Starfighter combat, also known as dogfighting, referred to engagements fought by starfighters in space or a planet's atmosphere. Along with space warfare and ground warfare, by 0 BBY it was one of the three major disciplines of war. Starfighter combat was as old as the craft themselves—dating back to the earliest days of the Galactic Republic—and became an integral part of aerospace warfare for tens of thousands of years, occurring throughout conflicts such as the Great Hyperspace War, New Sith Wars, Clone Wars, the Galactic Civil War, the Yuuzhan Vong War, the Second Galactic Civil War and beyond.
Throughout the millennia, millions of pilots flew against each other or against droids in starfighters such as the Z-95 Headhunter, Delta-7 Aethersprite, T-65 X-wing starfighter, or TIE/LN starfighter while others in heavier craft such as the BTL Y-wing starfighter, TIE/sa bombers, or B-wing starfighters launched assaults on larger ships or military installations. Military forces across the galaxy adopted different designs, weapons, specifications, tactics, and roles for these relatively small craft, and there were as many uses for starfighters in combat as there were starfighters themselves. These craft and the beings that flew them played important, often pivotal, roles in military campaigns, as did their atmospheric counterparts, throughout the entire history of conflict within the galaxy.
Types of starfighters
Starfighter combat was integrally tied to the technology of the craft that fought. Broadly speaking, starfighters could be classified into three types, interceptors, bombers, and snubfighters. Interceptors were by far the most common sort of starfighter throughout galactic history, and were relatively simple single-pilot craft fitted with energy weapons, sensor suites, communications equipment, sublight engines and sometimes deflector shields and hyperdrives. Other interceptors were produced with unusual characteristics, such as the A-wing Mk. II produced by Incom Corporation that had variable-arc weapons; the Mk. II could rotate its twin laser cannons in a 360° arc to fire on opponents above, below or behind the craft. In battle, interceptors would screen their fleets and would aim to shoot down attacking bombers, or to escort bombers to their targets and defend them from enemy interceptors.
Bombers were large, complex and heavy craft built around powerful sensor arrays and large missile payloads, designed to attack capital ships or hardened ground targets head on. Most bombers were so complex in their operation or were so heavily armed that they required dedicated gunners to either handle the craft's main weapons or to man a defensive turret; such non-flying crew were known by a variety of designations. The Koensayr BTL-S3 Y-wing starfighter, for instance, was equipped with an ion cannon turret for use by the weapons system officer while the B-wing/E and later models of that craft carried a dedicated gunner. This arrangement allowed the pilot of the B-wing to make flying the complex craft his or her top priority while the gunner handled the ship's vast array of weapons. Other such craft included the Aggressive ReConnaissance-170 starfighter, whose three-man crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and gunner, the GAT-12 Skipray Blastboat, which had a four-man crew and the TIE/sa bomber, carrying two. Strategic wisdom held for centuries that it was best to use bombers independently, in missions that could be days long, to track down enemy fleets and launch surprise attacks, as it was believed that this was the only scenario in which torpedo runs could penetrate defensive fighter screens and flak defenses.
Snubfighters sat between bombers and interceptors in size, armament and speed and were designed to both dogfight with other fighters and attack capital ships. Though snubfighters like the Rebel X-wing and Y-wing became famous, for the majority of galactic history snubfighters were not heavily used in deep-space combat: commanders considered it better to operate snubfighters from planet-based surface airfields to strike through cloud cover and launch torpedo strikes and strafing runs against attacking ships and troop transports. For centuries it was felt that the advantages of snubfighters tended to disappear in the great ranges between opposing fleets, and their payloads were not as great as dedicated bombers. It was only after the success of N-1 starfighters against Trade Federation battleships at the Battle of Naboo in 32 BBY, an experience confirmed by the role of Y-wings against the Malevolence at the Battle of the Kaliida Nebula during the Clone Wars, that the snubfighter began to be taken seriously as a deep-space battleship killer.
In addition to interceptors, bombers and snubfighters, other ships that would not normally be considered starfighters often took part in combat with or against other starfighters. Usually highly modified from their original designs, these ships included low-stock freighters outfitted with military-grade shields and weapons like the Ebon Hawk, which was equipped with an advanced hyperdrive as well as a defensive laser cannon turret and several forward-firing lasers, and the Millennium Falcon, which had been extensively modified by Han Solo to include dorsal and ventral quad laser turrets as well as one of the fastest hyperdrives in the galaxy. Similarly, some star yachts were sufficiently well-equipped to engage starfighters, such as the Dragon Pearl owned by the Hutt crime lord Jiliac Desilijic Tiron, which could carry its own complement of Z-95 Headhunters in addition to its six hidden CEC turbolasers. Though tricky to handle in a running firefight, these larger vessels were nonetheless equal to taking on enemy starfighters, provided that the pilot was skilled enough and the target ratio was not too high.
Many different weapons systems were used on starfighters and other space combat vessels throughout the millennia, from primitive projectile cannons to the latest in energy-based weapons and explosive ordnance.
Starfighters and vessels that took part in starfighter engagements carried a variety of offensive and defensive weaponry. The most frequently used of these was the laser cannon, an energy-based weapon that was essentially a massively upscaled blaster. Most starfighter models fitted with these weapons typically carried anywhere from one to four lasers, though they were often complemented by other weapons. Some craft, such as the Z-95 Headhunter, carried blaster cannons which were not as powerful as lasers but could still do significant damage to their opponents. Other craft used ion cannons which, when used on enemy ships, caused disruptions in the target's electrical systems; though more difficult to score kills with, such ion-based weapons had the added advantage of incapacitating the targeted craft, thus allowing it and its pilot to be retrieved for later use.
Also referred to as disposable ordnance, projectile-based weapons used in space combat predated the development of energy-based weapons. The most common of projectile weapons used in starfighters included the proton torpedo and the concussion missile. Unlike energy weapons, missiles such as these could track and follow the movements of a targeted enemy, enabling them to score hits more reliably then their energy-based counterparts. Starfighters that utilized such ordnance also required the use of targeting computers that were tied into the ship's sensors. To achieve a targeting lock on an enemy craft, a pilot had to maneuver his fighter so as to give the computer a chance to identify the targeted foe and lock it into the system to achieve a firing solution; in some models of starfighter, the ship's astromech droid assisted in performing this feat. However, some starfighters also came with, or could be modified to carry, a target-lock warning system that alerted a pilot to the presence of an impending or acquired lock. A skilled pilot could evade, or even destroy, certain projectile weapons.
Mines and other weapons
Space mines and other similar explosive systems, such as seismic charges, could have a devastating effect on starfighters and combat in engagement zones. The blast radius of such weapons could devastate or destroy a single craft, or damage numerous ones. Cluster bombs, placed upon the hulls of capital ships, could also be employed for anti-starfighter work. First used aboard Mon Calamari Star Cruisers, these weapons could eliminate large numbers of enemy fighters that happened to fly too close to the ship they were implanted upon. The diamond boron missile operated on a similar principle; fired from a larger vessel, these laser-proof munitions exploded with much force and could take out entire formations of starfighters. They were, however, somewhat unreliable and very expensive to produce; each missile cost approximately twenty thousand credits. Thus, these weapons only saw very limited use.
- "Artoo, try and increase the power!"
- ―Luke Skywalker to R2-D2
Astromech droids were used to help repair and maintain starfighters. Most craft were built with specialized sockets to hold an astromech; during flight and in combat they were capable of performing many functions, including calculating hyperspace jumps in a fighter's navigation computer, general realspace navigation, targeting, in-flight repairs if the fighter carrying such a droid was hit by enemy fire, and even, under dire circumstances, taking control of a starfighter if its pilot was incapacitated in some fashion. When not engaged in direct combat, these droids monitored critical systems and performed other duties in order to lessen the workload of the fighter's pilot and ground crew, including engaging in basic flight maneuvers.
Some astromech droids, if allowed to go without routine memory wipes and used quite often with a certain starfighter, would form a machine-to-machine bond with that craft. This bond both helped and hindered a starfighter's day-to-day operations; though droids that had achieved a counterpart relationship could work with their craft at astonishing rates, thus boosting overall operating efficiency and even permitting the speeding up of repairs and other in-flight adjustments, this meant that only that particular droid could be used when performing basic maintenance duties. One example of this phenomenon was that formed by the astromech owned by Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, and the X-wing, AA-589, that the Jedi Master used during the Thrawn campaign. The droid and starfighter had achieved such a level of understanding that Artoo could, on his own initiative, take full command of the craft if he felt that it was required to either help a friend or to ward off a potential foe.
Though for the vast majority of galactic history most starfighters lacked an internal hyperdrive, some fighters as early as 3951 BBY did possess them. Even as late as the lead-up to the Clone Wars, most vessels of this size class used hyperdrive docking rings or sleds when faster-then-light travel was required but larger ships were unavailable to ferry such craft.
It was not until the latter stages of that galaxy-wide conflagration that hyperspace-capable starfighter classes emerged, such as the Republic's ARC-170 and the Confederacy's Belbullab-22. In addition, many starfighters of that period could be modified to contain internal hyperdrives, such as the CloakShape fighter and the Z-95 Headhunter, both of which saw service long before the outbreak of the war and well into the following decades.
However, after the war the newly declared Galactic Empire eschewed hyperdrive technology for its starfighters, which in turn lacked deflector shields and even integrated life-support systems. This was the ultimate expression of choosing "cheap and plentiful" in preference to "expensive yet durable" in terms of starfighters, culminating with the TIE series of fighter craft. Even so, some TIE fighters and TIE Interceptors were outfitted with shields and even hyperdrives; ships of this type were used by both sides, with the Imperial Navy only using such craft for high-ranking officers and their personal pilots. It was not until the later years of the Galactic Civil War, after the New Republic had been established on Coruscant and the Imperials were in retreat, that the Alliance would outfit captured TIEs with shields for use in combat. Such starfighters were typically flown by former Imperial pilots who had defected to the Rebellion over the years.
This was in keeping with the Alliance's philosophy of using shielded, hyperspace-capable craft with quality protection and weapons as, due to the very nature of their movement, basing squadrons of fighters aboard capital ships to bring them to and from the planes of battle was, at the very least, impractical. This also served to ensure maximum survivability among their limited number of trained fliers. Since the Rebellion's war effort operated best when it staged from scattered, hidden and remote bases to perform hit-and-run operations against Imperial targets of opportunity, in-built hyperdrives as well as the astromechs that worked with them were essential pieces of technology for their starfighters. Carried over into the time of the New Republic and eventually the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, this philosophy would eventually become the norm across the galaxy.
Hulls, shielding, and cloaking devices
Since the beginning of space travel, starships were made out of metal alloys of various compositions; the harsh conditions of space travel often required substances that had been specifically engineered to withstand high degrees of temperature variance as well as the potential hazards of micrometeorites and other spaceborne debris. The Galactic Empire utilized a particular brand of metal, called Quadanium steel, in the construction of their TIE series of starfighters.
Deflector shields also dated back to the beginnings of space travel. There were two subtypes of this technology; ray shields were designed to absorb and dissipate blasts of energy that were directed at them, for instance from laser cannons or heavy bursts of radiation. Particle shields were meant to protect a space vehicle from solid objects, serving as an additional buffer against space junk and kinetic weapons as well as, in relation to starfighters, battle debris and the shrapnel cast off from destroyed enemies. Civilian models of such shields would burn out after absorbing a certain level of damage, while military models could be recharged. Most starfighters throughout the history of the galaxy went without strong shielding, however; the first major types that did have dedicated deflectors came about during the decline of the Galactic Republic, the most notable example of this being the N-1 starfighter produced by the Theed Palace Space Vessel Engineering Corps. Later, the Galactic Empire would eschew the use of shields for their starfighters, as it was viewed as a sign of cowardice in Imperial doctrine, while the Rebel Alliance and New Republic embraced them as part of their doctrine on starfighter tactics. The many warship types used by the Yuuzhan Vong, on the other hand, used miniature gravitic anomalies, created by dovin basals, as a form of biological shielding.
Cloaking devices, which were highly expensive to build and very difficult to obtain, could be used to hide all manner of starships, from huge capital ships to starfighters. These devices, based on and utilizing stygium crystals, disrupted the signal output of ships they were placed on, rendering them invisible to traditional scanning technologies and to visual inspection; however, these devices were also prone to burning out. Over the millennia, however, the deposits of stygium crystals on Aeten II began to decline, so that by the time of the rise of the Empire they were all but gone. Throughout the New Order, the Empire at Palpatine's direction aggressively researched alternatives to this type of technology, eventually producing a working prototype of cloaking shield that could hide a starship completely. However, these units were so bulky that only larger ships could use them; despite this, the Imperial warlord Thrawn found new and inventive ways to utilize these cloaking shields. The TIE Phantom was one such starfighter to utilize a stygium-powered cloaking device; due to the double-blind nature of such technology, these fighters were typically used in small-scale strike missions. After the Yuuzhan Vong War, an offshoot of the X-wing starfighter with a focus on utilizing non-cloaking stealth technology was developed. Named the StealthX, it utilized advanced ion engines that burned a special type of tibanna gas called TibannaX as well as state-of-the-art sensor-shrouding technology. The fighter also carried no onboard communications; due to this and the undetectable nature of the craft, only Jedi could fly them.
- "Droids don't talk back, they don't question your orders, and they never complain when you send them on suicide missions."
