A wing of fighters moving into attack formation is quite possibly the most evocative visual in sci-fi. Examples proving this thesis abound – two of the Star Wars movies end with battles that have fighters playing a central role. Or, consider Battlestar Galactica – on the surface, it’s about what it means to be human, and isn’t a great example – but if you dig deeper, it becomes obvious that it’s really all about how cool the human-cylon dogfights are. Star Trek, on the other hand, does not use fighters often, but just imagine how much cooler it would be if it did! Well, we’re not going to make that mistake with Starfarer – rest assured that fighters will be featured prominently. Some lore on the subject:
Now, some basics. Fighter wings are first-class citizens – they’re members of your fleet, like all your other ships. Early in development, fighters were launched from carriers (being weapons, in a sense), but it became clear this limited fighters to being used only in battles that directly involved carriers, and that just wouldn’t do. We’d miss out on all this:
The only restriction on fighters is that a fleet must have enough hangar capacity to stow the fighters for travel between systems. Most ships contribute some hangar capacity to the fleet. Since fighters are cheap and effective, system patrols use a lot of them (no need to provide hangar capacity, since they don’t travel between systems). Inter-system task forces need more ships to stow the fighters. Some high-tech fighters are equipped with hyperdrive and don’t take up hangar space.
“But wait,” you say. “Where does that leave carriers? Carriers are cool, and I want them to be special!”
They are – carriers can repair, re-arm, and replace destroyed fighters mid-battle, if at least one fighter from a wing makes it back from a sortie to land on a carrier’s flight deck. To see just how useful this is, let’s take a look at the high tech, Dagger-class torpedo bomber. It’s armed with a torpedo (yes indeed, a torpedo bomber carries a torpedo) and a point defense laser. It’s also slow and fragile – a fact that is somewhat made up for by its frontal shields.
Torpedoes are powerful – two or three hits can take out a cruiser, and will cripple or even destroy a capital ship. An attack run can pay off big, but each Dagger only carries a single torpedo, which can miss, be shot down, or absorbed by shields. A run might well do no damage, and prove fatal for a few of the bombers in the bargain. With a carrier to fall back to, a single wing can be used again and again, instead of being a one-time gamble to score some heavy hits – carriers make sure you get the most out of your fighters in combat.
Another type of fighter is an interceptor. Interceptors are fast, and usually small and lightly armored, but well-armed. Their job is to take out enemy bombers before they can attack your capital ships, and chase down fleeing enemy fighters to make sure they don’t make it back to a carrier (and come back at full strength to bother you again). Being fast, they’re also good at moving about the map to capture objectives… but that’s another topic.
Let’s take a look at the Talon, a low-tech interceptor variant. The Talon is actually a bit unusual for an interceptor – it’s got heavy armor, and the firepower is limited to a single Vulcan cannon, but it is fast. Because it’s durable, it can escort friendly bombers and screen them from enemy point defense – for most other interceptors, that would be suicide. Its poor firepower is still enough to take out the more fragile bombers, if it can engage them far enough from the bombers’ target.
In part 2, we’ll take a look at the other fighter types and fighter-related tactics.