I've been thinking about the extremely unusual structure of Starfleet as a military organization, and thinking about what the equivalent would be as a modern military. The obvious trait that would be a problem is the lack of conventional ground forces, which would not fit very well in the modern world.

The best comparison given the less the full military nature of the organization would be something like a Coast Guard, but they also handle direct military functions without anyone else to do the main work, which means they also need regular military functions like an air force, army, and the ability to fight actual naval battles on their own.

What types of weapons and structure would an organization with a similar directive to Starfleet have with exclusively modern tech?

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    $\begingroup$ In what way is the Star Trek Star Fleet unusual? It looks to me to be very very much similar to the American Navy, around 1900, except it doesn't have Marines. Of course it doesn't have ground forces -- the Army has the ground forces; and maybe the Marines are a separate branch of service in that world. (I don't see why we would consider that the Star Fleet is the one and only branch of military service.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 23, 2020 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ The Federation Star Fleet's directive is, first and foremost, exploration and diplomatic. While they happen to be pretty good at fighting, too, that's not supposed to be their main job. You already named one example of an analogous not-primarily-combat uniformed service: The Coast Guard. Another example would be NOAA. The big problem with trying to graft Star Fleet onto today's Earth is that discovery, diplomacy, and fighting are all common enough to be separate. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Oct 23, 2020 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ In response to both of the above, do we ever see some other branch? This is certainly true in the military sense, in which Starfleet is shown having soldiers on the ground with less weapons and gear than modern American SWAT teams(though I'm not sure which group that is a worse indictment of). It is also true with respect to groups like NOAA, in which Starfleet is just about the only Federation body we see in any kind of uniform. From what we see most scientists work for Starfleet in one way or another(see David Marcus complaining about this issue). $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2020 at 2:59

3 Answers 3


The problem is Starfleet isn't a very good military organization.

This is because its primary purpose (according to the various series etc) is not to fight wars. Its primary mission is exploration, diplomatic contact and scientific discovery etc. You know the drill 'to boldly go where ... yarda, yarda, yarda.

Which is not to say it can't fight wars - just that it's not what it was built for and it's not what it's trained for. Certainly in most episodes of most series it has few if any purpose built warships. As opposed to virtually every other 'navy it comes into contact with. It sort of starts to change later I believe when they meet the Borg. But until then most Federation vessels seem to be cross between a cruise liner and a warship i.e. every mod con imaginable with some weapons added on as a precaution. And not a lot of military exercises/drills to speak of.

That said; if you had to have your present day starfleet it might have things like:

  1. The San Antonio Amphibious Class transport dock. (A versatile high speed transport capable of carrying and deploying troops via VTOL aircraft and landing craft) but equally useful or deploying aid during humanitarian missions. and/or WASP Class Assault ships for the same purpose.

  2. Frigates; a limited number of any medium sized generalist warfighter with that name designed to escort and protect the above as needed and as 'show of force'.

  3. Offshore Patrol Vessels (Or LCS) lots of vessels for long range maritime patrol duties, anti-smuggling/piracy and fishing patrol operations.

  4. Boeing P8 Poseidon A long range maritime surveillance platform

  5. A Marine Commando Element - for conducting boarding operations at sea and occasionally in larger formations for landing operations.

  6. Hospital Ships (A limited number) to provide long term assistance in selected cases where an ongoing medical presence is required due to disease or natural disaster etc.

  7. Survey Vessels for maritime mapping and survey operations (obviously)

  8. Fleet logistics and oilers for support and maintenance

  9. Other Aircraft including the VTOL version of the F-35 (in limited numbers) for fleet protection and landing support plus Osprey's & helicopters.

So there you have it. A force that's very good at spreading peace and love wherever it goes AKA starfleet but not really designed to fight a major war.

And yes, if you created this in the modern age you will indeed be getting a very much 'beefed up' coast guard style organization. And also dooming whichever country you decide needs to go down this path to severe military disadvantages in the event it ever has to fight a real war against another powerful nation that stayed with a conventional navy.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for noting the obvious, the SF really is not a good (read as effective) military organisation. How many times have we heard the admiral say to Kirk or Picard "you're the only ship in the quadrant..." How many ships does SF have? Three? They're great for putting out small fires, but they regularly get their arses kicked during any big engagement. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 24, 2020 at 18:51

Structural Changes

Making Infantry Obsolescent

Most Star Fleet larger than shuttles contained four weapons that obviated infantry organizations.

