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Space Fighter
Careful — that's the last one.
More commonly called a Starfighter, this is an absolutely ubiquitous trope in Science Fiction (and especially Space Opera): A small, one-man Cool Starship equipped with Frickin' Laser Beams and Macross Missiles, used by the Ace Pilot for Old School Dogfighting.

A great many Science Fiction protagonists are Space Fighter pilots.

Some Space Fighters have room for two (or, rarely, more) crew rather than a single pilot, but all are small and nimble, in contrast with larger Cool Starships such as The Mothership or The Battlestar. Typically Space Fighters are dependent on a larger vessel, since they themselves lack the space for supplies or (often) a Faster Than Light Drive; however, there are exceptions.

Battlestars will deploy Space Fighters against enemy Cool Starships with an appropriate Fighter Launching Sequence. Fortunately for the Ace Pilot and his Wing Man, large enemy ships will usually turn out to be Point Defenseless—at least as far as the protagonists' Plot Armor-equipped Space Fighters are concerned. Thus the enemy will need to scramble Fighters of their own. An Old-School Dogfight will ensue. Expect many a Red Shirt Space Pilot to lose their life, thus underscoring just how risky The Hero's profession is, and making him or her seem all the more glamorous and heroic for it.

Quite often the Space Fighter will look just like a Cool Plane, because Space Is Air. At the very least, it's likely to have wings. This goes along with the use of the Old-School Dogfight, and is largely Rule of Cool: Whether a Space Fighter has wings or not doesn't necessarily have any bearing on whether it will ever be shown operating in an atmosphere. If it can fight in the air as well as in space, it's also a Space Plane.

Hard science fiction may instead employ more utilitarian-looking starfighters, with lots of engines and a completely un-aerodynamic shape. Some works may even opt for replacing Space Fighters with unmanned weapon systems controlled remotely or by AI—though in a setting involving Brain Uploading and The Singularity, the differences between a manned Space Fighter and an Attack Drone could be very subtle.

As far as Real Life goes, actual designs for manned orbital spacecraft that could charitably be called space fighters do exist, and the Soviet Union even launched a Space Station (the Almaz program) armed with a cannon similar to those used on atmospheric fighters as a test of the concept (they destroyed some defunct satellites).

See also Humongous Mecha (some may even turn into Space Fighters). Space Fighters are a major part of the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet, and a common form of the Mook Mobile. If you're interested in discussing factors affecting the feasibility of Space Fighters in different settings, check out the Analysis page.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam SEED both had The Federation using Space Fighters in combat before they developed their own Mobile Suits.
    • These Humongous Mecha are THE Space Fighters in the metaseries, just oddly shaped to account for the AMBAC (Active Mass Balance Auto-Control) system, which shifts the mass of hands and legs of the mecha to change the direction the mecha is facing to save propellant and shift the centre of mass away from the main body for evasive action.
    • Gundam SEED's Moebius fighter is actually one of the more realistic designs out there for a space fighter. They were completely armored, with the pilots seeing everything over monitors, and their main weapon was a long range linear cannon, with four missiles as backup and twin Gatling guns for emergency usage only. They didn't have wings and their engines were movable. Ironically, before developing their Mobile Suits, ZAFT also had space fighters that had glass cockpits and wings, and these are noted in the fluff to have stood no chance in fighting a Moebius.
  • The Angel Frames from Galaxy Angel.
  • The Valkyries from the Macross series. Notable for one of the first anime example that was also armed with missiles instead of just guns. Them looking like modern aircraft is also justified: they are meant to fly in both space and atmosphere, and the latter requires a certain shape.
  • Omnipresent in Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato. The Argo/Yamato doubled as a carrier, after all.
    • The 2010 Live-Action Adaptation added the twist that the fighters were used to gather targeting information for capital ships and their heavy guns.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has Space Fighters, although the action mostly focuses on large fleets of battleships. They are decidedly non-planelike.
  • The fifteen subunits making up vehicle-team Voltron were all supposed to be able to act as space fighters. The other, non-combining space fighters that appeared were usually just cannon fodder.
  • The Autobots and Decepticons in Transformers Armada both use Space Fighters when they join forces to battle Unicron.

