Much like some classifications of cars, some types of naval warships often get ranked by popularity. Battleships, battlecruisers, aircraft carriers, attack subs, and the kick-ass dreadnoughts are normally the most popular in media and some of the most revered naval vessels. Making these popular naval warships similar to Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Bugatti. This creates a difference between those red-blooded exotics and the normal cars of us normal people, like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and the Mazda 6. This also creates a difference between the very popular types of naval warships and the vessels were are talking about today: the light and medium cruisers. These type of cruisers are more common than the battleship or carrier, but are often overlooked, and are outranked in popularity by their own bigger brother: the heavy cruiser. In this blogpost in the continuing Ships of the Line serial, we shall be looking at light and medium cruisers.
What is an Light Cruiser?
The Light Cruiser of Today's Navies
The Curious Case of the "Medium Cruiser"
The Future Combat Role of the Light/Medium Cruiser Classes
Would There be an Hard Science Light/Medium Cruiser?
What is the Hell is the Deal with Star Trek and Cruisers?!
The Light/Medium Cruiser of Science Fiction
Like many of the ship classes discussed in the Ships of the Line blogpost serial, the majority of the light and medium cruisers found in science fiction are in RPG, video games, and the occasional mainstream work. While light cruisers were an actually combat naval vessel that since has all but disappeared due to the changes in naval surface warfare, the medium cruiser of sci-fi is all but fantasy. Often the light and medium cruisers are used as fast attack elements of a space navy flotilla or as protection for more critical vessels, like space carriers and troop transport. Some RPG and video game players I know used these types of smaller warships similar to chess pawns, using them to push the offensive line and test the plans of the enemy.
While they compose most of the bulk of any large space fleet taskforce, these lower classification of cruisers are seen as unimportant and expansible. I often used light and medium cruiser as flanking units while my larger heavier warships engaged the enemy vessels. I won several Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator engagements with that tactic, but I lost much of my Reliant and Durrett class cruisers in the process. This is not just in the realm of Star Trek, but also in other works, and the smaller cruisers often are the foot soldiers of the fleet, and languish in the shadows finding little respect, while their bigger brothers, the heavy cruiser get the starring roles.
The Republic Consular class Light Cruiser from the Star Wars Universe
The Cruisers of the Citadel Council Members from the Mass Effect Universe
Cruisers are the defined as "middle weight class combatants" in the allied navies of the Citadel Council member races, and the Alliance Navy and the Turian cruisers were considered the "infantry" of any naval flotilla. These cruisers are mostly in the 500 meter length range with light armaments and are mostly used by the navies for patrol and security for the larger and more expensive Dreadnoughts. Losses of light cruisers were heavy during the Battle of the Citadel during the first Mass Effect game, and during the all-out Reapers invasion, Cruiser class warships were slaughtered.
When Shepard is attempting to make her way through the wreckage of Alliance HQ on Earth, an Systems Alliance light cruiser attacks an Reaper ship with little effect. This speaks to the ability of the light cruisers of the Systems Alliance Navy to be dual-atmosphere, and is could be used in planetary operations. All of the Alliance Navy light cruisers are named for Earth cities, but oddly, there is no class name known of these cruisers.
The Federation Constellation class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
One of the few Starfleet classes of starships seen in TNG that speak to the "in between years" spanning from the movies to TNG is the Constellation class light cruiser. This class was based around a modified saucer section from an Constitution class heavy cruiser, and was an "cheaper" design by Starfleet Operations and the production staff of TNG. This class of light cruiser was designed to be an short-range explorer vessel and serve as an light cruiser in military operations, which was rare in those years.
