Weapons of War: The Defiant class
(Note: If Star Trek had architecture critics, they would write about starship design. This essay is intended as an in-fiction critique of the Defiant class of starships. Any canon mistakes are the fault of the author.)
We learn who we truly are when we face oblivion. With the Borg moments away from eliminating the birthplace of humanity multiple times in the last century, the Federation learned to stop believing its own PR and to start building warships.
The Defiant class is a warship. No five year missions to seek out new life and new civilizations. The Defiant boldly goes where so many have gone before: the path of empire.
Any doubts of this are shattered by the participation of the Romulan Star Empire in its construction. Federation leaders frequently make political hay of criticizing Romulus on species rights abuses. But when the Federation needed a weapon of war, who did it call?
Supporters of the Defiant project argued the ship was necessary to deal with the unique threat the Borg represented, and Romulus' involvement was a positive aspect. We're all one united Alpha Quandrant fighting for our survival. It was an easy argument to make in the aftermath of the massacre at Wolf 359, but it was discarded as soon as a new threat arrived: the Dominion.
The ship represents Starfleet's failure to maintain a balance between being a military and a scientific organization. Designed as a weapon of last resort, it entered into service as a regular part of the fleet as soon as it was deemed necessary. The USS Defiant was detached to Deep Space Nine, taking up a regular berth next to Ferengi trade ships and Bajoran military vessels. The commander of the station, amid resolving diplomatic disputes with the Cardassians, also captained the Defiant. How quickly the last resort became mundane
Had they known it would become such a prominent part of public life, perhaps its designers would have exhibited a bit more imagination. That's not to say they were not bold. The Defiant is full of bold choices. It takes the corpus of modern starship design and strips away everything. But nothing remains in the aftermath.
Warp nacelles, a fixture of Federation ships, are completely absent, with the warp engines tucked into the actual body of the ship. A revolutionary choice, if it wasn't so staggeringly unattractive. Without nacelles, the builders must have asked, why even bother with making any kind of secondary hull at all. And what's the deal with food? A nice nutrient slurry provides all the body requires.
All of this contributes to the image of a clay ship someone accidentally stepped on, flattening it into two dimensions. It's difficult to find any fixtures to comment upon. All utility and no beauty, no desire, no ambition. Might as well be a Borg cube.
The entire exercise feels futile. Through many encounters between the Borg and Federation, none has ever been resolved through the presence of superior arms — certainly not through the intervention of the Defiant class. The USS Defiant was present during the Borg's second attempt to attack Earth and was so useless during the battle, its commander almost attempted to ram the cube out of desperation.
This ship perfectly represents why the Federation struggles against threats such as the Borg. The Borg have better weapons than quantum torpedoes and cloaking devices. They've adapted the biological and technological distinctiveness of thousands of species to service them. But when the Federation puts its trust in the talents of the individuals that make up Starfleet, the Borg have no counter.