    Film 
  • The Fifth Element: Space fighters make a brief appearance, shooting down the friendly alien ship carrying the MacGuffin Girl protagonist.
  • The Last Starfighter: The Gunstars and Ko-Dan fighters.
  • Star Wars: The Trope Codifier that influenced all subsequent designs to one extent or another. The basic designs of the most famous Star Wars fighters are instantly recognizable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of pop culture. In the original 1977 Star Wars, small one-man fighters are famously used to attack the gigantic, planet-destroying Death Star because they are small and manoeuvrable, and can evade the Death Star's defensive fire where larger ships—which are the only threat the evil Empire considered when designing the defenses of their gigantic battle-station—would have been blown apart.
    • In Star Wars, fighters without faster-than-light drives are the exception, rather than the rule; they are usually either old designs predating the days of easy travel, made explicitly to not be autonomous—like the Empire's TIE Fighters, or too small/light to carry the equipment (the Jedi Starfighters of the second and third prequels).
  • Lost In Space (1998) played with the conventions of this trope, featuring several space fighter designs; the enemy raiders flew rather bulky, jet fighter-styled bombers, while Major West and his crewmate flew in bubble cockpits with gyroscopic seats, asymmetric, unfixed single wings and a main engine plus orientation thrusters that only fired when maneuvering. However, both followed Star Wars' example of ships banking like planes while still dogfighting on a completely three-dimensional plane.

    Literature 
  • C. J. Cherryh's Hellburner, part of the Alliance/Union series, centres on a moderately realistic Space Fighter—the titular Hellburner. Being essentially a carrier launched missile-firing-missile it is exceptionally difficult and physically punishing to fly. Being such a pure chunk of engines and guns it is a mortal threat to starships. In the novel, human intelligence right at the controls justifies the performance penalty of a living pilot.

