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The TIE Phantom, also referred to as a Phantom V38, was a prototype TIE series starfighter developed by the Galactic Empire during the Galactic Civil War. A modified V38 assault fighter, the TIE Phantom was the result of a development project led by Grand Admiral Martio Batch and was equipped with both deflector shields and a hyperdrive, along with a technology not seen for decades—a stygium cloaking device.
The development process began in response to the Rebel victory at the Battle of Yavin. After some initial troubles, Batch was able to secure a supply of the stygium crystals required by the cloaking device, and the fighters entered production on Imdaar Alpha. When the testing process was completed following the Battle of Hoth, Darth Vader intended to use the new starfighter in a devastating assault on the Rebel Alliance Fleet. However, over a series of encounters, the Rebels learned of the new threat. Recognizing the danger, the Alliance dispatched pilots Rookie One and Ru Murleen to capture one of the fighters for study.
The Rebels successfully infiltrated the Super Star Destroyer Terror as it prepared to launch the fighters against the Alliance and escaped with one of them, which they used to destroy both the Terror and the facility where the fighters were produced. However, the Rebels' acquisition of the fighter was short-lived—when the stolen TIE Phantom's self-destruct mechanism activated before the Rebels could examine the fighter, the technology was lost.
The TIE Phantom was a modified version of the V38 assault fighter, leading some to refer to the starfighters by this designation, as well as the more common "Phantom TIE." Design-wise, it was a member of the TIE series, which dominated the Empire's starfighter fleet during the Galactic Civil War. However, it was distinctive among the series in that its solar array wings were attached directly to the fuselage, perpendicular to the hull, rather than to pylons extending from it. Like in the TIE/D Defender, the wings were equally spaced around the hull, with one located directly above the cockpit, and two below and to either side.
Whereas most TIE series starfighters in use at the time had a spherical cockpit section, the TIE Phantom's cockpit was elongated, and reminiscent of some Corellian Engineering Corporation freighters, including the YT-1300 light freighter, and the later Sienar Scimitar assault bomber. The section behind the cockpit was roughly triangular, with the wings mounted to the tips, and contained the ship's twin ion engines. With no landing gear, the fighters had to be supported when aboard ship to keep the lower wings off the surface. A launch mechanism would grip the fighter by the upper wing and maneuver it into position when departing.
Entry into the cockpit was possible through an elevator hatch on the bottom of the fuselage. The fighter was designed for a crew of two: one piloting the vessel, while the other acted as a gunner. The crew's positions in the cockpit were staggered, with the gunner sitting forward and to the right, while the pilot took the rear left console. Both positions had a computer display, along with the controls required to operate the ship. Unlike most fighters in the TIE series, the TIE Phantom featured life support systems, allowing the crew to operate it without the bulky helmet and breathing equipment required by most TIE pilots. The crew did, however, wear a headset with a microphone and headphones to assist communication in-flight.
The TIE Phantom was armed with two laser cannons mounted to the body under the cockpit, which could be set to fire-linked. Three more laser cannons were mounted on the tips of its three wings, and all five could be fired simultaneously to maximize the effectiveness of a shot. The vessel was designed to be tougher than the ubiquitous TIE/LN starfighter, and also possessed deflector shields for defense—a feature not present in standard TIE models. Another unusual feature for a TIE Fighter was the hyperdrive, which enabled the TIE Phantom to travel between star systems.
However, the TIE Phantom's most unusual feature was its cloaking device. The device utilized stygium crystals to give the fighters an ability unheard of in ships their size in recent decades—the ability to appear effectively invisible to the naked eye, while at the same time evading sensors and scanners aboard other vessels. When a TIE Phantom was cloaked, other vessels could, at best, detect only an unusual sensor anomaly and were unable to get a firm reading. Even other TIE Phantoms were unable to penetrate the cloaking shield. To take full advantage of the cloaking device, the vessels had a built-in mechanism that allowed the pilot to fire the fighter's lasers at any time, with the cloaking device being automatically shut off and turned back on after every volley. This allowed them to remain unseen until the moment of firing, thus getting the jump on their enemy, and to be virtually invisible the vast majority of the time, even during a dogfight.
The technology in the TIE Phantom was considered a potential threat to the Empire, should it have ever fallen into enemy hands. To prevent this scenario, the designers fitted each fighter with a self-destruct mechanism that could be activated remotely, so that should one ever be captured, nobody would be able to replicate its technology.
The TIE Phantom's cloaking device allowed the fighters to move through space undetected. This invisibility, combined with the hyperspace capability, allowed them to travel to hostile systems to scout enemy positions ahead of an Imperial invasion. During a battle, they could move unseen around the area and look for vulnerable positions to attack, and the device also provided a major advantage during dogfights. The fighters' independence was boosted by a life support system that allowed the crew to operate independently for up to three days before needing to return to a capital ship. The Empire intended to take full advantage of the fighter's capabilities, planning to use a fleet of the vessels to decimate the Rebel Alliance Fleet. For its part, the Rebel Alliance quickly realized that the TIE Phantom posed a major threat, with the ability to cripple their fleet with near impunity.
Ultimately, however, the "Phantom Fleet" never survived to lead the planned attack on Alliance forces, and the starfighter's usefulness in large-scale battles remained untested. In the limited action they did see, the ships, which were typically used in small flight groups rather than full squadrons, proved effective in strikes on Rebel patrols, typically moving behind the enemy undetected and quickly eliminating them.