Too small and ill-equipped to carry their own strikecraft and ground troops, the Zanar-pattern frigate is not designed to be deployed independently thanks to its unusual origins. Instead, it is designed to operate in a fleet support role, travelling with other vessels which can make up for its deficiencies. Retaining extensive automated elements to give it a very small crew for its size, they are otherwise regarded as average warships. Somewhat fast for its size, and decently protected, its weapons placement would have made it a poorly-equipped escort had it not been armed with two powerful plasma beam emitters. Instead, it is particularly well-suited to the needs of planetary assault and suppression, with accurate and powerful armaments that can systematically strip rebels of their most powerful assets.
At the height of the Covenant, Zanar-pattern frigates were deployed as a stop-gap measure for colonial patrol, routinely inspecting freighters for any illicit materials and responding to unrest with violence. Occasionally charged with escorting larger capital ships, these humble Attack Ships served as a begrudging but ideal first posting for many new officers in the Covenant Navy, as the lack of troops and minimised crew reduced the pressure on their shipmaster. Their crews regarded them as a stepping-stone on the road to larger commands, and worked to get reassigned onto more respected vessels. A participant in many of the Covenant's last Ages of Conflict, when the Empire fell the deep-core stockpiles of these ships were quickly depleted by its desperate successors. The minimal manpower requirements of these ships made them a very prominent subject of the succeeding Great Schism.
The first prototypes that would later found the CRS-class frigate line were built above the Sangheili-Lekgolo frontier colony of Precious Commendation in 2238. It was home to the Averrakun Builders Guild, a low-key factory complex that exported everything from construction materials to prefabricated colonial equipment, with a number of civilians ships also emerging from their Forges. Thanks to a combination of inexperience and use of obsolete equipment, Averrakun suffered from frequent malfunctions which required expensive resets of their forges and scrapping of the mutated product. This would continue to plague them after they won the contract to build four new battlecruisers for the local Ministry of Tranquillity, as a scaling glitch would see three of the new ships being reduced to mere hundreds of metres long. Two were badly misshapen and had to be disposed of, but one of the vessels from this primordial group was found to be spaceworthy. The design plans for this unexpected vessel would be touched up by Senior Shipwright Zahn 'Corsartee and sold to the planet's defence forces, and would quietly spread across Covenant space for the next two decades. The Covenant itself would only adopt the frigate four decades later in 2281, of which by then the now-named Zanar-pattern had become Averrakun's most highest-selling export.
In the hands of the Covenant's rear-echelon fleets, the Zanar-pattern frigate's mission began as a policing vessel, used to enforce compliance throughout their vast dominion and attend to matters that did not need to be fulfilled by any particular warship classification. In this way, it would intercept civilian vessels, use its powerful sensor vanes to create a detailed scan of their inventory, and potentially detain it if there is any discrepancy between the results and their shipping manifest. Although it could reach high speeds, it was not designed for pursuit, and most of its weapons were not optimised for space combat, so it was necessary for the frigates to be in contact with faster, better-constructed ships. They could assist local law enforcement groups with petty investigations that were far beyond their capabilities, although this was a very rare occurrence.
Instead, the CRS-class frigate is designed as a means to enforce compliance on any colony, which is where their strange weapon systems could shine. The Zanar-pattern is essentially a purpose-built aerial bombardment platform, which could quell riots and savagely hammer strategic positions into dust. Its beam lasers and optional plasma cannons could effortlessly eliminate armed revolutionaries without harming the surrounding civilians, infrastructure, and responding security personnel. Stationary facilities which could seriously hamper their efforts, such as Tyrant anti-aircraft guns or shield generators, could be directly targeted by sustained fire from its plasma torpedoes. This left its energy projector free to root out underground tunnels. There were very few heretic groups that could weather the storm of fire brought by a single frigate, with those that are often requiring the direct attention of an entire armada to guarantee their destruction.
A CRS-class frigate in an attack formation with a flight of Seraphs.
In wartime, the Zanar was permitted to take on a number of more aggressive roles. In space combat, they accompanied larger Executors and Quaestories into battle, where they would act as light artillery warships. Their swift plasma torpedoes would make a direct course to a predetermined location to suppress the enemy fleet, splitting them up and ensuring other Covenant ships could pick them off one-by-one. If a warship got close, their powerful plasma beams offered a nasty surprise for smaller escorts. It should be noted that few shipmasters aboard these ships were content with this tactic and typically followed strikecraft formations into the fray. Here, the two vehicles had a symbiotic relationship: while the Banshees and Seraphs took out enemy bombers and shot down incoming missiles heading for the frigate, the Zanar-pattern would obliterate screening vessels and draw most of the enemy fire away. When invading an enemy world, these frigates led the planetary invasions. Because they could carry up to four dropships on gravity tethers around their beam laser emplacements, they could act as budget carriers. They would arrive above a prospect landing sight, clear it of hostiles, and then release the troop carriers to establish a foothold on the planet. If by some coincidence Forerunner relics were located, a Zanar-pattern frigate had the adequate tools to perform light excavation work, although actual unearthing was recommended to be handled by a larger, much better-equipped Examiner.
