Jump to content

Trek Lore Special Edition: Klingon Fleet Evolution



Hi folks, I've been struggling to get motivated to do modding for the last few days (might have something to do with how hot it's been... I should have put a heat pump in my office when I did my HVAC refit a few years ago! However, my brain has kept flitting back to the different takes on the Klingon Deep Space Fleet from the Star Trek expanded universe, and I figured I'd exercise my fingers a little by writing on the subject. We'll be back soon with some navmesh repair and a lot of catchup on the backlog, since a number of mods that I want in my game have premiered recently.


Understanding Klingon Naming Conventions


Before we start to talk about the evolution of the Deep Space Fleet, we need to discuss a few important concepts so we can avoid confusion later on. 


The Klingons Reuse Class Designations, and Also Sometimes Changes Them

There are a number of cases where different sources assign overlapping designations to different ships. Some of this is likely actually due to translation errors by Federation intelligence (see below) but other cases may be the result of different shipyards simultaneously launching ships and both claiming the same model number, or of a new class being rolled out to replace an obsolete type.


The Federation Frequently Misclassifies and Mistranslates Klingon Designations

Regardless of the source, the Federation tends to make two different mistakes when it comes to Klingon starships. First, they tend to try and fit Klingon ships into the Federation's conventions for classifying starships. While there is fairly good overlap in terms of specialized support ships, this breaks down quickly with larger starships and those used in military roles. Sometimes this manifests as generically lumping whole categories of ships as "battlecruisers" even though the actual members of that category vary greatly in terms of capability. Likewise, the Federation tends to apply specialized Federation designations, such as dreadnought, to Klingon ships. The second error is that the Federation frequently mistranslates designations or makes assumptions about them to fill in the gaps. We see this in action with Raptors and Birds of Prey; many sources assign these F- and E- design prefixes even though other sources suggest the prefix of these hulls is L- and K- respectively. Similarly, the Federation at times assigns newly discovered classes numerical designations to fit them into "open space" on their own intelligence estimates, causing duplication. The decision to designate the Qa'HoS class light cruisers as "D5" is a particularly strong example of this case.


Distinct "Classes" May Exist Within A Model Type

This is especially notable with the D1/D7 type, where models like the D7A, D7M, and so forth were treated as distinct classes with their own lead ships and nomenclature. This also led to further confusion about the identity of certain vessels, such as the relationship between the D6 and the D7A.


Model Numbers Are Not Always Assigned Sequentially

The D10 type was in service before the D9. This is not an unusual state of affairs. The D32 predates the D12, despite being very similar ships. While model numbers often do advance sequentially, especially in the case of the lower-numbered "core" classes, it's risky to assume that a higher number means a newer design.


Three Generations of Ships


Broadly speaking, there are three categories of ships in the 23rd century Klingon Empire. We'll be focusing on the first group, since it is the best-documented.


  1. The Deep Space Fleet: Sometimes also called the Klingon Defense Force or the Klingon Imperial Navy, this force consisted almost entirely of new-built hulls manufactured starting in 2140 AD. Initially crewed by veterans of the Old Kings' star fleet, the Deep Space Fleet is centrally controlled from Qo'noS and does not answer to any particular Great House. Their purview includes expanding and securing the Empire's borders, and coordinating joint defense against external threats. In theory, at least, the Deep Space Fleet does not participate in civil wars between the Great Houses.
  2. The Great Houses: All of the larger Great Houses maintain their own fleets, which originally consisted of a mix of new construction and recovered Old Kings starships. While the Old Kings ships were powerful (a match for Federation starships a century after the last examples were recovered by the Klingon Empire), they were difficult and costly to sustain, and had a relatively short effective operational range because of the limited ability to replicate replacement parts for key systems. Many Old Kings ships were used by T'Kuvma's cult in its war against the Federation, greatly depleting their stock. By the 2290s, Great House fleets were almost exclusively composed of modern or last-generation new builds.
  3. Ancient Relics: We don't know much about these ships. T'Kuvma's infamous Sarcophagus Ship, which also appears to be the source of the cloaking devices his cult widely utilized in the War of 2256-2257, existed in a state of disrepair on his house's lands on Qo'noS during the time of T'Kuvma's youth. This ship almost certainly predated the time of the Old Kings, and has somewhat different visual language compared to the other ships used by his cult. It's possible that this ship dates back to before the dark age of the First Empire and is an example of what the hybrid Klingon-Hur'q ships of that time may have looked like.


