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Evolution or Revolution? Advances in Smallcraft in the 24th Century
The retirement of the final batch of Khitomer era through-deck cruisers and shuttle carriers in the early 2310s seemed to mark the end of widespread smallcraft use as a way to expand on limited capabilities. Tactical craft had long been relegated to support combatants, serving in transatmospheric and ground support roles unsuited for modern starships, while the scientific shuttlecraft had fallen behind as it could neither match the processing capabilities of a starship or the propulsive speed, endurance, and economy of a probe. In fact with the advent of small warp sustainer equipped high-speed courier probes in the 2330s, it appeared probes would even replace shuttles in certain transport roles. A converted Class IX "coffin" probes could be used to transport individuals in stasis at extremely high warp factors.
Extensive proliferation of isolinear technology, an emphasis on multi-role capability, improving crew accomodations, and SIF-trussed frame designs all pushed the size of Starfleet's sizes higher. The minimal size-class for active service was fixed at around 75,000 m³, a ten fold increase from the cutters and scouts of the previous century. By 2330 Starfleet's major theoretical engineering teams had been pulled off sub-75,000 m³ ship development and smallcraft design was farmed out to civilian firms.
Despite Starfleet's abandonment of the size-class, there remained strong demand for smaller ships within the Federation. Potential uses ranging from the Revenue Service to high-value material courier services meant substantial pressure for engineers to pick up the torch and run with it as quickly as resources and science could take them. Abandoning anti-matter fuel cells, large-scale battery storage, and high-density fusion as insufficient, Yoyodyne, and Shuvinaaljis partnered with a number of small, cutting edge engineering firms to create small warp core packages without sacrificing energy density.
The first to bring a design to market was Yoyodyne with it's Light Antimatter Dilithium Reactor series. Known by its popular nickname "Ladder" ("Ladder to the stars"), the series could manage a sustained reaction from a core design with a chamber size of half a cubic meter and an injection assembly less than 20 m in height. Early efficiency returns were less than ideal, with a power conversion rate of only 72% compared to Yoyodyne's own high-density fusion cores in the high 80s-90s, but this was vastly outweighed by the greater energy density and lighter construction. Though still much too large to power a shuttle or auxiliary sized fighter, it found a following in powering 3,000 - 10,000 m³ designs marketted as "clippers". The LADR-22 model is also known for being the design used by Cardassian engineers as a base for the up-scaled reactor designs in Galor class cruisers.
Initially lagging behind Yoyodyne, Shuvinaaljis released the Compact Reactor Assembly Block as part of a new effort to introduce Starfleet's trussed frame modular interior system into civilian use. The higher efficiency inherent in the CRAB design was cancelled by the bulk needed to create a modular power assembly with sales and adoption never reaching volumes hoped for by shareholders. It was also tricky to disassemble and maintain without a Shuvinaaljis provided facility. Bulk sales bundled with discounted hull configurations for the rest of the "shell fish" system ecosystem made sure Shuvinaaljis remained a competitor in this field, but by 2350 it was quite clear the two designs had bifurcated between rugged frontier and high-performance interior categories.
Starfleet interest in both types of engines remained luke warm. A small number were tried on tenders assigned to the large Ambassador-class. Classified as a Pinnace, these smallcraft were capable, but finnicky. Lacking component commonality with the rest of the ship's complement of smallcraft widespread use of pinnaces remained confined to Ambassador-class explorers, planetary outposts and starbases. The design's most important contribution came from component design and engineering that later found their way into integrated auxiliaries like the Captain's Yachts of later model explorers.
Shuvinaaljis's unveling of the the first ultra compact anti-matter reactor system during the 2350 Tellar Trade Show signalled a shift in the balance between large and small starship designs. The ultra compact reactors measured less than 20 m³ in volume and could be installed in a variety of configurations. More importantly unlike the previous generation of small warp reactors the UCR did not have many non-replicatable components. All of the maintenance and upkeep of an UCR equipped craft could be conducted by a facility equipped with an industrial replicator and standard smallcraft maintenance tools.
The first applications of the UCR were civilian. Chiokis partnered with Ardep to produce a substantially miniaturized version of the Ju'day/Condor-class scout. The Merlin-class contained a UCR with a mission endurance of one month, and allowed a sustained cruising speed of Warp 6. Combined with a relatively spacious cockpit and acceptable berth deck, the design gained quick popularity with customs agencies and colonial defense forces.
A militarized version with a higher output reactor was purchased by Starfleet facilities near the Cardassian Border in the 2350s. The Osprey featured the same high-output UCR as the civilian version, but added a deflector shield generator first fielded in the Sabre-class, a pair of Type VII phaser cannon, and a micro-torpedo launcher. Though the shield generator was mounted singularly rather than in a network like on larger starships, the significantly smaller surface area covered by an Osprey's shields allowed decent combat performance. High density warp coils enabled a sustained velocity of Warp 7 and made the Osprey an effective patrol vessel when deployed in pairs from starbases.
When the border war with the Cardassians escalted in 2357, Starfleet fielded a smaller version of the Osprey with simplified construction and a Type-15 Shuttlepod cockpit named Kestrel. The initial version of the Kestrel was classified as an interceptor and was designed primarily to destroy Cardassian warhead drones and small attack ships of Hideki size and smaller. With dimensions comparable to a Type 7 Shuttlecraft, these interceptors found substantial use on both starbases and ships with large shuttle bays like Akira and Nebula class ships during the Border War.
An evolutionary design from the Kestrel was fielded in 2361 with a substantially improved reactor design and shield generator. Named Peregrine, this model was classified a tactical fighter and fully expected to engage full starships. Graviton density of the compact shield generator was comparable to those of Norway-class starships, providing ample protection. Two high-intensity Type VII phaser emitters, a single Type VIII Phaser cannon, and a pair of microtorpedo launchers served as its primary weapon complement. Upgrades and field modifications continued through the conflict on the Cardassian Border, with all models beyond the Mk.V receiving the upgraded Griffon powerplant/engine system capable of dash speeds of warp 9.
The Griffon powerplant also found use in Starfleet's runabout development program, becoming the core of the new Danube-class. Although the detuned version of the Griffon was only capable of sustaining Warp 5.5 on the Danube frame, it was capable of sustaining this velocity until fuel exhaustion. Maintenance was also improved on this model, with the Danube's mean time between core refurbishment at 15,000 hours compared to the Peregrine-VI's 2,500 hours.
The substantial improvement in the capabilities of smallcraft in Starfleet service vastly increased both starship and starbase reach. Runabouts found widespread deployment on explorers and starbase facilities, while tactical fighters were deployed in large numbers during the Dominion War. Tens of thousands of these vessels are now in use throughout Federation space as new designs and field modifications lead to a growing database of potential configurations.
Strength By Type (Estimated)
- Runabouts: 45,000
- Scouts: 1,000
- Tactical Fighters: 12,750
Last edited by Nob Akimoto; October 9 2013 at 05:51 AM.