The State of Fighter Design

Fighters seem like the easiest craft to construct a general design manifesto for, as they are the simplest to design. Here’s my take on things as they stand now:

General role of fighters- Fighters are first and foremost a threat to other fighters, a significant danger to frigates, and mostly a distracting annoyance to cruisers. Certain races are most susceptible to the threat of fighters for various reasons. Empire cruisers have enormous shield bubbles that make them significantly more vulnerable to strafing runs, Tribe ships have less resistant armor that more readily lets fighter-scale weaponry through, and the generally slow Order fighters are more vulnerable to interception.

Fighter weapons- Weapon choice is the single most important factor in fighter design. The weight and power consumption of the weapons will drive the entire cost, survivability and role of the fighter.

Rocket launcher: A good choice, not because it’s particularly lethal against anything, but because it’s so light and has minimal power requirements. Speed is the most important factor in fighter survivability, and no fighters are faster than rocket fighters. Rockets can’t really injure healthy cruisers; they can’t penetrate the shields and the minimum range is too short for them to be fired from underneath the shield bubble. They’re a a little too inaccurate to attrit enemy fighters with satisfactory alacrity as well. In large numbers they can be dangerous to frigates, but I’ve honestly never bothered. Cheap rocket fighters have a higher and better use; zooming around and generally being unhittable, much to the annoyance and distraction of your foes. They’ll occasionally kill something, but mostly they’ll tie up enemy ships while your expensive cruisers can calibrate their targeting equipment.

Laser: Another good choice; lasers are good for two things. Those are shooting down enemy fighters and strafing Imperial cruisers. Laser fighter designs will take a hit in survivability and usefulness against frigates when compared to rocket fighters, but they can actually hit enemy fighters and kill them off in a few passes, instead of engaging in protracted furballs that merely distract the enemy. Because of their higher installed power Rebel designs take a smaller speed hit from using these weapons, and so make the best laser fighter platforms.

Pulse laser: Not a good choice. The pulse laser is the regular laser, only more. Pulse laser fighters will hit and kill enemy fighters more ably than the regular laser will, but at an even greater survivability penalty. It has been my experience that this survivability penalty is so great that using pulse lasers instead of regular lasers will actually reduce kill ratios despite their greater lethality. Additionally, the poor armor and shield penetration of the pulse laser restricts them entirely to anti-fighter duty, as only the most mortally crippled frigates and cruisers could possibly take damage from the anemic tickling. In fact, it’s even possible to design fighters with enough armor to shrug these things off.

Fighter torpedoes: I really want to like these. I really want to like these. Fighter torpedoes have exceptional shield and armor penetration, and no power requirements. They’re also totally incapable of hitting fighters and so heavy that they automatically suck any design burdened with them down into that black hole of survivability inhabited by eggshells with targets painted on them. Additionally, torpedo fighters will waste their volleys on passing enemy fightercraft even in the absence of orders to engage fighters, and wander merrily through enemy AAA bands like they were the rose garden. Fighter AI simply isn’t good enough to use these low-survivability, high lethality giantkillers effectively. If the enemy fleet consists exclusively of stationary cruisers with no anti-fighter weaponry, then these can work. In actual battles they’re the first to die and they’ll have accounted for maybe a frigate or two.

Target painter: Not a bad choice, and a favorite of the deviously minded. Target painters are good for two things; improving the accuracy of your rocket fighters against other fighters so they can actually kill them this decade and keeping a nearly constant beam of laser designator goodness on enemy capital assets so your missile cruisers can reduce them to rapidly expanding clouds of vapor. Pairing a target painter and rocket launcher on the same chassis tends to result in an expensive uber-fighter that isn’t convincingly more cost effective than putting the modules on separate craft.

Engines: Use the fighter 1 and 2 engines. The fighter 3 engines have a lower thrust-to-weight ratio which is only magnified by their insane power requirements. Upgrading to fighter 3 engines only rarely makes the design faster after the new generator has been installed, and drives the cost up enormously.

Generators: Avoid using these if you can; the additional hitpoints they give you don’t even come close to compensating for how much easier they make it to hit the fighter. Aside from that, if you must, use the minimum necessary to get the performance you need, but don’t be afraid to go with the 3 if you have to, because these don’t have a diminishing power/weight ratio like the engines do.


