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The original "NCC-" designation seems to have begun in the high 1600s according to Memory Alpha, with the U.S.S. Constitution (NCC-1700) beginning the Constitution-class line, and the original Enterprise being next out of drydock.

While the ship bearing the name Enterprise has always kept the designation NCC-1701 (with one or more letters to designate "generations"), the rest of the Starfleet ships were numbered according to some regular system, such that the U.S.S. Voyager (roughly contemporary to the Enterprise-E) has the designation NCC-74656.

From this numbering, absent some system buried in the numbers, one would assume that Starfleet has commissioned nearly 73,000 starships with the NCC- numbering system, which does not seem to be used for smaller support craft like shuttles or freighters, between the original Enterprise in the early 2250s to Voyager in 2371 (only about 120 years). That is a LOT of ships to maintain in that time period, or alternately to build and then lose.

Breaking it down, to build 73,000 ships in 120 years would require sustaining a build pace of approximately 608 ships per year, and if we take into account that a starship takes up to 3 years from commencement to christening, then up to another year in and out of drydock for shakedown and outfitting, we're talking about at least 1800 ships being in the shipyards under construction at any given time.

There may be other explanations of course; the numbering system may have been advanced due to some event or rearrangement (The USAF and Navy had different airplane numbering designations for planned and produced designs, until the Joint Chiefs agreed to a shared numbering scheme involving a "reset"), and ships are commissioned and recommissioned, possibly taking on a new number for their new mission (at least two ships that became Enterprises were under construction while another Enterprise served, and thus likely had a different designation planned).

However, my original theory, that the number was some system of ship class number and ship number, seems to be incorrect. It follows for certain ship classes such as Constitutions (they're all "17"), but the Miranda-class, probably the most long-lived design in Star Trek canon, has designations beginning with 18xx (Reliant was 1864) up into the 31000s (Sisko's Saratoga was NCC-31911) with notable ship designations in the 1900s and 21000s. The Excelsior-class, probably the most successful in terms of ships produced, started with NCC-2000 and has designations in the 2500s, 14000s, 38000s, 42000s and even one up in the 62000s, contemporary to Voyager.

So, the question stands; approximately how many Federation starships were commissioned through the known Star Trek canon? Is there any rhyme or reason to ship designations in-universe?

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    @SachinShekhar - Replication technology is small-scale; starships aren't built just by setting up a replicator array. Even smaller complex machines such as photon torpedoes and PADDs are not replicatable. – KeithS Jun 4 '12 at 14:18
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    No.. No.. I am not saying that entire starship can be replicated. I am saying, it can speed up production of most of mechanical parts.. – I Love You 3000 Jun 4 '12 at 16:56
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    You pulled up a big last-two-digit number, 1864 for Reliant. 1864 was the year that a certain Sloop-of-War sailed. Its name: Enterprise. – Solemnity Apr 3 '13 at 4:10
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    The lowest number in the canon that I am aware of is NCC-173, the USS Essex. – World Engineer Apr 8 '14 at 23:14
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    There is actually a good reason for a (somewhat) military organization to not use a pure counter as a designator. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_tank_problem – John Meacham Jul 15 '14 at 4:11

11 Answers 11

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First and foremost - the MST3k mantra...repeat to yourself it's just a show, etc. Having said that...

You're assuming that the registration number is a counter. There's nothing which says that that's impossible, but it may be a code. It may be that the original Enterprise was the first vessel built at shipyard 17, while the Reliant was the 64th ship built at shipyard 18.

Or it might be that the Enterprise is the first vessel built as part of Federation appropriations bill 170. It's unthinkable at that point that you would build more than ten starships in a single bill...but eventually you start this, and you have to go to five digit registries like Voyager or Defiant.

I think ultimately your "buried in the numbers" idea is the most likely one. Engineering projects are unlikely to remain that straightforward over hundreds of years.

