

See also