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I'm trying to get a feel for the size of the Federation during the time of The Original Series. (It becomes important for some of the battles).

We know that there are 12 Constitution class starships - but I'm talking about all kinds.

My question is: During Star Trek TOS - how many starships were there in all of Starfleet?

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According to totally canonical information from TOS itself, nobody knows how many classes of starships there are because no ship classes are mentioned. If anyone can read the dedication plaque on the bridge it says the Enterprise is in the "Starship Class". So apparently there is a super class "Starship" and a sub class "Constitution". If anyone can read the plaque.

Repeat, during TOS the Constitution Class is not mentioned nor is the class of any starship or other Starfleet vessel or any other type of interstellar spaceship mentioned.

In "Tomorrow is Yesterday" there is a conversation between Captain Kirk and 20th century USAF Captain Christopher:

CHRISTOPHER: Must have taken quite a lot to build a ship like this. KIRK: There are only twelve like it in the fleet.

Kirk doesn't specify what he means by "like it". Does he mean "vaguely similar" or "totally identical" or something in between? Kirk certainly doesn't specify whether the twelve are members of the same construction class. He doesn't even specify whether he meant twelve including the Enterprise or twelve others making a total of thirteen.

Remember what is said about the Antares in "Charlie X".

Captain's Log, star date 1533.6. Now manoeuvring to come alongside cargo vessel Antares. Its Captain and First officer are beaming over to us with an unusual passenger.

Talking to Captain Ramart:

KIRK: We have a large supply of entertainment tapes, gentlemen. RAMART: No, we've a tight schedule to make, Captain. Just twenty of us, we're making out fine. KIRK: This must be a space first. A transport ship that doesn't need anything?

http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/8.htm[1]

Later:

Captain's Log, star date 1535.8. UESPA headquarters notified of the mysterious loss of science probe vessel Antares.

And later:

SPOCK: Your mind is not on the game, Captain. Check. The Antares? KIRK: A survey ship with twenty men aboard lost. No reason. Obviously, Captain Ramart was not aware of any trouble. I can't figure it.

So Captain Kirk calls the Antares "cargo vessel Antares", "A transport ship", "science probe vessel Antares", and "A survey ship", within a comparatively short period, thus leaving the audience confused about the function of the Antares, even though Kirk has no motive to hide facts like he might have had talking to Christopher in "Tomorrow is yesterday".

It is good that the Antares isn't a starship. In science fiction in general the word starship means any vessel that travels between star systems, especially those with faster than light drives. But in Star Trek in particular "starship" means a faster than light interstellar vessel of the United Federation of Planets Starfleet, and probably only the top of the line ones.

In the era of TNG a higher proportion of Starfleet vessels were called starships than in TOS. In the era of TOS Starships were considered very special compared to civilian Federation registered ships and even lesser Starfleet vessels.

The Antares, whatever its function, and whether it is Starfleet or not, has a crew of only 20.

CHARLIE: How many humans like me on this ship? RAMART: Like a whole city in space, Charlie. Over four hundred in the crew of a starship, aren't there, Captain? KIRK: Four hundred and twenty eight, to be exact. Is there anything we can do for you, Captain? Medical supplies, provisions?

In "Court Martial" Commodore Stone says:

STONE: Stop recording. Now, look, Jim. Not one man in a million could do what you and I have done. Command a starship. A hundred decisions a day, hundreds of lives staked on you making every one of them right. You're played out, Jim. Exhausted.

So Stone also says that a starship has a crew of hundreds. Ships with smaller crews, even starfleet ships, can not be starships.

If "not one man in a million" is literally correct, there must be less than one starship per million "men" (however Stone defines "men") in the Federation. Since there may be tens or hundreds of billions of "men" as defined by Stone in the Federation, there could be many thousands of starships.

"The Doomsday Machine" has this dialog:

PALMER: Sir, I'm picking up a ship's disaster beacon. KIRK: Try to raise it, Lieutenant. SPOCK: I have it on the sensors, Captain. By configuration, a starship stopped in space. She appears to be drifting.