    The Hellburner is interesting in that it has a minimum of four people operating it: a pilot, a navigator, a gunner, and a fourth person who analyzes all of the ship's sensor data in order to figure out what the gunner should be shooting at. In operational trim, the fourth bod's data is pre-filtered by another thirty people, to avoid the problems caused by depending on lightspeed-limited radar when operating at a significant fraction of lightspeed. A big part of tactical success is outguessing the other guy on fragmentary and outdated sensor data.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series. The Commonwealth has stingships, two-person attack ships each carrying a single SCCAM missile.
  • David Weber includes starfighters in both his Starfire series and Empire of Man series, though in the later series (co-written with John Ringo) they're not important to the first three books.
    • The closest thing to starfighters in his Honor Harrington series are Light Attack Craft, or LACs for short. David Weber has gone to some length to explain that they are not actually fighters, but rather old school torpedo boats in space. They are VERY large by Space Fighter standards and require a minimum crew of ten, with most early examples being relegated to Cannon Fodder status. After ship-killer "Super" LACs carrying battlecruiser-grade grasers are introduced, "anti-LAC" LACs begin appearing, but they are still too big, too clunky, have too large a crew and are nowhere near manouverable enough to be true Space Fighters.
  • The protagonist of Tomorrow War is a flugger pilot. The setting is rather hard, so they engage each other at a long range (no Old School Dogfighting) and attack big ships that aren't crippled only at several megameters, with missiles. Oh, and pilots have to improve their acceleration tolerance by eating an alien biostimulant.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe introduces dozens of new space fighters, though they're called starfighters or snubfighters most of the time. And, most of the time, fighters introduced outside of the movies see very limited use. One series is all about X-Wing pilots flying under an Ascended Extra.
    • In the New Jedi Order series, the coralskipper is the ubiquitous fighter flown by Yuuzhan Vong pilots. It's so-called because it's actually grown from a kind of coral, though apparently the name loses a great deal of menace in translation from the Yuuzhan Vong language(Yorik-Et). But the skipper is very formidable its plasma cannons rip through shields and steel, and its engine can also suck up blaster fire with a mini black hole.
  • Legacy of the Aldenata has the Space Falcon, developed to supplement the makeshift frigates guarding the solar system. It's explicitly stated that they are not capable of operating in an atmosphere.
  • There are nominally fighters in The Forever War, but they're the size of gunboats (normally crewed by 3 people, but can take up to 12, they need to be that size to fit in all the support equipment for the crew when manoeuvring at 25 G), and end up getting treated more like shuttles (Drones can move at 100s of Gs, and are smaller).
  • Animorphs has several. The Yeerks use Bug Fighters, which look like mechanical insects. They were stolen from a similar Andalite ship, the main difference being the position of the "tail" that contains the dracon or shredder cannon.
  • The Star Carrier series has the SG-92 Starhawk and Turusch "Toad". Starhawks have variable hull geometry (nanotech is involved) that allows them to reconfigure themselves between several forms: a slim needle for launch and space combat, an airfoil for atmospheric flight, and a sperm-like teardrop for crossing distances at near-c. They're armed with kiloton-yield nuclear missiles, Gatling railguns, and a particle beam. Toads are armed similarly but are more massive, less maneuverable, and lack the variable geometry which makes them crap for air combat.
    • All ships in this 'verse use gravitic propulsion involving projecting a singularity in front of the ship, "winking" it out, then projecting it a little farther as the ship is constantly falling into it. By doing that billions of times per second, Starhawks can quickly accelerate to a high percentage of the speed of light in about 10 minutes. Since the pull of the singularity is roughly the same on the entire craft, neither the pilots nor their fighters experience any of the 50000 or so g-forces (no Inertial Dampening necessary). Turning is done by projecting the singularity to the side and letting the fighter simply move along the curved space/time (i.e. the fighter is not changing its local directional vector; it's the space itself warping around it). Once again, no g-forces, but a fighter that gets too close to its own singularity can be spaghettified by it. In a later book, a fighter pilot learns to use the singularity projector as a weapon by getting to "knife-fighting" range and projecting a singularity inside a capital ship, then leaving without "winking" it out.
  • In The Flight Engineer, there are Speeds and WACCIs. Speeds are fast, agile ships armed with a pair of mass drivers that fire molten copper particles, while WACCIs are stealth recon ships with a single mass driver for defense.
  • Averted in The Lost Fleet novels. Due to the mass/thruster ratio, fighters are simply no match for larger warships (i.e. they can't maneuver as atmospheric fighters), and any computer targetting system capable of hitting anything while traveling at 10% of the speed of light can definitely track a small fighter. Fast Attack Craft (or Short-Range Attack Craft, as they were known in Geary's time) are capable of space and atmospheric flight, which is why they are normally used near planets or space stations. Corvettes get slightly more use by the Syndics, especially the so-called Hunter-Killers, which are a cross between a corvette and a destroyer. "Nickel" corvettes are used to patrol systems far from any border, as they're virtually useless.
  • Numerous types of fighters (usually, of the aerospace variety) are present in Andrey Livadny The History of the Galaxy series. One novel is focused on a new Confederated military doctrine for protecting its Border worlds (the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet is relegated to protecting the Core colonies). This involves a series of planetary bases and a new class of fighter-carrying cruisers (Russian sci-fi writers, as a rule, hate the word "carrier") that act as mobile bases for a new modular type of fighter. These fighters are powered by a special Anti Matter reactor that uses anti-tritium for its supposed ability to only react to tritium and no other normal matter. It's also equipped with a Deflector Shield of sorts, based on Logrian Veil gravity generators that bend light around it in a continuous loop to create a light-based shield. The "modular" part comes from the ship being able to be refitted for a different role in about an hour with proper facilities by simply swapping out equipment packages. It can be a space superiority fighter, a fighter/bomber, or a long-range FTL strike craft.
  • Numerous types of fighters in Iar Elterrus' multiverse, the shared setting of the Order of Aarn novels and Mad Bards novels. Notable types are
    • "White Bird" of the Order of Aarn. As all Aarn spaceships, these are living organisms with integrated modules and armaments. They can be equipped with FTL drives and can carry a passenger, but can only be piloted by those with the Born Pilot power.
    • "Phoca" of the Farsen Federation. Built after the Farsenians found a cache of technology left behind by the Ker'Eb Vr'an a fraction of Advanced Ancient Humans. As all Ker'Eb Vr'an technology, these consist of a tiny material core (the Phoca core is small enough to be worn as a necklace), which upon activation encapsulates the pilot in the actual spaceship consisting of various force-fields.
  • Subverted in Paul Naughton's VALKYRIE: Into The Heavens series. The series protagonists are 'pod pilots' who operate starships through a set of neural interfaces. It sounds at first glance to be a story about starfighter pilots, until you realize that each ship they're piloting weighs over 300 tons, is about the size of a commercial frigate, and classed as a frigate by the navy.
  • In John Robert Maddox's Space Angel the titular spacecraft is a tramp freighter and the story takes place some years after a devastating war. Her (female) captain and one of the crew had been pilot and gunner in a class of small scout/fighter craft which had been deployed (and expended) in vast numbers during that war. This was revealed when the new quartermaster wondered aloud why the captain kept the hard-drinking man on as part of her crew.

