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Science Fiction Navy Building: From Empty Space to an Empire


The Big Bad Wolf
A mighty and grand fleet looming in space silently may be a mental image that inspires grandeur and awe, but the process of creating one is something that can seem titanic and terrifying. It is an undertaking that is sizable and time consuming, but like most things in life, it can be done if you set your mind to it and create a plan. Science fiction is something that is both interesting to many, and fun to write once you begin to delve into its depths and understand it, be it in nature realistic (known as hard sci-fi) or taking advantage of more fantastical elements (or soft sci-fi). The intention of this article is to go over steps that outline the steps to take to take the seed of your ideas for outer space and allow you assemble your armada piece by piece.

To this end, this article will be broken into two primary sections: the Navy Building Process and Ship Design. So without further ado, we shall move onto the first topic on our outline: The Navy Building Process.


The Navy Building Process – Laying the Frame Before the Armor
Now I’m probably reading your thoughts at this point. ”Why are we making the navy before making the ships that will be in it? How does that work?”

Making an entire navy is a different task than making a single ship. Though it is science fiction we’re writing about, it pulls from existing concepts today. To use an analogy, if the process of making a ship is making a single piece of a house, the process of making a navy is figuring out what the house is going to look like. To design the navy and what it’s supposed to do before actually designing the ships that are going to be in it, you streamline the process of making the ships that will make it up.

The first thing to take mind of when designing a space navy is that it encompasses many different kind of ships, which are divided into various classes. They are as follows:
  • Capital Ships
  • Escorts
  • Fighters and/or Drones
  • Special Purpose Vessels

Capital Ships are typically the larger and largest vessels within a navy, heavily armed and armored, operating in some form of specialized and very important role. They may be tasked with countering enemy capital ships, carrying swarms of fighters or drones to and from engagements, or engaging enemy space stations or planets with titanic amounts of firepower. They are also the preferred choice for command vessels, due to their armored nature. Capital ships represent significant investment, being expensive to build and maintain, and as such are both the most powerful individual vessels your navy will contain, and the most valuable targets your eventual enemies will seek to destroy. Typically, this would include vessels such as battleships, carriers, and heavy cruisers.

Escorts can range wildly in size, but as the name suggests, one of their roles is to escort capital ships. Within your navy, escort class ships are the workhorse, being able to be used in many of the roles available for tasks within the operational scope of your navy. They may be specialized for particular tasks, for example excelling at countering enemy fighter screens. Escorts can also act independently of the presence of capital ships, operating as task forces for applications that don’t require the specialized attentions of a larger vessel. Vessels typically associated in this class range from smaller corvettes, to the destroyer, a smaller, more compact variation of the battleship.

Fighters and Drones are typically very small vessels, manned versions usually only crewed by one to three individuals. Where larger vessels typically represent a threat from their individual force, this class of ship normally requires quantity over individual quality, using the minimal resources needed to build them to be made in sufficient numbers to generate a threat. Typically used to screen against enemy fighters and bombers, they can also be armed to provide a harder to detect vector for taking on enemy ships, or for application for tasks requiring smaller vessels, or requiring the precision of close range engagement. Due to their relatively minimal resource investment, they are suited for tasks with low survivability expectations. This class encompasses such vessels as fighters, scout vessels, bombers, and small gunships.

Special Purpose Vessels are ships with highly specialized applications taken as the focus for their construction. When inside the scope of their operation, these vessels can exceed the effectiveness of any other single vessel within your navy, but outside of those boundaries, their efficiency is greatly reduced, making them something of a double edged sword. For example, a missile carrier excels in engaging many targets over long ranges, due to their large magazines of missiles or torpedoes, but at closer ranges, their specialization for capacity results in less armor and defensive weapons platforms, making them vulnerable to counterattack. This class of ship is both a tactical advantage to your navy and a valuable resource that requires particular tactics and protection.

Now, with these general classes in mind, you also have to consider the roles your navy is capable of covering, and what kinds of vessels to apply to those roles. Roles are particular types of activity that requires the usage of a fleet, task force, individual vessel, or flight of vessels to accomplish.

Some examples include:
  • Search and Rescue
  • Planetary Siege
  • Bombing Runs
  • Anti-Capital Ship
  • Electronic Warfare/Countermeasures/Counter-Countermeasures
  • Diplomacy

And many more.

