Space warfare was the use of military starships and other spacecraft for the purposes of warfare across star systems and the galaxy. Evolving from water navy engagements and in turn the earliest orbital battles, space warfare had become a high technology affair that often defined the outcome of the galaxy's most important conflicts.
While the sizes and capabilities of starships varied, four main technologies drove and were advanced by space warfare: weapon systems, sublight propulsion, hyperdrive technology and shielding technology.
There were two basic types of space weaponry: energy and conventional.
The weapons that made up the energy type were often mounted on turrets attached to the starship. These turrets were typically linked up to a targeting computer, which allowed them to accurately attack other spacecraft. On capital ships, energy weapons were normally grouped into batteries based upon the weapon type and its placement upon the hull. For example, on an Imperial-class Star Destroyer the heavy turbolasers on the portside of the hull's dorsal surface would be grouped into one battery, while those on the starboard dorsal surface would be grouped into a second battery. Targeting computers in capital ships were usually shared between the weapons of each battery, allowing the gunners to concentrate their fire on particular targets. The main starship weapon in the galaxy was the turbolaser, a heavier version of the laser found aboard most starfighters. Other weapons found on starships included the ion cannon, point-defense laser cannon, Charrics, and the superlaser.
Although the first conventional space weaponry included projectiles such as slugs, technology further progressed. The conventional weaponry housed aboard most starcraft included missiles launched from tubes and launchers as well as bombs. The missiles themselves typically held their targeting equipment, although some were launched unguided. Missile and bomb types included proton and concussion varieties.
Hyperdrive technology worked by first using a fusion generator to ripple space-time. Then, the ship was propelled by the ripples into hyperspace. Sublight drives also used a fusion generator, but not in the same way. They worked by shooting particles out of the ship at very high speed.
The following is a list of the standard galaxy ship classifications:
Starfighters were small craft typically piloted by one or two beings. They may or may not have had a hyperdrive; if not, they were often launched from a carrier or other larger craft. Some, like Imperial TIE/LN starfighters, were armed only for fighter-on-fighter combat; more versatile ones, like the Rebel X-wing and Y-wing, were also capable of anti-ship and anti-surface attacks. By nature, a starfighter was intended to be small, fast and agile, designed to operate either on its own or as part of a squadron or a fighter wing on a variety of mission profiles, ranging from escort duty to reconnaissance missions and full-scale assault. Due to their size, starfighters could not engage in self-sufficient operations for any long period of time, needing a base of operations to provide fuel, repairs and supplies for the pilot, given as these cannot be carried aboard ship in any large quantity.
Bombers were in similar size and configuration to fighter class attack ships, however they were more heavily armed (with bombs, torpedoes and missiles), and therefore could attack heavier capital ships, not just enemy fighters. The line between bomber and fighter was often blurred; the Rebellion's Y-wing and B-wing ships, for instance, were equally suited to both roles, and even more pure fighters like the X-wing and E-wing carried a small magazine of proton torpedoes, which enabled them to play a limited role as bombers.
Gunships were small ships, only slightly bigger than a fighter or bomber, but very heavily armed. They specialized in destroying the maximum number of small enemy ships in a space battle. Gunships could, however, be pressed into escort duty for larger warships, acting in concert with a starfighter screen to ensure the larger ship's safe advance or withdrawal. Due to their mission profile, gunships relied on high speed as much as heavy armament, using their speed to carry them safely out of the way of larger ships because their hull and shields could not withstand sustained bombardment from most capital ships.
Corvettes were a class of fast, light attack ship. They could be used in a variety of roles, including blockade running, anti-fighter missions, or support for heavier ships.
Frigates commonly serve the purpose of eliminating smaller vessels of an enemy fleet. Frigates were sometimes known to carry several fighter squadrons, and many were built to fulfill very specific roles. Others had better all-round functionality, and many were capable of working in groups against larger ships. Prime examples of frigates can be found in the EF76 Nebulon-B escort frigate class of vessels and their predecessors and successors.
Usually the main heavy combat vessels of any fleet (i.e., the Imperial Star Destroyer). They specialize in heavy ship-to-ship combat, but are also used in planetary bombardment or enforcing blockades. They carry substantial amounts of fighters, gunships, shuttles and other small-ships to help them in these roles.
Capital ships were of a size comparable to destroyer-class ships. However, they were usually used as mobile space stations, containing the diplomats or generals who were overseeing a large construction project or a planetary invasion. They often had a large military contingent, including aerial and ground troops. It must be noted that the term "capital ship" is often generally applied to any large warship, regardless of its exact function.
Space warfare was inspired by and heavily based on aquatic and aerial engagements using surface and sub-surface warships, and atmospheric fighters, respectively. As technology evolved and various races achieved spaceflight and then faster-than-light travel, the traditions of naval and air combat extended to the three-dimensional battle planes that made up the vacuum of space. Generally speaking, fighter tactics are inspired by aerial engagements, while those of capital ships are based in aquatic combat.
