The Steamrunner Class starship owes its origins to the 2330s and the growing tensions experienced between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. Border skirmishes were becoming more commonplace and outright attacks against military and civilian targets were, though still rare, increasing in number. This situation and the knowledge that Starfleet had invested too heavily for decades in larger explorers and small, able but aging border patrol craft prompted Command to specifically order a new starship be designed.
The result was the Steamrunner. Armed exceedingly well for a ship of its size, protected by the most advanced shields then in service, fast and agile, on paper the Steamrunner seemed to fulfil all of Starfleet’s dearest wishes for a border patrol and combatant. In practice, however, there seemed to be more stumbling blocks than advantages. The unique hull geometry of the Steamrunner, though compact and geared towards combat, forced a conflict of functions between the ship’s powerful structural integrity systems and its warp field when travelling at high warp velocities. The heavy armament, though required if the Steamrunner was to succeed in its role, proved to draw excessive amounts of power from the warp core and fusion reactors. Even the ship’s impulse engines caused difficulties. Located at the very rear of the engineering hull, continued operation at high output levels could result in serious structural damages over prolonged periods of time.
In short, Starfleet Command was not pleased with its new ship. The design process had been rushed, an unheard of two year period between 2334 and 2335, and initial construction had been undertaken in too much earnest. Eight Steamrunners reached completion in 2337, but the deficiencies that became evident shortly after each of their launches forced delays in the ongoing construction of the second batch of ships. Then, late in 2337, Starfleet decided to complete the 15 ships furthest along in the construction process and mothballed the remaining 35 hulls.
The 2340s were both threatening and reassuring for the United Federation of Planets. A possible war with the Klingon Empire was circumvented by the events of Narendra III, a key turning point in Alpha Quadrant politics. For Starfleet, the years that followed would be a peaceful, calm return to its primary mission, that of exploration and discovery. New starships designed to go boldly into the unknown and expand the knowledge base of the Federation would no longer be required to be capable of fighting a sustained war. The ability to defend themselves and others was all that was called for.
Before the sacrifice of the USS Enterprise-C and her crew, though, war had been a likely outcome of the failing peace talks with the Klingons. Consequently, Starfleet had received permission from the Federation Council to invest time and resources in the design and construction of new vessels that would be more biased towards combat than was the norm for the fleet. Oddly, one of the designs to pass the first level of tests was the Steamrunner Class, still as much a break from standard Starfleet engineering techniques as had ever been the case until that time. The class’ original design teams and a number of engineers who had actually served on Steamrunners, confident that they could correct any of the ship’s failings, made a submission to Starfleet Command for a full refit of the class completely. Everything was to be either upgraded or replaced in the hopes of countering the deficiencies that had hindered the Steamrunner since its initial launch.
The earliest plans for the Steamrunner met all of the requirements placed on the future starship by Starfleet Command. It was to be well armed and exceptionally well protected, with a high level of survivability in combat situations and a better than average top warp velocity. However, two difficulties affected the Steamrunner’s development greatly. First, peace erupted, reducing the need for a vessel strictly intended to fight. Second, the design called for technology that was still five to ten years away from being created.
The Steamrunner project, in contrast to a number of other designs that came out of the same process, was postponed indefinitely. Starfleet no longer required such a vessel and, in truth, was unwilling to overly devote itself to continuing to push the boundaries of starship design and construction before the right time. The plans were continually updated, though, and several elements of the original design were reviewed and adapted for new starships, such as the New Orleans and, later, the Sabre and the Norway.
The 2351 round of new starship requirements passed the Steamrunner project by. It would fill none of the categories specified by Starfleet and Command had already chosen to give its attention to other, more promising avenues of construction. Relations with the Cardassian Union affected matters greatly, though. While the Steamrunner project itself was not called upon to answer the call of another possible war as other starships were, the redesigning of the medium-to long-range explorer Iceland into the light cruiser Norway created an opening that a number of senior admirals felt a second generation of Steamrunners could occupy.
While the Iceland took its first steps towards becoming the Norway, the Steamrunner’s refit schematics were dusted off and given an initial overview examination by Starfleet Command and its leading engineers. Although some were sceptical, they finally decided over a year later that the ship could be put into use as a replacement medium-to long-range explorer for the Iceland. Permission was granted to undertake a brief redesign effort in an attempt to determine whether the Steamrunner could be suitably adapted to the different role. The project team returned a number of months later with an answer that was clearly affirmative. Starfleet Command gave the project the full green light to proceed.
A medium-to long-range explorer is intended to be many things. It must have the capability to operate independently for long periods of time. It must be so well equipped that it would not require the attention of any other vessels to achieve its mission parameters. It must be capable of travelling great distances relatively quickly. Perhaps most importantly in the darkening Alpha Quadrant political climate, it must also have the capacity to survive in potentially hostile space on its own.
