After watching the series finale of Star Trek Enterprise, not a single bridge officer has acquired additional rank in the 10 year mission of the NX-01. How is that possible?

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    The chance of someone getting a promotion that actually moves them to a new position is (with one or two exceptions) inversely related to their value to the ship. The more important they are and the more screen time they have when historians tell stories about the experiences of the crew of that ship, the less likely they are to ever get a promotion that moves them off that ship. (Sometimes they are offered promotions, such as the command of another vessel, but such offers are designed to look unattractive under close consideration, thus causing that officer to remain at their current post.)
    – Tango
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 6:17
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    If you believe the 2009 Star Trek film, then promotions take no time at all. In fact promotion can occasionaly happen in a quantum-like tunneling-effect manner - Kirk apparently got bumped from cadet to starship captain in a single instant...
    – thkala
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 11:16
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    Yeah, I guess that's an exception -- perhaps people can be promoted ONTO the ship, but not off of it - unless they're moving to another series, like Miles O'Brian moving to DS9.
    – Tango
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 17:56
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    Wasn't there at least one occasion during TNG when Riker was offered a promotion to captain of his own ship, but turned it down in order to stay on the Enterprise? Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 8:38
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    Data gave a run down on how to attain his rank (at the time) in Datalore, but I can't find a quote or clip online.
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 13:54

6 Answers 6


Most likely it is because the producers of the show forgot. In the military it is very common for officers and enlisted to be promoted in rank while still occupying the same job. It is even possible (in the real world, anyway) for two officers to have the same rank but one be in a subordinate position to the other. For example, two captains could be CO and XO of a ship or unit.

At higher ranks it is certainly possible for someone to go 5-10+ years without a promotion, but they would be the slackers (which of course do not exist on the Enterprise). But at lower ranks (ensign, LT) it would be almost unheard of for someone to go even 2-4 years without advancing.

I am basing all of this on my experience in the U.S. Coast Guard. Starfleet is clearly based on the actual U.S. Military (Most likely Navy, though the Coast Guard rank structure duplicates the Navy's). Perhaps Starfleet is intended to be different. I suspect that it was just an oversight.

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    I'd have said Star Fleet is loosely based on some writer's conception of the U.S. Military, from a comic book he vaguely remembers reading while stoned in college. Not that it wasn't fun, watching Captain Kirk personally beam down into the most hostile situations to kick alien a##, but still...
    – John C
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 12:23
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    Roddenberry was an air force pilot. I suspect that having bridge officers beam down the planet of the week was more a function of the show only having so many recurring characters. Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 13:53
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    Promotion, like the Enterprise, moves at the speed of plot. Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 16:53
  • @GoodbyeStackExchange In the Army, the officers send the enlisted forward to fight. In the Air Force, the enlisted (maintainers) send the officers (pilots) forward to fight.
    – fectin
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 23:39

Out-of-universe, in the first place it is generally a good idea to maintain ranks in a more static fashion, so that you can more readily identify who's being talked about by rank without having followed each episode.

Also, in the real-life military, ranks above Army Captain (Navy Lieutenant SG) are not easily obtained, because there are a limited number of posts requiring the rank. Even with meritorious service and high decoration, commissioned officers retire as Navy Lieutenants (or Army/AF Captains) all the time, simply because there isn't room at higher levels of the chain of command. Lieutenant Commanders are routinely first or second mates (XOs, COWs) of various ship classes, and if they worked up through the flying ranks they're wing commanders. Commanders are captains of smaller ships, squadron commanders of carriers, and XOs of cruisers/carriers/subs. Captains are the commanding officers of most ship classes and XOs of flag ships. All told there are not a lot of those jobs available in the field. Getting to Admiral is even harder; in the US Navy the maximum number of admirals is limited by statute, so the selection of group and fleet commanders and chiefs of staff becomes very political.

So, back in-universe, most of the TNG bridge staff besides the helmsmen extras are, in present-day Navy ranks, already pretty high up there by the events of Star Trek: Generations:

  • Captain Jean-Luc Picard, CO
  • Commander William Riker, XO
  • Commander Deanna Troi, Ship's Counselor/Second Officer
  • Commander Dr. Beverly Crusher, Chief Medical Officer
  • Lieutenant Commander Data, Second Officer/Chief Science Officer
  • Lieutenant Commander Worf, Chief Tactical Officer (thought he made Commander; guess not)
  • Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge, Chief Engineering Officer

Remember that this is 11 years after the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-D, and the only major promotions during the series were Troi's, Worf's and LaForge's. That is quite a while for so many to go without a promotion, especially Riker (who specifically turns down a command post three times before finally accepting command of the Titan at the end of Nemesis). However, like I said, they're all at very "mature" ranks.

