01 December 2013

Ships of the Line: Heavy Cruisers

The term "cruiser" has been around since the 17th century, and became a key ship class in the war at  sea during the Second World War. In the realm of science fiction, the heavy cruiser is one of the most popular classification of warships. This includes the most iconic and recognized fictional spaceships of all time, the NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. However, contrary to the vision presented in science fiction, the naval heavy cruiser had a brief operational life around the time of World War II, and ended shortly after. FWS will once again be exploring the fictional and real world heavy cruiser in nauseating detail. Also, be warned...FWS will be covering cruisers for the next several Ships of the Line blogposts. From light/medium Cruisers to the Missile Cruisers.

What is an Heavy Cruiser?
The term "cruiser" comes from the Dutch word "Kruiser" and means "something that crosses". In naval terminology, a cruiser (of various "weights") are the smallest naval warships capably of independent operations. Around the turn of the last century, the term "armored cruiser" is also used to describe similar vessels to the heavy cruiser and the niche that the heavy cruiser occupied was a warship displacing 10,000 tons, and fitted with rapid-fire 8-inch (203mm) guns that could operate over long distances. The difference between a "light" cruiser verse a "heavy" cruiser is often the weight displaced, but not always. Another method of separating various cruiser is based the size of their cannons. The 2nd World War light cruiser fires a 6 inch shell, while the heavy cruiser fires the 8 inch shell.

The Combat Role of the Naval Heavy Cruiser
In some ways, the cruiser has been a warship that as charged through the years to the conditions and technology of naval warfare. During the interim-years between WWI and WWII, the heavy cruiser combat role was envisioned as a protector of shipping, fencing off the advances of enemies vessels bend on attack soft targets, like shipping, as seen in World War One. Cruiser were also envisioned as defenders against smaller warships using torpedoes. With the naval restriction treaty, some believed that the heavy cruiser classification was a loophole, making them more or less battlecruiser, just not in name, but with limited gun size. The Imperial Japanese navy had envisioned heavy cruiser being used for night naval engagements during the 1930's, and to pound enemy vessels with torpedoes and cannon fire.
In the post-WWII era, naval warfare shifted to carriers, submarines, and missiles and away from battleships and other smaller warship classes. However, during the Korean War and Vietnam, cruisers and the few battleships left were used for shore bombardment and artillery support. Even today, the US Marine Corps, maintains that the US Navy must have a vessel and weapon platform for shore bombardment to allow for amphibious assault operations. In the 21st century, the few cruiser classes in service are guide missile cruisers.
The History of the Heavy Cruiser
In the 17th century, as naval warfare was increasing in important of determined the outcome of international wars, the Dutch developed a term for a long-range warship, the "Kruiser". These vessels were mostly in service overseas in foreign and colonial ports. These were seen as a less expensive and critical than the ships of the line. During the age of metal hulled vessels that were powered by motors and not wind, the cruiser became the vessels that projected power to foreign ports and lands. One of the more common type of 18th century warships, the Frigate, was a type of cruiser. In 1874, the first of the armored steam cruiser was launched by the Russians, that was still complete with a full set of sails.
These sails that still were placed on the armored cruiser were allowing for extended range beyond coal stations. These armored cruisers were key in the Japanese victory during the 1905 battle of Tsushima against the Imperial Russian navy. During World War One, these armored cruisers could steam at greater speeds than the battleships of the day, and while these faster warships had their role in the large naval engagements, the dreadnought was the king of the high seas during this era. In the British navy, Sea Lord Jackie Fisher cleaned out many of the older cruisers and parred down the Royal Navy, which was a sign of things to come. It was not until the post-WWI era that the term "heavy cruiser" was official used. The beginning of the heavy cruiser began as solution to the international naval limitation Washington Treaty signed by the five major nations involved in the First World War in 1922. This treaty governed over the physical size of the vessel, along with type and size of her main guns, along with the number that a nation could consider. Most of the limitation on construction numbers were applied to capital ships.
The British proposed that instead of limiting numbers of cruisers and destroyers, there was a displacement and cannon limit...10,000 tons and 8 inch guns. Thus, the heavy cruiser class warship was born out of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Between the Washington Treaty and the London Treaty in 1930, there was a debate about the role and size of the heavy cruiser. It was worked out that the light cruiser would field 6 inch guns (155mm). The new limitations on heavy cruisers wounded the pride of the Japanese, due to heavy cruisers being a key element in their naval strategy. However, the British, France, and Italy had ceased production on heavy cruisers. Some nations used the heavy cruiser to runaround the naval treaties, and several classes of heavy cruisers were above the prescribed 10,000 ton limit.  
During the dark days of WWII, the heavy cruisers were on submarine hunting and defending duty. Most heavy cruisers spend the war serving in anti-aircraft and anti-submarine roles. Interestingly, most of the Japanese heavy cruisers were not sunk via air or ship engagements, but by submarines. After the war, things changed for navies around the global. With nuclear powered submarines, aricraft carriers, and the Cold War, navies cut down on their ships and classes, and one of the first to be cut down was the heavy cruiser. The last heavy cruiser commissioned in the US Navy was the all-gun cruiser USS Newport News and continued in service until 1975 when she was scrapped in 1993.The world's last surviving heavy cruiser in existence is the USS Salem (CA-139) that was laid down in the last days of World War II, and launched in 1947, and served until 1959 mostly as a training vessel, and made into a museum ship in 1994. Today, the only cruisers still constructed and serving in modern navies, are the guided missile cruiser, like the USN Ticonderoga class.

