New Orleans Class

The late 2340s and early 2350s saw a significant shift in focus for Starfleet. With the growing peace behind the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire and the continued self-imposed exile of the Romulans, intergalactic relations were more peaceful than they had been in over a century. Peace, of course, had always been the desired state for the Federation’s exploratory fleet, but its commanding elements were ever cognizant of the dangers posed by even peaceful acts of discovery. To this effect, they had never been shy of adequately defending their vessels with the best technology available to them, a course of action often misinterpreted as arming its military rather than protecting its explorers.

Starfleet had been in need of new starship designs for some time. Most of its vessels in service in the 2340s and 2350s either originated in the previous century or were adaptations and ultra-refitted craft that, essentially, became categorized as classes in and of themselves, such as the Centaurs and Currys. While plans had been set in motion to revitalize the fleet’s capabilities with the introduction of the Sabre, Steamrunner and Norway Classes, it was felt by some members of Starfleet Command that these new ships, though innovative in many regards, would still not be the quantum leap forward in technological and design terms that had been hoped for. Not even the great Ambassador Class, Starfleet’s largest ship then in service, was felt to have forwarded the boundaries of Starfleet’s shipbuilding operations significantly.

Moreover, fleet operations was slowly coming to realise a number of notable deficiencies in existing Starfleet deployment tactics. While new ship designs were faster and better equipped than their predecessors, they lacked many of the mission specific parameters that had been the prime formulation criteria throughout the late 2200s and early 2300s. Certainly, with advances in technology and construction methods allowing for single ship classes to better handle a multitude of different mission scenarios, many felt that the need for single-purpose starships to be a thing of the past, yet a strong argument was made for the continuation of specific categories for starship production.

In this instance, Starfleet Command was concerned that the Soyuz Class, a variant of the Miranda, was no longer comparably as capable as the vessels it had been meant to counter, namely, Klingon and Romulan Birds of Prey, raiders, pirates and so on. Highly effective as a border cutter and system defence platform when first fielded, the Soyuz’s relative strength had been slowly eroded as the decades progressed. This was the primary reason behind the class’ imminent retirement from active service. Only a handful had ever been constructed. Now, due to changing times, age and minimal capabilities in a number of areas, the Soyuz was no longer a ship that Starfleet could continue to field effectively. A replacement was called for, one that could accomplish everything the Soyuz had been able to at the time of its inception, but also one that could be flexible enough to be deployed in roles more diverse than those filled by the large Miranda variant.

With the 2340s rapidly drawing to a close and the 2350s on the horizon, Starfleet Command decided to issue a call for new starship designs. The general brief for the new ships was not formally submitted until 2351, but plans had been well under way by that time to bring Starfleet fully into the 24th century. From this brief such ships as the Norway and Sabre emerged. Others, including the Steamrunner, were overlooked and set to one side due to the overwhelming consensus that war was no longer a viable rationale for shipbuilding.

The New Orleans Class was a late starter in this respect. Preliminary examinations of the submitted designs had drawn to a close in 2352, only one year after the initial request had been issued. The New Orleans’ design, however, was submitted for consideration in 2353. The reason was the backing of practically the complete membership of Command. It was well known that the new designs about to be put into production would be highly serviceable and applicable to the current political climate, but it was also felt that a new generation of Starfleet starships would soon need to be fielded. As such, the New Orleans project was actually established by several admirals and their technical staff. With the precise and daunting task of designing and building a class of vessel that would act as a test bed for new theories and practices, the teams set to work.

Designers were told to start from scratch, that their efforts, if successful, would form the foundation for the Federation’s shipbuilding operations for at least the next decade. They were given a sizable list of requirements that the new class would need to fulfil, some of which inevitably surpassed the capabilities of Federation technology at the time. It was understood, though, that the primary aim of the New Orleans project was not to build a starship but to provide other design teams with the knowledge and experience they would need when building future ships. As such, a degree of freedom rarely encountered in such an admittedly important project was allowed the teams.

In almost every respect, what the designers worked to do was ground-breaking. Although some of the theories had been tested elsewhere and with varying degrees of success, many had never been tried outside laboratories and computer simulations. Anything and everything was considered, even revisiting the failed Excelsior/transwarp endeavour of the 23rd century. Very few of the ideas examined were deemed to have any worth, though, and the vast majority were discarded in favour of achieving new heights with established technology and equipment.

Even while undergoing design reviews, the New Orleans became renowned as an experimental ship in almost every regard. For instance, while its faster than light systems would remain warp propulsion, the engines would be a more advanced and efficient variant of those found in the Ambassador Class. The nacelles and warp coils were almost completely original in this respect, using new techniques to breathe life into the most suitable warp field dynamic theories that were previously considered to be impossible. The warp core itself proved to be a step above anything else found in Starfleet at the time. While identical in function and output to existing models, its operations were drastically modified to better incorporate the new plasma injector/warp coil assembly configuration being employed.

For the first time in Starfleet history, an ellipsoid deflector dish was to be used. The reasons for this were multitudinous, but revolved primarily around the original warp dynamics of the ship itself and Starfleet’s experience with rather unorthodox uses of deflector systems in general. It had become commonly accepted over the preceding centuries that the deflector array, a device originally intended as a means of stretching forth with powerful emissions to clear a starship’s path of potentially harmful particles and micro-matter substances, could be adapted for other emissions. While past deflectors had been capable more often than was otherwise the case, they had also proven themselves quite susceptible to severe damage when used inappropriately.

