For example, let's say on a "typical sci-fi" spaceship you have a shields person, a weapons person, and an engine person. The spaceship in question would be somewhere around a frigate in size.

They're at their command terminals, and a battle has started. What exactly would they be doing at their terminal? The shields person, for example, I might think they're maybe adjusting some kind of "shields frequency" or maybe finding extra available power for the shields. Basically, they'll be trying to keep the shields up and as effective as possible. But what do you think that would involve them doing at their terminal? What would they be seeing? What would they be clicking or typing?

Same thing for the weapons person. Wouldn't most of the weapon systems be automated anyway? (except firing them).

I'm just looking for ideas or concepts.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This question is incredibly broad. Can you give any other details to help narrow it down? For example: What size of ship? What technologies are available? What do you want them to be doing?? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Aug 28, 2017 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Yeah the question is very broad. I apologize for that, but I'm at the beginning concept stages of my project. If it helps at all, I'm thinking a level of technology along the lines of Star Trek or maybe Mass Effect. The ship in question would be a frigate-sized ship, I should have specified that $\endgroup$
    – Andrio
    Aug 28, 2017 at 19:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Realistically", a star trek tech level ship wouldn't need any crew at all, maybe except a captain. Certainly shields management and weapons control are much more efficiently managed by the ship AI. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Aug 28, 2017 at 21:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food i said realistically. Writers don't understand computers (tv tropes link left out intentionally). Heck, with what we've seen of the holodeck capabilities, they could just simulate the best possible crew. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Aug 29, 2017 at 6:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ordinary crew members are needed to fly around when the ship is hit ... $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 7:54

9 Answers 9


If you follow the Space is an Ocean trope, then model your ship's crew after naval submarine crews.

Fast Attack submarines have a crew of around 134, broken into about 120 enlisted and 14 officers, while SSBNs have an additional 16 enlisted and usually an additional officer. source

This crew breaks down as followssource:

  • Commanding Officer
  • Executive Officer (second-in-command)
  • 4 department heads:
    • the Engineer Officer, responsible for the nuclear reactor, the propulsion plant, and all basic mechanical and electrical systems,
    • the Navigator, responsible for the navigation and radio divisions,
    • the Weapons Officer, responsible for the submarine's torpedo, sonar, and missile divisions,
    • the Supply Office
  • Engineering Department
    • Auxiliary (non-nuclear Mechanical)
    • Electrical
    • Mechanical
    • Reactor Controls
    • Reactor Laboratory
  • Operations Department
    • Navigation
    • Radio
  • Supply Department
    • Culinary Specialist (Cooks)
    • Supply
  • Weapons Department
    • Torpedo
    • Sonar
    • Fire Control
    • Missile (on SSBNs)
  • Medical Department headed by a Corpsman,

For each department, you'll have at least some sort of computer monitoring station.

  • Engineering will have the future-version of SCADA systems to monitor and control the engines, propulsion systems, life support, etc.
  • Operations will have systems to maintain course/heading, maneuvering, and radios.
  • Weapons will have shields, space-sonar, counter-measures, weapons, and such.

I could see an argument for moving some of the defensive elements from weapons to operations.

During all this, there would also be damage control teams, in case of onboard fires and/or hull penetration / decompression events. I would assume these groups respond up through Engineering, though they wouldn't be just engineering staff? (i.e. Supply staff would respond to emergencies in the kitchens...)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Note too that each station has multiple people on board to man it. Some people will be asleep during each shift. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ And each department has multiple people on duty at any one point, obviously. $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Aug 29, 2017 at 15:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it anything like boats nowadays, everyone onboard is trained in damage control. There would probably be certain personnel who are specially designated in damage control; they would maintain the equipment lockers and run the training for everyone else, and would also have members specially picked from each department who would have similar qualifications. And, yes, personnel in one department respond to casualties with their own systems. During General Quarters, it is a slightly different story … $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2017 at 3:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fire control controls the firing of weapons. I think you mean "damage control." $\endgroup$
    – Galactipod
    Jan 4, 2021 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Galactipod, good catch. Fixed that. $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Jan 5, 2021 at 13:53

Oh, you'll need some crew all right ...