Why are Heavy Cruisers Obsolete?
After World War II, President Thurman the rise of the aircraft carrier, less relevancy of naval guns in favor of missiles, and the advent of nuclear-powered submarines, caused the major navies of the world parred down their old fleets.The cruiser and the battleship classes were basically eliminated y the 1960's, with Frigates serving as more or less cruisers. The cruisers that were left in service use missiles and advanced sensor systems to protect the aircraft carrier group from incoming threats. They can also strike land targets with their cruise missiles. FWS will covering more on missile cruisers in a later blogpost. At present, there are no heavy cruisers in service with any navy. The only ship that comes close are the surviving members of the Russian Kirov class battlecruiser.

The Heavy Cruiser and Science Fiction
The idea of using naval classification for spaceborne vessels came from the mind of E.E. "Doc" Smith in the 1930's. Prior to this, most of our space heroes and villains did battle in rocket ships that mostly were devoid of any classification. The popularity of applying  naval classifications to starships reached new levels with the popularity of spaceship combat games, like the old FASA Star Trek: Starship combat simulator.  If you examine the bulk of sci-fi ships seen in movies and TV series, most are classified as "heavy cruisers". This is true from Star Trek to Babylon 5 to the beautiful Andromeda Ascent. Also, consider that the most iconic starship in science fiction is a heavy cruiser, the Enterprise. But, why is this? If the setting of the story is centered around a specific starship, than logic dictates that starship should be flexible for all types of missions and stories. Also, if the story is centered around one ship, the effects team has to pull off the illusion of that ship in space or the show and its future will suffer.
That level of effects costs money. Before the quality level of CGI SFX, all starships seen on the big and small screens were models, and this took time and expensive to craft a convincing spacecraft that didn't look like something out of a Thunderbirds episode!This limited the amount of ships seen, and often these shows relayed on recycling of the prop or even high-quality model kits (like the USS Constellation from "The Doomsday Machine").
 The best all around, flexible ship in most navies is the cruiser, and this became the basis for most military sci-fi ships. Sometimes, the ideas about what class a fictional starship should fit into does not originate with the creators of the work, but rather fans and game designers. Consider much of the ships seen in the world of Star Trek care just labelled "starships". Contrary to this tradition, the original series Constitution class was actually referred to as an "heavy cruiser" in the series. In the 1968 episode "Space Seed", the script actually refers to the Enterprise as a member of the heavy cruiser Constitution class. This idea was reinforced by  the FASA RPG,  which classified much of Starfleet's starships along naval lines. In a split second shot in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock, there is a monitor on the bridge of the Enterprise that classifies the Enterprise as an "heavy cruiser".
This had effect on future sci-fi creators as well, who looked to these iconic heavy cruisers of sci-fi to craft their own. What is interesting is that while heavy cruisers are extremely popular with sci-fi creators, and appear time and time again, some works are devoid of the iconic classification. I was leafing through my collection of technical manuals, and I realized that in the Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato space combat system, the Terran fleet has zero heavy cruiser! This is also true of the Zentraedi and REF fleets from ROBOTECH.

