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Federation General Database

Starfleet's Classification System for Types of Small Craft


Much like what was done for starship-class vessels after the incorporation of the United Federation of Planets in 2161, a new classification system was drawn up for auxiliary and small craft reporting. Unlike the starship classification system, the small craft system was fully envisioned from the start. This was only possible because it adhered to a different standard than the much more difficult to define on-board capabilities of the craft in question used for the starship classification system.

This system was created based on environment and endurance within that environment. Further, each classification would be an umbrella term for all classes, types, and variants of small craft that would fall inside its endurance within its environment, beginning from the shortest ranged to the longest ranged small craft.

The System

The environments envisaged for this system of classification encapsulate three basic “range” stages: planetary, interplanetary, and interstellar.

As living beings all originate from the surface of a stellar body such as a planet with an atmosphere, the first type of flying craft such people develop are necessarily air-borne, atmospheric craft. Being of an advanced spacefaring technological level, however, there are many types of non-life-bearing environments which can also utilise such craft, up to the limits of the atmosphere. Thus the first classification is “Atmospheric/Sub-Orbital”.

The next level up is the achieving of orbital heights from a planetary surface; before you can achieve orbit, first you must fly. Thus the second classification is “Trans-Atmospheric/Ground-to-Orbit”.

After that are craft that are technically a step back in capability, but which require the previous two levels to begin their use. And so the third classification is “Orbital”.

After escaping the highest planetary orbit, the next range capability is traveling between the planets of a single star system. With the advanced level of technology allowing small craft these capabilities, distinctions of near-space and deep-space within the star system are irrelevant, and as such the fourth classification is “Interplanetary”.

Upon leaving the single star system space is by definition interstellar. Here though the distances are still so great when it comes to the propulsive capabilities of small craft that range distinctions are meaningful when it comes to engineering and building them. This gives us the fifth, sixth, and seventh classifications respectively: Short-Range, Standard, and Long-Range Interstellar.

Finally come two special classifications that transcend the previous seven, and straddle them to differing degrees.

Within the interstellar void are many types of environment requiring specific modifications to be able to traverse and explore, both planetary and cosmological. As such, the eighth classification is “Special Environment”.

The final classification again encompasses specially modified craft that straddle the previous categories, but for a different reason: conflict. Small craft are still utilised by many peer-level nations, but many belligerent or hostile species encountered can or do only field fighter-sized attack ships, and the Federation must have a classification for them, and for the craft it produces in response to protecting others from these types of craft. So the final classification is that of “Specialised Combat”.

What follows now is a more detailed look at the capabilities of the small craft within these classifications.

Class-A – Atmospheric/Sub-Orbital Craft

This classification includes all airborne craft that have no capability for attaining or maintaining even low planetary orbit, i.e. insufficient power and no life-support systems. While most small craft based on space stations and space vessels would fall outside this category, obviously planetary air traffic is still necessary. Further, making small craft spaceworthy adds complexity, resources used up, and weight that in many cases is neither necessary or desirable.

Thus, starships often carry Class-A small craft to offload at colony worlds for both transportation and local defence purposes.

Some examples of this class are:

Class-B – Trans-Atmospheric/Ground-to-Orbit Craft

This classification encompasses small craft that are equipped with life-support systems and are able to achieve and maintain orbit, but are incapable of interplanetary speeds or range.

The main example of this type are the spacedock shuttles which lift from ground stations to orbiting space stations for crew and cargo transfer. They are often the only way to do so for lower technology worlds that don’t yet have matter-teleportation devices like the transporter, and are used for back-up when the use of transporters is contra-indicated or undesirable for any reason.

Class-C – Orbital Craft

This classification is the flip-side of Class A. What this means is that the small craft of this class are inhabitants of orbital space alone, and are utterly incapable of descending safely to land on a planet’s surface. Further, they also lack any kind of interplanetary speed or range. It is mostly small craft of the construction, maintenance, repair, and passenger and cargo transfer roles that populate Class-C.

Some examples of this type are:

Also included are many types of civilian pleasure craft, such as solar sail yachts. Despite their purported interplanetary range they are fragile craft easily disabled and any interplanetary “sailing” excursions are usually long-term affairs meticulously planned in advance.

Class-D – Interplanetary Craft

This classification is the beginner level in deep space small craft. The requirements for classification as such obviously stipulate that they have no faster-than-light (F.T.L.) propulsion system. The ability to comfortably house its passengers for over a week and the utilisation of a high-speed sub-light drive is what defines Class-D craft which prevalently – but not always – use micro-impulse engines fuelled by onboard supplies of electro-plasma. Larger and/or more modern craft even boast micro-fusion reactor chambers for ongoing power generation. Furthermore, all interplanetary small craft – especially in the civilian sector – must have multiply-redundant safety systems and have some manner of structural reinforcement to their hull strength outwith any navigational shields it may possess.

The prime current example of the craft within this classification are the various Dockport Shuttles 1 made by Taiya Design Institute of Vulcan. With even the Chisu-class Light Dockport Shuttle 2 mounting twinned micro-impulse units and providing for its occupants for at least two months while still lacking any on-board F.T.L. capability, the Dockport shuttle is a perfect example of a Class-D craft.