    Live Action TV 
  • Andromeda had the infamous Slipfighters from Archlike to Cerberus, all of which could operate in an atmosphere and could carry Nova bombs in addition to their array of seemingly overpowered conventional weaponry. Nietzschean Garuda-class fighters were also OP, being able to destroy High Guard and other Commonwealth capital ships and warships with ease and in small packs.
    • This could actually be one of the few cases where fighters would make sense, as Slipfighters are capable of traveling FTL and Slipstream drive has quite a few limitations. Namely that it doesn't allow FTL Radio, is confined to certain paths, and can't be navigated by AIs. Those factors make fighters invaluable as scouts and raiders.
  • Babylon 5: Included the starfuries, a comparatively hard example.
    • So hard, in fact, that apparently there was at one point some serious interest from NASA in actually building one, albeit more as a space forklift/tug than a space fighter. JMS agreed, on the condition that they retain the name "Starfury". However given the lack of activity it seems that project has been shelved.
    • There were several variants of the starfury depicted: The standard single-seat Aurora starfury, a once-seen heavy starfury with a tail gunner's seat (called Muskrat by the production but mistaken by many fans for the designed but never shown Badger starfury), and the Thunderbolt starfury, with two pilots sitting in tandem, an elongated fuselage, and folding wings to allow it to operate in atmosphere as a bomber. Additionally, there was also the "flying forklift", which only had one wing with two thrusters (instead of two wings with four), manipulator arms instead of guns, and a bright yellow paintjob in the style of a piece of construction equipment (which it was).
  • Battlestar Galactica: Both the original and new series were largely built around the Vipers.
    • Fun fact: the pilot nickname for the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the US Air Force is the Viper, what with the F-16 entering service the same year that BSG was aired. If the design of the Viper Mk. VII from the new series is anything to go bynote , that fact has come full circle.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century used rejected models from Battlestar Galactica.
  • Farscape has Peacekeeper Prowlers.
  • In Firefly, Alliance ships carry squadrons of "gunships" which are for all intents and purposes space fighters. Gunships are deployed by Alliance ships to pursue smaller, lighter craft that the cruiser itself cannot pursue, as the bigger ship is much slower—essentially a carrier/city in space.
    • According to the RPG, the gunship (officially ASREV, for Alliance Short Range Enforcement Vessel) differs from the Star Wars model in a couple of respects. Instead of being basically a fighter jet in space, it is about the same size as a regional passenger jet at 83 feet long and 48 feet wide. Gunships carry a crew of four and are also used as the interplanetary equivalent of police squad cars.
  • Space: Above and Beyond had star fighters used by both the Humans and the Chigs. The human fighters (the Hammerheads), carried missiles and mounted gun turrets in the chin and tail, while the Chig fighters used some sort of energy cannon.
    • The Chigs' Super Prototype, a fast stealth fighter that was nigh invulnerable to the Hammerheads' weapons fire, flown by Chiggy Von Richtoffen. After three different squadrons tried and failed to take him down, the prototype was finally destroyed in a one-on-one fight with Colonel McQueen.
  • In Stargate Atlantis there are the Wraith Darts, that fit the role perfectly. They are commonly used in capturing victims for the Wraith, and shoot down any flying targets.
    • The Puddle Jumpers could also act in this manner, although that is not their primary purpose.
  • Stargate SG-1: Notable in that the villains have space fighters from the very start, but the good guys have to develop theirs slowly, over several seasons. But, as with all Goa'uld technology, their Death Gliders were more impressive than practical. They were mostly used for strafing ground targets, but were frequently shown fighting in space as the show went on and started featuring more Space Battles.
    • We see the first Tau'ri attempt to build a Space Fighter in Season 4. It is built using two damaged Goa'uld Death Gliders that were stolen at the beginning of Season 2, and that were also shown getting worked on in a lab in an earlier episode. This prototype fails spectacularly. It's not until Season 6 that a successful prototype Space Fighter is fielded by Stargate Command, and it's not until Season 7 that the production model gets built, and sees actual combat for the first time.
      • Though if you consider it, that's only five years between initial capture of the technology and fielding a practical unit. Five years in which they have to reverse-engineer advanced technology and re-creating it with human tech. Not half bad for an R&D project of that magnitude.
      • It also constituted a nice change of pace from Failure Is the Only Option and Status Quo Is God, since the SGC's mission was to find alien technology to bring back to Earth to help build weapons against the Goa'uld.
      • The X-301 prototype failure in Season 4 occurred because the engineers left too much of the original Death Gliders' technology in the fighter, including, as it turned out, a recall device installed on Apophis' orders after Teal'c's defection. In the later seasons, they figured out how to reverse-engineer more of this technology, finally allowing for the creation of a fully human-built fighter, instead of a hybrid of human and Black Box alien technology.
  • Star Trek: Largely avoided Space Fighters in favour of larger ships, but they did show up on some rare occasions, mostly in Deep Space Nine. The Maquis used small ships somewhat similar to Space Fighters, and some rarely-seen old Bajoran ships fit the bill. The Dominion had ships called fighters, but these were really small warships, and had enough space for a full-sized crew. Usually, it seemed large ships in Star Trek had weapons both accurate and powerful enough to easily take out fighters, no matter how small and manoeuvrable (which would certainly explain why they're rarely seen).
    • Maquis fighters were shown to have a crew of 4, except in the pilot of Voyager where one inexplicably has a crew of about 20.
    • In some of the later episodes of Deep Space Nine, the unimaginatively named "Federation Fighters" could occasionally be seen. These fully fit the trope. In one episode, we see squadrons of them zipping in and out, harassing Cardassian warships. We see that while the fighters are very fast and nimble, they only take one or two shots from a starship's beam weapons to get swatted. These fighters themselves appear to be considerably bigger than a shuttle even so.
    • All incarnations of Star Trek featured small shuttle-craft, and these were usually armed, but almost never filled the role of a Space Fighter (with the Delta Flyer in Voyager occasionally being an exception).
    • Despite the rarity of Space Fighters, Star Trek did eventually feature Old School Dogfights, especially during some of the battle scenes of the Dominion War: abandoning their previous Space Is an Ocean analogies, they showed their starships maneuvering like space fighters. (The Defiant gets something of a bye for being tiny by Star Trek standards... But still.)
    • "The Best of Both Worlds" did feature a wave of fighters sent to take on the Borg Cube... that lasted for all of about 3 seconds.
      • Those same fighters were also flown by an acrobatics group Wesley Crusher was a part of.
    • In the Star Trek Novel Verse, Starfleet finally gets around to creating advanced space fighters dedicated to combat in the aftermath of the Borg Invasion. They're introduced in the later half of the Star Trek: Voyager Relaunch.