By identifying the roles your navy is capable of handling, and identifying the ship classes that would be optimal for covering them, you’ve now laid the groundwork on what kinds of ships you’ll need to make to create your science fiction navy. In essence you’ve done 75% of the work of building your fleet, without previously making a single ship.

And now that we’ve covered how to design your navy, we can move on to advising you on how to design the actual vessels that will make up the elements of your navy.


The Shipyard – Building a Space Boat

Ships are fun. They fly around, ferrying your characters about, perhaps being involved in some epic chase through an asteroid field, or perhaps sitting in formation engaged in naval combat with your enemies. However, there’s plenty of thought that goes into a ship, and if you’ve taken the time to go through the steps of the former portion of this guide, you have an idea on what kinds of ships you may need. So let’s get into the stabilizers and engines, shall we?

Step One: What kind of ship are you making?
This step is the first and easiest. Are you making a mighty dreadnaught, a sleek and swift frigate, or a daring, daredevil fighter for your pilots? This step is essentially a prerequisite for the rest of the guide, so moving on…

Step Two: Hull and Structure Design
First, we start with the hull and superstructure, or the skin and bones of your ship. This comes before any additions, as it determines what the inside and outside of your ship will ultimately look like. This relates to what sort of internal capacity the ship will have in regards to crew, essential supplies, and ammunition, as well as the location of critical points within your ship, like the bridge, power plants, hangars, and more.

Some personal recommendations are to avoid “viewport” bridges, or command centers that feature a window to see out of, and instead to locate the bridge deep inside the vessel itself. This is primarily to negate the potential to have your ship command killed by a single stray shot or missile. In a similar vein, the location of your power plants and electronic centers are better off to be towards the center of the vessel as well, making them more difficult to damage from external sources.

Step Three: Power Generation and Management
The next thing to consider is both how is your ship going to get power, and how that power is distributed throughout your ship. Will you have a single generator, or multiple? Are your power lines directly routed to their sources, or does it branch from a bus (a main “highway” with branching lines)? This is also one point to consider redundancy, or secondary, tertiary, or even more methods of allowing power to get where you want it to. By having redundancy, if, for example, an asteroid impacted the hull and damaged the main power lines you’re your engines, you could reroute the power through an alternate line so that you could continue to fly the vessel, and not merely drift without engines.

Additionally, depending on the output of your generators, you may have to consider how power is typically distributed within your ship, and when it might be necessary to redistribute it. If pirates disable your engines, it would make sense to take the power from the disabled components to provide extra for more relevant ones, like weapons or shielding.

Step Four: Propulsion
Of course, you’ll need to be able to drive your new space ship. So you’ll have to decide on some form of sub-light (less than the speed of light) propulsion, be it a reaction drive or reactionless drive. Reaction drives use some form of propellant to get you moving, including things such as chemical rockets and ionic thrusters. Reactionless drives, on the other hand, use no propellant, instead moving your ship through more exotic methods. When deciding between the two, do note that most drives tend to be reaction drives due to technology constraints.

However, this does not by necessity make reaction drives “inferior”. Remember, a reaction drive powerful enough to be interesting can also serve as an impromptu close range weapon, through the exhaust it generates.

Additionally, this section does NOT cover Faster-Than-Light (FTL) means of propulsion. That will be covered later in this guide.

Step Five: Electronics Suite
We’ll now go over one of the more critical components of a space ship, and that is the electronics suite it uses. This is the ships computers and connected devices, ranging from navigational controls, to sensors, to weapon controls and targeting software, to diagnostic routines, and everything else in between. While it’s not necessary to go over every single detail, it’s good to develop and overview of the more obvious systems, like what kind of sensors your ship mounts, if it uses artificial intelligence (AI), and what kind of control systems it uses.

While this section may seem obvious, it’s actually pretty important. It may have an impact on how ship-to-ship combat may play out in character, and can make statements about your roleplay navy’s technological levels.

This section also includes more subtle features, such as electronic methods of stealth, and electronic warfare and electronic counter-warfare.

