Carriers were originally seen as an enigma within the context of Starship combat and operations. Shuttle Carriers had obvious capabilities in rescue and exploration, but little advantage in a theatre of operation. Few shuttles could withstand even a glancing blow from a Starship. Most Carrier class vessels before 2270 were simple shuttle transport vessels. But by 2268, advancements in technology and design gave shuttles and their support vessels a much greater presence in the fleet. Since then, carriers have once again become extremely capable and important vessels.
Carriers are designed to fulfil several specialized niches. Most carriers are designed to expand the mission of a given Starship, be it exploratory, military or medical. Carriers them selves constantly evolve, with new equipment and systems installed nearly every year. Most carriers are based with a large fleet or at a specific star base or home world and are charged with rapid response and delivery of their respective craft at a moments notice. Like dreadnoughts, most Carriers spend their patrol time less than a day’s journey from their home port.
Carriers of all types carry a large variety of shuttle craft, and may be called upon to rendezvous and deliver shuttles to other front line vessels. Carriers contain berths for flight crews, pilots and often a large area for passengers, patients or troops, depending on the mission parameters. Most carriers also have large medical or storage areas, also congruent with their mission profile. Nearly all carriers has an extensive operating protocol, including emergency transporter recovery systems, rapid shuttle launch and recovery, emergency medical or evacuation protocols and extensive troop or colonist deployment plans. Although all carriers are capable of full filling any of these operations, when ever possible, specific carriers are sent, allowing specialists who have trained to conduct the mission. Many in the Carrier fleet compete against other vessels for recovery times, information gathering and emergency procedures.
Fighter Carriers have been likened to the surface ships of old that would launch and recover large groups of specialized fighter aircraft. Modern fighter carriers are often less manoeuvrable than destroyers and are designed for fast attack strikes by their fighter wings, with moderate to heavy support from the Carrier it’s self. Most fighter carriers have fairly small recovery systems, but have excellent launch protection and defence.
Fleet Carriers are the largest of the combat carriers, capable of launching dozens of fighters and attack shuttles in moments. Unlike fighter carriers, Fleet Carriers have more extensive recovery and re-arming systems. Most Fleet Carriers are well protected against other fighters, but are not designed for extended Starship combat. Fleet Carriers are often employed as command vessels for other carrier vessels. Fleet Carriers also have a large medical recovery capability, allowing them to operate and coordinate rescue and evacuation operations.
Heavy Carriers are the cruiser classed carriers designed to function as support for several specialized shuttle and fighter squadrons. Unlike combat Carriers, Heavy Carriers have extensive research facilities as well as shuttle support systems. Heavy Carriers have combat abilities equivalent to large destroyer or medium cruisers, with enough of a science base to be classified as a light cruiser. Heavy Carriers often sacrifice some manoeuvrability to allow for the necessary internal space for shuttle operations.
The Shuttle Carrier is designed primarily to provide logistic support for a great number of shuttles. Although combat capable, shuttle carriers are most often employed in rescue operations or transporting of colonists and equipment from large colonial transports to planetary locations. Shuttle Carriers are well adapted to operate as non-combat command vessels for scores of shuttles.
Shuttle carriers have extensive repair and modification equipment and are capable of building, from the ground up, nearly any type of shuttle or fighter. Shuttle Carriers are often slow and un-manoeuvrable, being designed as a “refuelling” stop rather than a front line combat vessel. Although not designed as rescue vessels, many shuttle carriers are capable of acting as a resting stop during evacuations, allowing other carriers and vessels to take on more critical supplies or wounded in times of crisis.
The Light Carrier is considered a fast response multipurpose carrier, designed to operate freely away from a home port. Most light carriers have only a few squadrons on board, but do have extensive support facilities for it embarked craft. Light Carriers are also used as long range scouts, able to co-ordinate data gathering from all of it’s normal shuttle compliment, extending the “eyes” of a fleet. Light carriers are considered to have ample firepower to engage enemy destroyers, and with it’s full complement of combat craft in the air, can engage enemy cruisers.