A Subcraft is a smaller ship carried within a larger ship.
- Most subcraft are boats and smallcraft, although larger FTL-capable bigcraft are possible, but used much less often.
Library Data Referral Tree
- Starship User Types
- Advanced Ship Classifications
- Basic Ship Classifications
The terms subcraft and smallcraft have semantic overlap in meaning. Subcraft can come in any size. Smallcraft cannot. Smallcraft always weight less then one hundred tons.
And there are similar issues with subcraft carriers.
- Militarized subcraft carriers are known as Carriers or Tenders.
- Civilian subcraft carriers are typically known as Ship Transporters or Tenders.
It is possible to have subcraft that carry subcraft, such as a Ship Transporter carrying a scout ship (subcraft to the transporter) that has drones (subcraft to the scout ship). Even this single recursion is rare, as most ships that carry subcraft have no need of a larger ship (though in this example, the scout ship's jump drive may have been damaged and the transporter sent to rescue it). Going beyond one recursion is extremely rare.
These vary in tonnage and in their intended function or role.
|Ship Classification by Size in TL:13-15 |
|1.||Smallcraft (Subcraft)||0 to 99 tons||Vehicle||Ubiquitous||Smallcraft are NAFAL or STL.|
|2.||Bigcraft (Subcraft)||100 tons or larger||Vehicle or Ship||Uncommon||Bigcraft are designed for NAFAL capabilities, but some mistakenly call them FTL.|
|3.||Largecraft (Non-subcraft)||100 tons or larger||Vehicle or Ship||Uncommon||Largecraft are designed FTL.|
|4.||Adventure Class Ships (ACS)||100 to 2,499 tons||Ship or Vessel||Common||Adventure Class ships may be FTL or NAFAL.|
|5.||Battle Class Ships (BCS)||2,500 to 249,999 tons||Ship or Vessel||Uncommon||Battle Class ships may be FTL or NAFAL.|
|6.||Fleet Class Ships (FCS)||250,000 to 999,999 tons||Ship or Vessel||Rare||Fleet Class ships may be FTL or NAFAL.|
|7.||World Class Ships (WCS)||1,000,000 tons or larger||Ship or Vessel||Ultra-rare||World Class ships may be FTL or NAFAL.|
Ubiquitous Subcraft Usage
However, practically speaking, almost any craft can dock a subcraft to an airlock, docking point, or in a hangar. And when it comes to drones, they can be deployed from a standard missile rack or tube as well. In this sense, a vast variety of craft can deploy subcraft of varying sizes and types.
However, most starships are finely balanced for maximum jump performance with just their own tonnage, and would experience problems taking subcraft through jumpspace. Further, spacecraft of any stripe accelerate more slowly when carrying subcraft beyond their drives' rated performance. These are the main disadvantages keeping subcraft from being used more widely in practice.
In order to overcome this hurdle, the subcraft must perform some function the carrier either can not perform at all or can only perform at a significanlty lesser level. The most famous example is battle tender/battle rider pair, where the subcraft do not have to take jump drive machinery into battle and the tender can hang back, or the military carrier/fighter paradigm, where the subcraft also do not have staterooms or other long-term necessities either (their crews returning to the carrier for that). However, by sheer number produced, the most common example is drones which are sent off to "dangerous, dirty, or dreary tasks" (as has been a common Anglic phrasing since the language was first established, imported from English), in particular tasks that require continual on-duty performance without a break (such as patrols and surveys) or are inherently hazardous (such as mining). There are countless other more specialized tasks.
Thousands of years of bad fiction on this specific point has made this into one of the commonly taught ways to spot ill-thought-through works: the presence of some extremely capable starship that carries subcraft, but can do everything its subcraft would do, as well as or (often) better than the subcraft. While it is possible to have a specific ship design that can outperform specific subcraft designs, few naval architects would waste space on hangars in this case without good reason, instead just making more of the ship that can do so well, or reducing the overall tonnage so as to get the same high performance for less cost. (The Fightercraft of the Vestige series explores and underscores this point, being about a carrier and fighter squadron that were designed and built for political reasons and not at all for actual military use - though critics have noted it undermines its point, as the fighters are of political value that the carrier Vestige could not deliver by itself, such as by being able to be in - and thus, show the Imperial flag to - a number of separate locations at once.)
Impromptu Subcraft Carriers
Larger cargo vessels typically can transport entire ships, vehicles, subcraft, bigcraft, largecraft, and other forms of craft in vast numbers. Under the right conditions, many can launch and/or recover them as well. Almost any container ship can be converted into an impromptu subcraft carrier in times of need.
Dedicated Subcraft Carriers
The primary difference is that a dedicated carrier, tender, or ship transporter possesses dedicated facilities to launch, recover, track, coordinate operations, communicate, support pilots, support service personnel, and otherwise maintain subcraft operations over vast distances, time durations, and areas of influence.
There is a tremendous difference between a top of the line launch tube and a simple cargo airlock. A dedicated hangar space is vastly superior to an unpressurized cargo bay. A dedicated subcraft carrier will vastly outperform an impromptu subcraft carrier the vast majority of the time.
Almost as soon as engine-driven vehicles are first invented, smaller sub-vehicles or subcraft follow. Smaller craft typically use less resources is it's more resource-efficient and often far more convenient to use.
TL:4-6 Epoch Carriers
Most sophont societies achieve flight with powered aircraft in this technological epoch and the first aircraft carriers are born. On many worlds these are wet navy, maritime vessels, but on others they may be land ships or even more exotic carriers. The aircraft deployed on these carriers tend to be the first dedicated subcraft that reach mass manufacture.
TL:7-9 Epoch Carriers
Most sophont societies achieve spaceflight during this technological epoch. The earliest spacecraft are very dangerous and the cost of lifting mass out of gravity well is horrendously expensive so few spacecraft deploy subcraft during this period. Personal mobility units for individual sophonts in the vacuum are deployed instead. By the end of the epoch, a transition from spaceplanes to dedicated spacecraft occurs and a wider variety of spacebourne subcraft are deployed and manufactured. the first sleep ships and generation ships all use an array of subcraft and ship's vehicles. The first vessel using FTL jump drives do as well.
TL:10-12 Epoch Carriers
This technological epoch is the first to have achieved mastery over gravity control technologies, which massively lower the cost of bringing mass out of a gravity well. The G-Drive replaces conventional reaction drives on many vessels and makes it vastly easier for larger interstellar trade vessels to move goods and freight. The air/raft becomes a favored ship's vehicle on any vessel that can afford it. G-Carriers are larger and perform most of the same missions. A whole variety of spacegoing smallcraft fill in the gaps as interface craft. Military subcraft become a part of interstellar navies, not just fighters, but an array of bigcraft and largecraft as well as battle riders are experimented with.
TL:13-15 Epoch Carriers
Great bounds are made in the advancement of gravity control technology and air/rafts and G-carriers grow more capable. Improved G-Drives also are developed. Miniaturized craft grow in new technological directions as nanotech and microtech are advanced. Drones become more commonplace. Military subcraft use newly developed naval weapons and electronics to become even more vital parts of interstellar navies.