# How can the pilots of small space vessels be as valuable to an empire as pilots of large vessels?

So there's this human empire spanning over many galaxies in our sector. They rely on a vast fleet of faster-than-light spacecraft for war and trade.

4 brave brothers are accepted into the space travel academy. One is assigned as a fighter pilot, one as a fighter-bomber, one as a anti-small-spacecraft, destroyer-type, capital ship and one as a planet-or-capital-ship-buster capital ship.

Now, they must all have the same importance to the story. But it's hard for the fighter pilot to come meet his brothers, brag about downing 4 bogeys yesterday and the other one saying: "yeah, I downed about 4 thousand fighters yesterday too!"
And then the other brother said "yeah, I destroyed New Earth today, population: 20 Billion, I reckon some pilots were there"

What kind of special abilities could the pilots of the small vessels have to make them interesting in the large scale of things?

• Focus on your heroes' deeds, not technical capabilities of their vessels. One squishy fighter can play major role in your story. – Trang Oul Nov 25 '15 at 11:33
• Why do the ships even have pilots not AIs? – Tim B Nov 25 '15 at 13:07
• That's why it's a comment not an answer. :) Seriously though, it does matter. If all fighters are AI controlled then all your brothers end up in some sort of flight oversight role. If one of them is in a fighter then there is a reason they are needed there rather than just putting an AI in it. That reason is their value. – Tim B Nov 25 '15 at 13:16
• Rather than having two capital ships, why not have one of them have a soft skill like a diplomat, hacker, or engineer? You won't have to split multiple plot lines and it opens up a lot of story space for you to explore. Probably the younger brother who saw his older brothers all get into warrior school but he didn't make it, and is working to prove he's just as good as they are, even if in a different way. – corsiKa Nov 25 '15 at 19:48
• Your last guy creeps me out. He took part in committing a planetary-scale genocide and is proud of it? The other two guys were at least killing other soldiers, not billions of civilians. – Philipp Nov 25 '15 at 20:25

If you can answer why the military builds these different classes of ship, you can probably answer how each brother can make an important contribution. Somehow, he was essential to his ship's mission.

The Fighter

• Interception: he successfully destroyed a bomber which was about to hit a critical target, such as a carrier, a transport, or a battleship which was one hit away from going kablooie. He saved thousands of lives with his combat prowess.
• Space superiority: he's an ace dogfighter, with many kills to his name. He defeated the Red Space-Baron.

The Bomber

• Ship strike: he did one of the things his interceptor brother successfully stopped.

The AEGIS Cruiser

• Interception: basically the same as the fighter pilot, but if he's a commander rather than a gunner, he'll win praise for good tactics, good timing, and having a great team rather than personal marksmanship.
• Ship-to-ship combat: since this isn't this ship's specialty, it's harder to arrange a suitable heroic moment. Still, the ship could stand its ground against overwhelming odds, interpose itself to shield another, or ram a larger vessel to buy time for a convoy to escape. In any of those circumstances, a brave man working damage control could save the ship or her crew, or keep it flying long enough to achieve that heroic moment.

The Battleship

• Ship-to-ship combat: as above, but with big guns to help make a splash.

• Planetary assault: nuking civilians is not terribly heroic, at least in our culture. However, leading an attack against ground defenses could be. There's unlimited room for personal courage and tactical brilliance.

Perhaps the first question is, are the third and fourth brothers the captains of their ships, officers, or crewmen? The captain of a battleship will always be senior to an ordinary fighter pilot - or even an extraordinary one. But a humble junior engineer on a battleship could be essential to it completing a mission.

In addition to conducting missions, a soldier may be recognized for extraordinary...

