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Adar Tallon wrote in his Treatise on Starfighter Tactics, that starfighter combat can be broken down into five distinct stages; detection, closing, attack, maneuver, and disengagement.

Stage One: Detection and Identification

There was an age old saying among pilots of the Clone Wars: “The first to spot the enemy wins.” While this may be a slight exaggeration, spotting the enemy first does give the pilot the initiative. In battle, initiative is everything.

Starfighter combat begins well before weapon-range, often on opposite ends of systems. The key to any battle is early detection. Identification of threats as soon as possible gives the pilot the most time possible to make the correct decisions.

Successful combat against enemy fighters always depends on early detection and identification. Many fighters are equipped with their own long range scanners. This allows a lone ship to identify potential targets from safe distances. However, many starfighters, like those deployed en masse like the TIE fighter platform, are not equipped with their own sensors, and must rely on their home ship and base for sensor readings, keeping within in distance of these vessels and structures. A lone fighter must be aware that their sensors will never have the power and range of a capital vessel or a space station.

After a target is detected, it must be positively identified. This is handled by the starfighter’s data-sorting computers directly linked to the sensor suite. After examining profile, heat, and electromagnetic signature, these identify all craft within range, assigning threat levels to each and displaying the information on the starfighter’s video display.

Starfighters without onboard sensors tend to rely on flight controllers for this information. After the craft have been identified by the ground or ship-based sensors and computers, the flight controllers assign targets to individual ships, relaying the information about the target’s course and speed directly to the ship’s combat computer.

This system is generally as effective as the flight controller; a good, imaginative controller can judge the ebb and flow of a battle and send the fighters to the appropriate sectors before the enemy can react; a mediocre controller who does everything “by the numbers” can severely hamper the fighters’ ability to response quickly and intelligently to events.

Even fighter squads made up of ships with their own sensors will often deploy flight controllers from nearby capital vessels and ships, if necessary. This allows almost a third-party view of the situation, assigning targets before combat starts. Once combat starts though, command usually falls to the wing commander.

If a fighter’s electronic sensors are jammed, the pilot must rely on visual scanners, This is a short-range sensor resembling a video camera with a telescopic lens, giving the pilot visual contact with the enemy craft long before it can be seen by the naked eye. These sensors are almost impossible to jam, though cloaking devises are effective against them, as well as camouflage paints.

The last, and most reliable, means of identification is actual visual contact. Despite sophisticated array of long-range detection devices, pilots depend the most on their own eyes. Eyes cannot easily be jammed, altered, or otherwise interfered with, although Jedi pilots have been known to use the Force to alter their ship’s appearance and approach.

A detailed analysis of recordings that have been registered during starfighter victories reveals that four out of every five starfighters shot down in dogfights never saw their assailant. In battle, the key to a quick victory is to surprise the enemy. The key to avoiding a quick defeat is to avoid being surprised.

The perfect way to achieve surprise would be to render your vessel completely invisible, not only to the naked eye, but to highly-sophisticated sensors as well. A very small number of larger ships are equipped with quite effective cloaking devices; however, the equipment required for cloaking is simply too massive and expensive to fit into a starfighter, though not entirely impossible.

Rendering your ship “invisible” by keeping out of close sensor range and using long-range weapons is generally an ineffective battle tactic. Lasers lose accuracy and therefore power over distance; concussion missiles and other extreme range weapons are easily tracked by starfighters’ sensor equipment, allowing an excellent change of evasion. It is for these reasons that starfighter combat most often takes place within visual range.

The most effective method of achieving surprise is to drop in close to your enemy from hyperspace. This tactic is both extremely rewarding and extremely dangerous, as a miscalculated hyperjump can be disastrous to all parties. Sensors cannot operate from out of hyperspace to scan the intended target. Therefore, when ships employ this tactic, they are attacking “blind,” relying on intelligence reports of the enemy’s position, course, and composition. If intelligence reports are accurate, and the attacking squadron achieves the desired surprise, the raid can be devastating. But, if the defenders are prepared for such an attack or have changed course or position, the result could wipe out the attacking fleet.

