Starfighters, or flying craft as a whole have a long history. Dating back to over 100,000 years ago, historians have found that the ancestors to modern Starfighters were sluggish atmospheric craft powered by the compressed, liquefied remains of creatures forgotten by the mists of time. These craft slowly evolved based upon the current times of warfare to the sleekcraft we have in use today.
These craft have evolved by the use of lighter, more durable components, heavier weaponry, and longer Operational Limits. If you look back in history you see that craft that were used in the times of the Great Jedi Civil War, and those in the current War against the First Order are very different. During the Jedi Civil War, fighters were designed to be quicker and lighter, for more anti-fighter warfare. Fighters in the current war are more versatile due to upgrades in technology. During the course of these notes you will learn about the different Fighters in use, as well as a select few fighters that have changed the shape of modern warfare. You will also learn what classes of fighters are in existence as well as their tactical use. Good luck!
Despite the numerous types of fighters in the galaxy, there are some basic principles that affect all fighters.
Mission- Some fighters are designed with a single role in mind; others are designed to fulfill multiple roles. As a general rule, large powerful entities, such as the Galactic Empire, have single purpose craft, at least on the front lines. Smaller, less powerful entities, such as the Rebel Alliance, typically have multi-purpose fighters. A similar philosophy can be observed in capital starships.
Balance- In all cases, a designer must choose how to balance three things: speed, armament, and protection. Very fast fighters tend to have weaker armaments and protection, the goal of course being to make up for these short comings with speed and maneuverability. Likewise, a fighter with a heavy armament and protection often must sacrifice speed. It must be noted that sacrificing one aspect to increase another is a common practice and, generally speaking, not due to oversight or poor planning. From time to time, a well balanced fighter comes along, but finding that right combination of factors at a decent cost can be difficult.
Operational Limits- All fighters have operational limits and thus can only go so far for so long; pilot capability plays a large role in determining a craft's operational limit, but design limitations are far more important than pilot capability. For example, TIE fighters have no hyperdrive, which means they can only go where a larger ship takes them. In contrast, the X-wing has a hyperdrive as well as a storage compartment for short term supplies, so the fighter can go further and longer than the TIE fighter. Fuel and maintenance needs can impact a fighter's operational limit.
Throughout the course of history, there is a sort of pendulum that swings slowly between fast/lightly armed and slow/heavily armed. The current philosophy seems to lean towards more slower and more heavily armed fighters, most likely because of the Rebel Alliance's (which became the New Republic) success with such designs. But, through the Clone Wars and the Galactic Empire, faster, more lightly armed fighters dominated. It should be noted that this is not a strict rule. There will always be fighters that lean the other direction or sit in the middle.
All starfighters come armed with at least one of three possible weapons: laser cannons, ion cannons, and warhead launchers. Some fighters may have all three types of weapons. Some experimental fighters have had turbolasers installed, but these are fairly impractical, given the size and the recharge rate of turbolasers. The power of lasers on fighters varies from design to design.
In professional militaries, there is a fairly simple organization for fighters. The basic unit is the squadron. A squadron typically consists of twelve fighters and the pilots often become a close knit group of friends. A squadron can also be sub-divided into flight elements, typically of three fighters (one leader with two wingmen), but elements can vary in size depending upon the mission. In well equipped militaries, squadrons always have fighters of the same type. Lesser equipped groups may throw together hodgepodge squadrons. Depending on the mission, two or more flight elements of different starfighters will be paired up. For example, the Rebellion would frequently pair up flight elements of Y-wings and either X-wings or A-wings. The Y-wings would conduct their mission while the other craft protected them, or were striking another part of the same target.
Squadrons are led by a squadron leader who almost always takes on the call sign of 'one' or 'leader.' So, the leader of Black Squadron would be called Black 1 or Black leader. Typically, the person with the call sign of 'two' is the second in command, but this may not always be the case. Squadron names are almost always selected by the founding members of the squadron: colors and animals are common motifs, though large militaries (like the Galactic Empire) may use a standard naming scheme for most fighter squadrons, leaving specialized names only for elite units. For example, TIE fighter squadrons were often called Alpha or Beta; however, Obsidian Squadron was a special squadron of TIE fighters designed for atmospheric combat.
Six squadrons make up a standard starfighter wing, which is led by a Wing Commander. A wing does not necessarily have to consist of the same fighters. For example, an Imperial Star Destroyer carries an entire fighter wing, but the official Order of Battle called for four squadrons of TIE fighters, one squadron of TIE bombers, and one squadron of TIE interceptors. The squadron configuration, such as adding extra bombers in lieu of regular TIE fighters, could change depending upon the mission.
