Space Fighter

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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The Space Fighter, also commonly called a Starfighter, is an absolutely ubiquitous trope in Science Fiction (and especially Space Opera): A small, one-man Cool Starship equipped with Frickin' Laser Beams and Macross Missiles, used by the Ace Pilot for Old School Dogfighting.

A great many Science Fiction protagonists are Space Fighter pilots.

Some Space Fighters have room for two (or, rarely, more) crew rather than a single pilot, but all are small and nimble, in contrast with larger Cool Starships such as The Mothership or The Battlestar. Typically Space Fighters are dependent on a larger vessel, since they themselves lack the space for supplies or (often) a Faster Than Light Drive; however, there are exceptions.

Battlestars will deploy Space Fighters against enemy Cool Starships with an appropriate Fighter Launching Sequence. Fortunately for the Ace Pilot and his Wingman, large enemy ships will usually turn out to be Point Defenseless—at least as far as the protagonists' Plot Armor-equipped Space Fighters are concerned. Thus the enemy will need to scramble Fighters of their own. Old School Dogfighting will ensue. Expect many a Red Shirt Space Pilot to lose their life, thus underscoring just how risky The Hero's profession is, and making him or her seem all the more glamorous and heroic for it.

On the narrative side, Space Fighters are attractive because the stories about brave space pilots are usually more exciting than stories about unmanned robotic drones, and handling battleship scale combat well is no less tricky.

Quite often the Space Fighter will look just like a Cool Plane, even though it operates in a completely different environment. At the very least, it's likely to have wings. This goes along with Old School Dogfighting, and is largely Rule of Cool: Whether a Space Fighter has wings or not doesn't necessarily have any bearing on whether it will ever be shown operating in an atmosphere. If it can fight in the air as well as in space, it's also a Space Plane.

Hard science fiction may instead employ more utilitarian-looking starfighters, with lots of engines and a completely un-aerodynamic shape.

Despite its ubiquity in soft science fiction (where Weird and Hollywood Science abound), the Space Fighter concept is vindicable by real physics, which is why it can still show up on the harder end of the scale - at least as a vehicle. Small spacecraft would be less expensive to build and maintain than larger ships; between Square-Cube Law and leaving behind everything not needed for a single mission, they could be more mass-efficient, thus more nimble and manoeuvrable. The larger a spacecraft is, the harder it would be for it to handle the stress inherent in manoeuvres. See below articles for a more thorough discussion. This leaves the problem of fighting as such, since Bigger Is Better for weapons (it either carries equivalent of big ship's point defence gun, or a few missiles, making it more of a torpedo bomber), armor (manoeuvrability helps less and less against beam weapons as lightspeed delay decreases, and long ranges generally require big guns) and sensors (small craft is not going to scout much - if it's deployed, the target is clear enough to launch a drone or missile instead). All this requires some Applied Phlebotinum to resolve. Deflector Shields may help here - or may not, since for power/heatsink systems, bigger is better too. Also, living pilots are expensive to train, fragile (usually this is staved off with some sort of Inertial Dampening) and often unnecessary (again, if it's here, the carrier already knew what to shoot - and a missile doesn't have to waste fuel on deceleration and return flight). Some hard sci-fi indeed opt for replacing Space Fighters with unmanned weapon systems controlled remotely or by AI, which wouldn't need to spend space or mass on supporting a human pilot (or put a human pilot's life at risk). In a setting involving Brain Uploading and The Singularity, the differences between a manned Space Fighter and an Attack Drone could be very subtle.

Retaining human pilots for Space Fighters is easier to justify in works where tactical decision-making is still necessary, e.g. due to significant electronic and information warfare, and in settings without Artificial Intelligence capable of carrying out missions alone or faster-than-light communication (thus excluding the possibility of remote-controlling the fighter like today's UAVs, once it's far enough from the carrier).

