Turning Swords Into Needles

Sometimes overall strategy requires that designers include things that make no tactical sense for the object being designed. This was very true in the case of submarines during the Cold War. People have always had an interest in adding unusual items to sub designs. The British M.1 featured an enormous gun as one would find on surface warships. The German "Deutschland" was a modified design of U-Boat with enormous cargo space, used for trade with the U.S. before the latter's entry into WW1. And, of course, there was the very popular idea of using subs as aircraft carriers (which everyone tried from time to time in the early 1900s).

(Most of these were simply mobile seaplane garages (such as the French Surcouf), whereas others were full-fledged carriers with direct onboard launch capability. Carriers included the British M.2 and various Japanese efforts, such as the I-15 Class (aka the B1-type), though these always featured single planes. (However, the B1-type I-25's single plane conducted the only known aerial bombing of the continental U.S.)

There was also the huge I-400 class capable of carrying and launching three planes. However, I discount the I-400 since it was not so much an aircraft carrier as it was a kamikaze-guided-missile carrier, intended for use in a suicide attack against the Panama Canal.)

However, only the addition of nuclear weapons really took off.

Whereas the other additions might still be useful, however, the nukes aren't considered to be in the modern climate. And so some have wondered what to do with a large number of perfectly operable submarines that just happen to be excessively long so as to contain a number of upright tubes.

Well, The Skunk Works has figured something out. A small UAV is ejected from the sub's tubes and allowed to float to the surface, where it launches. After performing recon or attacks, it returns and somehow executes a non-destructive water landing, at which point it is recovered.

This is amusing on several levels. First, that thing looks like an F-86 Sabre and an F4U Corsair made babies. Second, the idea of a sub-launched airplane just has a note of irony that can't be ignored. Third, there's the fact that the dream of a proper submarine aircraft carrier could be realized, with a small fleet of aircraft able to be launched while the sub remains cloaked underwater. And finally, of course, there's the fact that weapons capable of destroying a city are being replaced with weapons intended to blow up trucks and buildings.

Advancements, after all, come in many forms, and sometimes in directions opposite what one might expect.

In any case, it's interesting that none of the major cloaking races of Trek make use of similar ideas. "Balance of Terror"[TOS1] was a sub-hunter analog, after all, and given that we've seen fighters in Trek (albeit usually in the form of "miniature" starships of almost a hundred feet long) we know the two could be mixed.

If we continue the sub/cloak analogy, it seems to me that the Klingon emphasis on individual glory could easily have resulted in the use of cloaked fighter-carriers instead of their reliance on small independent cloaking warships such as the Bird of Prey. However, apparently the ease of adding cloaking devices to BoP designs made that the more attractive option . . . not to mention that all the warriors would want to be pilots instead of manning the cowardly "hiding" carrier.

This leaves us with the Romulans. Surely they would man a hiding carrier, and given their weapons technology they could probably have created a devastating fighter in the 2260's. Presumably the technology simply never advanced to a point where they felt they could get away with it.

After all, radar pretty much killed the sub advantage during WW2. It wasn't until sub reactor advances allowed for constant submergence that subs could realistically be hidden again . . . but then there was sonar. The point, though, is that if a sub surfaced to launch a plane . . . a plane that would probably be small and short-range in the first place . . . then as soon as the plane was high enough to be seen on radar the location of the sub would be known.

Similarly, the early Romulan holo-cloaks of the 2150's made the ships difficult to spot, but still easy to track. 100 years later, they were still detectable as a 'motion blip' via unclear means. So, if you were a cloaked Romulan carrier, you'd have had to have cruised to a location without being detected, launched from outside detection range, and then pick up whatever fighters returned (and hope they didn't bring company).

In short, the idea seems neat, but may be problematic. Sure, something similar is the basis of the Yorktown/Minotaur combo at the Starfleet Museum, but we're talking about the use of such tactics in a different sort of 'reality' altogether.

More thought would be required to make this workable, assuming it could even be practical.


  1. The answer is simple: ST generally lacks carrier warfare. Fighters are used as fire support for big ships, than as standalone weapons: they don't have higher radius/speed than capital ships, unlike todays planes. And if you want recon, you can well cram a shuttle into a normal Warbird.

  2. In the 2260's, given what we saw of the light-bending cloak's enourmous power cost just for a vessel of 200 meters or smaller, it would have likely been far too prohibitively expensive in terms of power to use on a ship large enough to support fighters.

    By the time of the 2360s through the 2280's the Romulans definately solved the power issue, and were routinely cloaking the 1,300 x 1000 x 400 meter D'Deridex class warbirds. And the Romulans, or at least the Remans had the idea to have a large cloaked carrier/battleship as evidenced by the Schimtar in ST:Nemesis, which was seen carrying a large number of the "Scorpion" class fighters (why they weren't deployed in the battle against the E-E is bit puzzling).

  3. Or just downright arrogance of the 'evil Picard' perhaps?

  4. Avatar of Narendra IIIMon Feb 27, 12:13:00 PM 2006

    There is a good chance that the Remans were not trained to fly something like that. They were primarily ground troops (according to Riker) when not stuck in the mines. They probably could have been used, but would not have been at all effective against the E-E (plus they would help give away the Scimitar).

