The SF-22A Thunderchief is the current primary aerospace superiority fighter of the North American Union. Unlike most nations who- largely for convenience and partly out of tradition- still manufacture fighters based on the centuries-old horizontal axis airframe, the NAU has long used vertical axis designs for fighters primarily deployed in space. While perfectly capable of atmospheric operations due to streamlining and a combination of AG fields and gravitic engines, the Thunderchief is primarily geared for space combat. Deployed from stations and carriers, it does not land, but locks into a docking cradle.
The Thunderchief was developed in the wake of the Freeman War for Independence to replace the aging Kiowa aerospace fighter. While retaining the vertical frame of the older fighter, the NAU took many lessons from the slaughtering abuse the Kiowas had endured at the hands of heavier Freeman fighters. The Free Systems Alliance was able to produce fighters quickly and easily in hidden factories, and what they lacked in capital warships they more than made up for in heavily-armed and armoured fighters. The Kiowas- and NAU fighters for nearly a century, in fact- had been built with a focus on agility and precision attack capabilities, which did not fare well against the flying tanks produced by the Freemen.
As a result, the NAU developed a fighter that had heavier armour, greater firepower, and advanced ECM and ECCM systems, all without compromising agility and speed. Advances in onboard AI computers and miniaturization of power plants over the last decade of the 23rd and first decade of the 24th centuries made this possible. The result is a cockpit sitting in front of dual reactor cores surrounded by advanced gravitic engines and armed to the teeth. The dorsal wing and rotating port and starboard wings mount medium PPCs while the ventral wing mounts dual heavy AP lancers with their own independent microreactors. While it does not have any internal missile batteries, it can carry up to eight LRMs on each the side wings, and twelve more on each of the vertical wings via magnetic locks.
Unlike warfare of the 20th through 22nd centuries, advances in industrial nanotechnology have led to a situation where replacing the fighter is cheaper than replacing the pilot. As a result, preserving the life of the highly-trained man or woman in the cockpit necessitated the development of new safety features. Chief among them was the linking of the onboard AI to the ejection system. Upon receiving critical damage, the AI is able to act independent of the pilot- primarily because it can do so before the pilot can even perceive that his fighter has been hit- and trigger the ejection of the cockpit module.
After a few border skirmishes with the Naradi, the NAU also upgraded the shields, layering an energy-absorbing ablative shield under the standard deflector shields. This helps mitigate punch-through by concentrated fire of beam weapons designed to overwhelm shields at a precise point and take out the generator. Rounding out the defenses are half a meter thickness of atomically-bonded carbon-turidium battleplate, advanced ECM designed to wreak merry havoc on the guidance systems and AIs of missiles, and a rearward-mounted anti-missile particle beam turret for the ones that get through.
The Thunderchief has yet to see exposure to protracted warfare, and while it has been used in many engagements against pirates, Bythrani raiders, and even a few skirmishes with the Byntai and Naradi, its true worth in full-scale warfare has yet to be determined. NAU admirals swear by them, however, and they have fully replaced the Kiowa fighters. Due to the newness of the fighter, and the draconian controls the NAU military keeps over its toys, no Thunderchiefs have managed to find their way to the black market (though a glut of Kiowas lends some credence to the speculation that the NAU figured they would gain more profit from black market sales than legitimate ones), nor in the private sector.
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