In Real Life, actual designs for manned orbital spacecraft that could charitably be called space fighters do exist, and the Soviet Union even launched a Space Station (the Almaz program, disguised as extra Salyut projects) armed with a cannon similar to those used on atmospheric fighters as a test of the concept (they destroyed some defunct satellites). To date, however, no spacecraft has been built that could fit under a Space Fighter's mission profile.

See also Humongous Mecha (some may even turn into Space Fighters). Space Fighters are a major part of the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet, and a common form of the Mookmobile.

Examples of Space Fighter include:

Anime and Manga

  • Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam Seed both had The Federation using Space Fighters in combat before they developed their own Mobile Suits.
    • Also note that these Humongous Mecha are the Space Fighters in the metaseries, just oddly shaped to account for AMBAC, Active Mass Balance Auto-Control, which shifts the mass of hands and legs of the mecha to change the direction the mecha is facing to save propellant and shift the centre of mass away from the main body for evasive action.
    • Gundam Seed's Moebius fighter is actually one of the more realistic designs out there for a space fighter.
      • It's noteworthy that they were completely armored, with the pilots seeing everything over monitors, and their main weapon was a long range linear cannon, with four missiles as backup and twin Gatling guns for emergency usage only. They didn't have wings and their engines were movable. Ironically, before developing their Mobile Suits, ZAFT also had space fighters that had glass cockpits and wings, and these are noted in the fluff to have stood no chance in fighting a Moebius.
  • The Angel Frames from Galaxy Angel.
  • The Valkyries from the Macross series. Notable for one of the first anime example that was also armed with missiles instead of just guns.
  • Omnipresent in Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato. The Argo/Yamato doubled as a carrier, after all.
    • The 2010 Live Action Adaptation added the twist that the fighters were used to gather targeting information for capital ships and their heavy guns.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has Space Fighters, although the action mostly focuses on large fleets of battleships.
  • The fifteen subunits making up vehicle-team Voltron were all supposed to be able to act as space fighters. The other, non-combining space fighters that appeared were ususally just cannon fodder.
  • The Autobots and Decepticons in Transformers Armada both use Space Fighters when they join forces to battle Unicron.


  • Star Wars: The Trope Codifier that influenced all subsequent designs to one extent or another. The basic designs of the most famous Star Wars fighters are instantly recognizable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of pop culture. In the original 1977 Star Wars, small one-man fighters are famously used to attack the gigantic, planet-destroying Death Star because they are small and manoeuvrable, and can evade the Death Star's defensive fire where larger ships—which are the only threat the evil Empire considered when designing the defenses of their gigantic battle-station—would have been blown apart.
    • The strangest part of that is the fact that the Empire emerged from the Clone Wars, where Anakin/Vader repeatedly was the deciding factor in massive battles... and the tiny Jedi Starfighters kept making the difference in battles involving as many as hundreds of frigates and crusiers. Despite that, the Empire favored the cheap-and-replaceable model (that they tried with the CIS spacecraft) over the quality-over-quantity model (the Clones). For reference, the Republic won most space battles despite high casualties. Unsurprisingly, when the Rebels adopted the quality model, they kicked them Empire's ass. To be fair to the Confederacy and the Empire, the Republic and Rebel heroes had Plot Armor that allowed them to overcome the obscene odds that they faced.
    • The X-Wing, the most iconic Star Wars fighter, did have a Faster Than Light Drive, which, combined with the speed of interstellar travel in the Star Wars universe, made it a relatively independent little ship. Although in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, spending a few days in the cockpit of an X-Wing is noted to be a less than pleasant experience.
    • In Star Wars, fighters without faster-than-light drives are the exception, rather than the rule; they are usually either old designs predating the days of easy travel, made explicitly to not be autonomous—like the Empire's Tie Fighters, or too small/light to carry the equipment (the Jedi Starfighters of the second and third prequels).
  • The Fifth Element: Space fighters make a brief appearance, shooting down the friendly alien ship carrying the MacGuffin Girl protagonist.
  • The Last Starfighter: The Gunstars and Ko-Dan fighters.