Making Sense of Classifications


There are a lot of gaps in our understanding of Klingon starship designations. We have attested examples of the following initials being used for Klingon ship types: B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, L, S, T, W, and Z. Based on the limited data available, I've compiled the following information to try and make sense of these.


B - Battleships

  • Examples: B10 Kahless betleH class
  • Initial Actually Means: betleH (greatsword)
  • Role: Battleship
  • Federation Designation: Battleship
  • Notes: Historically, the Empire only built two ships of this category during the 23rd century and partially completed two more. While not the largest ships of their time, they were probably the most powerful. 


C - Cruisers

  • Examples: C8 pumwl' class
  • Initial Actually Means: chemvaH (a type of fearsome animal)
  • Role: Battlecruiser
  • Federation Designation: Dreadnought
  • Notes: As opposed to large DrellschemvaHs are multi-mission capable and can operate either independently or as part of a fleet


D - Destroyers

  • Examples: D7M K't'inga class
  • Initial Actually Means: Drell (a type of marine predator)
  • Role: Destroyer
  • Federation Designation: Battlecruiser
  • Note: These ships span a range of capability ratings (assigned by Starfleet Intelligence) from VII to X, comparable to Federation tactical escorts on the low end or heavy cruisers on the high end. Tended to operate in squadrons and had leader variants, unlike the larger chemvaH type ships.


E/K/Q - Birds of Prey

  • Examples: Qa22 D'gavama class
  • Initial Actually Means: qa'rol (a particularly large type of bird)
    • Note that despite the meaning of the initial, these ships are normally referred to as toQDuj, which means "toQ ship". A toQ is a specific type of predatory bird native to Qo'noS.
    • Some Federation records assign "E" numbers to these classes, possibly stemming from mischaracterizing these ships as lightweight escorts prior to the Four Years War. The use of "K" in other documents is an artifact of Federation transliteration of Klingon words (e.g., Kronos vs. Qo'noS). In this document, E/K ships are referred to as Qa ships to distiguish them from qovlj (Qo ships).
  • Role: Raider
  • Federation Designation: Frigate


F/L - Raptor

  • Examples: L5 QuD class
  • Initial Actually Means: lotlhmoq (a marine bird that dives for prey but must return to land to roost - it can't swim)
    • Note: Some Federation sources assign "F" numbers to these classes, possibly from an early assumption that all lotlhmoq were frigates. In practice, some lothlhmoq classes were as large as Drell or even chemvaH, even though most were indeed comparable in size to Federation tactical escorts.
  • Role: Multirole ships suitable for all operations except for large-scale fleet engagements (though historically, they also participated in these missions)
  • Federation Designation: Destroyer


G - Freighter

  • Examples: G3 Baka Re' class
  • Initial Actually Means: gha'cher (a goat-like animal)
  • Role: Transportation of goods
  • Federation Designation: Freighter


G/K/Q - Patrol Ship

  • Examples: Qo2 class (no class name)
  • Initial Actually Means: qovIj  (a semi-domesticated canine predator, analogous to a hunting dog)
    • Note: Some Federation sources assign G or K prefixes to these ships. The K numbers are a flawed transliteration of the q sound, while the G designations derivate from how these ships are habitually referred to as IchDuj (literally, "gun ship"). As noted above, these ships are listed as Qo ships to distinguish them from qa'rol (Qa ships). 
  • Role: Internal security, raiding (when operating supported by a tender), operating as super-heavy fighters in fleet action (when supported by a tender)
  • Federation Designation: Patrol Ship