Federation: Meh fighters; the best designs will be lost-cost rocket fighters.
Alliance: Similar to Federation. Best keep it low cost and simple. Tarantula is probably the best of the lot.
Tribe: Not as different as you might think. The only outlier is the Heaven, with more slots than you’ll know what to do with. Really. I have no idea what to do with them.
Empire: Easily the worst fighters in the game, but still usable. Go for extremely low-cost designs here. The Phalanx is probably your best bet.
Order: All rubbish except the Acolyte, which comes close but not quite to being a viable torpedo platform, and works well enough with lasers or rockets.
Rebels: Best fighters of all. While it’s fun to see how much you can pack into the Atlantis, the Icarus is probably a more practical and cost effective choice. Rebel fighters make especially good laser platforms.

Thoughts? Did I miss anything? Get it completely wrong?

Too many entirely valid points to address one-by-one here (and no, it’s not just because I’m lazy. I mean, it is because I’m lazy, but there are other reasons too.)

I tend to use fighters for two purposes: A) annoying strafers and B) escorts for capital ships whose purpose is to protect against your annoying strafers. Not much else.

Since I’ve yet to use torpedoes or pulse lasers in a fighter design that worked, I’m not going to contest the evaluation of the fighter weapons systems. I have tried to use painter-equipped fighters as escorts for a missile-choked Imperial Weapons Platform. The results have been … less than encouraging.

The only other point I’ll throw in is that the Empire fighters aren’t so much the worst in the game, so much as they are the least flexible. When you only have three designs, and they all have exactly the same configuration of slots (and a fairly narrow configuration at that), there’s only so much you can do with them.

The Imperial Weapons Platform is a frigate-class, right? I think that’s your problem; frigate missiles bounce off good cruiser shields.

Well, that and getting the stupid capital ship captains to shoot at the targets that are being painted for them.

I agree with most points, except that you can replace ‘rocket fighters are a threat to frigates in large numbers’ with ‘two squads will pretty much kill every frigate on the other side unless they all have 12+ armour.’

I find it useful to set rocket fighters with ’ attack fighters’ at ‘100%’ priority and ‘attack frigates’ at ‘99%’ priority. Then I set my other fighters to ‘attack fighters 100%’ and wait until any enemy fighters (usually enemy rocket fighters) that have charged my ships have been shot down. The rocket fighters will stay with the other fighters and help out until this is done, due to the priority list. Then all the fighters can charge in together, the rocket and laser fighters kill all the enemy frigates with no issues, as well as any defensive fighters, and then we wait for the cruisers to get there…

Of course, this only works out if you manage to get fighter superiority. Sadly, the only way to do that is to bring more fighters then your enemy, plus a couple of tractor beams.

woa woa woa, hold on here. Something needs to be cleared up regarding target painters.

I have been under the impression that target painters only work for guided weapons fired from the ship which is doing the painting. I was not aware that it would assist weapons fired from OTHER ships in the fleet. Is there any evidence for this?

Indeed there is. Try 2 4 anti-fighter rocket, armour 12+ frigates with a painter fighter squadron attacking fighters. on Battle for Mexallon II, normal. See how fast they kill those two squads of rocket fighters that charge you. Then try without the painter squadron.

mmmm… interesting.

The manual also states that target painting works for vessels other than the one equipped with the painter.

Considering that some of the cruiser missiles substantially outrange the cruiser target painter, and target painter fighters are decently survivable, there are some interesting possibilities. I don’t think the AI and orders are fine tuned enough for it to be a killer combination right now, but it’s definitely workable.

I love pulse. It doesn’t penetrate much but the damage output is outright sick - it’s a favorite of mine against tribe cruisers. It’s probably the closest thing to a usable bomber weapon right now.

A strength of the other standard laser is that it is both lightweight and cheap… some hulls allow for a fair amount of speed even with a level 1 powerplant and a small engine for a very affordable cost.

I’ve noticed the most basic fighter armor also has a very favorable protection/weight ratio. I’m still playing with it, but I think it gives some designs the proper edge to be worth using with a carrier. Just watch out for this bug.