Back in the TOS era, pretty much everyone got bumped up a rank between ST:TMP and ST2, and some more than that:

  • Rear Admiral (demoted to Captain) James Kirk, CO (started TOS as Captain)
  • Captain Spock, XO/Chief Science Officer (started TOS as Commander, having served on the Enterprise under Captain Pike, and was the Captain of record of the Enterprise as of the start of STII)
  • Captain Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer (started TOS as Lieutenant Commander)
  • Commander Nyota Uhura, Communications Officer (started TOS as Lieutenant)
  • Commander Pavel Chekov, Helmsman/Tactical Officer (also served as XO of the Reliant; started TOS as Ensign)
  • Commander (promoted to Captain) Hikaru Sulu, Helmsman/Tactical Officer (also served as Commander of the Excelsior; started TOS as Lieutenant)
  • Commander Dr. Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer (started TOS as Lt. Commander, already well-experienced; would have begun his Starfleet service two ranks higher as Lieutenant due to his medical degree, but never intended to be a Starfleet career man)

That's a LOT of senior staff to still be aboard the same ship, and some of the crew do branch out: Chekov is XO on the Reliant, Sulu commands the Excelsior, and Spock spends some time as Ambassador to the Klingon Empire as well as officially captaining the Enterprise. However, it is a much more realistic promotion timeline; over about 8-10 years from the first TOS episode, Chekov went from entry-level officer to XO of a ship. Sulu went from helmsman to commanding officer over a slightly longer time. Kirk would have been a Vice Admiral by the time he died if he'd played by a few more of the rules (not all of them, but maybe not stealing a Federation starship and blowing it up?)

Now, it's not unusual for a "flagship" like Enterprise to have that kind of senior staff on it, but it is unusual for a flagship to not have a "flag officer" (aka Admiral) on board. Also, there were plenty of starships that were getting along just fine with bridge staff of much lower average rank. Here's the shakeout of DS9:

  • Commander (promoted to Captain) Benjamin Sisko - Commanding Officer
  • Bajoran Colonel (equiv to Commander) Kyra Nerys - First Officer
  • Lieutenant Commander Worf - Tactical Officer
  • Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax (deceased) - Science Officer
  • Lieutenant Julian Bashir - Chief Medical Officer
  • Lieutenant JG Ezri Dax - Counselor
  • Senior Chief Petty Officer Miles O'Brien - Chief Engineering Officer (seriously? O'Brien never got promoted during his time on both the Enterprise and DS-9?)
  • Constable Odo - Chief Security Officer ("Constable" is an unofficial title; Odo has no official rank in either the Bajoran or Federation complements on the station)

... That's a much more regular staff list (non-official rank of "Constable" notwithstanding; call him a non-com, maybe a Petty Officer). Here's Voyager's command staff:

  • Captain Kathryn Janeway - Commanding Officer (her first command)
  • Provisional Commander Chakotay - XO (the Federation-appointed XO was only a LtC and was KIA in the pilot)
  • Lieutenant Commander Tuvok - Officer "of all trades"; chiefly Security/Tactical Officer
  • Provisional Lieutenant JG B'Elanna Torres - Chief Engineering Officer
  • Lieutenant JG (demoted to Ensign) Tom Paris - Helmsman
  • Ensign Harry Kim - Operations Officer
  • Seven of Nine - Science/Astrometrics Officer (no official rank, but she seems to have authority over various non-coms and ensigns on board, so call her a Provisional LtJG)
  • The Doctor - Chief Medical Officer (no official rank; the official CMO was a LtC who was also KIA. By convention any medical officer starts as at least a Lieutenant, but The Doctor isn't "conventional" in any sense. He does, again by convention, have ultimate authority in any medical decision aboard ship, superceding even Janeway)

... So, even before things went pear-shaped for Voyager, it had a very junior crew.

