17 June 2022

FWS Starfighters: The Space Fighter-Bomber

















There are always those that live in the shadows of someone or something else that is more well-known or popular than them. For every Porsche 911, there is the Porsche 912. For every Porsche 944 and 928, there is the Porsche 924. For every Nintendo NES, there is the Turbo Grafx 16 and the ATARI 7800. For every Coca-Cola, there is RC Cola. And this is very true within the realm of military aircraft as well as  fictional space fighters. For most people, the hero starfighters of the Star Wars universe are the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter...but there is the TIE Bomber and the Y-Wing that live in the show of them. In this first installment of the new StarFighters serial, we will exploring and explaining the fighter classification that lives in the shadow of the fighter interceptor and the air superiority fighter: the Fighter-Bomber! 

What Will this New Serial be About?
For years, FWS has been diving deep into the world of space warship classes and it was time to take the same dive into the other famous sci-fi space vehicle: the space fighter. Much like Ships of the Line, Starfighters will be looking at the classifications and examples of the military science fiction starfighters. This will not cover space shuttles, dropships, tactical transports; just combat space fighters. FWS will be connecting these spaceborne fast-attack craft with their real-world military aircraft equivalent when possible. When possible, FWS will be attempting to discuss if this fictional spacecraft could be realistic...and yes, I know that the vast majority of spacefighters are not realistic when the harsh mistress of science is applied. This new serial has been on the books since 2015 and it is high time to get started. 

What is an "Fighter-Bomber" and how is it Different from other Military Aircraft?
Given the wide, weird of military terminology can be baffling especially to those of us on the outside of the world of the military. As with naval warship classifications and designations, we need to break down what is and what is not a fighter-bomber. Currently, the term of fighter-bomber is used, especially by civilian, but the new term for this type of military jet aircraft is “multi-role attack aircraft”. The term fighter-bomber is either a fully designed or a special variant fighter that occupy both roles as an attack jet and a light bomber that carries a limited stock of bombs. The need for the fighter-bomber came about due to the high price that the bombers suffered due to anti-air artillery and interceptor aircraft. Thus, the fighter-bomber could do both. At times, the fighter-bomber is a variety of an already existing attack fighter, like the F-4 Phantom. At times, the lines get blurred, such as with the USN/USMC A-6 “Intruder”.
The A6 is an attack aircraft that is more like a light bomber due to its lack of a gun pod and inability to engage in ACM with another fighter. Hence why the Intruder carries the “A” designation and not the “F”. Pure bombers, like the B-2 or B-1, or the B-52 all carry the “B” designation and not the “F”. Some have a blend, like the F/A-18 “Super-Hornet”. Then there is the label of “strike aircraft” or “attack aircraft” or attack bomber” or even “ground attack aircraft” used as well. These are slower aircraft designed to attack ground targets, like a tank, missile platform, a specific building, and even close air support. 
The best example of this is the badass A-10 Warthog that is the grim reaper of armored vehicles and attack infantry, but could not engage in a dogfight. Then we have one of the oddest attack aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk. While fearsome in design and abilities, the F-117 has a limited tactical scope and was not a “stealth fighter”, but a stealth attack aircraft and should have been given the “A” instead of the “F” designation by the USAF. The F-117 could not engage in ACM, but if you needed a specific building targeted in downtown Baghdad, the F-117 was your girl. Some of these battlefield tasks by attack aircraft have been taken over by armed drones and the attack helicopter gunship. FWS will cover attack aircraft in a future article.  

What is Difference between Fighter-Bombers and the Bomber
There two very different types of military aircraft that are labeled "bombers" and they differ mostly in speed, range, weight, and crew size. One of the best fighter-bombers of all time was the F-4 “Phantom”. At full load, the Phantom could carry about 16,000lbs of ordinance at a top-speed of MACH 2 at a range of 1,750 miles. Compare that with the B-52, Stratofortress which has a top speed of 595 to 650 MPH with a crew of five with a range of over 8,000 miles. An B-52 bomber can drop 84,500lbs of conventional munitions. Fighter-Bombers are designed for quick and limited bomber runs that could be in the opening attacks of an invasion or supporting troops in contact. The traditional bomber is designed to pound cities into rumble or nuke nations into the dark ages and has limited ability to defend itself from interceptor aircraft. Some fighter-bombers, especially the modern multi-role fighter can engage in ACM if needed and often carry the “F” designation rather than the “B’ or “A” of bombers and attack aircraft respectfully.

What is the Difference between the Missile, Bomb, and Torpedo in Sci-Fi Space Combat
During the research phase of this article and something I have noticed throughout my lifetime of being a sci-fi fan…the use of the word “torpedo” in space warfare. Given the trope of sci-fi creators connecting wet navies to space navies along with the trope of spaceships being submarines in space concept, the use of torpedoes in sci-fi goes back to its founding despite the fact that torpedoes are used for naval combat. With some sci-fi creators really wanting gravity bombing like we witness in World War II, they will create the use of falling bombs in space as well, as we witnessed in the fucking bullshit The Last Jedi bomber scene along with the Wing Commander “film”. Then we have missiles, which are part of current space combat. 
Let us sort how all of these could exist in a sci-fi setting. Bombs that use gravity to arrival to their target(s) could still be used within the atmosphere of a planet with gravity that would allow for the dropping of bombs as we understand here in on Terra. Bombs would not be part of most sci-fi space combat save for teleporting over a bomb or using a shuttle to ferry the bomb to its target, as we witness in the Stargate franchise. The use of gravity bombs in space is fucking stupid and the bullshit magnetic bomb idea ventured forth in The Last Jedi is also really fucking stupid to a whole new level. Yes, I know about the Reddit explanation of the "repulsor chute” to eject the bombs onto the target…but you have to get “over” the target in very close combat and release which is still fucking stupid. To me, you could use the term “torpedo” to define a heavier, more anti-ship missile system packed with more explosive, countermeasures, and even possibly the ability to travel in hyperspace. Missiles could be a higher speed weapon system for engaging faster targets and even be used to intercept incoming fire. That could how we can keep using these terms for sci-fi space combat.  

