One of the most iconic images from the Star Wars saga is that of the starfighter. Be it the cold, gray hull of the Imperial TIE Fighters, or the lightning fast X-Wings used by the Rebel Alliance, starfighters were used by literally every faction within the Star Wars universe. In this series we are going to examine the development of the starfighter, its history, and use. We will be looking at several of the more prominent designs from different eras, and seeing what goes into these crafts that have proven so vital in the fight for freedom across the galaxy.
Origins of the starfighter:
From the earliest days of warfare, sentient species across the galaxy have developed independent forms of aerial combat on millions of worlds, scattered across the galaxy. It is from this basis that the modern starfighter would evolve.
Designed as a small, one or two seat spacecraft, starfighters are short range craft, and are used by both civilian organizations for planetary defense, as well as galactic militaries like the Empire. Starfighters are typically deployed for patrol, escort of larger vessels, force projection, and reconnaissance.
These ships are powered by small reactors, and utilize multiple ion engines for propulsion. Starfighters are equipped with repulsorlift drives used for atmospheric maneuvers, as well as landing and take off. Most are lightly armored, and some are equipped with hyperdrives and defensive shielding. They are agile, fast, and in some cases, difficult to fly, like the Verpine B-Wing assault fighter.
What they lack in defensive capabilities, starfighters make up for in armament. Depending upon the design of the ship, as well as the mission profile, starfighters may be equipped with multiple heavy laser cannons, some of which are capable of inflicting serious damage to capital ships. The Taim and Bak KX9 cannons mounted on the Incom T-65 series X-Wing Fighter, are an example of this, as they are designed for both engaging enemy fighters, as well as strafing larger ships, such as Imperial Star Destroyers.
Fighters like those used by the Alliance are also equipped with proton torpedo launchers, which can punch through the defensive shields of most vessels. Fighters generally carry around eight of the Krupx MG7-A micro proton torpedoes, which has a maximum effective range of six hundred meters. Other specialist armaments and load outs on starfighters include ion cannons, like those used on the Koensayr BTL4 Y-Wings, and concussion missiles.
Starfighters were generally divided into two categories: snubfighters, which were capable of attaching both ground targets and warships, and space superiority starfighters, which were designed to engage and destroy enemy fighters. While these roles may be defined, the lines have often been blurred in combat. While well funded militias and militaries have enjoyed devoting their fighters to one role or another, other organizations which are less well funded, and under equipped, may have adapted specific craft to function in multiple roles, such as the Rebel Alliance.
Early planet based snubfighters suffered operational limitations, until the introduction of advanced inertial compensators and onboard astromechs for support, which greatly increased their operational capabilities.
In planetary defense, starfighters have seen use in localized conflicts, by providing both air support to ground forces, as well as enemy air and ground based targets. When a planet is attacked from an outside threat, such as an enemy warship, the advantages become apparent for ground based fighters, as they can quickly launch from their bases, and conduct strafing runs on orbital targets, like a pirate vessel, obliterating it with volleys of proton torpedoes. A historical example of this type of assault was conducted by the Theed fighter group stationed on Naboo. A handful of N-1 starfighters launched a defensive attack against orbiting Separatist forces blockading the planet.
This type of employment of starfighters is only successful when the targets are within striking distance, as all starfighters are short range craft. Though it is possible for hyperdrive equipped fighters to make an inter system jump, long range system defense and patrol is generally assigned to larger gunboats or Corvettes.
A typical deployment for starfighters and their support elements requires them to operate from a larger vessel. In many instances, converted bulk freighters have been used to ferry starfighters, while larger frigates and cruisers served as protection. For the Empire, this issue was resolved with the design of the Star Destroyers, which were both heavily armed and armored, and served the role of both battleship and carrier for it’s TIE squadrons.
Once the Mon Calamari joined the ranks of the Rebel Alliance, they began converting their passenger liners and research vessels into warships as well. Eventually, all new Mon Calamari cruisers of the MC75 series and larger were equipped with flight decks to house Alliance starfighters, with the larger MC80 and MC90 series warships operating as dedicated carriers for multiple squadrons of fighters.
We’ve examined the origins of the starfighter, as well their roles and how they are utilized in combat. In our next installment, we will continue our series by taking an in depth look at two types of starfighter from the Old Republic era.