The Combat Role of the Sci-Fi Heavy Cruiser
Within most sci-fi fleets, the heavy cruisers are the most mission flexible spacecraft, and this versatility is reflected in the steer numbers of heavy cruisers that are fielded. During times of hostile, the heavy cruiser is the backbone of an fleet taskforce. Heavy cruiser can play defensive roles, protecting sensitive ships within the taskforce, and providing suppression fire for smaller craft. In offensive roles, heavy cruiser possess the armament to engage larger enemy combat ships, and the speed to make up for their lighter armor and shielding. These ships, in an offensive role, could be akin to Running Backs and/or Tight End in American Football.
During peacetime, the heavy cruiser's flexibility could come in handy with fulfilling various missions and being const effective. Heavy cruisers could be re-tasked and service as a medium range explorer, frontier patrol vessel, escort, pirate suppressor, and emergency aid vessel during colonial disasters. Much like the Enterprise, the peacetime heavy crusier could service as an armed science ship...you know, to avoid the fate of the Grissom. These types of roles for wartime and peacetime heavy cruiser are seen throughout science fiction.

Could There be an Hard Science Heavy Cruiser?
If we examine the role of the heavy cruiser in the naval tradition and in science fiction, they agree that the cruiser is a independent warship capable of long-range missions. Science fiction seems to think that the future of spaceborne combat vessels is heavy cruisers, but is that possible? Any inter-solar system commerce would be a target, and any deep space outposts would also be a target. These types of patrol and protection duties would fall natural to a "cruiser" type warship. Some believe that different classifications of warships will not exist, due to the steer expense of fielding staeship. Some of the considers behind the development of the various types of seaborne ships do not exist in space travel. That being said, at its heart, a hard-science cruiser would a vessel developed to be equal in all parts of armor, armament, engines, Delta-V, and was about to operate independently...and that will be an asset to any future space force. I believe that there will be an hard-science cruiser space warship of some type.