The History of the Fighter-Bomber
Military aviation began with the era of hot-air balloons, but heavier-than-air aircraft began with the US Army buying an Wright 1909 and by the time of the First World War, the concept of using aircraft in warfare was being incorporated. It was the First World War that forged the role of the military aircraft. However, the Great War was not the first combat use of airplanes. That came during the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912, which I did not know about until this article. Seriously. During this conflict, the Italian military conducted the first use of an aircraft for recon and for bombing missions. This was the pathfinder for the use of combat aircraft. During the 1st World War, most fielded combat aircraft were what we would consider “multi-role” with the most bombs dropped from the legendary British Sopwith Camel fighter. 
During this time, the concept of the fighter-bomber and the traditional bomber were muddled, especially when you examine the first purpose-designed and fielded bombers: the Italian Caproni Ca.1 and the British Bristol T.B.8 both from 1913. When the first bomber, as we understand them, began being fielded before the 2nd World War, the role of the fighter-bomber was not really filled save some elements being seen in the torpedo-bombers that came about in 1915 and quickly died out due to the technological improvements after the war. However, torpedo-bombers are more bomber than fighter and fighter-bombers occupy both roles. During the 2nd World War, there were many fighter-bombers (or “Jagdbombers” in German) on both sides of the conflict like the American P-38 “lightning, the German  Fw 190 A-3/U3, the British de Havilland DH.98 “Mosquito”, and the British Hawker Typhoon. With the era of the jet technology. 
The Korean War saw the introduction to modern attack jet fighters being used in a dual-role as a light bomber, as was seen with the Soviet MiG-15. Before the era of the “smart-bomb” and the increased need of units in contact needing close air support, already existing attack jet fighters were retasked with ground attack roles as we witnessed with the Vietnam War. One of the mechanical symbols of that war was the F-4 “Phantom”.  This beautiful aircraft was pulled into bombing missions due to the great need of infantry in the bush and served along side B-52s and the wonderful light all-weather bomber air-ground attack aircraft, the US Navy/ USMC A-6 Intruder. During that war, missile technology was improving, and the duties of the old fighter-bomber could be handled differently, resulting in development of multi-role strike fighters like the F-35A and the F-15E.  

The Modern Fighter-Bombers: The Multi-Role Strike Fighter Aircraft (MRCF)
In modern air warfare, the traditional bomber still exists, but the fighter-bomber does not in its original form. The modern fighter-bomber is the multi-role strike fighter, like the US Navy/USMC F/A -18C "Hornet" and the Eurofighter Typhoon. So…what happened? Technological advancements in fighter technology, material technology, and missile technology all allowed for the role of the fighter-bomber to be rolled into a multi-role attack jet fighter platform. This is far, in terms of logistic, easily for most military organizations, especially those that are more economical minded…military attack jets are extremely expensive machines with a nation like New Zealand not having any. A great deal of modern military attack jets are being designed and fielded as a MRCF classification. Some nations, like the US, China, and Russia still have air superiority fighter like the F-22, J-11, and the Su-57 respectively.  

Some Thoughts on Endo/Exo Atmospheric Starfighters
One of the aspects of all starfighters that FWS will discuss in every article with be that most starfighters in science fiction are dual atmospheric vehicles that operate both in-atmosphere (Endo) of a planetary body and in outer space (Exo). This true of nearly every starfighter, especially the most iconic fighters of sci-fi…but it is reality or even some-what real? One of the most iconic starfighters is the EarthForce Starfury from B5 and it is one of the only starfighters that is exo-atmospheric only. You could not fly a Starfury from space into the atmosphere of an M-Class planet…but you can with an X-Wing, a Viper, and a Thunderhawk. 
In reality, space-based fighter craft that we know of would not exist and when we talk of real-world hard science fighters, we discuss how they would not exist in the way that sci-fi has shown. It is space pornography. The idea of a dual-atmospheric craft that can fight between space and sky and back again is again, pure space pornography. Just look at the US and Soviet Space Shuttles long with the attempted space planes. It takes a great deal of fuel and thrust to get into orbit and then once in orbit, the space plane is more an in-atmospheric glider than an attack jet that engages in ACM. Any damage to the dual-atmospheric space fighter thermal protection would be a death sentence to the crew, marooning them in space or worse…just look at Soyuz 11 and Columba. To me, any soft-serve sci-fi universe where starfighters exist, it maybe best to have an endo and exo exclusive models rather than a dual atmosphere attack jet. This would mean that important colonial sites would have endoatmospheric attack aircraft that would be similar to modern MRCF models stationed at planet-side hardened airbases from orbital attack and ready to repeal any invader.        

Could Space-Based Fighter-Bombers Really Exist?
In a way, it could be, and the US, China, and Russia have investigated the possibility of development of an orbital spaceplane bomber over the years. This label of “space bomber” has attached to the the rumored Area-51 BLACKSTAR project, the mysterious USAF X-37B, a possible use for the USSR Buran Space Shuttle. The concept of a orbital spaceplane being on hot standby to deliver a nuclear/conventional payload has been around since the 1940’s, but the technology exists to allow that to happen, if it wasn’t for a massive violently of current treaties. Now, the science fiction concept of a space fighter-bomber that engages into deep space combat against moon-sized space stations is fantasy. When starships will engage in ship-to-ship combat or we engage in bomb runs on off-world targets, it will be AI-controlled missiles that more akin to “Dreadnough” in Star Trek: Voyager episode.      
  
