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So I'm watching the first couple episodes of BSG, when the Cylons are mysteriously following the human fleet, FTL jump after jump. Each time the BSG is there, waiting for the Cylons to arrive, so they can start the jump procedure to escape again, they send out their smallish fleet of single pilot fighters while they're getting ready to jump.

I just don't really get why, though. From what they're showing us, it seems like the fighters are doing basically nothing: there are a pretty small number of them, and there are just thousands of Cylon ships swarming around. It seems like they could be destroying Cylon ships constantly but it would have no effect on actually defending the BSG or civilian ships any better.

And it has a really obvious downside: in the last episode I saw, they basically had to delay the FTL jump because they didn't get all their fighters back in the dock, and all their fighters had to crash land to even get in there quickly.

Is there some reason I'm missing, or is it just to have more space-fighting scenes?

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    the fighters are stoping the enemy fighters from closing in and engaging the ships/fleet, as well as stopping nukes from reaching the ship, the large gun batteries on the galactica itself are far to slow and in accurate to adequately shoot the cylon interceptors, as well as the nukes. the cylon interceptors also occasionally have nukes themselves so allowing them to disengage from the galactica is a major threat to the rest of the fleet. – Himarm Mar 10 '15 at 22:48
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    basically without the galacticas fighters, the cylon fighters would be free to swarm the fleet, while their ftl drives spool up, as they say in the show the ftl drives take quite a while to actually engage. – Himarm Mar 10 '15 at 22:50
  • A real-world aircraft carrier does this, it's called a Combat Air Patrol. Basically the carrier wants to always have something in the air, for quick response and to see further than the carrier's own sensors (e.g. Radar) can. – Gaius Aug 4 '15 at 11:21
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They are acting as the space version of interceptors. Their mission isn't to destroy the Cylons, but to prevent the Cylons from attacking their home ship (the Galactica). While the Galactica is preparing for the next FTL jump, she is quite vulnerable. A successful Cylon attack in that moment could cripple her enough that it disrupts the FTL jump procedure, placing the ship in grave danger. So the Viper squadrons are making sure that the Cylons don't get close enough to the Galactica to do any mischief while she's in that critical state.

At one point, Apollo gives this order to his pilots:

Apollo: All right, you know the drill, people: scatter formation. Keep 'em off the civvies, and don't stray beyond the recovery line.

The emphasized part tells us what their primary mission is. Keeping the Cylons away from the fleet.

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    A good answer. Can you offer any canon quotes to back up this bold assertion? – Valorum Mar 11 '15 at 0:13
  • @Richard - One quote will have to do for now :D – System Down Mar 11 '15 at 2:05
  • Thanks for the response, and I guess the answer will have to do, but it's highly unsatisfying compared to what we saw in the show... There, it seems like there are, what, maybe 100 Viper fighters, and just thousands of Cylon fighters. My point is that it just seemed like the Vipers would have no effect on slowing them down. – YungHummmma Mar 11 '15 at 14:36
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    @YungHummmma - You don't really need a lot to defend, since you're not actually aiming to destroy the enemy. You just need to disrupt their operations enough that they can't get within range or get a clear shot. Also, it's implied throughout the show that, for the most part, human pilots outclass Cylon pilots one-on-one. The Cylons main weapon is vast numbers, technology jamming and subterfuge. – System Down Mar 11 '15 at 16:39
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It's essentially surpressing fire. The point isn't to hit anyone with it, the point is to force your opponent to avoid it, which limits their ability to fire in return.

The effectiveness of this tactic against simple machines such as the raiders is perhaps questionable, but it is extremely effective against opponents who value their own life very significantly.

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