This thought has been bouncing around in my head for a long while now so I figured I’d get it out of my head and on (digital) paper so it would quit distracting me. It doesn’t have anything specific to do with any of the projects I’m currently working on but I’m sure it will apply at some point in the future. Regardless, it’s definitely good background/setting material so I’ll label it as such. While the specifics are related to Star Frontiers, the general though process can apply in any setting you are working on.
In the Knight Hawks Campaign Book (p 48-49), it says:
Although the officers of the Spacefleet represent some of the finest individuals in the Frontier, the same cannot be said for the crews of Spacefleet ships.
The enlisted members of the fleet come from all walks of life. The fleet always is short of crew members. so the requirements for enlistment are not rigorous. No checking is done regarding a crew member’s background or abilities; consequently, a great amount of galactic riffraff has found a home in the crew’s quarters of Spacefleet vessels.
Many of these crews become fine fighting units; the combat record of the Spacefleet is impressive. Occasionally, however, a charismatic bully will win the respect or inspire the fear of his mates to the point of inciting a mutiny. More than one Spacefleet vessel has dumped its officers into space and disappeared to the fringes of the Frontier to embark on a career of piracy and plunder.
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this idea for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not sure I agree that they are always short of recruits, unless it working for Spacefleet is a really bad job. It doesn’t feel to me that the crew sizes are all that big. The other is the skills required to make off with a ship. Let’s look at those each in turn. Maybe I’ll change my mind by the end of this, or maybe not.
Let’s start by looking at the staffing issue. There are estimates of crew size for each of Starfleet’s vessels in the opening of the Knight Hawks Campaign Book (KHCB, p. 5) where it describes the different ships. From that we get the following crew estimates:
- Fighters: 1
- Assault Scout: 4-6
- Frigate: 25-30
- Destroyer: 40-50
- Minelayer: 30-40
- Assault Transport: no crew size give but 600-1000 troops, estimate 100 crew
- Light Cruiser: 70-100
- Heavy Cruiser: no crew size – estimate (based on the battleship) of 300-400
- Assault Carrier: 300-400
- Battleship: 400
Now I’m going to ignore the Assault Transports in this analysis, at least to start, as they are mentioned nowhere else in the rules and there aren’t even game chits for them. But I’ll probably come back to them later.
If we take the Order of Battle from the Second Sathar War game (KHCB, p. 55) as the baseline size of Spacefleet, we have the following number of ships:
- Fighters: 16
- Assault Scouts: 14
- Frigates: 7
- Destroyers: 5
- Minelayers: 4
- Light Cruisers: 8
- Heavy Cruisers: 1
- Assault Carriers: 2
- Battleships: 3
Now I’d argue that the minelayer in the unattached ships list should be an assault carrier, but it won’t change substantially the argument.
Using that list of ships, what is the total crew size of Spacefleet? We’re going to ignore the fighters, as those are single crew vessels and are going to be manned by officers, not enlisted crew. With their small crew size, the same could probably be said of the Assault Scouts, but we’ll count them anyway. I’ll use the max crew size listed for each ship. This gives us:
|Ship Type||# of ships||Crew Size||Total Crew Members|
If we assume that 10% of the crews are officers, that gives 390 officers and 3514 enlisted. Which to me, doesn’t seem like all that many positions to fill.
The question then becomes, how hard is it to fill those 3514 positions across all these ships? That really depends on what you feel the population of the Frontier is. The game gives population codes (heavy, moderate, light, and outpost) for all the worlds but never really defines what numbers those correspond to.
In a thread on the old starfrontiers.org forums (now defunct) I did a simple analysis of birth and death rates and population growth. Given that some of the worlds of the Frontier have been inhabited for up to 400 years (if you use the Zeb’s Guide timeline), subtle tweaks to those values, would allow you to have basically any population you wanted on a world. (I should resurrect that analysis, I still have the data, and do a new post on it.)
Let’s go with what I consider low population numbers:
- Heavy population – 500 million inhabitants
- Medium – 200 million
- Light – 50 million
- Outpost – 200 thousand
According to the AD rules, there are 7 Heavy populations worlds, 8 with medium populations, 4 with light populations, and 3 outposts. Using those numbers, across the Frontier, there are a total of 5.3 billion inhabitants. That’s less than the current population of the Earth. That means that the 3514 enlisted crew members that we need represents 0.000066% of the population. Or one out of every ~15000. I don’t see that as an impossible number.
I mean just for comparison, the ship’s compliment of a US Nimitz class aircraft carrier is 3532. And that doesn’t include the air wing. The US Navy operates 10 of those carriers, with a total crew size of 10x what we’re looking for, with a population of just 330 million, 16x smaller than the estimated Frontier population. And that’s just the aircraft carriers.
Based on those numbers, I just don’t see that it would be that hard to fill the enlisted berths with high quality, low risk recruits.