Strategy and tacticsEdit
Strategies in space warfare mirrored those applied on the ground. These strategies were: asymmetric, attrition, conventional and psychological.
The multidimensional battlefield made space warfare tactics complex and difficult to master. In addition to the complexities of space combat itself, related operations and logistics were equally complex. For example, known hyperdrive lanes were a factor, as the angle of attack determines which starships will be in range of the entering fleet and vice versa.
Interdictor warships were able to hold fleets in realspace at will, preventing enemy retreat. In this sense, they were a valuable addition to any fleet. However, due to the apparent rarity of these vessels, many commanders had to resort to trapping their adversaries in an existing gravity well, such as that of a planet to prevent their escape. Such tactics were risky at best because they relied on outsmarting your enemy at every turn, because an unanticipated maneuver could allow the ambushed force either to escape or to turn the tables on the ambushers, trapping them in the gravity well.
The source of a fleet's ships, a shipyard, was very valuable, and made an important target for an opposing force. As they required ships to defend themselves, shipwrights were also very vulnerable and the defending fleet must destroy any opposition before it can damage the docks. In this case, speed was an important factor to the invaders. However, planets providing strategic material for the war effort were also of paramount importance, because without adequate supplies, after a certain period, any combat starship loses the ability to engage the enemy, either through lack of fuel, lack of munitions, battle damage that cannot be repaired, or the starvation of the crew. Consequently, campaigns could often depend upon cutting the enemy's supply lines, either by attacking the supply ships, or preventing the enemy from reaching their supply ships.
Various Commanders will use asteroids or floating piles of junk to ambush unsuspecting ships. The only major problem with this idea was that it almost always damage the ship in numerous ways.
In general capital ships fought other capital ships, and starfighters fought other starfighters. Exceptions included starfighters equipped with proton torpedoes or other warheads, and capital ships, like the Lancer-class frigate, which were designed to fight starfighters. However, most capital ships were equipped with anti-starfighter cannons to aid their fighter escorts or to serve as a front line defense against fighters in lieu of an escort.
When capital ships fought each other, one of the most basic tactics was to maximize the damage one did to one's enemy, and minimize one's own damage. This was often accomplished by maneuvering the ship so that you had more weapons to bear on the enemy than vice-versa, as well as presenting a narrower profile for the enemy to shoot at. However, in Mon Calamari capital ships in particular, it was possible for two or more ships in close proximity to one another to collaborate their energy shields, sharing the strain of enemy bombardment between them to minimize overall damage. Also, capital ships could rotate, allowing their shields to pick up enemy shots in areas that were still at full power.
In addition, there was also an intelligence element to space warfare, with each side in larger engagements attempting to intercept and decrypt enemy communications as part of a larger effort to predict what the enemy will do next— with the intention of either preventing them from achieving their intentions or minimizing the damage that can be caused by their plans.
Other tactics included using starfighters to distract the larger guns of capital ships, minimizing damage to frigates and other capital ships. This is ineffective if the ship had anti-fighter defenses such as point defense turrets. This tactic still provided bombers and larger ships the opportunity to do damage. However, this can be viewed as suicidal by some commanders.
As its name suggests, the Starfighter screen was a purely defensive formation in which a capital ship or freighter would have its starfighter escorts form up in front of it to engage enemy fighter squadrons before they could close in on the larger vessel. As the description suggests it was a very basic, but effective maneuver.
The Marg Sabl closure maneuver was a simple maneuver well known in Imperial Navy circles both before and after the Battle of Endor. It was an opening tactic where the superstructure of the starfighter-carrying vessel would turn to face the oncoming enemy's vessels, allowing the starfighters to launch without risking attack. It was typically followed up by a massed assault of starfighters clustered in a group. Grand Admiral Thrawn used this tactic against an Elomin commander quite effectively at the Battle of Obroa-skai.
The Thrawn Pincer was a tactic pioneered by Grand Admiral Thrawn and used by him at the Battle of Bilbringi. The tactic first called for Interdictor cruisers to create a gravity well, which denied the enemy an easy escape. Then, reinforcements could jump through hyperspace into the general area and be pulled out of with accuracy and surprise which would otherwise be very difficult to achieve. Admiral Ackbar used this same tactic to help defeat the Ciutric Hegemony.
The Ackbar Slash was a space warfare tactical maneuver devised by Admiral Ackbar. It involved one side's ships forcing their way into the middle of an enemy formation. The desired result was that, with enemy gunners running a high risk of shooting their own forces, they would be hesitant to fire. The other side would have no such risk, and be able to cause higher damage to their enemy. If the enemy ships did choose to fire, the risk of them hitting each other still worked to the advantage of the attacking fleet. In addition, the enemy ships in this situation could usually bring no more than half of their weapons to bear, while nearly all of the weapons on the ships executing the Ackbar Slash could be used, as there would be enemies on both sides to target.
