During the ground assault on the Rebel base on Hoth why didn't the Imperials provide air support to their forces? During many battles here on Earth, military units regulary have access to air support, even more so when they control the air directly over the ground battle.

Given that there were several Star Destroyers in orbit around Hoth, it would seem logical that a handful of TIE fighters could have been assigned to the ground assault and would have been effective in protecting the AT-AT's from the Rebel air speeders. So, why no air cover for the AT-AT's?

  • 13
    Karl Rove advised the Emperor that they'd be greeted with flowers and parades.
    – John O
    Aug 25, 2012 at 23:10

6 Answers 6


Simply put, they didn't need air cover. The AT-AT armor was too strong for the air speeders blasters, and the harpoon/tow-cable maneuver used by Luke was a battlefield improvisation. No one on either side of the battle knew about this weakness until after the fact. (A story published years later revealed that there were a few within the Imperial command that knew about the weakness, but no one that was involved in the Battle of Hoth.)

It's worth noting that, even though many Rebels escaped, the Battle of Hoth was considered a major victory for the Empire.

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    No plan survives (perfectly) first contact with the enemy. A good general should be prepared to provide air cover if the need arises, and not base his strategy on "they probably don't have any weapons which can harm us".
    – vsz
    Aug 26, 2012 at 14:46
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    To summarise your answer: Incompetence combined with Arrogance.
    – bitmask
    Aug 26, 2012 at 16:32
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    I would think that arrogance is part of the Imperial officer training program.
    – Chris
    Aug 26, 2012 at 20:23
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    They lost 1 ATAT ... acceptable losses.
    – Chad
    Nov 30, 2012 at 14:33
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    Didn't they lose two? One was taken down with a thermal detonator by Luke, and the other one with the cable (by Wedge?). Dec 6, 2012 at 10:40

Rebels had heavy land to air defenses deployed on Hoth. During the battle you see how they open fire to cover escaping vessels from star destroyers besieging the planet.

Although on the movie you see them only fire a big ion cannon to the space, it's quite easy to accept that a base holding a planetary land to space defense like that will surely hold also quite heavy land to air suborbital defenses, probably capable to inflict heavy losses to a starfighter squad giving air cover to the attack. That defenses would surely be easily detected by the imperial fleet, that knowledge would suggest to make a land assault instead of simply get the rebel base destroyed to the ground by suborbital bombardment, and also explains why don't add air cover to the land assault.

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    The same Rebel suborbital defenses could also explain why the Empire didn't just lob a few guided missiles from orbit & fly them under the defensive shield.
    – RobertF
    Jun 19, 2014 at 18:26

Air support wasn't provided for a couple of reasons.

The first; the Rebels had already activated their kinetic theater shield by the time the Empire had started mobilizing their forces in orbit. While this shield didn't cover very much (only the base itself), it was still able to sustain any bombardment, and prevented anything travelling quickly to make it through. In fact, AT-AT crews on Hoth only released their 74-Z scouts after they'd made it through the shield.

Second; the majority of air-support the Empire had available was used to help destroy escaping craft, whether it be individual fighters or transports. Although, this tactic ended up being a waste of effort.

I imagine that if the Imperials had been able to sneak up on Hoth like they had originally intended, they could have stayed within the asteroid field and bombarded Hoth from there. Fighter sweeps and ground incursions would have definitely followed, allowing for maximum damage infliction.


It depends partially on the Imperial objectives. The Empire had overwhelming force and were sure to eventually take out the Hoth base. However, they also knew that the Rebels had sufficient space craft to escape.

In these circumstances and especially considering that they likely lacked time to manoevure all units into their optimal positions, they may have prioritised the destruction of fleeing rebel transports over a focus on capturing the shielded caves.

We see that they had devoted tie fighters to intercepting escaping craft in the next scene where the Millenium Falcon is chased through the asteroid field by them.

Obviously this tactic was wasteful as it brought about the destruction of the AT-AT walkers. However, as pointed out in Bill's answer, the methods that Luke and co used to bring them down would have been difficult to predict in advance and may have been considered a justifiable risk.


No one has yet mentioned the actual reason why air cover wasn't used: They couldn't.

The shield generator prevents air units and "hover" units (like the hover tank the Empire uses, I can't remember the name) from passing through it. However, the shield does NOT prevent solid, walking units (people/AT-ATs) from passing through it. Thus, the Imperial strategy makes PERFECT sense given their objective: land an assault force outside the shield area, push forward through heavy fire, and destroy the shield so that Vader's assault force can land AT the base.

Remember when Veers says to Vader "The shield will be down in moments, you may start your landing"? He is referring to Vader's troop transports landing AT the base once the shield is down. The AT-AT's had to land outside the shield and walk their way inside.

Come now, you don't actually think the Empire was just using poor tactics do you? It actually makes perfect sense, and AT-ATs were the perfect vehicle for the job at hand.

  • Well Ian's answer does cover that, does it not?
    – Ghanima
    Nov 13, 2015 at 21:37

After I grew up and got wise to military tactics the Battle Of Hoth did'nt seem to make much sense to me and showed the Imperial Command and even Vadar to be incompetent and derlict in their duties,for example tie bombers with fighter cover should'nt have done a preparation strike and commandoes sent in to disrupt denfense operations.However their should have also been the smaller walkers in use to screen the big At-Ats. Star Wars by this time should have hired military qualified consaultanes and these disrepencies would have been solve,since i know they had the money to do this.

  • If only they had — the Imperial forces could have overrun the base quickly enough to prevent any ships escaping, and Luke, Leia and co could have been efficiently executed 20 minutes into the movie. Nov 30, 2012 at 13:57
  • 1
    Just drop a nuke from orbit on the Rebel position. Problem solved.
    – Oldcat
    Nov 21, 2014 at 22:51

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