39 starships were destroyed at the Battle of Wolf 359 (Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2"). Close to the end of the episode, Commander Shelby moved on from the Enterprise to help rebuild Starfleet. She indicated this would take "less than a year".

Replacing 39 starships and 11,000 people in less than a year seems to be an impossible task, even in the future depicted in Star Trek. Was this estimate just an attempt by Commander Shelby to brag and exaggerate (based on her penchant for greater power within Starfleet)?

In the end, do we have any information indicating how long it did, in fact, take to replace 39 starships?

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    the united states built 16 air craft carriers between 41-43, 150ish destroyers, 75 sub's, 400 surface warships, as well as thousands of aircraft, tanks ect. and this was after fulling retooling entire industries, as they currently were not building said ships. buildin 39 starships that can essentially be replicated piece by piece and only have to be assembled is actually a small number in federation total production, as i assume they were pumping out hundreds a year during the dominion wars.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 14:54
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    Replacing the people would be harder, but like the real military and police they might need to lower their standards and shorten the training period.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:00
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    @Himarm Every time we see Utopia Planitia, the ships there are crowded with engineers. It seems to be a lot of work to put a ship together. I agree with Joe L: You would need a lot of manpower all the sudden. That would be the bottleneck in Shelby's schedule...
    – Einer
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:05
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    A lot of the wreckage we see post-Wolf 359 is of much older starships than what we consider "current" in TNG, so its quite possible that there was no 1:1 replacement in progress, and many of those ships were due for retirement anyway. Replacing crew could, in the short term, be a matter of promoting within to fill vacant positions, and then stage a gradual build up of the lower ranks.
    – Moo
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:07
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    a better question would probably be why the solar system is defended like some 3rd class outpost. 39 ships is nothing. but "the enterprise is the only ship in reach" is an old trope, of course.
    – ths
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:37

3 Answers 3


There's no canon confirmation how long it took Shelby to replace the Earth Defence Task Force. We do know that the Federation had tens of thousands of ships at their disposal and potentially hundreds of thousands of officers so rebuilding the Defensive Force would be less about replacing the ships and crew and more about welding the ships into a cohesive fleet, able to respond to incursions into Earth space with very limited amounts of warning.

As you can see from the end of Voyager : Endgame, the fleet is back to a strength of at least 27 ships (with more coming) just 9 years later. They appear extremely well drilled. Note how they spread out to form a wall of ships and begin their attack almost simultaneously, using a mixture of both phasers and quantum torpedoes to maximise the damage inflicted.

enter image description here

  • I think part of my thinking when asking the question was not really realizing there were probably around 30,000 ships in the fleet to begin with. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:20
  • According to Memory Alpha the fleet includes; Galaxy-class, an Akira-class, a Defiant-class, a Nebula-class, an Excelsior-class, a Miranda-class, a Saber-class, and a Prometheus-class. None of these are brand new ship classes, suggesting the home fleet mostly comprises existing vessels that are periodically rotated into defensive roles.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:26
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    from what I understand, the Defiant was developed and built as a response to the Battle of Wolf 359. Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:33
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    @scott.korin - Good point. The were held up in prototype for a while but this AOL chat suggests that the Federation were making large numbers of them post Wolf-359; en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Memory_Alpha:AOL_chats/Ronald_D._Moore/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:37
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    @Richard Off-hand, we know that both Defiant and Prometheus classes are new. The first Defiant ship was started after meeting the Borg. Prometheus was cutting-edge at the time of VOY. I think Akira was pretty new too, but I can't recall its history off-hand.
    – user1027
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 15:45

Quite easily. The Federation has numerous shipyards scattered across its territories. We have seen the most famous and only depicted shipyard, Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, above the surface of Mars.

enter image description here

  • In a photo of the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, we see at least eight ship development frames in this picture alone. Their may be others outside of the shot as well. Each of these frames is capable of building and supporting a complete starship.

  • Estimates from different sources indicate there may be as many as twenty such building arrays above Mars and at least two or three above Earth as well. REF: Stardestroyer.net: Federation Building Capacity

  • It is assumed replication facilities on the planet or in nearby space stations are providing the tools, support and other logistics to ensure materials for development. If the Federation were desperately trying to resupply its fleet, there's no reason to believe they would not spare whatever was necessary (in this case, energy and replicators would be in high demand, as well as engineers and computing power) to ensure the ships were completed as quickly as possible.

  • We are also not aware of how many ships were already being created across the Federation but not able to be fielded at the time of Wolf 359 or Commander Shelby's later humblebrag.

Here is the most important point:

  • Utopia Planitia is not the only Federation shipyard. In fact, Memory Alpha reminds us there are many other such shipbuilding facilities in the Federation and that larger starbases can also repair and build starships.

  • Even if each of those facilities were half as capable of as Utopia Planitia, thirty nine starships should be able to be recovered relatively quickly.

