Consisting of the M5 Scout, M4 Interceptor, M4+ Light Fighter, M3 Standard Fighter, M3+ Heavy Fighter, M3S Strike Fighter/Heavy Interceptor, and M3B Fighter-Bomber classes, these ships are your typical ‘dogfighting in space’ starfighters. Armed with the lightest weaponry and the weakest shielding, but alternatively possessing the best speed and agility in the game, these ships are the first stop for most players who go the combat route, especially with most of the starts getting you into a fighter of some sort as your starting ship. Fighters also hold the distinction of being able to be carried by carriers, and even a few capital combatant ships are able to carry a handful of these small spacecraft. Each class fills a specific role, although they are somewhat interchangeable -- the Split Mamba Raider for example, despite being an M3 (Fighter), can function as an M4 (Interceptor), given that it can move at 346m/s once it is upgraded. However, this tends to only apply to the variants, and each class is pretty set in its specific role.
Fighters are a flying paradox; while they perform their jobs admirably, in larger battles they’re just cannon fodder. This is not to say they are not important -- the wisest fleet commander will make extensive use of fighters, as they can perform tasks suited to few other classes. They are capable of running around to perform recon on enemy fleets, they can intercept inbound enemy fighters or bombers, harass enemy subcapitals and capitals, and in large enough numbers can serve as a significant source of DPS for the largest battles against several capital ships. As well, they make tremendous distractions -- a flight of fast-moving M4s or M3s can tie up an enemy capital’s turrets, which correspondingly reduces its DPS on friendly ships, which improves your ships’ chances of victory. The best thing about fighters is the sheer number of roles they can serve, and even a wing of each can make the difference for a carrier -- say, a wing of M3Bs will be able to do good damage to larger enemy ships, M4+s and M3+s can defend your carrier up close, and M4s and M3Ss can quickly run out and pester distant targets.