Now, how might those numbers vary? The first option is that Spacefleet has more ships. The listed order of battle is, after all, from a strategic and tactical board game, picked for playability game balance. The number of ships could be larger. Although the background material in the rules do say there are only 3 battleships. It’s not unreasonable to think that there might be twice as many ships. But that still doesn’t add that many more crew members, putting us up to only 2 aircraft carriers worth.
Another possibility is that there are lots of those assault transport flying around. If you wanted to transport 30,000 troops, you’d need 30 transports, at 100 crew per transport that’s another ~3000 crew members. So depending on the number of troop transports flying around, You could have an order of magnitude more crew members, which gets us closer to the crew complement of just the US aircraft carriers.
Still the crew numbers are small, filling the berths shouldn’t be too hard.
Another option is to make the population of the Frontier smaller. But remember that the US Navy supports a much large crew compliment on a population that is almost 20 times smaller. I think you’d have to make the populations of the Frontier worlds, really small indeed for this to start to be an issue.
In fact, I think the population would actually be larger than the numbers I quoted above, by at least a factor of 2 if not more. These worlds have been settled for a couple of hundred years at least. In the last 200 years on Earth the populations has grown from 1 billion to 7.8 billion. Give the high quality medical care, lots of available space for population growth, and general high level of industry and technology, it would not be unreasonable to have a very high birth rate and low death rate. Especially since the average lifespans are much longer.
Another factor would be that these positions are somehow undesirable. This could be possible. Maybe Spacefleet is strapped for funds and doesn’t pay very well. Or maybe people don’t like being on-board ships for extended tours. Or there is some other factor. While these are all possibilities, I don’t seen them being a big factor.
Crews sizes are relatively small, which means it doesn’t take a lot of credits to make payroll. While it may not pay quite as well as civilian sector jobs, I don’t see it being that much different.
I don’t see the on-board living conditions being that much of an issue either. With the exception of the assault scout, these ships are quite large relative to their crew size. A modern Arleigh Burke destroyer is basically the same size as a Knight Hawks destroyer. But the Arleigh Burke has a crew of 300 while the UPF destroyer has a crew of 40-60, 6-7 times smaller. Now there are differences in equipment and living space, but that still leaves a lot of room to make living accommodations more spacious and comfortable. Living on these ships wouldn’t be too bad. Plus they regularly call on stations around the Frontier giving plenty of opportunity for “shore leave” on a regular basis.
I also don’t see it as a reputation issue. Nothing in the game indicates that Spacefleet is looked down on. Quite the opposite actually, it seems that Spacefleet is held in high regard around the Frontier. So sporting the uniform would seem to be a plus not a negative.
There might be other reasons that I’m not thinking of that might make the job less than desirable. Share your thoughts in the comments. The bottom line is that I don’t think Spacefleet would have a problem filling their limited crew slots with high quality crew members, rather than the “galactic riffraff” as described. There might be some that make it in, but I don’t see it being a high percentage.
Let’s leave that aside for now and assume that for some reason, there is a lot of “galactic riffraff” in the Spacefleet enlisted ranks. Even if that is the case, I don’t see them dumping their officers and sailing off to the fringes of the Frontier to engage in piracy.
And the reason is the way the skills are structured. It takes a very skilled set of individuals to fly a spaceship. I don’t see the “galactic riffraff” have the necessary skills and experience to reach the levels necessary to fly these ships. Even an Assault scout takes a level 2 pilot skill which in turn requires level 2 computers and level 6 technician. And a frigate or destroyer requires a level 3 skill. And then you need at least an astrogator, and preferably an engineer and some gunners, although those latter might be able to be recruited later.
In Spacefleet, those skills are found in the officers, not the enlisted crew. If a crew mutinied and dumped its officers, the ship would just sit there as there would be no one to fly it.
That isn’t to say there couldn’t be mutinies. It would just have to involve some of the officers so that there are enough of the spaceship skills to fly the ship. While that goes counter to the quote from the rules, it’s not unreasonable. In fact, in my campaigns, there is a Spacefleet officer that makes off with one of the light cruisers and one point in the timeline.
There is no reason mutinies can’t happen, I just don’t think they would be quite the way described.
So that’s my take. Personally, I don’t see the enlisted personnel of Spacefleet being of any lower caliber than its officer corps. The population is high enough, and the number of berths to fill low enough, that they should be able to screen for the better candidates. And while mutinies may happen, they are going to have to involve the officers to some extent or there will be no one to fly the ships.
What do you think about the status of the Spacefleet personnel? Do you play it as written or modify things to be different? If so, what modifications do you make? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
The original draft of this post (everything up through the end of the initial quote) was saved back in May of 2018, right after I started the blog. It had been bouncing around in my mind for a while then, and that was two years ago. I might have more to say in the future but it’s late and I need some sleep.