The warships of the Empire seen in the STAR WARS films show a number of common features. They are generally dagger-like in design, with forward-facing flat, angular faces covering most of the hull. Surfaces between the edges of the angular faces are filled by structure with a more complex, irregular form. This kind of surface is dotted with a greater density of viewports, provind that it is crewed. Large docking bays are depressions in the ventral surface of a ship, and air-filled hangars are sheltered within these cavities. Sublight thruster nozzles are mounted towards the back of the ship, are cylindrical or conical in aspect, and are uniformly and directly pointed aftwards. A command tower housing the ship's main control centres and long-range sensors stands prominently at the peak of the dorsal surface. Despite variations in other aspects of the vessels, towers remain essentially uniform (at least for ships produced by the same manufacturer).
The Galactic Empire controlled the material, energy and sentient resources of essentially the entire galaxy. This included quintillions of citizens, millions of inhabited worlds, and billions of systems which lack permanent settlement but are rich in exploitable resources nonetheless. Their civilisation also enjoys a phenomenal level of automation in all labour-intensive fields of activity. In equipping its navy and military, the Empire was constrained only by the limits of political will needed to mobilise whatever design and construction processes were desired. Furthermore, despotic regimes are not accountable to the taxpayers for profligate naval expenditure. The Empire could afford, and would choose, to commission only the best possible equipment. Therefore the warships seen in the Imperial Starfleet can reliably be assumed to represent the best possible technology of large fighting ships available under the technology of the day. (Serious warship designs will rarely resemble the combat starships pressed into service by the Rebel Alliance, pirates and other desperate outlaw military forces. With few exceptions, these are modified civilian vessels and are not optimal designs for naval use.)
Some non-dagger designs dominate the warship descriptions reported in Rebel Alliance historian Arhul Hextrophon's Imperial Sourcebook however it must be remembered that his original stolen source documents were addressed to the Emperor's Advisors for Budgetary Affairs, and had the tone of special pleading for supplementary low-budget ship-building. Indeed it should be remembered that Hextrophon's entire report disclaimed completeness and comprehensivity; it even omitted common walker and repulsortank models in favour of marginal and irregular ground vehicle technologies; and it failed to discuss any starfighters. The non-dagger ships are peripheral, non-optimal designs. They may have been used by local system and sector forces in the most marginal and remote regions of the galaxy where resources are diffuse and rebels and pirates take refuge and operate with impunity, but not as major components of the mainstream Imperial Starfleet. As described below, the movies' more graceful style of larger, angular warships dominates in scenes which best represent the strength of the Empire.
Some of the features of Imperial warships may be due to factors other than deliberate design optimality. Although Kuat Drive Yards is the dominant manufacturer of warships, there are other naval ship-builders, and it is to be expected that some of the peripheral structures of their ships will differ from the corresponding forms seen on the KDY products. The fine details of the command tower are susceptible to this kind of variation. However the broadest features such as the generally angular, elongated form, can be regarded as universal to virtually all major Imperial warships.
In the STAR WARS films we see three sub-classes of the common Imperator-class star destroyer, and a lone example of a much more powerful vessel, the dread Executor. It would be absurd to believe that the sample of warships seen briefly on film represents the entire productivity of the galaxy's naval starship designers over the quarter-century of Palpatine's reign. Logic suggests that the Imperial Starfleet should also include warships at sizes intermediate to the huge but rare Executor and the small but abundant destroyers; plus lesser vessel classes which are each even more numerous as the designs become smaller. A variety of combat starship classes spanning a broad spectrum of size, capability, number and cost will always be necessary to satisfy all of the practical needs of naval warfare balanced against the relative economics of shipbuilding.
This document attempts to assemble many of the previously-ignored glimpses of this greater Imperial Starfleet, and to consolidate a better representation of the principal classes of ships in its composition.