The Space Fighter-Bomber in Sci-Fi
The concept of space fighters has been in sci-fi since the novella "The Black Star Passes", first published in 1930 and again in 1965 by John Campbell and the concept skyrocketed into the popular conciseness with Star Wars in 1977. It was then that starfighters became an important part of science fiction in all types of media. While the public expects starfighters in their military science fiction works,  one of the factors with all space naval and starfighters classes that are appear in visual sci-fi media is money. Most productions have to limit the amount of spacecraft that are on-screen or in-game due to cost with special-effects and filming. This being said, the starfighter-bombers that appear in-game or on-screen are purpose built. Much like what we've discussed before on FWS with combat starships, RPGs and books often have the most variety of starfighters and starships because the cost is low. When it comes to video games, movies, and TV, the fighter-bombers are there for a specific reason or purpose, even if it is the creator's fancy. 
The starfighter-bombers, like many starfighter classifications, are often confused and muddled. Some creators lump in the torpedo-bomber and the fighter-bomber onto the same fighter, as seen Space Cruiser Yamato. Originally, FWS was goin to craft a sperate article on space torpedo-bombers, but the realities of confusion among sci-fi creators caused the two classifications to be fused. There there is the World War II bomber issue and the lack of clarity of what a "fighter-bomber" is. This causes starfighter-bombers to carry both missiles and torpedoes. 
The 2nd World War is a massive influence on sci-fi as a whole and the the desire to include World War II style bomber and bombing scenes is hard to resist, just look at the bullshit bombers from The Last Jedi. This confusion leads to a blurring of lines between bombers and fighter-bombers and even the anti-capitol ship fighter, like the Rebel B-Wing class...which is not on this list due to it being more of a gunship than an fighter-bomber, although, the B-Wing could be used in a bomber role against in-space targets like space stations and asteroid bases. Some of this confusion and blurring comes for the nature of space as well.
One of the factors with all space naval and starfighters classes that are appear in visual sci-fi media is money. Most productions have to limit the amount of spacecraft that are on-screen or in-game due to cost with special-effects and filming. Interestingly enough, most science fiction fighter-bombers are their own dedicated spaceframe (or model) and not often an upscaled attack fighter, as we have seen with the Babylon 5 EathForce Starfury Fighter-Bomber variant. Some RPG systems like Renegade Legions and Battletech, use the “Heavy Fighter” to describe the fighter-bomber and is actual term used in military aircraft around the 2nd World War. The heavy starfighter of sci-fi are not always a fighter-bomber and one has to look at the loadout associated with the craft. In addition, there is no consistency with the amount of crew members in an fighter-bomber of sci-fi. 
Some will have one pilot, one pilot with a droid, one pilot and one gunner and so on. Even the most iconic starfighter-bomber, the Y-Wing, there is no consistency with regards to the amount of crew in the Y-Wing and sometimes, it depends on the source material and the Y-Wing variant. The rarest fighter-bomber in sci-fi is the dedicated endo-atmospheric only, due to the domination of dual-atmospheric vehicles in all of science fiction. I can imagine that in the next few years, the concept of the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft will populate throughout the realm of sci-fi and creators will turn away from fighter-bombers and Heavy Fighters to the MRCA concept.  

What About Sci-Fi Bombers?
At some point, FWS will discuss the bombers in both the real-world and science fiction, but during the research phase for this article, I gained new insight into what the difference between the starfighter-bomber and the bomber in sci-fi. Often, the bomber is crewed by more than 2, long-ranged w/hyperdrives, heavier weapons loads, more defense cannons that are manned or computer-operated and they go after heavier targets…like capital ships, space stations, and even planetary targets. Such examples are the iconic Boardsword from Wing Commander II and the Chig Bomber from Space: Above and Beyond.  

Examples:

The Heavy & Super-Heavy Fighters from the Renegade Legion Universe
During the apex of FASA Games Inc, they had a number of RPG titles that were the bread-and-butter to the non-D&D crowd and one of the most arresting to the younger me was Renegade Legion that existed from 1989-1993. This is a title that FWS will cover in the next few months, but in the combat between the TOG and the Renegade Legion in the 69th century. In three of the titles of the Renegade Legion franchise were devoted to fighter combat in struggle between the RL and TOG: Interceptor, Battle of Jacob's Star, and Leviathan. SSI developed Interceptor and Battle of Jacob's Star for the home computer market, while Leviathan  was a classic RPG system based around fleet combat. Starfighters (any space vessel under500 tons or less) in the RL franchise were unable to survive more two direct hits by capitol ship weaponry and were used to inflict pinpoint damage to their targets. In the classification of fighters involved in the conflict is the "Heavy Fighter" classification. From the research that I can do on a RPG system that ended when I was in high school, the heavy fighter was more akin to the MRCF and the fighter-bomber and are 300 tons or less. Then there is "super-heavy" fighter that are the heaviest of all starfighters in the conflict, which is 500 tons or less. While the missiles loaded on the heavy fighters of the RL and the TOG are not effective against the capitol ships of the RL and TOG Navies, they can attack on another and other targets. There are a number of heavy fighters produced for the game and even a way for players to design and field their own designs in the computer and tabletop games, there are no real examples of super heavy starfighters that I can find used by the RL & TOG factions...some of the alien races have listings for super-heavy starfighters. It could be that the super-heavy starfighers were an in-progress concept when the game was cancelled and FASA went out of business.   