- ―Trade Federation tactician Rune Haako
During the last years of the Galactic Republic, the use of small, compact starfighters that were, at their heart, an armed and armored droid brain with attack programming installed, began to see widespread service with large, galaxywide corporations such as the Trade Federation, which was among the first to utilize such automatons. The first of this type of "droid starfighter," the Scarab droid starfighter, was soon followed by the Variable Geometry Self-Propelled Battle Droid, Mark I, more commonly known as the "Vulture Droid," particularly after the onset of the Clone Wars. Though piloting droids had existed long before then, these types of droid fighters essentially combined the entire package of pilot, craft and armament into a simple, compact spaceframe which allowed vessels like the Lucrehulk-class battleship to carry as many as 1,500 of them. By the last year of the conflict the Droid tri-fighter, considered by many to be the apex of droid starfighter technology, had arrived on the front in large numbers; these models proved to be the bane of clone and Jedi pilots alike right through the end of the war. During the latter period of the Galactic Civil War, however, the remnants of the Galactic Empire would again embrace droid starfighter technology in the form of the Shadow Droid (which was more akin to a cyborg since it was implanted with an organic brain) and the TIE/D automated starfighter that was produced by the World Devastators. At some point during the latter stages of the Yuuzhan Vong War, a group of Chiss scientists working for Assistant Syndic Soontir Fel were in the process of designing a prototype droid starfighter for the Expansionary Defense Fleet.
The Ssi-ruuk and entechment
During the majority of the Galactic Civil War droid fighters had largely fallen out of use save for one notable exception, the Swarm-class battle droid employed by the Ssi-ruuvi Imperium. Utilizing a process that essentially sucked the "life energies" or "life force," what some referred to as a soul, out of a living being and implanted them into these Swarm droids, a process that was euphemistically referred to as entechment, the Ssi-ruu were able to create a droid with the ability to anticipate and learn that was more akin to that of an organic pilot. At approximately two meters in length, these fighters were some of the smallest fighters known, though they boasted four laser cannons apiece; their tiny size allowed Ssi-ruuvi vessels to carry hundreds at a time. Due to the nature of the entechment process at that time, however, they did not "live" for very long even if they were not destroyed in battle. The need for a constant supply of prisoners for entechment was the main reason why nearly all Ssi-ruuvi craft came equipped with tractor beams. Many years later, however, the process of entechment was refined and, using volunteers for the process instead of unwilling victims, the lifespan of such fighters, as well as the comfort of the souls enteched within, was increased dramatically. In addition, the Ssi-ruuk would begin to employ manned versions of their starfighters in the form of the V'sett-class heavy fighter.
The CCIR Needle
Produced by Loronar Corporation, the Needle starfighter was a long-distance weapon system constructed with hyperspace-rendezvous capabilities. Utilizing Centrally Controlled Independent Replicant technology, these ships were, at their core, tiny cylinders that were painted black in order to make detection by scanners and visual sensors all but impossible. Unmanned and with virtually no computing power of their own, these fighters operated in swarms and were fully capable of slowly demolishing much larger capital ships, as the batteries of these warships could not target the tiny craft; even other starfighters had difficulty targeting them. The Needle fighter played a key role in the Imperial plot that surrounded the second Death Seed pandemic of 13 ABY; however, all known vessels were disabled when Luke Skywalker persuaded the tsils, a species of crystalline-based sentient life-form that essentially made up the CCIR technology, to return to their home planet of Nam Chorios.
Characteristics of starfighter combat
- "You can't plan for luck. Plan smart and let luck land where it will."
- ―Wedge Antilles to his daughter
Combat between starfighters ranged from skirmishes between small groups of fighters to major battlefleet actions fought between opposing space navies and their capital ships; these could involve dozens of squadrons on each side amid innumerable types, classes and sizes of larger vessels. These engagements were typically characterized by close-in, extremely tight maneuvering and point-blank firing solutions using energy weapons such as blaster and ion cannons. Inexperienced pilots or those with poor situational awareness rarely survived their first battles; it often required superior reflexes, the ability to focus on one's mission and an awareness of how the engagement played out in relation to the pilot, referred to as "situational awareness," as well as a certain aggressiveness, to achieve results in this kind of interstellar warfare.
Though these types of battles, which were ubiquitously known as "dogfights" by those who fought in them, usually involved dedicated fighter craft, sometimes gunships, bombers, and assault shuttles would take part though they usually either played victim to the more nimble fighters that were sent after them or were in turn escorted into combat situations by friendly craft. Victory conditions for starfighter engagements included the eliminating or driving off opposing fighters to either clear the way for heavier craft, such as the Alliance's B-wing starfighter, to assault capital ships, or to in turn defend a force of larger warships from the enemy's own assault forces.
Types of engagements
There were two main types of starfighter engagements, the furball and the slashing attack. The furball was the most common; it consisted of several craft engaging in hard maneuvering and relied on a certain aggressiveness to achieve results. This type of combat favored starfighters with high levels of maneuverability, but pilots who flew craft with inferior agility were still able to triumph if they possessed superior situational awareness, tactical ability, or a more advantageous position prior to initiating the fight. The other major technique, the slashing attack, consisted of a number of starfighters making high-speed runs against formations of enemy ships; after making an initial firing run, craft making these kinds of dashes would continue on at speed instead of engaging in maneuvers. Other types of engagements, such as those that occurred when starfighters were sent to penetrate the outer defensive screens of enemy fleets, greatly favored fast interceptors which could make high-speed attack runs against opposing formations of enemy craft, either fighters, bombers or even capital-class vessels. These attacks, also known as "hit and fade" runs, a term which also referred to an overall type of combat operation, demanded craft with high rates of acceleration and top speed as well as agility. When conducted without fleet support, starfighters using these attacks could prove devastating when utilized against lightly defended convoys or fleet elements.
Combat in battlefleet actions
When starfighters took part in engagements where significant numbers of larger warships fought against each other, for instance during the Battle of Endor, they typically served to screen their side's capital ships from the enemy fleet's own starfighter forces and, if the opportunity presented itself, to engage enemy warships at their most vulnerable points such as command towers or shield generators. Depending on the space navies involved and the ships they typically used, fighters would enter the battle planes by either jumping in from hyperspace under their own power, as was the case with nearly all Rebel Alliance starfighter units, or being deployed from motherships, as was the case of Imperial-class Star Destroyers and the TIE Fighters they deployed, to name one such instance; sometimes, both cases occurred. Though not unheard of, engagements fought in the midst of capital ships already engaged in direct attacks upon one another were generally avoided, as random shots from heavy turbolasers from these much larger warships could easily vaporize most snubfighters, either friend or foe, whether the attack was intentional or not. The effectiveness of a battle fleet's starfighter screen could mean the difference between victory and defeat in a large naval engagement, as was the case during the only documented instance of two Executor-class Star Dreadnoughts engaging one another. At the Battle of Orinda, superior tactics on the part of Imperial forces in the opening stages, when they destroyed the fleet carrier Endurance with all starfighters aboard, allowed them to secure a victory.
The Force and starfighter combat
Many members of the Jedi Order, who were trained to use the Force, were also extremely qualified for flying starfighters in combat. A Jedi Knight could use the Force to their advantage in an engagement to not only better utilize their own craft's advantages, but to increase the speed of their reflexes and to predict the maneuvers and tactics of their opponents—this was due to their ability to sense the intentions of other organic beings; this, in essence, increased their situational awareness well beyond typical norms. Some Jedi could even use their Force connection to befuddle the minds of their opponents as an active part of their offense as well as relying on it for defensive purposes; some in the Order, however, felt that to do this would come too close to the dark side, and warned others against employing this technique.
Members of the old and new Jedi Orders could also meld their minds within the Force, producing a battle meld that would allow for enhanced coordination on the part of Jedi Knights and Masters, either while flying starfighters, which happened on many occasions during the Yuuzhan Vong War, or in cooperation with a group of Jedi manning the defensive guns of heavy warships, as was the case aboard Outbound Flight. This technique was a refinement of battle meditation, which could have the same effect on Force-sensitives as well as those who could not touch the Force. The use of this power could have profound consequences for starfighter engagements, because it bolstered the willpower and innate combat abilities of the user's chosen side in the battle, as well as doing the opposite for the Jedi's opponents, essentially sapping enemy morale and sowing confusion within their ranks. The ancient Jedi Knights Nomi Sunrider and Bastila Shan, though they were not pilots themselves, were nonetheless very skilled in this art and used it to great effect. It was also said that Emperor Palpatine used a twisted form of battle meditation to augment the Imperial fleet during the Battle of Endor, and that when he was killed during the second Death Star's destruction, his power ceased to be a factor, and this led to the eventual Imperial defeat during the Battle of Endor. Jacen Solo, when he became Darth Caedus, learned how to use this dark form of battle meditation as well, using it to further his goals during the Second Galactic Civil War.
The five stages of starfighter combat
As a general rule, nearly all starfighter engagements could be broken down into five distinct stages: Detection, Closing, Attack, Maneuver and Disengagement; these stages were expanded upon in Adar Tallon's book, Treatise on Starfighter Tactics. Though the length and circumstances of each stage could vary, or even skipped entirely depending on the results of the prior stage, nearly all battles where starfighters fought one another followed this basic formula.
Stage I: Detection and identification
- "The first to spot the enemy wins."
- ―Anonymous Clone Wars pilot as quoted by Adar Tallon
The first stage of starfighter combat involved detecting the enemy and, in turn, avoiding being detected if possible. When a group of starfighters entered a star system intent on engaging enemy forces stationed there, it was vital to be able to spot the enemy before they spotted the incoming force. The first side in an impending engagement to detect the enemy was often able to dictate the terms of the fight; given the speeds most starfighters could attain within realspace, early detection was imperative. Starfighters used by the Alliance to Restore the Republic had an advantage over their Imperial counterparts in this regard; their sensor range was higher and, according to Imperial starfighter doctrine, TIE Fighters were expected to stay within the sensor range of the base or starship that provided their support. Imperial doctrine further dictated that TIE pilots received their targeting information directly from their designated flight controller; thus, the ability to detect and discern appropriate targets was only as good as the controller on duty.
Sensors and scanners
There were several means available to starfighters for spotting enemy craft: electronic sensors, visual scanners, and visual contact. If a fighter's electronic scanners were jammed by an opposing force, the pilot could instead switch to visual scanners, which were essentially video cameras with telescopic lenses which allowed a pilot to spot incoming craft long before they could be seen by the naked eye. Such sensors were impossible to jam save for the employment of cloaking devices, which were rarely if ever used in such engagements. Most engagements took place at ranges that permitted pilots to actually see their opponents with their own unaided eyes; this was referred to as visual contact.
Choosing to attack
The choice of whether or not to attack a formation of enemy fighters or other ships that had been detected could be made at two different levels: by the flight controller attached to the battle either through the main fleet or via the starfighters' base of operations, or the leader of the starfighter unit or units themselves. This was an important factor to take into consideration because a being had to be able to take as many variables into account as possible, including the overall ratio of friendly craft to enemy, the chances of success, and the price of failure. For a flight controller, this was relatively easy since they, in their position, had a better view of the unfolding engagement; for the unit leader this depended greatly on their own sense of situational awareness and tactical ability.
Stage II: Closing
If a starfighter unit chose to engage, the pilots within had to seek out the most advantageous position possible before making their attack run.
Speed and concealment
The two ingredients essential to a successful closing were speed and concealment, both of which aided in limiting the amount of time an enemy starfighter force had to detect the incoming attackers and react to them, thus increasing the chances of a surprise assault. High closing speeds also had another advantage; it increased the energy available for conducting maneuvers as well as for providing for a quick disengagement if the attack run was unsuccessful or if the attacking force voluntarily chose to break off. Concealment, on the other hand, was almost impossible due to the sophistication of sensor equipment across the board; jamming could be attempted but it usually did more harm then good because it hampered the abilities of the craft issuing the signal jamming almost as much as it did those whose sensors it was trying to jam.
If concealment failed, attacking starfighter pilots were then forced to use deceptive measures in order to fool their enemies as to their true intentions. Examples of this kind of deceptive closure included making the main assault appear to be simply a feint, and vice versa; that there are more or fewer attackers then there really were; or disguising the true objective by appearing to be angling for a run on some other potential target. Such tactics also included dangerously tight formations that would aid in hiding the attackers' true strength, attacking in waves, dividing one's forces into two or even three separate sections and sending one large force to draw off enemy starfighters while a smaller force would take on the enemy control ship, or having one group attempt to jam communications while the rest dealt with other defenses, possibly preventing enemy fighters from being summoned.
Stage III: Attack
The attack stage of starfighter combat was where four out of every five kills were achieved. Prior to launching an attack, two things had to be taken into account: the current overall tactical situation and the capabilities of the starfighters and other ships that would be involved, both friend and foe. It was essential for an attack to be launched from the best possible position at the best possible moment in order to ensure the maximum chances of victory; to execute an attack run without due consideration was to court disaster.
Stage IV: Maneuver
The maneuver stage of starfighter combat only began when the initial attack failed and the dogfight began. During this stage an experienced pilot would do his or her best to deny initiative to the enemy, either by using aggressive maneuvers that would always give the most advantageous position or simply keeping pressure on an opponent in order to force them into making a mistake. The maneuver stage also began as soon as a pilot realized that he was, or was about to become, under attack from an enemy starfighter. The first priority then was to survive, and everything else became secondary; however, if a pilot was able to evade his enemy he could either disengage from the fight or attempt to turn the tables using any number of different tactics.
Stage V: Disengagement
- "It is rarely given adequate attention. The inexperienced pilot frequently believes that following an attack pass, particularly a successful one, that the engagement is over and he can relax. This is dangerous nonsense."
- ―Adar Tallon, Treatise on Starfighter Tactics
The last stage of starfighter combat, the disengagement, was also the most dangerous if one's forces were outnumbered to begin with, as so often happened during the Galactic Civil War. Alliance pilots were told that diminished vigilance in this last stage was a recipe for disaster because in a quick-strike engagement there was simply no time to slack off. To do so would give the Imperials time to reorganize or to gather reinforcements, thus increasing the possibility of overwhelming the attacking Rebel force. If a pilot could not successfully disengage from a combat situation, he or she could not escape into hyperspace; the longer a pilot stayed in the combat zone, the more vulnerable he or she would become.
The best way to disengage was to destroy the enemy down to the last man; however, that was not often a possibility. Another option was for the attacking formation to maintain their high degree of speed after having engaged the enemy in a full-throttle attack pass, thus disengaging automatically. However, this was dependent on the pilot having maintained his or her initial course and not having gotten involved in a dogfight or other maneuvers. Disengaging from such a battle or maneuver was, naturally, more difficult; often the only hope of doing so if one was unable to destroy their opponent was to try and obtain a neutral position—a position where neither the attacker nor the defender had a discernible advantage over the other.
