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I.L. Jackson's Guide to Ship Classes

As anyone who has glanced at my gallery knows, I am a star ship fan(atic). I love designing my own starships and I know others do too. But, I've noticed that a lot of artists do not have a good idea of ship classes, what they do (traditionally) and their uses, particularly in a fleet. So, here is a guide to ship classes as they have been used traditionally and how they would likely be used in a sci-fi setting.

Capital Ships
This is the one a LOT of people get wrong. A Capital ship is an anchor ship for a fleet, meaning that fleets are built around the capabilities of the capital ships. Just about every other ship in the fleet has some job relating to the capital ships, whether it be defending or tending or supplying that ship.
Capital ships tend to be the largest warships in the fleet. Capital ships also virtually NEVER operate alone. A great example is (original universe and original series) U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek. It was a heavy cruiser. That means it was not a capital ship. The only capital ships I remember from Star Trek (original series) was the Federation Class from some of the novels. It was a dreadnaught. That's a capital ship. The FASA games and the Starfleet Command games had the Excelsior listed at a battleship, and they had a Space Control Ship (a carrier) those were battleships. The Enterprise-E was also a capital ship.
There are a number of types of capital ships.

Battleships: Battleships are generally the largest ship-to-ship direct fire capital class vessels. They are large, gun-laden ships whose job is to put devastating fire onto a target. They (typically) do not carry more than a handful of fighters, if any. They also do not usually operate alone or away from base for a long period of time unless being used for gunboat diplomacy (scaring the crap out of your enemies and potential enemies by showing off how devastating your firepower is). Battleships are often command ships that are in charge of an entire fleet. The admiral of the fleet often makes this ship his or her (or it's, since we are talking sci fi) flag ship. In generally, unless there's a war on, the battleship does not take to the field. It does not go on non-combat missions (the exception being gunboat diplomacy). This is why the U.S.'s battleships got tarred at Pearl Harbor. They were kept in port until needed. Also, battleships tend to actually be some of the fastest ships in the fleet due to the massive amount of power available. Agility...that's something else. Battleships engage other battleships, destroy carriers, and bombard land fortifications or provide ground force fire support. In a sci-fi setting, this means that they would hit other battleships and carriers, blast space stations, and nuke (or whatever your favorite weapon of mass destruction is) ground-based targets from orbit. If the movie star ship troopers had been realistic, there would have been battleships blasting the bug planets from high orbit for hours (or days or weeks) before ground troops moved in).

Carriers: Carriers carry a large number of fighters and other small vessels into battle. Their job is to hang back from beyond combat range and send out fighters to destroy enemy targets. While interceptors are awesomely cool and flashy, the carriers most potent weapon will be strike fighters or bombers. (we'll get to those much later). Carriers are generally POORLY armed. No one wants their commander to take their carrier into the enemy's face. Carriers are laden with fuel and ordinance and lots of other stuff that goes boom easily. They are also not as well armored as other ships. They have good armor, but anything that takes away from their ability to carry fighters or fuel or weapons is a bad thing. Carriers are also typically fast ships (used to runaway or to get into position in a timely manner). If you are doing a heavy space-fighter universe, carriers would be all over the place. Carriers don't just carry fighters. They carry rescue ships, scout ships, pinnaces, shuttles, etc. Carriers are also often flagships, chosen even over battleships. You need great communications to coordinate several fighter and bomber squadrons. That same technology helps an admiral get a feel for the battlespace and communicate with all the ships. And the carrier stays the hell out of the way of actual combat, and Admirals tend to like that. Missile hits tend to make you spill your tea.

Dreadnoughts: Dreadnoughts are battleships. It's just generally a different name for one. If a fleet is fielding both dreadnoughts and battleships, the dreadnought is probably a battleship on steroids. They are extremely gun-heavy and do little else but shoot big guns. They are also very fast.

Battlecruisers: Battlecruisers are likely capital ships for fleets that aren't very big or advanced. Battlecruisers are smaller than battleships and are really more designed to protect battleships and carriers. However, if you're a spacefaring species on a budget, you can push your cruiser designs up to battlecruiser level. A battlecruiser is probably the largest ship designed for independent operations. If you want a big ship that can fight and cruise around the universe by itself, exploring planets and generally getting into mischief, a battlecruiser will do the job, especially if you are the more aggressive, shoot-first-shoot-again-then-ask-survivors-questions type of navy.