To improve their chances of first detection and thus winning the initiative, starfighters fly in formations which allow their sensors to work together in the most efficient manner possible. In formation, the pilot has two tasks. The first is to monitor his own detection systems, and the second is to keep a visual lookout for any enemy ships which may be evaded the formation’s detection net. When a formation of fighters is detected, a decision must be made whether or not to attack. Ideally, this decision is made by a flight controller, who should have a better overall picture of the battle’s tactical situation than the pilots.

For a controller, the battle is a game of probabilities: he knows the tactical situation; he knows his ships’ capabilities and can make good guesses about his opponents’. He judges the odds of success and the price of failure; if the odds are in his favor and the price of failure acceptable, he sets up his ships in the most advantageous position he can and lets them go.

For the pilot or wing commander without a flight controller and therefore without a clear picture of the battle, the decision is not so clear-cut. When his sensors pick up an enemy, he has to answer some difficult questions very quickly: Does the contact pose an immediate threat? What are his squadron’s chances of surviving an engagement with the contact? What support is available?

Getting any of these questions wrong can mean not only the pilot’s personal death, but also make him cause the deaths of his comrades.

Stage Two: Closing

If the decision to engage is made, the pilot must attempt to gain an advantageous position for his attack run. This stage of battle is known as “closing.”

The two essential elements to a successful closing are speed and concealment. These aid in limiting the amount of time the target has to react.. High speed is useful for another reason, as well. It increases the energy available to the fighter for maneuver combat or disengagement, should either become necessary.

Because of the sophistication of sensor equipment, concealment is often difficult to achieve. Sensor jamming is usually attempted, but it screws up the jamming starfighter’s equipment even more than its target, and the pilot has no idea how effective it is. Further, while it may blur the starfighter’s exact location, it will alert everyone within a light year that there is an unfriendly starfighter somewhere in the area, jamming their sensors.

Assuming that, as usual, concealment fails, there are other ways to surprise your opposition and maintain the initiative. Of these, deception is the most important.

Essentially, the pilots have to fool their opponents into believing that the attacker’s objectives are different from what they really are, that there are more or fewer attackers than there really are, that the main assault is really a feint, that a feint is really the main assault, and so forth. The attackers must do the unexpected.


The starfighters make their approach in a dangerously tight formation, which, appears as a single blip on an enemy’s sensor screen. The formation stays together until the last possible moment, until they reach visual scanning range of the targets. Only then does the formation break up into individual ships. If carried off well (and no ship crashes into their wingmate) the enemy finds themselves facing much larger numbers of starfighters than they initially detected.

  1. Attack in two wings, forcing the opposition to split up to meet both threats. When the enemy gets in range of one of the wings, they discover that it consists entirely of drone starfighters, completely harmless. The other wing has all the real ships in it, and the opposition suddenly finds itself for a short time very badly outnumbered.
  2. Send in one very large attack force to engage the enemy’s starfighters. Once the ships are locked in battle and all of the enemy’s reserve ships thrown in, send in a small force at top speed to make a run against the undefended battle control ship.
  3. Break your attack into three separate components. The first begins jamming the enemy’s transmissions as soon as they are within range, drawing a great deal of attention to themselves by doing so. The second component goes in quietly, attacking from the other direction, using visual scanners only. The third waits.
  4. The enemy must decide which threat is more dangerous, and split his forces accordingly. The attackers he chooses to concentrate upon turn tail and run, and the third attacking component joins the other force, once more hopefully gaining local superiority.

The possibilities are literally endless, particularly when you realize that the enemy can and will also be simultaneously trying to deceive you.

Stage Three: Attack

The attack stage accounts for four out of every five starfighter kills. It is thus the single most decisive stage of starfighter combat.

Two factors affect the attack: the tactical situation and the capabilities of the vessels involved. Taking both of these into account, the attack must be launched from the best possible position at the best possible moment. If the attack is launched correctly, the attacker has a tremendous advantage. If not, he is in grave peril.

The head-on attack will result in a quick, decisive victory, for one pilot or the other, usually the one with the best ship and steadiest nerves. There is no subtlety in this attack, no finesse: both starships can fire at each other, both are relatively easy targets, and the one who gets in the first telling shot wins.

The best place from which to attack is astern (behind) your opponent. Your opponent cannot return fire, and, as there is little lateral movement, he is an easy target. This is a difficult posture to attain during the attack stage, unless the attacker has achieved a high level of tactical surprise during his closing run.