In this kind of exercise it is important to carefully consider the kinds of selection effects which are innate to our observations. With the exception of the Alderaan system, the STAR WARS films are entirely set in remote backwater regions of the galaxy, where the Galactic Empire has most difficulty projecting its power and the Rebel Alliance operates with relative impunity from secret refuges. Local naval forces, as represented by the Imperator-class star destroyer, are stretched thin, and major port facilities and construction yards will be more scarce than in better-populated regions. The only hint of more formidable naval power is the Executor, brought out from the Core by Lord Darth Vader when he took a personal interest in the hunt for rebels. By its association with Vader, Executor seems likely to represent the most powerful available technology, while the relatively tiny destroyers which attend it are certainly a more mundane piece of equipment. (It is often forgotten that they are the smallest canonical class of Imperial warship.)
The source materials of West End Games have not considered any combat starships greater than the common destroyers, other than the mighty Executor itself. Indeed, all of the vessels of the Imperial Navy introduced in the roleplaying game have been of a smaller scale, divergent from the established blade-like design aesthetic, and are usually built by entirely different manufacturers. This is a natural consequence of the game's focus: it revolves around groups of no more than a dozen individual characters living in a universe in which the most heroic possible actions will be or already have been accomplished by characters of the films. These adventures are necessarily modest in scale. Attempts by the players to influence events involving planetary populations of trillions or great fleets of warships which exceed the common star destroyer will usually be futile and therefore unsatisfying. Thus the roleplaying game is biased towards the small, the weak, the parochially remote, and the irregular elements of the Imperial Navy. (Indeed it is no small wonder that the first edition of the rules and the original STAR WARS Sourcebook declared all capital ship combat to be beyond the scope of the game.)
Recently-told accounts of events taking place after the Battle of Endor also provide an incomplete and somewhat unrepresentative view of Imperial naval capabilities. Throughout the span of these tales, the Empire fragmented into bitter local factions under desperate and ruthless warlords who feuded amongst themselves. The ragtag but astutely purposeful forces of the Rebel Alliance exploited this disorder to seize galactic power, successively crushing or assimilating the weak former-Imperial groups while the stronger warlords exhausted each other's fleets and armies. Production of new warships ground to a halt as resource networks were interrupted and laid waste. The existing fleets were consumed in titanic conflicts which are only hinted at by the huge drifts of debris seen in Coruscant's orbit in Dark Empire. During the periods of most of the post-Endor tales, the Imperial remnants have wasted away to pathetic pirate fleets under nostalgic but petty tyrants secluded in the Deep Core.
With its stunning vistas over Byss, the Dark Empire series represents the best available glimpse of the full composition of the Imperial Starfleet. Warship manufacturing must be negligible at this date, due to the Deep Core's isolation and poverty of raw materials, but Palpatine's clone must be powerful enough to summon and command a representative segment of the Imperial Navy's remaining glory. In his armada we see hints of over a dozen classes of sleek and elegant vessels, of which roughly half a dozen have features distinct enough so that approximate dimensions can be determined. However, these visual observations suffer a serious bias which is opposite that of other works of STAR WARS fiction. Only the largest warships are visually big enough for scale determination; smaller vessels are only tiny indistinct triangles in the distance. We discern plenty of battleships, battlecruisers and cruisers, yet very few destroyers, frigates, corvettes or lesser ships.
The sample of warship classes profiled below in this document improves upon earlier catalogues but it should not be considered comprehensive. It is almost certainly incomplete; the mighty military-industrial complex of a galaxy-wide civilisation is likely to have produced at least dozens of other combat starship designs in the standard dagger-like style at each level of power and size.
Countless thousands of dagger-style warships and world devastators blanket the skies above Palpatine's private fortress world of Byss.
At the time shortly after the Battle of Hoth, the armada of Admiral Giel was at the time the largest single gathering of naval power in the history of the Galactic Empire.
