Shortly after receiving my captain’s pips, but before RANGER’s keel was completed, I found I had some time on my hands. One of those days was spent addressing middle school students on 40 Eridanni 6 on their career day. One of the students asked me a question which having answered then I now realize is also largely a mystery to most Federation members not in the service. The question concerned how StarFleet organized her ships and how she maneuvered them around Federation territory given the distances involved.
The adult version of this series of questions tends to focus on the seemingly impossible fact that many service members and high ranking officers seem to know one another rather well, and seem to get around quite regularly. This seems unlikely because at warp 9, it would take ten years to cross Federation space at it’s widest point from one end to the other.
Although as fleet officers reading this journal we all know the answers to these questions, I thought it advisable to provide a means for answering friends and family which includes all the accurate information.
The Milky Way’s ellipse makes it necessary to travel significant distances between stars; although we have no direct evidence of positioning for planetary formations in cluster or nebulae galaxies, we suspect that travel times may be much shorter in tight stellar clusters. As things stand here, however, there’s a great deal of empty space.
Which is something it appears most civilians don’t know. They seem to think the Federation is a large pie slice or some similar shape, and that everything within it is “ours’ or at least “friendly” or “known.” This is not the case.
In fact, Federation space is irregularly shaped, and of the several thousand sectors within it, only about half have been mapped, and only about a third explored even cursorily. The fact that the “unknown” areas remain partially or completely enclosed within patrolled space does not change the fact that they are not patrolled themselves.
It is also advisable to point out that Sector 001 is not one of the two aforementioned “furthest points” along the Federation “long axis” and that the trip at warp 9 from Sol sector to the furthest point in explored federation space is only about 6,000 light years.
What many civilians do not realize, however, is that those “furthest” points are usually not controlled by member states, when they are inhabited at all. They are only part of the border of claimed Federation space. When an area is not yet explored and mapped, or no member or treaty race occupies it, or it is not part of an established trade route, it is not patrolled.
So it is perhaps now a bit easier to understand how our ships move about so quickly; they’re really not going “all over” the federation. If one ship were to be assigned the task of going from the “furthest occupied and patrolled point” to the corresponding point in the fastest course, it would likely represent a trip of only about 3700 light years or so, which is about 4 years at high warp; still too long, especially when one considers the return trip. Which is why Starfleet is not one fleet, but many.
On Earth, in the latter half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, naval units were usually assigned certain bodies of water in which to base and patrol. There are historical references to the “Pacific Fleet” and the “Indian Ocean” Battle Group. The same pattern, not surprisingly, was repeated on other worlds in similar fashion. While the distances concerned then were expressed in miles rather than light years, the reason was as credible then as it is now.
When a group of ships bases in an area and stays there barring the most extraordinary situations, they get to know the territory. But even more important is that their deployments become manage-ably short, with corresponding time for crew lives to be led, repairs and refits, crew rotation, etc. Which is why service people are, when possible, selected for fleet postings with a mind for their home colonies or member worlds.
Starfleet is organized this way now. Sector 001 forms the hub of a large wheel with both longitudinal rings and radial spokes, breaking the whole circle into a grid. The grids, of course, are sectors, and Starfleet has organized herself to patrol them in a way which adheres to the approach described above, proven by time to be the most effective.
There are actually 15 “Fleets” within Starfleet, each with a numerical designation, and each further broken into “task forces” which change in size and composition over time and with military or political needs dominating such change. The fleet territories overlap. Not all fleets are the same size, nor are they uniformly composed. What they all have in common, however, is the fact that excepting extraordinary circumstances, they don’t need to spend more than 3 months at the most getting anywhere within their assigned space.
When one considers how much smaller claimed Federation space was 130 years ago and how most of that space was unexplored, it becomes clear how ENTERPRISE was able to perform deep space exploration and at the same time get back to Earth on occasion; they did most of their time spiraling out from Earth, not heading directly away from it in a straight line. Thus, when the time came to return at speed, they could do so quickly, in a straight course.
Although the Federation is much larger today, the same holds generally true. If a vessel is required in one of the fleets furthest from Earth, it is made there in a local shipyard on a member world or colony, not in sector 001. When personnel are required, they are schooled at one of the academy satellite campuses, of which there are 10, scattered throughout Federation Space. Though this is not generally known, since the “San Francisco” campus is the largest and oldest, the sense of it is of course obvious; it hardly makes sense for students to travel several years to go to school for the same period.
The fleet from which the ENTERPRISE comes, as well as those ships attached to SB118 and SB251, the fleets which for the most part fought the Dominion War and which fought the Borg, come from the 9th, 39th and 61st Fleets, stationed throughout an elliptical area of Federation Space only about 1500 light years across; the largest of the “slices” and thus bearing the largest fleets.
Although the war dragged on long enough for other fleets to make their way to the battle area by war’s end, as desperate as the Federation needs were, there were fleets which couldn’t have arrived in time even if they left when the first shot was fired.
It’s my hope that this aids the civilian in understanding how the Federation patrols, defends and explores the vast areas entrusted to it.
(Written by: Commodore Brian Kelly)