View Single Post
Old September 23 2013, 04:50 AM   #12
Crazy Eddie
Rear Admiral
Crazy Eddie's Avatar
Location: I'm in your ___, ___ing your ___
Re: Starfleet Procurement Policy Draft

Nob Akimoto wrote: View Post
I'm a bit loath to believe ships like Kelvin are stupendously larger than Starfleet's "ship of the line" like Enterprise nearly 3 decades later.
Not stupendously, no. Kelvin's secondary hull is almost the same size as the TOS Constitution, but its saucer section and single warp nacelle are both considerably larger. That Kelvin's established crew complement is roughly twice that of the TOS Enterprise is also a good indicator of its size, if not its mission role.

One thing I think to bear in mind is that purpose built military ships usually make lousy exploration or even surveying vessels. Most of the major research oriented naval ships in the 19th century were either based on sloops (a size-class smaller than cruisers like frigates), or were of non-military ships like luggers or whalers. The famous ships of James Cook like Resolution and Endeavour were based merchant colliers with substantial modifications to their hull forms, rather than using a military post-ship.

On the other hand, the way technology in Star Trek seems to work, the things that make a ship an effective explorer also tends to make them very effective tactical vessels. Size seems roughly to be correlated with both speed and power generation capabilities, along with endurance and mission payload. Smaller purpose built warships also exist, but with a handful of exceptions don't seem nearly as capable as the much larger ships built with the same technology. Defiant for example might be a very powerful warship, but despite that the way the battle in First Contact is depicted, the Enterprise-E appears to be a vastly superior ship.
Well there's also the fact that the age-of-sail comparison completely breaks down when you try to extrapolate it into practical technology: smaller vessels made better explorers because they could maneuver effectively in places their larger counterparts couldn't safely travel and could use a wider range of ports (or no port at all) between missions.

Starships, on the other hand, are the evolutionary descendents of real-world spacecraft. In space exploration, the capabilities of the craft depend almost entirely on the payload it can carry, and the limiting factor of payload is actually the launch vehicle itself. It really IS a case of "bigger is better" since starships -- unlike sailing ships or even modern naval vessels -- have a payload capacity directly proportional to their engine power. So if you want to carry more payload, you install a bigger engine. If you need a bigger engine, you need a bigger warp core. If you put in a bigger warp core you need more engineers and thus a slight increase in the habitable section of the ship (slightly bigger saucer). When you then add crew spaces for the technicians who maintain your enlarged payload, your saucer grows even larger to accomodate the increased crew size. If you think about it, that might explain why Starfleet builds ships with saucer-shaped hulls: it simplifies the design process, since the saucer's size can be increased arbitrarily (add or subtract rings to the perimeter) depending on the material needs for the ship's payload. The advent of SIF fields may change this so that larger starships fill the outer edges of the saucer first and then fill the interiors with essential equipment, followed by non-essential equipment, followed by amenities, followed by absurd luxuries.

IOW, starships can be designed in almost the exact opposite progression from naval vessels: you start with a pre-defined payload (it must have X number of sensors, Y number of weapons and Z number of deflectors) and then build a starship around that payload. So every starship is exactly as large as it needs to be to carry its payload, and the payload is determined by the kinds of missions it is going to be assigned.

I think the realities of the mid-late 23rd century did force a lot of compromises on Starfleet that were later rectified by a combination of technological progress and the ability to plan. The SIF + modular interiors I think helped them focus on expanding capabilities rather than designing new hull frames, and the newer designs with their emphasis on greater surface area/volume seems to imply attempts to take advantage of those technological traits.
Here's a thought: the new SIF systems might have given them the capacity to cram heavier/bulkier payloads into smaller hulls without compromising the integrity of the pressure hulls. That would save Starfleet the trouble of having to design totally new starships to carry heavier payloads to the frontier, as new sensors and deflector systems become available to the fleet. The few new hulls they DO design would also benefit from having more flexibility with how those payloads are installed, since the new hull form can be optimized to take fuller advantage of the SIF system and can install sensitive components (e.g. sensor pallets) in places that on other starship designs would be a serious structural liability (e.g. the rim of the saucer section where centrifugal force would otherwise impart vibrational stresses that might damage or compromise the sensors).

As a side note:
My drawing from naval history/literature is generally drawing more on Age of Sail/pre-20th century naval history than anything modern. Part of it is just preference, I find that period more interesting. But just as much has to do with the technological realities that Starfleet seems to face being more akin to sailing navies than modern ones. As such the gap in capabilities between say a very large ship and a somewhat small one is probably smaller in my estimation in terms of TACTICAL capabilities than they are in other areas like spacekeeping and endurance, not to mention flat out speed. In this case I tend to think of Defiant as being a small sloop equipped with the equivalent of very large carronades or maybe rifled shell guns. Perhaps with some armouring to let it actually survive contact with a larger ship.
Fair enough. However, you might want to consider looking into the history of the space race to avoid a possible anachronism stew. The one thing that I've always found highly striking about spaceflight in general is that it is an extremely technical operation that usually has a lot more to do with engineering skill than anything else. Air combat, for example, is slowly evolving into a jousting match between a pair of flying missile batteries with the winner being the guy with the best radar and the most effective missiles. Space combat, though untested, could very well break down the same way: a grappling match between a pair of heavily armed space probes, with victory going to the one that can most quickly and most accurately locate and attack the other's weak point. In that sense -- especially considering what we've seen of their combat record -- Stafleet's science payloads may actually be deadlier than their weapons.

When I use the term "Frigate" I'm thinking more of "multi-mission ship smaller than the main line combatants" rather than "ASW Escort". The only reason I don't use "sloop" is because it's never used in canon!
Also fair enough.

As an aside, I've sometimes borrowed terms from 20th century spaceflight in some works of (trek and non-Trek) fiction. My feeling is mainly that the kinds of people who are going to be probing out into deep space on an FTL drive are probably not going to be programming sailing ships into their holodecks, but are more likely to dream up a romantic vista with Tracey Caldwell and play a couple of Max Q covers.
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Starfleet - Online Now!
Crazy Eddie is offline   Reply With Quote