H - Interceptor

  • Examples: H1 class (only)
  • Initial Actually Means: Hajvav (a swift, weasel-like animal)
  • Role: See qovlj above
    • Note: A single example of this ship type exists, the Hajvav interceptor. This was a short-lived design that was quickly eclipsed by the larger and more capable Qo1 fast partrol ship. 
  • Federation Designation: Interceptor


S - Tender

  • Examples: S4 K'nall class
  • Initial Actually Means: sargh (a horse-like riding animal)
  • Role: Field repair and recovery of damaged starships; transportation of fighters, interceptors, and fast patrol ships
  • Federation Designation: Tender


T - Transport

  • Examples: T6 "Commissioner" class
  • Initial Actually Means: tangqa’ (a bull-like animal)
  • Role: Transportation of goods. Planetary assault ships and fleet tugs also fall into this category.
  • Federation Designation: Transport or Tug, based on role


W/Z/V - Warp-Capable Shuttle

  • Examples: VZ-1 fighter
  • Initial Actually Means: vIghro' (a cat-like animal; predator of vermin)
    • Note: Most Klingon fighters in the 23rd century also have the letter Z in their designation. This is a reference to the Great House of Zegurnii, which dominated combat shuttle research and development in the Empire during this period. 
  • Role: Transportation of personnel; various combat roles for armed variants
  • Federation Designation: Shuttle/Fighter/Runabout based on size and role



The First Generation - Mid 22nd Century Vessels

Concurrent with their recovery of many abandoned Old Kings starships in the 2140s and 2150s, the Klingon Empire also repaired many of the orbital repair facilities located within its territory. Almost immediately, they started construction on their own starships; while sharing many design characteristics with the Old Kings ships, they were visually distinct and readily distinguished. This early generation of ships had a number of limitations: the graf units (which serve the same function as warp nacelles on Klingon ships) the Empire could initially manufacture were not able to provide tactically useful maneuvering while generating a warp field, severely limiting tactical options in combat. Additionally, a number of key weapon system components had not been manufactured in Klingon space and had to be re-developed over time to both fully equip the Deep Space Fleet. 


Unnamed Pre-K't'inga class (alphanumeric designation unknown, possibly D1 or D2?)




This ship is something of an anomaly. The UESPA starship Enterprise (NX-01) encountered a Klingon starship during its early adventures that, based on archival footage, strongly resembles a K't'inga class vessel of the sort most commonly seen more than a century in the future. Speaking from a Doylist perspective, we know the answer to this mystery: this was a production error that came about because of a rejected 3d model and an impending deadline to wrap on the episode. A 3d model from Deep Space Nine was substituted in the space footage to ensure the episode was ready on time. 


However, what do we make of this ship from the Watsonian perspective? Well, here are a few ideas:


  • We already know that the Klingons tend to reuse the same general hull forms, perhaps because certain designs were found to have particularly good warp dynamics. This may be an example of one such design being reused again and again.
  • The unpublished Module Q for Star Fleet Battles describes a "Sub-Light D6" with very similar characteristics to the modern version of the ship but without the ability to use its warp drive for tactical maneuvering. Other sources, however, imply that this ship is the D3 class. 
  • Some of the lore for the D3 alludes to an earlier D2 class that has a similar appearance to the D3.
  • This is Star Trek, perhaps time travel was involved?


While I always strive to go with the Watsonian approach, I have to admit that I struggle with this design. Since the K't'inga is itself an enhanced version of older D7 type ships, I have a hard time squaring its visual language with this era. Its probably best to just ignore this mystery ship and move on. However, see the D4 below.


D3 Class (class name unknown)




We don't know exactly when the D3 originally entered service, but it must have been some time in or before the Star Trek: Enterprise timeframe, since this ship appears in sources from that time. These ships started to receive refits with better graf units that allowed for tactical maneuvering under warp power starting in 2202. 21 ships of this class are attested, but it's probable that many more existed. 