The Sad Story of Two Ambassador class starships, the Enterprise-C and FASA...
Sometimes, science fiction ships can an interesting story associated within them. What you are about to read here is extremely geeky, and comes from a time when I was a massive Trekkie, and worshiped at the altar of Federation ship design. You have been warned...For many of us older Trek fans, the 1980's were an interesting time, and were a relief from the desert that was the 1970's. During the 1980's, Trek was not an TV property yet, but there was a series of successful movies, DC comics, Pocket books, and the Chicago-based FASA's RPG. When Trek came to the popular world of pen-and-paper RPGs, it was believed by both FASA and Paramount that it would a game of exploration, however by the time Star Trek II and III hit theaters, fans wanted a tabletop strategic ship combat game, and they got in 1983, with the Star Trek III: Starship Combat Game and later with the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator with a line of diecast 25mm ship models.
How does this relate to the existence of two Ambassador class ships and two Enterprise-Cs? With the success of the STSTCM, and the limited number of canon ships, FASA was forced to design and field their own starships to keep the game interesting and dynamic. This created somewhat a conflict in the minds of most fans...there was the official Paramount canon, then the events shown in the DC Comics, and then the FASA events. For the most part, Paramount ignored FASA's RPG universe until 1987 when the long awaited ST:TNG TV series came to reality. It was believed by Paramount at the time, that all of the different Trek universes were breeding confusion among fans, and the company wanted ST:TNG to be the focus of the fandom and their wallets. It was decided that Paramount should tighten the reins on and  FASA naturally geared up for product of an TNG-era RPG and ST:STCM game system, with miniatures to match. In 1988 we got glimpse of what those Federation ships could have looked like with the non-canon, but still cool, ST:TNG Officers Manual. This manual attempted to fill in the gaps, and FASA was a company that liked to fill in the blanks, and their take on Trek was no different. They attempted to show what Starfleet had been constructing in the gap between the 23rd century movies and the new 24th century show, and their Ambassador class was a ship that was designed with that era, after the movies, when the Excelsior class was the dominate class of Federation starship.
The name itself was canon by the time of the manual's printing, being established in the 24th episode of TNG, "Conspiracy" (one my favorites!). When the Enterprise-D enters orbit of the Dytallix B moon, one of the starships in orbit is the USS Horatio, which Data identifies as "Ambassador class heavy cruiser", and this gave FASA a name to work with.  On page 52, we see FASA's take on the canon Ambassador class heavy cruiser. This vessel was designed to be a fire support element in a taskforce during times of conflict with its long-range phasers and torpedo launchers. Adding to its combat was 100 marine trained in boarding and zero-gee combat, making the Ambassador class prefect for pirate suppression operations in the Triangle region. There is nothing really mentioned about the role of the FASA Ambassador class during peacetime, but it assumed that it would be similar to the Constitution class. People that used the old Ambassador class say that the ship is one of the strongest offensive in the old FASA system.
So, did FASA use their own Ambassador class design for their Enterprise-B? No actually, they gave that honor to an Alaska class battlecrusier, which FASA never made an official drawing for. Some talented people over at starship schematics database made a drawing based on the images seen of the Enterprise-C model on the wall of the conference room of the D. According to page 55 of the Officers Manual, the Alaska class C was protested by the Vulcans, and the ship was lost while on a ten-year exploration mission in the northwest quadrant of the galaxy. Starbase 67 received a distress call, and Starfleet declared the C lost roughly the border of the Gamma Quadrants. Some fans have speculated that the loss of the C was the first contact between the Federation and the Dominion.
The official canonized design of the Ambassador class was presented in the excellent 3rd season episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", and was an attempted by Rick Sternbach to bridge the gap between the two eras in Starfleet, with hallmarks of the future Galaxy class and the Excelsior class. The model was only given a few days to be designed and only few days after that to be constructed. I was never a big fan of the Ambassador design, especially because I had been taught, by FASA, what the this class should look like. This design always felt half-baked to me, and still does, however it has grown on me.
 Since its coming out in the 3rd season, the Ambassador class has been since in several episodes, including during the Dominion War. When we examine the fictional Ambassador class, we see a ship in conjunction with the Excelsior class, we attempting to fill the hole left by the retired Constitution class. The Ambassador class explorer/heavy cruiser was launched in 2330's, and the Enterprise-C was destroyed in 2344, just as the initial plans for the Galaxy class was being drawn up. There is little on the class itself, how many were built, and even if they are still being constructed. During the Borg invasion, the Ambassadors serviced and were offensive upgraded during the Dominion War. It is likely that after that war, the Intrepid class finally replaced the Ambassador class.
One of the main reasons why we did not get the game stats or FASA workup on the official Ambassador class or even a 24th century combat game was the Paramount cancelled FASA licence in 1989. The genesis behind this decision has never been made public...however, there are internet rumors. According to some sources online, Gene Roddenberry was pissed about the growing militarization of Star Trek via FASA and their players. He and the studio, at the time, were attempting to bring fans over to the new TV show and re-focus the Trek universe to one of exploration, and not military conflict.
Paramount did some of this via freezing out of FASA after TNG hit the air-waves, but the relationship died once Gene Roddenberry and others at the studio learned of FASA's future plans for their vision of Trek....massive war-games focused on both planetary ground forces and galactic-size war.. Roddenberry as stated many times that Trek is not about conflict, but exploration, and the idea of FASA publishing a strategic tabletop war game with one the possibility for the players was for the Federation to invade the Klingon and Romulan Empires disgusted him. Roddenberry lend on Paramount, and in turn, Paramount lend on FASA. By 1989, FASA's Trek RPG was over, and contrary to popular belief this was not the reason that FASA folded up shop in 2001. In truth, FASA's bread-&-butter was Battletech, Trek hadn't been as successful as FASA had hoped, and the only moneymaker of the line, the combat games which was the forbidden fruit by Paramount's standards. Today, the old FASA Trek universe is mostly forgotten, save for us few that remember the 1980's...geek rant over.


The Narn Regime G'Quan class Heavy Cruiser from Babylon 5

Given that this Narn warship is named for their main religious figure tells you something about the importance of this warship to the Narn Regime. The bulk of the Narn fleet is composed  (or what was seen on the show) of this single type of warship, much like the Omega class destroyer or the Sharlin class warship, and the Centauri Primus class warship of the other major races. From 2109 to 2210, the Narn were subjugated by the Centauri Republic, and upon liberation, the Narn reverse-engineered Centrauri technology. The G'Quan was one of the results of this project, and ranks close in technology to Earth-Force warships and both painfully behind the older races.
Despite not having gravity for her crew, the G'Quan is heavily armed her front firing arch, can carry up to 24 fighters, and about 1,000 ground troops. The Narn use this heavy cruiser in groups, and bombard the target with energy mines and heavy laser cannons. This became the key offensive tool of the Narn during their war with the Centauri, and only a few were left after the war was over. However, after the conflict, the Narn began construction on an upgraded G'Quan class. The G'Quan class was designed by Paul Bryant of the computer effects house, Foundation Imaging. He based the overall design on the Narn fighter, making this vessel sleek and aggressive. This alien heavy cruiser ranks as one in my top ten of favorites designs of starships.

