STAR TREK VERSUS THE UNITED STATES NAVY
This project page is something I've always wanted to research and may possible one day write a book about. In over 12 years of service to the United States Navy, I have come to learn just how different the real Navy is from the world of starships seen in Star Trek. Surprisingly, really, since often times Star Trek is compared to the Navy.
Observe the differences
No Red Alert
There are no Red Alerts onboard U.S. Navy warships. Onboard United States naval vessels there are three main operating conditions. The normal everyday condition at sea is known as "Condition Three". "Condition Two" is a special condition, most often for anti-submarine operations, and Condition One is the highest state of readiness, known as "General Quarters". In the real United States Navy, General Quarters is the closest thing that there is to Red Alert.
JOs run the Bridge
Unlike the bridge of the starship Enterprise, where the Captain, First Officer, and all the Department Heads regularly man bridge stations, in the real U.S. Navy Department Heads rarely stand watch on the bridge. A Department Head is a senior member of the command and normally is involved in much more important watches such as Tactical Action Officer (TAO) and Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW). On the bridge, there are normally two to three officers, all of them division officer level people. The head officer is called the Officer of the Deck (OOD) and he is assisted by a Junior OOD. Then there is a Conning Officer who gives orders to the Helm with the Helmsman being a very junior sailor and never an officer (Sorry, Sulu).
The Captain's Chair
It is also surprising to many that the Captains of U.S. Navy ships, unlike Starfleet counterparts, do not have chairs in the direct center of the bridge. The CO's chair is to the side of the bridge and he actually has three chairs: one inside to observe bridge operations and one on each bridge wing to monitor mooring activates when a ship comes alongside to a pier. The Captain does normally have a chair in the center of the Combat Information Center (CIC) which more resembles a Starfleet bridge than the actual ship's bridge would.
Lack of a Supply Corps
Starfleet by its very nature would have to maintain a vast interstellar logistics system to support and supply its many starships, especially those which are on extended voyages hundreds of light years away from Federation space. Replicators solve this problem somewhat but onboard every starship there is a cargo bay, with the cargo bays in such series as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine always filled to capacity with cargo containers.
With that in mind, it is highly unusual that the viewing audience has never seen a Starfleet Supply Officer. In the real U.S. Navy, Supply Corps officers are extremely important people with the Supply Corps itself recognized as the oldest staff branch of the United States Navy, dating back from before the Civil War. In Starfleet, however, an equivalent of the Supply Corps has never been discussed, yet somehow those cargo bays always seem to full of new containers for each week's episode.
Medical and Science Admirals
With three exceptions, Admirals seen in Star Trek have always worn command uniforms and, of those, only one was not a line fleet command officer. In addition, never in any Star Trek production has the viewing audience seen a blue shirt admiral from the medical or science community. Given the size of Starfleet, and the tremendous emphasis that scientific and medical research has been shown given in Starfleet missions, its unbelievable that Starfleet doesn't have any medical or science admirals or, if they do, that the viewing audience has never seen them.
In the actual United States Navy, the closest equivalent to science officers would be the "Medical Service Officers" who run medical labs and perform scientific research. The Navy also has metrological officers but, apart from these, other science disciplines are usually covered by civilian researchers attached to special naval science ships (like the USNS Observation Island ).
The medical community is a different story as the medical corps has a wide variety of officers from doctors to nurses to dentists (interesting also, we've never seen a dentist in Star Trek). The Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Navy Nurse Corps, and the Medical Service Corps, all have Admirals as their commanders and, if there were to be such an equivalent in Starfleet, these flag officers would be the never-before-seen blue shirt admirals.
Below is my interpretation of uniforms which science and other staff admirals would be seen wearing in the Next Generation/DSN/Voyager time frame.
Admirals in command of ships and Captains in command of fleets
Star Trek has shown us that Starfleet has procedures for Admirals taking individual command of starships and likewise for Captains to assume command of an entire fleet. We see this in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where Admiral Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise and, on the reverse in "Redemption II" where Picard assembles his own fleet (Benjamin Sisko also does this during the course of the Dominion War).
In the United States Navy, a Captain would never be given command of a fleet (which are actually administrative units only; the actual operational forces at sea are called "Task Forces"). With regards to an Admiral assuming personal command of a ship, this also would never happen in the United States Navy nor would a real Admiral ever WANT to command a ship. The reason being is that a U.S. Navy ship's Captain is there to get the ship from point A to point B, make sure everything is working correctly, all onboard procedures are being observed, watches are properly manned and, if attacked, take all actions to protect the ship. An Admiral on the other hand is more concerned with the "big picture" and is usually receiving high level briefings, coordinating multiple task force operations, and issuing daily directives (known as "Commander's Intentions") which outline general policies for the group of ships under the Admiral's command. With all of this on the Admiral's plate, no Admiral in his or her right mind would ever want to take on the added responsibility (and 24 hour a day responsibility on top of that) of personally commanding a ship.
Thus, in actual practice, Admirals embarked on U.S. Navy ships rarely have anything to do with the ship's Captain nor would an Admiral ever interfere with the day to day operation of a naval vessel. Admirals also have their own mess (dining facility) and this is where all of the Admiral's staff takes their meals, away from the regular mess and wardroom of the ship's company.
