What is an Light Cruiser?
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.
During the heyday of warships around World War One and World War Two, there was a number different types of warships, and light cruisers were among these, rounding out the more popular Dreadnought battleship. Light Cruisers were classificated by the London Treaty of 1936 as an cruisers with 6.1 inch guns and were sometimes called "light armored cruisers" that were designed for speed, and not a naval slug-fest. The first of the light cruiser was the 1878 HMS Mercury
of the Royal Navy, and the German Gazelle
class further defined the light cruiser classification in the 1890's. By World War One, most Light Cruisers were under 5,000 tons and mounted six inch guns as the main armament. The 2nd World War was the last gasp of glory for the light cruiser, were the demand for warships was at fever pitch. However, once the war was over, the demand for these types of cruisers dried up, and during the Cold War, the missile cruiser and the Destroyer classes took over.
The Light Cruiser of Today's Navies
Sadly, there is only a single
light cruiser still in active naval service as of the writing of this blogpost, the Peruvian BAP Almirante Grau.
This warship was sold to Peru in 1973 by the Royal Netherlands navy. The BAP Almirante Grau
was originally the De Ruyter
, built in 1939 and commissioned in 1953. This light cruiser has been modernized several times during its service life in the Peruvian Navy. Why are light cruiser no longer in service? This is due to the change in modern naval surface warfare which is more dependant on aircraft carrier and missile cruisers, and not an array of cruisers and battleships. The traditional role of the cruiser can be fulfilled by the frigates and destroyers.
The Curious Case of the "Medium Cruiser"
In the history of naval warships, there are a number of different types of cruisers, but none are classified as "medium cruiser". However, in the realm of the science fiction, medium cruiser do exist, and they are often seen in RPGs and fleet simulation games...so what's the deal with the disconnect? It could be that medium cruisers grew out of ignorance of standard naval classifications by the creators, and the title "medium cruisers" sounded good to them. Also, it seems logically that since there is heavy and light cruiser classes, it makes sense that there could be an medium cruiser classes sandwiched in between the light and heavy cruiser classifications. Certainly, Star Wars
and Star Trek
wargames were the ones that put these types of fictitious warships into the minds of future creators, and they soon riffed off these creations, like myself.
The Future Combat Role of the Light/Medium Cruiser Classes
In any "normal" sci-fi space fleet organization, the heavy and missile cruisers are the most respected and valved among the cruiser warship classification, while the lesser two (light and medium) are regaled to patrol duties and border security. However, like much of the cruiser classes of any space navy, they are flexible and able to take on a variety of missions. These warships would be a multi-role, being retasked for patrol, escort, flank security.
In peacetime, light and medium cruisers could be used for patrol duty, short-range science/exploration missions, and even escort duty. Some of these cruisers could be used a training vessels for cadets. Then there is another use of light and medium cruisers: the wolf in sheep's clothing. Given the attitude towards light and medium cruisers, it could be possible to use their diminutive status as an advantage. Light or medium cruiser could be used to conceal a naval experimental testbed project vessel. Much like the Star of Milwaukee
from the Dynamo Joe
comics or the USS Pegasus
from ST: TNG
Would There be an Hard Science Light/Medium Cruiser?
While most science fiction fleet based war-simulation games occur in a soft science universe (*cough* Star Trek
*cough* Star Wars
), and there can be any number of warship classes with all manner of jobs. But, if we examine the real world with real rules set down by Newton and Einstein, would there be light and/or medium cruisers in our future? I very seriously doubt the existence of medium cruiser. I guess you could up-arm and up-armor an light cruiser of some sort of civilian vessel to be an "medium cruiser", but it would not exist as its own independent class.
I could see a light cruiser class of warship that was designed to be an inter-solar system patrol and first-responder warship to hostile actions and disasters. By design and limitations, the light cruiser would be bound to a solar system, unlike its longer range brother, the heavy cruiser. Light Cruiser could compose the bulk of the "coast guard" of the colonies. These would be a cheaper warship, lightly armed with a limited armory of smaller KEW/DEW systems, and be able to be serviced by local resources. When and if an military action was undertaken inside the star system, these light cruisers would be serve along side the expeditionary taskforce. I've read that light cruisers could be vessels assembled by colonies for their own defense from material left over from their colony ships.
