Starfleet is the exploratory and defence service of the United Federation of Planets. Its primary purpose is scientific discovery, with the majority of its resources and personnel dedicated to missions of exploration and research. Alongside that stands the work of Starfleet diplomats, representing the Federation's interests abroad through the pursuit not just of peace and stability, but Federation ideals of justice and equality. Finally, Starfleet provides security to Federation citizens, including protection of shipping lanes and borders and, when necessary, military deployment. As such, Starfleet units are often highly flexible, capable by training and ideology of undertaking a wide range of missions.
Many of Starfleet's origins can be found in the United Earth Starfleet of the 22nd century. Founded as an exploratory body, its militarisation developed first at the encounter of dangers in deep space, but accellerated with the Xindi Crisis and Romulan War of the 2150s. This war included military action alongside the navies of other future Federation members, and paved the way for modern Starfleet. When the Federation was founded it was with policies of peace and exploration, and Earth Starfleet was selected as the service to retain as, unlike the armed services of the Andorians, Vulcans, or Tellarites, it maintained a primary mandate of scientific operations. Those services were amalgamated into the new, combined organisation, its operations overseen by Starfleet Command.
For the last two and a half centuries, Starfleet has maintained this mission of science and diplomacy, pushing the boundaries of Federation knowledge. It has mobilised for war on several occasions, taking heavy losses in the Klingon-Federation War of the 2250s, and maintaining the tense peace with the Klingon Empire for the following 50 years until the Khitomer Accords. Numerous missions of exploration have provided opportunities for colonisation and diplomacy with potential member worlds, expanding the Federation's borders greatly in this time.
Starfleet expanded its defensive protocols after the discovery of the Borg threat in the 2360s, which proved timely with the outbreak of hostilities with the Klingon Empire and the Dominion over the next decade. While it attempted to return to its original mandate in the aftermath, the crises of the Romulan Supernova and the Attack on Mars changed the course. After devastating losses to its fleet power and a shift in Federation policy to focus on domestic affairs, Starfleet's exploratory operations have been greatly reduced over the last decade and a half. For much of this time, the majority of Starfleet resources have been dedicated to domestic scientific research, and its own border and internal security.
In the late 2390s, the makeup of Starfleet Command shifted as officers who had been on the front line of the post-Dominion War rebuilding and diplomacy entered the Admiralty. A small group of these lobbied for Starfleet to return to its original mission, and while they were largely unsuccessful, it has resulted in the compromise of the reassignment of the 4th Fleet to missions of deep space exploration, humanitarian aid, and diplomacy beyond the Federation's borders. These operations remain, however, outliers in a largely internally-focused Starfleet.
See also: Starfleet Command Staff
As Starfleet is a service of the Federation, the Federation President has direct commanding authority over the service. The Federation Council also has many means of influencing Starfleet operations and has even issued orders on occasion. However, day-to-day operations are managed by Starfleet Command, under a commander-in-chief. Starfleet Command can also refer to the larger body of Starfleet leadership, including the Fleet commanders and directors of Starfleet departments. Adjacent to these hierarchies are those of sector commanders, who oversee permanent operations within the sectors of Federation space.
The service maintains a set of regulations known as the General Orders and Regulations. These govern all aspects of service operations and are designed to cover all possible scenarios that might be encountered by Starfleet personnel. This includes the most important and the most famous regulation, General Order One, most commonly known as the Prime Directive.
Starfleet Academy is the body responsible for the training of its officers. The term is often used interchangeably with the main campus in San Francisco, but Starfleet Academy has multiple facilities across the Federation to support both the vast number of officer candidates and the need for highly-specialised training.
Starfleet retains multiple permanent fleets, each serving a specific role. This might be overseeing a particular area of operations or performing specific duties. These fleets will retain their own headquarters and administrative infrastructure, sometimes including a shipyards dedicated to the maintenance and construction of their own vessels. Other shipyards, starbases, and planetary facilities are built and maintained by Starfleet across the Federation. These most often fall under local sector command, serving some purpose for security, research, or civilian support in a region.
Starfleet has a vast number of starships capable of performing a variety of tasks. These range from huge exploratory vessels to local supply or patrol ships. While the composition of its forces changes depending on the Federation's needs and the ethos of Starfleet at any given time, the most prestigious ships are traditionally large explorers capable of deep-space operations, designed for missions that push the boundaries of Federation knowledge.
Starfleet personnel are organised in a naval-derived rank structure with a chain of command, and are either enlisted personnel or officers. Officers have received extensive training at Starfleet Academy, either including a command or management element, or for particularly specialised education. This commitment tends to lead to long careers in Starfleet that can span decades. Enlisted personnel receive shorter training and tend to serve in either more broad roles, or specialised positions which do not require years of education. While many enlisted personnel have similarly long careers, it is quite common for them to serve only one or two tours of duty before returning to civilian life. This can be out of a desire to see the galaxy, a desire to serve the Federation, or simply an opportunity for training and experiences they could not easily get elsewhere, while not sacrificing other life ambitions or commitments.
