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How do the enemies of the Federation match our numbers militarily?

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Great thread on Reddit.

Here's the best answer:

One of the most persistent myths throughout the history of the Federation is that Starfleet consists of a bunch of armed scientists on armed science ships. This has led to a number of unnecessary conflicts with species that saw the Federation as an unguarded treasure trove.

The reality is that, within our technological peers and near-peers, the Federation through Starfleet is the pre-eminent military power of much of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Space is dangerous and exploration is often terrifyingly deadly, so to denigrate the fact that our roles as both explorers and soldiers are somehow inferior to purely soldiering is simply ignorant.

Anyways, in terms of the number of ships capable of combat as compared to other major or moderate powers, we slightly outnumber the Klingons and we outstrip both the Romulans and the Cardassians. In fact, it wasn't until the Dominion War that we had an actual fear of being simply overwhelmed by an adversary.

However, reality is a bit more complicated than A# to B# to C#.

One of the big things to be aware of is one of quality and purpose. Going back to what I said earlier about science ships, that our ships are built for science as well of defence does mean that the vast majority of our fleet units have a disproportionate amount of internal volume committed to non-combat purposes as compared to combatants from other species. Does that mean our ships are inferior in combat? No, it simply means we carry into combat significant flexible capabilities that may not be applicable to all combat scenario.
The best example of the above is that our ships have sensor and data processing (i.e. fire control) capability that are generally far better than ships of similar size, but those advantages are not always decisive in combat and our ship suffer a mass penalty from carrying that extra capability vis-a-vis more weapons. On the other hand, our focus on exploration also means that even our smaller ships generally have much, much longer endurance, better shielding, redundancy and self-repair capability than their non-Federation peers, which makes our units less logistically dependent.

The other big thing to consider is that even though we are numerically superior to the other major powers, we are also by far the largest in terms of size of space. To exercise space control over such a large region and to support our scientific and exploration mandate means that even a fleet of our size is very thinly stretched, not to mention the demands diplomatic and crisis response events place upon us.

The combination of our multi-purpose fleet and quantitative advantage means that we tend to match the larger, combat oriented vessels (so-called warships) of our opponents by bringing more ships to the fight when feasible. For example, the Romulan D'deridex class Warbird is barely matched by our Galaxy class one-on-one, but in an all-out-war, the Galaxy would seldom have to take on that Warbird alone. And herein lies the problem that plagues us on a strategic level: to safely counter a single Romulan Warbird (not necessarily being anti-Romulan here, they're just a convenient example) requires a GCS and one frigate or heavier combatant, or more likely given the limited number of Galaxies in service, a Nebby and two frigates or at least two heavy cruisers. Though, when you outnumber the enemy like we do, it's just a matter of arranging a local superiority of force. Of course, the Romulans would consider their own ships to be large predatory bird and our ships to be little songbirds, but therein lies the difference in racial mentality and its influence of fleet action, I suppose.

Now then, the above multiplication dramatically focuses our numbers along expected axis of threat from major adversaries, while diluting our availability in other areas. This is why the first Borg incursion was so terrifying, that the Borg seemed unstoppable aside, our relatively diffused fleet deployment simply wasn't up to the task of a straight shot operation into the heart of the Federation (and some would argue we didn't learn enough from this event given the subsequent Breen attack on Earth). It also makes moderate powers like the Cardassians all the more powerful.

Make no mistake, the Cardassians are no Klingons or Romulans, but they do... Did possess a fleet that was disproportionate to the size of the space they controlled. While their ships weren't exactly technological peer to ours or those of the Klingons' or Romulans', their utilitarian design made them formidable in combat. Weld enough Duranium plates and beams together and you'll give just about any weapon a hard time, though their shielding and subsystem hardening was never up to snuff.

The discovery of the Cardassian Empire came relatively late in time, and there was no substantial Starfleet buildup along the new-found border following the discovery of our new 'neighbours' to address the threat they posed. One has to remember that there was a lot of factors that complicated the strategic policy in regards to the Cardassians, not least of all the re-establishment of contact (i.e. return of their posturing and threats) with the Romulans. We never arrayed the necessary concentration of ships along the Federation-Cardassian border to achieve local superiority of force, because doing so would erode our ability to generate the same local superiority along the Federation-Romulan border. Anyways, subsequent research after the Dominion War, once we had access to what Central Command and Obsidian Order archives that survived, showed that this lack of buildup on our part precipitated the first Federation-Cardassian War. The Cardassians, like the Klingons, recognized borders in terms of strength. Hindsight 20/20, I suppose, two sad wars later.

What do you think? Good answer, or off-base? :)

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Makes sense to me. Starfleet is by all means a military and its ships are all militarily capable and relatively self-sufficient. They need sufficient numbers to be able to respond across the entire Federation.

It also benefits from selecting the best of applicants to the academy rather than having general conscription or social expectations to join.

Great find, I hope to read through after work :)

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