*Special Note: Battlecarriers: These don't exist in the real world, but they exist in science fiction. The perfect example being the Battlestar Galactica. These are carrier/battleship hybrids that can carry lots and lots of fighters, and go toe-to-toe with a battleship. These would probably be the biggest ships fielded by a navy (the empire's Executor comes to mind). They would also only be possible in an economy of scale that has a LOT of resources. They would also go into battle with a huge bullseye on their bows. If you could take out someone's battlecarrier, their fleet just lost probably about two-thirds of its punch. If they are sending multiple battlecarriers at you in one fleet, and you don't have some of your own, pack up your little civilization into some fast ships and head the other way. Take lots of pictures of your home world, because you aren't seeing it ever again.

Sub-capital ships (or escort ships)
These ships usually have three roles: First they protect capital ships from other vessels that are designed to kill capital ships (like fighters). Second, they operate as commerce raiders, destroying an enemy's supply lines and resources. Third, they hunt for enemy ships acting as commerce raiders either on their own or in small task forces, or while escorting valuable supply ships. They make sure your big ships don't get sunk, the enemy can't eat, and you can.

Cruisers: These tend to be the largest sub-capital class vessels. In your more peaceful or resource limited fleet, they are the best independent operators. They have long range, good speed, are well-rounded, and carry enough firepower to deter most foes who aren't throwing entire fleets at them. This is why the Enterprise in the original series was a cruiser. If you're going to go seeking out new life and all that jazz, a cruiser is your ship. Unless you live in a really bad neighborhood of the galaxy, in which case see the battlecruisers above. In fleet action, cruisers hang tight to the capital ships and are often bigtime anti-starfighter or defensive weapon platforms. A squadron of bombers coming at your carrier? The cruiser tries to mow them down. A destroyer trying to line up a torpedo run on your battleship? The cruiser tries to put a stop to that. They also would be the command ship for small task forces of other sub-capital ships, leading the charge to blast enemy supply ships. Cruisers would probably come in a lot of varieties. Guided missile cruisers, exploration or scout cruisers, anti-starfighter cruisers, you name it. Variety, variety, variety. There can be light cruisers that are mainly support vessels, heavy combat cruisers, science cruisers, etc. (that ship that delivered the Jedi to the Trade Federation negotiations in Phantom Menace? NOT a cruiser!)

Frigates: These are basically small cruisers, and in fact, they can be so similar that some people have a problem telling the difference. The U.S. Navy had a problem with this a couple decades back when they couldn't decide what was a frigate and what was a cruiser. Frigates are probably going to be smaller and weaker than cruisers (and cheaper), with a medium amount of guns and decent speed. The SSV Normandy, from the space RPG series Mass Effect, is a good example of a frigate in a sci-fi setting. They also have a good amount of variety and purpose-specific designs (the Normandy was a special ops frigate, designed to penetrate enemy lines and deliver special operations teams to conduct crucial operations...if the U.S. had the equivalent today, it's job would be getting Navy Seals close enough to enemy territory to deploy and retrieve them after their mission was done). There would also be scout frigates, frigates designed specifically for patrol duty, etc. They would likely have shorter range than cruisers, so wouldn't be exploring the farthest star.

Destroyers: This is one that garners a lot of confusion. Originally, destroyers were meant to hunt down torpedo boats (little boats with one or two torpedos that would sneak in close and sink capital ships. Nothing like losing your battleship to basically a big speedboat to make you rethink your strategy).  Later, they hunted down submarines. Today, they're pretty indistinguishable from frigates. In a hard science sci-fi setting, there is no stealth in space, so destroyers would basically be patrol vessels or anti-starfighter platforms that hug close to capital ships and even cruisers, defending them. In a sci-fi setting with less strict adherences to modern science, or in a very advanced setting where someone has figured out a tech way around the limitations of space stealth as we know it, they would hunt stealth-capable ships down. If the Federation in Star Trek had a destroyer, it would have some advanced sensor system that could spot a cloaked vessel or deploy some kind of weapon that would distort cloaking fields (a tachyon burst torpedo or something...because star trek uses tachyons the way Superman uses "spinning real fast"...they do everything you need when nothing else makes sense). Destroyers would have fairly small and light guns and missiles, one or two few knockout punch weapons with limited payloads, light armor and really, really, really good sensors. (A Star Destroyer from Star Wars? NOT a destroyer)