Weaknesses and Counter-Tactics
Propulsion and Powerplant
To meet the demands required for patrol and combat, the Zanar-pattern frigate has access to the Farrix-pattern pinch fusion reactor located within its central hump. Fed a solid fuel mix of deuterium and tritium, the reactor-core is best described as a 'user friendly' counterpart to the reactor-cores used on its larger peers. It is a rugged, reliable design pattern, built using readily-available components that can be effortlessly swapped-out by a technician with only passing experience with starship engineering. This simplicity, paired with the ship's software that manages its power distribution without placing excessive strain on the reactor, has seen some examples operating for years with little attention paid to its upkeep before it suffers a breakdown. Although unremarkable in terms of output or efficiency, most of the frigate's systems can be powered simultaneously. This doesn't mean it cannot be strained beyond what it can cope with, however. If its shields are overloading, or if too many weapons are firing at once during a sustained period, then output will be redirected from elsewhere in order to prevent the fusion reactor from being damaged. Beyond this preemptive system, there are no safety mechanisms to stop it from damaging the rest of the ship or harming the rest of the crew.
An aft view of a CRS-class cruiser, with engines active.
When it needs to move, a pair of Cerpus-pattern repulsor engines push the frigate through both slipspace and realspace. A powerful set of engines, like all drives used by larger Covenant warships it has no need for a reaction mass, freeing up space for other considerations. It is more than capable of reaching high speeds and sharp turns to outmanoeuvre opponents, as must be done when avoiding heavy weapons or chasing suspicious craft, but the crew normally sets its output to far lower than what it is rated. This is done because the control coils are faulty and drift out-of-alignment when it is set near its maximum potential, which releases a subtle wave of radiation at the quantum level across the ship. This interferes with the crew's ability to interpret their surroundings, causing disorientation at best and frighteningly real hallucinations at worst. To avoid the busywork of retuning them, most shipmasters place mental limits on just how fast they can push their ships before the effects become intolerable.
"We've been suppressed for the last five days, Petty Officer. The base is a smoking crater thanks to that cruiser, and every time we move, our 'hogs risk being picked off by its lasers. It's been hell."
―Corporal Edward Mack
The weapon systems present on the Zanar-pattern frigate are chosen based on their performance in an aerial fire-support role, with many of their emplacements organised to bolster this role. This is in contrast to typical Covenant selection, which sees their shipwrights focusing solely on their ship-to-ship combat utility first to ensure they can fend off opponents with ease. Key performance areas emphasised relate to their projectile's speed, cycling rate, and accuracy, rather than solely on damage. This is then further magnified by being connected to powerful hunting intelligence packages and hyperscanner arrays mounted on their fins. This odd focus makes them unusually vulnerable when compared to the other ships within the Covenant fleet, and those without a complement of plasma cannons are usually excluded from serving within their expeditionary units.
While not designed for glassing, its two energy projectors are well-suited to wipe out reinforced fortresses on the ground or unearth items of interest to the Covenant religion.
Its heaviest complement of weapons lie within its two Erex-pattern plasma beam emitters, one mounted just behind a gravity lift ring on the keel, the other almost parallel above it at the very front of the frigate's hump. Prior to firing, the plasma beam emitters must undergo a long charging time where its reactor is overtaxed to power itself, as its capacitor banks and shaping chamber are replenished at the cost of its shields. Both of its emplacements, contrary to popular belief, can be activated at the same time, but doing so leaves so little power left that every major system must be forcibly shut down, so this is only used by the most arrogant or desperate crews. The compact beam it unleashes is dangerous by the standards of its class, and it violently rips through even heavily-armoured targets in range. A fully-charged shot can easily bisect a UNSC frigate, and it has been observed drilling deep holes into a cruiser's midsection. Its performance against shields is far less impressive, especially against those using solid light principles rather than particle barrier fields. The Erex does not have a very impressive range, as its lethality drops off quickly after six kilometres, and their crew are encouraged to keep their enemies within two kilometres of their ship for maximum devastation. While not capable of glassing a given world efficiently, it is weak enough to safely excavate most Forerunner artefacts close to the surface or strategically strike at key military sites.
To supplement this is an array of four Pok-pattern laser emitters. Although they are classified as a form of pulse laser system by the Covenant, they are actually a form of highly accurate beam laser intended for systematic orbital bombardment while leaving the surrounding infrastructure, base facilities, and allied troops unharmed. By using two augur arrays - advanced targeting suites whose hunting intelligences autonomously guide their weapons based on local communications traffic and sensor input - these weapons are designed to simultaneously shoot and cycle across dozens of threats from far above the battlefield. They prioritise vehicles and aircraft first, with very few able to withstand a single blast from one of these weapons, but during suppression operations it is common to find them vaporising mobs of individuals in rapid succession. Curiously, the Pok-pattern operates on a very similar principle as existing laser systems used by the UNSC. When in operation, they do not fire in scripted salvoes, as their focusing chambers cool rapidly between each shot. In a pinch, they can be used during certain instances in ship-to-ship combat: their accuracy means that they can surgically take out smaller guns, breach corridor windows, or disable their engines - a useful tool when preparing them for a boarding party.