There were several critical components to any disengagement; the first and most essential of which was speed. It was far less difficult to pull away from an engagement while flying at full throttle, particularly if the two opponents were not traveling on parallel courses, thus putting a great deal of distance between the defender and attacker. To assure a clean getaway, pilots had to maintain visual contact for as long as possible, since an unseen enemy could still theoretically gain an advantage on the disengaging pilot. If a pilot lost sight of his opponent in a turning battle, the best option was to keep turning until sight was regained; finally, if a pilot wished to disengage while under attack, the best hope for escape was to turn toward the enemy's line of fire, increasing the chances of angling off from one's opponent. It was critical for survival to avoid showing one's tail to a pursuing enemy craft.
- "I am Wedge Antilles. I survived the Battle of Yavin. I survived the Battle of Hoth. Hell…just a couple of weeks ago I blew up the Death Star during the Battle of Endor. The reason I'm still breathing when a lot of other good Rebel pilots aren't? Maybe it's because I'm better. Or maybe I'm just lucky."
- ―Wedge Antilles, one of the Rebel Alliance and New Republic's most famous fighter pilots, laments his own survival
The most important aspect of starfighter combat was the one who controlled the fighter—the pilot. All pilots were trained to fly and fight as one with their craft, their wingmate, and their unit in all manner of situations against many different kinds of threats. From ambushing an interstellar convoy to assaulting a fully operational Death Star, it was the pilot who was always tasked to complete the mission.
Although a member of nearly all sentient species in the galaxy that could physically fit themselves into a starfighter's cockpit could potentially become a fighter pilot, at least within the Rebel Alliance and New Republic, there were a number of qualities that were required for a being to be able to pursue a career of flying in combat. Among these requirements were superior visual acuity, a relatively high degree of intelligence and spatial ability, a certain amount of intuitiveness, above-average mathematical acumen, and a healthy sense of aggressiveness and competitiveness as well as a willingness to work with others as a team. Although many pilots, like the vast majority of spacers, were somewhat superstitious, this was rarely frowned upon though it was not uncommon for a being with a higher-than-average dose of it to suffer the mockery of his or her fellows. Many pilots, particularly those with high degrees of skill, also tended to have conspicuously large egos.
Sentient beings who hoped to become starfighter pilots also had to be able to operate rationally while exposed to high degrees of stress, both mental and physical, in order to be able to cope with training as well as having to fly in actual combat. For members of some inherently pacifistic species, such as the Talz, this was a particularly acute problem. It was also fairly common for pilot candidates, before having joined a military service, to have piloted recreational land- and airspeeders, swoops and speeder bikes—often with a high degree of skill.
In the Galactic Empire, the Imperial pilots were treated largely as expendable pawns, owing to the more centralized, top-down philosophy of the Empire. Even the most prized pilots for the Empire were often given little protection for their fighter craft or at least TIE fighters, such as deflector shields or life-support systems, which led to the TIE fighter being considered a notorious symbol for the Empire's callous disregard of its own soldiers. This treatment stemmed from the Clone Wars, where the Galactic Republic treated its clone soldiers as essentially being the equivalent of living droids, although it continued even when non-clone pilots who graduated from the Imperial Academy were accepted, despite requests by Imperial officials for accommodations to be made for the non-clone pilots. Imperial pilots were also ingrained with the idea that they should place the Empire's advancement and prosperity over their comrades or even their own lives. As such, they also tended to be emotionally unstable, prone to bits of fighter's anxiety. This was deliberately invoked by the Imperial brass due to the belief that it would have them fight more efficiently. TIE pilots, due to the emphasis on placing the Empire over self in their training, also rarely used the same TIE fighter twice and thus didn't form attachments, although this practiced declined after the Empire was forced to conserve their pilots.
Starfighter pilot training
- "Treat every simulator run like the real thing and stay alive longer."
- ―Shalla Nelprin's father
Within the Rebel Alliance, a starfighter was considered to be only as good as its pilot, and a pilot was only as good as his or her training. In space navies throughout history pilots trained as a unit at the squadron level in the form of training squadrons. This served to incorporate the many disparate personalities of the pilot candidates within the training unit into a solid team that depended on, and trusted, each other to see them through difficult combat missions and situations. Though not required, it was desirable that before a unit could be certified fit for combat duty, a certain esprit de corps should be formed. Starfighter pilot training was grueling, particularly for elite units; any candidate that did not pass muster for a variety of reasons—among these being insufficient skill, inability to integrate into the unit, or even excess stress caused by combat or the potential of combat—was washed out. Such rejected pilots could be removed from the squadron or even their service's starfighter command entirely, with any number of possibilities being offered the being in question, including service in the regular navy or simply a discharge from the military.
Imperial pilots, on the other hand, were highly encouraged, both by the training they received and the general atmosphere of their units, to constantly be on the razor's edge of agitation and aggressiveness, often to the point of lashing out at their fellows when not on duty. While a small degree of recreation was permitted, in extracurriculars such as grav-ball matches, Imperial pilot candidates were put through intensive coursework dealing with subjects ranging from astrogation to mechanical engineering. Obedience, loyalty, and discipline were stressed on a near-constant basis, with cadets taking more than their share of abuse from their instructors—abuse they then passed on to less adept trainees. Most prevalent, however, were the countless hours of piloting required to pass muster in their training. Simulations including obstacle courses and recreations of historical combat situations were used to make absolute certain that the Imperial pilot would make more than a match for Rebels, pirates, and other hostiles. Beyond this, however, the atmosphere of line units within the Imperial Starfleet was very spirited in a less do-or-die way; having passed their initial training and being assigned to an operational squadron, new pilots went through further training to acclimate themselves within the unit. When off duty, pilots aboard Star Destroyers and the first Death Star often caroused in a less aggressive way, blending in with the other officers and enjoying themselves much like the rest of the Empire's war machine. Simulators were also used as part of off-duty recreation, as many pilots, including Villian Dance, wished to better their skills as much as possible. The training for Imperial pilots was also dangerous, and could lead to attrition especially among trainee pilots who were drafted to actual combat situations, with those who survived also coming closer to being considered for the Starfighter Corps.
The essentials of pilot training often took months to learn and consisted of a number of different kinds of exercises; what training occurred depended greatly on the navy involved and the craft that the unit would eventually fly. Extensive hours spent in flight simulators, which were enclosed simulacrums of a starfighter's cockpit that were programmed to simulate exactly the environment and effects of starfighter combat, including the actions of other teammates and potential enemies within the simulator's dataspace, was required to learn the basics of how one's type of fighter worked. Training in actual starfighters engaging in mock combat with powered-down weapons was also common; other training included realspace and hyperspace astrogation and navigation, communications and comm discipline, small and large unit tactics, and recreations of historical scenarios, such reenactments were often programmed into simulators. Coordination within fleet-based combat situations was also essential learning, as was cross-training in other types of duties such as conducting bombing runs against ground targets or reconnaissance missions into enemy territory. Pilots who successfully completed flight training were inducted into the armed forces as a commissioned officer.
- "Sir, Luke is the best bush pilot in the Outer Rim territories."
- ―Biggs Darklighter, of Luke Skywalker's self-taught piloting skills
Non-military starfighter forces, such as those associated with pirates, mercenary groups, slavers, and other criminal organizations, almost never had formal training programs. Instead these types of paramilitary and outlaw forces would typically pick up washouts from military training programs, renegade pilots who had deserted from active or destroyed line units, speeder bike enthusiasts who showed some degree of skill in simulators, or simply walk-ons who boasted about being able to fly well. Such hired hands were typically placed into "squadrons" without considerations of such things as compatibility or ability, and often basic things like communications discipline and formation integrity were almost never enforced. Such forces also typically did not have use of military-designed starfighters, and those that did typically operated older models that were considered out of date by the standards of the day.
Although most line-certified starfighter pilots, statistically speaking, were expected to die within their first five combat missions, those that survived could often find themselves candidates for leadership positions within a squadron, provided they had sufficient skills and an aptitude for such a quality. Indeed, as a unit's training was still underway, experienced training officers would always be on the lookout for potential flight leaders within the core group even as they attempted to weed out potential dropouts. Attrition rates in starfighter combat, depending on the navy and its overall tactical and strategic doctrine, including the preferred type of starfighter, could be extremely high. As such, any pilot serving within such a navy's starfighter branch who was skilled—or simply lucky—enough to survive even a few missions could find themselves in a position of command, with or without having formally gone through an academy training program. This was especially true in non-military fighter units and pirate organizations.
The Unknown Regions
The cultures of the Unknown Regions certainly utilized starfighters in their fleet actions. By 27 BBY, both the Chiss and the Vagaari, two of the dominant cultures in their region, employed starfighters for screening capital vessels as well as engaging in point-defense. The Chiss fighters of that time, much like the later Clawcraft, were larger than the average fighter of the Republic, and carried considerably heavier weaponry, including Conner nets for the disabling of smaller enemy ships. Force Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force deployed these heavy fighters in small numbers, often using them to probe an enemy's defenses and tendencies at the start of a battle. When Mitth'raw'nuruodo acquired the use of Trade Federation droid starfighters, he made use of the more expendable nature of such craft, employing them as missiles against the Republic exploratory vessel Outbound Flight.
The pilot culture of Adumar
On the planet of Adumar, which had been separated from the rest of the Galactic Republic for some ten thousand years prior to the rise of the Empire, a worldwide culture that literally worshiped pilots evolved. A fragmented world that had suffered from at least two global civil wars through its history, Adumar was rediscovered in 13 ABY by the Imperial Remnant and the New Republic, prompting both governments to send ambassadorial delegations. Due to the Adumari mania for pilots and flying in general, the diplomatic representatives that were selected included the best starfighter pilots that each government possessed. They found that their hosts' fascination was so deeply ingrained within their culture that nearly every above-ground dwelling had its own "landing zone" and that civilian and military pilots alike frequently engaged in aerial "honor duels," often to the death. It was not uncommon for pilots to have more "duel kills" then "war kills"; even the royalty of the many Adumari nation-states, for example the perator of Cartann, were required to demonstrate their own piloting skills in order to remain in office. Ultimately this culture clash, directly as well as indirectly, led to the brief Adumari Civil War that served to unite the many nations of Adumar, convincing the newly unified government to join the New Republic. Shortly thereafter, the jilted Imperial Remnant sent a battle fleet in an attempt to bring that world into its fold by force.
The basic unit of starfighters within various galactic military organizations, and even those who operated outside of a military capacity, was the squadron. Usually consisting of twelve to sixteen craft and commanded by a commander or a colonel depending on the service, squadrons were further divided into flights typically led by captains which were in turn made up of paired flight elements. At the opposite end of the spectrum, three to six squadrons made up a fighter wing, also known as a fighter group, commanded by a general or, in some cases, a colonel. The term "fighter wing" was also used to refer to the full complement of starfighters that were normally carried by large warships, such as the Imperial-class Star Destroyer. In addition, various starfighter units, or at least those used by the Galactic Empire, also broke apart when the leader was shot down.
- "Right with you, boss!"
- ―Wedge Antilles at the Battle of Yavin
One overriding principle of starfighter combat was that starfighters always operated best in paired units; each member of a flight element would alternate positions as leader and wingman as the situation dictated. The leader of an element would engage enemy starfighters while the wingman served as a backup; this was the base foundation of any fighter unit. Bound together in element pairs within flights and squadrons, starfighter pilots soon learned that it was essential to memorize the habits and to earn the trust of the being assigned to be one's wingmate by the squadron commander. Often in starfighter engagements the difference between survival and death at the hands of an opponent was one's wingmate, since they served as a pilot's backup and extra pair of eyes; the two craft of a flight element constantly relied on each other to ensure that they came out of the fight alive and intact, one warning of impending danger to the other and lending mutual support. A flight element that could hold itself together during the chaos of combat often had the best chance possible of downing the enemy and surviving to fight again another day. Within the Imperial Navy, the supporting pilot was often referred to as one's "panelman"; this was due to the characteristic solar panels on the TIE series of starfighters.
A flight of starfighters was usually composed of two flight elements operating in concert and, usually, led by a Captain or Lieutenant. Though the natural realm of operations for flights was acting within a squadron, single flights were sometimes sent on their own missions, such as that of Red Flight's diplomatic expedition to Adumar. Depending on the service, composition and role of the unit involved, three to four flights made up a squadron.
The most recognizable unit of starfighters in the galaxy, the squadron was typically assigned to a fleet vessel. However, if the fighters in use by a squadron were equipped with hyperdrives, as were virtually all such craft employed by the Rebel Alliance, New Republic and Galactic Alliance, this type of unit was quite capable of operating independently of the fleet provided that they had access to sufficient supplies and facilities. During the early days of the Rebellion, this was done quite frequently by the Alliance, as it was their chief means of space denial when fighting against the Empire.
Fighter wings and fighter groups
The highest level of organization within starfighter units was the fighter wing or fighter group. In the Rebel Alliance, the term "fighter wing" was used to describe a grouping of three squadrons, which was typically the standard complement of their cruisers. Fighter wings usually operated in concert with the main fleet, and their commanders would report directly to the ship's captain. However, the same term was used within the Imperial Navy to denote the full complement of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, which consisted of six squadrons of varying types of TIE craft. The term "fighter group" was the term preferred by the Empire to distinguish a grouping of three squadrons that operated together, in the case of the 181st Imperial Fighter Group.
From the earliest days of interstellar warfare, starfighter combat was an essential component in the successful prosecution of interplanetary military campaigns. Starfighters flew in support in the Rakatan Infinite Empire's ground forces, and primitive bi-wing snub fighters flew for the Pius Dea during their anti-alien Crusades.
