Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing
The Cygnus Spaceworks Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing, commonly referred to as the Assault Gunboat, was one of the Galactic Empire's first general-deployment starfighters to be equipped with deflector shields and a hyperdrive.
The Star Wing did not prove overwhelmingly successful in its first independent deployments. As the Star Wing was the only hyperdrive-capable starfighter in the Imperial arsenal, there was initially no other space superiority craft available to escort it. The Xg-1 was able to compare favorably against similarly heavy Alliance craft such as the Y-wing and the B-wing. However, against the more common X-wing and especially the nimble A-wing which it was often forced to engage, the Xg-1 had a hard time. The Xg-1 did have the advantage of stronger shields and armor to prolong its survival, but its comparative lack of speed prevented it from coming out on top. Consequently, Star Wings were often forced into lengthy dogfights with more maneuverable Alliance fighters, which detracted from their main mission goals. When the tractor beam weapon was developed, while it would have helped the Xg-1's changes against other starfighters, most flight officers opted to install what limited beam weapons they had on the TIE Avenger and other newer faster craft, where it would be even more effective.
As a stopgap, Imperial flight officers decided that hyperspace raids should be conducted in two groups, with a squadron of missile-equipped Star Wings being pressed into the space superiority/escort role, and another group to tasked with delivering the warheads to their target (usually proton torpedoes, heavy rockets, or heavy space bombs). An example of this was the assault on the Rebel Mon Calamari Light Cruiser Lulsla, in which the Imperials succeeded but suffered significant losses.
Once available, Star Wings were escorted by TIE Avengersâ€”another class of Imperial fighter equipped with shields and hyperdrive. Because of the hyperspace capability of both classes, they could arrive in a system at the same time, catching Rebel patrols by surprise. As the Avengers proved excellent at space superiority, this enabled Star Wings to concentrate on their intended roles, whether that be capturing craft or assaulting capital ships. Successful Starwing-Avenger partnerships included the capture of Admiral Harkov and the seizure of Galactic Electronics' mag pulse weapons.
The Assault Gunboat was largely overshadowed by the fast and versatile TIE Defender, which was virtually equal or superior in every aspect save for armor and cost. However, due to the traitor Admiral Zaarin who threatened loyalist Avenger and Defender facilities, the loyalists were forced to resort to older craft. The Assault Gunboat made a comeback in the Eva-T system to combat the rogue TIE Defender threat. The first was during the "trade" with the Rneekii pirates for the TIE Defender scientist; the mutual exchange was actually an Imperial trap, but sending a newer starfighter would be provocative, and also because the Rneekii would underestimate the Gunboat. The Xg-1, however, was piloted by ace Maarek Stele, and it carried a full load of advanced concussion missiles and the new tractor beam weapon. In the following mission, Stele would take the Xg-1 into battle against the Zaarin's TIE Defenders. Stele's ability and the inclusion of the latest technology in the Star Wing proved that it could prevail against overwhelming odds.
The follow-up to the Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing was the Missile Boat. Despite several innovations, notably a much larger warhead capacity and a sublight acceleration system, it lacked ion cannons so it was not a direct replacement. Three Xg-1s participated in the disabling and capture of the Strike Cruiser Nuance, escorted by two Missile Boats. Other noted Gunboat-Missile Boat partnerships included the successive captures of the MC80 Mon Calamari Rebel cruiser Link and the rogue Victory Star Destroyer Zeplin.
Behind the Scenes
The Assault Gunboat first made an appearance in Star Wars: X-wing, midway through the main game's second tour of duty - in order to give the Imperial Navy a fighter with deflector shields.
In Star Wars: TIE Fighter, Assault Gunboats and Missile Boats were assigned squadron names Tau, Mau, Mu, Rho, and Nu.
In Star Wars: Essential Guide to Vehicles, Imperial Star Destroyers are stated to carry five Assault Gunboats (not explicitly stated to be the Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing), in addition to their TIEs, shuttles, and landing barges.
Possibly because of its resemblance to Rebel Alliance fighter types, the Assault Gunboat has received little to no mention outside of the X-wing computer game series. While more typical-appearing Imperial fighters such as the TIE/D Defender have shown up increasingly in later Expanded Universe novels, the far more numerous Gunboats are rarely depicted in such works.