Slashing the deckEdit
Slashing the deck was a tactical maneuver used against enemy capital ships by the Dark Lord Kaan at the First Battle of Ruusan. The technique involved any number of smaller ships, usually ranging from snubfighters to corvettes, that would fire all guns while cutting in along a vector that minimized the amount of guns the enemy capital ship could bring to bear against them. When the enemy capital ship tried to change direction to bring more guns about, the smaller ships would pivot and double back for another pass along a different vector to inflict even more damage. However, the tactic focused heavily on the element of surprise and was almost useless if the enemy could call upon the support of other ships.
The Tallon split was a tactical maneuver. The maneuver was theoretically simple, but took a great amount of skill, precision, and concentration to execute correctly. When applied successfully, the Tallon split would allow two starfighters to inflict a considerable amount of damage on an unsuspecting capital ship. The tactic called for two starfighters to fly extremely close together as they approached a capital ship, so close that the larger ship's targeting computer would detect the two fighters as one approaching ship. At very close range, the two fighters would split apart: one fighter would continue on a strafing run of the capital ship, while the second would draw fire away from the first. The attacking fighter would have about five seconds to cause damage on the capital ship before it was clearly identified as a second ship. Even so, those five seconds would allow enough time to cause serious damage to the larger vessel.
The tactic was executed with surprising success during the evacuation of Hoth in 3 ABY by Rebel starfighters flying escort for GR-75 medium transports attempting to run the Imperial blockade of the planet. Most notably, Rogue Squadron pilots Wedge Antilles, Derek Klivian, Wes Janson, and Luke Skywalker employed the tactic to help the transport Thon's Orchard safely reach hyperspace. Antilles piloted his X-wing close to Klivian and Janson in their BTL-S3 Y-wing starfighter as "one target," as they attacked an Imperial-class Star Destroyer blocking the transport's flight path. In conjunction with those two ships, Skywalker also attacked from a hidden location flying underneath the transport. The Star Destroyer was distracted and damaged enough to allow the Thon's Orchard to reach safety.
This difficult tactic was performed when an attacking starfighter pilot became aware of the possibility of overshooting a breaking target. The pilot would level out, pull up hard, then roll away from the direction of the turn. To complete the maneuver the attacking pilot would have to slide in behind his target, thus effectively altering the angle of approach without losing distance or speed. This maneuver was difficult to counter as it took place in the typical starfighter pilots' blind spot; at the same time the maneuver itself was difficult to accomplish without the attacker becoming disoriented himself, thus making him overshoot and possibly a target himself.
Pioneered by Garm Bel Iblis, this strategy required a number of large starfighters to mask the approach of smaller starfighters or missile weapons behind them, then moving out in what appeared at first glance to be a flanking attack, wrong-footing the gunners of enemy point defense weapons to allow the force approaching behind the large starfighters to slip through the enemy's defenses, often allowing the smaller fighters or missiles to inflict critical damage to the enemy.
An "Alpha Strike" was a term used with large starships with multiple weapons emplacements. The idea was to fire all weapons at the same spot, at the same time, to cause optimum damage. This could make a blast far more powerful then what any one weapon could do. An example of a ship prime for this tactic would be a star destroyer. Its angled, arrowhead design made the Alpha Strike perfect for the ship. The reasoning was to destroy the enemy ship immediately, before it could fire, as to not prolong the battle. The only problem with this was that if the opening salvo didn't get past the opposition's shields, then the "alpha strike" ship would be defenseless for a period of time. The aggressive nature of the Empire made this tactic very popular amongst the Imperial fleets. Many others also employed this technique, such as the Yuuzhan Vong.
This maneuver was named after Wraith Squadron pilot Garik Loran who developed the tactic. Specifically the tactic was used with the CR90 corvette Night Caller. The Loran Spitball was a quick way for the corvette, which housed nine X-wings in a bow hold, to launch their missiles at an enemy from within the ship. By lowering its bow shields and opening the hangar doors, the X-wings could target whatever enemy the ship was facing and launch their barrage. This was used effectively as a surprise attack on two occasions for the Wraiths.
During the Battle of Kuat in 7 ABY, Commander Wedge Antilles designed a tactic for members of the Hawk-Bats to eliminate a number of enemy starfighters early in the engagement. The maneuver called for the Hawk-Bats to attack three waves of oncoming TIE fighters head-on, rather than attacking the first wave and then breaking off to engage them in dogfighting. The plan worked perfectly, as the Hawk-Bats destroyed many fighters almost immediately, and succeeded in keeping the Imperial forces of the Kuat system away from the forces of Warlord Zsinj.
A small Imperial naval unit would chase a Rebel Alliance unit to a world known to harbor Rebel sympathizers, who would launch reinforcements. The Imperials would stage a retreat, followed by the larger Rebel fleet, to a point where a pre-arrange Imperial attack group would emerge from hyperspace and obliterate the Rebels.
- Imperial Sourcebook
- The Secrets of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
- Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire trading cards (Card: )
- Fate of the Jedi: Dramatis Personae
- Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Core Rulebook