The New Orleans’ deflector array was designed to correct this problem. Using designs for the Steamrunner Class that had not yet seen the light of day, the New Orleans’ design teams furthered the technology. The new deflector dish was given an increased capacity in almost every way conceivably. Its range under normal operations was extended by approximately 25%, a vast improvement over anything then in service. Its limits of functionality were also increased. Whereas previous safe threshold levels had exceeded actual practical applications by a good 75%, the New Orleans’ levels were tested at 400% above normal. This alone was so significant a step forward that Starfleet Command, upon reviewing the project in late 2355, accelerated the design and testing processes taking place on the Galaxy and Nebula projects at the time.

Of the New Orleans’ other technological advances, perhaps the most notable is the creation and successful operation of the external bolt-on torpedo cannon. Starfleet, having witnessed the impressive firepower of the burst fire launchers employed on the Ambassador Class, was hopeful that the next generation of starships would be at least as equally armed, if not better. The design teams were instructed to develop a launcher superior to the Ambassador’s. Unfortunately, this task was perhaps the most difficult to accomplish. Whereas other changes had revolved around new hull geometries and theories that could be easily put into practice by recently developed technologies, the torpedo launching systems proved exceptionally difficult to design and construct. Not only was size an issue – the Ambassador measured over 500 metres in length whereas the New Orleans was less than 400 metres – but so was the fact that the necessary technology required had not yet been invented. It was estimated that, at Starfleet’s current rate of advancement, it would be able to supply the design teams with what they required within the decade, but Command was pushing more and more for immediate results.

The solution was, in effect, to cheat. The design teams, having closely examined the operational capabilities that had made the Soyuz Class so successful in its field, saw a clear means through which they could achieve what was required of them. With Starfleet calling for powerful torpedo launchers on such a small ship, the design teams overlooked the normal procedure of installing said launchers inside the main body of the craft in question. In truth, the launchers’ locations had never been specified, but even rumours of the change in standard practices alarmed many members of Command. When queried, the project leaders simply stated that what they were aiming for was a trade off – the New Orleans would have its burst fire torpedo launchers, but it would also retain its diplomatic, scientific and living spaces that would otherwise have been consumed by locating the launchers internally. This new configuration would be highly reminiscent of the external but very large phaser cannon mounted on the hull of Soyuz Class starships, a move that had been intended to provide the small vessels with considerable firepower while maximising internal space usage for other essential equipment. Command was not convinced, especially by the teams’ citing of the Soyuz’s unique phaser cannon layout as an example, and another review was ordered. It was only afterwards, when the findings had been analysed and experts in the field had been consulted, that Command relented and granted its permission to the teams to proceed as they saw fit.

The bolt-on cannon incorporated the latest in torpedo launching technology, including targeting and remote guidance equipment. The internal configuration of each launcher was unique, utilising multiple tubes to increase the immediate rate of fire rather than the overall rate. There were drawbacks to the system, of course. The power and maintenance requirements were not insignificant, and the external nature of the cannon meant that the ship’s new warp profile would have to be altered in order to retain its required levels of efficiency. All in all, the project was delayed by the better part of three months while changes were made and even after the USS New Orleans itself was launched in 2357, modifications were found to be needed.

Classed as a frigate, the New Orleans can be one of Starfleet’s most lethal vessels in combat situations. Thanks to the brutally impressive bolt-on torpedo cannon, its sheer forward firepower is rivalled by few of even the latest combat-oriented starships being constructed in the 2380s. Thanks to a major refit, each cannon currently has a capacity approximately 85% that of the launchers found on Galaxy Class starships. Warp field dynamics remain a problem, of course, but a final series of alterations to the layout of the aft series of warp coils and to the flow characteristics of the nacelle pylons themselves seem to have rectified it. Moreover, what were once considered disadvantageous power setbacks have since been dealt with, thanks to ongoing work in the field and new and improved power distribution systems coming into service throughout the fleet.

In other areas, the New Orleans performs far better than comparable sized starships that preceded it. Its saucer’s configuration provided for more internal volume than the concave-and semi-convex shapes then in existence while the unique shape of its deflector dish called for an expanded secondary hull. The new layout was unexpectedly sound in terms of structural integrity thanks to the ship’s squat vertical profile and the refined warp fields employed. Moreover, its shield generators, some of the most advanced in the fleet, exceeded the level of effectiveness originally called for by almost 5%. Later, refits increased this margin by another 5% and, in a move owing more to an attempt to scale down phaser systems than the ongoing Cardassian War, the Type VIII arrays on the New Orleans were replaced by their Type IX counterparts in the early-to mid-2360s.

The New Orleans is not quite the predecessor of the Galaxy and Nebula Classes that many believe. In truth, it would be more apt to regard it as phase one in the development of later designs. At the time, it incorporated some of Starfleet’s most advanced technologies, from warp systems to armaments, but its prototypical nature has led to considerable impediments that offset any advantages. As a test bed, the New Orleans is amazingly successful, but as an independent starship class, its abilities are sometimes contested. Some among Starfleet Command would have preferred simply mothballing the USS New Orleans as soon as the USS Galaxy and USS Nebula first left their respective construction yards, but others pushed for a full-scale production run, citing the opportunity to use the New Orleans both as an ongoing test bed for new Galaxy-and Nebula-related technologies and as a standard explorer/heavy frigate in normal operations, a role then being played by the aging Miranda Class and the untried Steamrunner Class.


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Deck Listing

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Ships of the Line

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