Escort Carriers (also known as Jeep Carriers): These often get ignored in science fiction, which I think is a shame. They are small carriers that would only have a couple squadrons of fighters, or bombers. You ever wonder where carriers in movies get more fighters after you just saw half their squadrons blown out of the air? That's because there are probably 5-6 escort carriers or jeep carriers in the fleet carrying replacements. They also deliver fighters to bases and act just like traditional big carriers (known as fleet carriers) when there isn't need for a big expensive carrier to do the job. Need fighters to destroy a listening post in an asteroid field or something? Send an escort carrier and a couple destroyers to guard it. Escort carriers can be surprisingly effective in large numbers and if the captains know what they are doing. The last major surface battle in WWII and in human history to date was the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese main surface fleet that included several battleships (including the Yamato...yes that Yamato) and heavy cruisers stumbled upon a little task force known as Taffy-3, which was a few escort carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts. The Yamato weighed as much as every ship in Taffy-3 combined, and not one gun in the entire Taffy-3 task force could penetrate Yamato's armor. Taffy-3 whipped the Japanese fleet's ass. They deployed every fighter and sent the destroyers charging in, laying down thick smoke. The Japanese admiral thought he was fighting the main U.S. fleet. By the end of the battle, the Yamato turned tail and ran all the way back to Japan. That was its last battle. It was later sunk by fighters. All because of escort carriers and destroyers that were so lightweight they were called "tin cans." Respect the escort carriers.

Destroyer Escorts: These are very small, very lightly armed and armored patrol ships. They escort supply ships, patrol ports and essentially try to be a nuisance to submarines and enemy sub-capital ships. They can do virtually nothing to a capital ship or even a heavy cruiser unless they get very lucky. But if you're trying to get supplies from one place to another and aren't worried about a serious attack, you send some destroyer escorts just to be sure. Destroyer escorts in a sci-fi setting might be fairly indistinguishable from corvettes.

Corvettes: High-speed patrol ships with a couple guns and very short range. They may not even have FTL in some sci-fi settings and may be restricted to one star system, or they may be the smallest ships in the fleet capable of FTL travel. They are lone patrollers and hunter/killers, though they do more hunting than killing. They will often be on picket duty, and their job won't be so much to destroy an enemy ship but to start shouting "HEY! BAD GUY OVER HERE! RIGHT HERE! SOMEONE START SHOOTING THIS GUY OVER HERE PLEASE!" They would also chase down smugglers and pirates (along with destroyers and destroyer escorts). These are the guys that would have actually been sent after ships like the Millenium Falcon and Serenity when they became a problem. Also, pirates, merc and the like could easily afford corvettes and might be able to own one without breaking the law. There are lots of names you can give these types of vessels. Pinnaces, patrol ships, lighters, etc.

Fighters and bombers

Short-range ships of no more than a dozen crew who are launched from space stations, the ground or carriers, go out, do their mission and then go home and land for repair and refueling.

Bombers: Where's the respect for the bomber in sci-fi? It gets ignored a LOT. Carriers main striking power are their bombers. The smallest of these are called Strike Fighters, which can dog fight, and intercept enemy fighters, but whose main job is to destroy enemy assets. They carry big missiles or big guns that can make an enemy carrier commander break out in sweats, especially when there are a few dozen or hundred coming his way. Like big hornets or piranha, they swarm bigger prey and give it a death by a thousand cuts (or by one or two well-placed missiles). Larger bombers are more dedicated to just destroying large enemy ships, space stations and ground-based assets and are more vulnerable to enemy fighters, but they can take a pounding, have larger crews, longer ranges and bigger bombs. In a sci-fi setting, a strategic bomber may have FTL capabilities and operate independently of a carrier, launching from a planet en masse and warping (or hyperdriving or wormholing, whatever) behind enemy lines to bomb an important target. Good use of bombers can win a war without your fleet ever meeting their fleet if you can take out fuel depots, ammunition factories, and if you just want to be a jerk about it, a few dozen might be able to drop nukes all over their favorite headquarters and massive civilian populations, making their people ask "why are we doing this whole war thing again? Seeing my kid disintegrated has made our goals a little fuzzy, o Great Space Emperor safe in your bunker...).

Interceptors: These are the fighters we usually like seeing in action. Fast, nimble, and piloted by guys with perfect hair and girls who smoke cigars and punch commanding officers in the face with no real repercussions. Their whole purpose is to shoot down other fighters and bombers. They "intercept" incoming bad guys who want to blow up all their nice stuff. They need speed to get to the enemy before the enemy can get to them, and because in fighter combat, speed is king. They have just enough fire power to drop a bomber or other fighter, but rarely more than that.