The Space Wing A-9 "Starmax" STS/Fighter-Bomber from the STARCOM: The US Space Force
In an era filled with military and sci-fi toylines, one of the most pure (and forgotten) military science fiction toylines was COLECO's STARCOM: The U.S. Space Force from 1986. While only lasting about 2 years in the US and a fewer more years in Europe, STARCOM also had a limited run cartoon series that also doubted as a advert for the toys...as was very common in the 1980's. There had been an attempt to bring real space science into the cartoon via the NASA Young Astronaut Program. Both in the TV series and the toyline, the most important vehicle of the US Space Force was the Space Wing A-9 "Starmax" STS/Fighter-Bomber. 
This, according to the text on the box of the toy, was the flagship of STACOM's air-and-space fleet, Star Wing and it was considered to the most powerful fighter in their fleet as well as the Swiss Army Knife of the entire STARCOM. It would serve as a space transport system for cargo, Astro Marines/STARCOM personnel, and smaller off-world combat vehicles. This was thanks to the modular cargo bed located at the rear of the A-9 Starmax. Given the local hostile conditions of the Terran solar system, an armed FTL transport was the best way to go, and the Star Wing A-9 fighter-bomber was very nearly the symbol of the United States power in outer space.  
Armed with two rail RIP cannons, two DE cannons and two rapid pulse DE cannons, it was also outfitted with a rear-mounted spin-launcher for four "TeraForce" HE bombs that appear to be gravity fall bombs or in some literature, "smart missiles". With a crew of three and the passenger capability of six, the Starmax served in many roles in STARCOM and on the frontier of the solar system. To complete its STS duty, the A-9 Starmax was fitted with the FTL Transtar drive and the ability to add a personnel carrier in the cargo bay to transport troops or personnel around the solar system. For combat operations, the A-9 would be supported by several other Star Wing interceptor/attack fighters, but the Starmax could engage in ACM as the need arose.
The toy was made by COLECOM and was the star of the toyline and the cartoon with this toy being common across the toy markets in the US and Europe. Selling in the US at the time for about $18 (or $44 in today's money). This has become of the must-haves for the STARCOM toyline with complete examples that are not yellowed selling for hundreds of dollars. The arms of the laser cannons and the bombs being commonly lost. The white of the Starmax bomber does yellow and honestly, it looks like an off-world camo pattern and seems natural in a way. This is a toy from my childhood that I would love to have. FWS will be discussing the entire COLECO STARCOM: The US Space Force toyline in a future installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys soon. 
  
The Koensayr Manufacturing BTL "Y-Wing" class starfighter-bomber from the Star Wars Universe
There is no more famous starfighter-bomber in all of science fiction than the Rebel Alliance Y-Wing , and for many of us that grew up with Star Wars, the Y-Wing is very symbol of space fighter-bombers. First seen in the massive Grand Temple hanger of Yavin-4, the Y-Wings of Gold Squadron were to launch the killer blow to the Death Star and the unit had just gotten back from the Battle of Scarif. Out of the 8 Y-Wings of Gold Squadron tasked with the Darth Star Trench Run, only one Y-Wing, Gold-3, would return to the Great Temple complex on Yavin 4 under the command of Lt. Evaan Verlaine. We would see Gold Group return for the Battle of Endor. 
While much attention is paid to the T-65 "X-Wing" Space Superiority Fighter, the Y-Wing was the original starfighter of the Rebel Alliance and the space fighter-bomber was developed for the Clone Wars. The BLT-series of Y-Wings were designed by Koensayr Manufacturing for the Republic Navy as a starfighter and long-range bomber and was flown by Clone pilots and Jedi alike. The original BTL-B was a complex, heavily armored and armed starfighter for a different type of war against a different type of enemy. The inclusion of a hyperdrive motivator allowed for the BTL-B Y-Wing to strike CIS targets.
One of the interesting elements of the Y-Wing, is that there is several variants of the familiar Y-Wing of the Galactic Civil War and the Clone Wars. 
The first Y-Wing was the BTL-B that was fully encased in armor and featured a bubble-turrent manned by a gunner. Another variant was the two-man larger BTL-S3 Y-Wing that was not a starfighter-bomber, but classified as an "assault starfighter. This variant was first seen in the 1978 Splinter of the Mind's Eye book by Alan Dean Foster and later used in the Star Wars Holiday Special. The most common variant of the Y-Wing is the BTL-A4 that served in the Rebel Alliance and it was a more stripped down one-man starfighter-bomber.
When the Rebellion was forming against the Galactic Empire, there was healthy supply of BTL-A4 Y-Wings in mothball depot sites around the galaxy. This was due to the change in Republic naval combat policies and the company attempted to sell the surplus Y-Wings to local system defense organizations as a patrol vessel. However, it was the early Rebel Alliance gathered them up for the fight and this gave the Y-Wing a new purpose as the fighter that broke the Empire. 
Before the development of the X-Wing or the B-Wing, the Y-Wing served as both fighter and bomber during the early years of the Civil War. One of the issues of the Clone Wars era BTL-A4 Y-Wings was the complexity and weight. Rebel technicians stripped the fuel recyclers and the extra armor, allowing the Rebel Y-Wing to have a very different look and feel that the Clone Wars models. One of the major issues facing the Y-Wings involved in the Galactic Civil War was the enemy that the old BTL series were up against: The Imperial TIE Fighter. The Y-Wing was not developed for much consideration to dogfighting with the TIE fighter and many were lost prior to the development of the T-65 X-Wing. Once the X-Wing was fielded, the Y-Wing would be used less and slotted into the fighter-bomber role. 
One of the variants developed by the Rebel Alliance for the larger, and more rare BTL-S3 Y-Wing was the BTL-A4 LP "Long-Probe". Used by the Rebels as a recon bird and scout for evaluating strike targets, the Long-Probe variant could wait and watch with the larger interior space. This variant was first seen in the West End Games Rebel Alliance sourcebook for their Star Wars RPG. 
Then that brings us to the modern variant of the Y-Wing, the BTL-S3 Y-Wing. Built by Koensayr Manufacturing again, this new BTL series Y-Wing would serve in the fight against the First Order in the service of the New Republic and the Resistance forces. With the role of the BTL-A4 Y-Wings in the Galactic Civil War, the company designed a updated Y-Wing and marketed it for planetary defense and fighter-bomber roles cashing in on the killer-rep of the older model. The new Y-Wing would serve in the war against the First Order and be seen at the Battle of Exegol. 
For the original 1977 Star Wars film, the fighter-bomber that would become the Y-Wing would be designed in pre-production art by none other than Ralph McQuarrie. When the film moved to production, the Y-wing models were made bu the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic with Joe Johnston bring the vision of the space bombers developed in preproduction art by Colin Cantwell and Ralph McQuarrie. It seems that Joe Johnston was the one who developed the lore that the once sleek fighter had been "chopped and stripped like a hot rod by Rebel Alliance technicians".
Y-Wing returned for the Clone Wars animated show, it was designer Russell G. Chong that used the original concept art and reverse-designed the original Y-Wing design for the Clone Wars: "The Y-wing was a really fun project, bringing it back fully faired, We back-engineered the Y-wing and turned it back into a bomber. I took images of the actual Y-wing model from the files at Lucasfilm and I designed our new version over it. We revitalized the bubble turret that Colin Cantwell and Ralph McQuarrie had developed. All the body panels are very much the same as the original Y-wing. I did my best to give it the same styling and the same look as the original Y-wing."
Then that brings us to the original Kenner Return of the Jedi Y-Wing toy vehicle...of which I owned one and it was an amazing toy. While the Y-Wing was part of the 1977 film, Kenner did not bring the fighter-bomber to plastic reality until the 1983 ROTJ toyline. However, the Y-Wing had been a diecast toy in 1979 that had red racing strips and not the familiar yellow one as seen in the film. The 1983 toy was loving designed and featured a release bomb, a cool cockpit and a place to put your favorite astromech droid. What I remember about owning this was the damn engines...those engine struts were a bitch to keep on and not get them lost. Given this and that the bomb is in two pieces(?), these items are lost. A complete vintage Y-Wing sells for good money. In the time of release, the ROTJ 1983 Y-Wing was widely available and sold for $19.99 (about $58 in today's money). 