Starfighter combat in the Old Republic
The Great Hyperspace War and Great Sith War
- "I've got the ship on my targeting screens—increase speed…"
- ―Anonymous starfighter pilot from Cinnagar
During the Great Hyperspace War, the Republic encountered Sith starfighters for the first time; coordinated by a Meditation Sphere controlled by the Dark Lord Naga Sadow and later Gav Daragon, they proved to be capable craft. In the Battle at Primus Goluud, naval forces serving under Empress Teta did battle with the Sith fleet led by Sadow, who used a superweapon to cause several solar flares that lashed out at the Tetan vessels. Though the battle was intense, Sadow's forces were eventually forced to retreat back to the Sith Empire; this was the first known confrontation between Republic and Tetan starfighters and those utilized by the Sith. In the battle at Korriban that followed, however, Sith faced Sith; the conflagration only ended when Sadow intentionally crashed one of his ships into the flagship of the would-be Dark Lord Ludo Kressh. This was only a short reprieve, however, because soon afterward the Tetan fleet arrived, completely surprising the massed Sith forces. After yet another fierce starfighter and warship battle, Naga Sadow fled to Yavin 4, thus ending the war.
At the Battle of Koros Major, which marked the beginning of the Great Sith War nearly a millennium later, Sith Chaos fighters piloted by Krath warriors were sent by Satal Keto to act as suicide ramships against the incoming Republic fleet. They succeeded in heavily damaging the Republic flagship Reliance I and wounding Ulic Qel-Droma and forcing his fleet to retreat from the system. Later, several Jedi-piloted starfighters made another raid on Koros Major in an attempt to capture Ulic, who had fallen to the dark side, but were forced to retreat when they were unable to take him into custody. Later, at the Battle of Foerost, Chaos fighters and Sith capital ships, hidden by a Force Illusion created by Aleema Keto, delivered a knockout punch to the Republic shipyards located there. At the Battle of Kemplex IX that prompted the Evacuation of Ossus, Sith and Mandalorian starfighters and war droids wreaked havoc on Republic and Jedi forces, though at the former much of the Sith fleet was caught in the Cron Supernova and destroyed. This opened the way for the Battle of Onderon and the final confrontation over Yavin 4 that would ultimately result in the defeat of the Dark Lord Exar Kun.
The Mandalorian Wars, Old and New Sith Wars
- "I still remember that final battle in the skies above Malachor V. The two fleets filling the space around it, outshining the stars…"
- ―Canderous Ordo
During the massive galaxywide conflagration that became known as the Mandalorian Wars there were many starfighter engagements. Mandalorian warriors riding Basilisk war droids, a type of surface-attack craft similar in basic form and function to an assault starfighter, proved to be formidable opponents in battle. Mandalorian starfighters also played a key role in the early battles against the Republic Navy, particularly during the Battle of Serroco. After bombarding the Stereb cities with nuclear missiles, a large Mandalorian fleet laid waste to a battle group commanded by Admiral Saul Karath. Even as forces of the Republic, then under the command of the Jedi Revan, began pushing them back, Mandalorian starfighters and capital ships delivered a crushing blow at the Battle of Jaga's Cluster, destroying an entire fleet group and its commander, killed in hand-to-hand combat by Cassus Fett.
During the final, climactic Battle of Malachor V that saw the near extermination of the Mandalorian race, many Mandalorian pilots, including Bralor, fell prey to Jedi flying in starfighters. Many of them were in turn killed when the Mass Shadow Generator was activated by the Jedi Exile in a desperate attempt to win the battle.
In the Jedi Civil War that followed, many more engagements occurred between the Republic's Aurek fighters and Chela-class fighters as they were pitted against the Star Forge–created Sith interceptors that served Darth Revan and, later, Darth Malak. Such instances included the Destruction of Taris, Revan's escape from the Leviathan, and the final Battle of Rakata Prime, which took place around the Star Forge itself. These unusual, yet unshielded and fragile craft remained in service with the Sith Triumvirate during the Dark Wars, where they continued to use their preferred swarming tactics. These ships primarily served under the leadership of Darth Nihilus, who had salvaged many ships from the remains of Malachor, including his own flagship, the Centurion-class battlecruiser Ravager. When Nihilus arrived at Telos IV with his fleet, in order to feed on what he believed to be a group of Jedi present there, a fierce battle erupted between Sith forces and a fleet of Republic warships led by Admiral Carth Onasi, who had arrived to reinforce the beleaguered defenders of Citadel Station. During the millennium-long New Sith Wars, many Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, along with thousands of Republic and Sith pilots, would fly in combat against each other, including during the Ruusan campaign that would see the final closure of the thousand-year series of conflicts and skirmishes.
Decline of the Republic
- "It's unthinkable. There hasn't been a full-scale war since the inception of the Republic."
- ―Sio Bibble
Eventually, the Galactic Republic began to decay from within. Internal disputes between star systems, the increasing greed of commercial interests, and an epidemic of piracy and organized crime that reached all the way into the Galactic Senate via bribery and other forms of corruption began to erode the infrastructure of the government—even the Jedi Order—that had secured peace for the thousand years after the end of the Republic Dark Age and the New Sith Wars. Iaco Stark, a pirate and smuggler who led the Stark Commercial Combine, nursed ambitions of bringing the Republic to its knees so that his organization could rise in its place. Beginning with a few pirate raids in 44 BBY, Stark drew the attention of the Jedi, who sent a delegation in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful end to the brewing conflict, However, the delegation was attacked, which quickly resulted in a full-scale war. The Stark Hyperspace War, as it came to be known, was the first significant conflict in nearly a thousand years, and would only be the first of many more.
By 32 BBY the situation throughout the Republic was getting worse. Corruption continued to plague the Senate, and even the Supreme Chancellor at the time, Finis Valorum, was locked within a scandal, which had in fact been engineered by Senator Palpatine of Naboo, though only he and his most trusted agents were aware of this. The Trade Federation, having been prayed upon pirates for the past several years, was continuing to arm itself with increasingly powerful weapons; ultimately, an attempt to regulate the underhanded practices of the Federation was made, which resulted in the taxation of trade routes within the Republic. The newly installed Viceroy of the Trade Federation, Nute Gunray, and his advisers bristled under what they saw as, at best, an unfair governmental decree and at worst outright thievery. Advised by the mysterious Darth Sidious, the Federation engaged in a protest action directed at the taxation law, and surrounded the peaceful world of Naboo in a blockade of Lucrehulk-class battleships. When two Jedi Knights were sent to attempt to negotiate a settlement with the Neimoidians, Gunray panicked and, on the advice of Sidious, attempted to kill the Jedi even as he began the Invasion of Naboo.
After a detour to Tatooine and then the Republic capital of Coruscant, the Jedi, accompanied by the young Anakin Skywalker, returned to Naboo with the Queen, Padmé Amidala, in order to stage a guerrilla campaign to liberate the planet. Though the Jedi were forbidden to engage in war, they did serve ably as the Queen's bodyguards during the battles that followed. While the Gungan Grand Army attempted to engage the droid armies of the Federation, troops of the Royal Naboo Security Forces alongside Amidala herself assaulted the palace at Theed in an attempt to capture Gunray, at the same time bringing Naboo's best starfighter pilots to the Royal Hangar in a desperate attempt to use their N-1 starfighters to knock out the Federation Droid Control Ship. Ultimately the plan succeeded, with the young Skywalker, after having accidentally joined the space battle in a borrowed N-1 accompanied by R2-D2 and despite the massive numbers of vulture droids, striking the deciding blow when he flew into the control ship's hangar and unloaded a pair of proton torpedoes into the massive vessel's reactor core, flying back out ahead of the shockwave that destroyed the warship. At the same time, Amidala turned the tables on Gunray, taking him prisoner while the Jedi defeated the Sith Lord Darth Maul, though at the cost of Qui-Gon Jinn's life.
The Clone Wars
- "I'd consider the Delta-7 combat capabilities well tested, Master Tiin."
- ―Obi-Wan Kenobi, after surviving the Battle of Geonosis
Ten years later the outbreak of the Clone Wars saw the introduction of many new types of starfighters that served throughout the galaxy, including droid-piloted craft such as the Vulture droid first used by the Trade Federation during their attempted takeover of Naboo and the Droid tri-fighter, that saw service with the Confederacy of Independent Systems later in the war. These ships, which were essentially armed droids with integrated attack programming and maneuvering protocols, were particularly difficult for Jedi pilots to fight, at least at first, because they were immune to Force-based anticipation.
This last major conflict of the Old Republic also saw the beginning of many changes in the way engagements between snubfighters were fought. Throughout the history of the galaxy prior to the outbreak of the Wars and the decline of the Old Republic, such battles were fought almost exclusively by sentient pilots flying starfighters without hyperdrive units that depended on larger warships to carry them into combat. This began to change as some elements within the galaxy, such as the many corporate interests like the Trade Federation, Techno Union, Commerce Guild, InterGalactic Banking Clan and Corporate Sector Authority saw the economy of employing massed formations of droid starfighters in addition to their growing legions of battle droid armies.
The clones that gave the wars their name and the fighters they flew, such as the Aggressive ReConnaissance-170 starfighter, acted as the Republic's counterbalance throughout the war. Yet, in reality, the whole conflict was but a plot by the Sith to play the galaxy against itself in order to conquer it from within while at the same time eliminating their age-old nemesis, the Jedi Order. In the last stages of the war, starfighters with deflector shields and integrated hyperdrive units, piloted by clones and mercenaries, began to appear on both sides. This would have a marked effect on the evolution of starfighter combat, a trend that was at the same time shunned and embraced depending on which side one chose to favor in the civil war that would follow the declaration of the New Order and the formation of the Galactic Empire.
The Galactic Civil War
- "C'mon, Wedge, you know me! Fighting is a way of life for me! Two days without blowing up some TIE fighters and I can't sleep properly!"
- ―Wes Janson to Wedge Antilles
During the Galactic Civil War, both the Galactic Empire and the Alliance to Restore the Republic developed their own tactics for starfighter combat. The standard Imperial doctrine for dealing with the more effective Rebel starfighters was to swarm them with disproportionate numbers of TIE fighters and Interceptors, hoping to either drive off their opponents or to destroy them through sheer combined firepower. The Alliance, however, soon learned to value its pilots much more than the Empire did, and thus not only trained them extensively in starfighter tactics and techniques, but instilled the desire to survive and fight another day into its Starfighter Corps; when the tactical situation became untenable, Rebel pilots were encouraged to retreat. This was in stark opposition to the Empire, who viewed TIE pilots as "disposable ordnance." The use of homing projectile-based weapons, usually in the form of proton torpedoes or concussion missiles, were essential to Alliance starfighter tactics. Though it was dangerous to use these types of ordnance in heated close-quarters engagements, they proved very effective in thinning opposing forces as both sides closed into attack range.
Assaults on the Death Stars
It was perhaps during the Galactic Civil War that starfighter combat had its most significant successes in all of recorded history. Some time after a disastrous attack on the still-unfinished Death Star by the Rebel Alliance battle carrier Fortressa and five hundred X-wings, a single starfighter, piloted by a relatively novice pilot named Luke Skywalker and utilizing only two proton torpedoes, destroyed the single largest and most powerful space battle station at that time. Approximately four years later, the feat was repeated against the second, much larger and supposedly unfinished Death Star, this time with its reactor core being blown by two ships: the Millennium Falcon piloted by Lando Calrissian and an X-wing flown by Wedge Antilles, at the climax of the Battle of Endor.
Zaarin's attempted coup
During the height of the Galactic Civil War, an ambitious Grand Admiral named Demetrius Zaarin embarked on a string of research projects aimed at designing advanced models of TIE fighters for the Imperial Navy. As the appointed head of Starfighter Research, Zaarin oversaw the design and development of the TIE Avenger; once it had reached production it was soon followed by the TIE/D Defender. As an adjunct to the development of these two high-profile and advanced models, Zaarin also oversaw and initiated the TIE Experimental Project that ravaged shipping in the Vilonis sector.
However, just as Darth Vader concluded his campaign of dealing with the treachery of Admiral Harkov, Zaarin launched a coup d'état, attempting to kidnap the Emperor and hold him aboard the admiral's flagship, the Star Destroyer Glory. However, the kidnapping attempt failed as Vader crushed Zaarin's fighter support in the Ottega system and Imperial reinforcements managed to save the Emperor before he reached Glory. Though Zaarin's forces had been driven off, they escaped unscathed and thus began a lengthy and costly operation intended bring the rogue Grand Admiral to heel. In recognition of his achievements in the battle, Thrawn's secret promotion to Grand Admiral was made official for his actions, and he replaced Zaarin. During the campaign, other types of Imperial assault craft on the scale of starfighters would be introduced, such as the Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing, often referred to as an Assault Gunboat and the Missile Boat.
After having retreated to the Outer Rim, Zaarin's forces looted and destroyed any Imperial facilities that they happened upon. Eventually, Zaarin managed to stalemate Thrawn, though this came at a high rate of attrition among his forces, and his traitorous forces remained at large for months. Finally, the ex–Grand Admiral's lust for technology proved to be his undoing, as he could not resist stealing the CR90 corvette Vorknkx, which had been modified with a cloaking device, during the Battle of To-phalion Base. Unknown to Zaarin, Thrawn had allowed him to capture the corvette as part of his scheme, having sabotaged the hyperdrive so that it became unstable when the cloaking device was activated. Following his defeat by Thrawn, Zaarin attempted to flee into hyperspace with the corvette, not knowing that it had been tampered with. When the hyperdrive was engaged it exploded, destroying the warship and instantly killing Zaarin.
Post-Endor and the taking of Coruscant
Though the Battle of Endor had been won and the highest level of leadership within the Galactic Empire thus eliminated, the Rebel Alliance and later the New Republic knew that they still had a long way to go down the road toward freeing the galaxy from what they saw as the tyranny of Imperial rule. Starfighters in both nations' respective navies still had a role to play in the next stage of the war, however; one important list on the agenda for the New Republic was to expand its citizenry by signing new worlds to their cause and fledgling government. After Endor the Alliance in particular would send one of their best pilots, Wedge Antilles, on diplomatic missions to prospective member worlds.