  5. Their fighters don't need carriers, they can fly into battle on their own. Fighters in Star Trek a huge. Even the Dominion bug ships were described as fighters in, I think, The Die is Cast and perhaps elsewhere. That's a pretty large craft to be called a fighter, it was around 60-80 meters, right? And the Federation Fighter is something like 38 meters.

    Then there is the Romulan runabout that has a cloaking device, not to mention how a cloaking device Quark had had enough power to cloak it self. Given that, you could have a fleet of fighter ships, all self cloaking, apear where ever you like.

    Also, since the Dominion bug was described as a fighter, that would put the Bird of Prey into basicaly the same class, as well as the Cardassian Hideki. What next, the Defiant as a fighter? :-D Maybe if you agree with the 50m Defiant. I don't.

  6. The way I see it there are two explanations for the fighters aboard the Scimitar, but not used in the battle with the Enterprise.

    1) The fighters were intended to support ground operations, capable of only flying in space long enough to enter or leave a target's atmosphere.

    2) The Scimitar was still a 'rebel ship'. Data knew what kind of ships they were, implying they are not some great new secret. Perhaps they were what was available when Scimitar was built, but not terribly effective. (I admit this explanation makes less sense, but it leads nicely into a rant...)

    ST does not really seem to have much use for fighters, it seems. Sure, they are in a few major engagements, but did they ever accomplish anything, really, aside from annoy some medium enemy ships long enough to get swatted? My theory regarding the Federation tactical fighters (in Sacrifice of Angels, etc.) is that Starfleet was desparate enough to use any ship that carried a phaser array and had any appreciable tactical abilities. Sisko scrounged up a few dozen courier ships, and classified them as fighters.

    Further evidence that fighters are rarely considered needed is that, well, there aren't any, really. Like others said, the Jem'Hadar attack ship is more than a fighter, as are the Federation counterparts. If tiny fighters are such a good idea in Trek, surely someone would have thought of them and used them to great effect. I tend to discount the 'well, they're just all stupid' argument out of hand, for both universes, so there must be a good reason we don't see many.

    Given the accuracy of weapons, and targeting in general, (in ST:Nem both the Scimitar and Enterprise were able to easily lock onto the Scorpion Picard and Data commandeered with a tractor beam and a transporter, respectively) I don't see fighters lasting long in a pitched battle. This is further supported by the fact that the 'fighters' in DS9 DON'T seem to last long.

  7. Further evidence that fighters are rarely considered needed is that, well, there aren't any, really. Like others said, the Jem'Hadar attack ship is more than a fighter, as are the Federation counterparts. If tiny fighters are such a good idea in Trek, surely someone would have thought of them and used them to great effect. I tend to discount the 'well, they're just all stupid' argument out of hand, for both universes, so there must be a good reason we don't see many.
    The Suliban cell ships were much smaller than twenty-first century American fighter jets; they were effective in compelling the crew of Enterprise to surrender.

    Fighters would presumably be used in atmospheric operations, where drag would hamper maneuverability of those very-unaerodynamic starships.


  8. On the other hand, the Suliban cell ships where also a heck of a lot more advanced than the Enterprise was.

    They where faster (both at sublight and at warp), individually got close to the firepower of the ship (not quite at it, but near enough) and could take several hits before being destroyed.

    In other words, your comparisom is akin to taking a nice sailing vessel from 1490-ish and pitting it against a couple of jetfighters :-)

  9. The Jem'Hadar attack ships are not fighters, despite a few references calling them that. They are at least 90 meters long (as per DS9's "The Ship", and seem to serve more as a corvette, destroyer or frigate would in a modern navy. The Cardassian Hideki ships also appear to fit in with this model, and are at least 100 meters long.

    The so-called "Peregrine" fighters seen in use by the Federation are much smaller than a JH attack ship (only about 12-20 meters based on scaling them with the Defiant), though they seem to pack a lot of firepower for their size. A squadron of three such ships was seen taking out a Cardassian Galor in "Sacrifice of Angels".

    The advantage in having smaller fighters, like the Scorpions, is that they are not only highly useful in supporting troops during planetary assaults, but in sufficent numbers may be able to harass and damage a large capital ship while the carrier, in this case the Schimtar, can move in for the kill.

  10. Probably the biggest reason why the Remen fighters weren't used was because they would be useless against the Enterprise. It would only take a single phaser shot to destroy the things and if they don't have a cloak the Enterprise would hit them possibly before they even get a chance to shoot.

    The Peregrine's were probably around 15 m long or so, 30 m is just too large for the design or for carrying them on Akira class starships.

    Fighters themselves just don't seem to be a very good deal when it comes to space combat. They'd be too short range to be independant and therefore need the carrier that has to be protected while lacking the firepower and staying power to inflict much damage. The speed and maneuverability would seem to be very limited advantages unless the enemy has really inaccurate weapons (which may explain why fighters are so often used in Star Wars).

    Though against technologically inferior forces they can inflict quite a bit of damage and would be very cheap (as well as very good for CAS).