    Pinball 

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS: Spaceships has a supplement that covers fighters. The examples culminate in the Mirage Star Fighter which is loaded with superscience to the point that it is actually built mostly of force fields.
  • Traveller had a variety of small fighter ships.
  • Task Force Games: Star Fleet Battles, Federation and Empire and Starfire.
  • The Paranoia adventure "Clones in Space" had Pie Fighters (a Shout-Out to Star Wars TIE Fighters).
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century.
  • Battletech has Aerospace Fighters, which are every bit as well-armed and armored as the setting's Humongous Mecha (in some cases even mechs themselves can qualify for this trope). FASA even created a specialist game, Aerotech, for those who wanted to play the transatmospheric battles between fighters and Drop Ships that preceded the land battles of the main game. (The modern edition of BattleTech puts basic aerospace combat into its core rulebook, with more 'advanced' options—such as the alternative movement rules mentioned below or the use of unit types beyond just fighters, small craft, and DropShips—handled in subsequent volumes.)
    • The interesting thing about AeroTech is that it also allowed you to actually choose whether you wanted to play Old-School Dogfight straight or avert it altogether by using the advanced movement rules for space-based combat.
    • The "cool plane" designs are justified as the Aerospace fighters of the setting are intended to operate in or out of atmosphere.
  • Iron Crown Enterprise's Space Master.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, space-based fighter and bomber craft are more like gunboats, with crews of between four and sixteen depending on pattern and enough armament to level cities; necessary when the starships are at least a half-kilometer long and frequently plated in 80-100 meters of solid armor.
    • Most aircraft, called Aeronautica, are capable of short periods of space travel, but lack the armor and engine power to mix it up with true spacecraft. It's more intended to allow them to launch from a spacecraft, conduct a mission against a planetary target, and return to the ship.
  • Rifts Space Opera Phase World/Three Galaxies setting features a number of Fighters.
  • A few ships in Spelljammer could qualify, but the standout example is probably the Locust from Toril.
  • For a true, but now lost to time, Hard SF starfighter game, there was Marc Miller's Triplanetary originally published by Game Designer's Workshop and now in SJ Games' hands. One of its primary features was hex-mapped based vectored movement system.
  • Full Thrust has rules for space fighters, although the mechanics have received a lot of complaints due to balance issues—the pre-designed fleets have serious Point Defenseless issues, to the point where dedicated carrier fleets easily dominate against everything else.
  • Starfleet Battles uses fighters extensively, despite there being none in the source materials. They primarily function to saturate enemy defenses and kill ships by simply being too numerous to stop. The result varies with the fighters and the target. Particularly effective are Hydran fighters (which are deployed on most Hydran ships) which were described in one tactical analysis as being like "roving nuclear spacemines". Two of them at point blank range will leave a cruiser a gutted wreck.