The High Guard Glorious Heritage class Heavy Cruiser from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
The set-piece of TV show Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, was the Andromeda Ascent heavy cruiser, both the ship and her captain were refugees to a different time and situation. Around the year 9768 of the Systems Commonwealth, the High Guard fleet began to construct the Glorious Heritage class of heavy cruisers, and would become one of the symbols of the High Guard and the Restored Systems Commonwealth. After the fall of the Systems Commonwealth due to the attack by the Nietzschean clans, much of the High Guard fleet was destroyed...however, the Andromeda survived.  As seen in the show, the Andromeda was the most advanced warship in the three galaxies, armed with both defensive and offensive armaments, like combat drones, point defense lasers, anti-proton cannons, kinetic kill missiles, and a very intelligent A.I. system. Unlike most Star Trek ships, the heavy cruisers of the Andromeda universe were armed with a variety of choices for different tactical conditions, including a small group of attack fingers and 800 Lancer group troops.
Much like all science fiction heavy cruisers, the Glorious Heritage class was mission flexible, serving in peace and war time roles. During peacetime, they served in patrol and exploration functions. During wartime, these heavy cruisers were a force to tangled with. Their weapon systems were developed around maxmium damage in the least amount of time, allowing the Glorious Heritage to engage multiply hostiles, and be the main offensive punch in a High Guard fleet formation. With their large cargo, passenger capability, the Glorious Heritage class could mount planetary combat operations with planetary warfare bots, and Lancer troopers, with fighters to backup the assault on-planet. Given This ship was the symbol of the show, and at the time (2000), the Andromeda was one of the most beautiful and unique starship designs on TV.

The Federation Nebula class Heavy Cruiser
The Nebula class was constructed around the same time as the large Galaxy class, the 2340's and 2350's. Given the massive expensive of the Galaxy class, Starfleet used elements for construction for a smaller science and defensive space vehicle that used the advanced platform of the Galaxy class technology. This 442 meter starship was spiritually tied to the 23rd century Miranda class light cruiser, which itself was developed out of the Constitution class. During peacetime, the Nebula services as a science and exploration vessel, however, during times of conflict, the Nebula is a heavy cruiser. This flexibility is a hallmark of all Federation starships, however, the Nebula class is more so. The upper module platform can be swapped out based on the mission. During the Federation/Dominion War, all Nebula class ships were fitted with the torpedo launcher module, allowing for this ship to laydown suppression fire, while other ships moved in. The Nebula class is one of the backbone classes of starships in Starfleet.
To most fans, official Federation starships come at a painfully pace. Despite all of the video games, TV series, and movies, there are only a dozen or so canon classes of starships. During the fourth season of ST:TNG, we finally got a look at what Starfleet was building in the 24th century. For much of that series, TNG recycled older 23rd century movies Federation ships, like the Excelsior class and Grissom class. It wasn't until the 86th episode of that series, aired in 1991, that we finally got a semi-new Federation starship in "The Wounded". That ship was the USS Phoenix of the Nebula class. There had been a kitbashed Nebula class seen in the Wolf 359 Graveyard during "The Best of Both Worlds Part II" aired in 1990, but the model was improved for "The Wounded". The Nebula class was designed by Michael Okuda and Rick Sternbach, with the model was built by Greg Jein, and heavily borrowed from Andy Probert's design for the Enterprise-D.

The Earth Force Hyperion class Heavy Cruiser from Babylon 5
Before the iconic Omega and Warlock class warships, Earth's frontline warship and symbol of Earth-Dome's power was the Hyperion heavy cruiser. This vessel would roll out of spacedocks in 2226, and be fitted with the latest technology of the day, including Earth's first jump-point generators. The Hyperion class represented the standard technology of the Earth-Force prior to the Shadow War, and unlike the Omega class, the Hyperion  lacked gravity sections. This was the first class of warship by Earth to have jumpgate technology, and served in Dilgar War in 2230  These vessel would be the vanguard of the Earth-Force military contingent to the League of Non-Aligned Worlds during the Dilgar War of 2230-2232. This ship would also be there at the very beginning of the Earth-Minbari War in 2245.
While these ships served with honor throughout the Earth-Minbari War, one of her own was responbile for the intital attack that lead to humanity's costly war. The EAS Prometheus was the taskforce led vessel sent to make contact with the Minbari Federation, with Captain Michael Jankowski in charge. He misinterpreted the approaching Minbari warship for hostile attend, and opened fire, destroying the vessel, and dooming both societies to a long war.
After the Eath-Minbari War, the Omega class would become the main warship for the fleet, however, the Hyperion class would be upgraded to serve until the liberation of Earth, when it was replaced by the newer generation of Earth-Force warships that benefited from new technologies.
These Hyperion class saw a major upgrade in offensive and defensive armament to bridge the gap in Clarke's fleet that were created by desertion Earth-Force units.Despite these offensive upgrades, the older design and hull were not match for even the Omega class, as seen in face-off between the EAS Clarkstown and the EAS Alexander around Orion III. This era of Hyperion class heavy cruisers came in at over one thousand meters, with six Starfury fighters, and was about to operate a year away from supply-lines. Offensive, the Hyperion was armed with two 52mm pulse-plasma cannons, two 40mm pulse plasma cannons, two particle cannons, four pulse discharge cannons, and two nuclear missile tubes. Defensively, there were six Starfury fighters, four pulse discharge cannons acting as interceptors, and 6-8 meter thick armor. The Hyperion was original designed by Founding Imaging Ron Thornton on a napkin, and was finished out by Mark Kochinski. The name of the class came from one of the 12 Greek Titans.