Fighters are designed to play an important role in any engagement. Fighters fulfill the roles of reconnaissance, hit-and-run encounters, pinpoint maneuvering into vulnerable areas, to name a few of their uses. Many fighters in current use are also quite inexpensive. While looking at the overall cost to manufacture a squadron of fighters may seem excessive to the cost of only one Capital Ship, look into the various uses of the fighters as opposed to the singular use of that type of Capital Ship. (For Capital Ship uses, see the Capital Ships course.)
The function of starfighters vary between Space Superiority, Interceptors, and Bombing craft. Each type of craft carries specific strengths and weaknesses. This can range from being heavily armed and armored, which slows the craft. To being quick and agile, which sacrifices armor and armament. However the basic weapon on any fighter is the laser cannon which provides little more than anti-fighter capabilities. Depending on the type of craft they can also carry proton torpedo and/or concussion missiles for greater fighting capabilities.
Meant to achieve total dominance, these craft are well rounded, able to function in most any capacity with little to no work needed to be done. These craft are able to switch between strafing a city, engaging enemy fighters, to bombing an enemy Capital Ship. The basic Space Superiority fighter still functioning is the X-wing fighter. This craft has been in use for roughly 40 years and has seen many modifications. During its earliest incarnations this craft was the bane of most TIE Fighter (Imperial Space Superiority Fighter). With 4 Laser Cannons, that could be used in a single, dual, or quad fire setting, this fighter quickly racked up kills on the Imperial craft. WIth its shields it could take the punishment dished out by other craft, and with its 6 proton torpedos could even cause damage to Capital Ships, and even turn tail and hyperspace with its Lightspeed capabilities. In contrast the Imperial TIE Fighter was only considered a Superiority Fighter due to its maneuverability and the Empire's ability to quickly mass produce these machines.
Z-95 Headhunter: an older starfighter, the Z-95 is the forerunner to such designs as the ARC-170 and the famous X-wing. Due to its length of service, many variants of the Z-95 can be found, but the most common come armed with two laser cannons (one on each wing) and a pair of concussion missile launchers (with two missiles per launcher). Z-95s may or may not have hyperdrives and they are commonly found in pirate, smuggling, and mercenary groups. The Z-95 makes an excellent training ship, but it is severely outclassed by modern starfighters.
TIE Fighter: the primary fighter of the Galactic Empire and First Order, the TIE fighter was just as synonymous with Imperial power as was the Star Destroyer. TIE fighters are extremely cheap: just about anything that could be cut from the fighters was, including life support (pilots must wear fully sealed environmental suits). However, TIE fighters could be modified to carry warheads if the need arose. The First Order introduced the TIE/fo or First Order TIE Fighter. Unlike it’s predecessor this model was upgraded with deflector shields, better offensive capabilities and higher-capacity converters providing the pilot with a better chance at survival. There was also a Special Forces TIE, a two seater variant with hyperdrive and deflector shields, as well as a turret with a pair of laser cannons and mag-pulse warhead launcher.
X-wing: Made famous by Luke Skywalker, the X-wing marked a return to the emphasis on well balanced fighters. With decent speed, shielding, and armament, as well as hyperdrive capability, the X-wing could undertake a variety of missions. The Rebel Alliance, which introduced the fighter, could not afford to throw away ships, so the X-wing was designed to last in a fight and provide flexibility for a variety of missions. At the start of the resistance against the First Order a new variant labeled the T-70 was used by the Resistance forces, the New Republic fleet used the T-85 model.
These craft are designed for speed and maneuverability in mind/ These crafts goal is to destroy enemy fighters, and to a lesser extent reconnaissance. A well known Interceptor would be the Empire's TIE Interceptor. This craft quickly became a thorn in the side of the Rebel Alliance/New Republic. While unshielded, these craft were designed with quick maneuverability. Armed only with Quad Lasers, that like the X-Wing can be fired in single, dual, or quad fire, these craft quickly became the Rebel killer. So much so that the Empire's Elite Squadron 181st flew these almost exclusively until recently when more updated craft became available. While over 30 years old this craft is still in use with many more years ahead. Some prominent examples of interceptors are:
TIE Interceptor: Surpassing the original TIE fighter in weaponry and speed, the TIE Interceptor is considered by some to be the best Imperial starfighter to be produced in large quantities. Initially, the standard order of battle for the Empire called for 1 squadron of interceptors for every four squadrons of TIE fighters. However, the Emperor was impressed by the craft and plans were made to make the TIE Interceptor the frontline Imperial fighter. By the Battle of Endor, TIE interceptors made up roughly 20% of all Imperial starfighter forces, and many Rebels fell to the interceptors. Grand Admiral Thrawn had shields installed on the remaining TIE interceptors.