    Video Games 
  • Simulation Games set in space very, very frequently cast the player in the role of a Space Fighter pilot. Space fighter simulations are a genre of their own, and a fairly well-populated one.
  • Early examples can be found in Space War and Asteroids, though the "ships" involved are simple icons.
  • Shoot Em Ups depend on space fighters as much as, or more than, they do conventional fighter planes. Famous examples include:
  • StarCraft's Terrans used Wraiths. By extension, Scouts and Corsairs from the Protoss.
    • The Terran Vikings and Protoss Phoenixes from StarCraft II replace Wraiths and Scouts in the fighter category. One of the scrapped Terran ships was the Predator, a fighter with a point defense system.
    • The Scouts even look like they're more of a plane than starfighter.
    • The Zerg have the Scourge, Mutalisk, Guardian, and Devourer as Living Ship equivalents to cruise missiles, fighters, bombers, and gunboats, respectively.
  • Halo: The Seraphs and Longswords. Rarely seen on camera but in the novelizations they are threats to be reckoned with. Reach introduces the Sabre, and Halo 4 gives us the Broadsword.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: A strong fighter fleet can be a game-winner. Each fighter only has handful of slots and a tiny powerplant, often having to do without shields or armour. However, you can have lots of them: even mighty battleships can be worn down by a ravening horde of fighters.
  • In EVE Online, Fighters and Fighter-Bombers can be launched by Carriers and Motherships. Unlike other ships, they're too small to fit the capsule system, so they can't be piloted by players. Instead, they're piloted by expendable NPCs, and functionally behave similar to the Attack Drones other ships have.
  • Master of Orion II has Interceptors/Bombers/Heavy Fighters carried by ships and planetary bases.
  • In Mass Effect, though rarely seen, they do exist, albeit mostly as support craft to keep enemy fire away from larger Frigates, Cruisers and Dreadnoughts. Their main job in combat is to Zerg Rush enemy ships, cause the point-defense lasers to overheat, and deliver torpedoes to weaken kinetic barriers so bigger ships can use their mass accelerators to take down opposing vessels.
    • That being said, their original use was somewhat limited until it was revolutionised by the Alliance who introduced the concept of a Carrier to the Galaxy, allowing for large squadrons of their to be launched at once. The Alliance also appears to have pioneered the use of Interceptors in order to counter-attack enemy dogfighters, leaving their Fighter Squadrons free to bring down enemy ships.
    • They are finally featured in all their glory in Mass Effect 3.
  • Star Control focuses on larger ships, and the smallest of the ships encountered in either the game or its sequel wouldn't really count as a fighter. However, the Ur-Quan Dreadnought, one of the deadliest ships in either game, is a Battlestar (it even looks like the original one!) that launches small autonomous fighters as its secondary attack. Though they're only a few pixels in size, the way these fighters work in the game makes quite a bit of sense: They deplete the Dreadnought's crew, they have limited fuel and must head back to the Dreadnought after a brief sortie, and they carry only a weak weapon and can be destroyed with a single hit. However, they are able to outmanoeuvre most opponents and so pick apart large ships little by little... Except for the ships that are not Point Defenseless. An AI-controlled Dreadnought won't even bother launching fighters against an opponent with point-defence systems.
  • Homeworld features multiple types of "strikecraft" which fulfilled various duties—scouting, defense, interception, and bombing. They can somewhat be used out of their roles with creativity, but the sequel Homeworld 2 intensifies the presence of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors.
    • The semi-canonical sequel Homeworld: Cataclysm features the Acolyte-class heavy fighter used exclusively by Kith Somtaaw, based on Bentusi design. They are highly versatile and can fulfill multiple roles (armed with standard mass drivers but could also fire missiles). Additionally, two Acolytes can combine into a single Avenger-class composed vehicle (a corvette), which can bring down much larger ships with its EMP generator.
    • Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm also have Attack Drones. The original ones were not very effective, but the design has evolved by Cataclysm.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire also has "strikecraft" of two kinds — fighters and bombers. Bombers are designed to attack cruisers, capital ships and structures while fighters take on lighter vessels, bombers and other fighters. The TEC fighters and bombers, and Advent fighters look like atmospheric craft with streamlining, although they aren't meant to attack planets at all. The Advent bombers and Vasari strikecraft do not look atmospheric, but aren't utilitarian either — they're just Rule of Cool based Shiny-Looking Spaceships. All strikecraft act like atmospheric aircraft in terms of maneuvering, partake in Old School Dogfights and strafing, and can only be targeted by flak frigates, certain capital ship abilities and enemy fighters. TEC and Vasari strikecraft are classical one-man types, while Advent strikecraft are remotely piloted drones.
  • The X-Universe series' space fighters are clearly designed to be similar to atmospheric ships, but not so similar as to look silly. Each race has five different fighter classes (M5 scoutship, M4 interceptor, M4+note  heavy interceptor, M3 fighter, M3+ heavy fighter) that may be further subdivided into variant models.
