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I understand George Lucas wanted space combat in Star Wars to evoke WWII era naval combat - big ships with heavy artillery, carriers, bombers, small fighters dogfighting with other fighters and firing torpedos at ships. We even see a pilot kamikaze into the bridge of the Imperial Super Star Destroyer in Return of the Jedi.

But is there a more canonical explanation why the Imperial and Rebel fleets field mixed forces of fighters and capital vessels? Why deploy any fighters at all if the Imperial Star Destroyers are bristling with laser cannons? Presumably Imperial Star Destroyers are armed with missile defenses as well, although ship to ship missiles never make an appearance in the original trilogy.

Which brings up another question: Wouldn’t large capital ships be extremely vulnerable to swarms of fighters armed with torpedos? This would argue for fielding no capital ships (except as troop transports perhaps) and instead lots of small fighters equipped with hyperdrives and maybe some medium sized ships, eg the Millenium Falcon.

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    You answer your own question in the first sentence. There is no greater canon than because Lucas wanted it to emulate WWII era naval combat. Please rephrase your question. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 17 '13 at 15:00
  • Is there a more plausible in-universe explanation than George Lucas wanted Star Wars space combat to look this way? Modern day technology has evolved to the point that WWII naval & air combat tactics are outdated. – RobertF Oct 17 '13 at 15:07
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    No. I don't believe there is a reasonable explanation for this beyond a stylistic design. As an ex-military person, I could redesign the Empire's fleet and make it ten times more effective w/o using such large and ineffective ships. But this is not about substance, its about style, what looks good on the screen. What do people WANT/EXPECT to see? And then do that. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 17 '13 at 15:13
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    "wouldn't large capital ships be extremely vulnerable to swarms of fighters armed with torpedos?" Don't capital ships have more powerful deflector shields than small fighters? It may be that torpedos of the size fighters could carry wouldn't be able to make it through the shields...in cases where asteroids or kamikazes damaged them, it may have been only because the shields had already been weakened by continuous pummeling (as suggested by the discussion here). – Hypnosifl Oct 17 '14 at 16:38
  • Aircraft carriers are vulnerable to swarms of bombers armed with torpedoes. That's why they carry interceptors. – Ray Jun 22 '18 at 20:58
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Why deploy any fighters at all if the Imperial Star Destroyers are bristling with laser cannons?

You can't hit a fighter with a capital ship turbolaser (which has a recharge rate of 1-2 seconds). Well, you can, but it's hard when the fighter isn't standing in place and there's tons of them. This is elaborated on greatly in X-Wing book series.

From C-canon, the Empire actually came up with the answer to this issue, in the form of Lancer class frigate, specifically to combat fighters.

Which brings up another question - wouldn't large capital ships be extremely vulnerable to swarms of fighters armed with torpedos?

They would. It was called by more brainy Imperial officers "Trench Run disease", named after Death Star I's trench run by Rogue squadron that destroyed it.

This would argue for fielding no capital ships (except as troop transports perhaps) and instead lots of small fighters equipped with hyperdrives & maybe some medium sized ships, eg the Millenium Falcon.

First of all, because the original fleet the Empire had was built before the effective space superiority fighter - coupled with superbly trained pilots like Rogue Squadron - were a known threat.

Second of all, because the Empire's fleet's main purpose wasn't to tangle with a fighter force - it was to subjugate systems and/or participate in large scale military conflicts (there are hints that Empire knew of Vong threat).

Once they did discover the weakness and the Rebellion rose in threat, the Empire did shift its tactics somewhat, to build up their own fighter force (Tie Advanced, Tie Interceptor, Tie Defender on the hardware side and 181st Imperial Fighter Wing and its likes on the wetware side) as well as anti-fighter ships (Lancer class frigates) and tactics designed to combine the benefits of capital ships (big firepower and carrying capacity that fighters lack) with supplemental parts of the fleet to defeat the fighter threat.



Out of universe, as you yourself noted, this was modeled on WWII combat, with capital ships and attack aircraft (both torpedo bombers and fighters to fight them off) replacing the era of battleships.

