i like the idea of Carrier type vessels..
Especially if you could customize the ships it could hold. to me the idea of very fast, short range fighters, that could be stationed at space stations, planets, or on carriers.. (carriers you would use to move them around the galaxy..
they could work different than normal ships perhaps...
they could swarm any hostile target, making the target hit with less accuracy. The ships could also cause damage as well. Swarms of ships, among the battles could look really cool too.
Fighters could have different strategic load outs for example..
Boosters for hit and runs on ships a short ways from the base..
Radar scramblers.. the Defensive interceptor.. Add shields, and radar scramblers to mess with enemy radars. Make them much less effective while your fleet rolls in to do the real damage..
High yeild bomber runs.. An off shoot of the fighter, The bomber. Slightly larger, slower, but harder hitting (perhaps bombers take the space as two attack fighters). Great for taking down star-bases or softening up planet defenses, or even extra fire power in fleet battles.
Combine fleets, with different types, Mix and match with cruisers and battleships.
this could also lead to specialized military research items for the other ships to defend against such things. It really could add a whole other layer of tactics, and dimension to the game. Things like, do you create a defensive wing for a resource mining station off some place away from your empire. Sure you could use the typical fleet, eating up maintenance, and basically cloning the ships you already have. I often leave wings of small ships on space stations, but for some reason it feels sorta wrong or just not cool in how they interact with the planet/stations/fleets...
I imagine seeing my space station orbiting around the planet i am space mining, and when a few enemy battle cruisers get to close, they fly into action. While the ships would be more than sufficient for protection at the space station, with out other tactics, to stop them from running, or perhaps they are just a suicide diversion. you would be using resources so spending in one place, verse another, would be part of the strats involved.. Besides, watching a wing of 3 or 6 Attack fighters, launch out of space doors, and attack, and then retreat back into the station could be a really cool site.. Or in the fleet battles with larger ships, and swarming attack fighters, to see another 10-20-30-40.. ect could really make for some spectacular animation. Maybe research could add to the size of the squadron.)
Add modules, to space stations, or ships, to add more (squadrons).. planets could have tile enhancements to hold more ships, for more fortified worlds.
Perhaps they could work differently than normal ships.. with no long range, meaning they have a base of operation, and they only can move a distance from that point. But perhaps in that area of space they can move much faster than the normal ship.. give them pro's and cons.. A fleet of say 20 normal attack fighters, would have a range or any where.. But a fleet of the short range squadron fighters, may only have a Sector or 2 range, But maybe they fly at double the speed of a normal ship with the same engine.
there is a ton that could be done to make them interesting, cool, and different than normal ships.. for me the biggest issue is not what we could do with them, or the options.. but how you would code the AI to use something so cool!