Size of the Dominion Battleship
DS9: "Valiant" features a Jem'Hadar battleship that is purportedly twice as large and three times as strong as a Federation Galaxy class. We never see this vessel again until DS9: "What You Leave Behind" (WYLB). In the shot with the Dominion fleet in Cardassia's orbit we can spot several of these massive ships, but now they are even much bigger, perhaps 5km long, compared any of the other ships. The first problem is that the massive ship (sometimes called "confrontation cruiser" in fandom) is exactly the same model as the smaller one from "Valiant", but scaling considerations would forbid the two real ships to be the same design. The second question is if such incredibly huge ships can exist at all and where they suddenly come from.
Screen Evidence from DS9: "Valiant"
The Jem'Hadar battleship is described by Jake Sisko as being twice as large as a Galaxy-class ship. While this is one of the very few verbal size comparisons in Star Trek, it is not definite whether it refers to its length or to its volume. In the first case the Jem'Hadar ship would be 2*642m = 1284m long, in the second case "only" 2^(1/3) = 1.26 times as long as a Galaxy class. Because of the general tendency of comparing length figures instead of volumes, the latter of which are hard to estimate, we may assume that he actually meant the length. This will be confirmed by the visual comparison. Concerning the accuracy of the statement, if the ship were actually 1000m long, the Red Squad member who told Jake about it in the first place probably wouldn't have chosen the Galaxy as a size reference, but would have said "twice as long as an Excelsior" (or Ambassador) or something like that.
Approximate length: 1300m
The following battle reveals that Jake's statement must refer to the ship's length. There are scenes that show the Valiant in front of rather small portions of the Dominion ship: from the Valiant's first fly-by (image) along the dorsal side, and from the second one along the ship's bottom (image). While a definite statement is hard, it is quite clear that the battleship is at least fifteen times as the long as the Valiant, probably even longer. In fact, if we reconstruct the position of the Defiant above the battleship's dorsal side (image), we get a lower length limit of no less than 3300m for the battleship, assuming a 120m Valiant.
Minimum length: 3300m
Just in case we decide to ignore possible mis-scaling in the direct comparison of the Valiant and the battleship as artistic license, more size evidence comes from the fact that the Valiant was small enough to pass through the gap between the battleship's upper pod and the main hull during the first attack run (image). The width of a 120m long Defiant-class ship is 94m. The Dominion battleship would have to be at least 1291m wide in this case (image). This results in a lower length limit of 1492m, assuming a big deal of luck and that it is possible to maneuver the Valiant with a clearance of only a few meters.
Minimum length: 1500m
Summarizing, it is possible that the ship was designed to fulfill two requirements: To be roughly twice as long as the Galaxy class, while allowing the Valiant to pass through the gap underneath the pod. In the actual CGI scenes in "Valiant" the battleship was scaled up though.
Screen Evidence from DS9: "What You Leave Behind"
Battleship vs. Defiant and Vor'cha
In the final battle of WYLB, before the Dominion retreats to Cardassia, there are some scenes with the Jem'Hadar battleship and other starships. The Defiant can be seen in front of the battleship, but it is obvious that there is some distance between them (image). This is why the big ship appears only five times as wide as the Defiant on this image. The Defiant will still get a bit closer in the same shot. The more interesting size comparison is possible with the Vor'cha. The Klingon attack cruiser is behind the Jem'Hadar battleship from the viewer's angle, since the green disruptor beam hits the upper half of the battleship (or something located just above its wings). Reviewing the scene on video shows this even clearer. The Vor'cha being 481m long, the Jem'Hadar battleship would be at most 1600m. Thus, the ship's intended scale may have been the same as stated in "Valiant".
Maximum length: 1600m
Battleship vs. Breen ship
There are no size figures available for the Breen ship, but its bizarre hull structure points to length of 300m at the very least. If the ship were much smaller, there would be hardly any useful volume in it. Each of the many "blades" forming the asymmetrical hull would consist of only one deck, although the lighting suggests that there are many decks. One screen cap from WYLB shows such a Breen ship in front of the battleship (image). Reviewing the video, we get the impression that the two ships are very close to one another, while the camera is somewhere at the battleship's front tip. Even with this generous assumption, however, it looks as if the Breen ship could easily clear the space underneath the battleship's upper pod, just as the much smaller Valiant in "Valiant". This would make this version at least three times as long as stated for the "Valiant" version.