  • C. J. Cherryh's Hellburner centres on a moderately realistic Space Fighter—the titular Hellburner. Being essentially a carrier launched missile-firing-missile it is exceptionally difficult and physically punishing to fly. Being such a pure chunk of engines and guns it is a mortal threat to starships. In the novel, human intelligence right at the controls justifies the performance penalty of a living pilot.
    • The Hellburner is interesting in that it has a minimum of four people operating it: a pilot, a navigator, a gunner, and a fourth person who analyzes all of the ship's sensor data in order to figure out what the gunner should be shooting at. In operational trim, the fourth bod's data is pre-filtered by another thirty people, to avoid the problems caused by depending on lightspeed-limited radar when operating at a significant fraction of lightspeed. A big part of tactical success is outguessing the other guy on fragmentary and outdated sensor data.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series. The Commonwealth has stingships, two-person attack ships each carrying a single SCCAM missile.
  • David Weber includes starfighters in both his Starfire series and Empire of Man series, though in the later series they're not important to the first three books.
    • The closest thing to starfighters in his Honor Harrington series are Light Attack Craft, or LACs for short. David Weber has gone to some length to explain that they are not actually fighters, but rather old school torpedo boats in space. They are VERY large by Space Fighter standards and require a minimum crew of ten, with most early examples being relegated to Cannon Fodder status. After BFG-carrying ship-killer "Super" LACs are introduced, "anti-LAC" LACs begin appearing, but they are still too big, too clunky, have too large a crew and are nowhere near manouverable enough to be true Space Fighters.
  • The protagonist of Tomorrow War is a flugger pilot. The setting is rather hard, so they engage each other at a long range (no Old School Dogfighting) and attack big ships that aren't crippled only at several megameters, with missiles. Oh, and pilots have to improve their acceleration tolerance by eating an alien biostimulant.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe introduces dozens of new space fighters, though they're called starfighters or snubfighters most of the time. And, most of the time, fighters introduced outside of the movies see very limited use. One series is all about X-Wing pilots flying under an Ascended Extra.
  • The Posleen War Series has the Space Falcon, developed to supplement the makeshift frigates guarding the solar system. It's explicitly stated that they are not capable of operating in an atmosphere.
  • There are nominally fighters in The Forever War, but they're the size of gunboats (normally crewed by 3 people, but can take up to 12, they need to be that size to fit in all the support equipment for the crew when manoeuvring at 25 G), and end up getting treated more like shuttles (Drones can move at 100s of Gs, and are smaller).
  • Animorphs has several. The Yeerks use Bug Fighters, which look like mechanical insects. They were stolen from a similar Andalite ship, the main difference being the position of the 'tail' that contains the dracon or shredder cannon.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek: Largely avoided Space Fighters in favour of larger ships, but they did show up on some rare occasions, mostly in Deep Space Nine. The Maquis used small ships somewhat similar to Space Fighters, and some rarely-seen old Bajoran ships fit the bill. The Dominion had ships called fighters, but these were really small warships, and had enough space for a full-sized crew. Usually, it seemed large ships in Star Trek had weapons both accurate and powerful enough to easily take out fighters, no matter how small and manoeuvrable (which would certainly explain why they're rarely seen).
    • In some of the later episodes of Deep Space Nine, the unimaginatively named "Federation Fighters" could occasionally be seen. These fully fit the trope. In one episode, we see squadrons of them zipping in and out, harassing Cardassian warships. We see that while the fighters are very fast and nimble, they only take one or two shots from a starship's beam weapons to get swatted. These fighters themselves appear to be considerably bigger than a shuttle even so.
    • All incarnations of Star Trek featured small shuttle-craft, and these were usually armed, but almost never filled the role of a Space Fighter (with the Delta Flyer in Voyager occasionally being an exception).