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    Maybe the emergence of more dangerous, hostile species prompted them to randomize and increase the size of their registry numbers. For example, if you haven't met the federation and suddenly encounter a ship numbered 50,000, would you REALLY want to start a fight with a fleet that could number in the 10's of thousands? – erdiede Oct 1 '11 at 16:54
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    Funny you should say that - the recently famous "Seal Team Six" was so-named in an effort to confuse Soviet intelligence back in the eighties - there were actually only three Seal teams at the time. – Chris B. Behrens Oct 1 '11 at 20:01
  • I was actually thinking of the way aircraft are given designations... for example f-4 and f-105 are vietnam era aircraft, f/a-18 and f-117 are modern. – erdiede Oct 2 '11 at 2:44
  • The F-111 and F-117 were the last holdovers before the USAF switched completely to the "tri-service" designation system. The F-111 was under design and preproduction during the transition, while the F-117 began development much later. I think they kept the "Century-Series" designation as a misinformation tactic; the development of the Nighthawk was an open secret and the speculation was that it would be given the designation F-19 because of a gap between the F-18 Hornet and the F-20 Tigershark. – KeithS Oct 28 '11 at 17:16
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    In the US Navy, the hull numbers are usually sequential but only as far as the class is concerned. For example, the Seawolf class attack submarine had a double-digit hull number (SSN 21), while its predecessor (Log Angeles class: SSN 680+) and successor (Virginia class: SSN 774+) both had triple-digit numbers. The same may be true for Starfleet, where hull numbers are grouped by class (or some other grouping). – Chad Levy Nov 17 '11 at 4:53
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It is also possible that the numbers were generated from a list of random numbers to avoid opponents from determining how many ships the Federation has launched. In WW2, the Allies needed to determine how many tanks the Germans actually were producing. The technique they developed is called "German Tank problem" (simple explanation here). Learning from this technique, and using it to make life difficult for opponents, US Air Force aircraft are not numbered sequentially.

  • You know, this is actually one of the most plausible explanations yet, especially when you get into the TNG era. TOS-era ships seem to be roughly sequential, though, and in the current US Navy, ship designations are sequential by class; the George H.W. Bush, CVN-77, is the 77th aircraft carrier built by the U.S. Navy. – KeithS Sep 30 '11 at 17:27
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There were actually several ships of the Constitution class with numbers lower than 1700 and which were built after the Constitution. NCC-1017, which was the Constellation and NCC-1371, which was the Republic, are two examples, so I don't think you can relate the NCC number with the it being the order that the ship was built or commissioned, except in vague terms.

UPDATE: I should also note that there is some discrepency between various sources on some of the numbers for this class. For example, the Excalibur is listed as both NCC-1664 and NCC-1705, depending on the source.

Another point is that if you look at some of the lists around the web of various starship classes, there are gaps and numbers that are well out of order. For instance, one of the Galaxy class ships is the USS Trident, NCC-31347, while most of the Galaxy class ships start with a number in the 70000 range. So there are enough examples out there that I don't think that you can say that the ships are numbered as they came off the line, even if ships given legacy numbers such as NCC-1701-D are also given "phantom" full numbers.

  • I believe the real-world explanation for the Constellation's number NCC-1017 is that they used a Revell plastic model of the Enterprise and rearranged the digits. (Might have made more sense to go with NCC-1710.) – Keith Thompson Jun 2 '12 at 22:11
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I would imagine that star ships would be similar to the number of ships today.

To give you an idea, there is currently around 30,000 ships in the world, according to the CIA 2005 World Fact Book.

If we are limited to military vessels, let's look at some numbers. The US peaked at almost 7000 ships during World War II.

During the 120 years listed, there have been numerable wars, expeditions, increase in population, etc. Also, the Federation is composed of not only one country, but the entire human force, plus several alien species. It seems quite reasonable that there could be 7,000 ships build per year at some point of some kind of military/federal purpose.

7

I just stumbled across this, and believe I can clear up the answer.

