Space combat has always been a fundamental aspect of the Star Wars universe. As war and tensions rage across the Galaxy, the primary and fundamental projection of military power has always been, first and foremost, fleets of mighty warships. I've created this guide with the goal of helping shed light on the definite lore of these great naval clashes, as well as using educated guesses and inferences to help fill in the gaps that aren't expressively emphasized within the codex.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of Naval Warfare in this current time period of Galactic History is understanding the doctrine of both the Republic and Imperial Navies. Military doctrine is defined as the expression of how military forces contribute to campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements. Doctrine reflects on how vessels are designed and what they are utilized for. The Republic and Empire both have extremely different Naval doctrines, and this is evident in both factions' starship designs.
The Galactic Republic Navy has been the longstanding backbone of the Republic Military, serving with distinction through a great many conflicts through the millennia. Republic Navy doctrine very much emphasizes the use of speed, agility, and above all, starfighters. Republic starfighters are widely considered to be superior to their Imperial counterparts, with a few exceptions. Generally, Republic strike craft are equipped with shielding, as well as missile and torpedo launchers, making them a threat to enemy strike craft and capital ships alike. To reflect this, Republic capital ships are built with an emphasis on carrying starfighters. The Valor-class possess a superior compliment of almost double the amount of fighters compared to its Imperial counterpart, the Harrower. In turn, Republic ships typically sacrifice weaponry and armor. While Republic warships may not be able to outgun or outlast their Imperial counterparts in a slugging match, they are generally faster and more agile. Combining their agility with their starfighter strength, they are not to be underestimated.
The modern Imperial Navy is the brainchild of Odile Vaiken, the very first of the Sith Empire's Grand Moffs. In contrast to their Republic counterparts, Imperial naval doctrine widely revolves around shock and awe, and the projection of power. Imperial capital ships are heavily armed, armored, and shielded. Often one Harrower-class and her battlegroup is all it takes to subjugate an entire planetary system. Unlike the Republic Fleet, Imperial warships disregard a large starfighter compliment in favor of additional weaponry, and less emphasis is placed on smaller, supporting vessels in comparison. In addition to their powerful emphasis on capital ships, Imperial Doctrine also emphasizes the use of superweapons, such as the Gauntlet or Silencer, taking advantage of the versatility of the Harrower-class as a weapons platform. When it comes to raw firepower, the Sith Empire is unmatched, and the Imperial Navy is a fearsome war machine, one that has been precision crafted to inspire fear in their enemies.
Types of Vessels
Classification is important, and while we may not see every sort of vessel in service in this time period, both Navies likely possess a wide array of starfighters and starships in their arsenal, even if Bioware only represents each faction's Fleet with their Capital ship class and a singular frigate. Use your imagination, take advantage of the great amount of starships of the Old Republic period, and don't be afraid to incorporate them ICly! While they may not be shown, Hammerhead-class cruisers and Aurek-class starfighters are stated as still being in use during this time period. It's safe to say a great deal of other, older designs are as well. It is a large Galaxy, after all.
Interceptors are generally fast and maneuverable strike craft, designed primarily to attack other strike craft. They trade their speed and agility for light armor and lighter weaponry. Most Imperial starfighters are interceptors.
Strike Fighters are typically well rounded strike craft, with a balanced approach on speed, firepower, and defensive capabilities. They typically can be used in anti-fighter or anti-shipping roles.
Bombers are typically slower and more heavily armored craft, specialized in anti-shipping roles. They are also often used against planetary targets as well.
Gunships are typically slower and more bulkier than starfighters. They are generally heavily armed and armored, and capable of transporting troops to the frontlines in high intensity situations.
Light Corvettes are typically nimble and quick, but lightly armored and armed. Many are utilized as troop carriers or picket vessels, often tasked with patrol duty.
Heavy Corvettes are larger, sturdier, and more heavily armed than their light counterparts, often filling many of the same roles. Some may even be equipped with turbolasers or a small starfighter compliment.
Destroyers are larger than corvettes, and sometimes larger than frigates. Destroyers typically have an emphasis on point defense duties, utilized in battle groups to help shield larger vessels.
Frigates are medium sized vessels, typically ranging around three hundred meters across. They are usually equipped with anti-ship turbolasers, as well as fighter squadrons.
No Fleet is complete without logistical support. Many freighters and support ships support the Fleet behind the frontlines, keeping vessels fueled and resupplied.