All of these factors were taken into account when the “second” Steamrunner project got under way before the close of the 2350s. Once a ship of war, the new Steamrunner was to have a vastly reduced armament and combat potential. Gone were the six Type IX banks, replaced by eight Type VIII arrays with a firepower superior to that of the Miranda. Gone, too, were the three standard torpedo tubes that had been intended to augment the four burst fire launchers that served as the original Steamrunner’s heavy weaponry. This loss was not a severe one, though, for advances in the area since the early 2340s allowed Starfleet to provide the latest burst fire launchers without requiring that they consume an unacceptable quantity of the ship’s internal volume.
Even though many among Starfleet Command argued that, combat ship or not, the Steamrunner should retain all of its defensive abilities, a decision was finally taken to free up more space inside the vessel’s small hull by reducing its shields’ output by approximately 20%. The power requirements for the original shields, though not gargantuan, would have meant a noticeable lack of equipment in the Steamrunner’s slowly emerging scientific analysis suite. Though not the most impressive of its kind then in service, and falling short of even that employed on the New Orleans Class, any hobbling of the ship’s functions in this regard would have called its overall effectiveness into doubt.
The shielding/scientific situation proved to be an impasse for some of the design team’s leading members. A number favoured the simplest and most practical route of reducing shield output immediately while others thought it more prudent to slow progress on the project as a whole in order for Starfleet shielding technology to catch up to their requirements or for they themselves to develop a new means of achieving both aims. The team elements working on the phasers and engines that provided the answer, albeit inadvertently. The Steamrunner’s unique design, chiefly intended as a means of reconfiguring the ship’s warp dynamics while at the same time retaining many of the standard functions that would otherwise have been lost had the engineering section been attached firmly to the base of the saucer section as on the Sabre Class, made it difficult for the warp core and plasma systems to feed the ship’s impressive warp engines if two of the phaser arrays mounted on the engineering hull remained in place. Even the repositioning of the impulse engines from the engineering section to the rear of the main hull did not free up enough space to solve the problem.
Work stopped for a full two weeks while the design team attempted to come up with ways of solving the phaser problem. The arrays were moved and run through simulations, they were replaced by banks, they were even reduced in number, but, in the end, the answer could not be ignored. The two Type VIII arrays were removed completely, which was fortunate in terms of the ship’s shields and scientific capabilities. Although there was a significant drop in overall shield output, the figure was raised from 80% to 85%. Moreover, the scientific suite retained all of its valuable equipment and technology.
Work progressed smoothly after this, primarily due to certain inter-ship swapping. While it had been reduced to a minor role in the 2340s, aspects of the Steamrunner’s innovative new design had acted as templates for other projects that had been given the go ahead from Starfleet Command. As such, any practical difficulties inherent in the original technology had already been tackled and dealt with in the field. The Steamrunner project’s team took advantage of their good fortune in this regard, adapting the “new” designs to their “old” one. The ellipsoid deflector dish, never seen successfully before the New Orleans Class made use of the Steamrunner’s original designs, was reincorporated into the new starship’s engineering hull easily. The integration of saucer section and warp nacelle, accomplished to some extent by the Sabre Class, was finally achieved on the Steamrunner with the success first envisioned in the 2330s, a measure that both reduced the ship’s overall mass by doing away with the requirement for larger nacelle pylons and that reinforced structural integrity by unifying the construction and its structural integrity fields. The angular profile of the Sabre also shares some of its ancestry with the Steamrunner. Again, the engineering difficulties encountered on the former had already been dealt with by the time the latter was ready to go into production.
The USS Steamrunner was relaunched in 2356, nearly three years before the ship it was meant to replace, the Norway, entered service. The Steamrunner’s field testing finished later than expected, though, lasting well into 2358, but by that time another four ships of the “new” class had been ordered and were well on their way to completion thanks to the very positive reviews the project analysts had reported back to Starfleet Command. The problems that arose during the Steamrunner’s testing were more numerous than would have been hoped, a state that induced no small level of trepidation among many admirals, but few were serious enough to be significant causes for concern.
When war with the Cardassian Union broke out, all 31 refitted Steamrunner Class starships had been commissioned into active service. The initial stages of construction were already under way on another 60. The war saw the Steamrunners acting as border patrol units for the most part, engaging lone enemies in combat or operating in concert with other starships. Often, a Steamrunner could be found providing capital ship support for Norway Class vessels while they were busy engaging Cardassian Hideki Class patrol craft. Other times, mixed groups of Steamrunners and Sabres operated together, usually acting against Cardassian destroyers and light installations rather than heavy starbases or land facilities. Some Steamrunners were even given the duty of supporting larger capital ships such as Ambassadors, Excelsiors and Galaxys, acting as foils for enemy starships by harassing their flanks.
The later days of the war saw the Steamrunners undergo a small series of refits, most of which focused on their sensor arrays. While the ships were fine combatants in and of themselves, they had proven themselves most successfully when providing support for larger capital ships, particularly in their roles as fast scouts. As such, the Steamrunner’s primary and secondary arrays were fully refitted to better improve its scanning range and effectiveness.
