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The evolution of the Empire's fleet seems to be pretty well-established. The Old Republic, under Palpatine, commissioned the creation of a large space force from a coalition of Sienar Fleet Systems and Kuat Drive Yards, to be manned by the clone troops from Kamino. Over the next 20 years after the fall of the Republic, Sienar and Kuat continued to supply the Empire behind a position of neutrality.

However, the array of ships in the Rebel fleet have far less of a known history. Apparently the smaller frigates like the Nebulon-B series commonly seen were also Kuat designs, largely brought to the Rebel fleet by capture or defection. However, the big Mon Calamari cruisers actually outgunned older Star Destroyers, and were produced by the Mon Calamari themselves totally independently of any need by either the Old Republic or Empire. They are the mainstays of the fleet in the Battle for Endor, and though most are outgunned by the latest Imperial-II-class SDs, are still a threat. So, why would the Empire tolerate the existence of these ships, and of the shipyards to produce them? Wookiepedia states that while they occupied Dac, the Empire was unsuccessful in using the shipyards for their own means, but then, why not simply destroy them?

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    Of course the fleet we see in RoTJ is EVERYTHING the Rebels have and could beg/borrow/steal to bring. The entire Mon Cal fleet is a tide pool compared to the Empire's ocean. The mon cal ships are simply not enough to be more than a purely local thread, which any sector would have been expected to deal with without aid from the central government. – Jeff Nov 10 '11 at 21:19
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    The Empire was in the unenviable position of trying to fight a guerrilla war. They had to keep fleets massed that were strong enough to deal with a full Alliance attack without small pickets being wiped out and suffering huge loses to slow attrition, while keeping enough of a force around isolated areas so that vulnerable targets wouldn't be wiped out by a light hit-and-run or pirates\marauders. – erdiede Nov 11 '11 at 1:05
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The Wookieepedia article indicates that the original Mon Cal cruisers were initially refitted civilian vessels (transports and exploration) and later built dedicated warships. Presumably, from the quoted source, the Mon Calamari were able to build up a fleet before the Empire intervened. The fleet was able to escape to hyperspace.

One of the great strengths of the Mon Calamari design was that it was highly modular, allowing for new components, such as weapons and shield generators, to be installed.

Additional vessels were acquired from, as you mentioned, defectors and worlds that rebelled against the empire. A brief overview as available at this Wookieepedia page on the Alliance Fleet.

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    They operated passenger and cruise ships and were amazing shipbuilders. If you want to think of the Mon Calamari as being the Carnival Cruise lines of the Star Wars universe, that's a good way to imagine them. It would be the same as if Carnival decided to rebel against the world and retrofitted all their cruise ships with guns and missiles. – BBlake Nov 11 '11 at 12:30
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    Another thing to consider is that MC ships required only a small crew (compared to other ships of that size), which let the Rebellion actually man them. – Petersaber Nov 26 '17 at 22:25
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The rebellion got their ships from the mon cals we all know that, as said the Empire had already diverted a majority of their attack force to fight the rebels, and most of their fleets were guarding key planets so they don't rebel against them. That’s why the yards haven't been attacked by the Empire and also because the rebels kept a huge portion of their fleet to protect the yards and I don't think the Empire wanted to send a huge portion of their fleet to fight an armada of rebels ships (especially the heavy cruisers that were guarding it). Not all rebel ships were at Endor just their attack force (all ships that were not defending the yards), the yards were not only used for making heavy cruisers (home one and liberty types), Nebulon b's corvettes they were also used to make star fighters like x-wings, y-wings, b-wings e.t.c. Which meant that the rebels more than anyone thought they did and after the destruction of Aldaraan they got a ton of money but had to keep it for both the yard’s production line and the reformation of the fleet if it was destroyed. Just letting you guys know this is based on what I think happened during that period in the galaxy, you may not agree with me but that's what I believe happened.

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    Do you have a source for this? – amflare Nov 23 '17 at 2:23

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