First and foremost, you'll need damage control crews to patch up holes in the ship, and medical teams to patch up holes in the crewmen.

Next, let's talk about the cannons (railguns, laser cannons, null field generators, etc). While ammunitioning can be expected to be automated, wise ship designers will forsee that damage may compromise these systems. It'd be silly to have to cede a battle just because the ammo conveyor belt is broken! You'll need crewmen to (a) fix these things as they break, and (b) if necessary & possible, manually hump the ammo from storage to the cannons.

More interestingly ... you'll need a crew of combat telemetry folks. That is, no sane warship will sail into battle without a cloud of probes and satellites flying around practicing electronic warfare against the enemy (and his cloud of probes), defending against the same, and so on. Much of this will be automated, but it helps to have alert crewmen watching, responding to innovations -- if we start losing the probe war in one sector, a crewman can direct computer to saturate that area with buckshot or somesuch.

Finally, you'll need some guys watching out for surprises. Are your elint probes getting spoofed? Is the enemy really where the radar says he is? I'd want to have a bunch of guys watching the raw data feeds looking for anomalies which may indicate a problem the ship's expert systems are not equipped to handle.

Oh hey, forgot to mention. You'll need a sizeable gang of marines, in case some of those missiles slamming into the hull are filled with boarders instead of explosives. A ship of the line is expensive, would be a darn shame if some rough strangers were to make off with it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Absolutely zero of the primary functions, +1. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Aug 29, 2017 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ For "laser cannons [and] null field generators", the "conveyor belts" are cables. I don't want to imagine what "manually hump[ing] the ammo from storage to the cannons" would mean for crewmen in that case ("Everybody take the person next to you by the hand now"). $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ Mapper, there are reasons that sailors have that particular rolling gait. I shall say no more on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Aug 29, 2017 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ You'd think that "ammunition can be expected to be automated", especially as (referring here to Star Trek) firing a photon torpedo with ad hoc modified warhead happens almost instantly, but then again there are some rare scenes where low ranks manually (and looking heroically) refill torpedo tubes ... $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 7:51

Jerry Pournelle points out that warships have large crews to perform damage control during battles. You can also extrapolate this to ensure there will be enough officers and ratings after the battle to continue to operate the ship, and at least bring it home.

While it is always dangerous to make direct one to one comparisons between "wet" navies and future space forces (note, a space force may be derived from a pre existing national air force instead), the idea of having versatile and independent actors aboard a ship or vessel to deal with unexpected situations is probably well founded. Even if the job is relatively limited (for example an analogue to a strike aircraft or motor torpedo boats), there is still scope for one or more crewmen aboard to both deal with unpredicted situations, and to add an element of unpredictability for potential enemies to deal with. Otherwise, sending the equivalent to ICBM's or cruise missiles would suffice both today and in a future space war scenario.

Given that, it is difficult to see what the crew would do once you have closed to shooting range and are now dealing with hypervelocity railgun rounds, Ravening Beam or Death (RBoD) laser beams and nuclear driven streams of plasma moving at high fractions of the speed of light. At that point, the ship's weapons and sensors will be under control of an AI or expert system with millisecond reflexes and the ability to point weapons with high degrees of accuracies (targets will be moving in speeds measured in kilometres per second so adding a bit of Kentucky windage isn't going to help).

So ships, or constellations of ships and platforms will have crews either aboard separate manned command and control ships and service support platforms, or the manned portions of the ships will be in separate pods which can be ejected just prior to going "weapons free" and turning the ship over to the AI. The human crew has set the conditions for the battle (including any randomization) and the senior officer has made the shoot/not shoot determination, so now it is time to get away from the hot, radioactive hell that is about to be unleashed.