  • The following is a list of Federation shipyards and maintenance and repair facilities. In addition to the facilities listed here, most larger starbases and outposts are also capable of repairing and building ships. Those shipyards include:

  • 40 Eridani A Starfleet Construction Yards

  • Antares Ship Yards

  • Baikonur Cosmodrome

  • Beta Antares Ship Yards

  • Copernicus Ship Yards

  • Earth Station McKinley

  • Luna Shipyards

  • Marin County Starfleet Yards

  • Oakland Fleet Yards

  • Proxima Maintenance Yards

  • Riverside Shipyard

  • San Francisco Fleet Yards (also known as "San Francisco Naval Yards" or "San Francisco Yards")

  • Tranquility Base

  • University of Copernicus

If the Federation at the time of Jean-Luc Picard was indeed spread across 8000 light years with 150 highly industrialized members,

Captain Picard, in STFC:

Lily: "How many planets are in the Federation?" Picard: "Over one hundred and fifty. Spread across eight thousand light years."

  • and it takes about 2-3 years to build a Galaxy class starship (so smaller ones should be easier and faster)

  • then Federation building capacity should be able to field about 100 ships a year given the number of shipyards and space stations within their dominion.

As far as staffing those ships - See my StackExchange answer at: If every single starfleet officer has to attend Starfleet Academy, wouldn't they run out of space?

  • FYI, if your answer came in first, I probably would have picked that. Sorry. Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:19
  • You always have the option to change it. It is not fixed in stone. Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:26
  • @scott.korin - Although I like this answer because it refers to the Federations building capacity, I don't think it's in the least bit clear that they would build new ships to defend Earth. If anything, the canon suggests that they used older vessels or rotated existing vessels into fleet defence roles periodically.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 21:40

I noticed several methods missing in the previous answers, so I'm including this as a supplement to the previous answers.

  • Ceasing peace time retirement of vessels
  • Reactivating reserve ships
  • Reactivating reserve & retired officers

Ceasing vessel retirement
Current era (CE) navies include the regular retirement of vessels. This is done because vessels require period overhauls to maintain modern fighting capabilities. Eventually these overhauls become so expensive as to become cost prohibitive. When classes are laid down for construction and eventual deployment, their navies already have planned the service life and retirement of the class and individual vessels. (e.g. the US carrier USS Enterprise was recently retired and decommissioned).

USS Enterprise on blocks to be defueled
USS Enterprise on blocks to be defueled

Prior to retirement, these vessels are combat capable vessels (albeit sometimes with lower capabilities than their newer replacements). So when the navy suffers combat losses, it can artificially boost the numbers of ships available to it by stopping these peacetime retirements. The US Navy plans to retire one of its 12 operational carriers every 5 years for the next 50 years (each carrier is anticipated to have a service life of 50 years).

If the UFP and Starfleet replace their vessels at a similar rate over 36,000 vessels (I have no clue how many ships Starfleet maintains in its active fleet), then it would be retiring approximately 600 vessels per year.

As you can see, this alone would allow Starfleet to replace the losses of Wolf 359 in relatively short order.

Reactivating the reserve fleet
The US Navy (and other US forces) maintain a reserve fleet. These are vessels "inactivated" but not decommissioned. Ships in the reserve fleet often possess active (but minimal) crews so that the ships can be made ready for use in some minimum amount of time. At its maximum, the US reserve fleet was approximately the same size as its active fleet. In the case of the US, the reserve fleet consists mostly of cargo hauling capability.

US Reserve Fleet
US Reserve Fleet (Notice the WW II era battleship USS Iowa moored at the end of the row)

Reactivating the decommissioned fleet
In addition to the reserve fleet, the US also keeps around many decommissioned ships (e.g. USS Ticonderoga which is an Aegis class missile cruiser). The US Navy intends to break these ships up and sell the scrap but simply hasn't done so yet. There are many ships with this status. In an emergency these ships could be reactivated too but would require a complete refit (most or all of the electronics, engines, etc. have all been removed from the ship).

USS Ticonderoga at moorings
USS Ticonderoga at moorings

Perhaps an even more impressive site is the site which houses the inactive aircraft owned by the US Air Force at Davis Monthan AFB

Some of the planes stored at Davis Monthan AFB
Some of the planes stored at Davis Monthan AFB

It's hard to get a good idea of what's there without this closer picture:

Davis Monthan AFB Close up
Davis Monthan AFB Close up (those aircraft in the middle are C-5 Galaxies among the top 3 largest aircraft in the world)

It looks like the Federation also had multiple surplus depots (see image below). Vessels reactivated from such a depot would definitely NOT be used as front line or main combatant vessels. Rather these would be used for support roles (escorts, patrol, moving dignitaries, etc.) freeing up more combat capable vessels for use at the front lines.

This is similar to what the US did during WW II in which it reactivated 50+ WW I era destroyers. It used these for convoy escorts which freed up the new build WW II era destroyers for use as combat vessel escorts.

Federation Surplus Depot
Federation Surplus Depot

Crewing these Ships
Finally Starfleet likely has a reserve component and a clause in its service documents that permits it to reactivate retired officers.

So in the event of a massive loss, then it can rapidly fill open officer slots from a pool of reserve and retired officers with the necessary experience. Along with the new cadets from the Academy, Starfleet could in a hurry crew the ships reactivated from the reserve and retired ship depots.

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    a clause in its service documents that permits it to reactivate retired officers. McCoy wanted to knock the smug smile off Kirk's face for that.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 0:55

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