Carrier Cruisers are capital ships with a large emphasis on starfighter compliment in favor of outright weaponry and armor. The Valor is a notable example.
Dreadnoughts are capital ships with an emphasis on firepower and combat capabilities above all else. These vessels are typically unmatched in direct engagements.
Heavy dreadnoughts are massive vessels, multiple kilometers across. Their function can vary, from strategic command ships to superweapon platforms. The Inexpungable-class is a notable example.
TACTICS AND STRATEGY
Space is an open battlefield unlike anything we know here on Earth. Too often, we tend to simplify the grand scale and prospects of an interstellar conflict. Space is truly huge, with engagements taking place over thousands and even millions of kilometers. In addition, unlike traditional Naval battles on our planet, space is a three dimensional playing field. In this stellar arena, the types of engagements are truly endless. RPing a space battle out? Use your imagination! Think to your faction's doctrine, and the advantages and cons to their vessels. Republic starships can utilize their speed and maneuverability, or perhaps stay back from a distance and utilize their starfighter compliments. Imperial forces on the other hand can utilize the destructive capabilities of their dreadnoughts to pummel their enemies into submission from closer ranges. Think of the weaknesses of the enemy vessels, as well as your own, in comparison to the strengths of your own. A Harrower, for example, has very little aft firepower due inherently to it's design, allowing Republic vessels to perhaps flank. A Valor has very exposed and open engine nacelles, a tempting target for an Imperial Fleet Commander.
Think to your Fleet's advantages, and don't be afraid to utilize them in RP!
Another extremely important consideration when it comes to Naval Combat is weaponry selection. Military starships are equipped with a great variety of cannons and projectiles in their arsenal. From your standard turbolaser cannons, to proton torpedoes, to concussion mines, knowing your vessel's armament can be extremely important.
Standard laser cannons are the typical armament of all starfighters. Weaker than turbolasers, and not nearly as effective against heavy shielding and armor, standard laser cannons nonetheless can maintain a much higher rate of fire, as well as precision.
Turbolaser cannons are the standard in anti-ship weaponry. Essentially up-scaled laser cannons, turbolasers can unleash a high volley of fire and power against both shielding and hull plating.
Ion cannons are energy weapons that specialize in disabling enemy subsystems and electronics. They are extremely effective against shielding.
Proton torpedoes are heavy anti-ship warheads, capable of immense destructive yield. One of their greatest strengths is their ability to penetrate enemy shielding.
Concussion missiles are one of the most used and widespread projectile weapons in use. While they aren't as effective against starship hulls as proton torpedoes, they still are quite effective against enemy starfighters.
Proximity detonated explosives, mines are utilized by both factions quite extensively with varying warheads depending on the task and niche.
Mass Drivers are railguns that accelerate projectile slugs to a fraction of the speed of light. Mass Drivers don't have the destructive yield of turbolasers, but can penetrate most forms of shielding. This kind of weapon is typically not used among the Republic and Empire.
SCALE AND LOGISTICS
It's a big Galaxy, and sometimes, it can be hard to really get a grasp on just how grand of a scale the Great Galactic Wars have been on. Decades of war over thousands of lightyears. Depending on your guild's lore, especially if you are a Fleet, take this into account when you list out the number of vessels your forces possess. The Republic and Empire both, even Post-Zakuulan Invasion period, likely have hundreds of vessels in their respective Navies spread out over their respective worlds and territory. With the recent fall of the Eternal Alliance, and the upcoming stormclouds of a Third Great War brewing, it's likely now more than ever that naval production will be at an all time high.
Logistics are something else to take into account when RPing Naval Combat. Your starships and vessels aren't refueled and resupplied with pure magic. There have to be definite supply lines to take into account in a Galaxy-spanning conflict. Replacement vessels and parts are difficult to come by, and can sometimes take weeks or months to receive. A damaged vessel likely has to limp back to a suitable repair drydock. With the recent Resource Crisis plaguing the Galaxy right now, each loss is going to be more painful than ever. With the Galaxy once again on the verge of full scale war, the skies will once again be filled with fire as Republic and Empire both clash for Galactic Conquest...
*Thank you so much for reading! I hope this atleast helped shed some sort of light on this topic, as it's something I'm quite passionate about. I admit I don't know everything, and some of the information I've presented is headcanon educated guesses based on the lore we know from the codex. If this is popular enough, I may do sections on the Mandalorians and Zakuulans as well, let me know what you think!*