The Heavy and Bombers Fighters of Battletech
When it comes to smaller attack spacecraft and aircraft in the Battletech universe, there is some explanation needed. There are two main types of fighters in the Battletech universe: Aerofighters and conventional fighters. Aerofighters are designed to be a dual-atmospheric craft that operate in both environments and are divided up into three weight classes: light, medium, and heavy. Then there is the conventional fighters that are endo-atmospheric and are all below 50 tons. While it may seem that Aerofigthers are the way to go, they are much more expensive and complex, while conventional fighters are cheaper and simpler in design. In the realm of Aerofighters, the heavy (up to 100 tons) fighter is akin to the starfighter-bomber/MRCF. These heavy aerofighter work in packs to protect dropships, attack capitol ships, or act as bombers to planetary targets, like the Clan Xerxes Aerospace Heavy Fighter  In the realm of conventional fighters, there actually fighter-bombers that are used like modern day fighter-bombers like the  AB-18C "Raubvogel" bomber.  

The Proposed Colonial Fighter-Bombers of Classic Battlestar Galactica
While on the last day of production on this article, the Twitter Spaceshipper account gifted me this image and I was floored. This was a production art piece for a possible two-pilot Colonial Viper for the Classic BSG TV show that was listed as a "fighter-bomber". Sometimes, the universe gives you a gift. Designed by one of the legends of science fiction production design: Andrew Prober. Look him up and see the mark that this man has left on the some of the best designs in all of science fiction including the Vulcan shuttle, the Cylons, the refit Enterprise and the Enterprise D. Bloody Legend. Anyways, there is very little on the two proposed designs for a possible fighter-bomber in the inventory of the last Battlestar of the 12 Colonies. 
One is more of a dual cockpit design and the other looks like a heavier, larger starfighter...both share some common design elements with the iconic Viper design. Given that all of the starfighters in the Classic BSG fire DE bolts, on has to wonder what would these "fighter-bombers" of these series would have fit within the combat seen in the series. Why were these cool designs not given any screen time? Money. Maybe if BSG had lasted a few seasons, we might have seen more Colonial combat spacecraft, but alas, it was cancelled after one season. There just wasn't a need for more Colonial spacecraft and the show was expensive enough as it was. During the first season of Buck Rogers and the 25th Century, in the episode "Buck's Duel to the Death", we see an shuttle that looks very close to the 2nd proposed design of the Colonial Fighter-Bomber.     

The Kilrathi Starfighter-Bombers from Wing Commander Universe
In one of the most iconic space fighter combat games of all time, Wing Commander, the killer space kitties from outer space have a few starfighter-bombers in their inventory with the Vaktoth and the Grikath. One of the best Kilrathi fighter-bombers was the Grikath and it hunted Terran capitol ships in packs of four or more Grikath. These heavily armed and armored starfighter-bombers fire volleys of anti-ship torpedoes along with pounding the ship's defenses with the large neutron cannons. One of the replacements to the Grikath that was more of fighter-bomber than a torpedo bomber was the fang-like Vaktoth heavy fighter.
Designed around front arch firepower with massive offensive capability with five DM cannons, this was better platform for ACM with Terran forces than the other space kitty starfighter-bombers. This was introduced late into the Terran-Kilrathi War and while impressive, it was expensive and less able to defense itself when out-maneuvered by a Terran fighter. Once on it's six, you unloaded and watched the kitty fighter burn. In-game, both of the fighter-bomber were trouble and often you were running interception missions to prevent the killer space-kitties from taking down a TC capitol ship. 