Since the beginning of naval history, warships have been classified into several broad groups according to size and role. At times some of these roles have been out of existence, and from time to time the classes evolve to adopt new roles as the technology and practice of war change. However in a given navy at a given date the sequence of labels always remains the same in terms of ascending size and power of vessels. A frigate is always something less than a destroyer; a destroyer is always less than a cruiser, and so on. Boundaries between classes may in some instances be indistinct but the terminology is never inverted. In the English language, the major warship classifications can be defined as follows:
- a small vessel of shallow draught and with relatively heavy guns. [Oxford]
- a heavily armed warship of shallow draught. [Oxford]
- a small, lightly armed, fast vessel, used mostly for convoy escort, ranging between a destroyer and a gunboat in size. [Macquarie]
- a naval escort vessel between a corvette and a destroyer in size. [Oxford]
- a fast warship with guns and torpedoes used to protect other ships. [Oxford]
- a warship of high speed and medium armament. [Oxford]
- a warship of maximum speed and fire power, but with lighter armour than a battleship. [Macquarie]
- a warship with the heaviest armour and the largest guns. [Oxford]
To some extent the definition of the class boundaries is arbitrary, but they have consequence in the ways various warships relate to each other (within the technological and strategic environment of the day). In the known navies of Palpatine's galaxy, ships of one classification level may be five or ten times the tonnage of ships on the next lower level, and perhaps two or three times as long. Although a lone star destroyer carries enough firepower, starfighters, and troops to overwhelm almost any civilian craft or fixed installation, it appears as no more than an inconsequential insect next to a grand flagship like the Executor. At the same time, a destroyer dwarfs a corvette so convincingly that any unplanned attack by the latter against the former would seem ludicrously suicidal.
Smaller warships have advantages of mobility and number; despite their individual weakness, they are good for extending a naval presence to many places at once. Ships of the greater classes are less numerous but have the advantages of durability and combat potency. Balanced and concerted use of all kinds of ships is necessary for overall naval effectiveness.
When we're considering the particular roles of combat starships we must take careful account of the differences between the environments of space and sea. Space conditions alter or render redundant some traditional naval roles, and some entirely unfamiliar classes may be required. One such distinctive role may be that fulfilled by the Arc Hammer. Other novel roles can be discerned.
- command ship
- Prestige vessel of unassailably great size, durability and armament, used mainly as flagship, communications centre and base of operations for hosts of lesser forces.
Attainment of enormous size has a liberating effect on some aspects of the warship roles. With effectively unconstrained internal space, even the most minor frigate has the capacity to act as a carrier to some extent. The use of tractor beams obviates the need of fighter runways, which are the sole reason why oceanic carriers are among the largest vessels in the navies of nuclear-age primitives. Similarly, the luxury of habitable space evident in the abundance of star destroyer viewports suggests that significant numbers of ground troops and surface assault craft can be borne aboard ships which are not dedicated troop transports. Genuine carrier craft and troop transports undoubtedly exist, but their role might be less distinct than in seafaring planet-bound societies.
A number of other terms are used for broader and finer levels of classification. "Capital ship" refers to any warship of non-trivial power and mass. A rough slang term "super star destroyer" [extriniscally invented for a toy concept] seems to be used by rebels in colloquial reference to anything larger than the commonest destroyer: command ships, battle ships, battlecruisers, cruisers and perhaps even some larger fleet destroyers. Because it is responsible for enormous popular confusion, which undermines serious analysis and description of the Empire's naval assets, the "super star destroyer" term is avoided altogether in this document. For more refined description of the roles of warships, we may describe a design as being "light", "medium" or "heavy" within its broader classification level. For instance a "light cruiser" is at the low end of the "cruiser" range in terms of firepower and size.
Although the territorial fleets of many sectors include ships no better than the common star destroyer, examples of the Starfleet's star cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships will be found in home fleets of the Core, at the Admiralty on Coruscant, and in roving armadas of the Navy's most important commanders (eg. Admiral Giel, and various Grand Admirals and Grand Moffs). Such men will often possess a flagship of distinctive power and limited production, such as Lord Vader's Executor or one of its scarce siblings. The most powerful warships may also be dedicated to the defence and assertion of control over the galaxy's most vital and central military and economic assets.
The majority of the cruisers and larger vessels of the Imperial Starfleet which didn't defect or surrender to central or parochial New Republic forces were probably lost in conflicts between rogue Imperial warlords after the fall of Palpatine. Many would be lost to attrition or else covetously hoarded in remote docks until the commanders lost the resources to maintain the ships. Larger warships are prime targets for enemy forces because of their potency and symbolic importance. [Eg. the ill-fated Shockwave in Darksaber.] It is ironic that in a desperate and collapsing Empire an intact battlecruiser may draw so much attention that its very survival is seriously threatened by jealous rival factions.