I had to try that for myself, and you’re absolutely correct; the fighter pulse laser is murderous against Tribe ships. The only thing it didn’t seem to do really well against are the frigates, but honestly if you’re having difficulty killing frigates…

I used the Rebel Achilles design with one pulse laser, one generator 1, one engine 1 and one engine 2. Speed is not excellent, but it’s OK, and it’s got a good number of hitpoints. Carves Tribe fighters and cruisers like turducken; I’m unsure of its effectiveness against anything else. Even against tribe frigates it didn’t work very well. Their shield bubbles are too small to get underneath and while the shield strength may be lowered, the shield resistance is not, so they could basically ignore them.

So the pulse laser isn’t completely useless. It is at least good for killing Tribe cruisers, and to be honest that’s fairly useful.

Thought I would add to the thread with more detail on fighter hulls - primarily discussing laser and rocket designs, painter fighters are simple enough variations, and pulse laser fighters are similar to the laser fighters, though you have to beef up the power module. You can see I pretty much never use armor, and sometimes leave a slot empty. This is usually in the pursuit of speed and cheapness. Speed is armor for fighters, and cheapness is good.

The Hawk hull initially looks pretty crappy, but I think it is actually pretty good as a platform for a cheap fighter. Generally for the Feds I think you should be using the Hawk and Leopard hulls:


Laser Hawk: 1xEng2, 1xPow2, Laser - 77/2.1/19.8 (not great, but I think the cheapest and most effective Fed laser fighter)
Laser Leopard: 2xEng1, 1xPow1, Laser - 82/2.51/24.2 (if you’re capable of splurging for a slightly better laser fighter)
Rocket Leopard: 1xEng2, 2xRocket, 1xEmpty - 82/2.93/18.7 (not over speed 3, but the cheapest Fed rocket ftr with teeth)

No two weapon option! Generally pretty unsexy, simple fighters. The scorpion hull is too expensive to really be a deal unless you for some crazy reason want to make a heavily armored fighter. Hornet and Tarantula are the way to go, making for some very cheap, very fast, but also quite fragile fighters:

Rocket Hornet: 1xEng1, 1xEmpty, 1xRocket - 68/3.78/11.5 (holy zippy fast)
Rocket Tarantula: 2xEng1, 1xRocket - 70/3.6/15.5 (more durable, slightly slower, barely more expensive)
Laser Tarantula: 1xEng2, 1xPow2, Laser - 81/2.25/18 (best bet for an Alliance laser fighter, I think)

Again, no two weapon option. Have to agree with collimatrix, Phalanx is really the best bet. Like the Alliance hulls, it makes for some sick fast and cheap fighters.

Rocket Phalanx: 1xEng1, 1xEmpty, 1xRocket - 54!/3.99/10.5 (cheapest and fastest rocket fighter, also most fragile - but who cares? At that speed the gunners won’t be able to see it unless it is lit up by three tractor beams)
Laser Phalanx: 1xEng2, 1xPow2, Laser - 75/2.39/18 (respectable, average laser fighter)

Looking at the hulls, it seems like you could make something that would be pretty cool, but then you actually start plopping modules on and bleaaagh. Acolyte is the best bet, sort of. This could be an opportunity for somebody to try and come up with a crazy workable fighter design using the other Order hulls, but you’re probably just going to end up with an expensive, slow-moving waste.

After messing around alot, I think the Icarus and the Achilles are the best bets. It might be tempting to do a dual-laser fighter on the bomber hull or something insane like that, but the bomber hull, like the Order fighters, gets expensive and easy to blow up.

Laser Icarus: 1xEng2, 1xPow2, 1xEmpty, Laser - 80/2.58/18 (best balance of economy and speed for rebel laser fighter I think)
Rocket Achilles: 1xEng3, 1xEmpty, 2xRocket - 89/3.14/19.26

The Dove and Serenity seem to be the best bets here. Just looking at the stats, wow, they outclass the best rocket and laser fighters of the other races pretty well for similar cost.