So, in summary, what you see in the Star Trek universe is both pretty normal and not so much; decorated senior officers gain rank and seniority in their Starfleet careers on famous ships like Enterprise, and then some will stay on the Enterprise of their day even when it begins to hurt their career paths on paper, because it's a much more exciting job than being Captain of any other ship.

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    Regarding O'Brien: Memory-Alpha lists him as a CPO on the Enterprise-D, and then "receiving a promotion" when transferring to DS9. He is referred to as Senior CPO partway through the DS9 series. So the only enlisted rank he didn't achieve was Master Chief Petty Officer. Of course, O'Brien's rank among the writers was always in flux. Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 20:42
  • Interesting you label Data as Chief Science Officer, when he wears the Engineering/Ops colors.
    – Iszi
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 20:10
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    Good run-down here, but the OP was specifically asking about the Enterprise series - mind adding a quick run-down of that crew's ranks, for completeness?
    – Iszi
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 20:15
  • @Iszi - That is interesting; do you disagree with the assessment? Other than Troi and Crusher, both more on the medical side of the blue-shirt discipline, there aren't any blue-shirt bridge officers in the Spock archetype of CSO. Either Data or Wesley Crusher, depending on who's sitting in that left-front station from season to season, get the lines relating to sensor scans of spatial anomalies. Neither are blue-shirts.
    – KeithS
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 23:54
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    You've answered for everything except the actual question - the Enterprise NX-01
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 16:54

Most likely, because they don't get all that many new recruits to fill out the ranks (or personnell losses/departures to allow for promotional slots), which is a prerequisite of a promotions process. If you don't have the Captain GTFO the vessel to retire or become an Admiral, his XO can't very well be promoted to Captain. If First Lft. doesn't get promoted (due to the same reason), then you can promote HIS subordinates to First Lft. Repeat recursively.

  • People aboard the Enterprise on TNG got promoted as the series progressed, without the loss of officers. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 14:38
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    @JackBNimble It started with Yar dying, tho. Once she died, then Warf got promoted. And I don't remember another promotion until Star Trek Generations when Warf got promoted again. There might have been one or two in there I'm forgetting. But basically someone had to leave for the promotions to become available. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 14:58
  • Troi got promoted to commander, La Forge got promoted to Lt. Commander, Riker was offered his own command. I believe there might have been others as well. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 15:28
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    Well, there was no one above them in each of their positions. Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 16:37
  • @OghmaOsiris The same could be said for all of the senior staff excluding Archer and T'Pol on NX-01 Enterprise; granted Trip was already a Commander so he likely couldn't have been promoted further without getting his own command.
    – Xantec
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 21:22

I suppose that one could argue that the star ship crew were rarely very well behaved, and so would not have attracted the right sort of attention. When they returned back to Star Fleet, they could offer explanations and discuss their positive contributions, and so after a while back at home base, when they have shown that they are suitable for promotion, they achieve it.

Which sort of means that they only achieve promotions - richly deserved - between versions, when they are doing nothing of interest. As others have said, they are largely senior staff anyway, so promotions on the ship would not mean a great deal, and they need to do some political face-showing when they return home to achieve them.

And I can see that those who would be promoted off active service - to Admiral for example - may resist this for as long as they can. Which tends not to lead to many other chances for promotions below them.


IN my opinion, in star trek enterprise, it's due to all the incidents the have got themselves into, and the fact that the Vulcan's don't like them that much, and at that time, Vulcan were a major influence in star fleet

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    Except the Vulcan's weren't a major interference by the end of the fourth season, and the last episode is supposed to take place six years after that. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 15:52

In theory, any crew member could get a promotion in rank without a change of the duty position. It would be awkward if a subordinate suddenly outranks a former superior, but it would be no problem at all if both are the same rank. (The superior would still have more time in grade and hence be senior.)

If everybody on a ship got promoted one grade, nothing would really change except for the rank insignia. The former Captain (now an Admiral) still outranks the former Commander (now a Captain). They would get more pay deposited in their accounts back home, at least while the Federation still uses money, and they would outrank crew with comparable jobs on other ships. But way out in deep space, the promotions would be meaningless. A bad joke.

In the real world, this kind of rank inflation would be uncommon, but you can find some examples. Back in WWII, there were sergeant pilots. These days, most are officers.

So the in-universe explanation is probably that promotions come after a careful evaluation at the end of the multi-year mission, not in between. The real reason is not to confuse the viewers. "Captain Archer" has to stay "Captain Archer" ...


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