Ultimately this meant taking Coruscant, hitherto known as Imperial Center while under Imperial control, which would require a strategic and tactical campaign whose goal was to advance Alliance-held territory into the Core Worlds region of the galaxy. Key to this campaign was the reformation of Rogue Squadron, an elite unit of pilots that had been formed in the wake of the Battle of Yavin by Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles. Once the new Rogues were deemed ready for combat, they set out to aid the New Republic's advancement into the Core, beginning with the First and Second Battle of Borleias, in which X- and Y-wings fought hard against TIE Interceptors in heavy fighting that saw heavy losses on both sides.
With the taking of Borleias, the New Republic possessed a foothold in the Core, which allowed them to begin the march on Coruscant with Rogue Squadron in the lead. Called to serve outside of their normal area of expertise, the pilots of that unit were inserted into the galactic capital not as pilots, but as impromptu commando operatives. Initially tasked to scout the world for potential targets and obstacles, Alliance Fleet Command, at the insistence of the Provisional Council, decided to send the Rogues to take down Coruscant's planetary shields so that the fleet could come and take the world. Exhausting all land-based hopes for achieving their goal, the Rogues split up in a last-ditch effort, some taking to the air in black-market Z-95 Headhunter starfighters while the rest took charge of an orbital mirror in an effort to cause a titanic thunderstorm that would overload the city-world's shields. Due in no small part to the starfighters, the mission was accomplished; the capital fell, and the New Republic gained a new air of legitimacy.
The Zsinj campaigns
- "Look up at your viewscreen, you vermin. Kiss my Wookiee!"
- ―Han to Zsinj shortly before the latter's death
Though Coruscant had been taken, it had been left a sick world by the Director of Imperial Intelligence, Ysanne Isard. Yet, even as that world began to recover from the Krytos virus, a new military campaign had been launched, this one aimed at bringing the Warlord Zsinj, who had been preying on both the New Republic and the Empire in order to carve out his own dominion, to heel. Led by General Han Solo, a large fleet made up of several battle groups struck out to find the warlord's Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist as well as to free territory held within Zsinj's grasp. Many starfighter units served as part of the task force, including the newly formed Wraith Squadron that would serve alongside Rogue Squadron after the unit had returned from fighting the Bacta War. The ensuing campaign proved successful at first, with the capture of the corvette Night Caller and later, the destruction of the Implacable and the death of Admiral Apwar Trigit at the Battle of Ession.
The campaign would continue for another year, however, during which the Wraiths disguised themselves as the Hawk-bat Independent Space Force, a dummy pirate gang that was centered on a quintet of captured TIE Interceptors and a pair of TIE Fighters left over from the Night Caller campaign, in an attempt to infiltrate Zsinj's organization. The attempt succeeded, proving to be the key to thwarting the warlord's attempt to procure a second Super Star Destroyer, the Razor's Kiss, then being outfitted and completed at Kuat Drive Yards' main shipyards over Kuat. During the next phase of the campaign, the Wraiths and Rogues, alongside the rest of General Solo's fleet, began to pick apart Zsinj's financial empire in order to whittle away at his ability to wage war. This down-and-dirty campaign, long and drawn-out though it was, succeeded in putting the warlord on the defensive. Eventually the Solo Fleet managed to corner the bulk of Zsinj's forces, dealing tremendous damage to the warlord's fleet at the Battle of Selaggis, although the Iron Fist itself escaped.
There was, however, one last battle to be fought in the campaign to eliminate Warlord Zsinj. At the Battle of Dathomir, after defeating the Nightsisters and finally thwarting the warlord's orbital nightcloak superweapon, General Solo, Prince Isolder, Luke and Leia, along with the assistance of a large battlefleet from the Hapes Consortium, were able to bring down the Iron Fist. It was Solo himself who delivered the killing shot; after managing to maneuver the Millennium Falcon under the warship's shields, he taunted the warlord before sending a pair of concussion missiles directly into the flagship's bridge. With Zsinj dead, the rest of his fleet gradually surrendered to the Hapans.
The Thrawn Campaign
- "History is on the move, Captain. Those who cannot keep up will be left behind, to watch from a distance. And those who stand in our way will not watch at all."
- ―Grand Admiral Thrawn
A year later the New Republic faced another threat, one of the greatest thus far: the return from the Unknown Regions of the mysterious Grand Admiral Thrawn. A tactical and strategic genius, Thrawn launched a renewed offensive against what he still thought of as "the Rebellion" that began to significantly push back the gains made by the New Republic in the years since their victory at Endor. Using a variety of recovered technologies put to unorthodox uses, including a new model of cloaking device and even resorting to creating clone soldiers using Spaarti cloning cylinders, the Grand Admiral put the Empire back on the offensive. Starfighters continued to play important roles in this campaign as well; since Thrawn did not believe in wasting his troops, every effort was made to keep his pilots alive. Technology and doctrine alone were not enough; with the help of the insane clone Jedi Master Joruus C'baoth, who used his own brand of battle meditation, Thrawn won victory after victory.
With the need to secure more starships for his Imperial fleet becoming acute, Thrawn began to hunt the two hundred Dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers of the lost Katana fleet. Eventually he found the fleet, securing some one hundred seventy-eight of the derelict warships before a small New Republic task force, led to the area by the smuggler Talon Karrde, who had been rescued from Thrawn's flagship by Luke Skywalker, arrived to try and claim the fleet. Shortly thereafter a fierce starfighter and warship battle erupted over the remains of the fleet, culminating with the loss of one Imperial Star Destroyer and the retreating of the remaining ImpStar, the Judicator. The damage had been done, however; Thrawn had his ships and the clones to crew them.
The war raged on, however, and soon after the loss of the Katana fleet, Thrawn laid siege to Coruscant, sending twenty-one cloaked asteroids into orbit above the capital world, thus effectively blockading it without having to waste a single warship to continue the siege. Believing that there were far more asteroids in orbit then there actually were, the New Republic's Advisory Council ordered the procurement of a crystal gravfield trap, precipitating the chain of events that would lead to the climactic Battle of Bilbringi, which would witness the death of Grand Admiral Thrawn at the hands of his former Noghri bodyguard, Rukh.
- "I say let the Imperials keep coming, because every time a new admiral crawls out of the Outer Rim or some Imperial goon finds a lost superweapon, Rogue Squadron gets a new starfighter. Seems like a good deal to me."
- ―An unusually flippant General Wedge Antilles
In the years that followed the defeat of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the New Republic faced many new threats from the crumbling Empire, including a twice-reborn Emperor Palpatine, the Imperial warlord Daala, and the unified Imperial Remnant that formed under Admirals Daala and Gilad Pellaeon. Many of these threats would carry with them fierce starfighter engagements and confrontations, complete with new or vastly improved models being introduced, such as the New Republic's E-wing and the Imperial Shadow Droid and TIE/D automated starfighter. Palpatine's return saw a regrouped Empire strike back at the New Republic from Byss, pushing them off Coruscant and into the Outer Rim, often with the aid of arcane technologies and weapons. Once again, starfighters flew against each other in full-scale fleet actions across the galaxy. By and large, these engagements between New Republic and Imperial factions would remain fought between the classic Imperial TIE series and the familiar X-wing, Y-wing, A-wing, and B-wings used by the former Rebel Alliance.
An interesting side development was the brief reign of terror of the Sun Crusher, which was a starfighter-sized superweapon with the capability to destroy a star and was nearly invincible thanks to its coating of quantum-crystalline armor. After having been left in the heart of the gas giant Yavin Prime, the superweapon was later destroyed in by Kyp Durron, who sent it into a black hole within The Maw, along with a prototype Death Star. Daala's and Pellaeon's campaigns also saw numerous fleet engagements that starfighters saw actions in, including the attack on Mon Calamari, Battle of the Maw Installation, and the Assault on Yavin 4. Both leaders took control of an Empire that had been reeling from numerous losses and even extensive infighting between warlords and focused it by eliminating the major warlords and rallying their troops against the New Republic. Though these renewed campaigns inflicted significant damage, they failed to turn the tide of the war, and the Remnant continued to lose space.
Another notable use of starfighters was in the events surrounding the Battle of Nam Chorios, when the Loronar Corporation and its Navy used its CCIR Needles, miniature centrally controlled starfighters, to deadly effect on New Republic vessels in an effort to take over the galaxy with the aid of Moff Tol Getelles, Seti Ashgad and the Death Seed plague. Since the vessels were too small for most craft to target, they could damage and destroy much larger ships almost with impunity. These swarms of tiny fighter craft were ultimately stopped by Luke Skywalker, who persuaded the tsils at their core to stop the Death Seed plague in exchange for having all the controlling crystals, used to power the needles, returned to their homeworld of Nam Chorios.
Not long after the decimation of the Black Fleet, the former Jedi Kueller, who had fallen to the dark side, attempted to lead his homeworld of Almania, newly unified due to his efforts, in a plot to topple the New Republic. The campaign took the form of a massive wave of terrorist bombings that would be dubbed by many citizens as "the New Rebellion"; included in this was a series of sabotages involving New Republic starfighters destroyed by drone saboteurs. The situation came to a head when a fleet under the command of General Wedge Antilles was sent to confront the warlord's fleet in orbit over that world. Wedge's force of Mon Calamari cruisers, frigates and corvettes took heavy punishments in the early stages of the Battle of Almania, but once the general realized that the Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters he faced were entirely automated, he quickly turned the tables on them.
In the waning years of the Galactic Civil War and the peace that followed in 19 ABY, starfighter combat largely became a matter of the New Republic rooting out and eliminating bands of pirates and smugglers who usually utilized Uglies—starfighters that were cobbled together from the salvaged parts of other fighter craft. These included such unlikely assemblages as the TYE-wing, also known as the "Die-wing," the X-TIE, the Tri-fighter used by the Invid pirate group, and the Chir'daki, a particularly effective model created and used by the Twi'leks of Ryloth.
The Black Fleet Crisis
- "Leave Koornacht now!"
- ―Nil Spaar to Leia Organa Solo via private hologram
As the Imperial Navy gradually collapsed in the wake of the Battle of Endor and the establishment of the New Republic, Imperial forces stationed within the Koornacht Cluster were overrun and seized by the native Yevethans, led by Nil Spaar, who captured an entire Type II Orbital Repair Yard designated Black 15 that had been assigned to Black Sword Command, as well as a number of Imperial warships, including the Super Star Destroyer Intimidator. In the wake of the Yevethan liberation, Spaar formed the Duskhan League and assumed control of all Yevethan holdings within the Cluster. Twelve years later, the League had amassed a huge fleet of Aramadia-class thrustships and D-type fighters to complement its fleet of former Imperial warships.
That same year Spaar, now Viceroy of the League, opened relations with the New Republic, meeting with then–Chief of State Leia Organa Solo, using his visit as a cover to sow anti–New Republic propaganda and foster his own network of spies and assets on the capital world. Shortly afterward Spaar left for home to lead the Duskhan League as it subjugated the rest of the Koornacht Cluster, slaughtering the inhabitants of several worlds within the cluster that had been colonized since the rise of the Empire. When the New Republic became aware of these atrocities, an ultimatum was issued to the League: withdraw from all conquered territories or face the prospect of war. The bluff was called, however, and the Yevetha refused to withdraw.
In response, the newly activated Fifth Battle Group, under the command of General Etahn A'baht and the first unit in the New Republic Defense Force to be equipped with New Class warships, was sent to blockade the world of Doornik-319 in an attempt to stop the Yevetha; this would be the first operational deployment of the BTL-S8 K-wing assault starfighter. The resulting war pit Yevethan D-type fighters against New Republic starfighters, especially the E-wing. Yevethan and New Republic forces battled back and forth, while attempts were made to gain intelligence on the Yevethan-held worlds, utilizing both manned and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles, though most were unsuccessful and intercepted.
The New Republic suffered a stunning blow when Han Solo, newly reactivated, was betrayed by a government official to the Yevetha and captured. As political maneuvering between the League and the Republic increased, forces attached to the Fifth and led by Commodore Brand engaged the Yevetha at the Battle of ILC-905, where K-wing bombers were able to destroy a Yevethan shipyard and some thrustships. In retaliation, Nil Spaar sent Organa Solo a private hologram of him beating up a captive Han, attempting to coerce her into backing off from her threat to declare war. This tactic, however, backfired on Spaar as it gave the New Republic a legitimate reason to declare war. The crisis finally came to a head at the climactic Battle of N'zoth, at the height of which the formerly Imperial ships of the Yevethan fleet were recaptured by the survivors of the initial takeover and fled to Byss. The remaining Yevethan war fleet would not go quietly, however, utilizing suicidal tactics of their D-type fighters in a last-ditch effort to force the New Republic to retreat; despite heavy losses, the battle was eventually won and the N'zoth system was subdued.
First Corellian Insurrection
Approximately one year after the resolution of the Yevethan crisis, the Sacorrian Triad, the governing body of Sacorria, attempted to seize control of the Corellian sector, secede from the New Republic and force the galaxy to bend to their will. A series of insurrections sparked throughout the Five Brothers—Corellia, Selonia, Drall and the Double Worlds of Talus and Tralus—along with the seizure of a superweapon that was a part of Centerpoint Station threw the New Republic off balance. The New Republic Defense Force was still in a state of recovery and refit in the wake of the battles in the Koornacht Cluster in addition to having to maintain the borders against the remnants of the Empire. Due to the inability to provide the necessary forces to quell the revolt, a desperate call for ships was sent out to Bakura, who sent the four warships and numerous starfighters of their own navy, under the command of Gaeriel Captison and Admiral Hortel Ossilege, to help counter the Corellians' LAF-250 starfighters and other ships.
