- "Those things look like some weird new TIE design."
- ―Rebel pilot
The TIE Experimental Project was a secret Imperial research project to develop innovative new remote-piloted starfighters based upon TIE technology. Sponsored by Grand Admiral Demetrius Zaarin and under the leadership of Director Lenzer, the program was based at Research Station Obsidian. The project was disrupted and ended by the Rebel Alliance before it could reach fruition.
In his role as Grand Admiral, Zaarin was responsible for several top secret projects to develop advanced starfighter technology for the Empire. However, while the TIE Defender and TIE Avenger development programs were intended to produce starfighters suitable for the Empire's most elite pilots, the TIE Experimental Project was initiated in order to develop pilotless TIE craft that would eventually be capable of entering combat slaved to a battle computer.
Shortly after the Battle of Hoth, the project had reached the stage where five varieties of experimental starfighter were capable of being flown remotely by pilots aboard modified Escort Transports. These Escort Transports would attempt to remain outside the combat zone, while computers recorded and analyzed the starfighter pilots' performance for later incorporation into the AI systems of fully automated fighter craft.
In order to gather combat data for the later stages of the TIE Experimental Project, Zaarin was permitting Lenzer's prototype starfighters to prey upon commercial shipping in the Vilonis Sector. While this data was crucial to the continuation of the project, the skirmishes also served Zaarin's purposes in several other ways. Firstly, with commercial shipping at a standstill, the Rebels in the region had far greater difficulty gaining supplies, as there was far less civilian traffic for their agents to hide among. Secondly, fear of lawlessness and pirate activity was likely to have increased public desire for a strong Imperial presence in the sector, allowing Zaarin to step-up his activities there, perhaps in preparation for his attempted coup against Emperor Palpatine. Finally, the attacks acted as a lure to draw out Rebel forces in the region.
Investigation by the Liberty
- "They were odd-looking things. I had never seen anything like them before. Perhaps these were the experimental TIEs we have been hearing about."
- ―Ace Azzameen
The Rebel Alliance became aware of the TIE Experimental Project after receiving numerous reports of strange craft conducting raids on commercial shipping in the Vilonis sector. The alarming reports mentioned entire convoys disappearing after swarms of the unknown spacecraft set upon the defenseless freighters. The attacks were so swift that, when Alliance fighters responded, by the time they arrived at the scene the only remains were burning debris. Because of this, local shipping firms were afraid to travel the sector, and Rebel High Command directed the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser Liberty, under the command of Admiral Yamarus, to investigate.
The first strong intelligence was gleaned during a staff transfer from the Calamari Cruiser Defiance to the Liberty. During a realspace transit of the Belat system, the staff convoy intercepted a distress call from nearby, and two RZ-1 A-wing interceptors from Blue squadron (one of which was piloted by Ace Azzameen) were dispatched to check it out.
They arrived in the middle of a battle, where starfighters looking like "some weird new TIE design" were ravaging a convoy. After moving to intercept the raiders, the pilots speculated that these new fighters might be a "secret weapon of the Empire". The Rebels also noted the presence of Escort Transports far outside the battle zone, however these craft escaped into hyperspace when approached. Once the raiders were all destroyed or driven off, the A-wings returned to their rendezvous with the Liberty. There, technicians immediately began analyzing their flight recorders for useful data, and discovered that the enemy craft had "exceptional speed and maneuverability", as well as an unusually potent turbolaser (a weapon more commonly found on capital ships). Because of its peculiar design, this fighter was dubbed the TIE Bizarro.
Having completed their analysis of the A-wing data, the Liberty technicians decided that further research demanded that actual examples of these prototype craft needed to be captured. To this end, a scheme was concocted whereby the Alliance would stage a mock-convoy of cargo craft designed to entice whoever controlled these raiders into attacking. Cargo group Sulin was a convoy of computer controlled MB-C1 medium transports that had been programmed to avoid Imperial customs checkpoints, while transmitting fake transponder data. It was hoped that they would be a suitable lure to ensnare the Imperial prototypes. Escorting the convoy would be Rebel starfighters equipped with ion pulse warheads, designed to disable but not destroy the attacking combatants. However, secrecy was the key to this mission, and it was deemed necessary to conceal Alliance involvement. To this end, a flight of 6 Z-95 Headhunters, designated Bandit Squadron, were dispatched to fulfill this mission.
The lure worked decisively, and soon two squadrons of the experimental TIEs attacked the convoy, in addition to two mysterious escort transports lurking in the background. Surprised by the skill of the Rebel pilots in even a low-performance craft such as the Z-95, an escort transport and one of each type of experimental TIEs were swiftly disabled. Not only did the pilots of Bandit Squadron manage to capture the enemy craft, but they were also able to save the majority of the MB-C1s, as well as destroying all the remaining attacking craft before Heavy Lifter group Atlas came to retrieve the disabled prototypes. The experimental TIEs captured on this mission came in two varieties. The first was clearly a variant on the basic TIE/LN starfighter, but with additional twin wing-mounted laser turrets. Its configuration matched that of an attack force that "came as a deadly surprise to a B-wing group patrolling too close to an Imperial base". Because of its distinguishing features, it was designated the TIE BigGun. The second craft was a variant on the TIE/IN interceptor, modified by the addition of two heavy missile magazines outside the wing panels. Again, its design matched that of raiders encountered by Rebel forces: an T-65 X-wing starfighter squadron had been "severely crippled by this new TIE starfighter". Because of its missile armament, it became known as the TIE Warhead. Lastly, the captured escort transports of Suluk group were revealed to be carrying pilots for the experimental TIEs. However, the life support aboard these vessels had been rigged to "malfunction" were they to be disabled, and the entire crew perished before the Alliance was able to interrogate them. However, the communications equipment found on board was strongly suggestive of the role played by these pilots.
