How many officers and of what range of rank should I include in the ships of my SciFi universe? I am trying to make my universe as scientifically realistic as I can (with the occasional exception). Ideally the ships in this military would be comparable to modern naval vessels in size, however I expect that a couple hundred years of automation would reduce the crew necessities greatly.

Traditional SciFi novels and movies seem to give off this idea that there are really only a handful of officers on ship. These officers are of course headed by THE CAPTAIN, with a handful of commanders and lieutenants in tow. This kind of contradicts the fact that some quick google searches show that modern Aircraft carriers usually have a couple thousand officers and multiple at the rank of Captain or equivalent (with of course a single officer acting as the CO).

As modern space missions can only support half a dozen or so individuals at a time, I am hoping to strike some sort of balance. I want ships to have a realistic crew capacity, but not so many that I have a few thousand completely forgotten officers. Obviously There should be an officer for each major command position, and probably 2 additional officers each to relieve them. I want to make it as few as possible, and I imagine that different classes of ship would of course have different requirements (i.e. carriers need way more command staff than a destroyer or a frigate).


closed as primarily opinion-based by Aify, L.Dutch, Hohmannfan, JDługosz Apr 8 '17 at 8:04

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The correct answer to this depends heavily on what your officers are permitted to do.

A key feature of officers in most armies is that they are expected to act with an authority given to them. In the US military, the oath of enlistment is different than the oath of commissioned officers. Both oaths include the phrase:

I ... do solemnly swear ... that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

However, the oath of enlistment follows it up with

"... and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice"

while the oath of a commissioned officer simply affirms:

...that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion

In the world of the military, this is an impressive difference. An enlisted solider swears to follow orders. An officer swears to do something on their own free will.

You will most likely want your soldiers to have a similar dividing line between officers and enlisted. Beyond that, another tool you can use to determine how many officers you have is to consider the crew size. You can look at military organization to figure out how many officers you should have. As a general rule, lieutenants are going to be in charge of 20-40 people, so you can expect somewhere between 2% and 5% of your soldiers will be officers based on that.

Now that being said, you mention sci-fi. In sci-fi, the purpose of an armed ship is not to wage war against an enemy. The purpose of an armed ship in sci-fi is to entertain you for an hour so that the producers of the show can reap advertisement benefits. In such a ship, you need to have a memorable set of crew. However, if you focused just on the top tier of a real military group, you would lack the excitement that is needed when shots are fired and the captain of the ship has to seduce yet another young woman to escape. In sci-fi, the real answer for how many you should have is "however many you need to tell a story."

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with you about "consider the crew size." As soon as I saw the question, I was thinking: "Well, how large is the total crew of the ship? That would obviously influence how much 'leadership from commissioned officers' they needed." In other words, 1000 enlisted would need a bit more leadership than do, say, 10 or 12 enlisted. $\endgroup$ – Lorendiac Apr 8 '17 at 5:27

It's very difficult to give one "right" answer. First of all, do you call all crew "officers", or you make a distinction between "officers" and "enlisted"?

Total crew of USS Enterprise (when Cpt. Kirk assumed command) was 428.

For the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer, Wookiepedia gives numbers as Officers (9,235), Enlisted (27,850) and Stormtroopers (9,700), for the total number of 46,785.

Those numbers are not a "handful" to me, even if you have only real officers in mind.

However, you bring up a really important topic about automation taking over human responsibilities. This is becoming really up to you how much automation you want in your universe. You can have a really small crew leading an army of droids, if you like.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, when you combine your numbers for the Star Destroyer with my numbers from real life militaries, that's quite the Officer to Enlisted ratio! I wonder if Wookiepedia is counting NCOs as officers. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Apr 8 '17 at 0:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It occurs to me that Apollo 11 carried 3 commissioned officers and 0 enlisted to the moon. Maybe that was a taste of the shape of things to come? I recently read an analysis of "Star Trek: Voyager" that suggested that roughly half of Voyager's crew seemed to outrank Ensign Harry Kim, even though he was designated as "Operations Officer" and had a seat at the table whenever the Captain had her key officers (department heads, etc.) gathered together for a conference. Does that mean at least half of a 24th Century Starfleet vessel's crew are commissioned officers; Academy graduates? $\endgroup$ – Lorendiac Apr 8 '17 at 5:37

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