In the oceanic navies of a primitive nuclear-age planet, ships from different technological eras might be seen together, which in some instances has the potential to confuse the size ordering of the nomenclature. However this would rarely happen in Palpatine's era, since galactic civilisation had been on a static plateux of technology for over a thousand generations. If deviations exist in the scale of ship classification, it is because smaller standards are set for local governments within the Empire (in accordance with their resources), or for the second-rate shipbuilding corporations which cater to these niche markets. Most of the small but proudly named and curiously shaped vessels in The Imperial Sourcebook fall into this class.
The scale of naval designations used by independent spacefaring species like the Mon Calamari can also be slightly smaller than in the Imperial Starfleet. For instance, a Mon Cal cruiser is somewhat smaller than an Imperial destroyer; and a Mon Cal destroyer might be as big as an Imperial frigate, etc.
The greater part of this document, which is on a dedicated page, consists of a catalogue of currently-known classes of dagger-form warships of the galaxy. There is a deliberate emphasis on ships of the Palpatine Era and its immediate aftermath. Information contained in this listing is based on objective analyses of imagery from major battles and other well-documented naval gatherings. The list is unavoidably incomplete, and from time to time some of statistics and ship designations may require adjustment.
The dimensions of many of these ships have been determined according to scaling cues in available illustrations. The most important cues are the known dimensions of the standard KDY command tower, the diameter of the standard long-range scanner globe, and the occasional proximity of another vessel of better-known size. In many cases no precise calculation is available other than upper and/or lower bounds on the ship's length. All measurements stated here should be considered tentative; subject to revision upon more precise geometric study.
In most cases the official name of a vessel class is unknown, even when the capabilities and features of the design have been observed in detail. The engineers and shipbuilders responsible for the ships' creation will follow the convention of naming each new class of warship after its first member. For many entries in the listing below, the name of only one representative ship is known. In those cases I provisionally use this ship name to refer to the entire class, in lieu of the name of the original archetype vessel. This naming procedure is not dogmatic; I will correct the catalogue whenever the true designations are revealed.
The diagram below represents most of the vessels described in the catalogue, in similar orientations and to approximately the same scale. Unfortunately less detail is available for some ships than for others, due to varying quality in the source images. Some ship designs have been omitted altogether, when present observations are inadequate for the construction of a standardised broadside image. Where necessary or desirable, photocomposite images have been constructed to fit known features of vessels whose primary image sources are drawings rather than genuine photographs.
The diagram has been converted into a clickable image-map, linking to the appropriate sections of the ship class listing.
[This image is copyright 1997 Curtis Saxton, to the extent of its original photocomposite imagery. Original source materials are, of course, copyright Lucasfilm Ltd and are employed here under Fair Usage terms.]
Very little is definitely known about warship construction. For the sake of efficiency, production processes for non-unique vessels probably are subcontracted and distributed throughout a military industrial system encompassing countless worlds. Raw materials would be mined from many planets, moons and asteroid fields throughout the galaxy. Refineries located at these sites or elsewhere pass their goods on to higher manufacturing facilities. Basic components from microcircuitry to whole drive assemblies may be mass-produced at dedicated facilities on planets or in space, according to the sensitivity of the particular device. Specialisation of each production facility for a particular subset of components allows for cheaper, quicker and more voluminous production of standardised parts, minimising the need for retooling. Final construction takes place in a zero-gravity environment, either inside an enclosed work bay of a shipyard space station or else in free orbit in a well-defended industrial location. In the case of customised or limited models, much more of the basic manufacturing will be done at the final shipyard site.
Vital endostructural systems including the main reactors and power distribution conduits are likely to be among the earliest components installed. Portions of the outer hull plating which defines the superstructure may be next. Building inwards from this extended shell would provide a maximum working area during construction, improving labour access, and thereby maximising the number of droids and workers on the job at any given time. This will minimise the total construction time. (Construction of Death Star II was observed to follow this pattern.)
One of the most important events in the construction process will be the activation of artificial gravity and inertial damping systems. Faulty gravity generators could have uncomfortable consequences for the crew. If the inertial dampers happened to function improperly, the vessel could tear itself apart during even the simplest of manoeuvres; the consequeneces for its occupants would be grisly. These systems present a deadly opportunity for subtle rebel sabotage.