However, confusing the issue is the myriad pallets and modules of specialised equipment 3 available to the Dockport Shuttle. These allow a single Dockport to become any of a score of specialised or multi-purpose small craft with anything from five minutes to two hours’ work. Some of these variations will be covered under the section they then fall into.

Class-E – Short-Range Interstellar Craft

The small craft placed in this category possess very limited F.T.L. capability and minimal endurance at these speeds. Indeed, some Class-D craft have greater endurance due to their travel times being expectedly longer.

The limits of small craft within this class are that they have a maximum velocity of Warp 1.5, and/or a mission duration/travel endurance of one week. These very low limits allow much smaller and less complex craft to be operated while still maintaining an F.T.L. capability. More often than not, the craft of this class are utilised for speedy trips by one-to-four people within the confines of a star system, where the travel times are measured in mere seconds or hours as opposed to their Class-D competitors.

Some examples of this class are:

Class-F – Standard Interstellar Craft

Class-F small craft are named as “standard” rather than “medium” because they were to be the standard against which all other interplanetary small craft were measured. Craft with lesser capabilities are “Short-Range” or “Light”, and those with more are “Long-Range” or “Heavy”. Designed with a broad range of capabilities, they were to be – and became – the master-of-all-trades small craft that, with a little modification, could be reconfigured to perform almost any task asked of it. As such they became the ubiquitous type of shuttle found aboard starships, space stations, and even ground stations in the new Starfleet of the Federation.

Small craft of this class can comfortably maintain their passengers for at least one month and are capable of speeds up to warp 3. They can comfortably house seven people for journeys of less than half a Standard Day, or can be internally reconfigured to hold more people in less comfort for shorter periods or fewer people for longer periods in greater comfort. Within Starfleet they are utilised for general-purpose personnel transfer, conveying crew to detached duty assignments or rendezvouses with other vessels which are shortly expected but for which the parent vessel cannot wait, or in place of a dedicated transport vessel from a fixed installation.

Examples of this class are:

Class-G – Long-Range Interstellar Craft

Small craft within this classification are often larger with greater life-support endurance than their Class-F counterparts, though are frequently no faster. Not often embarked aboard deep space starships despite being designed specifically to be taken aboard them for use at extreme ranges, because of their greater size they are more typically found aboard installations and deep space starbases due to their greater hanger space and distance from other Federation outposts.

The embarkation of one or more of this class of small craft is a carefully-considered decision on the part of a vessel’s captain and executive staff. Taking one on-board often meant offloading two Class-F or more Class-E craft to make room for it. Usually only the captains of starships with the largest hanger bays will even consider such a craft.

Conversely, remote bases see them quite frequently, especially those without a regular supply run from other bases or planets. The greater range and passenger capacity of Class-G shuttles make them perfectly suited for the milk-run of extended personnel transfers or the conveying of experts to problem sites with a starbase or outpost’s jurisdiction, without need of re-routing or reassigning a starship for that duty.

Examples of this type are:

Class-H – Independent Craft

Small craft fitting into this classification are in effect small starships. They have practically unlimited travel endurance and are capable of high warp speeds in excess of Warp 4. Their life-support capacity is also effectively unlimited and they are capable of independent navigation and mission endurance, meaning that a permanent crew can live and sleep aboard, even to taking standard watch rotations in the case of Starfleet small craft.

Their crew can consist of only one or as many as the cabin can support on an extended basis, and as such many planet locators and asteroid prospectors operate Class-H craft as personal scout ships to this end.

Some examples of this type are:

Class-I – Special Environment Craft

The craft within this classification can in fact belong to any of the previous classes, but are placed here due to the uniqueness of their environmental outfitting. In brief, all typical small craft are designed to operate in standard planetary atmospheres and/or the vacuum of space. They are also capable in some cases of being submerged in liquid – such as being underwater – and retaining some basic function, but are not specifically designed for it.

One might think that a standard shuttle’s structural integrity fields and external shields would suffice to allow the exploration of such environments without need of specialised shuttles; this is of course correct – in the short term. To have a standard-environment shuttle explore these environments requires it to use far more power than it normally would, taxing all on-board systems and exhausting the on-board fuel far more quickly. Further, should one of these systems fail even briefly, a standard shuttle would be almost instantly destroyed by pressure or temperature or whatever else forms the hostile environment being traversed.

Thus Class-I was created to categorise all the special-use small craft as an administative unit. It is a catch-all term with many sub-divisions for the specific type of environment being explored or traversed. Class-I small craft are specially designed to withstand their environment of choice as their normal operation. For example, Bathyshuttles are made of much stronger and more dense materials to allow them to resist pressure on their bare hull. Aquashuttles are similarly made to resist crushing pressure but also penetrating corrosive seawater should damage occur.