    • Note that despite the rarity of Space Fighters, Star Trek did eventually feature Old School Dogfighting, especially during some of the battle scenes of the Dominion War: abandoning their previous Space Is an Ocean analogies, they showed their starships maneuvering like space fighters.
    • "The Best of Both Worlds" did feature a wave of fighters sent to take on the Borg Cube... that lasted for all of about 3 seconds.
    • In addition to "proper" fighters they also have "Runabout" class of ships which are big armed shuttles and are technically capable of interstellar travel on their own (if not quite as comfortable) and even bigger "Defiant-class ships" - apparently something like gunboats with disproportionately powerful Fixed Forward-Facing Weapons that are used somewhat like heavy fighters.
  • Farscape has Peacekeeper Prowlers.
  • Babylon 5: Included the Star Furies, a comparatively hard example.
    • NASA actually showed some interest in the design as a space construction vehicle.
    • Indeed, later on in the show we see space-borne construction vehicles based on the Star Furies. Fewer engines, large manipulator claws, and a yellow-and-black high visibility paint job.
  • Stargate SG-1: Notable in that the villains have space fighters from the very start, but the good guys have to develop theirs slowly, over several seasons. But, as with all Goa'uld technology, their Death Gliders were more impressive than practical. They were mostly used for strafing ground targets, but were frequently shown fighting in space as the show went on and started featuring more Space Battles.
    • We see the first Tau'ri attempt to build a Space Fighter in Season 4. It is built using two damaged Goa'uld Death Gliders that were stolen at the beginning of Season 2, and that were also shown getting worked on in a lab in an earlier episode. This prototype fails spectacularly. It's not until Season 6 that a successful prototype Space Fighter is fielded by Stargate Command, and it's not until Season 7 that the production model gets built, and sees actual combat for the first time.
      • Though if you consider it, that's only five years between initial capture of the technology and fielding a practical unit. Five years in which they have to reverse-engineer advanced technology and re-creating it with human tech. Not half bad for an R&D project of that magnitude.
      • It also constituted a nice change of pace from Failure Is the Only Option and Status Quo Is God, since the SGC's mission was to find alien technology to bring back to Earth to help build weapons against the Goa'uld.
  • In Stargate Atlantis there are the Wraith Darts, that fit the role perfectly. They are commonly used in capturing victims for the Wraith, and shoot down any flying targets.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Both the original and new series were largely built around the Vipers.
    • Fun fact: the pilot nickname for the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the US Air Force is the Viper, what with the F-16 entering service the same year that BSG was aired. If the design of the Viper Mk. VII from the new series is anything to go by,[1] that fact has come full circle.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century used rejected models from Battlestar Galactica.
  • Space: Above and Beyond had star fighters used by both the Humans and the Chigs. The human fighters (the Hammerheads), carried missiles and mounted gun turrets in the chin and tail, while the Chig fighters used some sort of energy cannon.
    • Of note is the Chigs' Super Prototype, a fast stealth fighter that was nigh invulnerable to the Hammerheads' weapons fire, flown by Chiggy Von Richtoffen.
      • Said super prototype was taken out by a single missile.
  • In Firefly, Alliance ships carry squadrons of "gunships" which are for all intents and purposes space fighters. Gunships are deployed by Alliance ships to pursue smaller, lighter craft that the cruiser itself cannot pursue, as the bigger ship is much slower - essentially a carrier/city in space.
  • Andromeda had the infamous Slipfighters from Archlike to Cerberus, all of which could operate in an atmosphere and could carry Nova bombs in addition to thier array of seemingly overpowered conventional weaponry. Nietzschean Garuda-class fighters were also OP, being able to destroy High Guard and other Commonwealth capital ships and warships with ease and in small packs.
    • This could actually be one of the few cases where fighters would make sense, as Slipfighters are capable of traveling FTL and Slipstream drive has quite a few limitations. Namely that it doesn't allow FTL Radio, is confined to certain paths, and can't be navigated by A Is. Those factors make fighters invaluable as scouts and raiders.