The superweapon within Centerpoint Station, however, was capable not only of sparking novae within otherwise normal stars, but also of projecting a systemwide mass shadow and communications jamming field that essentially cut the entire Corellian system off from all attempts to penetrate it and end the insurrection. The Bakurans, however, had come up with a partial solution to this problem: the hyperwave inertial momentum sustainer or HIMS system. Essentially a series of redundant hyperdrives wired for progressive activation, this system allowed a ship traveling through hyperspace to maintain its faster-than-light speed despite the presence of a gravitic anomaly. With the HIMS system, the Bakurans were able to penetrate far enough into the system to reach Selonia, where they began to battle the system's defenses until the Watchkeeper, which had already sustained damage, was destroyed by Selonia's planetary repulsor. This prompted Ossilege to change his tactics; he ordered the fleet to retreat deeper into the system.
Not long after this incident it was realized that the planetary repulsors, which had actually been built long ago on all five worlds within the Corellian system, were the key to stopping the rebellion. A team of Bakuran soldiers, with the help of the Heroes of Yavin, seized the Drall repulsor. The Bakuran ships then set out for Centerpoint, vowing to infiltrate the station and shut it down by any means necessary. Anakin Solo, the youngest child of Han and Leia, had somehow discovered the secret to the ancient repulsor technology; as he frantically tried to activate the newly secured repulsor in a successful bid to divert Centerpoint's next star-shattering shot, the Triad finally arrived with a fleet of nearly eighty warships to defend the station. This force included numerous Robot ramships disguised as regular warships; in the struggle that followed, the Bakurans put up a stubborn defense until Ossilege's flagship, the Intruder, was hit by four ramships in quick succession while Bakuran fighters duked it out with Corellian LAFs. Realizing that their vessel was doomed, the critically injured admiral, along with Captison who was also badly wounded, initiated a self-destruct that engulfed the thickest formation of the Sacorrian fleet. Minutes later, Admiral Ackbar arrived with New Republic reinforcements, using his warships and starfighters to scatter the remaining Triad ships and securing the system.
The Yuuzhan Vong War
- "Rogue Squadron to Borleias: We're back. We kicked your butt twenty years ago, now we're here to do it again."
- ―Colonel Gavin Darklighter
When the extragalactic Yuuzhan Vong began their invasion of the galaxy in 25 ABY, their biologically engineered and grown warships at first proved devastating against the forces of the New Republic. Their version of a starfighter, which soon earned the nickname of "coralskipper" from the many pilots that would face them, were deadly craft that could shred the inorganic snubfighters that were then in wide use almost with impunity. Equipped with plasma cannons that literally fired molten rock and dovin basals that could suck away shields and absorb laser blasts and even proton torpedoes fired at them, formations of these Yorik-et craft, guided by the impulses of a yammosk, also known as a war coordinator, could cut to ribbons a squadron of X-wings that had not yet faced them. Grutchins, another bioengineered weapon favored by the Vong, were vacuum-immune insectoids that could eat their way through any snubfighter unlucky enough to catch one in much the same way buzz droids would rip their way through Republic craft during the Clone Wars.
From the Battle of Helska IV to the Battle of Ithor to the Battle of Duro, the Yuuzhan Vong advanced rapidly, overwhelming system after system. Despite setbacks at the Battle of Yag'Dhul and the Battle of Fondor, the Yuuzhan Vong were able to push on and capture Coruscant, sending the already staggering New Republic reeling. The embattled government began to regroup through defensive actions, including the Battle of Borleias, and starfighters flew against coralskippers across the galaxy with increasingly favorable odds for the New Republic starfighters thanks to some technological and tactical innovations.
The New Republic, and later the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances eventually developed tactics and technology for use against coralskippers: among these were included the extending of the field of an inertial compensator around a fighter's shields to resist the sucking power of a dovin basal; using stutter-fire to weaken a gravitic anomaly enough to leave the craft vulnerable to a torpedo attack; flying in tight, three-craft formations to reinforce each fighter's deflector shields that were known as "shield trios"; as well as using gravitic amplitude modulators, otherwise known as "yammosk jammers" to interfere with the coordination of coralskipper squadrons. The Yuuzhan Vong in turn learned to adapt to these techniques, necessitating the development of still more tactics and technologies. One tactic that continued to be effective if used carefully was the Jedi shadow bomb, a proton torpedo with its propulsion and guidance packages removed and replaced with an increased load of baradium explosives. Using the Force to propel the shadow bomb to its target, a Jedi pilot could cause enormous damage to smaller Vong warships.
With these developments in technology, the Galactic Alliance was able to crush the Yuuzhan Vong at the Battle of Ebaq and from there, having once again united the galaxy to combat the threat, pushed back until they launched another assault to take back Coruscant. Starfighters flew cover for New Republic transports down to the surface and battled coralskippers, surface defenses, dovin basal mines and Vong capital ships as a team of Jedi slew the Supreme Overlord, ending the war once and for all.
The Swarm War
In the years after the final defeat of the Yuuzhan Vong war machine, the resurgence of the Killik swarms would bring new conflict to the galaxy. The Galactic Alliance, having reorganized its armed forces in the years after the invasion to better combat pirates and profiteers, was forced to deal not only with the growing threat of the Dark Nest, but of a possible confrontation with the Chiss Ascendancy, who saw the Killiks as an Alliance-backed attempt to take over their territories in the Unknown Regions.
In the confrontations that followed, the New Jedi Order was divided on what to do, as several of their number had become Joiners, adopted into the nests through a bonding not unlike a Force bond. During this time the StealthX, a massive upgrade of the venerable X-wing design intended to make the craft invisible to all contemporary means of detection, came on the scene. In the hands of Jedi pilots, who were the only beings capable of flying the type, they proved to be excellent scout craft that could still pack nearly the same punch as their non-stealth counterparts, the T-65XJ3 X-wing starfighter and later variants.
An insectoid race, the Killiks brought a new dimension to starfighter combat with their mass-produced dartships, small craft that were piloted by a single, tiny insect and powered either by chemical rocket motors or tiny ion engines. During the Dark Nest Crisis and the Swarm War that followed, they were employed in the tens of thousands; at the Battle of Tenupe it was estimated that there were in excess of one hundred thousand dartships waiting to take part in a massive attack on the Chiss forces attempting to wrest the planet from Killik control. Though simplistic and easy to destroy one-on-one, these dartships were used in wave after wave of suicide attacks, a tactic for which they proved very effective when they destroyed a Chiss Star Destroyer.
The Second Galactic Civil War
- "It's foolish to cast the Galactic Alliance as the Empire and Corellia as the Rebel Alliance. Because that's what it might come to, a rebellion—a stupid and unnecessary one."
- ―Luke Skywalker laments the Second Corellian Insurrection
In the decade following the defeat of the Yuuzhan Vong, Corellia's desire for independence from the Galactic Alliance grew and spread, tapping the natural haughty pride of most Corellians. The system began to delay its conscription contributions and tax payments to the Alliance while still making use of Alliance infrastructure and trade benefits. The system's government also stood against the defense limits imposed by the Alliance yet made no public challenge. Slowly, other industrialized planets like Commenor, Fondor, and Bespin developed similarly overt streaks of rebelliousness. The Corellian government, supplied by planets like Adumar that produced weapons in defiance of Alliance law, began the secret construction of a fleet among the Kiris Asteroid Cluster at the very edge of their system as well as a covert attempt to reactivate Centerpoint Station. When the Alliance discovered evidence of these secret projects, they chose to counter the soft rebellion with a show of force by attempting to neutralize the Corellian government as well as Centerpoint itself.
Though it only saw action in very small numbers during the waning days of the Yuuzhan Vong War, the Galactic Alliance navy had by this time put into limited production a fighter specifically designed to counter coralskippers, the Aleph-class starfighter. Also known as the "Pondskipper" or, more popularly, the "Twee" due to its resemblance to the head of a Twi'lek, these fighters saw their first action during the building crisis. This, along with the introduction of the Eta-5 interceptor and their new opponents, the Corellian attack fighter, proved to be yet another development in the evolution of starfighter combat, as by this time the idea of massed units of unshielded "disposable" craft used to overwhelm an enemy with sheer numbers had become obsolete.
The war escalates
Though the Galactic Alliance and Corellia would attempt to resolve the situation through renewed peace talks, this effort too would fail due to Lumiya's plotting. Now set on a course for war, the Corellians launched an attack on the Alliance foothold on Tralus, eventually driving them from the planet; the Alliance, however, would counter by instituting a full blockade of the system. However, the situation continued to decay as the new Corellian head of state, Thrackan Sal-Solo was assassinated. The new government then sought to gain a powerful ally by engineering a coup d'état within the government of the Hapes Consortium, replacing its ruler, the former Jedi Knight Tenel Ka Djo with a coalition of Hapan nobles who would then side with Corellia. Although it nearly succeeded, the attempt would ultimately fail during the Battle of Hapes as forces of the Alliance commanded by Jacen Solo reinforced those loyal to the Queen Mother. After the Hapes battle, with help from fleets sent by Commenor and Bothawui, the Corellians routed the Alliance forces around their system, breaking the blockade.
Following this, the Confederation attempted to lure the Alliance fleet into a trap, feeding the Galactic Alliance Guard faulty intelligence that had the effect of making them believe that a supreme commander was being named at Gilatter VIII. An Alliance fleet arrived to do battle, using Jedi-flown StealthXs to scout the location while the bulk of their forces hid within the gas giant's atmosphere. Despite the presence of a minefield the Alliance fleet surged forward to engage the Confederation forces that jumped into the system. A fierce capital ship and starfighter battle erupted in which both forces ultimately withdrew to regroup. A short time later Alliance and Confederation forces would again clash in the space above Bothawui in an engagement that would see significant losses inflicted on the Bothans by outnumbered Alliance forces that included at least three squadrons of starfighters. In the Mandalore sector, the first of the new Bes'uliik starfighters, armored in tough Mandalorian iron and equipped with the latest in Verpine technology, first saw action.
Splintering of the factions
At the Battle of Kuat, the Jedi force of StealthXs, which the Alliance had been counting on to intervene in the protracted space battle there, abandoned the Alliance task force when Luke realized the true nature of Jacen and his actions. During the opening stages of the Battle of Kashyyyk, immediately prior to the burning of the wroshyr forests by Jacen Solo's flagship, the Imperial-class Star Destroyer Anakin Solo, the Wookiees deployed their new heavy attack starfighter, the Owool Interceptor. One of the first products of the Wookiees' new shipyards at KashyCorp, a craft piloted by Jedi Knight Lowbacca, was able to deal significant damage to the Star Destroyer using a single shadow bomb. Soon afterward, the Confederation fleet arrived to assist the defenders of Kashyyyk; not long afterward, Luke succeeded in disabling the Anakin Solo's long-range turbolasers before rescuing his son, Ben, from being tortured by Jacen after engaging in a protracted duel. As the capital ships of both sides slugged it out, starfighters continued to engage in dogfights.
Not long afterward, the Alliance launched a cloaked asteroid at the world of Commenor, which K-wings of the depleted Grayfeather Squadron attempted to destroy before it could do damage. Their actions were unsuccessful, however, and the massive rock split into multiple pieces before striking the planet's surface. In retaliation for this atrocity, Commenorians released the affliceria virus on Coruscant, causing havoc and high numbers of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, in the Corellian system, the new Five World Prime Minister, Sadras Koyan, ordered the reactivation of Centerpoint Station, intent on threatening the galactic capital with its immensely powerful main weapon. As this was happening, efforts by the Corellians were being made to secure a return to the Alliance; though expecting a trap, Chief of State Solo did not realize the true extent of it. As the Anakin Solo and its support flotilla laid off against a small fleet of old and outdated ships that represented the Corellian delegation, the bulk of the Galactic Alliance Second Fleet stood ready to enter the fray should violence occur. Instead of a Confederation fleet jumping into realspace to ambush the Alliance, however, it was Centerpoint that intervened, obliterating the vast majority of the Second Fleet that had been placed in reserve, as well as much of the fleet that supported Jacen's flagship, which narrowly escaped.
Jacen, now well-established in his own mind as Darth Caedus, felt that, despite the extreme casualties suffered by the Alliance, they had been handed the "trillion-credit game prize." Forming a plan with Cha Niathal to take the station and threaten Corellia with it in turn. When the Jedi learned of this, and the kidnapping of the Chume'da of Hapes, Allana, they formulated a plan to both neutralize Centerpoint and rescue the daughter of ex-Jedi and Queen Mother Tenel Ka. As the Alliance forces under Solo engaged the Corellian defenders of the massive station, Rakehell Squadron, a unit of veteran starfighter pilots and Jedi, escorted a shuttle of soldiers and yet more Jedi, disguised as GAG troopers, into the battle. As the Rakehells chased another shuttle, "borrowed" from General Tycho Celchu and containing up-to-date verification codes and passwords, into a forced landing aboard the Anakin Solo, the craft filled with fake GAG soldiers infiltrated Centerpoint, intent on implementing a number of means of destroying the ancient artifact. Ultimately, both efforts proved successful; Allana was rescued, and even as Confederation and Alliance forces continued to slug at one another, the station and its superweapon backfired upon itself, disappearing into nothingness and taking many combat vessels, from both sides, with it.
Fondor and the end of the war
When Fondor left the Alliance to join the Confederation, Caedus decided to retake the world, along with its orbital shipyards, in order to prove that the GA was winning the war. When Niathal leaked information to the Jedi that Fondor was being targeted, Luke Skywalker passed the information on to the Fondorian government, who prepared for the battle by destroying the mine layers sent to sow the surrounding space with a double-set of minefields. To bolster his chance of success, Caedus enlisted the capital ships and starfighters of the Imperial Remnant, led by Admiral Pellaeon aboard the Turbulent-class Star Destroyer Bloodfin. As the planet was approached by the GA and Remnant fleets, Luke, flying a StealthX, lured Caedus out into the open in a similar craft; after implanting a Fallanassi illusion of a massive enemy fleet into the Sith Lord's head, Skywalker attempted to drag Caedus's fighter into one of the orbiting shipyards of Fondor. The true battle commenced when Fondorian forces and Jedi StealthXs, flying out of the many stations in which they had been hiding, engaged the Alliance and Remnant forces. When Caedus used the Force to bring down Fondor's planetary shields and began bombing the city of Oridin, Niathal successfully negotiated a surrender. Wishing to still make an example, Caedus refused the order to stand down; this caused a schism between the Alliance, with the majority of the fleets allying themselves with Caedus. The battle was won when Admiral Daala arrived with the Maw Irregular Fleet and attacked Caedus, which forced him to retreat as he was both outnumbered and outgunned.