The Cardassian War drew to a close in the mid 2360s. By that time, a total of 91 second generation Steamrunner Class starships had entered service. Of that number, 22 had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The class had, however, firmly established itself as a highly capable small combatant, albeit one with certain tactical drawbacks. For example, its weaponry was no longer as impressive as it had once been in comparison with the latest starship classes entering service. Its shields, though wholly adequate, were not as powerful or as effective as those currently entering service. In truth, the only areas in which the Steamrunner either excelled or averaged were in its sensor arrays and its propulsion systems.
Plans to refit the class again were delayed for a number of years. When the time came for the class to undergo a full overhaul cycle, Starfleet Command hesitated. New threats in the form of the Borg and, soon after, the Dominion lurked on the horizon, prompting many members of Command to forego the Steamrunner’s refit in favour of increasing production of newer ship classes. The Intrepid Class, for instance, was intended as a medium-to long-range explorer also and would, in effect, soon replace the Steamrunner as Starfleet’s premier light explorer. Many pointed out that the Steamrunner had been fulfilling that role for less than a decade and deserved an opportunity to prove itself, but it was only the loss of the Intrepid Class USS Voyager that made enough members of Command to reconsider.
The Steamrunner underwent a more extensive refit than had been planned. Its warp propulsion systems were completely upgraded. Although the ship’s top speed was only marginally increased, the longevity of its warp coils and its maximum sustainable warp velocity benefited greatly. The Steamrunner’s sensors were also upgraded, bringing their abilities to approximately 90% of the Intrepid’s. Significantly, the Steamrunner’s tactical systems were refitted. Indeed, in some circumstances the systems were utterly replaced. Old shield generators were pulled out and new generators installed, increasing the ship’s output to 120% of its earliest requirements, while an entirely new Type VIII phaser array modification was applied, increasing the Steamrunner’s phaser output by nearly 10% yet maintaining the quantity of the ship’s internal volume used. New escape pods were installed and, in an attempt to increase durability in combat with the Dominion, a layer of ablative armour was added to certain key sections of the ship’s hull.
Construction finished on refitting the last vessel of the class in 2378, bringing the total number commissioned to 214 and the total number in active service to 113. Due to the heavy losses sustained by Starfleet during the Dominion War, consideration has been given to recommencing construction of the Steamrunner Class, but with newer ship classes coming onto the front lines, the likelihood of this happening is remote. At present, the Steamrunner acts as a light explorer, an older but equally formidable counterpart to the less numerous Intrepid Class starships. It travels beyond the Federation’s borders and charts new areas of space. Although it cannot be a true explorer like the Galaxy, Ambassador or Sovereign, it is more than able to fulfil its role as long-range surveyor, first contact vessel and defender of the Federation.
|Cruising Speed||Warp 7|
|Maximum Speed||Warp 9|
|Emergency Speed||Warp 9.6 (for 4 hours)|
|Shuttles||Type 10 Shuttle: 1|
Type 11 Shuttle: 1
Type 9 Shuttle: 2
|Defensive Systems||Ablative Armour|
|Shielding Systems||Auto-Modulating Shields|
|Phasers||Type VIII Array: 6|
|Torpedoes||Burst-Fire Torpedo Launcher: 3|
– Quantum Torpedoes: 167
– Photon Torpedoes: 171
– Polaron Torpedo: 17
Tri-Cobalt Devices: 12
|1||Captain’s Ready Room, Main Bridge|
|2||Briefing/Conference Room, XO’s Office|
|3||Officers Quarters, VIP/Guest Quarters, Diplomatic Facilities, Transporter Room 1, Shuttlebay Observation Deck|
|4||Sickbay, CMO’s Office, CNS’ Office, Science Labs 1-6, CSO’s Office, Arboretum, Shuttlebay (floor), FCO’s Office, Computer Core Entrance/Control|
|5||Lounge, Holodeck/suites, Recreation facilities, NCO Quarters, Cargo Bay 1, Cargo Transporters 1, Computer Core, Docking Ports|
|6||Warp Core, Engineering (upper), Crew Quarters, Transporter Room 2, Torpedo Launchers and controls, Cargo Bay 2, Cargo Transporters 2, Computer Core|
|7||Primary Hull – Warp Core, Engineering (main), CEO’s Office, Brig/Security, CTO’s office, Phaser Range, Ship’s Armoury, Torpedo/Probe Magazine, Aux. Weapon Controls|
Secondary Hull – Navigation Deflector Control room, LRS Control room
|8||Primary Hull – Deuterium Storage, Anti-Matter Storage Pods, Life Support Systems|
Secondary Hull – Navigation Deflector , LRS Array
|10||Waste Processing/Recycling Centre|
Ships of the Line
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- USS Neptune
- USS Oberon
- USS Deimos
- USS Rigel
- USS Calypso
- USS Venus
- USS Hyperion