In the vast realm of “Star Trek” fandom, many consider “Deep Space Nine” to be the best series of them all. Within DS9, the best season, according to quite a few, is season 6. This is where fans are finally treated to the long-awaited Dominion War, which Ira Stephen Behr and his creative team had been working toward for so many years.
The penultimate episode during the Dominion War is “Sacrifice of Angels,” where fans got to see a massive ship-to-ship battle featuring the U.S.S. Defiant, commanded by Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks), and dozens of other Federation and Klingon ships face the Dominion and Cardassian fleet.
From within the Defiant, Sisko ordered the Attack Fighters to strafe the Cardassian ships to force them to leave the formation. Eventually, the Klingon cruisers could break through, allowing the Defiant to cruise to DS9 and win the battle.
Before this battle, the presence of the Federation Attack Fighter was mentioned a few times. Still, they had not played a significant part in many Trek stories. Why is that?
A Small Ship?
Some might point to the Defiant as a “small warship,” which is true. The Defiant can’t be considered a fighter since it was 170.68 meters long and could hold 192, according to the “Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook.” Fighters like the Federation Attack Fighter, which was somewhat based on the X-Wing from “Star Wars,” could hold no more than two crew.
Tom Paris’s Delta Flyer also does not quite fit into the “fighter” category. It was categorized as a shuttlecraft with some special modifications. While Paris and Harry Kim did have some adventures on the Delta Flyer, it was never considered a fighter.
The Empire Doesn’t Consider a Small, One-Man Fighter To Be Any Threat
Yes, that is a line from “Star Wars,” but perhaps it holds true for “Star Trek” as well. While there have been many Trek episodes featuring small ships — starting back in the TOS era with “The Galileo Seven” — smaller vessels were used for transport and escape, rather than combat.
Designer Jim Martin created the Attack Fighter and assisted in designing the Defiant. He worked with scenic artist Doug Drexler and designer Herman Zimmerman. Martin also designed the Maquis Raider. When Martin created the Attack Fighter, Drexler said that it looked too much like a “Star Wars” vessel.
“Being a number of years younger than the rest of us, Jim was highly influenced by ‘Star Wars,’ and often that would show in his work,” Drexler noted on his blog. “Nothing gave me more excess stomach acid than that, so I would carry an eleven-foot G-95 cattle prod and used it in case ‘The Force’ clouded his vision.”
Fighters Were No Match for Starships
As demonstrated in “The Next Generation” episode “Conundrum,” the Enterprise-D quickly destroyed a small fleet of Lysian fighters without too much trouble. The episode showcased the unmatched power that a modern Federation starship had over small ships. This could have been one of the many possible reasons that writers of Trek chose not to involve smaller ships in significant battles.
A fan post on the StackExchange SciFi boards explains that the “Roddenberry universe is dominated by weapons, sensors and defensive systems that would generally render ‘fighters’ as we know them useless in battle.”
New Stories Use Smaller Ships
Fans familiar with the newer Trek stories, including “Star Trek Beyond,” can attest that small ships certainly can threaten a large vessel. In “Beyond,” Enterprise is literally shredded by a swarm of tiny fighters. Kirk (Chris Pine) orders the ship to fire at will, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) shares that the vessel is not equipped for “this manner of engagement.”
In the season 2 finale of “Star Trek: Discovery,” the Enterprise, commanded by Pike (Anson Mount), and the Discovery, commanded by Commander Saru (Doug Jones), face a fleet of Section 31 ships, both large and small. Among the vessels deployed against the enemy was a Tactical Flyer, which was seen in just this battle.
In both instances, these small ships proved effective against larger vessels.
Better Graphics, More Small Ships
It could be that with advanced graphics, “Star Trek” will see smaller vessels in their stories. Knowing that they are not constrained by model makers and designers who are influenced by “Star Wars,” the writers can use the new special effects and designs to create different stories.