The Federation Constitution class Heavy Cruiser
Before we discuss this legendary Federation starship class, we must acknowledged the legacy and impact of the Constitution starship on sci-fi as a whole. There a few fictional spaceships known throughout the globe...the X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon, and the old rocketships. Chief among them is NCC-1701, USS Enterprise. The Matt Jefferies design liberated future spaceships from the old ways of thinking about fictional starships, and allowed for the variety that we know today. Personally, while I'm not longer a Trekkie, and have fallen far from the pure faith, the refit Enterprise design is still one of my all time favorites.
The Constitution class was first launched around 2245, with the goal of being the long-range explorer vessel for Starfleet that was also armed enough to be classified as an "heavy cruiser" in times of war. Contrary to popular opinion, the name of the class was not derived from the American Constitution but rather the Federation Constitution from 2161. Much like the previous NX and Daedalus classes of ships, the Constitution was designed to be flexible, and a deterrent to the enemies of the Federation: the Gorn, Orion pirates, the Klingon and Romulan empires. By the 2260's, thirteen of the class were in service with the fleet, and were the symbols of the Federation. By the time Captain Kirk was given command of the Enterprise in 2265, his ship had been refitted twice. During the 2260's, the Constitution class served the Federation on long-duration space exploration missions, that resulted in a few being lost.
In the 2270's, the bulk of the Constitution class were extensive refitted and expanded over a process that took over a year. With this refit, the Constitution II class or sometimes referred as the Enterprise class, was once again the main arm of Starfleet. It is also during this period that Starfleet constructed more of the iconic starship, but also was exploring a replacement starship, the NX-2000 Excelsior. Each of these refit Constitution II class heavy cruisers were different, based on the contractors, the spacedock site, and equipment available. This  It should be noted that it took two classes of ships to fulfill the dual roles of the Constitution class.
From the 2270's to the 2290's, the Excelsior class along with and Constellation class was slowly taking over the roles of the grand old lady of the fleet, and as the Constitution class need service, these vessels were being mothballed instead of being refit.A few were kept in service for use as a Academy training vessels, and the Enterprise-A was preserved at the Starfleet museum. However, this was not the end of the story of the Constitution. During the Borg Emergency of the 2367 and the resulting Battle of Wolf 359, several Constitution class vessels were dug out of the mothball fleet, and deployed. This was true during the bloody Dominion War. Starfleet was desperate for combat ships, and dipped into the mothball fleet and ships under construction. These vessels were a Frankenstein of different types of starships fitted together with up-to-date weaponry. After the war ended, these ships were struck back to their original pieces. Given the impact and legacy of the Enterprise and Constitution class, Starfleet borrowed from the design for other design. The Ambassador heavy cruiser was patterned after the Constitution class, along with the 24th century badass Sovereign class.

The Federation Belknap class Heavy Cruiser from Star Trek
With the limited number of "official" starships in the Star Trek universe, fans, comic companies, and game companies had to turn to designing their own ships, and one of these was the Belknap strike/heavy cruiser of the late 2260's. According to the 1992 Ships of the Starfleet Volume One by Todd Guenther, the Belknap class was developed from the familiar Constitution class. Originally, the Belknap was to be backup starship to the Constitution class and be cheaper than fielding more of Constitution class, Starfleet commander changed their minds about this smaller ship. During the Four Year War with the Klingon Empire, a number of larger perimeter action ships were constructed and fielded. After that war, there was little need for these ships as Starfleet returned to its primary mission of exploration, however given the hostile of the Klingon Empire, Starfleet needed another vessel to fulfill that role if needed, Starfleet turned to the Belknap class. This non-canon vessel was first featured in the DC Comics 1987 Who's Who in Star Trek and seemed like the artist riffed off of the refit Constitution class. There it was called the Decatur class, and later, Todd Guenther used the familiar design for his Belknap class strike crusier, and some fans even put the design through its pacing via the old FASA starship combat system. This ship has been seen from time-to-time in the old DC Star Trek comics.