As previously stated, standard small craft can be modified to perform preliminary and short-term explorations, and being extra-tough usually incurs a mass and size penalty. As such, most ships outside of carrier starships do not routinely embark them. Thus Class-I small craft are more likely to be included as part of a specially-equipped expedition going to follow up on the discoveries of specific environments by other exploratory starships than being a part of the general loadout of exploratory vessels themselves just on the off-chance of them being needed.

That said, most Class-I craft would also fall into the Class-A through Class-D categories as they will be transported directly to their environment rather than making their own way there.

Some examples of this type are:

Class-J – Specialised Combat Craft

The most controversial category within the Federation, with many seeing it as the antithesis of Starfleet’s charter and primary mission, and some serving Starfleet members refusing assignments on vessels carrying them as conscientious objectors, Class-J Specialised Combat Craft – or “fightercraft” – are nonetheless still a necessary tool in the protection of others.

These craft nominally fall into the Class-A to Class-G categories with varying ranges and weapons loadouts as befits the apparent threat level.

A distinction is made between armed shuttlecraft and fightercraft – hence the “Specialised Combat” designation – as almost all Starfleet small craft can be fitted with weaponry, defensive or otherwise. Even when so armed, they are still primarily transport and utility craft with limited combat manoeuvrability and as such are at a distinct disadvantage when encountering peer nation fightercraft. This is why fighters were developed by the Federation in the first place; to maintain parity with threat nations using them.

Examples of this type are mostly Work Bee-derived, wherein a specialised module is created to turn a Work Bee into the cockpit of a small fighter:

Other heavier Class-J craft are:

Afterword by the Creator

This article was in part inspired by more debate and discussion with Adrian Jones of Star Trek: The Interim Years / U.S.S. Sheffield NCC-1976. In this particular instance, he merely got me thinking about shuttles and I took it from there.

Credit where Credit is Due

This article uses vessels and concepts from several of the old tech manuals I have and still refer to because of their quality and the thought put into them, and ship classes and 3D models created by the awesome SFC modding community – of which I am a dabbler – for the Starfleet Command series of PC games by Taldren/Interplay. All rights are reserved by the creators of their respective intellectual properties.

1. Dockport Shuttles
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p17-25, § 02:03:01

2. Chisu-class Light Dockport Shuttle
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p19, § 02:03:01

3. Various modules for Dockport Shuttles
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p22, § 02:03:01

4. Class-E shuttle-pod
© 2005 Neal Davidson's 'Star Fleet Starship Recognition Manual Volume Two Ships of Support 2268' p30, § 02:04:30
© 2014 Kitbashed model by Scottish Andy, from an original Mark-12B Shuttlecraft 3D model for Starfleet Command by ?.

5.Type-4S shuttlepod
© 2014 Kitbashed model by Scottish Andy, based on an original Galileo 5 Shuttlecraft 3D model for Starfleet Command by ?.

6.Mark-12B Shuttlecraft
© 20?? TOS Galileo 7 Shuttlecraft model for Starfleet Command by ?.

7. Type-4 Shuttlecraft
© 20?? STV:TFF Galileo 5 Shuttlecraft model for Starfleet Command by ?.

8. Class-L Courier Shuttle
© 2005 Neal Davidson's 'Star Fleet Starship Recognition Manual Volume Two Ships of Support 2268' p33, § 02:04:32
A redraw of the shuttle Copernicus in 'TAS: The Slaver Weapon', design by Don Christianson
© 2014 original model for Starfleet Command by Scottish Andy.

9. Manasu-class Standard Dockport Shuttle
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p21, § 02:03:01

10. Tai-class Warp Sled
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p23-24, § 02:03:01

11. Cochrane Industries Mk-IV 1 crew scout ship
© ~1983 Star Fleet Publication Office 'U.S.S. Enterprise Officer's Manual' p76, § Ship Recognition

12. Atai-class Heavy Dockport Shuttle
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p23, § 02:03:01

13. Three-nacelled Tai-class Warp Sled
© 1996 DC Comics' graphic novel adapton of William Shatner & Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens 'Ashes of Eden'

14. Tycho-class 1-crew fighter & Arco-class 2-crew attack sled
© 1996 Diane Carey's TOS Novel #29 'Dreadnought!'.

15. Assault Bee 1-crew light fighter
© 1993 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 2' p19, § 02:02:06

16. Killer Bee 1-crew fighter
© 1993 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 2' p21, § 02:02:06

17. Talon 2-crew interceptor
© ~1992 David John Schmidt's 'Starfleet Dynamics' p96, § Operations Department sub-§ Auxiliary Craft

18. Tomahawk 2-crew close air support
© ~1992 David John Schmidt's 'Starfleet Dynamics' p97, § Operations Department sub-§ Auxiliary Craft

19. Wasp-class 2-crew fighter
© 1992 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 1' p22-23, § 03:04:02

20. Hornet-class 3-crew heavy fighter
© 1993 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 2' p8-9, § 02:02:02

21. Yellow Jacket-class 3-crew heavy fighter
© 1995 Eric Kristiansen's 'Jackill's Starfleet Reference Manual Ships of the Fleet Volume 3' p11-12, § 02:02:03