According to Star Fleet Battles, the refitted D3 had six medium-size disruptor batteries equivalent to phaser-2s, with two mounted on the command module, and two each mounted on the wings. Additionally, each graf unit had a disruptor bolt emitter with an effective range of 220,000 kilometers. Two type F torpedo launchers rounded out its weaponry. Earlier sources indicate that the main improvement of the D3 over the D2 was the installation of a single disruptor on the command module, so it's likely the pre-refit version only had one rather than two in that position. 


Unlike many newer designs, the D3 had ablative armor to supplement its shields. The newer D4 would be the first ship to omit armor from its design. 


D'ama/BortaS (Predator/Revenge) class (D4)



Unused D4 model planned for Star Trek: Enterprise



Detailed D4 model (probably LD4 - see notes below regarding disruptor bolt emitter count) from Star Trek: Fleet Command and Star Trek 2009 movie.


The D4 is the ship that was meant to appear in the place of the odd K't'inga class ship described above. We don't have a canonical visual appearance of the D4 on screen, but the 3d models circulated on the internet reveal a ship that is very similar in design to the 23rd century Klingon vessels seen in the Kelvin universe's 2258 Kobayashi Maru exercise. By that time, the Klingon Empire was starting to divest itself of these older ships, selling some to trusted mercenaries and independent governments. Based on data from Star Fleet: Fleet Command, 23rd century D4s in "factory configuration" had performance characteristics comparable to that universe's version of the Saladin class tactical escort and the Romulan Star Empire's last-generation multirole warbird (code name: CENTURION). 


The D4 of that era has one notable visual distinction from the original D4 3d model - the disruptor bolt emitters. The emitters are not visually distinguishable on the original 3d model, and are likely to have been planned for the end of the graf units much like the D3 and the later D6/D7 family. However, the BortaS class has its disruptor bolt emitters mounted on the wingtip and wing root in projecting mounts. This speaks in part to the evolutionary history of the D4.


Star Fleet Battles lists the D4 as entering service in 2212, but its likely that date only refers to the version shown in module Y1. Contrary to the SFB Lore, the presence of D4 type ships in the 2150s means that like the D3, this almost certainly was a pre-tactical-warp design, albeit one more capable than the D3. The D4, circa 2212, had the same weapon systems as the D3 but had a larger command section, better shields, and substantially more power generation. 


Starting in 2235, the Klingon Empire started production of an improved D4 type, the D4A d'ama (Predator) class. The D4A had a number of changes to its hull form and warp propulsion system; it could cruise at Warp 7. However, the D'ama was not able to keep pace in terms of performance with newer Drells, and the Deep Space Fleet's D4 fleet was gradually divested and sold off. The D4 did receive one final upgrade, which Starfleet Intelligence designated LD4, that installed a second pair of disruptor bolt emitters and made a number of other refinements to the design. The LD4 started to appear in 2242 and is probably the version depicted in the image at the top of this section. The D'amas also received a refit, designated D4E and some remained in service with the Deep Space Fleet until as late as 2261 (all D4As not selected for refits had been divested by 2247, and this is probably comparable to the divestiture dates on the original D4s).



D4A d'ama class


A final note about the D4 and its name. The original D4 had a command and control variant called the D4C. It's possible that the BortaS class specifically refers to the D4C (some of the fluff text from Star Trek Fleet Command implies that it is a fleet command ship) and that the regular D4 has been the d'ama class from the start, with the D4A and D4E carrying that name forward. The ships that Star Fleet Intelligence lists as the LD4 are probably actually a mix of refitted D4s, D4As, and D4Cs. Because of differences in how FASA Trek expresses the statistics for Klingon ships, it can be difficult to pin down what a "native" D4A or D4E would look like, but if I had to guess I'd say a good starting point would be to take a D5 War Cruiser (not the D5 discussed below) and then make the following changes:


  • Delete disruptor bolt emitters B and D
  • Delete the APR boxes from the deckhouse
  • Delete 7 points of shields from facings 3, 4, and 5
  • Delete both anti-drones
  • Replace Phaser [Disruptor Beam] Banks 1 and 2 with PH-2K. 
  • Delete the limited aegis system


The D4E refit restores the deleted shield points, upgrades the PH-2 emitters to PH-1, and restores the delete APRs. Divested D4 and D4C type ships were officially all converted to LD4 configuration prior to sale, including the installation of the second pair of disruptors, but in practice some were provided "as is" to the Romulans and in clandestine sales and left to the new owners to refit to their preferences. To reflect the "selloff" upgrade for D4A or D4E types, start with the modifications described above but restore the disruptor bolt emitters and the APR; however, the disruptors are Range-22 types and any K-upgraded PH-1s, are returned to PH2. 