Step Six: Ammunition
Ammunition is integral to most warships, as without it, you aren’t going have much of an offense game. There are many, many kinds of ammunition, from conventional chemical munitions, to solid metal slugs, to missiles, mines, torpedoes, and more. In the case of a warship, you need to decide how much ammo your ship can carry, what kinds it carries, and how its stored.

Now, some considerations. You typically want enough ammunition to be able to have it for extended combat, but you don’t want so much that it starts taking up space for other critical systems. You may also want to considered armoring your ammunition storage, particularly in the case of reactive ammunition. This is so in the event of a breach, if the ammunition contained inside detonates, it doesn’t cause more damage to the ship than the initial cause of the breach.

Step Seven: Armor
Armor is the single most important defense of a warship. Shields may be nice, but shields can more easily fail than armor. Multiple layers of metal, on the other hand, may be bent, burned, and occasionally holes shot through it, but it’s still going to be in the way of incoming fire.

Now, with that in mind, there are different kinds of armor you could choose to use. Basic kinds of armor are precisely what you’d imagine. A layer of metal designed to deflect or absorb damage that would otherwise go to the hull. Different materials are better at mitigating different type of damage, so it’s recommended to use layers of different armor to offer the best possible protection.

An alternate kind of armor would be reactive armor, or a barrier that in some way, shape, or form reacts to damage to further mitigate it. More complex than more basic armor, it also offers better protection, but often at the cost of increased maintenance costs.

Step Eight: Weapons
So we’ve got the core systems out of the way, and we’ve laid the basis of your defense. Now it’s time to mount your offense. When deciding what kinds of ammunition your ship will be carrying, you probably had an idea on what kinds of weaponry you’ll be considering, but here’s some overview of the different kinds you might choose from.

Kinetic Energy weaponry (KEW) are weapons that fire some form of solid object with the intent of causing damage through kinetic energy transfer. Examples of this are regular cannons, as well as railguns or coilguns. Propelling a round through either a chemical reaction or magnetic forces, these weapons are simple and easy to use, though accuracy can be an issue at extended ranges due to the slower-than-light velocity they possess.

Directed Energy weapons (DEW) use some form of energy as a projectile, and typically cause thermal damage, though some varieties do cause damage through kinetic energy transfer. Examples of these include lasers of varying kinds, plasma, and particle beams. These weapons typically have very, very high velocities, making them more accurate over longer ranges, but are often inefficient compared to KEWs, due to energy waste and diffusion over distance.

Explosive weapons encompass a large bracket of weaponry, ranging from conventional to nuclear. Commonly delivered through missiles, mines, and torpedoes, they can also be sent to their targets via KEW platforms, such as by explosive shells. While their exact potency is often subject to the kind of explosive being used, they are also the most variable and versatile of weapons, capable of being used at nearly any range with very high efficiency, at the expense of cost. This kind of weaponry is more expensive per “shot” than most KEWs and DEWs.

Beyond the kinds of weapons you can choose, there are different methods of mounting them. Fixed guns are more easily armored to protect them from damage, but suffer the drawback of requiring you to maneuver the entire vessel to properly aim them. Turreted weapons offer the ability aim the weapon individually from the ship itself, but are more often exposed than fixed mounts. Generally, choosing a mix of the two is advisable, with the option of hybridizing the two for semi-turreted weapons that are more limited in their ability to traverse, but better protected than a standalone turret.

Step Nine: Shielding
Now that all of the core functions of your ship are in play, you can now look at augmenting its defenses with shielding. Shields come in many forms, but typically offers external deflective protection to your ship. It often can be recharged after failing, but can only handle so much damage before failing, either locally or globally (in other words, over the entire vessel).

Shielding generally comes from projectors on the surface of the ship, which at the same time as offering your vessel more protection, also offers a prime target for your enemies. So bear this is mind with placement, as well as what measures you might take to protect them, and your ship from further damage if they’re destroyed.

Step Ten: Congratulations!
Essentially, your ship is now finished and functional. At this point, you can add on extra features, such as FTL drives, more structural methods of stealth features, hell, a coffee machine on the commander’s chair. You’re free to use this section as many time as you like to help you design various kinds of ships for your space navy.


In closing, I hope that you’ve found this guide to be helpful in your endeavors to build a space navy. If you’ve further questions or requests for advice, I’m always available to reach through a PM, and you’re more than free to do your own research to find your inspiration!