One of the most powerful assets a military has is its starfighters, but there are still questions about the most efficient method of deploying them for battle.
Where galactic conquest and defense is concerned, one of the most integral and paramount elements of any spacefaring military is the space superiority starfighter. The average starfighter's objective is simple: ensure complete dominance over any enemy spacecraft in airspace the military considers relevant. From here, the starfighter's multi-capability roles can be expanded into bombing or special forces requirements, but at any one time, the starfighter is the quickest and most effective way of dealing with any threat to the safety and well-being of technology and personnel.
The sight is magnificent when successful. Few visuals exhibit the splendor of a swarm of snubfighters battling their way to success, be it ship-to-ship combat or a mass concentration on a capital ship, like a horde of ants overwhelming a rhinoceros beetle. But before the attack, the logistical challenge of deployment must be overcome. The main issue is that the average starfighter will only be equipped with sub-light engines, with an FTL (faster-than-light) drive too heavy and cumbersome for a ship designed to be as nimble and maneuverable as possible.
For example, take the infamous TIE/ln starfighter from Star Wars, as employed by the Imperial Navy and designed and constructed by Sienar. The backbone of the Empire's starfighter fleet, the TIE/ln is ostensibly a pair of flying laser cannons; with only the Twin Ion Engine sub-light units as propulsion there is no hyperdrive, there are no deflector shielding elements, and only basic life support equipment. What remains is a vulnerable but deadly and highly maneuverable spacecraft that is as light as possible and also cheap to manufacture. Especially when compared to its main Alliance equivalent, the Incom T-65 X-Wing, which is powered by four engines plus a hyperdrive, an astromech droid, and proton torpedoes. Fuel is also a concern when taking a fighter's ability into account; the less fuel, the less weight in the ship's tank.
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To compensate for this, the Empire has several ways to deploy TIE fighters, with the standard method being carriage aboard an Imperial-class Star Destroyer capital ship. The intimidating face of the Imperial Navy, Star Destroyers have powerful hyperdrives that mean they can appear out of nowhere in seconds to launch an attack, with Imperial I-class capital ships carrying a phalanx of 72 TIE/ln starfighters. Star Destroyers also boast a complement of 60 heavy turbolaser batteries, meaning that the fighters can receive powerful cover as they launch. The Empire has also been known to use Gozanti-class Imperial cruisers, although the relatively small starship can only carry a maximum of four starfighters. However, during the Galactic Civil War, the Emperor was famous for his DS-class Orbital Battle Stations, aka Gigantic space stations with massive hyperdrives. The DS1-class held an apparently large number of TIE/ln craft, although the final number is still classified. Despite this, during the Battle of Yavin from Star Wars: A New Hope, the Rebels sent 30 of their own ships to destroy the Death Star, and from visual information, the Imperial fighters seemed to outnumber their opponents. However, they were unable to prevent the station from being destroyed.
The capital ship as carrier has been used by multiple starforces across time and space, but few ships have been as deployment-focused as the Columbia-class Battlestars of the Colonial Fleet, the most famous of which is named Galactica. The Battlestar Galactica was purposely constructed to carry starfighters. its primary hull is flanked on both sides by huge landing bays, enough to carry its complement of 75 Starhound-class Viper starfighters as well as various support and ground craft. Built into the side of Galactica's bays were starfighter launch tubes, with 16 tubes per bay. The tubes were an incredibly efficient way of deploying fighters, with craft propelled through the tubes like an aircraft carrier's catapult. With the number of tubes present, this meant that the Galactica had 32 ships at their disposal that could be simultaneously launched into the battle arena, meaning there were no need for launch queues.
In turn, while the Colonial enemies - the Cylons - had the similar Hades-class Base Star capital ships, which carried 300 Cylon Raider craft, they also uniquely used the convenience and efficiency afforded by IFR (in-flight refueling). This was notoriously used at the Battle of Cimtar, which resulted in the destruction of the Colonial Fleet, where two Cylon tankers were hidden by the moon of Cimtar in order to fuel a massive fleet of Raiders. By using this tactic, the Cylons were able to a.) allow a great number of intercept craft to travel great distances independently without the need for a mothership, and b.) take advantage of their independence to place Base Stars at strategic positions without needing fighters to act as support craft. As a result of these tactics, the majority of the Colonial race was extinguished.
Without taking into account the moral implications of the Cylon conquest, or indeed the many victories won by the Empire using their TIE fleet, it is clear that starfighter deployment is still an important strategic element of intergalactic war that merits further experimentation. Many will look to the advancements of the First Order of The Force Awakens, whose Resurgent-class Star Destroyers are now equipped with squadrons of TIE/sf starfighters – two-seater craft with hyperdrives installed – as well as TIE/fo, the equivalent of the TIE/ln. Perhaps more will look at the advantages of IFR, and maybe there will be some bold new ideas.
Instead of capital ships, perhaps they could use fortified mobile docking bays which could be sent through FTL to the destination for immediate launch, or a variation on the hyperdrive rings used by the Jedi interceptors in the last days of the Old Republic. Such advancements could be the difference between winning a war and prolonging it.