Those are the basic ship classes as we know them today and how they probably should be used in science fiction. You can play with the roles anyway you want, obviously, but if you know what their traditional roles are then what you come up with can make more sense.
But at least you won't be calling frigates capital ships or have your destroyers carrying three hundred fighters and being the largest ship in the fleet.
A guide to ship classes for any sci-fi setting. Meant to teach other sci-fi artists and writers the difference between a carrier and a corvette, and a dreadnought and a destroyer. I hope you find it useful.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconkeldren-stormraven:
Keldren-Stormraven Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Professional Writer
And just another thought/question In modern Naval fleets the bigger the ship the slower and less maneuverable it was do to mass and friction. While friction does not matter as much in space Inertia is something that no hard scifi can overcome so while slow to start top speed on larger vessels should be higher because they have more power available is a common misconception still have to overcome inertia so the smaller the ship the faster and more maneuverable it is... Or my physics completely sucks and I need to just be quiet and finish my scotch
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:iconkeldren-stormraven:
Keldren-Stormraven Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2015  Professional Writer
Just to clarify the Star Destroyer was named because of its destructive ability the destroy moniker is not a class designation but a way of saying "yeah... this thing can destroy a star" Just sayin'
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:iconspacewolflord:
spacewolflord Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2015
A nice little article.  The thing of it is though is that different nations categorize things differently.  Where it is universally expected what a Carrier and Dreadnought are lesser ships are not neatly defined.  Some Countries Class ships by how many propellers it has.  Others by displacement weight and still others still do it by what role that ship does.  This is still a nice little reference all the same.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
absolutely true. And my list is probably very Americanized, but the goal was to give the ship designers a starting point that was at least consistent. There were guys out there building 10-mile long ships with 200 fighters and calling them the frigates and having them escorted by smaller battleships.
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:iconspacewolflord:
spacewolflord Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2015
???  How...  Some people are just special.
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:iconjohnnysdream:
JohnnysDream Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014
This is awesome and I will use it as a guide Im sure.But only one thing.This entire guides is based of off Earth tactics.You are assuming that every species in the galaxy has the same set up as Earth ships and military.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Its meant as a starter point for beginners. As I was always taught, you have to know the rules before you can start breaking them, so that when you design a new means of war for a new species, you understand the known rules you are breaking and why, so your creation doesn't look nonsensical and impractical.
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:iconjohnnysdream:
JohnnysDream Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2014
Like I said,Ill be using it for sure.
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:iconskullrage:
SKULLRAGE Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student Digital Artist
haha thnx for the guide :D since I start learning to do 3D modeling my first model was a 3d sci fi space craft :D . This will serouisly will help to build my own ships especially I need to build a bigger ship now like carrier for my fighter jets. I only get inspire or admire mostly in space simulation game like Eve online and X3 :D Thanks again for this :D
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
I made this exactly for guys like you. Enjoy and good luck!
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:iconmutos78:
Mutos78 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow ! I'll read it thoughtfully as I'm trying to do the same for the Hoshikaze universe. You don't mind becoming an inspiration ? ^-^ Seems it's written just for that...
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Use away! It was made for just that purpose.
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:iconrealmwright:
Realmwright Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
I'm one of those that desperately need such guidance and wisdom. Thanks for sharing.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
that's what it's all about.
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:iconslingblade87:
SlingBlade87 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013
When you say destroyers today are indistinguishable from frigates, do you mean cruisers?

In the US navy at least, that is the case.

There is a BIG difference in capability between a destroyer and frigate in the US fleet whereas the modern cruisers and destroyers are largely indistinguishable in their abilities.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Ah, I knew that the line was blurred between destroyers, frigates and cruisers, but thought it was frigates and destroyers that were the ones that were most similar. Thanks.
So what are the differences between a modern frigate and a destroyer?
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:iconslingblade87:
SlingBlade87 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013
And I apologize if my commentary seems like an attack, I actually admire your work (and this document) a great deal for their completeness and well thought out nature.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Don't worry. It never even occurred to me to see it that way.
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:iconslingblade87:
SlingBlade87 Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013
Well originally frigates and destroyers were largely indistinguishable (originally a 'frigate' in the US fleet was called a destroyer escort) and they had largely the same roles and capabilities on different scales, ie convoy and capital ship escort as well as sub-hunting.

The current generation of destroyers are essentially cruisers for all intents and purposes. They fulfill the same roles in that both have offensive and defensive capabilities against submarines and aircraft (in the nineties there was a difference in that cruisers focused on air warfare while destroyers focused on anti-sub warfare but that distinction has largely vanished) and both have land strike capabilities thanks to their deck guns and missiles.

Frigates on the other hand in current US doctrine are strictly escort vessels and closely match what the original US navy destroyer was intended to do. Whereas a destroyer or cruiser might go off on its own and conduct solo operations without the need to escort a larger ship, a frigate is always going to be working in conjunction with larger ships as their screening force.

They are also significantly smaller in size whereas the modern cruisers and destroyers are almost of equal sizes (to the point where the next generation of destroyers/cruisers may forgo the name difference and just become one or the other).