The scale of warship manufacturing at the peak of Palpatine's power was effectively unconstrained. Construction of the Death Star II caused no appreciable damage to the galactic economy, and it involved the assembly of a fabric with the same structural complexity as a warship at a rate of several hundred million cubic kilometres within only a few months. This production capacity is equivalent to completion of hundreds of millions of star destroyers per year, a rate which is probably much greater than galaxy's actual naval needs.
The rate at which new vessels of a given class are built will largely depend on the desired composition of the Imperial Starfleet. Naval policy will dictate a certain balance between smaller vessels (which can be built in greater numbers for a given price) and larger warships (which have greater power and durability). In general, intermediate ships will exist in intermediate numbers. Assuming the minimum galactic abundances of certain designs [indicated in various rolpeplaying references etc.] the spectrum of ship numbers for other classes will probably look something like this:
Minimal estimates of the total numbers of ships of various classes which were constructed and in active service at any one time throughout the Galactic Empire, under ideal conditions. Two designs, Eclipse and Sovereign, were conceived before Battle of Hoth but only completed seven years later. Tonnage is expressed relative to the Imperator-class star destroyer. In general, designs of greater tonnage are represented by fewer ships built.
The security demands of the millions of settled worlds require ongoing warship construction at many thousands of dedicated shipyards in major civilised systems throughout the galaxy. It was the Navy's preference to situate at least one major naval dock in each sector. These gargantuan facilities are, however, controlled by a small number of profoundly powerful ship-building corporations which work closely with the galactic government of the day.
Kuat Drive Yards is one of the three largest starship manufacturers in the galaxy. Its dominance of large warship construction industry is almost indisputable. The company reputation is founded on their impressive line of warships which comprise the majority of combat starships in the fleets of both the Galactic Empire and the New Republic which followed it. The main KDY stardocks and shipyards are based in the wealthy and influential Kuat system in the Galactic Core. Other comparable KDY yards at Fondor and Gyndine are respectively famous for the construction of the Executor and Imperator, the first vessels in two important eponymous warship classes built for the Imperial Navy.
Other starship manufacturers build warships under contract to the Imperial Navy (and its New Republic successor). However most of these are low-budget designs that either poorly mimic the elegant form and features of the dagger-like KDY designs, or else they opt for less combat-efficient shapes and structures.
Sienar Fleet Systems builds some minor warships, but the TIE starfighters are its major naval product. Rendili StarDrive produced successful designs like the Victory star destroyers during the Clone Wars and early in Palpatine's reign, but their research yielded few new developments in later years. Corellian Engineering Corporation builds a diverse range of civilian and naval vessels, and there are indications that they manufacture a few capital ships of formidable size. (Han Solo talks of Imperial star cruisers of a "big Corellian" kind.) Some of the larger vessels listed in this document below may be among those Corellian warships, especially those which seem to lack KDY brand features, (eg. Admiral Giel's mighty flagship).
Some of these envious rival corporations seem to mislabel their lesser naval vessels with grandiose classifications which are equivalent to mainstream KDY ships of ten times' greater length. For instance the Loronar Strike-class ships are mislabelled as "cruisers" even though their tonnage matches only a star frigate built by KDY.
Such mischievous misnomers have been exacerbated to the point of creating gross historical misunderstandings in the general population. Certain jocular elements of the Rebel Alliance and New Republic armed forces started to erroneously believe in a reversed ordering of naval ship classifications. These people were idealists and warriors, not naval historians and engineers. Relatively few of them ever encountered enemy ships of genuine cruiser (or greater) class, and so some of them came to mistakenly believe that the term "cruiser" implies a ship which is smaller and less powerful than a "destroyer".
Indeed many soldiers, crewmen, pilots and officials of the growing New Republic began to believe that the commonly encountered star destroyer was among the largest and mightiest of Imperial vessels. Behemoths like the Executor were treated as exceptions and derisively mislabelled as "super star destroyers", whenever they were so much as acknowledged to exist. A more accurate, but less widely perceived view is that the Rebel Alliance and New Republic forces sought confrontation only in regions where Imperial forces were weakest or most distracted.