What is the Hell is the Deal with Star Trek and Cruisers?!
When one examines the bulk of starships in the Star Trek
universe, they are mostly cruisers, especially in the Federation, but why? Being a former Trekkie, I can only guess that cruiser classes offer a flexible platform of an agency like the Federation's Starfleet, where their main aim is not a military organization, but one of keeping the peace and exploration. Plus, the word cruiser is not committal and does not sound immediately military or aggressive like an Dreadnought or battlecruiser. Most of the Federation ships in service are classified as "starships" to dilute the waters further, and even pressed, canon Trek
sources simply say, "oh, they're cruisers." Some of it has to do with the attitude of Trek
to not be about conflict and space battles, but a hopeful vision of the future. It took FASA and other Trek
wargames to further develop the Federation line of starships. Either way, there are a shit ton of cruisers in Trek
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
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
Can you say, all style and no heart? The weakass Republic Consular
class light cruiser was a symbol of a different time in the galaxy prior to the rise of the Sith and the Clone Wars when the Jedi and the Republic were still in power. This Corellian Engineering Corporation built government staship were designed specifically to transport Jedi and Republic personnel to hotspots around the galaxy in the spirit of solving intergalactic crisis peacefully. These were painted in the red hue of their diplomatic immunity status, and were lightly armed, if at all. In a crisis situation, these Republic cruiser could be used as neutral ground in negotiations with specialized salons, meeting rooms for all types of environments. After the Clone Wars broke out, the Consular
class light cruiser was retrofitted for combat duties, from troop transport to being a frigate.
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.
During military operations, the warp nacelle pylons could be mounted with twin torpedo launchers, allowing for the shaky class of starship to be an artillery vessel in a taskforce. As per most of the Starfleet during the Dominion War, these old vessels were pulled out of mothballs, and placed on the secondary line of fighting, as patrol and early warning vessels. Of course, the Constellation
class came to fame due to the Stargazer
mission under Captain Picard. This is one of the Federation starship classes that was different in the FASA RPG manuals and other more official publications. Some of these was design related, there was a difference in opinion about the role of the ships and their numbers. In the non-canon FASA ST:TNG Officer's Manual,
there was 126 Constellation
class built, but less than ten were construction according to the Star Trek: The Magazine.
The Federation Saber class Light Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
This is one of the more odd designs of Federation starships, and it very much of the modern Starfleet design that grew out of the bloody Battle of Wolf 359 and the continued Borg threat. The Saber
class light cruiser looks different from the dorsal and side views. From the side, the Saber
class looks more like some sort of large shuttle, and not in the typical Federation starship design. However, from the dorsal view, the Saber
class was more compact, and reminds me of the old Soyuz
class, an subclass of the Miranda
class, this is more dramatic from the angled view, especially with the forward mounted shuttle bay. It is uncertain what happened to the Saber
class during and after the Dominion War, but we do know that the class served during the war, and it suffered along its brethren
The UNSC Halcyon class Light(!) Cruiser from the HALO Universe
The first official class of UNSC Naval warships seen in the HALO
universe was the massive Sulaco
class light cruiser that was seen in the original 2001 HALO: Combat Evolved
game opening scenes. That vessel was the Pillar of Autumn
and it was the vessel that escape the slaughter of Reach and carrying Cortana and the Master Chief to the discovery of the first Halo ring. The Halcyon
class was classified by Bungie as a light cruiser despite being 1170 meter long and 414 meters tall, and containing enough UNSC forces to mount an ground and air assault on Installation 04 against the Covenant. In addition, the Pillar of Autumn
was heavily armed with an MAC cannon, Archer missile pods, and a number of 60mm point-defense cannons.
I was seemingly unaware that the Halcyon
class was an light cruiser, and during a recently replay of the excellent HALO: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
over the holiday, I was shocked at the resources, size, and abilities of the Pillar of Autumn
, and the rest of the Halcyon
class for only being a light cruiser! I cannot believe that the Halcyon
class is a light cruiser in the minds of most sci-fi fans unless the rest of the UNSC Navy has some seriously huge warships other than the common Charon
class frigate. My guess that these vessels were misclassified by Bungie due to ignorance.