In all honesty, modern destroyers are more akin to cruisers than anything else, it's merely that the nomenclature has not changed to reflect this.
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:iconsoulslayer317:
Soulslayer317 Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2013
this is most helpful, I'm working on a series which would include lots of types of ships and to know their roles in the fleets. Thanks very much, didn't think anyone would've made something like this
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
my pleasure
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:iconblacklion68:
blacklion68 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2013
I see that you have put a lot of thought into this. I be very careful about the Battlecrusier. It's basically Battleship guns on a Cruiser hull. It has Cruiser speed and Cruiser maneuverability and Cruiser armor. One or two good hits, and it goes away.  As for operating alone, or without escort? I don't think so.Nod :) (Smile)
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
So that's something still reserved for cruisers and frigates you think? I put the battlecruiser as a lone operator because cruisers often work that way. It seems the designation has been fuzzy at times. Didn't the H.M.S. Hood do some lone "gunboat diplomacy" touring before it met its untimely end?
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:iconblacklion68:
blacklion68 Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2013
Yes it did. But remember, it was a design that reflected the previous conflict (WW1) And, it's builders skimped on the armor. I've seen some BC designs on shipbucket, and a manga or two that will fulfill the niche nicely. Properly designed, built and operated - a lone wolf BC or equivalent unit can do a lot of damage. ie... the Graf Spree. (And the Q ships both sides used in WW2.) There's the threat from subs...  Enemy torpedoes, bad. Enemy sub reporting your position, really bad. And yes, the Battlecruiser designation is a bit fuzzy, sitting between cruisers and battleships.
Yea, I'm biased... Every time I think fleet (wet navy or sci if spaceships) I think combined arms warfare. I just got to have those escorts to keep the bad things away from the cap ships. And, to be expendable minions when things get nasty. I never thought the years of cable TV the occasional RPG, and years of hanging out at the library would come in handy.:) (Smile)
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Good points all. I tend to go for fleets as well, but a lot of people like the Star Trek model of storytelling: One ship v. The universe. If you are doing that kind of story and its combat oriented I think they can do okay with a battlecruiser.
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:iconfrostyfabrications:
FrostyFabrications Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I like you distinction of Battle carriers from battleships. I feel like this is often over looked. Everyone's got shuttle bays. But a combat airstrip is a whole classification. Nice one, dude!
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
thanks! I hope it helps other writers and ship designers.
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:iconk-haderach:
K-Haderach Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
This is extremely useful, but it does operate on the assumption that a sci-fi fleet in space would operate more or less like a mid-to-late 20th century naval surface fleet. In other words, it assumes the "space is an ocean" trope.

...which is the way most sci-fi settings treat space anyway, so that's why it's extremely useful. :nod: But if you want to be actually realistic and write proper "hard" sci-fi, you need to toss the entire space=ocean metaphor out the window and consider the fact that real space combat is likely to have absolutely nothing in common with planetary naval combat.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I wrote it mainly for the "space is an ocean" sci fi crowd because so many seem to just arbitrarily give ship's naval classifications without actually understanding them. 

But, that being said, I think that if we do get to that level of use, we will terrestrialize space. In other words, we'll fall into the space is an ocean trope in real life because that's what we're used to doing. I can almost guarantee that the first nation to field a combat space vessel will give it a naval designation. It's kinda human nature, and at the point where we are putting weapons on space vessels, the "hard science" guys who would say "we should call it something more appropriate" will not be the ones in charge. It will be the same men who have always been in charge of humanity during times of war. It will be the military industrial complex, who will want to romanticize their war machines. When that first gun gets welded onto a ship, that's when NASA and other scientists will lose their control over space development.
Especially if it's the United States, my own country, or any of the current first world nations, particularly if they are European, then the first fighting vessel will be given a naval designation. I'd even be willing to go so far as to say that the ship will likely be built by the U.S. and will be named either the Constitution, Enterprise, or George Washington. And it will be designated either as a cruiser or a frigate.,.because both of those classifications are naval and romanticized and neither screams "war" like battleship or destroyer does, so the public won't immediately recoil. After that first ship (which will likely never see combat or do anything other than fly around for pictures), the naval designation will stick. Other nations will emulate it and it will become habit.

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:iconk-haderach:
K-Haderach Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013
Well, most of the time it seems that the naval classifications are just picked at random to sound impressive. "Destroyer" is a particular favourite because, you know, destroying stuff is scary. What sounds more dangerous, a Star Destroyer or a Star Cruiser?

