The world of Star Trek is defined by magnificent and elaborate starship designs of various diverse cultures, races and factions. The show has created dozens of iconic starship designs, many of which are recognisable even to people who have never seen the show, but by far the most iconic are the various Federation Starships that appear throughout the various incarnations of the legendary series. For those not in the know, the Federation in Star Trek is made up of a multitude of different races, including humans, and the various starships we see throughout the show ferry our heroes from planet to planet, engage in ship-to-ship combat, and provide a home from home for the sizeable crew that make it their mission to explore the furthest reaches of space.
The question remains, however: which Federation starship type is the best? Of course, there are many different criteria that can be used to define what the ‘best’ class of ship is, from how iconic it is, to how powerful it is within the show itself. For the purposes of this list, I will be factoring in several different criteria including longevity, artistic design, reliability and physical power, and I will not be including ship classes from either the revival movies or the expanded universe. With that out of the way:
10 – Miranda-class
Although it may be accidental, the Miranda-class has become somewhat of a running joke in the Star Trek universe, due to the numerous examples of Miranda-class vessels getting destroyed, attacked, lost, captured or having their entire crew die of old age. This is almost certainly due to the incredible quality of the original studio model of the USS Reliant, which led to the show’s creators re-using the same model for many other less important ships. It may seem odd now, but the USS Reliant was actually supposed to be quite powerful compared to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as it is capable of holding its own in a fight against Kirk and his crew. However, subsequent appearances of Miranda-class vessels have presented the ship as being woefully under-powered, possibly due to the huge time jump between the Original Series and TNG.
9 – Prometheus-class
Visually, the Prometheus-class is awesome – the pointed primary hull, the four nacelles – and of course the infamous ‘multi-vector assault mode’ which splits the ship into three sections for coordinated attacks – but the reason why this ship ranks low on the list is the ease by which it is captured in the show, during its only significant appearance in Star Trek: Voyager’s Message in a Bottle. Despite featuring advanced armaments, prototype tactical configurations and improved shields, the ship is already in Romulan hands before we are even introduced to it, which begs the question – how on Earth did the Romulans manage to steal this advanced top secret prototype so easily? Clearly the crew were redshirts in disguise, considering they apparently all just dropped dead with little resistance.
8 – Nebula-class
A smaller and more compact cousin of the Galaxy-class starship, Nebula-class vessels are shown to share the same levels of endurance as their larger cousins in the show, with examples like the USS Phoenix and the USS Sutherland holding their own against comparatively larger starships, including the Galaxy-class itself. One of the best things about this vessel is its design, as it includes the newer, sleeker design of Federation Starship whilst also invoking a sense of continuity, since the ship is structurally similar to the previously-mentioned Miranda-class ships.
7 – Ambassador-class
Despite its brief appearance, the Ambassador-class USS Enterprise-C proved the worth of this class both as a Federation starship but also as a class to have a ship bearing the name Enterprise. The design of this ship has a clear motive – to form a link to bridge the gap between the original USS Enterprise from the Original Series and the USS Enterprise-D from TNG – and it works perfectly. The clearly separate Saucer, Engineering and Nacelle sections are reminiscent of the original Enterprise, with the blue circular deflector dish resembling that of the Enterprise-A, and yet the colour scheme and sleeker look makes it visually similar to the Enterprise-D, providing clear continuity between the classes and forming a ‘missing link’ between the Original Series and TNG.
6 – Sovereign-class
From one Enterprise to another, the most famous Sovereign-class starship is of course the USS Enterprise-E, the final ship in the mainline show in the chronology of Enterprises. Created to replace the unwieldy Enterprise-D model that was unsuitable for big-budget movie levels of filming, the Sovereign-class is meant to represent the pinnacle of Federation starship design for its era, featuring advanced ‘Quantum Torpedoes’ to replace the regular old photon torpedoes and a more traditional Federation starship design that incorporates updated technology. Unfortunately, the entire point of the Sovereign-class’s creation was made irrelevant by the transition from physical models to entirely CGI ships towards the end of the TNG Movies, but we can still appreciate the fantastic design.
