(covers information from several alternate timelines)
Starship classification was terminology used to define a spacecraft based on distinction as a means of categorization.
Though similar in principle, this term was not synonymous with ship class, which was generally limited to a specific construction design. Starship classifications, rather defined a vessel in terms of function, such as size and role.
While the terms used to categorize vessels were not universally equal, and evolved with time, they gave a sense of a vessel's capabilities, or intentions.
Size and range
Size and range were often used to help determine a ship's classification.
Smaller vessels were typically associated with being scout ships. (TOS: "Friday's Child", "Journey to Babel", "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"; TAS: "More Tribbles, More Troubles") For this reason, limitations were placed on the perception of their capabilities. For example, it was unusual to see a Romulan scout ship on the wrong side of the Romulan Neutral Zone. (TNG: "The Defector")
Likewise, when Seven of Nine indicated that the recently discovered USS Equinox may have been sent to find USS Voyager, as an explanation for its presence in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway assured her that that was most likely not the case, as smaller Nova-class "was designed for planetary research, not long range tactical missions." (VOY: "Equinox") Contrarily, the Intrepid-class Voyager was "designed for long-term exploration." (VOY: "Someone to Watch Over Me")
Ship armaments were also used to designate the classification of a vessel. Satarran agent Kieran MacDuff, as well as the amnesiac Worf believed that the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D was a battleship, based on her tactical specifications of "10 phaser banks, 250 photon torpedoes, and a high capacity shield grid. (TNG: "Conundrum")
When the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance learned of the Terran Resistance Forces newly constructed ISS Defiant, their reports indicated that "it's of unknown classification and carries an impressive weapons array. Some kind of improved photon torpedoes, multi-targeting phaser banks." (DS9: "Shattered Mirror")
In some cases, starships could be reclassified based on perspective or revised mission profiles.
In November of 2256, when Lieutenant Paul Stamets, of the USS Discovery, argued to Captain Gabriel Lorca that good science took time, Lorca told him that the Discovery was no longer a science vessel, but rather a warship. (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
While the Federation's Starfleet did not believe in warships, the Defiant-class was officially classified as a escort vessel, but was unofficially classified as a warship. (DS9: "The Search, Part I") Later, it would receive the more specific warship designation of battleship. (VOY: "Drone")
- Escort vessel
- Attack fighter
- Auxiliary space vessel
- Cargo drone
- Courier ship
- Medical ship
- Patrol ship
- Police vessel
- Repair ship
- Supply ship
- Transport ship