I'm sure you are right about the beginnings of space combat vessels. The first armed spacecraft we start building will almost certainly be given naval classifications, and will also probably be designed under the assumption that space combat is like naval combat. However, those kinds of ships will only last until the first actual space battle takes place. At that point, some intelligent commander who actually understands how space works will create the first made-for-space combat tactics and annihilate enemy forces that imagine they are fighting on an ocean. Then everyone will immediately try to copy his tactics, and design new kinds of warships to counter them. Thus, proper combat spaceships will be born, and they will no longer bear any resemblance with naval ships.

They might still keep some of the classification names, though. Large ships may well be designated "capital ships" no matter what they actually do, and so on.
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Oh, the tactics themselves will be entirely different. Beyond visual range kinetic kill weapons will be the name of the game. Fuzzy logic hunter/killer satellites and probes will be more common than actual ships. You'd come into enemy space and just dump a cargo bay full of the nasty little bastards. They'd be small with powerful warheads, drift inert until something recognizable as an enemy comes in range, then thrust over, latch on, and BOOM!
It'd be a nightmare, and very little star trek or star wars style battles. 
However, what ships there are, regardless of the tactics, they'll get naval designations.
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:iconsiveir:
Siveir Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
It's good think to find someone who knows something about naval warfare. However, I have some objections. Don't take it personaly, I'm just caviling :D

The space is the ocean. OK, most autohrs tend to this setting (mostly because it's well established), without even thinking of the differences. In the movies and series, and even games, it's also (besides most scenarists know nothing or less about physics or far space...) because who wants to watch commanders looking into tactical screen (holo, etc...) and shooting on enemy ships some ligt-minutes away (I love Weber's Honorverse for that! The best space combat I ever read about...), so far away that even radar isn't effective enough to locate them... But why not allow authors their own nomenclature on ships? It's their universe, and if they have it explained (example being term "destroyer" - I think it's perfect alternative name for a capital ship)... The names, doctrine, nomenclature, all changes with the time. Frigatte being great example. Originally they were the larges "sub-capital" ships, serving as cruisers. Later, during the world wars (the second one particularly) they were specialized anti-submarine wessels smaller then destroyers. Modern frigates are multi-purpose vessels, some of them as large as small WW2 cruisers, and in most navies, they serve as "capital ships".
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
The thing is, to break the rules you have to know the rules. If your frigates are capital ships, then explain why that unique scenario came about. I have a race called the Rhtharians who use nothing but destroyers, frigates and pinnaces, because their ability to manufacture capital ships was destroyed in a previous war. It stands out compared to the other races. But their decentralized command means its hard to shut their fleet down with a knock out punch to a carrier or battleship and you don't know which ship is their flagship unless you tap into their comm system.
Always build from a base of good knowledge and understanding of why things work. Then you can (and probably should) move in a direction that gives your universe its own flavor. But know the conventions that make the base. Without a good base, it all falls apart. 
As for the Honorverse. I really do like the combat in it, though I think he tries a bit too hard to make the tech emulate the age of sail (but with missiles) and he overuses descriptives. How many times have you read "the warhead exploded on her starboard side, nuclear-pumped lasers slashing through decks seven and eight, incinerating the fifth missile battery and ripping through frames two hundred and fifty through four hundred and eighty two." It just got repetitive for me. I also wore out on Honor being such a Mary Sue shortly after she became the best pistol duelist ever and the best swordswoman ever. But the first four or five books, I loved them.


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:iconsiveir:
Siveir Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
With the rules for evolution, I agree - you have to know why your navy is organized the way it is. But I also want to say that for alien species, none of our own experience may be true!

As for Honorverse, it is specificaly designed like "Hornblower in space". About the later books, I don't complane much. It's just about style you prefer, I think. I'm very much like things like history building, technological background, world-designings and such, so what I dislike most on Weber is that he computes thinkgs like relativistic speeds and relativistic accelerations in wrong way :D.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
some expansion..
the Battleship/dreadnaught distinction is a fairly minor one, derived from an old pre-WW1 concept. originally battleships had a variety of size of gun, some case-mated and others with oddly placed deck turrets. then the British came up with the USS Dreadnaught.. a new design of battleship which used a couple turrets with almost all round traverse, and armed with only big guns. it was a revolution in design that set the stage for later battleship designs, like those which saw use in WW2. it wasn't the biggest ship of its time, but it was the most advanced and powerful, since it packed what were (for the time) the most powerful guns, and used more potent engines and due to the reduced height of the deck above water, packed much thicker armor than its contemporaries.
in science fiction, the term 'dreadnaught' has been adopted to reflect a sub-class of battleship.. although there is little agreement on how this is defined. sometimes it refers to the largest, most powerful ones.. othertimes it's been used to refer to smaller, faster battleships (basically oversized cruisers with battleship armament in the vein of the "pocket battleships" of WW2 Germany..)