Not long after this, forces of the Remnant attacked the asteroid belt of the Roche system as Mandalore Boba Fett was conducting an inspection tour along with Jaina Solo. As Fett's Mandalorians attempted to escape from Nickel One, Fett himself advised the Verpine to counterattack hard, destroying the Super Star Destroyer Dominion. However, with the annihilation of the Verpine soldier caste due to an Imperial nanovirus, the battle's conclusion was inevitable. When the Mandalorian Protectors, later bolstered by forces of the Alliance-in-exile and the Confederation counterattacked, Jaina and the Jedi Order used this to their advantage, going after Caedus at Nickel One. Engaging the Imperials' latest starfighter, the TIE Starhunter, in their latest-generation Skipray Blastboats, the Jedi Coalition attacked and destroyed the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer Harbinger. This allowed Solo to penetrate the asteroid in a dropsuit; along with a team of Mandalorians led by Mirta Gev, she attempted to kill Caedus, but was unsuccessful and only barely escaped while Gev was captured.
At the climactic Battle of Shedu Maad, Jedi StealthXs, Happan Miy'tils and Wookiee Owools fought against Imperial Starhunters amongst the Hapan and Imperial/Alliance fleets, the former buying time for the Jedi to evacuate Shedu Maad and to allow Jaina Solo to board Caedus's flagship in order to kill him. With the resolution of the battle and the death of Caedus, the way was paved for a resolution to the war.
The Sith-Imperial War
- "I will surrender, Admiral, when I can no longer fight!"
- ―Alliance Admiral Gar Stazi, to Imperial Grand Admiral Morlish Veed
Many years after the conclusion of the Second Galactic Civil War, starfighters such as the Imperial Predator-class fighter, the Galactic Alliance's CF9 Crossfire starfighter and the Jedi-piloted X-83 TwinTail starfighter would again engage in galactic-scale warfare as the resurgent New Galactic Empire, aided by the new Sith Order that had been established by Darth Krayt, shattered the already-weakened Alliance, having invoked the Treaty of Anaxes and declared war in the wake of perceived Yuuzhan Vong treachery in the failed Ossus Project. Though the Sith and Imperials, led by Grand Admiral Morlish Veed, would ultimately triumph at the Battle of Caamas by forcing a surrender, the defiance of the Galactic Alliance Core Fleet and, later, the campaign of Emperor Roan Fel, allowed the continuation of guerrilla warfare.
Approximately ten years later, the Alliance Core Forces, under the command of Duros Admiral Gar Stazi, struck back at the Sith-controlled Empire at the strategic shipyards around the world of Dac. During the attempted ambush by the Imperial Outer Rim Third Fleet that followed, starfighters of Rogue Squadron supported Stazi's flotilla as they attempted to hijack the Imperious-class Star Destroyer Imperious. The operation was a huge success, destroying a third of the shipyards and giving the Alliance much-needed firepower in the form of the renamed Alliance, as well as delivering a major blow to Krayt's Empire.
Tactics and maneuvers
- "I'll try spinning. That's a good trick."
- ―Anakin Skywalker during the Battle of Naboo
The most important part of the attack stage of starfighter combat was the angle of attack at which one craft would try to shoot another one down. Pilots were trained to know that the easiest way to shoot down an enemy fighter or other type of craft was to maneuver their vessel into a position directly behind the rear end of their target, engaging it with their primary weapons, either lasers, ion cannons or disposable ordnance. However, as the enemy starfighter in question would likely be engaging in maneuvering of its own, this was not always possible. Deflection shooting, which was in essence leading fire at an angle into a target as it turned in front of a ship's weapons, presenting one's opponent with a wall of destructive fire through which to fly, became an essential skill within the arsenal of veteran fighter pilots.
The most dangerous angle of attack was when two ships confronted each other in a head-to-head pass, when two ships would run at each other on directly converging courses. At this angle, the rate of closure was at its highest, with ranges decreasing extremely fast, giving each combatant time for only a few shots before overshoot, the point when both ships passed each other. Rebel and New Republic starfighter pilots soon realized that due to their craft being fitted with deflector shields, they held a distinct advantage in such head-to-head confrontations; they could afford to engage their Imperial opponents in such passes since they lacked shields of their own.
The break was a relatively simple turning maneuver that was utilized whenever a starfighter was under, or about to come under, attack by an enemy craft. The objective of a break was to turn hard toward the enemy's line of fire, thus forcing the attacker to overshoot; however, this still left the breaking craft vulnerable to a snap shot or to attack by the aggressor's wingmate.
Jinking, also known as "jinking and juking," was a defensive maneuver or series of maneuvers that was used in an attempt to spoil the aim of an attacking starfighter that had been able to maneuver itself into an excellent tactical position. Consisting of random slips, turns, dives and waggles, it was used in an attempt to avoid giving the enemy a solid targeting lock. Though the pilot of the attacking ship retained his advantageous position, the longer he was forced to concentrate on achieving a shooting solution, the less aware he became of the situation around him, thus leaving himself vulnerable to counterattack from other friendly starfighters.
Essentially an exaggerated jumping turn, the Reverse Throttle Hop allowed an attacking starfighter pilot to retain his or her advantage over a targeted enemy craft as it attempted a sudden breaking maneuver. To execute, the attacking pilot would pull up from his opponent and ease off on the throttle, bringing his fighter back onto his opponent's tail as the defender completed the breaking turn. However, in order to be utilized effectively, the tactic required a good sense of initiative and excellent timing, as the consequences of a failed attempt could force the attacking fighter into an overshoot.
An age-old tactic, the Trap simply involved trapping an attacking enemy starfighter between the aggressor's intended target and the target's wingmate. When an enemy craft bore down upon a pair of snubfighters, each would make a hard break; if the attacking craft followed through, they would be an relatively easy target for the second defender. There were, however, ways to maneuver out of being trapped in such a manner; included among them were feinting toward the leader but rolling out at the last moment.
Galactic Republic and Imperial tactics
The Slip-jaws was a maneuver that was used by certain highly skilled starfighter pilots. The Slip-jaws tactic consisted of a wing pair of starfighters crossing into each other's paths, almost but not quite crashing into each other, while their unsuspecting enemies in pursuit smash into one another. The maneuver as it was practiced was possible only for droid pilots or those aided by the Force, as it required an extraordinary level of precision and co-operation. Slip-jaws was named after the scissor-like mandibles of the Kashyyyk slash-spider. Rebel pilots would later use a variation of the tactic to engage in head-to-head shots against Imperial craft; essentially this consisted of two wingpairs of starfighters, both with pursuit, heading toward each other. At the last moment each wingpair would gain or lose altitude so as to give the other pair a clear line of fire.
Force Multiple Orbit referred to an Imperial flight maneuver that was used to trap and engage larger enemy vessels; it was nicknamed the "Atom" by TIE pilots. The tactic involved a unit of fighters flying around the given target vessel in crisscrossing orbits at staggered distances. The maneuver earned its nicknamed based on how electrons orbited the nucleus of an atom.
Space sniping was a strategy that was used by starfighter forces charged with defending a world from a planetary assault. It consisted of hiding starfighter bases in gas giants, asteroid fields, planets with large oceans or with thick cloud cover around the planetary system to be defended. Starfighter groups would operate in tandem from these bases, attacking isolated ships during the orbit phase of a planetary assault.
Miscellaneous Republic and Imperial tactics
Attack Run Rancor Alderaan Niner was an attack formation used by clone-piloted ARC-170 starfighters when tasked with the destruction of ground-based targets. The Friendly Hunt was a tactical maneuver that was designed to entice enemy ships out of hiding so they could be attacked by Imperial forces, while the Kenobi Offensive was another maneuver studied by officers of the Imperial Navy. Pilots executing a Skywalker Loop would fly their fighters into a loop, twisting through the maneuver so as to be going in the opposite direction upon pullout. The Tron Boral maneuver was a starship maneuver used by Imperial forces serving under Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Rebel Alliance/New Republic tactics
Though it was intended to be more of a strategic doctrine than a starfighter tactic, the use of space denial by the Rebellion in its early years nevertheless relied heavily upon their starfighter arm for its execution. In essence it was a means of denying the Empire the ability to move its assets about a certain area of space freely without sufficient protection, thus forcing the Imperial Navy to dilute its resources. Starfighters involved in space-denial missions would often sally forth from hidden bases located within Imperial-controlled space and within range of known convoy routes, strike at a specific target, then vanish into hyperspace before reinforcements could be called upon.
One adjunct to space denial, referred to as hit-and-hype raiding, was carried out during the Bacta War, which saw the former members of Rogue Squadron developing the tactic of entering a star system where a bacta convoy would be assembled, letting off a few proton torpedoes and then re-entering hyperspace. This was done in an attempt to force Ysanne Isard to allocate more resources to the defense of the bacta convoys, thus putting more strain on her ability to keep her monopoly on the Bacta Cartel. This tactic was extremely effective in harassing an enemy capital ship in conjunction with the nova flare strategy. This tactic would also prompt the capital ship's commander to launch TIE Fighters, which took a very long time to recover, thus delaying and even denying the capital ship the ability to pursue.
The most obvious downside to this particular strategy was that it was very demanding on the pilots and ships undertaking these hit-and-hype raids. Prolonged use of this doctrine was physically and mentally challenging, but as in the case of the Bacta War, ultimately worthwhile.
A tactic that first saw use during the New Republic's battles with Grand Admiral Thrawn was popularly known as the A-wing Slash. Invented by former Corellian Senator turned General Garm Bel Iblis, the maneuver involved a formation of X-wings, usually, closing in on the screening starfighters of an enemy fleet only to break off at the last possible moment. In the wake of the initial attacking formation, a flight of A-wing interceptors would be flying, hidden in the ion efflux of the X-wings; when the former force broke off the enemy fighters would naturally follow, leaving the A-wings free to engage larger warships or any additional forces lurking behind the screen.
Though developed by Admiral Ackbar primarily for use in capital-ship warfare, the Ackbar Slash was sometimes used by a unit of Alliance starfighters that had found themselves outnumbered in an engagement. Simply put, the tactic involved a formation of ships slashing into the heart of an enemy formation, driving a wedge in between the enemy ships and firing all the way. The goal was to make the enemy shy away from firing on the unit performing the maneuver lest they risk hitting their own comrades; however, the attacking starfighters, or warships, were free to employ their entire arsenal to bear upon their targets.
Supposedly invented by Corellian smugglers some time prior to the Galactic Civil War, the Corellian Slip involved a scissors-like maneuver in which a starfighter with an enemy craft on his tail would fly towards another friendly craft, usually the pilot's wingmate. The other friendly would then fly straight at the starfighter in trouble; at the last moment the craft would pull out of the line of fire and the rescuing ship would fire on the pursuing enemy. Wedge Antilles used this maneuver during the Battle of Yavin to save Luke Skywalker from an oncoming TIE Fighter.
The Feint and Backstab was a maneuver that involved two flights of starfighters closing with an enemy; one flight would make a direct run at an enemy formation while the other would hang back, staying out of sensor range while still closing to attack range. The initial pair of fighters would come in head-on to the enemy but would execute a hard break before reaching combat range. Ideally this would draw the incoming enemy into pursuing the first flight, allowing the second flight of ships to then pounce on the confused enemy craft and destroy them.
Named for the famous Trench run on the first Death Star, which was the most crucial stage of the Battle of Yavin, the Trench Run Defense was a defensive tactic wherein a starfighter being pursued by enemy forces would deliberately fly as close as possible to the hull of an enemy capital ship. Maneuvering below the arc of an enemy warship's own defensive and offensive weaponry in order to shake off their antagonists, pilots utilizing this tactic forced their pursuit to not only brave the fire of their own side's heavy weapons, but also to risk hitting their own ships if they missed. During the battle, TIE Fighters pursuing Red Squadron as they flew cover for the Y-wings of Gold Squadron often overshot their opponents, sending green laser energy into the surface of the Death Star. As Darth Vader and his wingmen pursued the Rebel craft attempting to run the Trench and torpedo the thermal exhaust port, the turbolasers mounted within the trench were forced to cease fire lest they kill the Dark Lord of the Sith with a stray shot.
The Tallon Roll was a difficult tactic that was performed when an attacking starfighter pilot became aware of the possibility of overshooting a breaking target. The pilot would level his ship out, pull up hard, then roll away from the direction of the turn. To complete the maneuver the attacking pilot would have to slide in behind his target, thus effectively altering the angle of approach without losing distance or speed.
Kettch's Drill was developed during the Zsinj campaign. During the Battle of Kuat in 7 ABY, Commander Wedge Antilles designed a tactic for members of the Hawk-Bats to eliminate a large number of enemy starfighters early in the engagement rather than having to dogfight. The maneuver called for the Hawk-Bats to attack three waves of oncoming TIE fighters head-on, rather than attacking the first wave and then breaking off to engage them in dogfighting. The plan worked perfectly, as the Hawk-Bats destroyed many fighters almost immediately, and succeeded in keeping the Imperial forces of the Kuat system away from the forces of Warlord Zsinj.
The Wotan Weave was a spiral or corkscrew maneuver used by starfighter pilots to evade enemy fire while maintaining a particular heading; the maneuver was named after its developer, Wotan. Wedge Antilles and the rest of Rogue Squadron used a variation of this tactic to enable them to launch proton torpedoes against capital ships while presenting a near-impossible target for Imperial gunners.
