Justifying Space Fighters

Not a space fighter. (Photo by FaceMePLS)

Winchell Chung, owner of the stupendously awesome Atomic Rockets website (check out his Boom Table) hates space fighters with the fury of a billion burning suns. He cites numerous writers on the infeasibility of such weapons, pointing out that drones and missiles can do the jobs of space fighters far more efficiently, among other things. Ever since the first Star Wars movie popularized the concept, space fighters have become a mainstay of science fiction.

I agree with Chung’s assessment that space fighters make zero sense as a real-life weapon, but I adore the trope nonetheless thanks to incessantly playing Wing Commander II and Starfox 64 as a kid (it’s an aileron roll, by the way.) Thus, I have come up with how I would justify space fighters in my own setting.

Keep in mind that I am not trying to justify space fighters from a hard sci-fi perspective — the above links establish pretty conclusively that they’re useless. Rather, I am coming up with contrivances that would make space fighters and similar weapons not only viable, but preferable. I could just say “a wizard did it,” but I want something more logical.

First, I would borrow the concept of Minovsky Particles from the classic anime Mobile Suit Gundam, though I wouldn’t name them as such. These particles damage delicate electronics, block radar, and confuse guided weaponry, forcing battles to close range with weapons aimed by human eyes. This setup lends itself well to space fighters, since the combat and communications advantages of drones would be negated by the particles.

Next, I would make the local culture quite hostile to most forms of AI. Fearing “killer robots,” the government develops extensive electronic warfare capabilities aimed not only at stopping AIs deployed by an enemy military, but also enforcing AI regulations at home. These weapons make most forms of AI useless against the planet’s military; if you’re going to face them, you have to do it manually.

Let’s face it — space fighters are just like lightsabers and the Force: the stuff of fantasy. But fantasy makes space opera good; otherwise, we’d just be reading about the life and times of a drone. Who wants to read that? People read and watch space travel stories for the adventure and excitement, not the science; they are essentially fantasies with more tech. So one should put aside rationality and embrace the romance of the space fighter and its home base, Starship Luxurious.

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12 Responses to Justifying Space Fighters

  1. Jay Barnson says:

    Wing Commander was my favorite series in the early 90s. Remind me to tell you the story sometime of how I got to “give back” to the series… inadvertently.

    Yeah, you are absolutely right. I mean, face it, conventional warfare as we know it would be completely different in the depths of space anyway. The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell does a pretty good job of imagining fleet conflicts at near-relativistic speeds at interplanetary distances. He even makes it exciting and thrilling. But man, that’s a challenge.

    Ultimately, it’s just about coming up with whatever justifications you can. Rule of Cool. And space fighters are way cool.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Quite true. Part of the reason I liked Starfox was because it reminded me of Wing Commander — a game I no longer had access to by the time I got an N64 around fifth or sixth grade.

      And yes, space fighters are way cool.

  2. Orvan Taurus says:

    I recall reading an editorial with an off-hand comment on Star Wars, “Never send a man to do a RADAR’s job.”…. right before stealth technology became public. Space Opera (that is not *hard* hard SF) follows “The Rule of Cool” just like cartoons follow “The Rule of Funny” (If it’s funny, to hell with logic – get the laugh). Anvils “randomly” materializing? But it’s funny, so…. they do.

  3. Byzantine_Corporal says:

    Without aerodynamics there is absolutely no reason for the roll axis to coincide with the velocity vector. I want to see a spherical space fighter in which the crew space is central and gimballed and the weapons systems bear in all directions.

    The limiting human factor would be how fast the crew pod can rotate without snapping the crew’s necks.

    Rendezvous in space is usually written like docking a boat, in 2D. The difficulties of achieving zero distance and zero velocity at once is uniformly ignored. Where’s Slipstick Libby to explain it all to us? Math is hard.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Ball-shaped space fighters are definitely feasible, even under Minovsky Physics. Also, the variety of maneuvers possible in the vacuum of space deserves deeper exploration.

      To be honest, I would reject ball-shaped fighters based on aesthetics alone. Ball-shaped drones, however, would be fine.

    • Terry Sanders says:

      L. Jagi Lamplighter had starfighter dragons in one story.

      They flew like dragons in atmosphere. In space, they would curl up into a ball and maneuver by shooting fire out of the spines that covered their backs–when they curled up, the spines struck out in all directions. The pilot floated in an acceleration tank that might once have been a secondary stomach, and mind-linked with his “ship.”

      Pretty cool…

  4. Byzantine_Corporal says:

    Oh yeah, wanna read that story! What/where/when?

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