The Klingon K'vort class Light Cruiser from Star Trek Universe
likes to create mottoes for their starships, the K'vort
class should be "Necessity is the mother of invention", because its entire existence is owed to the lack of SFX budget on TNG
. In one of the best TNG
episodes of all time, "Yesterdays Enterprise", the alternate future Federation and Klingon Empire are at war, and for the studio to pull of the ship-to-ship combat scenes in the episode with the added expense of constructing the "C" Enterprise
, the studio recycled the familiar Bird-of-Prey
class scout, and renamed it the "K'vort" class cruiser. According to later information, the K'vort
class was a larger, combat-minded variant of the familiar and smaller B'rel
class scout, and was christened a light cruiser. This would allow the studio to pepper the old Bird-of-Prey
ship in any episode that required a Klingon warship. This new aggressive and fast light cruiser was developed to fill the gaps between the old D-7
and the new Vor'cha
class "attack cruiser" in the Klingon fleet.
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
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
Here is a funky little design, and one of the more interesting Federation starships in a long time. The Steamrunner
class light cruiser that was developed for the Battle of Sector 001 scenes in Star Trek: First Contact
, and it was just another class of Federation starship in the chaos. Alex Jaeger at ILM developed the Steamrunner
class for the movie, and was named for a song from the Fold Zandura band (never heard of them personally). After the Battle of Wolf 359, Starfleet Operations had to replace the losses and develop new ships in case the Borg came back.
While ships like the infamous Defiant
class escort was underdevelopment, Starfleet Operations also saw the need for replacing the aging Miranda
class light/medium cruiser class, and the Steamrunner
was developed for that purpose. However, the vessel was called "ugly", and Starfleet Operations preferred the much more beautiful Intrepid
class heavy cruiser. One element of this oddball class that is debated is if its an "heavy frigate" or light cruiser. The DS9 Technical Manual
clearly states that the Streamrunner
class is an light cruiser. In the Star Trek Armada
game, the Steamrunner
class is used as a long-range artillery vessel armed with tricobalt torpedo.
The Federation Norway Class Medium Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
After the revolution of CGI SFX and the lower of costs in using these in productions both on TV and in the movies. This created more Starfleet starships began to show up on-screen, and the Norway
and the Steamrunner
were both forged out of the computer and not the model shop, both by the talent of Alex Jaeger. Once again, the Norway
class medium cruiser was born out of the devastating Battle of Wolf 359 and the Borg Threat. Originally, the Norway
class was designed to replace the aging Miranda
class cruisers, but that aging vessels served along its replacements during the Dominion War.
class medium cruiser was first seen in the Battle of Sector 001 in the Star Trek: First Contact
, and it had an powerful phaser beam emitter on the dorsal bow, and was seen used against the Borg cube. This class was used throughout the Dominion War, and it is possible that Federation designers took the inspiration of this class from early smaller Starfleet starships that were in use prior to the Earth-Romulan War.
The Federation Miranda class Light/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 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.
Since the formation of Starfleet, there have been Miranda
class type cruisers populating the ranks, like the 22nd century Intrepid
class and the 23rd century Anton
class. During the refit of Starfleet during the 2270's, the Miranda
class was developed and became a fixture of Starfleet and Federation Space. While Starfleet wanted to replace the Miranda
class cruiser during the 24th century, the Dominion War caused the Miranda
class to be saved and put into another conflict. However, by the end of the war, the Miranda
class survivors were few, and this was the last duty of the old lady.
Next Time on FWS...
In the next installment of the blog serial Forgotten Classics
, FWS will exploring a hidden lost gem on the original Xbox and the Playstation 2: Battle Engine Aquila
. This was 2003 mecha first-person shooter developed by the British gaming studio Lost Toys and published by ATARI. While the game was given solid reviews at the time, and placed on some of the "best of" lists for the PS2 and Xbox, the game was a commercial flop, forcing the closing of Lost Toys. I decided it was high time FWS cover one of my favorite titles on the original Xbox, so, I got onto Amazon, ordered a copy and dusted off my original Xbox for some retro fun.