  • Thanks DVK. WE still don't know why capital ships didn't use more ship-to-ship missiles. I guess we can argue that computer targeting technology in the Star Wars universe is still fairly primitive compared with our own. Although I do remember evading lots of enemy missiles when playing the X-wing vs. TIE fighter PC game years ago (which I'm assuming isn't canon). I think it's also safe to say there are no nukes in Star Wars, which would make large capital ships and the Death Star vulnerable to destruction from a single missile armed with a nuclear warhead. – RobertF Oct 17 '13 at 15:34
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    We do see homing missiles appear in Episode III when Jango Fett is chancing Obi-Wan. One explanation for why they aren't widely deployed could be that the technology level of the average military fighter is more advanced than missiles that are economical to mass produce. – James Christopher Oct 17 '13 at 15:40
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    As for nukes, they wouldn't be effective at all. Their energy output is low compared to the energy levels produced hypermatter reactors and expended by shields and turbolasers. A 50 kt nuke would have around 20 x 10^13 Joules of raw energy output. That's 200 TJ. Whereas we see turbolasers packing that much energy in a single shot. stardestroyer.net/tlc/Power – James Christopher Oct 17 '13 at 15:53
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    starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Hypermatter Equivalent of 40000 tons of matter per second. A nuke is like a bb gun compared to that. – James Christopher Oct 17 '13 at 15:59
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    Typo. " (big firepower and carrying capcity that fighters lack)" should be " (big firepower and carrying capacity that fighters lack)". I tried suggesting an edit, but a one character change was blocked, and there was nothing else in the answer I would change. – Andrew Thompson Oct 18 '13 at 4:56
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To amplify one of DVK’s points

…because the original fleet the Empire had was built before the effective space superiority fighter

This parallels the fate of capital ships in World War II. At the beginning of the war, navies of the world (and the politicians who approved the budgets) were still fixated on building battleships and cruisers. Larger, faster, with bigger guns and more armor. Battleships were a sign of national prestige, and all major naval battles to that point had been decided by guns.

Before 1942 the doctrine was naval aviation, needing extra equipment and heavier landing gear to land on a carrier, would always be inferior to land-based aircraft. Then three things happened. Pearl Harbor showed the strategic flexibility of a carrier fleet. Three days later the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse showed how very vulnerable battleships were to air power. Finally, the Japanese Zero naval fighter proved superior to most allied land based aircraft.

These harsh lessons, and many more to come, were absorbed by the world’s navies, but you don't just upgrade a fleet and change tactics overnight. In World War II a nation would have dozens of capital ships to refit, each taking months of precious drydock space and time when they're not out fighitng. The Empire had thousands of Star Destroyers to upgrade, redesign and millions of crew to retrain.

The X-Wing was the Zero of its day. Prior to the X-Wing, the best the Rebels could hope for were Z-95 Headhunters and Y-Wings. The Z-95 lacked a hyperdrive, and the Y-Wing was too sluggish to tangle with T.I.E. Fighters. The defection of the X-Wing design team to the Rebellion just prior to the Battle of Yavin provided them with a long range, durable fighter-bomber capable of defending themselves against T.I.E. Fighters. A big surprise for the Empire!

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Capital ships in the Starwars universe are usually armed with heavy weapons designed to destroy heavier ships. Whilst anti fighter defences usually consist of the fighters which the capital ships can scramble. Although, as demonstrated in both attacks on the death star, these weapons can be used against fighters with limited effect, as the x-wing's were far to small and manoeuvrable to be properly targeted by the larger turbo-laser turrets the death star was equipped with.

Imperial star destroyers are however armed with anti fighter weapons including proton launchers and 3 triple gun turrets, demonstrating their proficiency at dealing with any type of opposition.

All this aside, larger capital ships act as mobile FOBs' (Forward operations bases) which allow the fighters to be transported to the battle without suffering damage unless the ship is compromised, and allows those fighters to replenish, resupply and make repairs should the need arise.

complimented by fire support and the possible psychological advantage of the presence of a monolithic capital ship, the presence of these vessels would act as a huge advantage in a combat situation.

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