QIHwI` (Devastator) class (D5)




This is another class that Star Fleet Battles seems to underestimate the origins of. The D5 appears in Star Trek: Enterprise, and therefore must be part of the first generation of post-Kings starships. Most likely, the 2241 in-service date refers to a (belated) upgrade intended to keep these ships up to date. Once again, the D5 appears to have the same weapons configuration as the warp-refitted D3 and D4 types, albeit packed onto a smaller hull. Starfleet Intelligence categorized the D5 as a light cruiser, though in the Empire it fell into the same Drell category as the other D-ships. The D5 had the customary PH-2-equivalent disruptor beam batteries and fore and aft torpedo launchers, which were type A (instead of the type F on the D3 and the D4. The D5 had two Disruptor-22s mounted on an underslung turret that was capable of limited aiming independent of the ship's facing. 


Its unclear how many of these ships were made in total, but seven survived to 2241, when they were refit into the configuration the Federation calls LD5. Unlike the LD4, which stands for "Local Defense 4", the LD5 stands for "Light D5" - in part because it was only concretely identified after they'd tentatively designated the Qa'HoS class as D5 and the designation had stuck. The LD5 did receive an upgrade (LD5B) over the course of 2273-2275, but by then the ships were hopelessly obsolete and were divested to four Warrior Colony houses for use as training vessels.



lotlhmoq (Raptor) class (L1?)



We don't know the true designation of the Raptor class, but considering how it gave its name to the entire category of ship, I'm tentatively designating it L1. This means it probably either correlates to or pre-dates the "Klingon sub-light Frigate" from the unpublished Star Fleet Battles Module Q. Further supporting this designation, some sources indicate that the first Raptors were commissioned before the 2140 departure of the Old Kings. This may mean that the original Raptor was actually a converted civilian or internal security vessel. During the time it operated, it was considered a Bird of Prey. The design appears to have good warp dynamics, and it seems to not only have an influence on the design of the D5 (see above) but the much later Somraw class Raptor also uses a very similar hull form. 


We know that the ship had at least one torpedo launcher, but other data is sparse. If this ship is indeed the SLF from Module Q, then it must have been upgraded at some point to replace the missile launchers with torpedo tubes. 


While this ship never received a tactical warp refit, it remained in service long past the 2150s in secondary roles such as acting as a local transport and as a training ship. There are attested examples of the L1 remaining active into the 23rd century and, as noted earlier, the Somraw class that replaced it in the 24th century is a modernized version of the same hull form. 


L3 Class (class name unknown)




In the earliest days of the Deep Space Fleet, the L3 (designated D3 at the time) was used as part of Drell squadrons for orbital bombarment and interdiction. However, as larger ships (including the "real" D3) came on line, the L3 was redesignated as a Raptor and assigned for use an interceptor and commerce raider. Starting in 2202, these ships received tactical warp systems, but they quickly fell behind newer and more capable designs. What few examples of this class survived were scrapped or sold off by the mid 23rd century. At least in the Kelvin universe, the design remained somewhat common on the Empire's borderlands in the hand of independent (but Klingon-aligned) star systems as well as with rebel groups and separatists of various stripes. 


While the L3 did not make much of a mark in its own right, it did substantially influence the design of the later Qa4 Bird of Prey. 