The FASA Star Trek RPG says that NCC stands for Naval Commissioned Contract, I have a friend who was a Pen-Pal of Majel Barrett (Gene Roddenberry's wife) and was involved in creating the FASA RPG, she told me she had asked Majel about how the ship numbers were derived as part of creating the game and Majel's response was that Gene wanted the ship numbers to match the construction contract number for the ships, as stated in the FASA RPG. One of the ships in the Federation recognition manual is named after my friend, because she refused to take credit for working on the game. She was one of the original game play testors, and as she put it just getting to be one of the first people to play the game was enough recognition. She actually got mad at FASA for naming a ship after her, and wrote a letter complaining about it (she showed me a copy). She was also a stunt woman in "Swamp Thing" and "The Toxic Avenger" among other movies.

I think this is as close to a direct answer as anyone living can provide.

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I don't believe the designation numbering system has so much to do with the "US NAVY" or other military designation systems we see today, but most likely is more inline with the contracts issued on the building of the ships. While "Star Fleet" IS, and always has been a political agent, its scope goes way beyond just the planet Earth. Ships within the federation are built all over the galaxy by various races at differnet locations for different reasons. I think the most logical answer would have to include this scope of galaxy wide arraingement, and therefore be forced to include much more possibilities than what's been talked about up to this point. Thousands of designers, hundreds of thousands of plans, hundreds of possible classes or specific usage for the ship in question, all coming from hundreds of planets within the aliance. NCC-74656 could very well be set based on the 6th ship built on the Star Fleet Approved Contract #65 from the 74th planet in the federation. There's really no way to tell... unless you ask the writers of the shows. NCC-1701 could be Planet 1 (Earth), 7th approved contract, ship 01. Contracts NOT approved would easily account for any gaps in numbering. Then again, I don't believe the shows put that much detailed thought into why a ship would have its specific number. Most likely, it was picked out of thin air. No rhyme or reason behind it.

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It seems feasible. We're talking about 73,000 ships over a bit over a century. Keep in mind that they would only reuse the numbers for notable ships, like the Enterprises. In addition, a 'starship' can be as small as a runabout, which also make use of the numbers.

  • Well, not a few centuries: only about 120 years have passed between the commissioning of NCC-1701 and NCC-74656. I did not know that runabouts received NCC designations; the Danube-class would likely account for a few thousand, but they're relatively new to canon (2368) and their known designations begin in the 70000s. It seems a few freighters and other "non-starship"-type vessels did receive NCC designations, though many classes of these vessels did not. – KeithS Sep 21 '11 at 18:28
  • The first 1701 Enterprise wasn't the first ship commissioned though. Also as time passes, Starfleet's need for more ships would increase dramatically, due to expansion of territory and population. – user1027 Sep 21 '11 at 18:41
  • ... But I'm not counting any ship with a number before 1700; that would only bump the number closer to 74,000 ships. – KeithS Sep 21 '11 at 19:28
  • I missed that detail, I've tweaked my answer. – user1027 Sep 21 '11 at 19:34
1

That logic is like assuming because of the HP Pavillion DV6000, there must have been 5999 previous models.

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    That's a model number, meant to be a marketing term as much as an identifier. It IS perfectly acceptable to think that if your laptop had the SERIAL number 6000, that there were at least 4998 previous ones (if the numbering system started with 1000). Ship designations, whatever the system, have been intended to be unique like a serial number, and in the Navy's case at least have been sequential. – KeithS Sep 22 '11 at 16:38
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    OK I can see your point, but sometimes a model number is mixed with a serial number. Like, maybe in "NCC-1701" it was model 17, but build 1 of that model (or 2, if there was an NCC-1700). – David Good Sep 22 '11 at 16:52
  • There's probably some system, but not that one; see further down in my question. Miranda-class (i.e. Reliant) and Excelsior-class ships are built and serve through the entire canon, and the known designations have no real patterns. – KeithS Sep 22 '11 at 19:45
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    Or that there have now been 2,011 releases of Microsoft Office. – Mike Scott Sep 23 '11 at 11:45
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    Or that there were 12 prequels to the movie "Apollo 13". – Keith Thompson Jun 2 '12 at 22:09
1

More people, more resources and higher technology. The ship yards could well number in the hundreds of thousands given fifty odd member systems (by 2370) in the ufp. So I think it's easily possible for nearly 80,000 starships commissioned between 2161 and 2360 onward.