• Tactics
• Courage under fire, or while a POW
• Dedication - working long hours, quietly keeping essential logistics running
• Grit - surviving a wound and evading the enemy after crashing on a hostile planet
• Ingenuity - if you haven't seen The Martian yet, go do so now!
• Hand-to-hand combat in a boarding action, out fighting off saboteurs
• Integrity - preventing a mutiny or corruption
• @MasonWheeler: absolutely, though Worf pulled it off pretty well that one time. I'm going with the assumption that the OP's setting is deep into space opera territory. +999 for the shout-out to Schlock! – user243 Nov 25 '15 at 16:43
• @MasonWheeler for Obligatory Schlock, I'd go with this mini arc (and the 3 days after it); which demonstrates a successful employment of ramming speed. – Dan is Fiddling by Firelight Nov 25 '15 at 20:46
• @DanNeely: Wow, I'd forgotten all about the Qlaviqlese Ore Freighter incident. Thanks! – Mason Wheeler Nov 25 '15 at 20:49
• +1 for If you can answer why the military builds these different classes of ship, you can probably answer how each brother can make an important contribution. No space navy is going to keep building ships that don't work. So if they build fighters, they have a reason to exist, and someone can execute on that really well. If fighters don't have a role, then no one will build them. – Bobson Nov 25 '15 at 21:04

The bigger the ship, the less likely the pilot will do anything other than just piloting. So, while the fighter pilot will actually down vessels by himself, the battleship pilot will probably just maneuver the ship so the crew in charge of the weapons can destroy hundreds/thousands of vessels.

The battleship pilot may identify himself with the whole battleship crew ("We destroyed 400 ships today"), but so can do the fighter pilot with his own squad.

And if you want them to be a little more than just links in the chain, academy training could be organized in teams, them being the leaders of their own team, commanding roughly the same number of pilots/crew and having similar contributions on the battlefield.

By acting as a distraction or a decoy

I don't know what the military term for this is, but a small, fast ship (e.g. a fighter) could be used to lure enemy missiles away from the capital class ships. Fighters would be a lot cheaper than a destroyer, which in turn will be much cheaper than a battleship, so they could be an acceptable sacrifice.

Granted, the pilot would have to be (more than) slightly mad, and it would probably make more sense to use a drone for this - but that could be the pilot's reason for bragging! "Yeah, I got eight missiles locked onto me. That's eight missiles that didn't hit you lads."

• Kinda hard to relay importance by saying it's sacrifice-able :) But yes, fighters could be used in torpedo-interception sorties. Let's say torpedoes are heavily armored and need to be "worked on" much earlier before they come close to ship defense guns. Good one. – DraxDomax Nov 25 '15 at 13:53
• @DraxDomax, they could be Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder (i.e. expendable troops that refuse to die...I mean, just happen to be good at coming back alive ;-) ). – Philip Rowlands Nov 25 '15 at 14:34
• During the Falkand Islands war back in the 1980's, Prince Andrew was a Royal Navy helicopter pilot, and his job was to fly behind the aircraft carrier towing a radar decoy to lure anti ship missiles away from the carrier. Of course, if any missile had picked up the decoy, the Prince would have gone down in flames. This is about as elite as you can be for cannon fodder.... – Thucydides Nov 27 '15 at 3:37
• @Thucydides More recently Prince Harry piloted an Apache gunship in Afghanistan. – Burgi Nov 27 '15 at 14:27
• Think of the Wild Weasels of the US Air Force. Their job is to draw missile fire on themselves and the smack the launcher (they carry very fast missiles for the purpose) and beat the missile that's after them (Although it will usually go stupid and destruct when the illumination radar guiding it is destroyed.) – Loren Pechtel Nov 28 '15 at 5:37

Let's consider some precedents, both in reality and other fiction universes:

• The U.S. Air Force had (still has?) planes like the F-5 while it also has the B-52. Plus, it still kept any plane at all despite all those Minuteman silos scattered around.
• The Empire of Star Wars has TIE fighters along side the Death Star.
• Most U.S. Navy Ships carry some form of long range cruise missile (formerly the Tomahawk, not sure what it is today), even the carriers. But the carriers have their air wing and even the smaller ships have a Sea Hawk helo or two.
• The Battlestar Galactica has its Vipers.
• Most armies have infantry units (men on foot with small arms) even when mechanized units (tanks) are available.
• Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers) had its little fighters- although EVERY episode ends with using the wave motion gun.

