A pivotal moment in the season one finale of Star Trek: Picard came above the planet Ghulion IV with the arrival of a Starfleet task force to turn the tide in the defense of the Synth settlement Coppelius, which was facing an attack from a Romulan fleet. The incident and composition of the Federation fleet has been the subject of much fan discussion and some controversy. It turns out this battle was also the subject of a discussion at the United States Naval Academy.
Battle of Coppelius at NavyCon 2020
Commander Claude Berube, USNR, PhD is the director of the United States Naval Academy Museum and an assistant professor of history at the Academy. In addition to holding three advanced degrees, Commander Berube has written and co-authored a number of books on naval history along with a couple of naval-themed fictional thrillers. He is also a fan of science fiction and particularly Star Trek, and he combined his passions with the launch of the first NavyCon in 2017, a sci-fi convention held at the Naval Academy Museum, focused on fictional navies.
The second NavyCon was held in June of this year and was done remotely. The subject of Commander Berube’s talk was “How the Federation Overcame the Shipbuilding Gap before the Defense of Coppelius in ‘Star Trek Picard.’” The commander has shared his presentation with TrekMovie, outlined below along with the full video of his presentation.
Defining the problem: Starfleet’s decades of losses
Commander Berube began his discussion by setting up the challenge faced by the Federation in the late 24th century, noting that Starfleet had previously suffered a number of losses starting at the Battle of Wolf 359 with the Borg and later during a brief war with the Klingons and the longer war with the Dominion.
In addition to the losses, Berrube infers that following the Dominion War there was a traditional drawdown of forces. This follows real world examples and was also exemplified by the decommissioning of the relatively new USS Enterprise-A after the Khitomer accords in the 23rd century. Making matters even worse, the Federation’s primary shipyard Utopia Planitia on Mars was destroyed, as depicted in Star Trek: Picard (and the Short Treks episode “Children of Mars”).
Berube concludes that part of Starfleet’s response to these challenges was the launch of the Inquiry-class Starship in 2390, the class of ship seen at the Battle of Coppelius, including the task force flagship under the command of acting Captain William T. Riker. He then begins his main arguments by setting up the following question within a historical context:
How did the Federation recover from that ship deficit due to the Borg incidents, and Klingon and Dominion wars as well as the destruction of its primary shipyard to stop the Romulans at Coppelius?
In line with this event, how does a great power recover from a shipbuilding deficit to deter another great power if the situation warrants it?
Starfleet learning lessons from history
Berube then lays out five lessons drawn from naval history that he concludes were learned by the Federation and Starfleet.
Lesson 1: Distribute your shipbuilding capability
Berube concludes that Utopia Planetia Shipyard “was simply too big to fail,” pointing to the experience of the United States during World War II, where it built ships at up to eighteen different shipyards “thus reducing vulnerability of any one, and increasing the ability to produce ships and scale up production.”
Lesson 2: Have a common ship architecture
Much has been said by fans about the “copy and paste” look of the Starfleet task force at Coppelius. While some fans may long battles with many different Starfleet ship classes, as seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or the film Star Trek: First Contact, Berube argues that the single class of ship (with some minor variants) seen at the Battle of Coppelius was a smart move on the part of Starfleet.
Berube suggests that the Starfleet task force deployed to Coppelius “could be a pre-positioned, strategic reaction force set to deal with ad hoc crises.” He then explains the advantages:
A common ship architecture encourages a stable industrial base allowing you to plan years in advance, it reduces the cost per unit since there are economies of scale, and it reduces the time to build them based on gained expertise…Two examples in U.S. naval history might be the World War II era Gleaves- and Fletcher-class destroyers, though, we can assume from Captain Riker that Inquiry-class ships were more in line with WWII cruisers in capability especially since this Inquiry-class cruiser appears to be smaller than the Galaxy or Sovereign classes.
In his talk, Commander Berube points to other historical and modern examples of a single architecture, arguing these have always introduced efficiencies in training, design, construction, and maintenance.
Lesson 3: Deterrence requires sufficient force (especially when dealing with Romulans)
Berube then argues that only through learning the first two lessons could the Federation “build a sufficient fleet to meet the Romulans at Coppelius in a Mahanian battle.” There Berube is citing Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, the noted 19th-century naval commander and historian whose teachings still influence naval strategies to this day. He cited the historic examples of the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Coral Sea showing this strategy at work.
Berube also shows his Star Trek cred, noting how deterrence has worked when dealing with this particular Star Trek adversary:
Romulans will likely back down when confronted by a superior force. Two examples from Star Trek Next Generation when Commander Tamalok has two D’Deridex class warbirds about to destroy the Enterprise-D but backs down when three Klingon birds of prey decloak. The same is true when Admiral Sela’s force supplying the Klingon Civil War is uncovered.
Lesson 4: Build alliances
The NavyCon talk on the Battle of Coppelius also took a moment to talk about a long-running theme within Star Trek about building alliances, and how it is a lesson from our own history that continues to be heeded:
In Star Trek Enterprise [The Federation began] as a loose-nit alliance. Even the Klingons and Romulans became allies when shared interests necessitated it [during The Dominion War]. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 were certainly brain-candy for the international relations realists. Even in the 21st century, we need to build partnerships and alliances.
Lesson 5: The human factor (or the Picard factor)
Almost all of the fighting during the Battle of Coppelius occurs before Starfleet arrives, with the Romulan fleeting fighting off the Synth’s defensive system of space orchids and Picard’s use of “electronic warfare” by creating a fleet of sensor copies of La Sirena. Berube argues Riker’s “Mahanian force” of Inquiry-class Starships was there “to back up diplomacy, in the hope that sanity will prevail, which is what happens at Coppelius.” This gave Piard “more time to persuade the Synthetics to stand down, and eventually the Romulans, thus precluding a wider conflict.”
Berube concluded his talk by arguing that even with naval strategy, it still all comes down to the people:
With all the technology, with all the ships, with all the weapons, and with all the artificial intelligence that is so attractive to some, it came down to the best of human traits. It came down to Picard and communication, the ability to rise above past mistakes, understanding one another, trust, hope, belief, forgiveness, and the ability to choose what is right, to de-escalate crises.
As Picard says at the end: “That’s why we’re here – to save each other.”
And that’s what science fiction teaches us whether in 2399 or 2020.
Representing Starfleet at the USNA
You can keep up with Commander Berube on Twitter @cgberube where he muses about all things naval, along with occasional thoughts on Star Trek.
As director of the US Naval Academy Museum, he is keeping it 24th-century real with their social media as well.
— USNA Museum (@USNAMuseum) June 25, 2020
Commander Berube hosts the US Naval Academy Museum podcast Preble Hall, which also includes some discussions of navies in science fiction. His next book on military history is The Great National Destiny: The Navy and Andrew Jackson, due out in 2021 from the University of Alabama Press. His latest novel The Aden Effect: A Connor Stark Novel, is available now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook from Amazon.
Watch NavyCon 2020
The full video of NavyCon 2020 is available online, The video below is cued up to Commander Berube’s presentation on Star Trek: Picard. The event featured a number of other military and civilian experts in naval history and strategy, with talks discussing navies in science fiction including one on the Battle of Endor from Star Wars.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news, reviews, and analysis at TrekMovie.com.