as for battle-carriers.. there was some effort put into such things.. in the 80's there had been a proposal to refit the Iowa class battleships into a hybrid battleship-carrier design, by stripping out the aft turret and rebuilding the stern of the ship to house hangers and twin launch/recovery decks for Helicopters and VTOL Fighters like the Harriers. the idea was nixed, mainly because the refit would have cost almost as much as a full super carrier.  www.militaryphotos.net/forums/…

the Russian Kiev class was classified as a "aviation cruiser" by the soviet union, although it was battleship sized and essentually a carrier-battleship in role.  it mounted heavy anti-ship missile armaments, as well as a launch/recover deck for helicopters and VTOl fighters (the Yak-38 for most of its service) the ship was intended to form the center of a combat group of similar sized "cruisers" and of smaller escorts, and provide air defense for the formation. in practice it did not work all that well, mainly due to the limitations of the Yak-38 and the fact it could not boast the same over the horizon strike ability of the US super carriers. in the 90's it was refit to use smaller, yet just as potent anti-ship missiles, and to have a more conventional carrier deck with ski-jump, which let it operate Su-33 strike fighters in a more conventional carrier role. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiev-cla…
the Kiev class was eventually replaced by the Admiral Kuznetov class, which was effectively a much bigger kiev class where the carier part of its dual identity was given a bigger role. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Admiral_…
one serves in the russian navy today, the other example of the Kuznetsov class would eventually be sold to China and completed as the Liaoning class currently undergoing its shakedown cruises.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
another example of 'battlecarriers', from a different tack, would be the IJN Shinano, which was laid down as a Yamato class Battleship, of which the hull was finished, but was completed as a Aircraft carrier (one of the largest in the world at the time). the ship had battleship level armor and defensive weaponry, but carried a massive air wing of fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes. it never saw combat, having been built too late to see the major naval battles, and having been sunk en-route to its assigned duty station by an American submarine.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese…
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:iconsiveir:
Siveir Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
Better example of battle-carrier - a real example of the category! - are two Japanese Ise class battleships. Shinano was just a battleship made carries the way interwar ships like Akagi, Lexington or Saratoga were reconstructed. However, in case of Ise and Hyuga, they were rebuilt after the Midway battle. Their aft main turrets were replaced by a flight deck and hangar for about 25 aircrafts, but their middle and fore turrets of 14" guns were conserved. They had never chance to prove their real value in any sort of "fair" combat...
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
actually not a flight deck.. they mounted an extra seaplane catapult and larger hangers. it wasn't really a carrier, it just had a larger scouting plane force than most battleships in the IJN. (most had a couple for scouting/spotting/recon. the Ise class just had two dozen.)

since the aircraft used weren't really combat capable i wasn't counting it.
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:iconsiveir:
Siveir Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
You're right, thanks for the correction.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
you could make an arguement for it being a kind of battlecarrier, since it did carry planes. in scifi though i think the old "seaplanes on battleships" approach is probably best replicated with sensor probes and such though. most battleships had a steam catapult or two and carried some spotter planes. planes with floats for landing on the sea (for recovery) and basic defensive machineguns. they'd be used for 'over the horizon' recon and for relaying gunnery corrections in battle. in space though there really isn't a horizon, and even with the 'zeroeth rule' in play, recon beyond the effective sensor range of a spaceship is one of those things that works better as a remotely operated probe or drone.

zeroeth law: "people prefer to read stories about people, not silicon chips" (though obviously, in the case of suitable strong AI.. the difference is minor)
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:iconsiveir:
Siveir Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
I can make an argument they were designed to carry 14 Judy divers, though I don't know if they actually have them anytime during htheir re-launch and their sinking in the Leyte battle (where they possessed no planes). I know perfectly about the seaplanes on warships, though :). You are probably right about the recon drones and the law, but for me, the backgrounds, both technical and others, are equaly important as people in it (that's why I like Weber :D). I'm a weird person, though...
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I didn't know there was a name for that rule about what people want to read. I had to explain the concept to someone a while back who asked why not have fighters controlled by AI. Thanks for that.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
there are a lot of 'laws' of science fiction writing various writers created to explain why writing works the way it does.
i compiled them once for the palladium forums and nexusnine site. link to the N9 site version:
forums.nexusnine.net/ikonboard…

