Many authors and worldbuilders swear by the space-navy organization scheme:

  • Frigate - a light vessel used to enforce borders and partol
  • Cruiser - a flexible vessel that can operate independently
  • Destroyer - a light vessel tasked with taking down incoming threats
  • Carrier - a specialized vessel that carries and deploys smaller spacecraft
  • Battleship - a heavy vessel with huge amounts of firepower
  • Dreadnought - a very heavy vessel, often acting as flagship

But this classification scheme is built around the needs and characteristics of a wet navy.

Assuming a realistic-ish setting (around 4-6 on Mohs scale) where FTL travel is either not possible or is only achievable by a vessel through outside means (a wormhole or FTL warp station). In which militarized spacecraft are commonplace, as are space engagements, and without a clear bias to either kinetic/chemical or energy weapons. What kinds of classifications for spacecraft could be expected to crop up (hand-waving actual names)?

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    $\begingroup$ Close-voters: Please do not vote to close without leaving commentary; the problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 25 '16 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the problem being identified here is that you are free to devise any naming scheme you want for your fleet, and one scheme isn't inherently better than another. Thus, there is no "best" answer, especially lacking any strict criteria for what defines a "good" naming scheme. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 25 '16 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ There Is of course the Battlerider several large non FTL capable ships that have a larger FTL capable tender which can carry server Bettleriders $\endgroup$ – Pepone Jun 25 '16 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not asking for a naming scheme, in fact, names are what interest me the least as stated in the question description: "hand-waving actual names". Of course, if other users feel it's necessary, I'll edit the question to make it more clear. What I'm asking for is spacecraft classification based on harder science and estimates as to how a space military may function, for this, I do believe there is a 'best' answer (as best as you can get in a site mostly dealing with fiction and fantasy). $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jun 25 '16 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ In English, writers assume that a space branch of the armed forces is a "Navy", because it relies on vessels. But other languages refer to navies as "marina", "marine". or "marinha", which implies it is a force to be used on sea, not in space. So unless your space-navy has been developed by a society that thinks of space vehicles as "space-ships", it is probably better not to assume that its nomenclature will replicate the terminology of wet Navy. $\endgroup$ – Luís Henrique Jun 25 '16 at 23:56

Rocketpunk Manifesto looked at this question in a multi part series of threads about Space War (http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/search?q=space+war), and the results were not quite what you would expect.

First off, space warcraft are defined by their roles much the way wet navy ships are, but since the roles of spacecraft are different , so are the names. Formations are also different, so there is quite a bit to cover.

First off, because ships are constrained by orbital mechanics, their paths are fairly predictable. IF you are doing a burn to a transfer orbit to Uranus, then there is no "sneaking away" to reach Mars unobserved, you need to apply a lot of energy to get to different transfer orbits. This is true even using Terrawatt powered Torch Drives (although in this case, you are already radiating enough energy to be clearly visible out to Alpha Centauri).

So ships will travel in mutually supporting formations known as "Constellations".

Within the constellation are ships carrying massive laser weapons, the most powerful the polity can afford to build and field, since long range laser engagements work in the favour of whoever has the greatest range. For practical reasons, this means building lasers which can vaporize metals and ceramics out to the range of one light second (almost the distance to the Moon from Earth), since beyond a light second there is a significant lag between when a signal arrives at your ship, and when you point and fire the laser. The enemy ship can apply some random thrust and ruin your fire control solution. The laser weapon is colloquially known as a Ravening Beam of Death (RBoD) and the carrying ship is a Laserstar. To make targeting the Laserstar's optical train more difficult (an "eyeball frying contest"), secondary Fighting Mirrors might be deployed remotely to make tracing the possible optical paths more difficult.

Supporting the Laserstar is a fire support ship which carries thousands of small kinetic energy projectiles. Swarms of these projectiles can eventually overwhelm even a massive Laserstar, but we are talking about thousands to tens of thousands of projectiles filling the sky. Such ships can use railguns, coil guns or simple batteries of rockets to launch the small projectiles, colloquially known as "Soda Cans of Death" (SCoD). The secondary purpose of these devices is to fill the sky with swarms of sensors to provide a fine grained 3 dimensional view of the battlespace. These ships are known as Kineticstars

Laserstars and Kineticstars are mostly unlovely assemblies of girders, power plants, fuel tankage and radiators, and rely on powerful AI's to ensure their weapons are employed to the best effect. However, these weapons are far too powerful to be allowed to go off on their own, and are massive overkill for many of the lesser missions that a Space Navy might be assigned. A manned Command and Control ship is needed for the constellation, to provide the human staff which gives the final authority for fire/not fire to the AI's.