The Imperial TIE/sb Bomber from the Star Wars Universe
For the Imperial Navy, Sienar Fleet Systems developed a starfighter platform and variants were developed off of the familiar TIE Fighter design. One of the most interesting and noticeable was the TIE/sb Bomber. Later and seemingly double stacked, the TIE Bomber was a powerful and fast fighter bomber that was used by the Empire to spread terror and fear. This campaign included the bombing of the Mandalorian homeworld and Rebel bases and installations. While the primary hull was for the pilot and fighter systems, the secondary hull was designed to carry whatever the mission required, up to 16 tons. This could range from missiles, drop-charges, proton bombs, mines, propaganda materials, and even thermal charges. 
With some modifications, the TIE Bomber could serve as a backup shuttle, VIP craft, and even a boarding craft for Navy Marines and/or Stormtroopers. Interestingly enough, the TIE Bomber was designed in 1977 for the original film, but pushed off until TESB and it would later be included into many of the video games that kept us Star Wars going during the wilderness years. Much like the Kenner Y-Wing toy, we must examine the toy history of the TIE Bomber. There was no action figure scaled play vehicle of the TIE Bomber for the Kenner TESB, but instead we got a TIE bomber for the Kenner diecast vehicle line…which my brother and I had a few of the diecast spacecraft back in the day…but never the rare TIE Bomber. 
Quite recently, a British man found an in-box TIE Bomber made by the British toy company Palitoy, who is father worked for in the 1980’s, in a loft. This is considered one of the rarest of the original Star Wars line and sold for thousands of pounds when it came for auction. In the US market, there is conflicting information on the diecast TIE Bomber that states that was released in a limited “testing” fashion by Kenner, with “only” 75,000 made. That is way too many and collectors have stated that they saw examples of these around the USA in the 1980s. This myth was busted by That Junkman and according to his theory that the larger toys of the diecast line were ordered less than the smaller ships and it was not a tester…it was just unpopular and part of a line that wasn’t as successful as the action figure line.
We finally would get a proper TIE bomber for the 3.75inch figure in the Power of the Force line in 2002 and sold exclusively at Wal-Mart stores. While a nice plastic take on the TIE Bomber, it does have an odd feature…the bomber bay pod is unable to open and only the drop-bomber arm opens up and releases three red bombs…like we saw in the asteroid scene in TESB. I’ve always thought the mouth-like opening to the ordinance pod to be odd to say the least and it is very odd on the 2002 toy. Today, the 2002 TIE Bomber sells for about $200 complete and in-box…not bad for a $30 original price tag. Since that first full-sized TIE Bomber toy, there have several other TIE Bomber toys releases, including a rather cool Lego verious.        

The Star Wing B-1 SF/B "Starhawk" Fighter-Bomber from STARCOM: US Space Force 
In the inventory of the STARCOM: US Space Force toyline, there is yet another starfigher-bomber: the SF/B "Starhawk". Released in 1987 with the rest of the original line, this is oddball starfighter design that reminds me greatly of the P-82 "Twin Mustang" Long-Range Bomber Escort of the 2nd World War. I guess that SF/B Starhawk was based on that design and I have my doubts about the "bomber" part of the name of this starfighter. With the "power deploy" feature, the middle section of the Starhawk opens up to reveal more rapid-laser cannons. In the text for the toy, it mentions that the Starhawk is rarely deployed and normally operates in CAS role for Astro Marine planetary operations. 



The Earth Defense Directorate "Quadfighter" from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
During the "Star Wars Craze" of the late 1970's, it was critical to copycat productions to feature some sort of starfighter. One of the shows that greenlit during this time by NBC was  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV show. In the first season and the TV movie, one of the most iconic and memorable elements was the wonderfully designed Terran "Thunderfighter". The design of the spacefighter was originally under consideration for the Colonial Viper from Classic BSG, but was rejected and recycled for Buck Rogers. In the first season of the show, the primary combat spacecraft of the Earth Defense Directorate is the Thunderfighter to the point that the EDD does not seem to construct or field any type of combat space ship...only starfighters. The standard Thunderfighter class Space Superior Fighter is a two-seat attack craft, however, there is four-seater model, the so-called "Quadfighter". 
Much like two-seater starfigther, there was a full-sized mockup constructed and it would appear several times in the first season as a variant that allowed Buck to interact with a co-stars for the flight scenes. The four-seater variant was seen in "Planet of the Amazon Women", "The Plot to Kill a City", "Vegas in Space" and first introduced in "Plant of the Slave Girls", the 3rd episode of the show. This four-seater Thunderfighter acting almost like an armed shuttle and according to some information online, it is believed that the four-seater variant was built at the request of the Buck Rogers actor himself. When the show switched directions in season two, the full-scale mockups of the EDD starfigthers were abandoned to rot. Pity. 
When it came to film the SFX shots of the space combat and flight scenes in the first season, there were many mistakes made when matching up the two types of Thunderfighter to the footage of the actors in the mockups. So, why are we discussing the Buck Rogers starfighter? Well, because according to some online fan sources, the Quadfighter maybe the starfighter-bomber variant of the Thunderfighter class Space Superior Fighter. One source has the Quadfighter mount two anti-ship missiles on hardpoints on the belly of the starfighter-bomber variant. This was never seen on-scene and only the standard DE cannons are used during ACM. Still, it is nice to discuss a little-known variant to one of the best designed starfighters in all of science fiction. 

The  "Solvalou" Advanced Fighter/Bomber from the Xevious Franchise
An Advanced spacefaring civilization arose on the Earth before the last Ice Age. When it looked like incoming ice age would be too much for the advanced human society, most of the human race left the Earth for several colonial worlds, one being Xevious. Many years later, the Xevian race has come back to the Earth and they want it back. To aid in the defense of the nearly defeated Earth Forces is the "Solvalou" alien fighter-bomber that has sent to Earth to aid in their struggle. In the Xevian language, "Solvalou" is translated in "Sun Bird". To attack the various aircraft, armored vehicles, and the alien installations, the Solvalou attacks using somesort of DE cannons and ground blaster. Growing up, I played this shooter arcade game by Namco in the early 1980's and even had a copy of the game for my ATARI 7800...good memories.  

The B-290 "Barracuda" Fighter/Bombers from Space: Above & Beyond
During the 1990's, chances were taken with the realm of sci-fi TV with shows like The X-Files, Earth 2, and Space: Above and Beyond. While SAAB only ran for one single season of greatness, we did seen some of what could have been in some of the production art created by Geoffrey Mandel. In blueprint for the US Space Carrier USS Saratoga of the John Kennedy class, we see mention of the 'Toga carrying eight B-290 "Barracuda" fighter-bombers. This US space-based bomber was never seen on-screen and I was wondering if the B-290 have been in some stage of development when the show was canned in 1996. When I asked the SAAB fan community on Facebook, none other than Glenn Campbell responded to me. Glenn Campbell was the visual effects supervisor for Area 51 and he confirmed that no bomber designs, besides the Chig Bombers, were in development. It is a pity that Geoffrey Mandel's B-290 was never developed for season 2. 