Admirals do have the right to be announced when entering the bridge of a ship for whatever reason (i.e. "Admiral on the bridge") and in an extreme emergency the Admiral could take command (this has not happened on a real U.S. ship since World War II). In no case however would the Admiral take command and demote the Captain (as we see in TMP) nor would a Captain ever take command of an entire fleet, as Picard and Sisko do.
Has there ever been a real Captain Kirk?
In my work both as a military officer and a government historian, I have often been asked by Star Trek fans if there has ever been a real Captain Kirk, a real Mr. Spock, or other members of the U.S. military who had the same names as characters from Star Trek. The answer is surprising.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has registered at least 38 military veterans with the name of James T. Kirk. Of these, the largest number are Air Force personnel with several Air Force officers therefore having been referred to as "Captain James T. Kirk". None of the aforementioned veterans have had the middle name of Tiberius, however.
- There has been one veteran of the United States military named Jean L. Picard. He was an enlisted soldier during World War II.
- At least two veterans have had the last name of Worf, meaning that there has been a real "Mr. Worf" in the U.S. military. "Data" is a somewhat common last name meaning that there have been several Mr. Datas with service in the military.
- Freedom of Information Act requests to the National Personnel Records Center have revealed at least two veterans with the name "Montgomery Scott" and several with the name "Leonard H. McCoy". Per the United States Army Human Resource Command, there is at least one retired Army officer with the name "William T. Riker".
- Research with various federal agencies has indicated that there has never been a military veteran with the name Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi, or Tasha Yar. There is also no record of anyone named Geordi La Forge or Wesley Crusher having served in the military.
Cover page of an actual Naval record for one "James T. Kirk".
Courtesy of the University of California NROTC Detachment.
The Size of the Starfleet
Given the vastness of space, and the logistics and manpower required to patrol, defend, and administrate what is most likely thousands of cubic parsecs of space, the question comes to mind how large the Federation Starfleet would have to be to accomplish such a feat.
The following model attempts to explain this with some basic assumptions made. First off, it must be considered that the Federation is similar to a United Nations type organization albeit with farther reaching powers. With that said, one can assume that the basic defense of individual planets is left up the planets themselves and that the Federation Starfleet only will intervene in the event of an emergency or a major invasion that has overwhelmed the planet. With each planet most likely having its own military force (much like the State National Guards in the U.S.) this cuts down on a large amount of manpower required for the defense of individual planets.
A second assumption which must be made is that the Federation does not have a standing Army. In all of Star Trek, never has a "Federation Army" been mentioned but then this brings to bear the question of how the Federation would assault and hold enemy star systems in the event of war. The answer (at least in my model) is Starfleet Security. It must be considered that Starfleet Security, in addition to providing personnel onboard starships and starbases, has a sizable ground force component capable of attacking, occupying, and garrisoning enemy star systems. The size of the force would need to be considerable, however in the age of Star Trek with such weapons that can "lay waste to an entire world", Starfleet Security may not have to be that large just large enough to pick up the pieces after an orbital bombardment.
A final assumption is that Starfleet, much like the real military, must have a support mechanism that covers such things as basic administration, recruiting, and other bureaucratic like details such as public affairs. It must also be assumed that Starfleet has a significant supply corps as well as a transportation command and some kind of flight command that runs and maintains the many Starfleet shuttlecraft which are frequently seen (the possibility also exists for shuttle flight wings and squadrons which would further solve this problem).
As to how many people it would require to run an organization such as Starfleet, the following model assumes 30,000 starships (which is actually quite liberal), roughly 315 starbases, and 100 or so outposts. Subspace relay stations are also included which could number in the hundreds if not thousands.
Supporting commands are considered (recruiting, public affairs, personnel, transportation, etc) as well as the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. For Security, the assumption is made that Starfleet maintains several large Security Forces (equivalent to what would be an Army Group in today's military) which is further subdivided into Security Corps, Brigades, and Regiments. Starfleet almost certainly has some type of Special Forces Command as well as a branch which would maintain the penal garrisons which have occasionally seen.
The following, therefore, is the model of Starfleet given these assumptions:
Starfleet Space Forces 17,759,964
Starfleet Shore Forces 208,750
Starfleet Security Forces 11,254,716
Starfleet Support Forces 1,732,173
Starfleet Academy Cadets 8,000
Officer Candidates 4,000
Total Starfleet Manpower 30,967,503
- The above numbers were calculated through a computer program I designed entitled
"Star Trek Service Record Simulator"
Based on the above model, it would take roughly 30 million people to run an organization as large as the Starfleet would need to be. This is twice the number of United States service members (from all branches) who served in World War II. However, given that Starfleet would have several planets from which to draw its membership, 30 million would seem to be a somewhat easily obtainable number.
The present strength of the United States Navy, upon which Starfleet is apparently based, is 333,127 personnel on active duty and 124,000 in the Naval Reserve. The largest that the U.S. Navy has ever been was 4.2 million at its peak strength during World War II.