  • Rather like Master of Orion, Infinite Space allows the player to mount hangars on ships to launch fighters. However, only ships with a built-in catapult can use fighters.
  • Averted by design in Sword of the Stars. The makers have stated that, with destroyers about 30 metres already, fighters would be at least half that size, FTL-incapable and fall quickly to point-defence, so they will not be included for now. The closest to them are the various unmanned Attack Drones, which are indeed FTL-incapable and swattable by PD.
    • The second game has "battleriders" that are the size of the first game's destroyers or larger, have no FTL drives, and are launched from carriers or fixed bases. More like gunboats than fighters, especially since they max out at dreadnought size.
  • Independence War: There are starfighters, and you sometimes command them as wingmen in addition to fighting them, but the craft you pilot is generally much larger (usually a corvette), command section aside. You never pilot the starfighters directly.
  • The R-352 Sepia in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere is flown in the single mission that takes place in space. It is armed with various Beam Spam generators and used to shoot down enemy satellites.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe's gameplay takes place entirely in fighters, given that Jake Logan is a fighter pilot by trade. Capital ships exist, but seem to mainly be used as carriers.
    • Additionally, while fighters are not FTL-capable, they use TCG gates to jump between sectors, while capital ships are too big to fit into the gates.
      • They may be too big, but all cap ships have their own tachyon coil generators and can enter Subspace or Hyperspace at will (usually preceded by the typical "accelerate fast into nothingness" animation), although the fluff indicates that they still use the gates as navigating beacons.
  • Nexus: The Jupiter Incident is mostly focused on tactical capital ship combat. While fighters and bombers are present and available to be launched, they are usually fairly quickly swatted out by flak lasers. The only way to use them successfully is to take out the enemy flak grid first before deploying fighters. Fighters can also act as an anti-fighter or anti-missile screen in addition to flak.
  • Freelancer has the majority of pilotable spacecraft being fighters. You can get yourself a bulky freighter, but then you may as well paint a large target on its hull. On the other hand, the high-end space fighters in this game tend to be incredibly overpowered, as throughout the campaign you'll find yourself routinely taking out cruisers and battleships in your one-man fighter.
  • Present in every Escape Velocity game.
    • The original has by far the biggest assortment, ranging from the strictly anti-fighter Defender on up to the Rapier, a heavy fighter-bomber that can take on capital ships in skilled hands.
    • EV Override gives a single fighter model to each faction (except the Miranu, who use the standard Crescent fighter (so do the Igadzra and the Strandless, but the Crescent fighter is that faction-divided species' design, and not an import), and the Voinians, who has a heavy fighter and an interceptor).
    • In EV Nova, carrier-based fighters are pretty useless against anything except other fighters; they don't mount weapons big enough to be anything more than an irritant to capital ships. The exception is the game breaking Polaris Manta, which is well-shielded, faster and more maneuverable than any other ship in the game, and mounts a gun worthy of a light capital ship.
  • Strange Adventures In Infinite Space has fighters for several races, including humans (although the only human fighter you find during the campaign is that of Ripcord O'Reily). However, they are extremely easy to destroy and are only a threat in large numbers (or if they come in at you from behind, where your weapons can't target). The sequel has several races feature carriers that periodically launch fighters (one is a full-fledged Battlestar and will rip you to shreds if you get too close).
  • Haegemonia: Legions of Iron has fighter wings as your first buildable warships. They're fairly weak and usually go down from one or two shots, but each wing has 7 of them (the Expansion Pack has larger wings). Like larger ships, fighters can be armed with one of four types of weapons (proton, missile, ion, quantum). Turreted corvettes can usually take out fighters pretty quickly, effectively making them obsolete. Their only real use after that is to raid Asteroid Miners, go after discovered spies, or harass larger ships not equipped with turrets. Given the Arbitrary Headcount Limit, most players stop building fighters once they research larger ships. The intro, though, has extremely-advanced fighters (equipped with two weapon systems) ambushing the Martian ambassador's shuttle, sparking the war between Earth and its colonies.
  • Conquest Frontier Wars has fighters as the main offensive weapon of the Mantis. Even their most powerful ship class, the Tiamat, is nothing more than a huge carrier that launcher wings of anti-ship bombers and has no other weapons. Strangely enough, humans are the ones who don't have any fighters until the Mantis rebels give them plans for their own carrier. Even then, humans don't use them nearly as much as the Mantis. The Celareons don't even have fighters and rely on capital ships instead. Most ships are Point Defenseless. Each race only has one type of ship with any sort of anti-fighter weaponry (usually the cheapest). Fighters do often allow the Mantis to attack from beyond visual range, though, often requiring the fleet being attacked to look for the carrier (sometimes across a nebula or Asteroid Thicket).