The next encounter with the TIE Experimental Project happened as a result of a lucky intelligence finding. Rebel agents discovered an Imperial cargo facility named Bretie Facility in orbit around Nomlis III in the Kurdin. The intelligence revealed that the Imperial station was involved as a production center for the clandestine project. The Alliance decided to send in a commando strike team aboard the Gamma-class ATR-6 Assault Transport Storm Unit to "infiltrate the installation, steal all pertinent data, and then destroy the facility".
Although successful in the mission to eliminate Bretie Facility, the returning strike team was somehow followed back to the Liberty, whereupon a large-scale assault on the Rebel cruiser was mounted by several waves of experimental TIEs. However, due to the immense bravery and skill of the Liberty's pilots, the attack was thwarted, although the cruiser suffered heavy damage.
Two new types of experimental TIE were encountered during this ambush. The first was simply a modified TIE hull packed with explosives, acting as a pilot-guided space bomb. Therefore was almost inevitable that the Rebels named it the TIE Bomb. The last of the prototypes was an incredibly swift fighter, described by Rebel pilot Gwen Habbert as looking "like the Imperials welded an engine booster pack to a simple TIE fighter. Wow, can that thing move!" . The description stuck, and the fighter gained the moniker TIE Booster.
After the ambush was defeated, technicians aboard the Liberty decoded the data from the production facility. They determined that the Imperials were conducting research into revolutionary TIE designs in a project headed by a Director Lenzer. They discovered that Lenzer was gathering statistics on human pilot combat flying techniques in order to build a new generation of droid fighters many times more lethal than the Vulture droids of the Confederacy of Independent Systems during the Clone Wars.
The notion of continuously operating squadrons of disposable fighters with "no fatigue, minimal maintenance, and all completely loyal to the Emperor" produced fears that they might "pose a serious threat to the survival of the Rebellion".
Due to the high priority placed on eradication of this enormous threat to the Rebellion, recon flights were dispatched all over nearby systems in order to locate the source of these fighters. It was not long before this strategy achieved results and the main research base was found.
The base was identified as the XQ1 Platform Obsidian and an all-out assault was put into action. B-wings and X-wings launched from the Liberty and hypered into the combat area to engage the station. A surprise awaited them. The Imperial Research Ship Sardis was parked close to the station. Scans of the Sardis revealed it to be the next stage in the TIE Experimental Project. Similar to the Droid Control Ship fielded by the Trade Federation at the Blockade of Naboo, this vessel acted as both hangar and control ship for the new TIEs. However, the Imperials had been caught unawares, and the Sardis was unable to perform to its peak, either because it was uncrewed, or its systems were not yet operational. Responding to the rebel attack, transports Tasson launched from the station to ferry pilots to the waiting Escort Transports of Suluk group. Once activated, the pilots onboard were able to bring prototype TIEs into action.
However, the concerted attack and superior tactics exhibited by the Rebels gave them the edge in the battle, and not even the intervention of several TIE Defenders from Shadow Squadron was able to save the Obsidian or the Sardis. Both were destroyed, and the Rebel forces returned to the Liberty jubilant that they had defeated a potent enemy.
Unbeknown to the Rebels, Admiral Zaarin returned to the wrecked station, and was able to retrieve plentiful data from the systems onboard the station that had survived its destruction remarkably well. It is clear from Zaarin's words at the time that this project was important to him, and had it proceeded much further would have made his later power-grab that much more likely to succeed.
TIE Experimental Project craft
- TIE Experimental M1, "Bizarro" Experimental TIE design
- TIE Experimental M2, "BigGun" Experimental TIE design
- TIE Experimental M3, "Warhead" Experimental TIE design
- TIE Experimental M4, "Bomb" Experimental TIE design
- TIE Experimental M5, "Booster" Experimental TIE design
- Suluk, Beta-class ETR-3 Escort Transport Controller Ship
- Bretie Facility, Cargo Facility 1 carrying a project datacore
- Dandi, Xiytiar-class transport carrying comm arrays
- Vrexlir, Xiytiar-class transport carrying sensors
- Sardis, Imperial Research Ship
- Obsidian, XQ1 Research Station
- Tasson, Delta-class DX-9 stormtrooper transport
- Shadow, TIE Defender squadron
Behind the scenes
Although the research station is destroyed during the final mission of the battle, in the cutscene that follows Admiral Zaarin orders his crew to gather up the wreckage and return to Obsidian station. It is unknown whether this is a blooper, or whether there were in fact more than one Obsidian station. It might also be possible that Zaarin was at the already-destroyed Bretie Facility and that he had not yet been aware of the loss of Obsidian.
The title of this sequence of missions from X-wing Alliance is Secret Weapons of the Empire, a tip of the hat to Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, a previous game also developed by Totally Games and released by LucasArts.