Sector 001: Federation Starships of First Contact
Star Trek: First Contact introduced fans to a bevy of new Federation starship designs, including the elegant U.S.S. Enterprise-E. In addition to Starfleet's Sovereign-class flagship, the Akira-, Steamrunner-, Saber- and Norway-classes all debuted on-screen during the pivotal Battle of Sector 001. Many of these vessels later played crucial roles in Star Trek: Voyager and the Dominion War arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Let's analyze some of the finer points surrounding these unique ships, from their launch dates to their potential production runs.
At the time of the Battle of Sector 001 in 2373, Geordi La Forge stated the Enterprise-E served as the fleet's most advanced vessel with under one year of service time. Per Starfleet policy, the U.S.S. Sovereign's maiden voyage occurred prior to Captain Picard's first cruise on the Enterprise-E. This information places the debut of the John Eaves-designed Sovereign-class starships in the range of 2371 to 2372. Primarily designated as an explorer, Picard's command nevertheless displayed its tactical acuity in combat against the Borg Queen's cube, Ru'afo's fleet, and Praetor Shinzon's Scimitar.
Unfortunately, the Enterprise-E ended up as the only Sovereign seen on-screen, making appearances in First Contact and its sequels Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis. Of course, the fate of Earth rested on the outcomes of two of those incidents, so the latest Enterprise acquitted herself well. Sovereign-class vessels never emerged during any Dominion War episodes but, given the vastness of battlefields in space, the notion remains that the ships participated in many of the conflict's most significant skirmishes or made up elements of the various Federation fleets described during the two-year struggle.
In terms of a production run, I personally hope Starfleet built a significant number of Sovereign-class starships by the mid-2370s. The exploratory nature of the design fit the Federation's goal of peaceful contact with new species, but threats from the Borg Collective and Dominion created a need for more firepower. Perhaps vessels mentioned but never seen, such as the U.S.S. Destiny in the DS9 episode "Image in the Sand," actually belonged to the Sovereign-class. In "Once More Unto the Breach," the fleet of seven Federation starships serving alongside the U.S.S. Defiant to reinforce General Martok may have easily contained several Sovereigns, as no specific classes received a reference in the briefing. This is all speculation of course, but what 'starship nerd' would not dream that these breathtaking vessels entered mass production?
The Alex Jaeger-designed Akira-, Steamrunner-, Saber-, and Norway-classes premiered to fans during the Battle of Sector 001 in 2373, but several ships of these designs surfaced in flashbacks at Utopia Planitia in 2371 during the Voyager episode "Relativity." If the NCC registries of Starfleet vessels reflect a sequential system, these four classes probably launched much earlier than First Contact. Their NCC numbers range from the low 50000s to the mid-60000s and rank lower than the recent Galaxy- and Danube-classes, falling closer to the older Nebula-class registrations. While an exact date cannot be pinned down, these four types of vessels potentially patrolled the galaxy even before the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
At least three Akira-class heavy cruisers served at the Battle of Sector 001, providing significant firepower from their sleek space frames. An Akira-class vessel assisted two Defiant-class ships in rescuing the U.S.S. Prometheus from three Romulan D'deridex-class warbirds during the Voyager episode "Message in a Bottle." However, the design's most notable contributions came during the Dominion War, as it appeared in virtually every major engagement from Operation Return to the Battle of Cardassia. Three of the cruisers even faced off against the Borg once again as part of the fleet welcoming U.S.S. Voyager home in "Endgame."
The abundance of Akira-class starships indicates their status as prospective replacements for the aging Excelsior- and Miranda-classes. In fact, a minimum of thirty-two Akira-class vessels cruised together in the shot of the combined Federation-Klingon fleet at the end of the DS9 episode "Call to Arms." Although always found engaged in combat or patrol duties, the design most likely followed the ethos of the Federation and incorporated scientific capabilities as well. In any case, the sheer number of vessels seen throughout the 2370s means the Akira-class enjoyed a significant production run.
Upwards of six Steamrunner- and five Saber-class starships confronted the Borg Cube entering Earth's orbit during First Contact. Smaller than their Akira-class counterparts, these two ships served prevalently throughout the Dominion War. However, other than patrolling and amassing in various fleets, the on-screen action featuring these two unique designs mostly took place during their initial emergence in Sector 001. In terms of saucer and nacelle configurations, the Sovereigns and Akiras generally fit into established design parameters of Federation vessels. The half-saucer of the Steamrunners and angled shape of the Sabers, along with the innovative placement of their nacelles, allowed these starships to stand out from the rest of Starfleet's vast complement.
The Federation-Klingon fleet in "Call to Arms" included at least nine Steamrunners and eleven Sabers. Combined with their presence throughout the Dominion War, this information supports the notion that these classes also received high production runs. The relatively compact stature of the Sabers would make the design perfect for patrol duty and short-range missions, while Steamrunners might perform similar functions while also serving in deep-space roles.
Other than minor images on background computer displays, the Battle of Sector 001 proved to be the only time audiences witnessed the Norway-class in action. At least four of the vessels participated in the engagement against the Borg. Despite its more familiar saucer and nacelle layout, the design's hull geometry fit perfectly with the unusual forms of the Steamrunner- and Saber-classes. As the Norways only surfaced once, projecting the number of ships constructed by Starfleet presents a problem. However, as with the Sovereign-class, the combat duties of these vessels perhaps primarily occurred off-screen.
While the aforementioned five starship classes all debuted in First Contact, other designs reinforced them during the battle. The U.S.S. Defiant, along with several Nebula-, Oberth-, and Miranda-class ships, helped confront the ominous Borg cube. A U.S.S. Madison of unknown class received a nod in comm chatter, as did a U.S.S. Bozeman. The Bozeman was probably not the outdated, 23rd-century Soyuz-class vessel rescued by the U.S.S. Enterprise-D in the TNG episode "Cause and Effect." The possibility exists that Starfleet either upgraded the old ship or deployed her in desperation, but the more plausible explanation is that the vessel belongs to a newer class with the same name. Finally, certain officers filed reports of an unidentified freighter, piloted by a braggadocios scoundrel, assisting in Earth's defense. The mystery of the ship's affiliation and rumors about a large, hairy co-pilot remain unsolved.
The crew of First Contact, especially designers John Eaves and Alex Jaeger, successfully introduced a brand-new Enterprise and a supporting cast of background ships in the early moments of the film. With the exception of the Norway-class, these vessels all went on to appear in later movies and television episodes. However, all five designs etched their way into the hearts of Star Trek fans, particularly those of us with the 'starship nerd' gene. By pushing the boundaries of the Federation aesthetic and bolstering the ranks of starship classes, First Contact simultaneously awed audiences and enriched the tapestry of Starfleet's resources.
Jay Stobie is a science fiction writer who admits he has a perfectly normal obsession with Star Trek. He can be found on Twitter at @CaptStobie.