Laser Dove: 1xPow1, 1xEng2, Laser - 72/2.27/36
Laser Serenity: 1xPow1, 1xEng2, 1xEng1, Laser - 86/2.35/46 (not too expensive, but DURABLE and relatively fast for a laser fighter)
Rocket Dove: 1xEng2, 1xEmpty, Rocket - 61/3.78/23 (cheap, FAST, durable - whats not to like?)
Rocket Serenity: 1xEng1, 1xEng2, 2xRocket - 91/2.63/44 (doubling the rocket launcher for 1/3 more cost than the Dove, but slower)

Actually, everything depends on the situation, but I think this is slightly backwards. Fighters are potentially a very significant threat to everything, and when we are talking about fast fighters (speed in the high 2’s and up over 3), fighters are not really much of a threat to each other without significant assistance or some combination of effort to bring each other down.

I’ve been playing around with using pulse laser equipped achilles (recipe above) on the no-shields Tribe mission. They are indeed a substantial threat to capital assets. I’ve managed to beat normal and easy difficulty with nothing but three squadrons of the design I have dubbed “The Hippiekiller”.

Under other circumstances and against other foes, however, fighters seem far more impotent against anything but other fighters. Their weapons penetration is simply lacking.

–Rocket Tarantula: 2xEng1, 1xRocket - 70/3.6/15.5 (more durable, slightly slower, barely more expensive)–

doesn’t this go faster with a single engine?

i use the tarantula with one engine all the time, and it’s really cheap, and maybe even faster than that (3.6)… i just checked and the single-engine variety is 60 points, and runs at 3.74. That’s the one i employ. Do you put the 2nd engine on there for the extra hit points? I like the extra speed given by a single engine; and the price tag.

Yeah, it does - I was trying to get hitpoints. But, looking at it again:

Rocket Hornet: 1xEng2, 1xEmpty, 1xRocket - 68/3.78/11.5
Rocket Tarantula: 1xEng2, 1xEmpty, 1xRocket - 65/4.04/11.5

Clearly the Tarantula IS a better deal. I’ll forget the Hornet unless I want to send my bug pilots out with substandard equipment.

I think fighters with pulse/torpedo make very effective bombers in large enough numbers. Enemy fighters kill them easily, but they go through almost any enemy cruisers like a knife through hot butter. My 3 Fighter challenge (4578229) is an example. I use Painter and Rocket fighters to engage enemy fighters and pulse/torpedo bombers to kill enemy cruisers. The number of fighters of each sort might need to be adjusted based on the AA level of the enemy fleet. I like throwing some variation of this against challenges on high pilot maps and watch the enemy cruisers melt.

Rocket/laser (not painters) does a similar thing to frigates. The rocket and torpedoes are actually very low DPS weapons, you only need them to down shields/armor.

I thought that laser painters help missiles but not rockets. Do painters help rockets?

Yes they do.

It seems like a combination of cheap rocket fighters, and painters at about a 3:1 ratio is extremely effective against opposing fighters.

Of course, once the enemy fighters are out of the picture, rocket fighters against shielded cruisers is not happening. It seems like rocket fighters are - more often than not - effective against frigates.

In a rocket/painter scenerio, the painters give the added bonus of being able to target cruisers, on behalf of the friendly, ‘missile-slinging’ ships.

Sometimes, an entirely ‘rocket fleet’ is highly effective; rocket/painter fighters escorting a rocket spam fleet. That sort of fleet packs a lot of cheap firepower.

When i’ve got a basically non-missile, non-rocket cruiser/frigate fleet, the 3:1 rocket/painter fighters are less useful overall, because the painter fighters have no ‘capital ships’ to paint.

So, when the cruiser/frigate fleet is oriented around plasma/kinetics/beams, laser fighters seem like the better bet for escort.

As for fighter roles in general, ideally the laser fighters jump the opponent’s cruisers, while the rocket fighters are more for ‘air superiority.’ Rocket and laser fighters each appear to have varying effectiveness against frigates; some frigates are vulnerable to rockets; and others to lasers.

Of course, there are all kinds of exceptions to these general rules.

Oh, one more thing; it seems like the ‘stick together’ order will make fighters more deadly in combat; like ‘little clusters of firepower’ swirling around. (edit: i’m not so sure about ‘stick together’ for purely painter fighters, though.)


This mirrors my experience exactly.

lasers also seem to work better on cruisers, since a significant fraction of the shots can be underneath the shield bubble.

‘stick together’ seems to dramatically improve a squadron’s effectiveness against other fighters, and marginally decrease its survivability. The improvement in lethality seems largest in laser fighters.

Mine didn’t!