The Gamilon/Garmillas Empire Fighter-Bombers from the Yamato Universe
During the original Quest to Iscandar, the SBB Yamato was pitted against the might of the Gamilon or Garmillas Empire and their many space forces. Given who designed this important military sci-fi anime and the World War II theme, the Garmillas had some of their hardware based on Nazi craft and World War II. That being said, one of the most common fighter-bombers of the Great Garmillas Imperial forces, the DMB87 Snuka dive bomber,  is a very much styled after the Junkers Ju 87 "Sturzkampfflugzeug" dive bomber. This is a trend repeated throughout both the classic and rebooted series. 
Then there is the FWG.97 "Doshira" torpedo bomber that is fashioned after the Nakajima B5N Type 97 torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese forces of the 2nd World War. Much the original 1974 Space Cruiser Yamato, the starfighter-bombers of the Garmillas are more torpedo-bomber that are tasked with anti-capitol ship roles and very limited in ACM. The only fighter-bomber with a ground attack role is the DM87 that is featured in the Classic and Rebooted series. 
The only fighter-bomber mentioned in my Starblazers Technical Manual by Voager Entertainment is the "Viper". Seen in episode 13 "the Gamilon Pilot", the crew captures a Gamilon pilot in a DMAB-85 "Viper" attack-bomber. This is oddball design that makes little sense. This type of alien attack-bomber was not updated in the rebooted series when they took the concept of the classic episode and transformed it into the solid episode 10: "Graveyard of the Universe". In that much better telling, the alien attack spacecraft is altered from the DMAB-85 Viper to the DWG-262 Czvarke, which is designed from the attack jet Nazi Me 262 of World War 2.    

The EarthForce SA-23E Badger-class Starfury from Babylon 5
One of the most iconic spacecraft of the Earth-Minbari War and the Earth Alliance Civil War was the Starfury Terran space fighter and among the various versions of the starfighter that carried that name, the SA-23E was the most iconic. First put into service with the EarthForce in the 2240's by the Mitchell-Hyundyne corporation, the SA-23E would serve in the bloodiest interstellar war in human history, the Earth-Minbari War. During the service life of this Starfury, several variants were made, including a fighter-bomber: the Badger. This two-person Starfury was purpose built to be a long-range bomber with the rear section being fitting missile racks tucked into the hull until the missiles were launched. The Badger was also fitted with heavier pulse cannons as well. This Starfury variant also related to the two-seater heavy Starfury, the "Muskrat" that saw only very limited production. When the SA-32A Thunderbolt was rolled out in 2260, the days were numbered for the SA-23E class and all of its variants. 
While the Badger was never seen on-screen and only exists online and in the art books of Tim Earls, who designed for Season 4 of Babylon 5 and the TNT B5 TV films. He would also design the unseen Cotton Tender class and the Olympus class Corvette that was seen on-screen in the TNT B5 film 1997 "In the Beginning", which is damn amazing. These designs were at the request of George Johnsen and Tim Earls based the Badger on the F-111. However, the Badger and another barely seen EarthForce Starfury, the heavy Starfury "Muskrat", are often confused. According to various sources, there was some confusion when George Johnson made a statement in 1997 online about upcoming designs for the TNT movie and he connected the name Badger to the Heavy Starfury seen in only one episode of the B5 TV series: "Voice in the Wilderness". This was picked up by gaming studio Chameleon Eclectic and adding to their B5 RPG.   


The Ko-Dan Deck Fighter from The Last Starfighter
In one of the better 1980's sci-fi that came about due to the impact of Star Wars, The Last Starfighter, features some amazing starfighter designs. In the film, the Ko-Dan Empire and the Star League face off and the primary weapons of war are starfighters. While we will devote much press to the iconic Gunstar class space superiority starfighter, it is the starfighter-bomber that is also the primary of the Ko-Dan Empire: the Deck Fighter. Designed by Ron Cobb for the 1984 film, the Deck Fighter was designed as a computer model and not a real world model, unlike the X-Wing or the Thunderhawk. Originally, I would have thought that the Ko-Dan Deck Fighter would be more of a standard attack starfighter, it seems that the Deck Fighter was more designed with attacks on installations via missiles. In the film, we can see the Deck Fighters attack the last Gunstar with missiles primarily. 

The EDF SSF "Cosmo Tiger II" Attack Bomber from Starblazers and Space Cruiser Yamato
After the Yamato completed its epic quest to recover the Cosmo DNA from Queen Starsha on planet Iscandar along with the defeat of the Gamilon Empire, the Earth Government was tasked with rebuilding their world and their military. During this reconstruction and reorder of the new EDF, a new primary space attack fighter was developed from the experiences of the Yamato air/space wing, the Black Tigers. From this was developed the Cosmo Tiger II Space Superior Fighter (SSF) in 2200. One of the variants of the SSF Cosmo Tiger II was the Fighter-Bomber and this would see use in the White Comet Invasion with Derek Wildstar piloting one of these for the assault on the Gatlantis city-state mobile headquarters for the entire empire and was one of the great wonders of that time. Crewed by two with a manned turret twin-barreled 20mm DE cannon and 2 hardpoints for missiles on the wings and two hardpoints on the belly for larger torpedoes. This model was replaced with the Cosmo Tiger II "Electra" for anti-capital ship missions. 

