Military spacecraft in fiction

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Large fictional capital military spacecraft (frequently called space battleships, space cruisers) are spacefaring warships most often found in science fiction, which play similar roles to contemporary warships, though real spacecraft are used for military purposes.[1] They may fight slow-paced battles across vast distances with long range guided weapons, never attaining visual contact,[2] or fast-paced, relatively close range combat with unguided weapons and combat maneuvering.[3]

Smaller "space fighters" are fictional spacecraft analogous to fighter aircraft. Space fighters are popular as the subjects of flight simulator-like space combat video games, such as the Wing Commander, Freespace and X-Wing series. For examples, see this list of space fighters.

Parallels to historic battleships[edit]

In addition to various military science fiction-typical parallels derived from historic and existing naval customs and technologies (see Space navy), fictional space battleships also often have some specific sea warfare battleship parallels, especially to those used in World War I and World War II:

  • Use of main guns (instead of more dispersed armaments) and intricate tactics to bring about large amounts of destruction
    • In the case of the Japanese animated series Space Battleship Yamato (aka Star Blazers), not only is the old seaborne battleship used to hide a similar space warcraft, but the follow-on Earth battleships share naval architecture such as main, secondary and light gun turrets, superstructure, etc.
    • An opposing emergent tendency is to mount extremely heavy forward-firing weaponry that is aimed by maneuvering the entire ship.
  • Being ponderous and slow (or at least slow to accelerate), creating the need for space fighters.
  • Compensating speed and size with tremendous resilience, surviving multiple nuclear weapons strikes, in some cases (see Battlestar Galactica as an example).
  • Having hundreds or even thousands of crew members.

Parallels to historic battlecruisers[edit]

In science fiction, the meaning of the word "battlecruiser" is generally different from the historical warship of the same name. Usually it denotes a spaceship midway between a cruiser and a battleship in size and firepower. An example are the battlecruisers from the Honorverse fiction. The closest historical version would be the Alaska-class cruisers which the United States deployed during World War II. The Alaska class carried 12" guns while cruisers of the time carried 8" and battleships carried 16". But historical battlecruisers were an attempt to create a faster battleship by reducing armour. While having the same dimensions and gun calibers, a battlecruiser would carry only a 6" armour belt while a battleship would have 12".

Parallels to historic aircraft carriers[edit]

Carriers appear in multiple works of science fiction, notably Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect, BattleTech and Halo. They generally have little if any superficial similarity to historical aircraft carriers, but are otherwise much alike their historic counterparts and play a similar role. Several parallels to historic aircraft carriers can be found:

  • Armed for defensive fighting only, with the ship's offensive capability placed in its small craft
  • Staying away from direct fighting as much as possible, using fighters, bombers, dropships, etc. to do the fighting for them
  • Vulnerable if attacked up close by other warships, resulting in carriers being constantly surrounded by other warships serving as escorts
  • Crews numbering in the thousands and small craft complements of dozens or hundreds
  • Costly and slow to build, making them difficult to replace if one is lost in battle
  • Symbolic of modern naval power, with a space-going nation or faction's naval strength being measurable in its number of carriers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Amos, Jonathan (14 November 2007), "UK military spacecraft launched", BBC News, retrieved 29 November 2008 
  2. ^ Harrison, Harry (2002), "Or Battle's Sound", in Drake, David, Dogs of War, New York: Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-61089-5 
  3. ^ Nylund, Eric (2003), Halo: First Strike, New York: Del Ray