I think almost any audience will understand with just a small hand wave. You shouldn't need an extensive explanation.

Benefits of small vessels
Maneuverability: In space the more mass you have the more power and time you need to get moving. A small ship would be able to kick on thrusters and get to 3 or 4 G's with minimal issue, versus a capitol ship's mass. Changing direction or stopping would also be easier. A small ship could pivot and use the main thrusters to turn much faster than a large ship.

Hard to spot: Space is pretty big, and in the heat of battle with a lot of chaff and debris flying around a small ship with a torpedo or two could get lost in the clutter and potentially get close enough to an enemy where defenses would be less effective.

Atmosphere: A capitol ship designed for space combat is not going to be landing on planets or entering the atmosphere (unless you have anti-gravity as an option).
A small fighter on the other hand could enter atmosphere, engage aircraft, run missions, and land personnel (like spies).
All a capitol ship would be able to do is bombard the surface, which is less useful if you want to keep it habitable.

Why small vessels ? Speed and Handiness. Also, small vessels are easier to manoeuvre in atmospheres and under strong gravity, pressure, forces in general.

What could a small vessel pilot be proud about ? He could be an acrobatic pilot for example (making looping over a DeathStar ?). He could also make new speed records (I was travelling at X times the speed of light).

• Why should a smaller vessel be faster? Less mass balances less volume for engines and fuel, but a smaller vessel has proportionally more overhead relative to its size - hull mass scales with the square of its linear dimensions, for example. – user243 Nov 25 '15 at 14:23
• Why faster ? Because they are smaller, thus require less calculus to jump in hyperspace and not collide with a star ? Plus, in space there may not be Resistance, but in atmospheres, smaller means smaller surface resistance. – Kii Nov 25 '15 at 14:26
• Without knowing anything about the OP's concept for FTL, sure, one can handwave that. However, atmospheric resistance is one reason larger objects are faster, all else being equal: larger objects have proportionally less surface. – user243 Nov 25 '15 at 15:37
• @JonofAllTrades Perhaps power requirements to maintain and increase speed in whatever drive allows FTL increase by a factor of 4 or 5 per unit of mass. – IllusiveBrian Nov 25 '15 at 17:28
• That would do it; just take care not to make large vessels uneconomical. You could have "jump gates" à la Babylon 5, putting a maximum diameter on traveling ships. And of course basic engineering limits eventually create diseconomies of scale. – user243 Nov 25 '15 at 17:40

Since you are specifically mentioning fighter-bomber, I'm gonna assume ordinary fighters are serving in distinctly different capability.

What can bomber pilot brag about? Well, about what they can do better than capital ships, such as: disabling particular subsystem of a capital ship, so either his brother can have a clean shot (engines, EW modules or shields come to mind), or even it is completely disabled (think Death Star); performing surgical strikes either in space or planet-side (saving a city from a tank group? destroying a planet won't do it, I suppose).

What can a fighter pilot brag about? Since there are anti-fighters capital ships, the existence of fighters assumes they are still good for something. Either it is, again, surgical operations (live capture of a criminal escaping in a swift small ship of his own), reckon ("I was to enemy capital and back"), or combat in a situation where capital ships are infeasible (hit-and-run against a fleet with capital-capital ships?).

Stealth, gentlemen, let's not forget stealth.

I agree with all the answers about manoeuvrability and would like to add - Easier to "hide" a small vessel than a large one. You can have a sensitive political situation where the fighter is a spy/assassin/rouge type and is much more cool with his tiny laser taking down that one bad guy before anyone figures out what/who did it. Sure enough, this guy might not be able to talk about his missions and will smugly smile to himself while his brothers blab about their everyday blow-em-up tasks.

Reg the boast about destroying New Earth - a small fighter can carry a nifty hydrogen bomb/super duper turbo doom device, no big deal (pun intended).

