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This question and answers do a good job explaining why the Imperial forces didn't have fighter protection for their ground force on Hoth.

But nothing there explains why the Rebels didn't use X-Wings to easily dispatch the AT-ATs and buy more time. They obviously had them available because they were sending them off with transports and some of these were obviously not sent until after "defending" the base (since a few of the pilots of the X-Wings were the Rogue Squadron pilots fighting in the Battle of Hoth).

This happens in the EU in the book Isard's Revenge (in fact, the cover picture shows this scene) with great success and Wedge actually comments, on page 120:

Back then we were in airspeeders - undergunned and overmatched... Not the case this time [referring to being in X-Wings against AT-ATs instead of speeders on Hoth]

This indicates X-Wings can perform in cold conditions - there was snow in this environment as described by Corran Horn after he is shot down. The temperature difference between day-time on Hoth and here is unknown however.

Additionally, the X-Wings were able to destroy the AT-ATs with their laser cannons only - no grappling was required.

I suspect the answer is basically "because that would have been boring to watch on-screen" but it seems there may have been an actual in-universe reason outside of this.

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maybe xwings couldn't handle the snowy environment (not just cold since space is cold but cold + atmosphere + ice) – zipquincy Jan 9 '13 at 19:52
Who says X-Wings could easily dispatch an AT-AT? – Xantec Jan 9 '13 at 20:05
@Xantec the detailed story in Isard's Revenge which has X-Wings taking down AT-ATs easily in a cold environment (it is quoted in my question) – enderland Jan 9 '13 at 20:10
Space superiority fighter, expensive, travels in space, capable of jumping from star system to star system. Snow speeder, cheaply made, flies over icy planets. Shoots things. Which one make sense to use for escaping an enemy with a superior force with ten times your firepower? – Thaddeus Howze Jan 9 '13 at 20:12
Out of universe - you don't send fighter aircraft to attack tanks - you send attack aircraft. The armament and performance envelopes are different. – Chris B. Behrens Jan 10 '13 at 1:40
up vote 38 down vote accepted

If you recall the movie, they has just enough X-Wings to cover each escaping transport/ship with 2 fighters.

They couldn't waste X-Wings (which are expensive space superiority fighters) on a simple delaying rearguard action with no point to it. (Even if the X-Wings destroyed every AT-AT, Imperials would simply bring in more troops to continue the attack.)

The point of the Battle of Hoth was to have enough time to evacuate, not to hold the ground.

An additional consideration is that the icy conditions on Hoth may not have been a very good operating environment for X-Wings.

T-47 Snowspeeders explicitly added heaters near the drive units, and de-icing nozzles were added to prevent icing on control surfaces (Source: T-47 airspeeder Wookiepedia article, originally from "Slaying Dragons"—Star Wars Adventure Journal 9)

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... except the pilots of many of those X-Wings were flying the T-47s already – enderland Jan 9 '13 at 19:59
@enderland - as Nicolai's answer noted, snowspeeders were expendable. X-Wings were not. – DVK-in-exile Jan 9 '13 at 20:03
But, if that was the primary goal, then why did they not send them all off as quickly as possible? They chose to keep them around longer (and perhaps even some of them not being able to leave because pilots died) rather than send them away right as the Imperial fleet showed up – enderland Jan 9 '13 at 20:03
@enderland - because they DID need to buy the time to evacuate. Transport >> X-Wing >> T-47 – DVK-in-exile Jan 9 '13 at 20:06
Related: as per the canonical answer to "how many", there were only 12 snowspeeders during Hoth battle:… – DVK-in-exile Jan 10 '13 at 15:01

Out of universe answer:

The Expanded Universe is generally C-canon - the movies are a higher level (G-canon) and trump any information in the EU.

At the time the film was produced (1979/80) the writers probably felt that the X-Wing, being a space fighter, wouldn't handle as well in atmosphere (we only see X-Wings and other space-based fighters make simple manoeuvres in atmosphere through all 6 movies, and not atmospheric combat by space-based fighters). Also, they would have wanted to introduce more variety (there was a toyline to consider, plus it looks good to have different craft as it looks like a more complete universe).