The Star League Aegis Heavy Cruiser from Battletech
In 1986, FASA took the world of mech combat into the stars, with AeroTech, and was expanded in 1993 with BattleSpace. However, our glimpse of the ships that populated the Battletech universe came with 1989's Technical Readout 2750. On page 132, we get the lowdown on the Aegis class heavy cruiser. According to the text, the Aegis class was fielded into service twice, 2372 and then again in 2582. While the original Aegis served the Terran Hegemony, the refitted Aegis of 2582 served the Star League during the Reunification War, when the need for ships outweigh their age. The power of the Aegis class was the 18 naval autocannons and anti-ship missiles, making this vessel a ship-killer. These vessels were equipped with lithium-fusion batteries and a solar sail to collect energy.
When General Aleksandr Kerensky left the Inner Space with the majority resources, most the Aegis cruisers left with him. These vessels are presently in serve with the Clans, specifically Jade Falcon. In the 31st century, the Aegis serves more in an escort and transport duties. In 1994, FASA gave the spacecraft of the Battletech their own Technical Readout with 3057, and on page 145, we see Aegis, and my...how it has changed, like most of the familiar warships from 2750. The Aegis class looks much different, but the information was carried forward along the armament. The original Aegis heavy cruiser was designed by Dana Knutson, Tom Miller, Michael Weaver, while the 1994 version was designed by Duane Loose.

The Klingon D-7 Heavy Cruiser from Star Trek
Look into my Eye!
The offensive backbone of the Imperial Klingon fleet is the venerable D-7 heavy cruiser, and as been that way since the 22nd century. The D-7 replaced the D-5 cruiser in the 22nd century, and much like the Romulan Bird-of-Prey and the Federation Constition class, the D-7 became the vessel most seen by their foes. Much of the Federation's contact with the Klingon Empire came with these warships in their view-screens, and the menacing red-glowing Cyclops-like frontal torpedo launcher at the ready. Around 2267/68, the Romulan Star Empire and the Klingon Empire formed a brief military alliance, presumable due to the expansion of the Federation after the Four Year War. One of the products of the this alliance was the Romulan Stormbird class, a reprinted D-7 heavy cruiser. From the 23rd to the 24th century, the D7 design heavy cruiser would influence Klingon naval design.
Some Trek sites dispute that all of the D-7s seen on screen are of the same ship class, and could be design similarities, like the D-7 battlecruiser upgrade and the later K't'inga class battlecruiser. Whatever. The truth is that same Klingon warship has been seen on-screen since TOS, and it's design, along with the Bird-of-Prey have become standard symbols of the Klingon people. According to some Trek resources, the D-7 type heavy cruiser has been in service with the empire for over 200 years. This vessel has been seen in every Trek work, from TOS to Enterprise to the films. That is impressive feat for a sci-fi model! On the Ex Astris Scientia article about the D-7, they call it "The Everlasting Klingon Battlecruiser".

The Cardassian Galor class Heavy Cruiser from Star Trek
Before the advent of CGI SFX, TV shows and movies were forced to make models of their futuristic spaceships. Star Trek and Star Wars prided themselves on the quality of their models, but they took time and money. This explains the limited number of ships seen in these works. In the 4th season episode of ST:TNG, "The Wounded", we got two new starships and a new alien race! Along with the Nebula class heavy cruiser, we got the Galor class heavy cruiser, the main warship in the service of the Cardassian Union. Most of the mustard-colored Cardassian warships are based around a similar style, like the Federation, but it is difficult for most to see different between the Galor and Keldon class warships.
Besides the interesting look, the Galor class had their "nacelles" in the shape of blades or wings on the forward section of the ship. When it comes weapons, the Galor class is also interesting. Most ships seen in Trek use a DEW system, like phasers, and a missile system, like photon torpedoes, but not the Cardassians. At the front of the secondary hull, there is massive DEW emitter that is believed to be some sort of disruptor array. On other various hard points on the Galor class are phaser emitters...but no missile system. In terms of the 24th century tactical realities, the Galor class lags behind the Galaxy class and the Klingon Vor'cha class. This causes the Cardassian Union fleet to use packs of Galor class heavy cruisers to overwhelm their targets.

