Strategy Article: Galactic Engagement

 Chay' vay' veS!


It’s Primus here and I have a few thoughts from the First Episode of Star Trek Discovery. In that episode, which I do strongly recommend watching, we were presented with a decision to be made by the First Officer  Cm. Michael Burnham. This decision is either to start conflict with the Klingon ship via rendering the Captain unconscious and unable to object, flee the system and rendezvous with back up in the form of more starships, or hold your position and call in for support.

She chose the first option, and failed to execute the necessary steps to ensure the Captain was subdued. Thus resulting in the situation the Klingons likely most desired, a large disorganized force without full knowledge of the situation. This, and not one lone starship, is a meaningful tactical target. Say the Federation sends 10 ships a handful of them ‘Ships of the Line’, ie primary large warships and the rest the general multipurpose ship class Starfleet seems to run on. This represents a meaningful amount of fleet power, production costs and importantly meaningful casualties. The Klingon commander/ general/ chosen one, T'Kuvma, seems to have substantial knowledge of Starfleet protocol, he knows the will not be an aggressor in a hot conflict. Meaning they are more willing to give ground than to make their own demands, which is substantial when applied to a standoff. He thinks they will not pursue the mentioned Option 1 of a direct assault, whether all of this is due to perceived weakness or actual intel is a moot point at the moment. This allows him to plan for an ambush, lure in a vessel sent for repairs, stalk it, wait for  the right time, signal to reinforce, stall actions of enemy and wait for support to be called (and for his own from that signalling) and then strike when the force is still under the impression that this is a cold conflict. This is based on the Klingon knowledge that Starfleet are not abiding by a hostile doctrine, as most fleets/ armies operate VERY differently from Klingons when entering a war-zone versus entering a region of potential conflict.

T'Kuvma: Klingon General? Chosen one? Big bad.

T'Kuvma: Klingon General? Chosen one? Big bad.

Commander Burnham, via the counseling of  Sarek (Spock’s Dad) and her own opinions on Klingons, determines that the best strategy when encountered with said instance. Arguing for it on the lines that “Klingons only respond well to violence” or something that could just as easily say that. The show is correct in stating this is not racism (or speciesism) but is a comment on their cultural identity. This is far fetched on a less strategic level. A race that only thinks in and of violence wouldn’t have developed as advanced a cloaking device as it does not directly correlate with violence and generally the direct and typical approaches violent groups deploy is not as intricate as this scheme, which relies on patience, technological superiority and then violent decisive action, on a outmaneuvered and distracted foe. Not the kind of glorious battle against impossible odds Klingons like to boast about.

A word about timelines.(1) Discovery is set some 15 years before Kirk’s Enterprise is launched on its voyage. This puts the series considerably after the time of the canonically previous Enterprise show (Captain Archer). This means that humanity, and the Federation have encountered Klingons before. Enterprise starts with a Klingon warrior being shot by Human Farmer and then being returned to Kronos.(2) Then again this series is already drowning in continuity issues.      

Then there’s the issue of strategy, a frontal ‘surprise’ assault against a foe during this standoff is unlikely to result in victory. Here’s why:

  1. The USS Shenzhou appears to be outclassed, the Klingon vessel is larger by a slight margin, and due to the nature of Klingon ships in Star Trek it has to be implied that it is armed to the teeth. However it doesn’t have the usual key features of a Bird of Prey so its exact class and firepower has to be estimated. The Shenzhou’s class has not been noted.

  2. The Klingons would be expecting a frontal assault, they are attempting to provoke this. Why else would they only conceal a single vessel? They presumably have the ability to hide larger forces, and a larger force, with more points of attack, would be more able to deal a swift abush than this single vessel. Thereby the Klingons are either attempting to lull the Discovery into a false sense of security or are planning something that requires less firepower.

  3. Intel levels, the Klingons seem to be more informed of the internal workings of Starfleet than they are of Klingons. T'Kuvma seems to understand the Starfleet command system and their operating doctrines to a surprising degree based on this line of thought. Starfleet seems to have been in a Cold War with a fractious divided Klingon Empire up to this point, the Captain in the field is just operating under usual protocol and seems to be unaware of how Klingons might react differently than other species.

  4. Command Experience, while I am not one to make claims to the abilities of none of the commanders on Star Trek, they seem to pull off some nearly impossible victories with some frequency, I am calling into question whether they are better at operating in this situation than the Klingons, who at this point seem to be either a rogue faction in a civil conflict attacking a perceived external threat or members of whatever is left of a centralized command. (Star Trek is notoriously bad at explaining the exact political situations in anywhere not directly related to whatever vessel we are observing). Either way as an observer I would stress that T'Kuvma seems a more capable commander than certainly Burnham would have to be. Burnham would have to operate under the presumption of the Captain being either incapable, out of commission or deferring to her judgement. This would distract and delay any commander enough that I would be forced to give T'Kuvma this edge.

Also proposed as a ‘plan’ though hardly elaborated on was Science Officer Lt. Saru. He stated that the Discovery should withdraw its position. I’m going to extrapolate here and infer that this meant regrouping with a larger force. The problem with this is you are conceding the objective to a presumed enemy, yes you take no losses, but on the other hand your relay is gone, and no actions were taken to reprimand those that sabotaged your communications. T’Kuvma continues to harass and instigate conflict with with insurgent or guerrilla forces and your border region will become involved in the Klingon civil unrest.

So then what should you do? If calling in support is not a good idea but neither is a direct assault, then the better option is either a feigned retreat, leaving a EMP and then retreating or there’s diplomacy.

Diplomacy with Klingons sounds like a complicated and nasty affair. As a Strategist I’m going to attempt to avoid negotiations as much as possible. Also due to the likelihood this is an insurgent group, Diplomacy may have unintended consequences such as angering the Klingon Faction’s enemies, giving them legitimacy due to the nature of diplomacy (it isn’t engaged with by non-actors).

That leaves us with two equally compelling situations either feigning a retreat and hoping that the overzealous Klingons will pursue (sounds like Klingons to me) or leave behind a little tit for tat.

Personally the feigned retreat sounds like a better option due to the fact it would draw the ambushing Klingons out of their ambush and truly test their discipline, as well as feigning your will be following your protocols (what you’re most likely to do in a situation). This combined with the nature of tit for tat (everybody gets a black eye)x makes the feigned retreat sound even better.


Trek has however gotten me on a Sci-Fi binge, as has Stellaris’ recent set of updates and new DLC Synthetic Dawn. As such I shall be streaming a play-through of that DLC up on twitch at:

Stream will start 8:00 EST (GMT -4) planning to end at 11:00 EST

We will be taking questions about this, Stellaris or anything else that comes to mind.


See you then!

-Strategist Primus


1) On issues with continuity, I bow to a higher authority here:

2). Berman, Rick, and Bannon Braga, writers. "Broken Bow." In Star Trek: Enterprise. UPN. September 26, 2001.

3) Link is to an explanation of Tit for Tat by Prof. William Spaniel, University of Pittsburgh. His web series and book Game Theory 101 will be often referenced here.