Since some missions actually require boarding parties to inspect ships, the constellation will also need Cutters to bring inspection teams to and from the formation. Armed and armoured cutters might be included as Boarding Craft for the Space Marines, and the Admiral will also have a Lighter to travel on diplomatic or courtesy visits, leaving the constellation in high orbit to "show the flag".

Various miscellaneous Support Ships will be included in any constellation, to provide berthing space for the smaller craft, repairs for systems while under weigh and recreational space for the crews outside of their fighting craft. For practical reasons the fighting craft will be very small to reduce their signatures during the fight, and they will disperse among the ships and sensors of the deployed constellation in order to maximize their survival.

A fully deployed constellation will be incredibly impressive. There will be a swarm of sensor drones and subsidiary gunships (smaller laser and kineticstars to provide close in defense) spread out over a light second in diameter, with the massive Laserstars and Kineticstars deployed inside this disc. The Command and Control craft will also be somewhere inside the disc, to provide oversight to the deployed weapons systems, while the support ships will drop behind.

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    $\begingroup$ With such a powerful laser, a "fighting mirror" would evaporate almost instantly, too. It only makes sense if it reflects the laser back to where it came, as there's still a chance that the little laser light reflected before evaporation will do major damage to the source (the enemy's Laserstar). Indeed, back-reflector coatings may also be common on spaceships; thus possibly an attack goes in two steps: First send a blob of black paint to disable the back-reflectors (in space, also paint blobs will follow ballistic trajectories), and only then fire up the laser. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Jun 25 '16 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Really nice overview of the harder end of the question! $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jun 25 '16 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ This is a great answer, but (not it's fault) it's also a great example of one of the problems with StackExchange sites' format when applied to non-single-answer questions. The answer is worded as if this is what would happen, but it's really just one of an infinite number of possible creative suggestions, which would be different with different assumptions, etc. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jun 25 '16 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ This is one of an infinite number of possible answers, and I am interested in seeing how other people answered the question. Hopefully this stirs creative juices in the OP and other readers, and I hope to see other answers to compare this to. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 28 '16 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ doesn't sound much different to a wet-navy carrier battlegroup. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Jul 9 '17 at 16:06

I feel like the rules would absolutely change for naming-schemes for space-faring vehicles. I guess it would all come down to the usage of those vehicles. For instance, X-Wings/Arwings/Tie Fighters are used in dogfighting, while their counterparts are used in scouting, bombing, transport, etc. I think it stands to reason they could still be named (both officially and affectionately) based on either their amount of firepower or maneuverability. Other potential factors would be crew size or where the ship is flying. But then you gotta ask what that means.
Maneuverability - can it move 360 degrees? can it move fast? does it move at the speed of light (or approaching)? Does it hold more than one passenger?
Firepower - can it destroy asteroids? can it destroy other ships? can it destroy space stations? can it attack a planet's surface from orbit? can it destroy planets? does it have its own orbit?
Crew size - is it a single pilot? Co-pilots? A crew of 10? 100? 1000?
- orbital (only functions properly within a planets orbit)
- transorbital (functions both in and out of a planet's orbit/suborbit)
- interplanetary (travels between planets)
- interstellar (travels between solar systems)
- intergalactic (travels between galaxies)

Leads me to think maybe those could be the derivatives of the designations. But honestly, even looking at aircraft, most planes are named after and referred to by brand and manufacturer (Boeing) or designation (F-22, B2) etc. For instance, the "Musk IP-48" interplanetary transit craft, designed and manufactured by the Elon Musk Spacefaring Corp.

Alternatively, I'd like to think it's still reasonable to assume classifications could very well be almost identical to that of the naval vessels. But with names more suited to tasks in space. Examples:

  • Frigate Defender - a light vessel used to enforce borders and partol
  • Cruiser Wayfarer - a flexible vessel that can operate independently
  • Destroyer Fighter - a light vessel tasked with taking down incoming threats
  • Carrier Transporter - a specialized vessel that carries and deploys smaller spacecraft
  • Battleship Challenger - a heavy vessel with huge amounts of firepower
  • Dreadnought Station - a very heavy vessel, often acting as flagship

Assuming from this you're going to be starting from a real-world background if you're limiting FTL. From that perspective, it should be important to note a few things...