5 – Excelsior-class
The ‘new kid on the block’ towards the end of the Original Series era, the Excelsior-class was essentially the sleeker, cooler younger brother to the now-outdated Constitution-class ships. With famous post-Original Series starships like the USS Excelsior and the USS Enterprise-B represented by the Excelsior-class, it remains one of the most famous and well-known Federation ship classes that is not the primary ship of a mainline TV series, although it does feature prominently in Star Trek VI and Generations. Interestingly, the prototype Excelsior-class ship was captained by none other than Hikaru Sulu, further solidifying the idea that the Excelsior-class bears the torch passed on from the older Constitution-class.
4 – Defiant-class
Although the design of the Defiant-class ships represents a radical deviation from the standard Federation starship look, within the context of the show the change was warranted. Throughout the late-TNG and Deep Space Nine era of Star Trek, the Federation is faced with enemies that require a more tactical and combat-orientated response, rather than the usual ‘exploration first, combat second’ philosophy that had previously dominated their starship designs. The Defiant-class represents a prototype of dedicated warship designed to fight and defeat the Borg, a vicious and powerful threat to the Galaxy. Seeing action throughout Deep Space Nine and First Contact, the Defiant-class lives up to its role as a combat vessel by aiding in the defence of Earth from the Borg and the war with the Dominon.
3 – Constitution-class
The grandfather of Federation starships, this is the one that started it all. This design would go on to influence each and every Federation starship to come, and is respected as one of the most iconic and memorable starship designs ever created. In terms of the show’s continuity, the Constitution-class is far from the first Federation starship to be created, but the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 is certainly its most famous, and the adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew go on to become almost akin to the stuff of legend by the time of the Voyager and DS9 era. The ship itself is supposed to be one of the best Federation ship designs of its time, and although it is far outstripped by the Federation starships shown in later Star Trek incarnations, the legacy of the Constitution-class is upheld through the name Enterprise, and all the fantastic ships of that name to come. Talking of which…
2 – Galaxy-class
Known most famously for the USS Enterprise-D from TNG, the Galaxy-class starship serve as the primary setting for TNG, and so forms the backbone for what is arguably the essential Star Trek experience, depending on how you rate it in comparison with the Original Series. As a result, like the Constitution-class, the Galaxy-class has become one of the most recognisable ships in all of Star Trek. From a visual standpoint, this vessel effectively conveyed that massive changes had occurred in the Star Trek universe since the era of the Original Series. The ship maintains the same basic shape as the earlier incarnation, but with a sleeker design and more advanced-looking engine and sensor technology. In-universe, the Galaxy-class is a powerful exploration vessel, and although we never see the Enterprise-D go head-to-head with a Romulan Warbird to the death, the vessel is held in high regard by many allies and enemies of the Federation, making it a formidable vessel.
1 – Intrepid-class
Despite being smaller than the Galaxy-class, less advanced than the Sovereign-class and less iconic than the Constitution-class, the Intrepid-class is a fantastic ship in its own right. Quick and nimble, it demonstrates its efficiency throughout Star Trek: Voyager as the titular USS Voyager holds its own against practically everything the Delta Quadrant can throw at it, provided no time-travel is involved. The Intrepid-class personifies the apparent change in Starfleet from the era of TNG, with stark grey metallic corridors replacing the beige and wood-paneled interior of the Galaxy-class ships, and more focus on speed and durability than sheer power of its weapons. The design of the Intrepid-class also departed from the traditional Federation starship design, doing away with the separate saucer and engineering sections and opting instead for a sleeker, more aerodynamic dagger-shaped design. This design choice complements Captain Janeway’s spiky personality, and it is no surprise that some species in the Delta Quadrant come to see the USS Voyager as a warship, since Janeway demonstrates the Intrepid-class’s resourcefulness when dealing with more powerful enemies like the Borg, by pushing the craft to its very limits. Indeed, in an alternate timeline in which Voyager is constantly attacked by a race that can negate shielding technology, Janeway and her crew manage to keep Voyager running after weeks of constant attack, to the point that the ship loses an entire deck but still functions. Likewise, the Borg modifications made to the ship during Star Trek: Voyager demonstrate the ship’s adaptability, as does its ability to actually land on planets, a gimmick that is used about as often as the Galaxy-classes’ saucer separation.
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