The Tyranid Devourer  Heavy Cruiser from WH40K
Here is an weird cruiser for the examples list, a bioship cruiser! According to the Gothic game, the Tyranid used their cruisers to protect the hive ships and secure vessel for culling. Unlike most cruiser mentioned here, these bioships were reliant on their mother ships to provide shelter and food. They attack using projected acid batteries and physical melee attacks with claws. Nasty. This is one of the most interesting cruiser of sci-fi....

The Eldar Eclipse class Attack Cruiser from WH40K
The Eldar combat vessels are more fast and maneuver than the imperial varieties. In addition, the Eclipse class features attack fighters and fighter-bombers give this vessel increased offensive capability in conjunction with their pulsar laser cannons. With all of this elements, the Eclipse class were used as a convey raider, and feared by the Imperial ships operating in the Gothic sector. This is just listed as an "cruiser" in the classification, so I've decided to include it on the heavy cruiser blogpost. This design reminds me of some of the old D&D Spelljammer designs.

The Intrepid class Heavy Cruiser from Star Trek: Voyager
The Intrepid class grew out of the Galaxy class explorer vessels and limitations with that design. Beginning in the 2360's, Starfleet was looking for a less expensive long-range explorer that could be built in more numbers than the Galaxy class which was to be limited to around a dozen. That ship became the Intrepid class that serves in peacetime as a long-range explorer, and in times of war, as a heavy cruiser. The goal for Starfleet with this class was to be a flexible starship platform for both roles of Federation starships: science and defense. At the time of launch, the Intrepid class was the the fastest and most advanced starship in service. This "quick and smart" starship was fitted with tricyclic  input manifolds, bio-neural gel-packs, and variable geometry pylons, and was the first class of Federation starship fitted with such technology. Of course, the foldable warp nacelles were mostly to be cool, like the doors on an Lamborghini Aventador!
One of the interesting design notes that most likely saved Voyager's life a few times in the Delta Quadrant, was Starfleet's decision to arm this smaller ship to the degree of a Galaxy class! Fitted around these vessels are no less than five phaser emitters, plus four photon launchers. During the bloody Federation/Dominion War. Unlike the majority of Federation starships, the Intrepid class can fly within planetary atmospheres, and even land on-planet, with a set of landing gears and special landing flight mode. To allow take-off, special anti-gravity generators were fitted, along with increased thruster and impulse systems.
One element never shown on-screen was the Runabout sized "Aeroshuttle" fitted under the saucer selection. I first noticed this auxiliary spacecraft on my Playmates Voyager toy (I still own, and sits in the FWS offices even today!), and I wondered at the time I wondered if we would ever see this craft on-screen, and of course, we didn't during the entire run of the show. Some fans have speculated that the Intrepid class is the 24th century equivalent to the 23rd century Constitution class, was intended to become one of the backbone classes of Starfleet with the retirement (and losses) of the old Excelsior class.
If you want to know more about the fictional history of the Intrepid class:


  1. Christopher PhoenixDecember 1, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Interesting post, William... looking forward to the guided missile cruiser next!! Indeed, a lot of SF spaceships were probably modeled off of cruisers because often our heroes go off on long independent missions away from backup or resupply in these stories. That is, where the creators actually thought about it instead of just basing their ship after those they have seen in their favorite shows and grabbing a cool-sound nautical term to stick in front of its name...

    I like the artwork of that Tyranid Devourer, a vicious space ammonite... that is funny. Though it really isn't much like a cruiser if it can't operate independently of a mothership. Speaking of organic technology, have you heard of Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy? It is set in an alternate-history WW1 where Britain and her allies base all their technology on fabricated animals created by DNA manipulation (pioneered by no less than Charles Darwin!!) while their "Clanker" foes in Austria and Germany base all their technology on traditional steam, gears, and engine oil... and Tesla's inventions, of course.

    So the Clankers have giant battleships while the Royal Navy sends krakens (and worse) into battle, giant steampunk mecha battle monstrosities of flesh and blood built from the genes up to tear Clanker soldiers to pieces, and a massive living airship departs on a voyage across the world with our heroes aboard.

    A truly great artist, Mr. Keith Thompson, provides numerous illustrations without which the strange world of Leviathan would be hard to understand. Check out his DA gallery... his Leviathan's illustrations alone are worth seeing, and he has many other great concepts and drawings in his portfolio.


    And, the navies... gotta love the Behemoth.


  2. Is it impossible to shown on-screen, the Runabout sized "Aeroshuttle" fitted under the saucer?

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