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» Flare Sci-Fi Forums » Star Trek » Starships & Technology » Q-Ships in the Trek universe, & related thoughts

Author Topic: Q-Ships in the Trek universe, & related thoughts
There's a million things I haven't done, but just you wait
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I admit, I still read Clive Cussler's work, even when it's being written by other people. That being said, I was reading Dark Watch last night & got to thinking.

For those not familiar, the series is a spinoff of the Dirk Pitt series featuring a group of charatcers that first appeared in the Pitt novel Flood Tide. They are a group of modern-day mercenaries who take jobs that governments cannot legally take, usually on the side of "freedom, justice, & the American way." Their base of operations is an aging tramp steamer, the Oregon which despite its rusted-out hulk appearance is in reality a hypermodern & luxurious--& highly armed--vessel. In many ways, it reminded me of the Q-ships of World War II.

I got to thinking about how this sort of thing would be very useful in the Trek universe, especially in times like Masao's "denial of resources" campaign in the mid-22nd century or in wartime efforts like the Dominion or Cardassian Wars. Outfit an old civilian ship, staff it with a mix of Starfleet & Merchant Marine crew, * off you go. But would it work? The key is the surprise element of "Oh, fuck, they've got teeth!" Would the idea be rendered non-applicable by sensing technologies & the like?

As a tangent, I ran though another idea I've held for a long time, that of the multi-use design. We've seen many ship classes used for a number of specified missions, but this goes beyond the multi-role starship. Yes, aging vessels become assigned to successively lesser & lesser missions until old Mirandas are crerwed by 37 & hauling cargo. But we've seen Oberths hauling cargo & doing science. Olympics have been medical ships & I believe a cargo use was mentioned once. Then there's the Nova oddity of Equinox being science-rated & Rhode Island being combat-rated. Perhaps the designs of these ships are made so that they can be quickly outfitted as anything: these Novas over here will be surveyors, these here will be small escorts or destroyers, these will be short-range cargo haul. It would explain the massive run on Oberths for one (NCC-602 to NCC-59983? HUGE.) & would make sense if some were science ships, some were intel & ELINT gatherers, some were small cargo carriers, some transports, some even being...Q-ships. One small design reworked internally & equipment-wise to fit the needs as they arise.

Comments/thoughts/complaints/racial epithets?

"I never agreed with Jefferson once—we have fought on like seventy-five different fronts. But when all is said & all is done...Jefferson HAS beliefs; Burr has none."

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It probably wouldn't be necessary to make a ship look harmless at visual ranges, as long as she projected the warp signature of a harmless vessel. To that end, Starfleet might just tinker with the engines of combat starships...

...Or then it might equip some escort vessels with engines typical of helpless freighters to begin with. Heaven knows the FASA and SFB universes are full of freighters propelled by nacelles identical to those of Kirk's ship(s). Perhaps there are ulterior motives to this?

On a related vein, the Ptolemy family of ships seems ideal for this sort of work, and perhaps follows a long Earth tradition (ENT "Horizon"). When the enemy appears, separate the tug from her cargo and operate her as a combat vessel; a fearsome opponent in terms of available power, certainly. You only need to plug enough phaser emitters in enough hull sockets.

Or then you could operate "Q-pods" out of Ptolemies, like the RPGs usually suggest.

Of course, the enemy would know perfectly well that some of his targets are Q-ships, either a priori, or then after the first raids. That still leaves two valid ways to operate Q-ships. Either you bolster your convoy's escort strength with those, so the enemy comes prepared for a fight but not prepared enough for the magnitude of fight he gets. Or then you operate the Qs individually, outside convoys and without escort.

We know Starfleet did some convoying in the Dominion War, but we don't know whether it's the standard or best procedure at war. Individually operating ships, relying on speed and stealth, might be the best way to handle wartime logistics, and making every twentieth of those a Q-ship would deter the enemy nicely. He'd either have to devote disproportionately large combat resources to raiding these individual ships, or risk losing his raider when she hits a Q-ship instead of a real freighter, or then he'd have to shy away from raiding the commerce altogether - all of these would be victories for the Federation side.

Timo Saloniemi

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I used Q-ships in Shik's Topic: "You're The Admiral!"--Sobchak Sector scenario. I used to play Star Fleet Battles several years ago and that's what gave me the idea that Starfleet would have Q-ships.

Star Fleet Battles made extensive use of Q-ships.

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Living the Geeky Dream
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I've liked the idea of Q-ships, but the fact is that they're only useful in limited situations. Even in the two wars, they were not all that successful or effective weapons (as mentioned in the Wikipedia article).