Minimum length: 4500m
Battleship vs. battlecruiser
From another camera angle we witness how a Jem'Hadar battlecruiser passes by above a battleship (image). Again, we might assume that the two ships are close together, but the moving scene reveals that there is some distance between them. Taking this into account, the battleship would be at least six times as long as the battlecruiser. If the battlecruiser is 640m long, as stated in the DS9 Technical Manual, this would give us a length of 3840m for the big ship. The 762m given by Stipes would increase this to 4572m (see also the table below).
Minimum length: 3800m
The bottom line is that "What You Leave Behind" shows the same starship studio model at two different sizes. Since the first size of about 1500m matches what we were meant to see in "Valiant", it may be suspected that it was later intentionally scaled up to make the starship accumulation in Cardassia's orbit look even more impressive.
The Fact Files Comparison Chart
The Dominion fleet chart from the Star Trek Fact Files (image) probably isn't more precise than previously published ship comparison charts or size figures. Anyway, it is worth while to have a look at it, since it is the first chart to include the Dominion battleship. Nothing is known about the size of the Karemma ship. Considering that the sizes of the Jem'Hadar attack ship and the Cardassian Hideki class are disputable and that small ships are likely to be scaled up in such a chart, they are no suited references either. The sizes of the Cardassian Galor and the Jem'Hadar battlecruiser (the latter being called "warship" on the chart) are not certain, but they may provide us with some interesting figures.
|Reference ship||Source(s)||Length of reference ship||Length of battleship|
|Galor||Probable design size, Fact Files||481m||1489m|
|David Stipes, DS9TM||372m||1152m|
|Jem'Hadar battlecruiser (warship)||Encyclopedia II, Constitution II reference||575m||1020m|
|The Fact Files chart itself, stating that "a Federation Galaxy-class starship is approximately the same size as the Jem'Hadar warship..."|
The Galor has a presumed design size of 481m, and the Fact Files list this size too in the section dedicated to the Galor. There is, however, an alternative length of less than 400m, as stated by David Stipes and in the DS9TM. The length of the battlecruiser varies from 575m to 762m. It is remarkable that the two size figures for the Galor and the battlecruiser from the DS9TM yield lengths of 1152m and 1135m for the battleship, respectively, which are almost the same. We may presume that whoever made the chart looked up the ship sizes rather in the DS9TM than in previous issues of the Fact Files themselves. In addition, the chart tells us that"A Federation Galaxy-class starship is approximately the same size as the Jem'Hadar warship...". This closes a loop in the reasoning pertaining to the sizes of the depicted ships and Jake's statement from Valiant: The battlecruiser is about the same size, and the battleship is about twice as long as a Galaxy.
On the other hand, we have two references that would give us a larger battleship. Especially the comparison with a 481m Galor is interesting, for it matches almost perfectly with the minimum size of the ship in "Valiant" and the battle in WYLB, but this may be a coincidence. In any case, the size comparison in the Fact Files neither provides a satisfactory solution nor does it complicate the matter. Considering that only what happens on screen can be canon evidence, the chart makes sense if the Galor is 481m long. Still, in this case the battlecruiser would be about 800m, and this would render the huge ship from WYLB even larger. It is obvious that the chart was made either without the knowledge of the huge WYLB ship, or ignoring this ship.
So far we have two considerably different sizes for the battleship:
- A starship of at least 1500m was seen in "Valiant" and in the WYLB battle before the Dominion retreats, supported by the Fact Files comparison chart. The smaller size of less than 1300m, resulting from Jake's statement and reproduced in the chart, may be regarded as a verbal inaccuracy due to the fact that the Federation has no larger and stronger ship than the Galaxy.
- The WYLB battleship or whatever it was supposed to represent appeared to be at least 4500m long. In addition, the scenes with the Valiant close to the battleship's hull would allow a length of at least 3300m, quite possibly even as much as 4500m.