1

I seem to recall that one of the technical books for Star Trek said that NCC stood for Naval Contract Code. I imagine the number would have something to do with contract numbers.

Of course, I believe the actual answer is "the show's writers didn't think about it and just picked numbers."

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Well, it would be great if the Federation had 74 656 ships in active service when Voyager was commissioned... however, it seems more likely that Voyager was 74 656'th ship to be commissioned in 2371.

The Federation as a whole would realistically have anywhere between 10 000 and 20 000 larger/capital ships and additional smaller ships like shuttles, runabouts, workbees, etc. in the 24th century.

Considering how big the Federation actually was stated to be (encompassing over 150 member worlds spread over 8 000 Lightyears as of First Contact movie), it would have to have at least 10 000 ships in active use (probably more).

It also stands to reason that at it's foundation, the Federation would have a smaller number of actual SF ships, and main taskforce would consist of member species worlds ships that were absorbed into starfleet. Also, the speed at which ships are constructed would likely decrease over time with more advanced technologies.

For example, I can see a starship being designed for a long period of time (say a few years), but actual construction would take a much shorter period of time... anywhere between two weeks or few days when you factor in replicators, tractor beams, full scale automation, etc. in the 24th century (manual construction is really senseless under these circumstances - which might be reserved for special cases where people WANT to dedicate their time to doing that, but otherwise, automation would have to handle it for the sake of precision and not wasting time).

Even in the 22nd and 23rd centuries, they'd be using more advanced versions of extremely fast 3d printers most likely that would fabricate parts of the ship and then assemble them.

I can see the Feds having less than 1000 ships at it's foundation, with the number rising to 1701 comissioned ships by TOS (due to size of the Federation) and then suddenly rising all the way ti 74 656 ships 80 years later when Voyager was commissioned for example.

The 23rd century might have ended up with about 10 000 commissioned ships by the beginning of 24th century... and then the Federation grew rapidly, and you can easily have 74 656 commissioned ships by 2371 (especially if every Federation member world and possibly colonies) would have shipyards, etc. all working together.

All in all, given how old some Federation ships are in the 24th century (like Miranda and Excelsior classes), and the premise that the Excelsior class was upgradeable to equal the Defiant in combat prowess... I could see the Federation having anywhere between 30 000 and 45 000 ships in active use (most of which would be capital ships, and the rest being comprised of shuttles, runabouts, etc.).

But bear in mind that given the distances and the fact that most ships couldn't travel at Warp 9.9 (21 473 times LS) for better part of the 24th century (until Voyager or later), it would take them time to traverse large distances and assemble large fleets. Most ships would be out exploring anyway. It's probably why in TNG BOBW episode, the Wolf 359 battle only had 39 Federation ships.

  • Can you back any of this up with evidence from the shows or is this all just your personal opinion? – Valorum May 14 '18 at 6:06
  • There are a couple of different canon, on-screen instances where people talk about the physical assembly process including things like running cables behind particular bulkheads. There's no evidence I'm aware of that could possibly be misconstrued to support the idea of days-to-weeks build times. – T.J.L. Feb 12 at 13:59
  • You can when you have the technology to just materialize things from energy with subatomic precision and simultaneously beam those in place... all in all, ships are divided into junctions... you have internal bulkheads for example... all you need to do is pull out the specs of the bulkhead, and then replicate/materialize it in place. Its actually ridiculously easy with Trek technology. Skyscrapper hotels can be fully constructed in just 14 days... 3d printers can print a whole house in less than a day (that's today... nevermind hundreds of years into the future). – Deks Feb 16 at 23:31
  • Valorum, most of that is my own hypothesis from what I observed in Trek... however, during the Dominion War, the numbers grow even larger considering by how many times the Klingons were said that they were outnumbered (15 to 1 if I'm not mistaken, and that they could deploy 1500 ships in a matter of days). If the Klingons can muster up that kind of a force, there's no reason to think the Federation can't... because if it couldn't, the Klingons alone would have overrun the Federation a long time ago, nevermind the Romulans. – Deks Feb 16 at 23:42

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