Miscellaneous Rebel tactics
The Koiogran turn was a maneuver used by starfighter pilots to escape pursuit. By pushing the throttle forward with one hand and twisting the control stick with the other, the pilot would lose all forward momentum and loop-roll in another direction. The Screen formation, developed by Wedge Antilles, was used to protect a larger vessel with a minimum of fighters; ships within such a formation would spiral about their charge, swapping positions at irregular intervals. The Wing tip, also used by Commander Antilles, involved manually downing an enemy craft or sending it into uncontrolled flight by literally tipping it over with the S-foil of his X-wing fighter.
Developed and used by the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force, attack pattern d'moporai involved several starfighters approaching an enemy formation from different vectors, where they would launch shock nets against a point of concentrated enemy fighters. This tactic was very effective at opening holes in the enemy's forward fighter screen, which would allow capital ships to penetrate the enemy formation. The Clawcraft Spin was another tactic utilized by Chiss pilots, this one taking advantage of their clawcraft's superior maneuverability in space; however, it was risky to conduct within an atmosphere.
During the waning days of the Galactic Civil War, enterprising pilots discovered that by flying a pair of starfighters in very tight formation and by extending the area of coverage put out by their deflector shields, they could reinforce each other, essentially doubling available deflection power. At the height of the Yuuzhan Vong War, Jedi pilots extended the tactic still further, increasing the number of ships in a reinforcement formation by one to form shield trios. This would not only increase available shield power overall, but by also extending the field of each fighter's inertial compensator, this also made it harder for coralskippers to strip the fighters of their shields.
A smuggler's reverse was a tactic where an individual in a small spacecraft would use their maneuvering thrusters to make a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn while the engines were still engaged in producing forward thrust in order to quickly change directions without turning in an arc. This allowed the craft executing the maneuver to either quickly bring its weapons to bear on pursuing enemies, present undamaged shields, quickly get onto an escape vector, or a combination of the three.
Developed by Han Solo, the aptly named Solo Slingshot was a maneuver used to clear a pilot's craft of pursuing enemy starfighters by deliberately hurling his or her ship at the edge of a gravitic anomaly, such as a dovin basal or the gravity well of a planet or moon. At the last moment the pilot would swing into the gravity well, allowing it to take hold of his or her craft, effectively slinging the ship around in an unanticipated direction. The maneuver required great skill and knowledge of one's vessel to accomplish, however, and great care was needed to ensure that the intended course of the slingshot would not send the pilot into the path of other fighters or, worse yet, a larger warship.
As an adjunct to ground-based campaigns and engagements, starfighter forces were often called upon to perform combat aerospace patrol, in which they served as cover against the possible threat of enemy air- and space-based defenses and reinforcements. Since all but the mightiest ground vehicles were vulnerable to armed airspeeders and starfighters alike, this was often considered a prerequisite for carrying out successful planetary invasions and/or raids, whether executed by professional, government-trained commando forces or simple pirate bands. Subsequently, the term could be applied to any starfighters that were set to screen a larger warship or serve as a friendly vessel's escort; in this case, assuming the ship itself was not in atmosphere, it was referred to simply as "combat space patrol."
Other notable tactics
Attack Formation Beta-Zero and Attack Pattern Zeta-Gamma One were attack formations that were both devised and used by the Naboo Royal Space Fighter Corps. The Horizon Approach was often used by Sith pilots during the Sith-Imperial War and afterward; the Segnor's Loop was used by Boba Fett in his ship, Slave I. The snap shot was a shot taken in haste that was often used by pilots in the middle of a pitched battle.
Special tactics and conditions
Starfighters and the pilots that flew them were sometimes called upon to accomplish missions that did not necessarily involve direct contact with enemy starfighter units. These included attacking capital ships or striking ground targets that required a greater degree of precision then an orbital bombardment could deliver; an example was the Battle of Vladet, where Defender Wing under General Horton Salm was sent to destroy an Imperial base on Grand Isle located in the midst of an old volcanic crater with Rogue Squadron flying cover.
Starfighters versus capital ships
Though small in comparison to the many classes of heavy warships and battlecruisers used throughout galactic history, starfighters could nonetheless be effective against capital ships in combat, provided that the right kind of ordnance was available and the correct tactics were used. Many designs were purpose-built as bombers to serve, in part, as anti-warship craft; though held in somewhat lower regard by their fellows who flew dedicated space-superiority fighters, these heavy assault starfighters and bombers were often outfitted so as to be able to defend themselves against enemy fighters. Examples of this type of craft included the BTL-S8 K-wing starfighter, which was used to great effect against Yevethan thrustships during the Black Fleet Crisis. Along with B-wings and their Imperial counterparts, the TIE/sa bomber and Scimitar assault bomber, they could do considerable damage to unprotected capital ships.
Due to the effectiveness of Rebel starfighters against its capital ships, however, the Galactic Empire developed a counter in the Lancer-class frigate, a dedicated anti-starfighter warship. Boasting twenty quad laser cannons installed throughout the hull to offer maximum possible coverage, the Lancer frigate could shred a whole formation of snubfighters unfortunate enough to get caught within its range. Fortunately for the Alliance, however, Lancer frigates were comparatively rare, since most of these warships saw use as system patrol ships.
The Tallon split was a maneuver used by starfighters against capital ships; though it was simple in theory, the maneuver took a great amount of skill, precision, and concentration to properly execute. When applied successfully, the Tallon split would allow two starfighters to inflict a considerable amount of damage on an unsuspecting capital ship. The attack consisted of two starfighters flying in extremely tight formation as they approached a capital ship, so close that the larger vessel's sensors would merge the two signals. Once optimal range had been achieved, the two fighters would split apart; one craft would continue on a strafing run of the capital ship while the second would draw fire away from the first. The attacking fighter would have approximately five seconds to cause damage to the enemy ship before it was clearly identified as being separate from the lure. Even so, those five seconds would allow enough time to cause serious damage to the larger vessel if it was caught off guard.
The nova flare was a special anti-capital-ship tactic developed in part by Commander Wedge Antilles, the commander of Rogue Squadron. Developed sometime during the Galactic Civil War, the nova flare, at its most basic level, involved massed barrages of proton torpedoes fired from starfighters and aimed at specific points along the shields of a capital ship. During the Bacta War, the former New Republic pilots used the tactic to great effect to bring down the Victory II-class Star Destroyer Corrupter. The former Rogues later used the same tactic, albeit with a minor variation that allowed for a much greater effect, during the Battle of Thyferra to severely cripple the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya.
However, this tactic could be countered if the captain of the capital ship being attacked was sensible enough to roll his warship in order to present undamaged shields to his attackers; this enabled the crew to repair and/or reinforce the weakened side. In turn, however, the starfighters executing the nova flare could still maneuver to reorient their fire against the damaged shields or where they had failed completely. Generally speaking, the more and larger the volleys of torpedoes or missiles that a capital ship faced, the less chance it had of surviving the encounter; this held true no matter the relative size of the warship under attack. In addition, ships' gunners often learned to target the potential escape vectors that a starfighter would follow shortly after launching missiles. Because of this, some fighter pilots learned to follow their missiles in for a few moments before breaking away from the targeted vessel.
During the hunt for Warlord Zsinj, the pilots of Wraith Squadron developed innovative tactics and means of accomplishing their missions. One of these tactics was named the "Loran Spitball" after its creator, the former holodrama actor Garik "The Face" Loran. It involved the captured Imperial corvette Night Caller. The ship was modified so that nine X-wings, mounted on improvised launch rails, fitted inside it. With the hold's door open, the X-wings stowed within, once crewed and operational, were capable of launching pairs of proton torpedoes through the opening. This provided up to eighteen torpedoes in a volley, which could severely damage or even destroy a warship caught unawares.
Starfighters as ramships
There were quite a few notable instances where starfighters were used, either intentionally or otherwise, as suicide ramships capable of doing disproportionate damage to enemy capital-class warships. Perhaps the most famous of these situations occurred during the Battle of Endor, when a damaged A-wing piloted by Arvel Crynyd smashed into the Star Dreadnought Executor's bridge, sending the gigantic vessel out of control. The flagship of the Imperial fleet then succumbed to the gravity field of the second Death Star over the Forest Moon of Endor, destroying itself against the battlemoon's outer hull. During the Great Sith War, Chaos fighters in use by the Krath engaged in deliberate kamikaze attacks against the Republic fleet at the First Battle of Empress Teta, severely damaging the Republic flagship Reliance and wounding the Jedi commander, Ulic Qel-Droma. The Sacorrian Triad employed a number of robot ramships, painted to resemble normal warships, within their fleet during the First Corellian Insurrection. Both the Yuuzhan Vong during their invasion of the galaxy, as well as the Killiks during the Swarm War, were also known to use their starfighter analogs as ramships.
- "That armor's too strong for blasters. Rogue Group, use your harpoons and tow cables. Go for the legs. It might be our only chance of stopping them."
- ―Commander Luke Skywalker during the Battle of Hoth
Though rarer then their space-based counterparts, different varieties of armed airspeeders could also engage in dogfights. Examples of such armed airspeeders included the Alliance's T-47 airspeeder that saw action during the Battle of Hoth and the V-wing airspeeder that fought hard at the First Battle of Mon Calamari as well as the Storm IV and Talon I in use by Bespin's Cloud City Wing Guard. It was not unheard of for starfighters to participate in atmospheric combat as well, either against other snubfighters or armed airspeeders and even against land vehicles such as All Terrain Armored Transports.
During the Galactic Civil War, Rebel Alliance pilots soon learned that Imperial TIE fighters and Interceptors, while ordinarily quite agile within space, lost much of this advantage when dogfights occurred within a planetary atmosphere. Tactics that suited the TIE series of fighter craft when in space, if executed in atmosphere without due compensation, led directly to that craft and its pilot's death. This was the result of the positioning of the fighters' large Quadanium solar panels, as they acted in contradiction of the natural forces of drag and gravity that exerted themselves on atmospheric craft. Rebel and New Republic pilots soon learned to take full advantage of this oversight and exploited it whenever they could.
Atmospheric combat tactics
These tactics usually involved armed airspeeders, but they could also be used by starfighters fighting in an atmosphere.
Attack Pattern Delta was an attack formation developed by Commander Luke Skywalker and Beryl Chiffonage, with help from Risiev Credal, for use by the airspeeders stationed at Echo Base. The tactic consisted of a formation of snowspeeders approaching an enemy ground force in single file. While the leader drew enemy fire, the rest of the squadron would be able to approach the line of battle relatively safely. Once the enemy force had been reached, the formation would split apart to engage targets. This tactic was used to great effect against AT-ATs during the Battle of Hoth.
The Bantha Decoy was another tactical maneuver developed by Luke Skywalker, this time while he was growing up on Tatooine. In his T-16 skyhopper Luke would approach an unsuspecting bantha from behind while his wingman would cut out in front of the creature and cause it to present a profile of its head to Luke's following ship. This combat maneuver was adapted for use with the Alliance's T-47s and utilized against Imperial AT-AT walkers attacking Echo Base during the Battle of Hoth.
Invented by Wes Janson, the dragon kite maneuver involved starfighters flying in atmosphere; if a pilot's craft was being pursued by enemy fighters, he or she would deliberately put their craft into a wild spin. Executed properly, this would hit the tailing enemy ships with a burst of turbulent air that, ideally, would cause them to crash into each other.
Rebel Alliance/New Republic
- Luke Skywalker
- Wedge Antilles
- Tycho Celchu
- Biggs and Gavin Darklighter
- Asyr Sei'lar
- Han Solo
- Corran Horn
- Darth Vader
- Baron Soontir Fel
- Turr Phennir
- Maarek Stele
- Nas Ghent
- Villian Dance (Later defected to Rebellion)
New Jedi Order
Other notable pilots
Behind the scenes
- "How much research was necessary before you began to write?"
"A lot. I wish I'd had time to do more. I read every Star Wars technical manual I could get my hands on, plus Stackpole's novels, Zahn's novels, other novels in which Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron make appearances, comic books, and several of West End's Star Wars game supplements. I watched the movie trilogy repeatedly. I played the X-Wing computer game. I bought eight of the Action Fleet toys and used them for measurements and estimations of their performance in atmosphere. I read books on aircraft carrier life and pilot survival."
- ―Jim Fisher interviews Aaron Allston
The term "dogfighting," as used in the context of the Star Wars mythos, was first introduced during World War I, the first conflict to see the airplane put to military use, to describe fights between aircraft fitted with forward-firing machine guns. The starfighter combat sequences that are depicted in the films, particularly those in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, were specifically choreographed to resemble footage of aircraft in combat that had been taken during World War II. The gunnery scenes aboard the Millennium Falcon during the escape from the Death Star also bear a resemblance to film taken aboard heavy bombers.
Many of the in-universe principles of starfighter combat draw their inspiration from real-world fighter tactics, for example the formation and organization of fighter squadrons, how they relied on unit cohesion in battle and the importance of wingmen, and many of the tactics in use by various factions. Proton torpedoes and concussion missiles resemble real-world aircraft-mounted missiles and lasers draw parallels from machine guns and cannons. Even the use of heavy ordnance against capital-class vessels by specialized attack starfighters is reminiscent of aerial bombing of naval warships by aircraft. According to remarks by author Aaron Allston, the lives of starfighter pilots were not unlike those serving aboard aircraft carriers, as he used research into carrier pilot life as the basis for his Wraith Squadron novels.
Though the game Star Wars: Battlefront II features flyable starfighters in space-based maps, flying against both capital ships and other fighters, the mechanics within the games are greatly simplified compared to that described in nearly all Legends sources, including such earlier video games as Star Wars: X-Wing, Star Wars: TIE Fighter, and Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance. For example, control of fighter craft is greatly simplified, the field of battle is restricted to the immediate vicinity of the two opposing capital ships, and disposable ordnance such as proton torpedoes is unlimited. In addition fighter craft that, canonically, do not carry such weapons, for example the TIE/in starfighter, are thus equipped, allowing them to attack larger targets. Its predecessor, Star Wars: Battlefront, allows players to fly some types of fighters within atmosphere, also with simplified controls.