The books (and games) with X-Wings in atmospheric combat came later - 15-20 years later.

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Agreed. Also, why couldn't it be because they thought it looked cooler to have the rebels flying in something that more closely matched their environment? X-Wings weren't known to have those fancy "Let's trip the AT-AT" grapples either. – Mark Allen Jan 10 '13 at 5:08
And in Ep VII, we now have atmospheric combat by space-fighters. – HorusKol Jan 5 at 22:06

My thoughts are they used T-47 airspeeders (snowspeeders) because they were more expendable compared to X-Wings, which were more valuable to the Rebellion as they could fight space battles whilst the speeders are limited to planetary use.

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The X-Wing, when in atmosphere, uses low power repulsors for most maneuvers. It can use the main thrusters, but in so doing, it loses much of its mobility.

Further, there is little indication that the X-Wings would have fared much better - they're just as fragile, probably have trouble † at the mid-speeds of ground engagement, and would have used their limited proton torpedo supply on a delaying action.

X-Wings also are considerably much more expensive. The Snowspeeders, being less capable overall (no space drive, no hyperdrive, limited atmospheric sealing) are much less a loss.

One additional consideration: combat would use up considerably more power (and thus fuel) than sitting at "warm standby". The X-Wings need to have as much possible range and endurance upon departure, in case of trouble at the opposite end of the hyperspace jump. Enough range to be able to make a second or even third trip.

† It's C Canon that X-wings fly on repulsors in atmosphere, and that the exhaust from space drives is pretty nasty. We see the engines flare up well after they leave the Yaavin IV hangers. The Falcon flares up right out of the bay on Tatooine and Hoth, but in both cases, Han was not thinking about the effects of his near-C exhaust, but of enemy action upon his own hide. Even if the X-Wing can operate that n-space drive at low power, it's not equipped with air-maneuver surfaces - flaps, ailerons, elevators. The Wings are to get separation of weapons and engines, not for atmospheric controls.

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Did you read the question? The situation of X-Wings taking down AT-ATs in cold weather atmospheric combat is specifically illustrated in one of the EU books (using only laser cannons). – enderland Jan 12 '13 at 22:23
I don't read the novels, and don't give much credence to one-offs as examples of good practice. Besides, the blasters on the T47 are physically larger hardware... – aramis Jan 12 '13 at 22:26
+1 for the note about fuel. – jpmc26 Aug 20 '14 at 1:22

In the same book series that describes the X-Wings easily taking down AT-ATs, Michael Stackpole often writes about discussions on fuel and range considerations. Dogfighting or any sort of combat takes up a lot of fuel and the rendezvous point was a long way away. To get there after fighting on Hoth, the X-Wings would probably have to refuel, for which there was no time. Additionally, we can't assume that every speeder pilot had an X-Wing waiting. Some were probably planning to evacuate on the transports.

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My thought is the X-Wings can do a simple dam-buster type of strafing run and hit the walkers from the side. Then they would simply leave with their transports. This would save throwing away so many snow speeders, pilots, and ground crew. Just a thought.

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Hi Warren. The idea of this site is to provide answers with references to canon sources whenever possible. Opinions are less useful, and likely to get downvotes. – Andres F. Jun 7 '15 at 1:17
Here we touch on the real problem. Star wars was not written by a tactician at all. – Joshua Nov 8 '15 at 16:51

Because they need the tow cable on the airspeeders to trip the walkers. The armor is too strong for laser blast, except the weak spot where the neck connects with the body. They could try to shot there without tripping it, but to hit the inside well requires shooting from a front angle, which flying at a walker head on when it's shooting is just suicide.

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They didn't think of using the tow cables until after the battle had started and they were in the snowspeeders, though. – Null Oct 29 '14 at 21:46
The armor was too strong for the snowspeeder guns, but at least in the EU X-Wing weapons are more than capable of penetrating AT-AT armor. – numaroth Oct 29 '14 at 21:50

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