Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Early Colonial Warships

The earliest warships used by the Twelve Colonies were modified galleons equipped with guns and missiles.  They remained the mainstay of military forces for centuries until the introduction of a more advanced design, the Frigate.

Frigates were the first true Colonial warships, smaller and more manoeuvrable than galleons, their weapons were integrated into the design rather than just add-ons.  Frigates were ranked according to size and weaponry.  The first class frigates could carry upwards of a hundred guns in various configurations, while seventh class may have as little as ten such weapons.
Most often 3rd and 4th class frigates formed the mainstay of Colonial Fleets carrying anything from 30-75 guns.  These guns were much smaller and primitive compared to the current weapons seen on Colonial Battlestars.

The introduction of new FTL drives meant the arrival of the Cutter.  The new drives had a superior range to the old slow, short-ranged drives, but were more limited in the size of ship they could move.  As a result small and agile Cutters were created, carrying fewer guns, but still very well armed overall.  They would often use their FTL jump capability to ambush larger frigates with hit and run attacks, wearing down defences.  Even with the newer FTL Cutters were much cheaper than Frigates and even the poorer colonies could afford significant numbers.  With a Crew of 3-5 Cutters were cheap to run unlike the Frigates with up to 200-300 crew.

Even though most Colonies still retained their Frigates, the prevalence of the Cutter was a dominant factor.  To counter raiding Cutters, small agile Fighters were introduced.  Although they lacked FTL due to minimum size restrictions and cost, they were posted on satellite bases that orbited worlds, ready to intervene whenever Cutters appeared.  Fighter bases could hold dozens or even hundreds of fighters and provided a planet’s main defence against attack.

As FTL technology improved again the technology began to be applied to frigate-sized vessels, increasing their reaction time and thanks to their firepower they began to overshadow Cutters once again.

The answer came in the shape of fighter carriers, able to launch dozens of fighters into combat they were essentially mobile fighter bases.  Escorted by cutters and frigates they formed a flexible and powerful fleet capable of defeating Colonies still relying on Cutters or Frigates for their military needs.

Yet the dominance of the carrier was short lived.  New long range guns using Dradis targeting could now cut straight through a carrier or frigate.  The new ships were called destroyers and their long range guns were much feared.  Carriers and destroyers increased in size following technological breakthroughs, but the Basestar would mark the most radical shift in Colonial ship design in centuries.

Basestars were much larger than previous ships.  They carried more fighters than a flotilla of carriers and long range missiles that could defeat Destroyers at range thanks to their great speed and manoeuvrability.  Being much larger they were able to resist damage from destroyer guns more easily.  A larger version of the fighter, partly inspired by the Cutter completed the Basestar’s arsenal.  Manned by Clyons, Basestars became the dominant ship in service.

Using cutting edge technology and recent breakthroughs, designers came up with a new ship concept that might rival the Basestar, they took the largest guns available to Destroyers and mounted them on a ship of unprecedented size and scale.  Not only was it heavily armed, but heavily armoured and featured large flight pods carrying almost as many fighters as a Basestar.  Suddenly a single ship had the power equal to the entire fleet of some colonies.  With Basestars and the new Battlestar prototypes conflict in space had reached unprecedented heights.  It wasn’t until the Cylon revolt that the Battlestar was confirmed as the Colonial warship of choice.

The Cylon Basestars quickly overran those still manned by human crews.  Only the timely intervention of the first Battlestar prototypes prevented an early defeat.  The first proper Battlestar was rushed into battle and fought for several months to stop Cylon attacks on the Colonies until more ships were ready.

For most of the Cylon war, shipbuilding concentrated on Battlestars, but despite their incredible fighting ability, more specialized vessels, based on Battlestar hulls were constructed.  Gunstars lacked flight pods, but carried more and bigger guns than most Battlestars.  The largest models were often referred to as Dreadstars.

Strikestars were smaller, but followed the design lines set by Battlestars.  Faster and more agile than Battlestars they were useful in dealing with problems that didn’t require the attention of ships the size of Battlestars.

Although Battlestars were designed to operate independently, Cylon technology and Basestar improvements meant that they became more vulnerable to attack and required escorts.  Strikestars and Skirmishstars would be assigned to protect and assist Battlestars in combat.  Similarly Battlestars would be paired with Gunstars, attacking Cylon bases with their fighters, while the Gunstar would close in for the kill.

Ultimately the Cylon War ended and the Colonial Fleet, began to consolidate its assets.  Although the Battlestar remained the mainstay of the Fleet, Gunstars and Strikestars provided much valued service, increasing the flexibility and capability of Fleet operations.

The Cylon War had seen a steady increase in the size of Battlestars.  Some of the largest ships did not appear until after the armistice and for nearly two decades the doctrine of “Bigger is Better” dominated Colonial warship design.

The largest Battlestars could carry several fighter wings into combat in addition to massive marine contingents as well as huge repair and production facilities.  Some Battlestars were almost complete factories, capable of building their own fighters and weapons.

The huge cost and logistics involved in the massive Battlestars forced the Colonial Fleet to review its designs and the era of “Smarter designs” dominated the next two decades.  The focus was now on advanced technology and better integration of various features.  Newer Battlestars abandoned the extensive factories in favour of smaller, but efficient manufacturing abilities, giving Battlestars a great autonomy and range without the need to resupply for long intervals.  Some of this technology was retrofitted to older ships and increased their usefulness.

Stealth became a popular feature and a return to more advanced computers and networks as well as sophisticated communications were given priority.  New software advances would allow Colonial ships to extend their jump range considerably and unify the flight control protocols into a single efficient system.

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