Spock seems to imply that in the era of TOS all starships had the same basic configuration, and perhaps that only starships had that basic configuration. In later eras of Star Trek starships seemed to have several different configurations.

Several ships are seen in TOS that have the same basic configuration as the Enterprise. They look so similar from the outside, in fact, that everyone assumes that they all belong to the same class, the Constitution Class, as the Enterprise.It seems certain they are all starships, but not so certain that they are all Constitution Class starships. Some people might suspect that some of those starships "actually" looked more different from Constitution Class ships but the producers saved money by using the same models and stock footage to depict them, thus confusing the audience.

In a region of space with Klingons, Romulans, and other potential enemies, the Federation needs a strong defense. There might be tens, hundreds, or thousands of "space battleships" with weapons and shields equal to those of a starship in the defense branch of Starfleet and/or in planetary defense forces.

Or perhaps the Federation relies on planetary and solar system defenses, giant shield generators, phaser banks, and photon torpedo launchers to protect all the import planets of the Federation. That could explain why often the Enteprise is the only starship near Earth - perhaps Earth's planetary defenses are rated to withstand ten times the Klingon and Romulan fleets combined and there seems no need to keep a fleet of starships at Earth for defense.

Earth's planetary defense system has been overpowered only three times that we know of, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and "The Best of Both Worlds Part II", in each case by a foe far more advanced than Klingons and Romulans.

Finally, it should be remembered that there are three separate things in the era of TOS: Starships, Constitution Class ships, and the Twelve like the Enterprise.

It is common to assume that the three are all the same, that Starships equate to Constitution Class ships that equate to the Twelve like the Enterprise.

But it is possible that only two of them are the same.

Thus:

1) Starships could equal Constitution Class ships and be different from the Twelve like the Enterprise.

2) Starships could equal the Twelve like the Enterprise and be different from Constitution class ships.

3) Constitution Class ships could equal the Twelve like the Enterprise and be different from starships.

or:

All three - Starships, Constitution Class ships, and the Twelve like the Enterprise - could be different and separate, some being subcategories of others perhaps.

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    One in a million is undoubtedly not meant to be taken as literal. And even if one millionth of the population could doit, that does not mean one millionth actually does it. – DJClayworth Dec 4 '17 at 3:45
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Aside from the 12 Constitution-class mentioned, very little is said about the rest of Starfleet in TOS. For what it's worth, the non-canon Star Fleet Technical Manual lists these counts of names as original construction:

  • 19 Heavy Cruisers (Constitution class) (with Defiance being later construction) .
  • 20 Saladin-class Destroyers
  • 15 Hermes-class Scouts
  • 15 Ptolemy-class Tugs

Many more ship names of each class are listed as later authorized for construction, also including:

  • 20 Federation-class Dreadnoughts
  • The technical manual is non-cannon, even though i love it. Other sources like the books "World of Star Trek" and "Making of Star Trek" have suggestions as to different types of ships employed by the federaion and it's citizens. There are some comments in the old Starlog magazines and later interviews too. – SteveED Dec 2 '17 at 19:12
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In the book "The Making of Star Trek" by Stephen E Whitfield, published while TOS was still on the air, and with the cooperation of Gene Roddenberry and the Star Trek production team, a number of production memos are reproduced dealing with the number of Starships. The number of Starships is fixed at twelve, and names are discussed, although it's not clear if a final decision on the names is made. Many of the names are mentioned in episodes, and so are canonical, and the number twelve is mentioned in an episode.

From the memos it is clear that "Starship" means ships like the Enterprise, what would later come to be called the Constitution class. The memos are explicitly talking about "the number of Starships". That is how it is phrased. It is also clearly stated that "Starships" were the pinnacle of Star Fleet's ships - that there were other ships of lesser power and other purpose, but that they were not referred to as Starships. In other words there are no other classes of Starship other than the one that includes the Enterprise.

I'm aware that retconning may have superceded these original decisions, but at the time of the airing of TOS the production team considered that there were twelve Starships - allowing for some known to have been destroyed, and with the expectation (made explicit in the memos) that destroyed ones would likely been replaced. The inclusion of Roddenberry in the memo chain makes this number Word of God., at least at that time.

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