The Photon Torpedo - this was an matter/antimatter weapon that could contain up to several kilograms of antimatter explosive. Useful against similar-class targets (other starships). Against grouped bodies of enemies, or in cases of total war, these could also be used with devastating effect against ground targets. Modern Equivalent: onboard fission weapons

Phasers - this phased energy weapon was for cutting through shields and armor and providing more focused offensive power. Modern Equivalent: standoff airborne cannons (like the 30mm gun on a C-130), or standoff naval cannons (like the Zumwalt main gun)

Sensors - these sensors could pick out smaller-than-human life signs from orbit, in 3-dimensional stacks (cities), and sometimes several meters underground. It could pick up weapons, weapons fire, and other minute details. Modern Equivalent: satellite sensor suites and global communications.

Transporter - combined with sensors, the Star Fleet ship could put a smaller security force where it would do the most good. Maybe after softening up a target with phasers and photon torpedoes. Conversely, the transporter could be used to directly sweep up a belligerent leader from the field and made to answer for his/her actions. Modern Equivalent: satellite + airborne sensor suites, high-altitude/low-opening troop drop, and VTOL pickup.

TL;DR : a "contemporary" Star Fleet would consist of no infantry. Most large vessels would contain at least a few nuclear weapons with doctrine allowing these weapons to be used in situations ranging from ship-to-ship engagements, to softening up ground targets. The ships would be connected to a satellite sensor network, and have at least some small aircraft capacity for landing security forces.

Making Airforces Obsolescent

Compared to small craft, Star Fleet vessels had enough size, speed, and precision that even swarms of small craft of comparable technology (Star Fleet shuttles engaging misbehaving star ships) could be batted away easily.

Speed - a Star Fleet vessel usually had far superior warp capability to small craft. The captain of a Star Fleet craft could usually choose to disengage at-will. Modern Equivalent: with a liquid-lead nuclear reactor, the soviet Alfa class submarine could move as fast underwater as any surface ship on the planet, quickly submerge to disengage, and outmatch any aircraft for endurance.

Precision - again, phasers with short linger time on targets allow big Star Fleet craft to mop up large numbers of smaller craft. Modern Equivalent: while the LAWS weapon system only has an engagement range of 1 mile, it might be the best fit for engaging massed smaller craft.

TL;DR subsurface capabilities and a liquid lead nuclear reactor provide the ability to put aircraft out of range. Combined with a laser or other good anti-aircraft system, the effectiveness of air forces would be significantly less.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't really think the focus on ships over aircraft makes sense in the modern world. Aircraft work fine for us but don't make sense in space. This is actually a realism factor that Star Trek does quite well. Otherwise this is solid. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2020 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ An Alfa moving fast underwater makes so much noise that it's trivial to track, and your comparison fails in this case because an aircraft can loiter around a located submarine for extended periods of time and be replaced by another one, if it was felt such a mission was pressing enough. $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2020 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Keith: Surely once the Alfa has run the heck out of effective weapons range it can slow down and stop making quite so much noise? (Disclaimer: I have no idea how effectively a sub can be tracked once it’s already been found) $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Oct 24, 2020 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ Main issue I see here is that without infantry, and lots of em, you really can't invade, let alone hold an enemy stronghold (a planet or a solar system containing space bases). That the US had troops on the ground for decades in Germany and Japan after WWII (doing proper jobs of nation building); and still have troops on the ground almost a century later, just waiting to continue the last big war, ought to be instructive here. Starships are great for fighting big battles in space, but when it comes to the nitty gritty, you really need those infantry, and lots of them. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 24, 2020 at 18:58

A tech-heavy military organisation:

  • without ground troops? Or calling in other armed forces?
  • that handles conflicts on its own?
  • That fights battles in a strange form of space?
  • That has a chain of command from general down to guy in red shirt?

Cyber Command

Photon torpedoes are zero-day exploits. Transporters are proxies. Etc. Battles take place inside cyberspace, rather than deep space.

They boldly go where no man has gone before (...inside Iranian centrifudges)

Red shirts are hackers straight out of college. They have captains and commanders and all that other structure right up to one politician who commands the entire structure. (Who I guess would be Trump in the modern world)


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