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The one and only. Geek, fan of sci-fi, starship lover, coder

Fleet design in modern sci-fi

This post will include spoilers for both Star Trek: Picard, The Orville, The Mandalorian, and some other Star Wars content. Be warned!

Something I find in a lot of modern sci-fi is repeated starship designs. Of course, this is because CGI costs lots of money, but that still bums me out.

A good example of this is in Star Trek: Picard's first season, where Picard faces the Romulan fleet threatening to destroy a planet, there is absolutely zero variety in the Romulan fleet.

Romulan fleet

Starfleet shows up in the nick of time to save the day, with a similarly repeated fleet. There is a little variation in the fleet, but it's obviously all a base model with slight adjustments, with 4 total versions.

Starfleet arrives

There is of course an explanation for Picard repeating the same ship a million times: they prepared a rapid-response fleet after the Dominion war, in case of another threat. While this makes some sense in-universe. The obvious explanation is that they couldn't be bothered or didn't have the money to design new ships.

What's unclear to me is why they didn't simply bring back the older ships. There hasn't been that much time since Star Trek: Insurrection, in which the Sovereign-class (a very good looking ship, by the way!) was a very new ship-class, only about 3 years old. They also could've brought back ships that were considered "old" in the TNG-era, like the Miranda-class or Defiant-class. In true "fan-service" fashion, they could even bring back an Intrepid-class, perhaps even the USS Voyager.

The Orville also faces this problem. The show never showed too many Union ships in the earlier seasons, but instead often showed enemy ships. They would encounter the Krill, who almost always had the same ship design. For the Krill this makes sense; they are a hostile, war-seeking species. It would make sense to design a single style of warship and send out a lot of those.

The USS Orville faces off against a Krill ship

The Kaylon species also experiences this. They all look the exact same since they're robots. It would make sense for them to find an optimal ship design for a purpose, then run (and fight) with it.

But the Union is a species of explorers and diplomats. They also assist with other's planetary issues. It would make sense for them to have multiple types of ships. Ships for long-term exploration, combat ships in case of war which wasn't improbable with the krill, transport ships for civilians, and more.

They could use all the different types of ships in their fleet, and yet it's essentially the same ship scaled up and down.

The USS Orville in space

The relatively large USS Olympia next to the USS Orville

Size comparison chart for Union vessels

These are 6 real ships (not counting the fighter class, which I don't actually remember appearing in the show), 4.5 of which are essentially the same ship scaled differently with different engine configurations.

While I understand designing ships isn't free — or cheap, they managed to design better fleets all the way back in 1997, with Star Trek: Deep Space 9's "Favor the Bold" where they retake DS9. That was a fleet featuring the Defiant-class, the Galaxy-class, there's a Centaur-type, an Excelsior-class, and more.

Starfleet headed to DS9

There's also the topic of battle. While The Orville did right here, Star Trek: Picard did not. Oftentimes these ships are never shown in action as a fleet.

During the face-off with the Romulans, Starfleet managed to talk their way out of fighting, essentially telling the Romulans this is the strongest ship Starfleet has built yet, and they have a fleet: a clear message to stand down or face destruction.

While that sounds awesome, they never actually get to fighting. They both start charging their weapons. Tensions rise. The Romulans stand down. Boring.

The Orville did much better here. While their fleet was largely the same ship, it was a very large quantity of them fighting the Kaylon. It also featured the Krill, joining the Union mid-fight against the Kaylon, adding more ship variety to the fight.

That was nice, but it still doesn't change the fact that almost all Union vessels look the same. While I'm sure there are civilian ships that are more unique, these barely ever show up in the show — the transport ship is the only one I can think of, and that is apparently not considered a civilian ship.

A mid-size cruiser stands against a Kaylon fleet

Various ships firing

Star Wars is also an interesting one. Almost every big ship from large factions in its universe looks largely the same: a long ship, often pointy. A large central command tower towards the back, ship storage on the sides, large engines at the back.

Imperial Star Destroyer

3 First Order ships in orbit

The Exogol fleet

The Resolute

I'm also not saying this is a bad thing: I'm a big fan of consistent design, just as long as they have their own elements — unlike the fleet in PIC or Orville.

Star Wars also features a lot of unique smaller craft, many with varying designs. While the empire has a very consistent "style" with their TIES, other factions' designs are often considerably different. Compare the following pictures


Rebel fleet

While the rebel fleet also often repeats vessels like the X-wing, it makes sense. It's a quick, portable ship with a hyperdrive and weapons on board — perfect for hit and runs against an interstellar empire, something a rebel alliance would actually use.

There are also other unique ships in Star Wars outside of these two factions.

The Millenium Falcon

The Razor Crest under repairs

Naboo's N-1 Starfighter


Slave One

There's also Moff Gideon's light cruiser, which is unique in that its command bridge is much smaller compared to a regular Star Destroyer and is much wider, although still pointy. It also doesn't deploy its TIEs from the bottom of the ship, "dropping them", but instead dispenses them from a gap in the front of the ship. Good stuff.

Moff Gideon's light cruiser

Thoughts? Ideas? Noticed a mistake?

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