Tabletop Games

  • GURPS: Spaceships has a supplement that covers fighters. The examples culminate in the Mirage Star Fighter which is loaded with superscience to the point that it is actually built mostly of force fields.
  • Traveller had a variety of small fighter ships.
  • Task Force Games: Star Fleet Battles, Federation and Empire and Starfire.
  • The Paranoia adventure "Clones in Space" had Pie Fighters (a Shout-Out to Star Wars TIE Fighters).
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century.
  • BattleTech has Aerospace Fighters, which are every bit as well-armed and armored as the setting's Humongous Mecha.[2] FASA even created a specialist game, Aerotech, for those who wanted to play the transatmospheric battles between fighters and Drop Ships that preceeded the land battles of the main game. (The modern edition of BattleTech puts basic aerospace combat into its core rulebook, with more 'advanced' options—such as the alternative movement rules mentioned below or the use of unit types beyond just fighters, small craft, and DropShips—handled in subsequent volumes.)
    • The interesting thing about AeroTech is that it also allowed you to actually choose whether you wanted to play Old School Dogfighting straight or avert it altogether by using the advanced movement rules for space-based combat.
    • Also note that the "cool plane" designs are justified as the Aerospace fighters of the setting are intended to operate in or out of atmosphere.
  • Iron Crown Enterprise's Space Master.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, space-based fighter and bomber craft are more like gunboats, with crews of between four and sixteen depending on type and bombers carry enough of payload to level cities (Marauder bomber was indeed reassigned and refit for atmospheric use in strategic bomber and AWACS/command variants, once Imperial Navy swapped it to Starhawk in space bomber squadrons) -- necessary when the starships are at least a half-kilometer long and frequently plated in 80–100 meters of solid armor. Generally fighters are useful because they can intercept or escort other attack craft (bombers and assault boats) and torpedoes -- while torpedoes, bombers and torpedo bombers are useful in the first place because unlike guns they are not stopped by void shields. Ships are not Point Defenseless, but CIWS turrets cannot reliably take out whole waves of ordnance, and shooting these mosquitoes with ship-to-ship weapons before they approach, while possible, is a gamble most likely to waste a lot of firepower to no effect.
    • Most aircraft, called Aeronautica, are capable of short periods of space travel, but lack the armor and engine power to mix it up with true spacecraft. It's more intended to allow them to launch from a spacecraft, conduct a mission against a planetary target, and return to the ship.
  • Rifts Space Opera Phase World/Three Galaxies setting features a number of Fighters.
  • Spelljammer has a few ships that could qualify, but the main problem is that most space craft use hideously expensive spelljamming power sources and using these on anything significantly below their capability is wasteful due to both opportunity cost and greater risk (as in, a big ship can mount more weapons and is harder to break). The only boats actually used in battles are built upon unique cheap power sources: Locust (from Wa on Toril, the only straight example) and elven Flitters (but these aren't armed as such and depend on personal weapons or spellcasters). The gnomish Bolaships, while reasonably cheap, fast and dangerous, are too big to tow - let alone carry - more than 3 with any conventional power source, thus are more suitable for use as "coast defence" boats on large bases -- and using them involves dealing with tinker gnomes, which is something most people try to avoid.
  • For a true, but now lost to time, Hard SF starfighter game, there was Marc Miller's 'Triplanetary' originally published by Game Designer's Workshop and now in SJ Game's hands. One of its primary features was hex-mapped based vectored movement system.
  • Full Thrust has rules for space fighters, although the mechanics have received a lot of complaints due to balance issues - the pre-designed fleets have serious Point Defenseless issues, to the point where dedicated carrier fleets easily dominate against everything else.
  • Star Fleet Battles uses fighters extensively, despite there being none in the source materials. They primarily function to saturate enemy defenses and kill ships by simply being too numerous to stop. The result varies with the fighters and the target. Particularly effective are Hydran fighters (which are deployed on most Hydran ships) which were described in one tactical analysis as being like "roving nuclear spacemines". Two of them at point blank range will leave a cruiser a gutted wreck.

