No, it doesn't. Not enough to make a difference. It's not free to attach weapons to a scout. Weapons have mass. You have to pay for that mass in delta-V, other equipment, or money. There's no point doing that for the chance to shoot down an enemy scout once every billion sorties or whatever ridiculous number it turns out to be.
1. Nonsense. If for the sake of argument we decide to investigate a cubic AU with Earth at its centre and dispatch a scout or two there, with no horizon in space there's a good chance opposing scouts will detect each other. Now if one is close enough to get a missile off and take out the opposing scout, no more data.
Do you know how big a cubic AU actually is? Eight light minutes to a side. Even if the scouts do see each other, lightspeed lag makes accurate targeting completely impossible, and you can't carry weapons on a drone big enough to hurt anything at any appreciable range anyway. The chances of two drones being in combat range of each other are astronomical.
Now you might be able to get the necessary data from a capital ship's long range telescopes, but (i) you can't expect that in every single situation and (ii) the closer you get the better resolution you're going to get - so there's a potential need to have scouts of some sort nearer whatever it is you're scanning.
2. Of course it's not free to attach weapons, but if the data scouts bring back is that important, a navy might want to stick a weapon on it after all to deny the enemy the same data, or to protect against such an attack.
If an enemy navy is trying to shoot down drones, it won't send armed scouts, it will send hunter-killer drones or just have full sized ships blast it. A scout won't be able to defend itself against the former without compromising its mission, and it won't be able to defend itself against the latter at all. The only good defense for a scout drone is to run away as fast as it can; weapons only slow it down.
It's worth looking at real life spyplanes here--most of them are completely unarmed, as are most unmanned reconnaissance drones. The armed ones aren't equipped for air-to-air combat, either: they attack targets of opportunity on the ground. A scout in space needs speed, good instruments, and a low profile so maybe it's not noticed. Not guns.
The result may be a drone rather than a manned fighter, but if we assume that the data these scouts can get is important enough to try and deny it to the enemy, it's important enough to defend too, so you'll end up with an armed recon drone at the very least.
An armed recon drone will be just as helpless as an unarmed one, with the added disadvantage of having less delta-V.
My thinking was if you have say 20 people per cutter, they're concentrated in one place, whereas with fighters, they can be in a lot more places at once.
Twenty people doing something useful in one place is better than the same twenty people being useless in twenty different places.
I suppose the best analogy would be a police van vs several patrol cars: the patrol cars can cover a lot more ground and you do have a policeman on the scene, which it seems is generally preferred over CCTV (ie the drone reporting back to HQ).
It's a lousy analogy because space isn't anything like a terrestrial city and neither will space traffic or space law enforcement. The best analogy is the Coast Guard, and guess what: they don't send people out in one-man motorboats.
Also remember that not all police work involves boarding smugglers and the like. What if we've got a couple of merchant ships squabbling over some minor / perceived infraction? I'd say it would be a waste sending over the cutter (which could be doing the anti-smuggling bit) and that a human would carry greater weight psychologically than a voice / talking head coming from our drone. What if local law requires officers to personally check the credentials of incoming ships? Now probably they should change said local law, but my point is that there are some things where a human is better suited than a machine, but where a cutter is OTT.
As to whether it justifies the expense, well that would probably depend on things like quantity & value of traffic, not to mention training and manufacturing costs, which is up to whoever creates the universe.
How many times do you need to be told anything small enough to be reasonably considered a fighter isn't going to have any kind of range, making it useless
very far away from the mothership and incapable
of exceeding the range of the mothership's weapons, so you might as well just send the damn mothership? And again, if this kind of thinking worked in real life, the Coast Guard would send one guy in a motorboat out on patrol, and yet it doesn't
1. I never meant for the scenario to be a regular feature in space combat. Consider my earlier armed scouts being transported in a convoy when they're attacked. As for the carrier, well they've got to launch from something unless they can keep up with an FTL fleet on their own power & supplies (!), even if its from a proper capital ship (maybe "mothership" rather can "carrier" would have been a better term here).
2. Might it not use everything it had if it desperately needed every possible edge? Under any normal circumstances I'd agree, but you know what they say about desperate times. In any other scenario I'd have the commander of that carrier strung up for sheer incompetence for wasting lives and money.
3. Yes all right I'm making assumptions that there are space fighters in the first place - my point here was to give a possible use for them in a fleet engagement, although as I hope you can see I think we're in agreement that they've no place in a battle between the big ships, at least outside of exceptional circumstances (eg sheer desperation) or some in-universe reason (knights in space and all that).
This isn't a "use", this is an accidental circumstance where there's nothing to lose, so you might as well chuck them out and hope maybe they'll soak up some bullets for you. You might as well claim bricks have a use as infantry weapons, on account of the fact that an infantryman who runs out of ammo in urban fighting might start throwing bricks at the enemy.
Make the fighter a 10,000ton combat vehicle, and the technology would actually fit and everything. As for the why there is a crew there? Well, lets just say AI quite aren't there and there is a need for a crew in the loop.
Someone needs to inform the Argentines that the AI on their Exocets wasn't "quite there" when they sank HMS Sheffield
. This is space: everyone can see everyone else, and the math problems required for navigation are done much better by computers. Point the missile at the target and send it on its merry way and don't bother wasting money and lives putting humans on board.