Crew pods or manned vessels hanging well back from the constellation should be relatively safe initially, and there may be a convention not to target such vessels. As a minimum, you need the senior officer to provide the shut down codes so the vessels and weapons platforms stop shooting once victory has been achieved. As well, being able to negotiate with ranking human officers provides a means of using diplomacy as part of the tool kit. (If you have no intention to negotiate, then even a space fleet is a bit silly, just send waves of nuclear warheads to obliterate the planet....).

So in a plausible amid future scenario, the crews keep the ships going in transit, provide the strategic and possibly operational guidance, but allow tactical control to switch over to AI or expert systems embedded in the vessels while falling behind for self preservation.


So I have a limited amount to contribute but enough that it might be valuable.

  1. What a crewperson does who has a specific job depends, @ least in part, how you plan to have that technology work.
  2. What a crewperson will be doing is also dependent on the level of dynamic situation adjusting computer automation (typically considered AI but could be just really advanced and capable computer systems).
  3. What a crewperson will be doing is dependent on the level of technology that provides advanced interfaces


  1. Specific jobs are dependant on the technology as shown in this example: If shields are produced by emitters covering the hull, and IF they emit their shields only covering a section of said hull, then a shields person might be, most effectively, the tactical pilot, watching the shield strength for each section of the hull so they can make sure enemy fire is directed at other parts of the hull... while still keeping weapons angled in such a way (when possible) to be able to fire on enemy ships. NOTE: I would assume in any given situation that engineering would be automatically notified of repair needs as damage occurs...
  2. If a computer system can more effectively handle all combat maneuvering... firing, adjusting shield power (if this is even possible with the shield technology), tactical piloting, etc... then I would think that there might be a minimal crew to backup the computer(s)... though I am positive that there would be multiple levels of automation (including the hardware) to backup the initial levels of automation
  3. Finally, interfaces. If humans are able to interface with a ship through a direct link of some kind (neural links or something very similar), then, much like the advanced computer automation of #2, a few people can handle a lot. If these 'neural links' can also enable people to communicate more quickly and efficiently then there's an even higher level of efficiency possible.

So, as a summary: It depends on the technology you develop, so think that up and you will likely have most of your answers... (or alternately decide what you want your crew to be doing and design your tech to match).

Not to leave you without more ideas/thoughts here are some:

  • Shields:
    -Adjusting frequencies to better handle certain kinds of weapons/attacks (ramming, vs high velocity kinetic weapons, standard frequency light lasers vs high energy particle weapons, "phase" weapons like in Star Trek... etc...),
    -If the shield emitters have a lot of overlap because they are cheap to build but they can't all be on @ the same time because they require a lot of power, then certainly adjusting power (or temporarily being able to enhance a section) is a possibility (though I would suggest that most of this would be computer controlled)
    -If the shield system is a full integrated field that can fail as a whole someone might need to monitor how much it is attempting to absorb all @ once... too much could destroy the entire shield system so they may actually want to let some attack strength through the shield (though in this situation I would imagine there would be a backup system too and, again, computer controls may be better)
  • Weapons:
    -overall tactical planning might be wise... as opposed to just direct control of weapons systems... this way coordination between weapons systems might be possible
    -There could be 'independent' weapons stations where one person takes targets of opportunity ... much like the WWII bomber weapons... but could be for attacking other larger ships instead of just fighters
    -certain classes of weapons might have different purposes and uses during a battle ... very powerful but one or two shot weapons would take much better coordination and planning with other crew than anti-fighter defense
  • Engineering
    I would think engineering would be the heart of the repair operations so:
    -directing repair bots
    -prioritizing repair crews with the systems that need repair most urgently
    -maintaining repair systems (repairing repair systems?)
    -maintaining computer & communications systems as well as all of the other things we tend to think of (engines, shields, hull, sensors)

    Hope that helps & have fun deciding :)

What comes to mind is a sort of head-up display (HUD). These are used by, among others, military pilots.