Video Games

  • Simulation Games set in space very, very frequently cast the player in the role of a Space Fighter pilot. Space fighter simulations are a genre of their own, and a fairly well-populated one.
  • Elite, from 1984, was perhaps the earliest example of this type of game, and one of the earliest home computer games to feature 3-D graphics. In this Wide Open Sandbox, the player starts with a lightly-armed trader, and can (amongst other things) make enough money to outfit a proper Space Fighter for engaging Thargoids and Space Pirates in some Old School Dogfighting. The game is named after the highest rank the player can reach in combat proficiency. However, there are no clear-cut borders between the categories from small craft to capital ships - agility and protection are complementary sliding scales.
    • Oolite is a modern open-source remake.
  • Vega Strike does have a whole scale of combat vessel classes ranging from the lightest Interceptors to heaviest Capital types. But they also explicitly (supported by AI target priorities) form a Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors scheme - Interceptors hunt missiles and harass Bombers if there's nothing else to do; Bombers are the heaviest sub-capital ships capable of killing larger clumsier capships and stations, but not agile enough to deal with small craft, nor large enough to carry powerful turrets; Fighters hunt both of those, but generally can't do much against anything else, etc.
  • The Wing Commander series is all about starfighter combat, with some of the fighters also being atmospheric capable. The first game came out in 1990, and heavily influenced how the genre developed.
  • Early examples can be found in Space War and Asteroids, though the "ships" involved are simple icons.
  • Shoot'Em Ups of course depend on space fighters as much as, or more than, they do conventional fighter planes. Famous examples include:
    • The Vic Viper of the Gradius series
    • The R-9 Arrowhead of the R-Type series
      • Along with many others in R-Type Final and R-Type Tactics 1 and 2.
    • The Arwings of the Star Fox series
  • StarCraft‍'‍s Terrans used Wraiths. By extension, Scouts and Corsairs from the Protoss.
    • The Terran Vikings and Protoss Phoenixes from the upcoming Stacraft 2 sequel replace Wraiths and Scouts in the fighter category. One of the scrapped Terran ships was the Predator, a fighter with a point defense system.
    • The Scouts even look like they're more of a plane than starfighter.
  • Halo: The Seraphs and Longswords. Rarely seen on camera but in the novelizations they are threats to be reckoned with. Reach introduces the Sabre.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: A strong fighter fleet can be a game-winner. Each fighter only has handful of slots and a tiny powerplant, often having to do without shields or armour. However, you can have lots of them: even mighty battleships can be worn down by a ravening horde of fighters.
  • EVE Online: Fighters can be launched by Carriers and Motherships. Unlike other ships, they're too small to fit the capsule system and thus cannot be controlled by players. Instead they are controlled by AI, much like drones.
    • But not fluff-wise. Conventional ship-based drones are AI-controlled. Fighters and Fighter-Bombers have fleshy pilots inside, and you can even see them as part of the model.
  • Master of Orion II has bays with Interceptors[3]/Bombers[4]/Heavy Fighters[5] carried by ships, orbital stations and planetary bases - they all hit the target's weakest shield sector at range 0 and can be shot at anything their weapons can be - i.e. PD weapons vs. missiles and bombers vs. planetary installations, in addition to anti-ship use. The latter two also can use bombs (that deal more damage than missiles of a comparable Tech Level) against ships, which normally is impossible - making them better against ships; they also have greater hitpoints, but take more space as well. As Attack Drones, they don't take much more space than their weapons and are reasonably fast, but still unpopular: you have PD weapons (that actually are given more damage than normal) thrown outside the ship's armor and shield, taking disadvantage of delivery time and attrition, since they can be shot by medium and PD weapons - or wiped out in droves by Splash Damage (drive explosion of the first ship they killed often does it), which makes them somewhat underwhelming compared to an equal volume of common weapons. Also, the player may only select the primary target; if it's killed, they become AI-controlled until returned. Fighter Garrison on a planet, however, is far more useful - it does not take place of something else, replenishes in a few turns even if all interceptors (or heavy fighters) are killed and launches waves big enough that with good weapons and some luck they may take out a battleship with one salvo.
  • In Mass Effect, though rarely seen, they do exist, albeit mostly limited to acting as support craft to keep enemy fire away from larger Frigates, Cruisers and Dreadnoughts. Their main job in combat is to Zerg Rush enemy ships, cause the point-defense lasers to overheat, and deliver torpedoes to weaken kinetic barriers so bigger ships can use their mass accelerators to take down opposing vessels.
    • That being said, their original use was somewhat limited until it was revolutionised by the Alliance who introduced the concept of a Carrier to the Galaxy, allowing for large squadrons of their to be launched at once. The Alliance also appears to have pioneered the use of Interceptors in order to counter-attack enemy dogfighters, leaving their Fighter Squadrons free to bring down enemy ships.