It is essential to the success of any attack to positively identify the type of enemy formation a pilot has encountered. If a lone ship is spotted, where is his wingman? A favorite ploy is to have one fighter trail some distance behind his wingman, waiting for an enthusiastic young pilot to jump in behind the front ship to attack it from the rear. If he does so, the attacking pilot has unknowingly lined himself up for a devastating attack by the trailing fighter.

Alliance pilots often use a somewhat more complicated strategy of deception, known as the “feint and backstab.” In this technique, a decoy formation attacks in order to distract the enemy from the true attack.

For example:

One flight of starfighters forms up for a head-on run in full view of enemy sensor surveillance, while a second flight skirts around behind the enemy, remaining outside sensor range. The first flight closes as if to attack, but breaks away before close range is reached. At the same time, the other flight closes from an advantageous position, ready to take advantage of the enemy’s confusion. The diversionary flight stands by, ready to re-enter the fight if needed.

Stage Four: Maneuver

The maneuver stage of combat occurs only when an attack fails and the starfighters begin jockeying for position. During maneuver combat, the experienced pilot will strive to deny his adversary the initiative. The first pilot who makes a mistake loses. The pilot who are aggressive can keep his opponent under constant pressure. The longer the pressure continues, the greater the stress on the defending pilot. Stress breeds mistakes.

The maneuver stage begins as soon as a pilot realizes that he is about to come, or is already under attack. His first priority is simple survival; turning the tables is secondary. The opening moves of the maneuver are defensive, with the attacker attempting to defeat the defender’s evasive actions. If the defender is able to “shake” his attacker, he can then either break off the engagement or attempt to turn the tables; if the attacker can hang on, it is merely a matter of time until he destroys his opponent.

Most successful attacks during maneuver combat are from astern. The closer an attacker angles in to the intended target’s stern, the better shot he will get. Adar Tallon refers to this vulnerable target area as the “prime target cone.”

Each maneuver has a counter-maneuver. It is the execution of the maneuver which is most important, not necessarily the quality of the starfighter itself. The most technically advanced fighter in the galaxy is only as good as its pilot.

The Break

This maneuver is used when an attacker is first detected as attempting to close in, or is already in the defender’s prime target cone. It’s purpose is to spoil the attacker’s aim and cause his fighter to “overshoot” (move out in front of you, thus allowing you to move in behind him and into his prime target cone). To execute the break, the pilot turns his starfighter and cuts in his reverse thrusters.

The break is always made toward the direction of attack. Both the turn itself and the loss of speed forces the attacker to either overshoot or compensate by turning inside, which takes him out of the prime target cone.

The break does present the attacker with an opportunity to fire just as the defender sweeps across his sights, but this is a difficult shot and allows no sustained fire.

The Scissors

This is a series of sharp turn reversals performed in an attempt to get the attacker out in front of the defender and into a position of disadvantage.

The initial turn reversal is made after the attacker has overshot (perhaps after a successful break). Timing is critical when performing a scissors maneuver. If one fighter turns too quickly, the other ship may drift wide more slowly and come up behind him.

This maneuver may become a stalemate, with neither fighter ending up behind the other. The winner in a scissors contest is usually the fighter which can reduce its forward velocity the most while making the sharp turn reversals, thus ending up behind his opponent.


This is a defensive strategy designed to throw off the aim of an attacker who has achieved an excellent attack position (in the prime target cone). It is a series of random turns, slips, waggles, and dives which will hopefully prevent the attacker from getting a target lock.

While the attacker is still able to retain his excellent advantage, the longer he is forced to concentrate on shooting at the opponent, the less aware he will become of what is going on around him, making him a prime target for other defending starfighters in the area.

The Reverse Throttle Hop

This maneuver is a way of retaining the advantage when the target breaks. As the defender goes into his break, the attacker pulls up above his opponent and decelerates. As the defender finishes his break, the attacker drops back down behind the defender, having performed a sort-of exaggerated “hop.”

This is a very difficult maneuver to perform well. It requires split-second timing, precise execution, and a bit of intuition. If it is started too early, the defender will simply loop back and follow the defender up, giving himself the advantage. If it is started too late, the attacker is in danger of overshooting and once again ending up in front of his opponent.