In order to rationalize the fact that we have seen the two different sizes, we may make up the following theories:
A: The "Valiant" battleship is not much longer than 1500m (complying with Jake's statement), whereas the ships in orbit are of the same design but much larger. As already stated above, an explanation like this should be avoided. Scaling ship designs at whim is pointless, if not impossible. Apart from the "ant paradox" there is another important argument against the scaling theory. The "Valiant" battleship was intended to be a prototype. Considering that the huge vessel apparently didn't exist before WYLB either, this would mean that both ship types must have been developed largely in parallel. Thus, the simple explanation that the smaller design was scaled up by Dominion engineers to provide the fleet with a more powerful ship is not possible. Developing a "universally scalable ship" is even more ludicrous than enlarging an existing ship. Frequent harmonizing of the plans of the two sizes would probably increase the design efforts compared to the parallel development of two entirely different vessels, not to mention the required compromises at both sizes. Agreed, plenty of technology exchanges might facilitate the design, but this is still no reason why the final results for two ships of different sizes developed at the same time should look the same.
B: The two ships are of different, yet similar designs, and have different sizes. This explanation requires that we ignore the striking resemblance between the "small" ship from "Valiant" and the big one from WYLB. We might even postulate that the huge thing is actually not a ship, but a space station, thereby avoiding the unpleasant explanation why the Dominion suddenly has such a large ship we have never seen before. While this suggestion is tempting, I think it is too hard to ignore the evidence, for the ships in WYLB filled the screen, and everyone who has seen "Valiant" should have easily recognized it. It might work in episodes where the ship in question shows up in the background, but rather not here.
C: The two ships are of the same design and the same size. If we look closely, the ship is indeed much longer than 1300m already in "Valiant" and much shorter than 4500m in some battle scenes of WYLB, so there may be no reason in the first place to assume that the ships in the two episodes are different sizes.
C1: They are both 1500m long, and we ignore any contrary evidence as "sloppy VFX". This is the most obvious choice if we postulate the ships should have the same size. About 80% of its total screen time, plus Jake's statement, would allow this interpretation. As for the two ships that appear to be much too small in WYLB, we may wish to ignore them because, unlike the battleship, they can be identified only if we look closely. Another possibility is that the two other ships are actually not what they appear to be. The battlecruiser could be a similar, but smaller Dominion ship we don't know yet. On the other hand, it's hard to explain what the bizarre Breen ship might represent, if not a ship of at least 300m length. Anyway, if we value overall plausibility higher than detail analysis, this may be the best solution. The official explanations are like that too and ignore the 5km ship.
C2: They are both some 5000m long, complying with some visual effects of the Valiant in front of the battleship and with the orbit scene in WYLB. On the other hand, Jake's statement would be way wrong, and the battle scene from WYLB wouldn't make any sense either. Finally, do we really want a 5km ship in Star Trek? Agreed, there are Borg cubes, the Voth city ship and some more gargantuan vessels. But why would the Dominion spend lots of resources on building giant ships during a war, if they could have a hundred smaller ships as well that would be overall much more efficient for their campaign?
C3: A compromise. Maybe there is only one type of battleship that is some 2000m or perhaps 2500m long. This would work with the screen evidence from "Valiant" and, if we are very generous, with the orbit scene from WYLB too. And perhaps Jake just misquoted the cadet and meant to say that the ship was thrice as long as a Galaxy class.
I currently still prefer theory C1 of a 1500m long ship, for it agrees with most we see or hear on the show, except for a few seconds in which we would have to observe very closely to notice that the ship has to be larger. Agreed, I easily recognized the small ships in WYLB when, as usual after ship scenes ;-), I rewound the tape to view the scene again. However, it's not by far as blatant a scaling error as the giant BoPs in TNG: "The Defector", for instance, which are largely ignored among the fans too. It's only a bit bothersome that the upscaling in WYLB occurred in the first place, and that it was probably intentional.
I may eventually settle on the compromise C3 though.
Thanks to Andrew Luby of Stardock Alpha for permission to use his images and to Chad Wilson of Starship Scales and Jeff Chin for the idea to create this page. Special thanks to Dan, whose observations led me to raise the lower length limit of the ship in "Valiant".