Vo'n'talk class Bird of Prey (Qa1)




This class of ship was first launched in 2149 and was relatively new when the events of Star Trek: Enterprise occurred. Armed with eight relatively low-power disruptor cannons and two torpedo tubes, the Vo'n'talk was designed to operate as a scout and commerce raider. By 2207, when tactical warp refits started for this class, it was the most common single ship in Klingon service and at the time it was still more than capable of dealing with internal threats such as pirates operating armed freighters. Part of why the Vo'n'talk was in wide service was that it was simultaneously operating in both the Deep Space Fleets and the various Great House fleets (as well as the centrally controlled Internal Security Force), with no real differences between these versions. 


Unfortunately for the Vo'n'talk, it proved ill suited for duties beyond convoy escort and internal policing, and 25 refitted Qa1's had been lost in combat by 2227. While five were converted into special strategic transports capable of towing a standard cargo pod, the design continued to be eclipsed by later types. Eventually the Qa1 was entirely replaced with newer small Bird of Prey designs.


Another Early Bird of Prey (Unknown Designation)




In Enterprise we briefly see a different, smaller Bird of Prey design. Unfortunately, little hard information exists about it. Its possible that this is a precursor of the Hajvav/qovIj types and might have had an entirely different nomenclature than we're used to seeing on modern designs. 


The Mystery Animal (C3)


There's one Klingon ship type from this era that we have attestation of but we don't have a class name or a reliable picture (and it might not even exist in this era). The chemvaH 3 had four ships in service in 2202 when tactical warp refits started, but we don't know when the class originally entered service. It may have been a relative latecomer and might not have been around in the 2150s. Since the four ships we know existed at the time of the refit all have names relating to inclement weather, let's call these the jev (storm) class. They're chemvaHs, which the Klingons were characterize as command cruisers and the Feds would call dreadnoughts. In peacetime, these ships probably carried out solo missions such as exploration or diplomacy, but in wartime they would serve as command platforms for leading war fleets.


Beyond the fact that the Tholians destroyed one C3 in 2219, we don't know much about this class and its activities. It was quickly eclipsed by later chemvaHs such as the C4, C6, and ultimately the prolific C8/C9 series. Unlike smaller ships, the usual Klingon client states couldn't afford to purchase or maintain a ship of this size - and the Empire would never create such a security threat for itself - so all the surviving C3s were scrapped some time before the start of the Four Year War. 


The only picture of the C3 is a very simple top-down projection from Star Fleet Battles, but it's hard to take SFB artwork as authoritative because of the legal restrictions on their products. It looks like a C8 with different weapons placement, and that's to be expected since its basically the only thing that the SFB book can legally portray the C3 as. I'd expect the actual C3 to look something like the a bulked-up D4, but there's just nothing to work with in that area. 


It's somewhat tempting as well to imagine that the L-13 is what ultimately happened to the four C3s (that is to say, they ended up being a slow, expensive boondoggle that was vastly outdone by more modern designs), but the dates, equipment, and production numbers just don't line up. So for now, the look of the C3 will have to remain a mystery. Maybe look at this picture but imagine it has the skin texture and detailing of the D4.




Well, that ended up being a pretty comprehensive review of the Empire's fleet in 2150. This is what the Deep Space Fleet was using in the time of first contact with United Earth, and in the near future (2163-2165) these would be the ships visiting nearby former Old Kings vassals and recruiting them into the service of the Klingon Empire. A second generation of ships (that we know nothing about) started to enter service in the 2170s, and these first two generations of ships, still without the benefit of tactical warp maneuvering, would go to war with the Lyran Star Empire in 2184. 


With so little data about the rest of the sub-tactical-warp fleet (data we won't get until and unless Module Q ever gets published, I suspect), there isn't much to be said about that era - even the historical account is fairly brief. When we next look at Klingon starships, we'll pick up with the ship that defined the modern Klingon Deep Space Fleet: the D7.



Edited by gregaaz

1 Comment

Recommended Comments

That was another exhaustive one (for a first part ^^), interesting ... und frei nach Asterix: "Die spinnen die Klingonen." ^^

Anyway thanks for the interesting ... well sidequests. ;)

Edited by Talesien
Link to comment

  • Create New...