I like the idea of using the smaller size to imagine better speeds. Small vessels could be imagined to arrive much earlier into the battle, perform scouting or decoy while the big ones warp in.

So, thanks for suggesting that!

I'd like to add one: Small vessels are easier to hide. Small vessels could have cloaking abilities (to further enhance the scouting abilities).

I'd like to tip in something someone said about atmosphere - big vessels are just so heavy, no way to make them air-worthy. Small vessels could rely on jets and wings to travel inside planets.

Maybe "blink" (teleport short distances) is something that can be imagined to work only in small objects.

Thank you all!

• SE is not a discussion board. You can ammend your original question though. – JDługosz Nov 28 '15 at 3:52

The fighter pilot is in charge of 1 ship, the Captain of a capitol ship is in charge of 0.

Sure, he can destroy a planet, but in order to do so, he needs written authorisation signed by the President, the Senate, the Minister for Defence, the supreme fleet commander and the Political Commissar.

The problem, is that the Minister for Defence went insane some time ago, the Commissar is convinced that the Captain is a traitor and will oppose anything the Captain proposes, and the senate only sits for 2 hours a week and has a backlog of planet destructions to approve.

• Hahaha "a backlog of planet destructions to approve." Sounds like the Vogons from Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. – Level River St Nov 25 '15 at 22:45

A tiny fighter is not going to be as powerful or as lethal as a capital ship, or capital ships won't exist. However, that's only looking at one side of things. Keep in mind the number game here. For the price of one capital ship you can build thousands of fighters. The reason they exist is that they can be the most economical approach to fitting their need. It may not make sense to build a huge capital ship that cost as much as a thousand fighters if 500 fighters together can do the particular job needed as well as a capital ship.

You see this with modern combined arms approach of the military. We have many different crafts of varying size and shape, each made to suit their need. A tiny frigate won't take out a destroyer, but it can prove more economical. In fact the old school uber-destroyers were pretty much done away with because smaller ships (okay, and more so aircraft) proved more flexible then putting all your eggs in one basket.

As to how that would factor in to your brother's and their little competition of importance, remember capital ships also have thousands of people. Sure one brother may be maning a capital ship that blows up an entire planet, but he is only 1/1000 of that crew. Can he honestly say that the ship wouldn't have blown up the planet without him? Can he claim credit for the deed as if he was single handedly responsible. Even assuming he had one of the most important positions on a bridge, as opposed to being ship cook, the fact is that he had an entire crew backing him up and, to a degree, he just passed orders down to others.

The person in the fighter was the sole person in the game. When he blew up the bomber that almost got in close enough to destroy the capital ship he, and he alone, was the one responsible for it. He can say, without doubt, that if he were not there the bomber would have made it through to the capital ship and destroyed it.

Thus while fighters may pack less punch, they may still get to be the super stars because they are they are out there making decisions on their own, living and dying solely on their own skill alone.

This could even set up a bit of a 'fight' over who did more. The capital ship brother says his ship did more damage, the fighter pointing out that he can take sole credit when he saved the day, who was more important? Is a small cog in a huge weapon more important then the sole cog driving a smaller one?

If you wanted to emphasis this sort of difference I would suggest having fighters be given extensive leeway in decision making, possible scouting far away or communications tend to be jammed during a fight, so he can show initiative to do something important when there was no one around to give him specific orders.

Two main arguments for the small guy:

• Rock, Paper, Scissors. In many universes including our real world, large ships gain armor and weapons power at the cost of maneuverability. In the real world, one fighter with an anti-ship missile like the Harpoon or Exocet can take out a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. And you wouldn't send just one to do the job; you'd send an entire squadron each armed with several of these missiles to overwhelm the fleet's defenses.

In space fleets, this is often reflected by larger ships having bigger guns that are more difficult to bring to bear on smaller, more nimble ships. The planet-buster can destroy an entire planet but can't shoot down a fighter unless it's standing still in space. Star Wars is the most well-known example of a universe where small ships still matter because the big ship can't accurately target them. Star Trek is the biggest counterexample, where the weapons of a starship, especially phasers, are too powerful and easily aimed for small craft to be effective except in absolutely overwhelming numbers.

