Planning and writing a sci.fi story with Space Navies(tm), and I realize that I'm tempted to wonder why you need more than three of four people punching buttons and pulling joysticks to move a ship and fire the weapons.

So, obviously there are more roles to fill, I realize (and of course you gotta consider shifts, crews obviously need to sleep but you can't just shut down your ship while everyone sleeps), but I have no notion of exactly how many people fill which roles - Engineering? Navigation? Weapons control? Guards? Making food?

Are there any lists or overviews over what various contemporary naval vessels' crews are composed of? That is, not just the number of crew but also an approximate distribution of how many fill what roles on a ship - or for that matter, what roles you actually need on ships. Even if it wouldn't be fully translatable to space navies I can extrapolate well enough I think.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there any particular ship or ship type you're interested in? A submarine's crew is going to bear only a passing resemblance to an aircraft carrier's, and they're both going to be different from a destroyer's. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, answers on multiple ship types (both small and large in crew size) would be of help since my setting will involve a variety of ships. The larger the sample the better - though a single example is of course better than none. $\endgroup$
    – Llama_guy
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ Depending on how good your future AI/robotics technology is you might not need a crew at all. No crew means no biological life support is required so reducing the size of the ship. Current military thinking is moving towards unmanned aircraft (drones) so it's not unreasonable to believe that spacecraft could follow the same pattern. $\endgroup$
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe this link will help get you started. It seems to me like a sub would e the closest to a space vessel.navyformoms.com/group/submoms/page/meet-the-crew-of-a-submarine $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 13:52

2 Answers 2


This wikipedia page, though describing a battleship decommissioned nearly 30 years ago, has a pretty interesting breakdown of roles on the USS Missouri. I'm a little bit hesitant to use it authoritatively since it's only a user article, but it has an impressive breakdown that I think effectively maps out what kinds of roles you have on a massive vessel that needs to operate autonomously for long periods of time. The detailed breakdown is far too extensive to reproduce here (I highly recommend checking it out in the link), but here is the summary across the major divisions:

enter image description here

In most sci-fi settings involving space navies, AI often has a large influence. Looking at the three largest divisions of labor on this battleship (hull / deck maintenance, engineering, and weapons) there is a lot of room for automation and AI control. Weapons systems in space are ripe for automated control and targeting for best effectiveness (indeed, even modern naval battleships make heavy use of automated targeting). Hull maintenance will hopefully be managed by drones, especially given the complexity and risk of human EVAs. Engineering, however, is likely to continue to have a heavy human component. The complexity of propulsion and power generation is likely to eclipse modern-day ships, not to mention the new forms of life support. A few other divisions can expect to see AIs taking a role, particularly navigation and operations, but other divisions such as supply, medical, and administration will remain primarily human and their sizes scale based upon the total number of humans on board.

  • $\begingroup$ In space, it may be most cost effective to use more highly trained personnel who all have at least two roles. Also, Naval ships which carry aircraft also have a 'flight department', which may map to armed drones, shuttles etc. $\endgroup$
    – rumguff
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Aautomation often means the crew member who did that job now sits at a terminal watching a computer do that job. There will be less crew overall, than it otherwise would, yes, but there will be signficant crew. Anyway, cheers for that list. Very helpful, up you go. $\endgroup$
    – Llama_guy
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 8:02

For starters you should decide whether or not you're going to have high levels of automation or everything going to be done by hand.

Depending on how advanced your setting is, I would generally recommend more automation. The following website will be very useful for your question: project Rho

Well not everything on that guys site is the greatest for those specifically trying to write fiction, he offers a great many guidelines for helping you keep yourself grounded in reality. I recommend giving it a look. It should answer a great many of your questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Answers which just link to an off-site resource are not good answers. For a complete reasoning why, please see "Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really “good answers”?" on meta stackexchange. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ I already know of Project Rho. It doesn't have specific numbers, however, though the rest of the information is gold. I'm specifically after usable numbers/compositions however; how many does what. I can extrapolate from there and work out how much is automated (though "automation" often means the crew member who did that job now sits at a terminal watching a computer do that job) $\endgroup$
    – Llama_guy
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Llama_guy Not really. IMO automation implies some levels of AI. So instead of 10 engineers fixing an engine. You have 10 robots and 1 engineer fixing an engine. Also it is much cheaper for robots to work in space environment than having to build life support all over your ship. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ If you have perfect AI then that's fine, but if it's just a very intelligent computer program it can't adapt and react to a lot of situations like humans can; so you get more automation, yes, but that level of replacement is mostly possible with full AI (but if you have AI that's as capable as humans then why have humans at all - that topic is a bit of a derailment though). Anyway assuming perfect AI then they are fully equal crewmates (except having different needs re: sleep), if not then you need humans to cope with the complexity of decision-making often forced on you in a combat situation $\endgroup$
    – Llama_guy
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 8:16

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