After many years
of creating deckplans I have created a nomenclature to cover the ships in my
Star Wars Universe. It became obvious to me that whilst most of the ships available
in the RPGs are listed as freighters, they don't really fit that description. The word freighter
is best used to describe vessels whose primary function is the transportation
of freight, in the sense of crated items of cargo. However, most freighters in the game have little room for freight,
and lots of room for the crew and passengers. To my mind this better describes
a COURIER, a ship which is designed to move small cargoes or passengers from
place to place. On this site I use the term courier to describe most
stock light freighters, and the term freighter to describe those few ships which
feature a very large cargo capacity.
This is mainly a phraseology issue, characters within my Star Wars Universe will use the terms somewhat interchangeably and I'm on no campaign to correct an error, especially as the use of the term freighter to describe a YT-1300 is canon, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it.
Whilst it is not immensely important on this site yet, I'm going to give a run down of the nomenclature of capital ships here.
Ships in the Star Wars Universe are named using conventional naval terminology, destroyers, corvettes, cruisers etc. The main issue with this is that they have been named very haphazardly. This isn't just an issue with Star Wars, it is pretty much universal in Sci-Fi and the really irritating thing is it is completely unnecessary.
The first distinction Chrome makes is between STARships and SPACEships.
Starships are capable of galactic travel without support. They are very large, thousands of meters in length. Starships can jump from one side of the galaxy to the other in a matter of hours, cary vast weapons and are incredibly capable ships. Starships are so fast, and almost completely self-contained, that they generally stay within their squadron deployments close to the Core, deploying in force whenever a threat or mission profile is discovered. Starships are almost always noted by the word 'Star' prefixing their role, so STAR Destroyers, STAR Cruisers etc etc.
Spaceships are capable of sector wide travel without support. They are large compared to transports, but measure in hundreds of meters, not thousands. Spaceships can croos the galaxy as they usually carry supplies (parts and custom consumables) to maintain themselves for extended periods, but they have to make frequent stops for fuel. Spaceships are intended mainly to operate within their sector of space only, where they are near bases and support systems. Spaceships do not always have the space prefix, it is generally assumed that military names without a prefix are spaceships.
Other than this distinction, capital combat craft use the same terminology to describe the roles of their ships.
Here's a basic run down of the primary military classifications, with a spot of historical background.
There are three main junior capital ship ranks, each emphasising a different balance of the classic design triangle of armour, speed, guns.
Destroyer - These are small, fairly vessels with moderate weapons and defences. Destroyers are used mainly for escort duties to protect convoys from small threats, or battlegroups where they act as a perimeter defence, and patrol duties where smaller vessels are insufficient to meet possible threats.
Originally the small threats were mainly the early submarines, known also as torpedo boats during World War One because they hardly ever submerged. The modern torpedo boat, essentially a speedboat with some torpedoes, were a much later invention. The term Destroyer is actually a contraction of 'Torpedo Boat Destroyer'.
- These are small vessels emphasising firepower and defensive capabilities over
speed. Frigates are traditionally used as major components for attacks. Escort
frigates tend to be a lot faster and emphasise defence through attack, being
generally built more for aggressive stances than destroyers.
The naval term frigate has referred to any manner of ship, the only consistant thing being frigates were always massively armed.
- These are small vessels which feature, mainly, blistering speed. Corvette are
generally defensive ships which operate as interdictors. They would use numbers
to make up for their relative lack of firepower.
During the 'Golden Age of Piracy' corvettes were highly prized as pirate vessels because they could generally outrace any merchantman whilst carrying a full military weapons array. They were in plentiful supply since the English were using them to counter the pirate's primary method of gaining booty; the blockading of ports and harbours to conduct raids and take hostages. English high-speed corvettes were able to keep patrolling ports of call regularly and were very well able to engage even fairly large pirate fleets who were by definition immobile. Corvettes were also able to do one thing virtually no other ship could do; move fast enough to escape from a pirate blockade to get word to other warship fleets, thusly, corvettes also had a reputation as 'blockade runners'.
Perhaps the most relevant historical corvettes were those used to defend the atlantic convoys in WW2, where they were fast enough to harrass enemy u-boats with impunity.
The senior capital ships break down into four groups. When ships get sufficiently large to be counted as senior ships, the design triangle becomes somewhat irrelevant.
Cruiser - Cruisers are medium sized warships designed to operate for long periods of time without support or resupply. Their primary mission is commerce interdiction, though there are almost always several cruiser sized vessels in any battlegroup providing additional long range weaponary and flexibility. They are well armed with long range weapons and fairly fast, large enough to take a severe pounding, and to mount weapons that can devastate any reasonable enemy.
Cruisers are generally considered to be powerful enough to engage coastal cities, even ones with defended harbours. Cruiser is something of a catch-all term to describe larger warships with light, heavy and even escort types existing. During the build up to World War One the English created a kind of cruiser that was perfectly capable, in theory, of engaging the flagships of the Kaiser's fleet. She was only the size of a normal cruiser, but powerful steam engines allowed her to carry exceedingly strong armour, and almost dangerously oversized weapons systems. She was called the Dreadnaught (the 'Fear Nothing') and she spawned an entire category of warships all on her own; those ships which are capable of engaging a group of enemy warships on their own.
Battlecruisers - These are the largest of the cruisers, they almost rival battleships in terms of sheer power, but unlike battleships, they are intended to operate on their own for extended periods.
Battlecruisers were intended to act as hunter killers. They were capable of attacking and usually defeating any enemy ships. The odds on running into battleships randomly was pretty remote, each side kept a very good eye on those ships. Battlecruisers could expect the worst case scenario would be to engage an enemy with whom they had parity.
- The largest warships of any given fleet are the battleships. These are truly
monstrous vessels designed to locate, engage and utterly destroy the naval forces
of an enemy. They carry the heaviest armour, the heaviest weapons, they feature
the most powerful engines. Battleships have one real mission; they sink enemy
ships. They are not generally configured to defend or attack other targets,
such as aircraft or submarines, since unlike cruisers they always travel
with large groups of warships with those capabilities.
During World War Two the battleship philosophy was severely tested, and generally found to be impractical when compared with carrier operations. Many battleships ended up conducting the hugely embarrassing duty of shore bombardment (typically a role of the frigate) whilst towards the end of the war (and after it) several of the older battleships were converted to carrier operations.
Carrier - The carrier is a vessel designed to transport, launch and arm a group of aircraft. Of course in Star Wars this would be starfighters. Note that Carriers do not actually have to be able to retrieve those fighters to qualify, many of the first carriers were incapable of conducting landing operations, so the planes would have to either divert to land bases or ditch at sea. Starcarriers are interesting in that both Spacecarriers and Starcarriers use the same craft as fighters - there's no leap in scale between the two. Starcarriers are very rare as the requirement for ships capable of operating tens of thousands of fighters on their own, are exceedingly unusual.