HUDs, in these cases,

  • Are transparent, and are either projected onto the cockpit glass or are inside the pilot's helmet.
  • Show data about the craft's movement and trajectory.
  • Contain information about the target and/or any missiles/bombs/etc. being dropped or fired.

We can easily adapt this to a spacecraft. Here are some ideas:

  • Shields officer:

    • An image of the entirety of the spacecraft on his screen, showing the strength and orientation of the shield at different points
    • Information about power remaining and the ammunition being fired at the ship
  • Weapons officer:

    • Various sights that show where weapons are pointed
    • Icons that track enemy ships
    • Data about remaining ammunition/weapon strength
  • Engine officer: The engine officer doesn't necessarily need an HUD, because they're not looking at the battle going on. They'd likely be at a normal terminal somewhere, or in the engine room(s) themselves, supervising any hands-on maintenance.

  • Pilot:

    • A typical HUD, containing information about the spaceship's movement and position.
  • $\begingroup$ Aircraft HUDs work nicely because, in addition to data about and visualization of the current situation, the pilot needs situational awareness of the skies around their aircraft. How does this translate to conditions in space? We've had a few questions previously that discuss what a realistic space battle would look like, and IIRC a major common denominator is that events (let alone combat activity) wouldn't be taking place at anything resembling visual range. Consequently, this answer feels like you provide a solution, but you fail to specify what problem that solution is intended to address. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 29, 2017 at 14:17

First of all, if you are going to encounter alien ships you need them to identify different systems, so you know where to target in combat.

shields person Their display obviously displays the status, effectiveness, and other attributes of the shields. They divert power as needed, for example if the captain orders a frontal assault, then they fore shields should get the most power. Also if a particular aliens weapons are doing more damage then they have to customize the parameters of the shield for best effect.

increase decrease shields frequencies,power levels, modulation There might be hundred of settings a shield officer might be able to adjust. They may also have to right custom code to make the shields more effective. Sensor data about the effectiveness of each enemy attack will need to be reviewed.

weapons person They have several weapons choices, so those are displayed along with ammo/power levels. However, they also need to review the data collected from sensors as to the effectiveness of each hit so they can make adjustments to maximize effectiveness.

In terms of energy weapons, the aperture, power level, frequency, and etc are all available to adjusted.

Each weapon/ammo has a host of adjustable settings.

engineer: Their terminal displays all the ship's schematics, and highlights which ones are being attacked or damaged. They are prioritizing repairs, dispatching repair teams. Obviously only department heads get to spend most of their time terminals directing things. The grunts have to do the work. There is also a chance they might be re-writing some code to handle specific alien weapons attacks, and diverting power around damaged sections.

Even more important when not in combat they are the ones who are upgrading your ship. There will be teams doing both real and virtual weapons testing. Take a piece of hull, stand it up, and hit it with new and different energy patterns. Their displays will show detailed senors logs of just how the weapon damages the material. Is it cutting the hull, disintegrating it, or etc. That data will be combined with known attacks to change the composition of the hull it make it more universally durable without simply just making it thicker. A ship with a 5 mile thick hull is just impractical.

I am sure the ships computer will make suggestion on what presets or automatic options are recommended, but in the heat of battle humans need to make the final decision. Maybe the captain needs a certain system to stay up longer for one last attack before they divert power or the repair team gets to work. There will be first encounters, and new variations of ships never encountered before that the crew will have to make allowances for.

Captains will customize there ships for the type of things they expect to encounter in whatever regions of space they go into. How does template A in shields affect the weapons array template 12? If they are going into an uninhabited solar systems most the time weapons and shields aren't such a big deal. When you do need them you will mainly be programming them for asteroid destruction, and such and not combat with another ship. The composition of each asteroid will be displayed, so they can decide how to destroy it with the least amount of power/ammo.