• Scope vs. Skill. The fighter pilot got his four kills by getting into a rocket-powered laser with a cockpit, flying out into the void, maneuvering his fighter into an advantageous position, targeting his opponents and pulling the trigger. The admiral destroyed a planet by telling his tactical officer to make it happen. It's obvious which one was larger in scale and scope, but which one took more skill?

Along the same lines, people commanding big ships got where they were by being good enough with smaller ships to be trusted with the larger one. Fighter pilots don't generally move up to larger types of planes (their experience dogfighting doesn't exactly translate to flying a heavy bomber), they instead command other pilots in other planes flying with them (just like tankers end up commanding more than just their one crew, but other tank commanders in their platoon and other platoons in a company; this is usually as far as non-coms go, though). If these brothers are the same or similar age, the fighter pilot either screwed up real bad, or else he'd be of similar rank to the corvette captain at least, making him the commander of an entire wing of fighters. If the corvette captain can claim all the kills his gunnery crew gets as his own, and the admiral on the planet-killer can take credit for what his own crew does to ready and fire that ship's weapon, the fighter pilot can claim every kill, air and ground, made by his entire wing.

In importance terms, none of them are individually important - they are all 1 man in a squad or team of others. So 100 fighter squad is considered as important as the 100 crewmen of the capship.

That means its not the ship that sets the story, but the individual acting within the group that develops the storyline. You should ignore what the ship is capable of relative to the other ships and consider the impact of either the interpersonal relations within the respective groups, or (if you must bring the ships into it) of the ships relative importance within the fleet. The fighter squadrons have as much importance within a war as a capship does, but I think you'll be losing a lot of the human story if you treat the ships are important.

Don't forget that wars aren't about killcounts, they're about achieving your objective. You forced yourself into the counter by only considering kills, which would only be done by the guy with the most kills in the first place :)

You need to think about different scenarios.

Maybe the fighter pilot shot down a nuke headed straight for the carrier, saving thousands of people and a whole capital ship. Maybe he managed to guide his squadron to harrass the enemy bombers to prevent them from getting close enough in the first place. Maybe he just stood his ground against a hugely superior enemy, buying enough time for all those civilian transporters to jump away safely.

The fighter-bomber can brag about the time he managed to take out half of a battleship's guns with one great shot in just the right place, or the time he was on a (then) secret mission to deliver an ambassador that eventually brokered a peace, or when he was the last guy standing in the bar last night.

The destroyer captain could talk about how his great positioning in battle meant that the enemy didn't even try to launch his fighters in the first place, or when he managed to get to a wounded cruiser just in time to chase the bombers away before it could be crippled, or the time he got to escort the SpaceFleet Admiral-General himself!

The capital guy ends up being the hardest in the end. What kinds of individual prowess and bravery do you show on the bridge of a nearly invulnerable ship crewed by thousands? He would be the one to push the "kill" angle the most, because he would tend to have an edge (after all, his "killcount" would technically include all the kills of all those fighters, bombers and destroyers under him...). He's likely much more limited in initiative because there's a clear chain of command and a huge responsibility - losing a fighter because you're rash is bad enough, losing a whole capital ship... oops.

In the end, the most important thing is the dynamic between the brothers themselves. If they are generally friendly, they will tend to downplay their own achievements while glorifying the others ("Oh bollocks, I was sitting on my warm seat on the bridge while commanding the fleet, anyone can do that. You had the real balls diving into the swarm of enemy fighters!"). If they are more competitive or outright hostile, they will tend to do the opposite ("Your tiny-brain hardly has the power to really matter, commanding the whole fleet and keeping all those enemy ships in check..." "Right, real brave, sending people to their deaths while you hide behind your shield...").