The Tallon Roll – named after and developed by Adar Tallon himself

This difficult maneuver is performed when the attacker becomes aware that he is going to overshoot a breaking defender. He comes level, pulls his nose hard up, then rolls away from the direction of the turn. This three-dimensional maneuver is completed by sliding in astern of the target. Effectively, this maneuver alters the angle of approach to the target without losing speed or distance. It is difficult for a defender to counter the roll, as it takes place entirely behind him and in his blind spot.

The difficulty of the maneuver is the roll itself. It is easy to become disoriented while in a roll and an unskilled attacker can easily overshoot, taking himself out of the fight completely and putting himself at the mercy of the defender.

Maneuvering in Pairs

A single starfighter in a hostile environment is extremely vulnerable. Most starfighters operate in elements of two. “Battle spread” is the most commonly used pairs formation. In it, the two fighters fly side by side with a minimal distance between them.

A pair, working as a team, has the potential to be far more effective than two single starfighters each operating on its own. The guard each others’ blind spots and hunt together as a coordinated unit.

Following are two of the more effective maneuvers for starfighters operating in pairs.

The Trap

The trap is the oldest, simplest, and still most effective trick in the book. If either fighter is attacked from behind, he turns hard in either direction. If the attacker follows, he is trapped by the second man.

The most effective defence against this maneuver is for the attacker to feint, pretending to follow the first man. As the second man slots in behind the attacker, he performs a full-throttle hop or a Tallon roll, forcing the second man to overshoot him. This leaves both defending fighters in front of the attacker.

The Under Split

This maneuver involves some danger for the lead man, and should only be attempted if the lead starfighter can take a bit of punishment. In it, the lead man shoots out ahead of his wingman in full view of a pair of enemy fighters. As the enemy ships turn toward the lead man, his wingman crosses under unobserved and pulls up hard for a belly shot.

Trainee pilots are always taught to keep a sharp lookout for this type of decoy move. Unfortunately, in the heat of battle, the chance of a quick kill against an outnumbered opponent often drives out this training, leaving the starfighters at deadly peril.

Stage Five: Disengagement

This is the final stage in starfighter combat. Adar Tallon stated: “It is rarely given adequate attention. The inexperienced pilot frequently believes that following an attack pass, particularly a successful one, the engagement is over and he can relax. This is dangerous nonsense.”

Losing concentration or relaxing after a successful attack can be dangerous. It is common for ships to be outnumbered or for reinforcements to arrive. In a hit and run attack, a pilot can not afford to waste time and relax, as it gives the target time to gather reinforcements and strengthen their positions. If a pilot cannot disengage, he cannot make a clean jump into hyperspace. The longer he stays in the combat area, the higher the chance of him becoming a target and making a mistake.

The ideal way to disengage is to destroy all of the enemy. This is not always possible. A plan for disengagement should be considered before an attack is started. Angling-off at full-throttle following a high speed attack is the simplest method, and is effective if the attacker has not become engaged in a dogfight. This allows the speed of the attack to continue into the speed of the retreat, putting valuable time and space between the attacker and the target.

Getting free from a dogfight is much more difficult because the timing must be perfect. The best moment to break off from maneuver combat is when the situation is neutral, with neither starfighter having the positional advantage.

Adar Tallon states, “If a pilot is under enemy attack and manages to recover to a neutral position and disengage, he has won the engagement. If he is the assailant and his target manages to attain a more neutral position, he should immediately disengage and find easier prey. If he remains engaged, he risks becoming disadvantaged himself.”

There are several crucial elements to any disengagement. Most importantly, the pilot must have speed. A pilot has a much higher chance of escape if they’re running at full-speed, especially on a non-parallel course. This puts a great deal of distance between a pilot and an adversary attempting to turn and catch him.

To make sure that the disengagement is clean, a pilot must attempt to maintain visual contact with his opponent. Losing visual contact of the enemy’s position could mean that the opponent could potentially gain a tactical advantage.

If a pilot loses sight of his opponent while in a turning contest, he should continue turning until he regains contact. If seeking to disengage while under attack, the pilot should always turn toward the enemy. In this way, he can meet his assailant with the best chance of angling-off and escaping after the attacker has taken his shots. If the pilot flies away from his opponent, he risks allowing the opponent to get on his tail. A fighter with an opponent on his tail is much more easily taken down.

A summary by Ace Commander Zechs Demming