The Seymour Class Cargo Sled Fighter-Bomber from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
During the research for this article, I could recall some sort of bomber from the 1970's Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV show that was helmed by Glen A. Larson. In the 8th episode of the 1st season, we got "The Return of the Fighting 69th", airing in October 25th, 1979. Basically, some Terran gunrunners, Roxanne Trent and Corliss operating out of a asteroid base and both were horribly wounded by a failed arrest by Colonel Wilma Deering and they swear to get back at the Earth and Deering. Their masterplan is to use 20th century nerve gas shells on the Earth and kill the reminds of the human race. The finer points of their plot are not explained and everything seems rushed. 
With the intelligence pointing to this plot, the Earth Defense Directorate believes a bombing run to the only answer, but the asteroid base were their operation is based is dense, the Earth Directorate needs someone who has been there. One of the Terran units that operated in that Necrosis belt was the 69th Earth Space Marine Squadron, and they were grounded by Col. Deering when they reached 85. When Deering and Buck met with the aging space fighter-jocks, they agree to come back for one last mission if they get back their silver wings. 
It is during discussion of the mission to destroy the stockpile of pre-World War III nerve gas canisters, that the 69th comes up with a plan to convert cargo sled spacecraft into the role as a fighter bomber with rear-facing laser pulse turrets and such. Now, the actual fighter-bomber of this episode is odd and is not 100% a "fighter-bomber", but FWS will allow it. Due to the terrible inconsistency of the show itself and the script, the actually identity of the spacecraft is in question. The space pilots dialog seem to indicate that they converted Seymour class cargo sleds into a something called "star belly" (Sneetches?) or even "belly bombers", but there is other dialog that calls these "sled bombers". Ugh. The case of the what the hell these ships are or were or even what they were intended to be is lost. However, the story of the model is much more interesting that the very half-baked Buck Rogers TV show was.
Oddly, the actual shooting model for the bomber was held by one of the actors on-screen when the group was discussing how to modify the cargo ships, which adds to the confusion of these fighter pilots just happened to have a model of a cargo ship in the meeting room is beyond me. The model was developed first by David Jones of Future General when the studio was working on the ShowScan filming method. For the testing, they constructed a spacecraft called "AstroSled", but it was never finished by David Jones. This model was bought by the Universal Studios in-house effects department, Universal Hartland Visual Effects (1979-1981) to save on time due to the pressures of filming a TV show was attempting to bring Star Wars to the small screen. There are two paths for the original AstroSled model. It was to be used for the space Olympics episode of Buck Rogers with Ken A. Larson (no relation to Glen A. Larson), the model marker for Universal Hartland and Vance Frederick working on finishing the model and developing a set to shoot in. This AstroSled was used to then construct a bomber spacecraft for another episode that was coming soon in production and this why the Sled Bomber has such a great look to it and why I remembered it from watching Buck Rogers all of those years ago. It should be stated for the record that I re-watched "The Return of the Fighting 69th" episode (so you don't have to) and I found it terrible and horribly written and paced, but, the sled fighter-bomber design was awesome. Please note, it is highly that this example will be recycled for a Bomber post.   

The EDF SSF Cosmo Tiger II "Electra" Attack Torpedo-Bomber from Starblazer & Yamato
As with the Gamilon Empire, there is a fine line between fighter-bomber and torpedo bomber that often gets blurred. Introduced in 2200 during the massive rearmament of Terran forces and reconstruction of Terra and the Sol System, the "Electra" was a anti-ship torpedo-based starfighter-bomber. to help with defensive of the fighter-bomber during runs on a capitol ship, a manned rear-facing rapid laser pulse cannon was added. This was the chosen successor to the EDF SSF "Cosmo Tiger II" Attack Bomber and the "Electra" served in a number of invasions with the Yamato and other EDF vessels. For the role as a "torpedo-bomber", the "Electra" was fitted with two Pellam XL Harpax II attack torpedo launch systems for the two hardpoints on the belly of the "Electra". 



The Confederation HF-66A "Thunderbolt" VII Heavy Fighter from WC: IV
One of the computer games that got me through the 1990's was Wing Commander and during the third and fourth game, we got one of the best Terran heavy fighters that was used in starfighter-bomber role: The HF-66A "Thunderbolt" VII. While mostly a heavy space superiority starfighter, it was used by the Terran Confederation Forces for anti-capitol ship work. Introduced in 2668 during the tail end of the Terran-Kilrathi War, the Thunderbolt VII would see extensive action due to it ability to take damage and deal it out via its massive weapons loadout. One of the awesome abilities of the Thunderbolt VII class starfighter-bomber was to mount a single anti-ship tropedo, and a few sister ships would work together to take down larger furball warships. 

Next Time on FWS...
One of the great fears of most humans is to be eaten and certainly movies, TV shows, books, and even the stage have played upon those collective fears of being on the menu to entertain and horrify. This fear of being breakfast has been capitalized on in sci-fi with the common concept that aliens will come to Earth to harvest us as a food source...but, would that be true? In the next installment of Our Enemies, FWS will examine the Eaters of Man down here on Earth and out among the stars. 


6 comments:

  1. Just adding this little tidbit, Star citizen the successor of the wing commander series has a few bombers in it, bombers tend to be ground attack (must be in atmosphere) and torpedo bombers are anti capital class missile ships. They also have mine layer ships that (you guessed it) lays mines for any sized ship.

    Generally torpedo's are massive missiles that require guidance to the target, and are the size of small snub ships.

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    1. https://robertsspaceindustries.com/media/3er5vyjkalffzr/store_slideshow_large/Ret-Frame_TorpedoBayInt.jpg - Not sure if this will work but here is an image of a torpedo from star citizen.

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  2. I love how 40k did the Thunderbolt fighter. It can fight in both space and inside atmosphere, but it requires the pilot to use a special single use rocket booster to get back out of the atmosphere unless it is loaded on a bulk transport.

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  3. I'd also include the Alpha with the Beta booster from Robotech as a fighter/bomber. Judging by how it did against the Invid, it wasn't much of a fighter, but according to the Palladium RPG stats, it had over 120 missiles, including a couple of Reflex warheads.

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  4. Great article, as ever, William. As you mentioned my country (New Zealand) no retains a dedicated combat wing, due to the prohibitive costs. It was a contentious decision made by our government at the time.

    Before that was made, the RNZAF fielded A-4K Skyhawks. Originally conceived as a light attack bomber for the US Navy, ours were tasked primarily with CAS but had secondary anti-shipping and air defence roles. So, I guess they could be classed as fighter-bombers too.

    As a side note, before our air force combat element was retired the govt was considering purchasing F-16s, as our nation valued the economic sense of MRCA, a jack-of-all-trades if you will.

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  5. I wish to recommend the 40k Ork Fighta-Bommer for this list. If only for the name.

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