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"At Bliss, it took a single capital ship to break through our orbital defences. An unidentified dreadnought-class vessel. Unless new countermeasures are employed, the admiralty can expect a very short war."
―Classified ONI communiqué
H2A-MarathonHeavyCruiser
The UNSC's Marathon-class heavy cruiser is a classic example of a capital ship; a large, durable warship capable of taking on almost any role with equal effectiveness.

A capital ship is a broad title which is applied to the very heaviest warships fielded by any navy, generally acknowledged as the most single-most important combat vessels in a given fleet unit. Although no formal definition has been accepted, capital ships are expected to have the independence to achieve their own objectives in a battle scenario without support. As the backbone of all higher-level fleet units, they are responsible for coordinating smaller escorts and inflicting the most damage in most combat situations. They can range from just under ten million tonnes in mass in the case of the smallest cruisers, to several billion on the other end of the scale with dreadnoughts and supercarriers.

It should be noted that despite their popularity in such a role, not all capital ships are spatial combatants, with some being relegated for support or even carrier and transport operations.

Characteristics

"If the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate."
William S. Lind's description of a capital ship's role.

Although the many classifications which bear the title often vary widely in durability, raw firepower, and carrying capabilities, they all share some common characteristics which bind them together. All capital ships, by virtue of their size, are inherently powerful and durable in some way. Their thick armour and dozens of armaments allows a single member of this supergroup to routinely fend off entire squadrons of smaller escorts while suffering only minimal visible injuries. Even carriers that lack adequate weapons are still considered powerful because their firepower is instead focused within their on-board complement of space fighters. Thanks to their ability to store vast amounts of consumables, they are able to hold down important strategic areas single-handedly, making them useful hubs for force projection.

Capital ships are expected to take on command and coordination roles when necessary at any time. Their ability to be devoted to long deployments, their protective qualities, and space to accommodate the facilities for flag officers makes them uniquely qualified, as smaller ships must be purpose-built for this task. Because of all this, they are intrinsically tied to a navy's warfighting capabilities and morale. An armada can continue to coordinate and fight effectively against a better-equipped force even if they lose a significant number of smaller craft; however, the destruction of a single capital ship and their senior crews is sometimes enough to completely break cohesion until the chain-of-command is reestablished.

It should be noted that "command variants" of smaller escorts, such as prowlers and destroyer leaders, are not considered capital ships because they cannot commit themselves to their missions. Because they do not have the adequate armaments or defences alone, they must rely on subordinate vessels to carry out their orders. Similar, patrol ships fail the definitions because in battle they must be organised into squadrons to have the necessary capabilities to, for example, assault a larger starbase.

History

Known Classifications

Name Description
Base ship Part station, and part ship, base ships were carrier-like vessels that are uniquely designed to deploy themselves at a designated geosynchronous or heliosynchronous point and act as a logistics hub, transport, and combat carrier all rolled into one. They were the primary form of capital ship during the twenty-second century, and have long been considered obsolete with the creation of the carrier.
Carrier Taking up a more supportive role than most conventional capital ships, carriers are command-centric vessels, being lightly-armed for their size. They have a large inventory of space fighters and support vessels in their place that act as their main striking power, which can be deployed at specific regions to divide up its firepower across a wide region of space.
Cruiser The smallest member of this supergroup, cruisers are conventionally-built spatial combatants that form the bulk of a navy's heavy warship assignment. Because they occupy a 'goldilocks zone' between armament, durability, hangar size, and speed, cruisers are naturally versatile and are host to the largest number of specialists of any heavy-tonnage warship.
Battlecruiser Battlecruisers are a niche classification that are larger than cruisers and have a number of heavy weapon batteries used by battleships, but are unable to match them in a fight. They retain some of the versatility of cruisers from which they spawned, although they have little utility against even larger vessels which keeps them limited to fighting smaller opponents.
Battleship Battleships are powerful mobile fortresses, armed with multiple batteries of heavy weapons and protected by metres, if not dozens of metres of armour plating and resilient shields.
Dreadnought Technically a subtype of battleships, dreadnoughts refers to the very heaviest spatial combatants that are currently in service, typically armed with the most powerful weapons and defences that can be practically deployed on a mobile starship. Very few dreadnoughts are ever in service at once, as they are costly to build and operate, and are normally relegated as flagships for state or military leaders.
Supercarrier Originally a subclass of the carrier classification, supercarriers are defined as massive, heavily-armed carriers which are so powerful they can also fulfil the role of a battleship. They are usually the very largest ships in any given navy, and carry so many weapons and troops that they can lay siege to entire fortified worlds by themselves.
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