If your going into a war zone you will need to customize your weapons and armor accordingly. Also you will need to customize them according to the strength of your ship. If you thick ablative super armor you can take more direct hits, and direct more power to the weapons array. If you have light armor, your shields will be more important.

Despite how simply all the sci-fi shows make each system seem, they are not. To keep people interested, and not to bog down the story most the technical details are glossed over.


There are some good answers here — if someone wants to leech off this and feature it in their own answer, please do so.

You ask regarding the bridge crew, so I will limit this to the bridge.

Two things:

  • There are usually three tiers of jobs in the environment of a control room: operator, supervisor, and Officer of the Watch (or Deck).
    The operator has very few duties, and they focus on those duties. Now, they might have a lot to do, and lots of casualty procedures with which to be proficient, but you never have fewer operators than are needed to operate the equipment. You have teams of off-watch personnel to assist in casualties, of course, but the operators are the ones responsible.
    The supervisor issues commands, takes reports from the watchstanders, and so on. Like the Boatswain, Coxswain, or the Chief Reactor Watch. They usually run from operator to operator. They act as an intermediary between the watchstanders and the officer.
    The Officer of the Watch (or Deck, depending on the situation) is the one responsible directly to the captain. They are in charge on the bridge when the captain is not there; they also are the officers in the other areas of the ship — but that's not important to the bridge crew.
    On nuclear aircraft carriers, you actually had a watch officer who oversaw each propulsion plant, and who answered to the Engineering Officer of the Watch; the EOOW then oversaw all of Engineering.
  • Redundancies. There were very few systems onboard the ship that did not have one more component than necessary. You expect things to fail — especially in something designed for combat conditions.
    Also, you need to take some of them offline for maintenance, both scheduled and corrective.
  • Reviewing the actions of your fellow watchstanders helped to ensure that fewer mistakes were made — most of the time, of course. It would be the same for computer operators and supervision.

Okay — three things.

The bridge is responsible for co-ordinating the actions of every other department on the ship. In our naval ships, they only directly operate the steering. Everything else is distributed so as to be nearer the equipment of concern. Communications get piped through to the bridge, but they operators are elsewhere.
You'd have the captain, those who report to the captain from the other departments and relay the captain's commands to them, and those other departments.
The captain never directly operates anything because they can't lose sight of the entire ship. A captain needs to be aware of all the details being executed, but also needs to be able to delegate.


You might want to look at David Weber's Honor Harrington series - several books in the series are available as free downloads. See the baen free library at www.baen.com; the first novel is On Basilisk Station.

He basically has Command, Tactical (weapons/defences) Electronic Warfare and signals officers on the bridge, backed up elsewhere by CIC (scans), Engineering, Damage control, and on-mount gun crews (in case something trashes the control links and they need to go to local control). Also a navigator, but that's usually for non-combat situations.


The problem with ships controls as depicted now is that the mindset is of a person at a computer terminal: typing, maybe with a joystick.

Back in the days of sailing ships, sailors used main strength to execute maneuvers. They ran, hauled; they were in action, compelling the materials of the ship to do their bidding.

I propose that space battle needs more of the latter and less of the former. The sailors of old could do one thing at a time, and sometimes many teamed up to do it. With computer assist a given crew member can do many things at once, and there is no reason not to utilize multiple body parts to do those things - not just the two index fingers I am typing with.

The crew on space ships should dance. Consoles would have full body capture control - much like a game of Dance Dance Revolution. Different movements of different body parts would correspond to actions within the given system. Body English would be for real. During battle the computer would lay down a beat appropriate for the situation and the crew member (or members, for particularly tricky situations) would put their backs into it! And their fronts.

ADDENDUM: I perceive a tragic lack of love. Perhaps a demonstration? Star Trek Harlem Shake from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9OQOHyJjCY

  • $\begingroup$ If you're on an interplanetary warship that has it's g limited to ~9, you might as well take advantage 'cause you'll prob be dead soon. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Aug 29, 2017 at 3:22

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