The ships of the Federation are as varied as the people that serve on them. This guide will provide a little insight into the ship's, their roles, as well as the unique characteristics they possess. Please keep in mind that every ship, when used as a SIMM, is there to further the story. Every ship can do everything- it’s part of the story and all things serve the narrative.
Ships fit into one of several broad categories- explorers, escorts, cruisers, and carriers. There are many different sources to draw from for this and each uses its own language/terminology. Because of that, we will attempt to use consistent language so you can apply this to whatever source you’d like. Some ships will fall into multiple categories (a heavy explorer will often also called a cruiser, for example).
An explorer is a multi-mission role ship, typically large, ship whose firepower is only matched by its survivability. They were often ships of the line and were responsible for checking up on colonies. Because of this they had to be able to operate without resupply for years on end. Most of the “Enterprise” ships were explorers. The term “explorer” is short for “exploration cruiser”. Those that were more heavily armed were called “heavy explorers”.
Example Explorers Classes: Ambassador Constitution, Excelsior, Galaxy, Sovereign
A light explorer is a smaller, but no less versatile, type of ship. Due to their size they tended to put speed and utility over sheer firepower. They had great range but smaller crew sizes to compensate. These are often used as scout ships. Rather than operate in deep space for extended periods of time, ligh explorers often were deployed from a star base and returned for refuel. This is not always the case (as with an Intrepid class) but was definitely a characteristics of the smaller ligh explorers.
Example Light Explorers: Intrepid, Nova
The main job of an escort is to escort larger ships, provided protection. They are small, fast, highly maneuverable, and very well armed. They often had limited range and would deploy from a starbase or carrier. They are almost always offensive warships, with a role akin to modern fighter planes, and were heavily armed. Most had a small crew for 50 or less (typically around 20-30) and could operate with a very small number of people.
Example Escorts: Defiant, Saber, Steamrunner
A cruiser is a warship with top of the line armaments, tactical sensors, and defensive systems. What differentiates a cruiser vs and explorer is that cruisers was not always clear but more often than not “cruisers” were more militarily focused and didn’t have the extended range of cruisers. The term “heavy cruiser” often refers to ships that are large and designed from the ground up as a battleship. While they may undertake non-military actions (and frequently do) they do not possess as long of a range or as much scientific equipment as an explorer does. “Light Cruisers” are often called “frigates” and may simply be heavy escorts.
Example Cruisers: Akira, Constitution, Galaxy, Odyssey, Sovereign
A carrier is a ship that serves as a mobile base for fighters or escort ships. They are often very large so they can house many smaller ships inside it.
Carriers are not a common ship design for the Federation but the Tholians, Dominion, and other alien species commonly employ them. While sources are not clear as to why, some ideas presented include the notion that Federation weapons and shielding generally renders such things moot. Most weapons can destroy small ships and installing those same weapons in small vehicles are not always possible. However, shuttlecraft are often used for this purpose informally.
Example Carriers: Armitage, Atrox
Also called “research vessels”, these are often poorly armed (if not unarmed) smaller ships who perform research and medical missions. They often have the most advanced sensors, shields, and are designed for long term missions (like explorers). Some serve as mobile hospital ships, research labs, or repositories of information.
Examples: Miranda, Nova, Oberth, Olympic