U.N. treaty prevents weapons in space, and initial pioneers would have no reason to ignore this convention when survival means working with your fellow colonists and infighting could destroy an early colony.

So not only would navy terms be unlikely, but considering most of the other colonization places in the solar system don't have oceans, it'd be downright ludicrous for that tradition to stick around.

Also, the idea of a "fleet" is somewhat silly in space-based combat. There are physics problems that limit the ability to make everything one ship or as many tiny ships as possible for ocean-faring. With space, the only limiting factor in that regard is gravity which isn't a big issue until some ludicrus sizes (at which point it might be considered nice and give a more habitable region to the ship.) Also, in-space debris collisions can be fatal so you'd want to consolidate to one vessel as much as possible except when having as many small points as possible is preferable (such as swarms of fighters). Further, due to mathmatic laws of scaling up, you can protect more volume with less surface area by scaling up, meaning you get more shields for your buck using one large vessel.

At this point, seperation of vehicles comes from physically separated purpose.

Here's my thoughts...

  • Mothership This is THE ship of the fleet. During normal traveling, probably the only visible vessel. Probably have the term mothership because even if ocean-faring isn't common, people are still going to have videos and movies, and the term fits. Due to being a larger target, whether or not energy shields exist to make defenses reasonable against a concentrated attack, if energy shields don't exist, a mothership may only exist for transporting everything and holding command staff. Basically being little more than a very tiny ship connected to a very massive hull that serves as a "warehouse" of sorts and some engines to move everything.

  • Swarms are meant to maximize effective surface area for spread across space while using minimal mass/volume/interconnectedness. This would be swarms of drones, fighters, etc. Realistically, due to a lack of interference in space, wireless communication makes more sense than wired, as "direct hits" on multiple weapons don't risk the main body, are easier to replace, etc. Swarms could be sub-divided into roles,communicating with eachother using an encrypted short-range wifi, bluetooth, or similar. The size of the swarm would likely be limited by the range of communications. Swarms with specialized purposes might have specialized names as well. This is a generic swarm.

    • Command Drones: The central node (if pilot is on mother ship) that tight beam communication is with, probably most heavily armed of bunch.
    • Repeater Drones: Probably more heavily armed than Soldier drones
    • Soldier Drones: The "foot troops" of a swarm. Little bots that are little more than an engine, gun, and data receiver.
    • Pollies: Short for "Pollinators". In swarms specialized in fetching things, basically claws with a receiver and an engine and some slightly more advanced communications and able to go outside of normal swarm range. Probably primarily fetches asteroids to be used as Rocks and to fetch from "tulip fields" (which would look like bees pollinating, hence the name.)
    • Stinger: A drone that's just an explosive, onboard computer, and engine. It's a one-use weapon, meant to detonate on an enemy. Other potential names include "Kami" short for Kamikaze after WWII japanese pilots (likely not used by pilots of Japanese decent since Kami actually means a god. But those of American decent probably would.)
    • Queens: So a "fighter pilot" might either be actually in the mothership sending signals to a command drone on tight-beam who communicates with it's surrounding swarm, OR they'd actually be in a small command vessel; either way "piloting" their group like playing a real time strategy game. If their own vessel, fitting with "swarms" and "drones" being fitting titles for those, it seems inclined to go with a hive motif and they'd probably end up getting called something like queen bees. In typical shorting fashion, probably eventually getting reduced to just queens. (If the machismo is still strong in society, they'd probably switch it to Kings, King Bees, QBs, KBs, Qubes/Kubes, etc.)
  • Tulips and Tulip Fields: A specialized dumb AI swarm that's an array of solar panels for catching solar power and storing batteries. Probably tries to stay out of actual combat, only commands are head out and come back but provides energy supply. Since their job is "sit there, charge, and give batteries to pollies" they probably don't need any command nodes, just an encryption system for when pollies ask for batteries to release them (likely replaced with a dead battery the pollie is carrying). So named because of colorful solar panel "petals" in flower-like patterns from the central charger body.

  • Rockets: Despite conventional rocketry will probably fall away, the concept of "get it into space fast with its own engine" will probably result in rockets still being the preferred term. Used primarily for fast small strategic and expensive strikes since energetically they're so expensive, usually containing small groups of marines/stormtroopers. Mainly launched from planets and gravity wells. However, due to the similarity of ride and intent on speed, more common ship-capturing troop transports may also be referred to as this.