the posts on the palladium forums people decided to argue over my choice of thread name and generally argue that "science" has no part of science fiction.. :facepalm:
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! I love that people are inputting and expanding on this. I think this stuff will really, really help aspiring ship designers. Cruisers with fighters is a staple in a lot of science fiction these days. I think it is mainly due to our love affair with space fighters, which I'd dare say started with the last battle in Star Wars: A New Hope and continues through today. I do think a lot of smaller, fighter carrying ships are poorly designed, mainly because people forget how much goes into carrying fighters, their fuel, their ordinance, room and space to repair them, and the need for a hangar as well as a flight deck. I see a lot of people using them as one-in-the-same, when they should be separate decks. It takes a lot of room to carry a good amount of fighters, but even I have a few cruiser designs that carry a dozen or so.
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:iconantarasol:
Antarasol Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Forgot something: A few sci-fi series know of "motorized space bodies", like a larger asteroid or small moon, which have been carved out, filled with technology and living space, and some of them also got drives to navigate. Rarely, but not unheard of they have jump drives or similar to move larger distances.

The navy doesn't have motorized islands, so this is a genuinely sci-fi thing I guess, but also a very interesting type of vessel to build stories around.

The series which I mentioned in my other message uses this design for the headquarter of a secret service, a very small moon. The idea is to have something inconspicuously looking, combined with some maneuverability.
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:iconglitterboy2098:
Glitterboy2098 Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
well, the navy has had Mobile docks in the past, such as the Mulberry harbor's of WW2, which would be the wet navy equivalent. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulberry…

a more apt, if non-military, comparison might be the offshore oil rigs.. some of which are semi-mobile and the biggest of which basically are a small industrial city at sea. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_plat…
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:iconantarasol:
Antarasol Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I guess that comes close. But luckily sci-fi can be purely imaginative too, and doesn't need to depend on real structures.
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:iconantarasol:
Antarasol Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting. I feel a bit uncertain about how you place the destroyer class, I think you talk a bit lowly about their firepower, and they sure are meant to be fast ships. A faster and lighter armored, but quite armed frigate would fit to my idea of a destroyer even in space. A hunter type of vessel.

I want to add a type: compound ships, which can split up in several smaller units, or operate as a whole (a sci-fi only concept most likely).

My favorite sci-fi series had a very famous battlecarrier design, the ship was named SOL (named so because the people searched their way back to our solar system from a place very far away). They most interesting feature was that the carrier was a three part ship itself, so after engaging in battle and launching all the smaller ships (of which some were carriers for fighters themselves) it could split up into three parts, two matching the heaviest class of battleships, the third segment being the command and control unit, with a most advanced computer system aboard.

I think in combat heavy sci-fi battle carriers are the most interesting type of ship.

The ship mentioned above was/is in use since about 2000 years of the story, retrofitted several times. For some hundred years it was not in duty as battle ship, but home to a colony of traveling space people.

It consists of two roughly sphere shaped modules, of 2500m diameter, and a cylindric connection (the command and control unit) of 3000m length and 1500m diameter. Total length is 8000 meters, and it was supposed to carry about 270 light cruisers (frigates in your terminology, most likely), about 1000 corvesttes, and 2700 fighters, also a number of exploration and man-transport vessels.

The original design had a shorter command and control unit of 1500m length, which was expanded later.

The light cruisers also carried a small number of fighters, so one can add another 1000 or so fighters, if all ships and sub-ships have launched.

Without technology reference it doesn't make sense to list the weapons and power supply, but it matched battleships of similar size.

I guess the whole thing rather goes into the dreadnought class. There was only one ship of this type built although it is the type ship of series which was supposed to fight back an alien invasion which finally took over the galaxy.

Can't find an English page with a more detailed description, but if you want to use Google translate, you can try this (German source):

www.perrypedia.proc.org/wiki/S…
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:iconiljackson:
ILJackson Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Destroyer roles have changed a bit since WWII and I was using that as the base since that's the only time in recent history destroyers saw extensive combat. During the conflict, they were considered lightly armed. The biggest guns on most were 5 inch deck guns. They couldn't pierce the sides of most capital ships. They were so small that in the battle of leyte gulf a Japanese cruiser couldn't depress its guns low enough to actually shoot at them. Nowadays, destroyers in the U,S. navy are almost indistinguishable from frigates except that they carry a lot of antisubmarine warfare equipment. The Arleigh Burke is a guided missile destroyer that can scrap with any other surface vessel. Its one of the reasons there are no more battleships. Guided missiles have almost eliminated modern classes. There's carriers and frigate/cruiser/destroyers that escort them. And tenders. 
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:iconnekirasudacne:
NekiraSudacne Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2013
Until we get lasers small enough with tracking good enough to shoot down missiles efficiently and reliably there is little reason to do anything other than shoot missiles until the other ships blow up.
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