Six Sintra-pattern plasma torpedo silos have been fitted on the top of the frigate. Typical in terms of payload for their size, where it stands out is the speed in which its torpedo cores could be flung across the battle. After a brief arming period in which it orients itself to its target, it accelerates so fast it can overtake any rival silo currently used by the Covenant. This is a double-edged sword; while it is difficult to eliminate even over large distances, once in flight it is virtually impossible to guide it. The fire control officer must treat it less like a missile and more like an artillery battery with slight correction capabilities, leading their targets to guarantee it can hit another ship in space. It is for this reason why it is usually used against stationary ground installations, where it shells ground forces with aerial fire.
On occasion, several Kerthka-pattern light plasma cannons may be mounted around the Zanar's fore side. Related to some larger types of plasma cannons but scaled down, these turrets have oversized cooling and cycling systems, allowing them to maintain a steady rate of fire without much pause between salvoes. The bursts of plasma it fires are quite weak by the standards of the time, but they travel fast and accurately, making up for their lack of power. The Kerthka has a triple-barrel setup, which is normally set to sequential operation to give each barrel time to cool and realign its magnetic shaping hardware. However, they do have a linked-fire setting which is useful for overwhelming shields. Although designed for use against warships, at medium and long range it has proved effective at shooting down space fighters, improving the Zanar's ability to protect larger allies.
Crew and Complement
Because of the abundance of frigates and their role, many ships found themselves under the command of aspiring Kig-Yar officers.
While not particularly well-regarded by the rest of the Covenant, the Zanar-pattern frigate is second-to-none in terms of how few crewmen are needed to ideally man it, with many of the lower-caste species being trusted with its operation. This is led by a single officer aboard the bridge, which can be fulfilled with a Sangheili Minor who has recently graduated from a naval college. However, command of these ships are more often delegated to Jiralhanae Captains or politically-savvy Kig-Yar. The shipmaster has total control over every aspect of their frigate, and rely on their network of associated intelligences to conduct course-correction, engage smaller unmarked targets, and alert the crew of system issues.
Eight menials make up the rest of the ship's crew, composed of a combination of Jiralhanae, Kig-Yar, Unggoy and Yanme'e, with Lekgolo colonies being especially prized. In select cases, however, frigates crewed exclusively of either brutes or jackals have been observed, thanks to the former's pack-based society and the latter's general distrust of other species. Given the necessary training for their role, most of the menials typically perform engineering duties, cleaning roles, and preparing the meals for the crew, often to the detriment on the state of the warship. Should the shipmaster prove incompetent at directing their ship, two senior-most underlings are able to operate two supplemental stations on the bridge for weapons and navigation. Although a very rare sight, the Zanar-pattern has work and living corridors for a single Huragok, which can take over all advanced maintenance tasks. Indeed, the transformation can be quite startling after a Huragok's arrival. Excluding a single room that acts as the private quarters for the shipmaster, there are no permanent accommodations for the workers. They either must remain permanently awake with the assistance of dream-shaper stimulants until they return to a naval base for rest, or find makeshift sleeping arrangements in the frigate's storerooms.
Without any modifications, the Zanar-pattern frigate lacks the facilities needed to support a Fleet SecurityLance for long. Indeed, it is rare for them to be assigned on one of these ships for any longer than a return trip back to a military base. If needed, there are four gravity tethers on its belly that can hold onto a variety of dropships and strikecraft to shuttle them through slipspace. Because they are carried externally with no way to board the vessel in this state, the soldiers lack any access to essentials such as food or supplies, restricting their ability to be carried on anything longer than a quarter of a cycle. As a result, this is used only for emergency reinforcements or during invasions, and the tethers are more often reserved as a means to ferry cargo between worlds or tow smuggler ships back for detaining.
Found only within the Swords of Sanghelios, the Hunter-pattern is a modernised update of the Zanar-pattern frigate. A particularly versatile vessel, these ships boast much more precise weaponry than their predecessors, which makes them ideal for use in a screening role. Like in the Covenant, they still perform much of the policing and security niches within the Swords' space.
The Nevaar-pattern is the standard CRS-class model in use by the First Fleet of Gallant Ingenuity. Replacing the Zanar-pattern ships within the fleet, they are visually identical to their predecessors, with the only major difference being that many of the green lights have been changed to a bright white. They have improved subsystems and fail-safes that reduce their vulnerability to electromagnetic pulses, although unlike larger classes the Nevaar-pattern is capable of recovering almost immediately. This pattern is generally used as a light combat ship to escort larger vessels, however, their sophisticated shielding and option of being outfitted with docking umbilicals on the sides also make them ideal for boarding enemy ships and stations.
Commanded by Shipmaster Kyro 'Dezan, after he was killed it wound up in the hands of his commander, Zealot Grono 'Yendam. It was eventually damaged beyond repair during the Battle of Montak in the Imperium War.