    • They are finally featured in all their glory in Mass Effect 3.
  • Star Control focuses on larger ships, and even the smallest of the ships encountered in either the game or its sequel wouldn't really count as a fighter. However, the Ur-Quan Dreadnought, one of the deadliest ships in either game, is a Battlestar (it even looks like the original one!) that launches small autonomous fighters as its secondary attack. Though they're only a few pixels in size, the way these fighters work in the game makes quite a bit of sense: They deplete the Dreadnought's crew, they have limited fuel and must head back to the Dreadnought after a brief sortie, and they carry only a weak weapon and can be destroyed with a single hit. However, they are able to outmanoeuvre most opponents and so pick apart large ships little by little... Except for the ships that are not Point Defenseless - AI won't even try launching fighters against an opponent with point-defence systems. Also, they can skirt the planets, but are destroyed on contact with asteroids, which they don't avoid, thus faster ships may easily kill most of Dreadnought's crew without a single shot, by evading long enough.
    • "Launch Fighters!"
  • Homeworld features multiple types of "strikecraft" which fulfilled various duties—scouting, defense, interception, and bombing. They can somewhat be used out of their roles with creativity, but the sequel Homeworld 2 intensifies the presence of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors.
    • The semi-canonical sequel Homeworld: Cataclysm features the Acolyte-class heavy fighter used exclusively by Kith Somtaaw, based on Bentusi design. They are highly versatile and can fulfil multiple roles (armed with standard mass drivers but could also fire missiles). Additionally, two Acolytes can combine into a single Avenger-class composed vehicle (a corvette), which can bring down much larger ships with its EMP generator.
    • Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm also have Attack Drones. The original ones were not very effective, but the design has evolved by Cataclysm.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire also has "strikecraft" of two kinds—fighters and bombers. Bombers are designed to attack cruisers, capital ships and structures while fighters take on lighter vessels, bombers and other fighters. The TEC fighters and bombers, and Advent fighters look like atmospheric craft with streamlining, although they aren't meant to attack planets at all. The Advent bombers and Vasari strikecraft do not look atmospheric, but aren't utilitarian either - they're just Rule of Cool based Shiny-Looking Spaceships. All strikecraft act like atmospheric aircraft in terms of maneuvering, partake in Old School Dogfighting and strafing, and can only be targeted by flak frigates, certain capital ship abilities and enemy fighters. TEC and Vasari strikecraft are classical one-man types, while Advent strikecraft are remotely piloted drones.
  • The X-Universe series' space fighters are clearly designed to be similar to atmospheric ships, but not so similar as to look silly. Each race has five different fighter classes (M5 scoutship, M4 interceptor, M4+[6] heavy interceptor, M3 fighter, M3+ heavy fighter) that may be further subdivided into variant models.
  • Rather like Master of Orion, Infinite Space allows the player to mount hangers on ships to launch fighters. However, only ships with a built-in catapult can use fighters.
  • Averted by design in Sword of the Stars. The makers have stated that, with destroyers about 30 metres already, fighters would be at least half that size, FTL-incapable and fall quickly to point-defence, so they will not be included for now. The closest to them are the various unmanned Attack Drones, which are indeed FTL-incapable and swattable by PD.
    • The second game has "battleriders" that are the size of the first game's destroyers or larger, have no FTL drives, and are launched from carriers. More like gunboats than fighters, especially since they max out at dreadnought size.
  • Independence War: There are starfighters, and you sometimes command them as wingmen in addition to fighting them, but the craft you pilot is generally much larger (usually a corvette), command section aside. You never pilot the starfighters directly.
  • The R-352 Sepia in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere is flown in the single mission that takes place in space. It is armed with various Beam Spam generators and used to shoot down enemy satellites.
  • Tachyon the Fringe's gameplay takes place entirely in fighters, given that Jake Logan is a fighter pilot by trade. Capital ships exist, but seem to mainly be used as carriers.
    • Additionally, while fighters are not FTL-capable, they use TCG gates to jump between sectors, while capital ships are too big to fit into the gates.
  • Nexus the Jupiter Incident is mostly focused on tactical capital ship combat. While fighters and bombers are present and available to be launched, they are usually fairly quickly swatted out by flak lasers. The only way to use them successfully is to take out the enemy flak grid first before deploying fighters. Fighters can also act as an anti-fighter or anti-missile screen in addition to flak.
  • Freelancer has the majority of pilotable spacecraft being fighters. You can get yourself a bulky freighter, but then you may as well paint a large target on its hull. On the other hand, the high-end space fighters in this game tend to be incredibly overpowered, as throughout the campaign you'll find yourself routinely taking out cruisers and battleships in your one-man fighter.

