- They are military ships by definition.
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A warship or fighting ship is a ship that is designed to be a combatant. They are usually deployed by the navy of an interstellar state, but there are warships in the fleets of megacorporations and private military organizations such as mercenaries.
Warships are distinctly different from armed civilian ships, but this line sometimes becomes blurred as civilian vessels are requisitioned or conscripted for use as auxiliaries during wartime. In addition to being more heavily armed and defended, warships are generally capable of superior performance over merchant ships and are specialized for their combat role.
There are multiple classes of warship, but they can be divided into three main roles:
- Line combatants
- Line combatants, also called Capital Ships, are the largest and most powerful vessels that are tasked with projecting force and winning battles. These include Battleships, Cruisers, Carriers, and Ortillery (or siege) ships. Each of these represents a Supraclass designation for a specific combat mission. Battleships are designed to both deal and withstand damage. Cruisers support Battleships or act independently when a Battleship is not needed. Carriers transport either fighters or Battle Riders not capable of jump to a conflict, and Ortillery ships bombard and subdue worlds.
- Escort combatants
- Escort combatants are smaller than Capital Ships, with a variety of missions to support and protect them. Escorts typically stay with a squadron or fleet and are not considered to be independent force projectors. Some subsector navies and most planetary navies deploy only Escorts as resources allow. There are several specific Supraclasses of Escort combatants that can be grouped into three categories: Destroyers, Frigates, and Corvettes. Each of these categories has some overlap, and what one navy calls a Frigate, another might call a Destroyer Escort or an Escort Corvette.
- Military auxiliaries.
- An Auxiliary is a catch-all term for any other kind of support vessel that is brought into a fleet or squadron as needed by the mission or logistics. Some are designed as purpose-built military craft, some are military craft built onto civilian hulls, and some are actually mobilized civilian craft. There are many varieties of Auxiliary warship, including Tankers, Supply/Replenishment ships, Ordnance carriers, Repair Ships, Hospital ships, Troop Transports, and Scouts. Any number of other craft designed to support combat operations is termed an Auxiliary when going to combat, whether originally designed for war or not. Auxiliaries try to stay out of battles and are protected by Escorts as much as possible.
- Fleets deployed by and for defense of a specific system (planetary navies) typically do not include jump drives. The reduction in the volume of fuel and power requirements of non-starships makes them less-expensive and more-capable combatants against starships of similar tonnage.
- Much like fleets of starships, system defense vessels, mostly non-jump spaceships include line of battle vessels (...called Monitors in this role, but often identical in design to Battle Riders), Escorts (...called System Defense Boats), and various types of auxiliary craft to support them. The Imperial Navy supports planetary navies for member- and client-states by paying off obsolete vessels into their service. Thus it is possible to find older warships acting in a system defense role, despite the fact that they are technically starships.
The Vilani first deployed purpose-built warships during the Consolidation Wars c. -5400. Rather than taking the modern layered approach to warship construction, the Vilani mostly built a few ship classes, with few design improvements over millenia. This tendency continued after the founding of the Vilani Empire and the Aasha Ziru Sirka, which saw the deployment of the first Dominator class Battleships. These provided the backbone of the Empire's navy. In battle, the Vilani utilized missile-armed cruisers to support the Dominators, and largely eschewed smaller combatants. The Vilani would assemble their auxiliaries from civilian shipping, simply reassigning the merchants under the control of the shangarim to ferry troops or materiel.
The Terran Confederation organized its navy in much the same way as the Third Imperium's navy, with multiple roles filled by multiple classes of vessels. Unlike the Vilani, the Terrans upgraded their ships and redrafted their designs based on what actually worked in real combat engagements. They launched battleships (...though cruiser-sized by Imperial standards) that were capable of holding the line against the Vilani Dominators. After the end of the Interstellar Wars, the ancient Vilani warship classes were phased out and replaced by Solomani designs, and these continued to be improved throughout the Rule of Man.
By the founding of the Third Imperium, two opposing views in naval architecture, between battleships and battle riders, came to dominate warship design. The early Imperium deployed both types of fleets during the Pacification Campaigns, but gradually came to favor the battleship fleet and phased out battle riders until after the Civil War. Improvements in technology made battle riders ascendant again, and they were heavily used during the Solomani Rim War after which the Imperial Navy adopted the rider philosophy almost exclusively. This came to an end after the Fourth Frontier War when the shortcomings of the rider system caused disproportionate losses, and the Imperial Navy returned to a battleship-oriented fleet.
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