The Federation Saber class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
The UNSC Halcyon class Light(!) Cruiser from the HALO Universe
The Klingon K'vort class Light Cruiser from Star Trek Universe
During massive Klingon naval engagements, especially at the battle of Deep Space 9, the K'vort class was the rapid assault element, operating in packs. The speed of this small warship was to offset the unpowered shield grid and the light hull armor. When an enemy was able to lock on to the K'vort class, they were taken down with minimum effort. This factor made the K'vort class the assignment of newer warriors to the fleet, and/or warriors in disfavor of the high council. It is believed that the K'vort class is the most produced Klingon warship in service to their fleet during the 24th century. In the real-world, the K'vort class light cruiser was a creative answer to a familiar porblem on sci-fi TV shows: money. It is believed by Trek sites, that the K'vort class represents the majority of appearances of the Bird-of-Prey model in Trek shows. Since there is no really difference between the B'rel and the K'vort classes, they often referenced to as just "the Bird-of-Prey class".
The Imperial Strike class Medium Cruiser from Star Wars
To most, the Fleet of the Imperial government of the Star Wars universe, is comprised of Star Destroyer class warships and TIE fighters. However, there were other warships in service of the Empire, and one of the best was the Loronar constructed Strike class medium cruiser, coming in at 450 meters and armed with turbolasers and ion blasters. These vessels can carry a company of soldiers, some AT-ST and AT-AT walkers with some TIE fighters. During the reign of the Empire, the Strike class medium cruiser were patrol vessels and rounded out Imperial Fleet taskforces. While the Star Destroyer class was heavily expensive, the Striker class was cheaper and easy to produce, making it a common sight during the days of the Empire.
The Federation Centaur class Medium Cruiser from Star Trek: DS9
During the devastating Dominion War in the Alpha Quadrant from 2373-2375, the Federation was desperate to put starships on the frontlines. Losses had been great due to the Starfleet's philosophy of being an agency of exploration and not a military organization. During the war, the powerful Dominion had shown them the error of their ways. During the operation to retake Deep Space 9 space station and control the Bajoran Wormhole, Starfleet needed all ships, completed or not, into the fray.
The Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards above Mars responded with a motley kitbash of medium cruisers, and one of them was the temporary Centaur class. This medium cruiser classification was armed with the normal array of phasers and photon torpedoes, and the vessel was assembled out of parts from the Excelsior class battlecruiser and possibly the Akira missile cruiser class, and it was christened the "Centaur" class medium cruiser. During the Dominion War, Centaur class medium cruisers were on the line, and filled in the gaps in the Federation naval taskforces. It is believed that after the war ended, these kitbashed classes were disassembled.
The Narn Regime Th'Loth class Light Cruiser from the Babylon 5 Universe
Given the budget of the Babylon 5 show, there was a limited amount of CGI starships that could be seen on-screen. The Narn Regime mainly used the excellent G'Quan class heavy cruiser, but if the starship combat computer game, Babylon 5: Into the Fire had been released by Sierra, than we would have seen more starships of the Narn, including the Th'Loth class. After the Narn were able to repel the Centauri Occupation, they attempted to get a fleet into space to defend themselves from another threat, and the Th'Loth light cruiser was one of the first. The only element developed by the newly formed Narn Regime was the shell that housed alien technology, from the weapons to the hyperspace drive, the Th'Loth class was a symbol of the Narn turning their enemy's weapons and tools against them.
The Federation Steamrunner Class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
The Federation Norway Class Medium Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
During the days when there were few official canonized Federation starships, the Miranda class cruiser was one of the few, and had a starring role in the best Star Trek movie of all time. This caused the Miranda class to be a favor design among wargamers, comics, and game manuals, and the ship became known by a number of names. This caused the Miranda class to be shoehorned into the TOS time period. Officially, the USS Reliant was a member of the Miranda class medium cruiser, however, the FASA RPG listened the class as the "Reliant", and the noncanon 1991 Ships of the Starfleet: Volume One, there are several classes based around the Miranda base, including the Avenger and Knox, and some of them are light and medium cruisers. Most of them are different classes based on the "roll bar" used or if there is one at all.
Next Time on FWS...