A-wing: Often called a cockpit with engines, the RZ-1 A-wing was designed and built in response to the fact that only 3 Imperial fighters had nearly foiled the attack on the first Death Star. The RZ-1 was somewhat of a throwback to the Clone Wars era, since it lacked heavy shielding and armor, though it did have a hyperdrive and could be fitted with two concussion missile launchers. A-wings had two laser cannons, with one per each side of the ship. These cannons were unique in that they could rotate: though typically limited to 60 degrees up or down, some could swivel all the way around and fire backwards. However, the A-wing required skill pilots because of their speed and no droid was present in the craft to handle many of the flight functions.
These craft were designed to be heavily armed for destruction of ground and capital ship targets. These craft while extremely slow and somewhat unwieldy, have shown that with enough forethought and tactics will cause great damage and demoralization to the enemy. The greatest bombers of their time were the TIE Bomber and Y-Wing. These craft were well used in the Empire/Rebellion war. Many Starship captains have been turned into space faring atoms by not paying heed to an incoming flight of Y-wing fighters. The same could be said for colonies whose governors thought it wise to aid the Rebellion. At the current time the best bombers have been the Verpine built B-Wing for the New Republic and the Scimitar Assault Bomber. Some prominent examples of bombers are:
TIE Bomber: The TIE bomber was the Empire's premiere bomber, providing serious firepower in contrast to the fairly weak TIE fighter. TIE bombers were, like their TIE fighter cousins, cheap and mass produced. Though slower than other Imperial fighters, the TIE bombers had stronger hulls. Though they came armed with two laser cannons, the primary weapon of the TIE bomber was the warhead launcher. It could hold and fire a variety of warheads and its targeting systems were top rate.
Y-wing: An older craft, the Y-wing has proven to be a durable multiple-use craft. Y-wings come armed with two laser cannons, two ion cannons, and two proton torpedo launchers, giving it serious fire power. Y-wings are slow when compared to other fighters, but tend to have heavier shielding and armor to compensate. Though pirates, smugglers, rebels, and poor worlds will use the craft as frontline starfighters, Y-wings are primarily used as bombers.
B-wing: Despite the arrival of the Mon Calamari cruisers in the Rebellion's fleet, the Rebellion still lacked in firepower. Not having the monetary resources of the Empire, the Rebellion invested in the B-wing starfighter. As with all Rebellion fighters, it can easily fit into many roles, but it has commonly been used as a bomber. B-wings are faster, more heavily armed, and better protected than Y-wings, but they are also difficult to fly.
Gunboats and gunships, sometimes also called heavy fighters, are essentially enhanced versions of space superiority fighters. Gunboats are heavily armed, heavily shielded, yet maneuverable and they are far more capable of independent operations than other fighters. Gunboats typically have laser cannons, ion cannons, and warhead launchers, unlike many fighters. Gunboats serve well as escorts, police and interdiction craft, assault ships, and numerous other roles. For poor worlds, gunboats, especially larger ones like the Skipray Blastboat, may take on roles normally reserved for small capital starships. The term 'gunship' is almost exclusive for non-starfighters (capital starships), but fighters can take on the role. It should be noted that the term 'gunboat' is far more subjective than the other terms: it is based entirely on how the ship stands in comparison to other fighters of its time. Some prominent examples of gunboats are:
Many fighters of the past have been pigeonholed into a single type, battles in the current age have shaken old philosophies up. In current campaigns the Republic has found itself equipping its X-Wing craft with heavier yield torpedos. Also the Empire has abandoned the philosophy of throwing small but quick fighters at enemies in massive numbers. They have started spending credits on shield generators and escape craft for their pilots.
Do not look at any craft and think that it has a singular purpose. Doing this will undoubtedly lead to your demise. Anyone that is determined to complete their mission will take any craft and do so. Always keep thinking of the impossible while in the vacuum, because it just may happen.
The simple fact of the matter is that many fighters are capable of doing more than one thing. This becomes more evident when a situation forces the use of a fighter in non-traditional role. When constructing space station NL-1, the Empire used TIE bombers as escorts and interceptors, something they were definitely not designed for. B-wings are closer to gunboats than bombers, but they are frequently used in traditional bombing roles.
There is a wide variety of fighters in the galaxy and it is impossible to identify all of them. Truly desperate groups even make their own fighters out of salvaged parts of other fighters, adding to the variety. Two famous examples of these 'uglies' are the X-TIE, an X-wing body with TIE fighter wings, and the TYE-wing, a TIE fighter cockpit attached to Y-wing engines.
This course is but a brief introduction to starfighters. This course is meant to talk about commonality, or lack thereof, among various fighters found in the universe. Use the link below to proceed to the exam, but be forewarned: it will require some thought and application, not just mindless repetition of facts. This course was written using The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, The Force.net, and Wookieepedia.
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