It effectively boils down to one of the rules for evil overlords: "I will not bait a trap with genuine bait." [Big Grin]

I agree with Timo that the only practical uses would be to provide for extra, unanticipated defenses for a convoy that already has standard escorts. However, given Star Trek's proclivity for electromagnetic and subspace-based trickery anyway, I'm not sure how big a deal a dedicated Q-ship would be. The Enterprise-D always seemed to be able to tell what kind of weapons an alien ship had from a distance, so at least by the Dominion War era, the Jem'Hadar would likely be able to pick those Q-ships right off. Again, the best potential usefulness goes back to the TOS era of conflict, when sensors and decoys aren't as advanced. (Like in the real world, when Q-ships were most successful in WWI, when the naval technologies weren't as sophisticated.)

“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” — Isaac Asimov
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Well, the relatively primitive Cardassians were able to hide the contents of their freighter from the most advanced 24th century Federation sensors in "The Wounded". Unless such camouflage/jamming systems are prohibitively expensive, Starfleet should install one on every transport, and then hide armaments inside one ship out of twenty...

Or out of a hundred. Or two hundred. Everything boils down to this sort of hard numbers in commerce warfare: how many ships can you afford to lose, how many can you afford to save? Giving everybody equal protection is often a surefire way to lose commerce war. Trek would appear to be no exception, as Federation freighters are unarmed and unprotected by default, and installing the protection must thus be economically unsound.

The other thing about Q-ships, the fact that they "justify" merciless enemy attacks on all shipping, is rather moot in Trek where opponents are dissimilar and unlikely to sign "humane" treaties. There's no real reason the bloodlusty Klingons or pragmatic Romulans should be expected to be lenient if Starfleet promised not to install hidden weapons aboard some transports. They would use unhindered lethal force every time anyway.

After all, I don't think the participants in Trek space warfare would be interested in capturing enemy shipping. If it's valuable at all, destroying it outright is probably the logical choice. Even if you forgo silly humane conventions and pragmatically kill the transport crew, you are left with the problems of organizing a prize crew, restoring propulsion to the ship, finding a safe route to port and so forth.

Timo Saloniemi

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Regarding captured transports, I disagree. Resources are resources; a freighter full of dilithium could be of immense value to the enemy (assuming their reactors used it too). Likewise with stuff like antimatter (assuming you were lucky to not blow it up entirely in the attack [Wink] ). But still, in many other cases it is likely to be more trouble to take it back home than it would be to just blow it up.

“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” — Isaac Asimov
Star Trek Minutiae | Memory Alpha

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Guardian 2000
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The sort of deception discussed worked well for Dukat in "Return to Grace" against a BoP.

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Precisely, which is another example of people improvising an important tactic or solution in the course of an episode and then having it completely forgotten by next week.

If God didn't want us to fly, he wouldn't have given us Bernoulli's Principle.

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Mark Nguyen
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Well, with regards to Dukat's armaments, that was a one-time gag that would not have fooled anyone else, and would have been pointless had they been attacking more than one ship. When we see convoy and escort duty later on, those same ships remain unarmed. In practice, if a convoy were attacked by more than one ship without an escort, even if they WERE armed they would not be maneuverable enough to be any good. If they were attacked by only one ship, then the escort should be able to tackle it. Therefore, best keep your armament resrouces equipping your escort ships and not your freighters, as that gives you the best chance of being able to defend against at least one enemy.


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Jason Abbadon
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Dukat's gag only worked because the Klingons were useing such a tiny ship- if a VorCha were the aggressor, they would have just beamed whatever valueable cargo off the freighter and then destroyed it.

As to the Dominion War, there would be no deterrant in Q-Ships because of the expendable nature of the Jem Hadar- the cutting of Federation supply lines would be more valuable than the loss of a small percentage of ships/crews.

Given the Federation's ability to make a false warp signature, a good tactic might be to send small groups of specially designed ships to make a very large warp field- thus misleading an enemy into thinking a fleet was somewhere it's not and badly deploying defense forces to engage an imaginary threat.
Sort of like Picard's sensor net of ships, but in reverse.

As to freighters, a large, escorted, super-freighter (with defensive weapons) might be preferable to many small freight loads- it would require an enemy to send many ships to engage it instead of just a three-squa of Jemmie-bugs to destroy a whole convoy of smaller ships.

The idea of many small freighters on seperate courses to a destinantion is intrestings, but probably logistically impractical- too many chances for anyone to take a ship as a prize and have no consequenses.

Justice inclines her scales so that wisdom comes at the price of suffering.
-Aeschylus, Agamemnon

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