After the fall of Palpatine and the collapse of political order on the galactic scale, new naval shipbuilding was more difficult to sustain. Encroachment by the forces of the New Republic and the devastation inflicted by rogue former-Imperial warlords feuding against each other ruined the networks of raw resources, componentry and ship assembly. The greatest shipyards became coveted assets for desperate and divided leaders, and therefore among the most attractive targets for attack by rivals.
During the transitional period when both the New Republic and remnants of the Empire held comparable territory, most notably around the time of reinvigorated conflict surrounding Grand Admiral Thrawn's return, important shipyards of most of the major shipbuilders were stranded on opposite sides of the border space. The shipbuilding corporations would find themselves in a profitable but politically delicate situation, simultaneously arming both rival regimes.
For instance, although Kuat gave enthusiastic support to the New Republic from as early as the capture of Coruscant, isolated elements of the KDY company continued with limited activity to complete new vessels in some parts of Imperial space, like the Pentastar Alignment's Enforcer and the Deep Core's secret Eclipse project.
On the whole, the Imperial warlords seemed to suffer more deprivation than the New Republic. Ysanne Isard's attempts to cling to power were hamstrung by the reluctance of other isolated warlords to lend her ships and resources. Attrition of warlord forces became severe after the planet Thyferra, sole supplier of medical bacta (which is vital for treating battle casualties), fell into New Republic hands. When Warlord Zsinj brought terror to the galaxy with his Iron Fist, officials of the New Republic, like Princess Leia Organa, remained confident that they could outmatch and exhaust his ability to maintain his fleets. Grand Admiral Thrawn's chief impediment was the fact that he was almost totally denied warship manufacturing; most of his campaigns were dedicated to acquiring ships and resources.
Design and construction of new ships in the declining enclaves of the Deep Core would be virtually non-existent. Such regions generally lack resources for post-helium elements, and the galaxy's best brains and facilities for research and development were located in more civilised territories. The fleets seen over Byss during the return of the Palpatine's mad clones must mainly consist of regathered, tattered remnants of pre-Endor glory. What dwindling industrial capacity remained there must have been dedicated to a few projects which are tinier in number than they were physically large. These include: the Galaxy Gun; the completion of Palpatine's Eclipse and Eclipse II (designed a year before Endor); and the creation of "World Devastators" (which were probably only able to spawn new ships much smaller than themselves).
The great shipbuilding corporations left outside the stagnant Deep Core enclaves would qualmlessly and pragmatically ally with the New Republic. Once that new government was consolidated, the naval shipbuilding infrastructure vital for galactic security would be rebuilt and revived. The Galactic Navy would serve much the same role under the New Republic as under Palpatine, and it would need much the same warships. By the time of the Koornacht Cluster crisis, twelve years after the Battle of Endor, the New Republic had accumulated respectable naval forces, albeit with an emphasis on vessels of somewhat smaller scale than the grand Executor. This fleet must have incorporated designs employed during the old regime (and probably a great number of original vessels, captured or defected); plus a few new designs built to the same ideal patterns. [Several of these ships have been named in novels, but with little indication regarding scale or other features. If any of these references prove sufficient distinguish and describe the particular designs then I'll add these ships to this document. The illustrations in Cracken's Threat Dossier are ignored because of demonstrable inconsistencies with novel texts.]
Warships in STAR WARS benefit from what could be called the "whale effect". This is an analogy to animal life, relating form to function and constraints of the physical environment. Aquatic mammal species can evolve to much greater sizes than land-based beasts because buoyancy provides some relief from the strain of gravity. However they still can't grow to indefinite size because they need to be streamlined enough to propel themselves through water. Creatures dwelling in deep space (eg. starslugs and space grazers) and living hot-air balloons drifting airborne in exotic jovian planets would be free of even this constraint, and they might grow to kilometres in size. So it is with the great warships of the galaxy as compared to the primitive oceanic warships of planet-bound nuclear-age civilisations.
Galactic warships can be kilometres long; their smallest support and escort craft may be hundreds of metres in size. For a civilisation spanning its entire galaxy and enjoying a high degree of manufacturing automation, material and energy resources are virtually unlimited, permitting the construction of vast fleets of these artificial behemoths. So long as the society desires protection from internal and external foes, these awesome starfleets will readily be built and maintained.