The small ship should not be a fighter at all, but a scout. Many pre WWII era battleships carried a sea plane who's job was to fly ahead and scout for targets, and the secondary job was to call in corrections for the main guns. Using the ship mounted director put quite a crimp on the useful range of the guns, generally the horizon was "only" about 5 nautical miles from the ship. Us ing a scout, the range was now capable of being extended to whatever the maximum range of the cannons could be (and 16" guns can shoot quite a bit farther than 5 miles....)

So one brother has the incredibly dangerous role of flying a small, stealthy scout somewhere within a light minute of the capital ship to direct the main battery and offer corrections should the laser or railgun miss the target or hit something non critical (this isn't going to be an issue if the ship is engaging with self guided missiles or torpedoes, however). The scout can also call in a warning if the target ship is making some sort of manoeuvre, or if it launches the only plausible countermeasure against a Ravening Beam of Death (RBoD): filling the sky with tens of thousands of Soda Cans of Death (SCoDs) to overwhelm the laser battery.

Just as a note, a RBoD is generally considered to be a lader powerful enough to engage at a light second (almost the distance to the Earth's Moon), so a light minute would considerably extend the engagement envelope.

What kind of age range are we talking about here?

If there's only a two year gap between each brother, the oldest brother is only going to be 6 years older than the youngest.

Even if it is the older brother getting through the academy and getting on the planet-killing starship, he's only going to be a mid-level officer, and at most in command of a crew division. So the best he can say is that he was on the ship that destroyed the planet.

Having things to brag about is very different from them having the same importance in the story.

Bragging is generally about individual or unit preformance. A number of other posts have covered this aspect so I will ignore it.

Having importance in the story depends on your plot line. Things to consider include heroic actions in the face of great personal harm, taking initiative in the face of disaster, assignment of missions considered extremely dangerous, or assignment of missions requiring extreme personnel sacrifice in the form of training or endurance.

Depending on the focus of your story it will be easier to use these for certain characters as opposed to others. For instance, if the focus is ship-to-ship combat then it will be easier to use great personal harm for the fighter pilot or the bomber than the destroyer. However you could also use great personal harm with larger ship types by creating scenarios where everybody has been killed or evacuated, OR by using enemy boarding parties to create situations.

There is a lot of wiggle room here to create important events or just brags for your characters depending on your story. It sounds like you have a lot of freedom to run with and create a vibrant story!

A source of possible inspiration include citations for various awards.

Perhaps what makes the fighter pilot interesting is precisely the fact that he doesn't have a role "in the large scale of things". His desire to have such a role and emulate his brothers could drive him to make choices he would not have made otherwise.

You could use this disparity between the brothers as both a means of driving the plot and as a way of deepening the characters. The fighter pilot could envy the pilot of the cruiser for his rank (as I'd assume the bigger the ship the higher the rank), whereas the cruiser pilot could envy the fighter pilot for his daring and independence. Each of the brothers could admire and envy aspects of their siblings, which could cause them to do interesting and plot-worthy things.

If each of the brothers manages to do brave and daring feats that can be compared directly, then it might read as a less interesting story than if the differences were more pronounced.

I have 2 analogies — I know the question was pointed in a warefare direction but i thought both would make a good point.

1 (Combat value): In naval warfare, specially in the 1600–1800, small ships were super agile compared to large ones. They could turn in a matter of seconds where large would take several minutes to make a turn due to the large weight.

According to Newton's second law, (force = mass × acceleration) you need less force to move a small space ship. Since there is no gravity to help with turning, no tarmac and no air to rest wings upon in space, you would need to have space engines (or RCS) to move the front of the ship in order to turn it.

Smaller ship means less thrust and faster turns. The same rules when you want to transport something. If you have to send a small parcel you don't use a Semi truck, you would use a small delivery truck. And in space you wouldn't use a large space ship to move small things or single persons (the point of this one comes in analogy 2).

2 (Monitary value): Now smaller vehicles are often cheaper than larger vehicles. My car surely cost less than a semi truck. But if you compare the value of the semi trucks with more fancy cars with better brand names, i think you would be able to compare value in both.