  • Chutes: Short for parachute. Named for the last stage of dropping down to a planet with an atmosphere (although for other planet types, may not actually deploy parachutes). Meant for getting lots down to planet cheaply.

  • Lines: Portable space elevators (little more than a loooong spool of high-strenght cord and a solar-powered robot that can climb it). Meant for long engagements with a planet to establish a reliable and effectively cheap transport system between mothership and planet capable of high volumes. These are for establishing supply lines. Due to the fact they'd look like a vertical line drawn from the ground, be the primary supply lines going both directions, and have to be guarded like a traditional supply line in modern warfare, providing the "lifeline" back to the ship for ground forces, the more preferred terms for space elevators (elevators, tethers, cables, liftports, etc. likely more established ones for civilian uses) would probably give way to the term "lines" for military uses.

  • Rocks: Pretty much what they sound like. Big dumb hunks of mass carried by the mothership for dropping to a planet for planetary bombardment. Since gravity would turn a dumb rock into a nuke, and all you have to do is aim right when you launch, it'd be fairly straightforward. Likely ship's unusable waste would get consolidated into a few rocks. After that, you'd probably have a few dense blocks on board for that purpose or have swarms designated for grabbing asteroids.

  • Crisses: Short for "Crystal Beams" due to the appearance of flickering crystal-like look and light scattering making slightly visible beams. A specialized computerized swarm. Why power your own weapons when a star can do it for you? Very little user input other than positioning and targeting since everything else is just calculating angles. It's a swarm of drones with Fresnel lenses to direct sunlight at a specific point (like multiple magnifying glasses aimed at the same bug, but on a much larger scale).

Fleet appearance: Fleet Layout

Notes: Edited-in design thoughts Since it makes more sense to have a single large mothership until it exerts enough of a gravitational field, but fleets are likely to be expanded, and objects that have give usually being able take more punishment than those that don't, Mothership exteriors are likely to modular and flexible like a mesh bag. The flexibility lets its shape naturally adjust to increased sizes as its modified, modularity makes it easy to repair and expand. I can see this being implemented multiple ways, and a mothership could help launch smaller ships with its own engines abusing centrifugal motion - spinning to send them flying. Being flexible, there's many ways the mothership could be used during combat. If command staff are all on the mothership, it could retract and collapse in, providing denser armor for the mothership. It considered too valuable to be present and swarms are controlled by queens, it could "deflate" and retreat to either help after-battle cleanup or keep high level stuff (command staff, manufacturing plants, etc.) safe in case of loss. Alternatively, if the way they organize, it's basically a dumb bag shield when empty, it may provide cover. If modular enough, it may even break apart and provide attached shielding to command pods of swarms. As an additional idea, the mothership could primarely be the swarm if the swarms are built to withstand high-speed travel pressures. At which case, the "mothership" may be more of a skeleton that all the swarm ships latch onto, the most externally mounted swarms being the most shielded and providing another unique combat swarm with heavier shielding. It really depends on the design preferences at that point and mentalities of the militaries involved and their tactics styles... are they more offensive/defensive, more hierarchically minded or more equality minded. Also, since you could expand until you have gravity problems, you'd likely never have multiple motherships near eachother because complex gravity interactions can cause all kinds of problems in a skirmish. Shrapnel alone will be a nightmare to navigate, but that's less avoidable. As such, Motherships will likely never be in close vicinity.

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    $\begingroup$ thats good. any suggestion to read something in that setting? $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jun 27 '16 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ Nope. I actually do some work in space development, but have a lot of family and friends with military background, so I was just thinking about the nature of doing things in space and comparing that to the way things would have played out. So it's 1st hand speculation. So I just sat and started thinking about building spacecraft but from a military perspective and how they'd tactically interact. $\endgroup$ – liljoshu Jun 27 '16 at 15:40

The answers depend on the kinds of engines that are available for ships. If it's possible to make small ships that are a lot faster than bigger ones and have a few hours of endurance, then you end up with something that takes the role of aircraft.

If it's possible to make small craft that are really fast for a few minutes, you have missiles.

If all spacecraft have similar performance, to with a factor of three or so, you get something that's a bit like a wet navy without aircraft.

Then there's the cost. Military forces tend to end up buying whatever they think will give them the most combat power for their budget. So it depend on how combat power and cost scale with size. If combat power goes up faster than cost, you get big ships. If not, you get small ones.