This does not mean that there were no limits to the warship technology of the Palpatine Era. Perhaps larger ships suffer disproportionately diminished efficiency and quality of coordination of the inertial dampers (which are necessary for maintaining crew safety and structural integrity during manoeuvres). The complexity of communications and control systems spanning different sections of the ship may be another ascending problem as warships attain vast volume. The existence of the Death Stars, many times more massive than the greatest battleship, indicates that practical constraints of a physical kind may be surmountable. However the Death Stars are not truly comparable because they lack the sublight mobility of a warship. Furthermore, the technical solutions to these scale problems might render larger ships too costly to be economical for regular production.
There will also be economic and strategic reasons in favour of either the inflation or limitation of warship size. A single ship, no matter how vast and powerful, is limited to being only in one place at one time. Beyond a certain threshold, the production of a greater number of modest ships allows for a more effective projection of naval power across the galaxy than a lesser number of larger ships built and sustained from the same material resources.
On the other hand the Empire's military-industrial complex would do anything in its power to improve its own business. Corporations like Kuat Drive Yards will pander to and provoke whatever naval fashion holds the day. The commissioning of new warship designs with a view to the grandiose and appeals to the conceit of "progress" could never hurt their profitability.
One of the strongest motivations for greater size is the need to overwhelm the capital ships of any potential enemy. In a galactic society, enormous resources are potentially available to criminals, insurrectionists, centrifugal political movements, or even mutinous armed forces. The ruling government needs possession of immodestly powerful vessels in order to cow or convincingly overcome all possible threats to the peace, preferably by means of preventative intimidation. Assertion of control over spacelanes and maintaining the security of fixed assets demands vaster resources than staging spasmodic and opportunistic raids to deny control to another force. The Imperial Starfleet was not built merely to fight an equal force; it exists for the more extensive task of sustaining social and economic equilibrium across the entire galactic civilisation. The rebels' accusation that the Starfleet was designed in overkill as an instrument of terror is unfair; physical and psychological dominance are essential to the role of such a security force.
It is possible that apart from expense, this need for dominance is the only factor determining the size upper limit of the warship spectrum. Policy may simply require the construction of battleships up to a level which is a hundred times the capability of the best individual ship of any plausible foe.
The form and features of a warship are constrained by its function. A ship's design is devised for efficient internal operations, to faciliate proper interaction with its external environment to accomplish naval objectives, and to prolong the vessel's survival. The whole warship exists through the accommodation of thousands of human and engineering considerations. An examination of specific physical features may tell the observer a few hints about what those considerations are, and their relative importance.
The functional nature of the features of a warship are dictated by several different length scales. One is the scale of the whole ship. For instance, size of the engines dictates the existence of internal power systems and physical support structures which are of comparable dimensions.
Another fundamental scale is that of the individual human being. Facilities to accommodate the crew must exist throughout the ship, as must bulk transport systems and defensive emplacements. The finely-detailed regions filling the ship must be built with regard for the safety, comfort and movement of occupants. Features must exist to aid the repulsion of hostile boarders and the confinement of reactor leakage, atmosphere breach or other environmental hazards. The distribution of many vital amenities must be planned carefully as a problem of architecture.
A warship has at least three basic types of structural fabric:
The near universality of thick armour-like hull plating on naval and civilian ships of all STAR WARS eras suggests that these structures are fundamental to the ship-building technology. It is possible that they are directly or indirectly associated with the ship's physical support. Materials technologies are probably not alone at work here; various field technologies are potentially much stronger. Perhaps the armour plates act as conduits or in other ways help form the deflectors, artificial gravity and inertial damping fields which sustain the physical integrity of starships.
The angular, dagger-like form of these vessels is fundamental to their role as massive, aggressive instruments of war. The taper ensures that few of the ship's weapons are obscured by ordinary hull features or by each other. Targets to one side of the ship face approximately half of the total number of guns. Targets above or below can be sighted by all of the dorsal or ventral weapons, respectively. Targets directly ahead are exposed to virtually all of the weapons simultaneously.