The same value would be visible if you think income vs. expense: the cheaper car makes less money, a semi truck makes more money than a taxi driver, but a semi truck is also more expensive to purchase and keep running, so somewhere in the end the two would align in running cost and cost of acquisition vs. income.

First of all I'm not sure what kind military commander would gain a position of such authority that he had command over 4000 fighters while believing it was a good idea to send them against an anti-fighter destroyer capable of killing all of them!

What I think would really happen would be that the vast majority of them would escape outside the destroyer's range (he can't chase them all) in which case it's up to the fighters to chase them down before they can escape the destroyer and do some significant damage elsewhere.

As for the planet buster guy, unless that planet was entirely a military base with 20 billion soldiers and no civilians, I'm not sure "brave" is the appropriate word... If it was a normal planet which happened to contain enemy warriors, I imagine all he did was like smashing a beehive with a sledgehammer... you're left with a lot of pissed-off bees...

• More of a comment than an answer, IMHO. – DraxDomax Nov 25 '15 at 13:04
• Well, it does sort of answer. The destroyer needs the fighters as it can't catch most of the enemy, but the fighters need the destroyer to give them somewhere to fall back to. The planet buster can destroy the planet but will be destroyed by the planetary defenses unless it is defended itself, etc. Basically make them all need each other. – Tim B Nov 25 '15 at 13:09
• @DraxDomax Well it was more like an answer containing comments... Basically the answer is the fighter has to clean up the baddies who escape the bigger guys, and the Planet destroyer doesn't have much to brag about. – colmde Nov 25 '15 at 13:18

If all of the pilots just press buttons to make their ships perform, then none of their jobs would require any special skill or aptitude; the computers would do all the work. For any of them to have something to brag about, we've got to get rid of those glory-stealing computers!

So lets mess with history a little bit. Five hundred years ago, a singularity event occurred in the star empire and the emergent AI killed millions before it was finally purged. To avoid a recurrence, no military ships contains any computerized equipment beyond simple navigation assistance.

Now, in the absence of those computers, the humans crew have a lot more to do... and they need special talents to do those jobs well.

Fighter pilots need great balance and incredible reflexes.

Bomber pilots need an incredible awareness of their location and the location of their target, plus a sense of their speed and momentum and the effects that that motion will have on their payload.

Destroyer pilots need incredible courage and coolness under fire. Their anti-space duties don't even start until an enemy vessel has them in its cross-hairs.

And Capital Ship pilots need restraint. They carry destructive power on an unimaginable scale, and every time that power is unleashed is a historic event. They must be supreme problem solvers, capable of finding other solutions when planetary destruction seems to be the only option.

In this world, the four brothers would have real reasons to respect each other immensely, because none of them can do what any of their brothers' jobs. Factor in the idea that any pilot-level aptitude is a very rare thing in your culture; perhaps only one in a million can do the job.

Finally, give each of them some battle experience. If each of these brothers have sat home in safety while one or more of their loved ones were in life-threatening combat, they will each respect and value the others much more because of it.

In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, the sci-fi setting purposely sets up conditions similar to age of sail ships-of-the-wall. Interstellar diplomacy takes months (not years or days), which is just the right amount of time for diplomacy to be interesting, and for navy ship captains to need to make decisions for themselves, on the spot.

Small ships are often sent out on patrols / missions outside the home system, while battle-fleet ships stay home in case fleet-vs-fleet action is needed to defend the system.

It's the cruisers that get sent to diplomatically-tricky situations, not massive stand-and-fight ships.

During an all-out-war, flying around in a battlegroup of super-dreadnoughts does happen, so the main characters in stories set while that's happening are more often on big ships. Otherwise, the stories more often focus on people in small ships. Sometimes they'll get into a fight when they're out on their own with no big ships around to help, and no time to send for help. If they hadn't prevailed, Bad Things would have happened.

So, small ships are important because you can send them on missions where a big ship wouldn't be appropriate.