All officers outrank all enlisted personnel; even the lowliest ensign may give orders to a master chief petty officer. In both practice and policy this is not an assumption of a young officer's superior judgement by training, however. Junior officers are often trained and developing unit leaders with the skills and education to manage teams and departments, deploying such seasoned personnel to best meet the broader needs of the assignment, and trusting them to execute their orders with the benefit of their years of experience. Otherwise, these junior officers are highly trained specialists, given operational seniority over more experienced enlisted personnel on assignments where this training qualifies them to make necessary decisions. Starfleet principles of respect and diversity help ensure the chain of command does not demean veteran non-commissioned officers, while enlisted personnel recognise that young officers have been trained for their duties and given assignments where they make strong leaders or managers, rather than disrespecting them for their age or lack of field knowledge. This structure helps provide well-rounded teams of different learning styles and experiences.
Most members of Starfleet are Federation citizens, and must have reached the age of majority in their society to serve as active duty personnel. Minors may attend Starfleet Academy if they are successful applicants, subject to more robust scrutiny during recruitment. Non-citizens require sponsorship from a command-level officer if they wish to apply, and such individuals are a significant minority. Due to the cultural heritage of Earth Starfleet and the variety of experiences found in Starfleet appealing to human cultures, humans remain the most numerous in service.
Science and Exploration
Historically, most Starfleet operations have been of scientific discovery and exploration. This can take many forms, from exploring stellar phenomena and charting new star systems, to researching the fauna and flora of the galaxy, to anthropological and archaeological study. Most Starfleet ships have been designed with some scientific capabilities, with even more military vessels expected to gather knowledge as they conduct their duties. These missions have historically contributed to the Federation's growth, for no other galactic power possesses such robust exploratory resources, and the Federation was able to expand through this discovery of worlds to colonise and new member species. They have further contributed to Starfleet's position at the cutting edge of technological developments, which has compensated in large part for its limited militarisation.
Most Starfleet officers are expected to have some training in a scientific discipline; even those trained for military operations and security do so alongside principles of scholarship and critical thought. Dedicated scientists are often trained in multiple disciplines, as exploratory missions may involve a wide range of challenges and demand great versatility of officers.
There have been far fewer exploratory missions over the past fifteen years. Federation policy has demanded Starfleet focus on internal operations, and some citizens believe deep space exploration drew the attention of the twin threats of the Borg and the Dominion. Research operations in this time have been focused within Federation borders.
Diplomacy is more than missions of negotiation and politics to Starfleet officers - it is an integral principle of their approach to the galaxy. Dedicated diplomats, including civilians, navigate the complexities of serious treaty negotiations and trade agreements, but Starfleet officers encounter a range of ships, civilisations, and peoples over the course of their duty. Friend or foe, old acquaintance or new contact, Starfleet is committed to meeting all challenges with discourse, respect, and negotiation. There is a colloquialism that "Starfleet does not fire first," and while this is not always accurate, it remains aspirational for many officers, and is reflected in their training. Diplomats and anthropologists aside, captains are conversant in negotiation techniques, strategists in interstellar political theory, and security officers in de-escalation.
Starfleet is not a military. It is responsible for the necessary armed defence of borders against enemy incursions, and has historically mobilised for strategic aggression in times of war. It also oversees internal security, protecting shipping routes and civilian habitats against criminal activity. However, it lacks many, if all, elements of a military culture; its structures and forces are not built around combat activities, its primary role is not the preparation for and conduct of war, and its personnel are not defined and do not identify as soldiers or warriors. While it maintains an orderly chain of command, discipline stems from mutual respect and commitment to shared ideals, rather than conditional training or use of force. Most personnel are expected to defend themselves, but plenty of Starfleet officers cannot or will not fight and are still able to serve in even frontier positions as respected parts of the organisation. As established, even more martially-trained officers approach their work from a position of scholarship, understanding of the cultural and political context of warfare, and goals of de-escalation or preventative strategies. The ideal officer is a scholar, or explorer, or diplomat, not a soldier, and this is reflected in the Starfleet culture.
While this serves Starfleet well in its primary missions of science and diplomacy, it has left it occasionally ill-prepared for warfare. The Klingon-Federation War of the 2250s saw Starfleet taking massive losses at the hands of the Klingon Empire, and after it remained resistant to calls for reform. The paradigm has shifted since the Borg threat of the 2360s, with more starships and technologies developed exclusively for war. This militarised innovation continued through the Dominion War, and while it diminished in the aftermath, this and the Attack on Mars have had a significant impact on Starfleet culture. Policies of border defence and a focus on internal security have persisted since, turning Starfleet to more of a culture of caution and protection.
However, Starfleet's commitment to peace and protection has won many victories in itself. A prime example is the sacrifice of the USS Enterprise-C, one of Starfleet's greatest ships of the period, which in 2344 responded to a distress call to protect the Klingon outpost of Narendra III. The Enterprise was lost and militarily the mission had always been a likely lost cause, but Starfleet principles dictated some effort at rescue was necessary. Ultimately, the sacrifice was seen as highly honourable by the Klingon Empire, and paved the way to the current, long-standing close alliance.