While these generalisations are useful, it is important to avoid the trap of thinking that a particular distinctive section of a ship (or battle station) is exclusively devoted to one function. It should be remembered that what appear to be tiny lumps on a warship's hull are actually the size of a respectable city building. The area around a battleship's docking bay may dwarf a destroyer which itself has the same habitable volume as a city. Any of the countless lights on a cruiser's hull could be a portal to an interior assembly hall capable of containing a thousand or more people. While the macroscopic features of a vessel will each have a distinct primary function, they will often subdivide into smaller interior structures with systems for the support of the crew who work and live inside.
Basic scanner and command requirements remain the same for warships of all sizes. A universal command tower has been developed for naval vessels manufactured by Kuat Drive Yards. (It appears on all four Imperial warship designs seen on film: three kinds of star destroyer, plus the Executor.) The command structure is roughly shaped like a hexagonal prism elongated laterally. This is topped by a pair of long-range scanner globes placed for maximum separation, and a longer linear array which is centrally mounted in an upright or prone orientation. Major bridges and control centres of the ship are usually set in the forward face of the command module, often with a rounded blister of observation windows to give officers a nearly panoramic view of surrounding space.
The whole module is mounted on a support tower at the highest point of the ship's dorsal superstructure so that the scanners, communications gear and bridge benefit from optimal unobstructed line-of-sight to as much of the sky as possible. Although the command module itself is almost unchanging, different ship designs vary in the height of the support tower. Towers of Executor-class ship are somewhat taller than those of most destroyers, but the thickness and the angles between faces are constant. On the other hand, there are examples of cruisers and destroyers where the bottom of the command module hugs the dorsal terrace hull.
Where present on newly sighted warships, this standardised tower is a sure sign of KDY manufacture as well as being a valuable indicator of perspective and the scale of the whole vessel. Other makes of warship usually show similar towers because the functional needs which dictate the development of command towers are universal. However the designs of other shipbuilders will vary from the patented and brand-specific characteristics of the Kuati-conceived vessels. The antenna-bearing tower of Rendili StarDrive is another distinctive example.
It is likely that the internal layout of the command centre and other bridges is subject to universal standards imposed by the Imperial Navy. Interoperablity in maintenance and simplification of crew training will be natural advantages of such a ruling. In terms of the identification of sighted vessels, the absence of a KDY command tower cannot be taken to indicate the absence of a standard bridge; nor does a standard bridge layout imply KDY design.
(For further information, refer to Star Destroyer Bridge Towers.)
Large warships possess three basic forms of propulsion. Hyperdrives transform the ship into the superluminal realm of hyperspace, allowing the rapid projection of naval power across potentially the entire galaxy. Impulsive sublight drives accelerate and manoeuvre a vessel at sublight speeds, in order to interact with the stationary assets of the galactic civilisation; and other starships, both friendly and hostile. Repulsorlift drives are a supplementary sublight propulsion system by which a ship pushes against the local gravitational field in the vicinity of a planet or other celestial body.
Hyperdrive systems depend on physical principles which are beyond the tenets of ordinary classical general relativity and quantum mechanics. The action of a hyperdrive involves extreme apparent subluminal acceleration followed by an abrupt transition to the superluminal realm of hyperspace. Time retardation and inertial damping systems ensure that all beings aboard complete the trip in comfort within a reasonable shipboard time. The inertial dampers of major warships are so precisely tuned to the hyperjump process that officers are able to stand on a bridge observation deck without feeling the slightest jolt during the externally-violent transition.
Main sublight systems consist of cylindrical or conical thruster nozzles mounted in the aft sections of the ship and directed backwards. Streams of subatomic particles accelerated by the sublight drives are propelled out these nozzles at relativistic speeds to give impulse to the ship. Electromagnetic baffles at the aperture of each nozzle may deflect the stream off the normal straight path, allowing thrust to be directed off-centre and permitting the ship to turn. (Aetheric rudders, a technology similar to that of inertial dampers, are also important in the manoeuvring of a warship. Any lateral thrusters on large combat starships are invisibly small compared to the full length of the vessel.)
Thruster nozzles appear in a number of banks. Larger ships generally have larger and more numerous thrusters, arranged in a greater number of thruster banks. Single-bank vessels of a certain length tend to have fatter profiles than multi-bank ships. Multi-bank designs tend to be thinner and sleeker in overall form.
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