So there's no one answer on your criteria: you need to define a few more things before there's a logical answer.



Type: Civilian, possible type Military, Hostile, Neutral, Alien, DS(almost stationary object, earth is DS-HK-63)

Size units: km. possible units cm, m, dm, hm, dkm, hkm, kk, mk, au

Size: 28 km radius. 2 digits value.

Capability's: M - can morph,

Death Star M-DK-16
TIE Figther M-M-6
StarFury M-M-10
X-Wing M-M-12
UNSC Pelican M-M-30
Millennium Falcon M-M-30-FTL
Endurance C-M-65
Discovery One U-M-140
SSV Normandy SR-1 M-DM-16
Enterprise NCC 1701 M-DM-29
Whitestar M-DM-48
UNSC Frigate M-DM-49
Enterprise NCC 1701-D M-DM-65
Destroyer M-DM-90
Romulian Star Empire A-HM-14
Galactica M-HM-15
Covenant battelecruiser A-HM-19
Collector Cruiser A-HM-19
Destiny Ascension AN-HM-19
Reaper AH-HM-20M
Droid Control Ship H-HM-32
V Mothersip AHN-HM-32
Apophis AH-HM-34
Hel M-HM-43
Dictator M-HM-51
Covenant Assault Carrier A-HM-54M
Anibus AH-HM-55
UNCS infinity M-HM-56
Borg cube AH-K-3
Lexx AF-K-10M
Eternal Crusader M-K-10
Collector Base ADS-K-12
Avatar M-K-14
Erebus M-K-15
Mass relay ADS-K-15
Ragnarok M-K-19
Executor M-K-19
City Destroyer Invasion Mothership AH-K-24
Citadel ADS-K-45
Death Star M-DK-16
High Charity ADS-DK-47FTL
Death Star 2 M-DK-90
Halo ADS-DK-42R
The ark ADSM-KK-128

source of ships

Looks like viable classification for me.

Once you really need is to decide run, fight or ignore in your situation.

Capability's are by size and advance. But same tech level can be easily refereed-compared by size. For tech you own, you may estimate own technological advance, compared to any known tech.

As it may be seen by that list, fixed name classification do not gives needed flexibility. And at some, and I may say not super advanced or even advanced level, fixed classification have not sense, and is too inaccurate.

Most time size, specially internal volume determines how much energy you may deliver or how much energy you have to use to move ship.

Definitely it can be cases, when this classification will not work, but harder is Moss, more sense it have.


  • classification is based on size and relation with the target.
  • gives important tactical information in short way
  • able to classify unknown, never seen before objects, just out the box
  • is practically enough in accuracy - to make descision
  • is able to classify 1000+ unique constructions, which may be important if let say space civilization will be bigger then earth let say in 100 times. There will be 100 times more unique constructions as example. and 95% even no sense to give personal names, like Tsar Bomba, or Satan. 95% of them will be no name vessels, usually no body cares about.
  • For civilian ships usually important how much it may carry, what type of cargo it intended to carry. They all have project names or number - no body cares, at first look.
  • We have limited amount of military ships, we have luxury to give them names, pet them with 6 category classification, which means nothing except size and firepower and type of that firepower. In case millions of ships, 100 thousands types-constructions. It's like old guns with ornamentation and names - do have to days guns names and ornamentation, no, just type and size of projectile.
  • Ship may change it's size, and have one principle - have it to be classified by something like name, it have same ID number, or by current state of it. It's just a target, you have to know can you destroy it or be destroyed by it or not - that's all.
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, but I fail to see a proper classification system for military vessels here or any arguments why that system would be useful in one consistent universe. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jun 25 '16 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ While I do think such a system is needed and useful, I believe it fails to answer my question. This classification system mostly deals with the models or classes (as used in a navy) of space bodies. However, the question specifically deals with the classification of spacecraft based on their military roles. $\endgroup$ – Miguel Bartelsman Jun 25 '16 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp I see your point, added some clarification. As example of ship that will not fit in any classification you may have, just because it's not fixed, you may read tool description here, search keyword "snake elephant" $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jun 25 '16 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MiguelBartelsman hmm I see your point, probably yes you right. I think about ships exclusively as about universal units. And list on which I have tested almost consists from assault vessels. Sorry to fail to help you, but I'll live this classification here if you do not mind. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jun 25 '16 at 15:15

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