Web Comics

  • Crimson Dark has fighters carried by warships - in small numbers unless it's a carrier; the first mission on screen was taking a very close look at a damaged vessel that may be a trap, to avoid risking their mothership. Pilots are cyborgized; design of cockpits is rather Wing Commander-esque.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, thanks to gravitics, including Deflector Shields, "fighters" and "tanks" are interchangeable, i.e. the same vehicles are used in long-range missile defence of their mothership and in close air support.

Web Original

  • Atomic Rocket is one of several hard sci-fi sites arguing that manned space "fighters" are nonsensical, in that if you have small military ships at all, Attack Drones and heavy missiles are the only practical application, and postulate that the only factor making it somewhat possible in reality at all "cultural bias".
    • Although it mentions that they see occasional use in orbital warfare, where there's a horizon to hide behind.
  • Another brief analysis (summary from SFConsim-l) see on Rocketpunk Manifesto blog.
  • This article on StarDestroyer.Net
  • Orion's Arm makes a few references to nano-scale space fighters.
  • Fenspace has what seems like a dozen varieties or more, especially in the wake of the Boskonian War and Operation Great Justice. Given the kind of people who settled Fenspace, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the most prominent and effective fightercraft in the Fen arsenal was called the Zig.

Real Life

  • The U.S. Navy's "Space Cruiser" high-performance space plane would have been a borderline real-life example—if it were ever built. The design called for a small, single-person craft that could be launched relatively cheaply and covertly, and would orbit the Earth once or twice, hopefully taking out Soviet spy satellites in the process. Not as glamorous as most fictional examples, given the fledgling military presence in space, but it would have looked fairly cool—and how many fictional space fighters feature an open cockpit? (Don't forget to pack your space-suit!) Other similar projects can be seen on this page.
    • The Soviets had their own equivalent designs for manned anti-satellite spacecraft, and even sent armed Almaz space stations into orbit to test the concept. Since The Space Race didn't result in a more established manned presence in space, unmanned anti-satellite weapons and surface-launched missiles were pursued as more practical alternatives by all sides.
  • A better Soviet example would perhaps be the Spiral project, which aimed to produce a manned combat vehicle capable to launching into orbit, destroying enemy satellites (and starfighter interceptors), and landing again. Unfortunately for sci-fi fans everywhere, such vehicle was never built but an atmospheric prototype, the MiG-105, did take to the skies and can give you the basic idea of how a Soviet starfighter would have looked like.
  1. In particular, the belly engine scoop
  2. in some cases even mechs themselves can qualify for this trope
  3. 1x best point defence weapon, 4 shots before returning
  4. 1x best bomb, 1 shot
  5. 2x best point defence weapon + 2x best bomb + best targetting computer
  6. pronounced em-four-plus