     Web Comic 

    Web Original 
  • Atomic Rocket is one of several hard sci-fi sites arguing that manned starfighters are nonsensical. Their writers claim that Attack Drones are the only practical application for small military ships, and postulate that the only reason starfighters might ever show up in reality at all is due to "cultural inertia."
    • Although it mentions that they see occasional use in orbital warfare, where there's a horizon to hide behind.
  • Orion's Arm makes a few references to nano-scale space fighters.

    Real Life 
  • The U.S. Navy's "Space Cruiser" high-performance space plane would have been a borderline real-life example—if it were ever built. The design called for a small, single-person craft that could be launched relatively cheaply and covertly, and would orbit the Earth once or twice, hopefully taking out Soviet spy satellites in the process. Not as glamorous as most fictional examples, given the fledgling military presence in space, but it would have looked fairly cool—and how many fictional space fighters feature an open cockpit? (Don't forget to pack your space-suit!) Other similar projects can be seen on this page.
    • The Soviets had their own equivalent designs for manned anti-satellite spacecraft, and sent armed Almaz space stations into orbit to test the concept. Since The Space Race didn't result in a more established manned presence in space, unmanned anti-satellite weapons and surface-launched missiles were pursued as more practical alternatives by all sides.
  • A better Soviet example would perhaps be the Spiral project, which aimed to produce a manned combat vehicle capable to launching into orbit, destroying enemy satellites (and starfighter interceptors), and landing again. Unfortunately for sci-fi fans everywhere, such vehicle was never built but an atmospheric prototype, the MiG-105, did take to the skies and can give you the basic idea of how a Soviet starfighter would have looked like.

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