What Made the Defiant From DS9 Such a Tough Little Ship

Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine didn't explore the far reaches of space, but design and attitude quickly made the tough little ship a fan-favorite.

When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) premiered in 1993, it was a huge shock to the system for fans used to the roaming and exploring of various starships, particularly the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was set aboard a remote Federation outpost Deep Space Nine, and the discovery of a nearby Bajoran wormhole connecting to the distant Gamma Quadrant allowed for a wide range of stories as they slowly discovered both allies and enemies.

However, the show’s fixed location became an issue as the threat of galactic war with the Dominion took shape. The Danube-class runabout was no longer sufficient for what loomed ahead. Luckily, the third season saw the first appearance of the USS Defiant (NX-74205), a small but highly capable fighter that would quickly become one of the most beloved ships of the franchise.

Breaking Down the USS Defiant

Development of the Defiant actually began five years previously, in a direct response to the threat of the seemingly unbeatable Borg, which had been introduced to the Alpha Quadrant when the omnipotent super-being Q hurled the Enterprise-D into the Beta Quadrant in an attempt to illustrate Starfleet's lack of readiness against threats in the universe not yet discovered.

Studio model of USS Defiant. Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Studio model of USS Defiant. Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

While in development at the Advanced Starship Design Bureau, an existing spaceframe for a “pathfinder” ship was chosen, having recently been submitted for review. However, this more traditional design would eventually go on to become the Nova-class, with the Defiant project requiring a more compact shape.

The actual size of the Defiant is less clear than one would like. Official sources put it at 170m long and 30m high, with four decks. This certainly puts it at the smaller end of the scale in comparison to other starships. For example, the Galaxy-class runs 642m and the Sovereign-class is 685m long. That means the Defiant has been subjected to jibes about its comparable size, such as Commander Riker calling it a “tough little ship” in Star Trek: First Contact. However, while it may not have the size advantage over many other ships in the fleet, it makes up for it with a considerable amount of power, weaponry, and bite.

Captain Benjamin Sisko, who commanded the Defiant during his time at Deep Space Nine, was also present during the development and testing phase. His description of the Defiant was that it was “overgunned and overpowered for a ship its size,” saying that it nearly tore itself apart when the warp engines were tested at full capacity. It contained a warp core capable of warp 9.9, the same as a Galaxy-class. From here, the power containment and management issues become obvious, so it is no surprise that one of the reasons the project was mothballed was due to an inability to control the Defiant's power, along with the lessening of the Borg threat.

An Overpowering Ship

The Federation technically didn’t build warships at the time the Defiant was introduced. It just armed its vessels with advanced weaponry for self-protection. But for all intents and purposes, the Defiant was a mobile weapons platform.

Defiant fighting the Borg. Source: Star Trek: First Contact
Defiant fighting the Borg. Source: Star Trek: First Contact

While the ship carried torpedo launchers and a complement of both photon and quantum torpedoes, its main point of attack came from four pulse phaser cannons, which are comparable to real-world high-caliber automatic weapons. Instead of the traditional phaser array, which fires a single concentrated beam, the pulse phaser cannons use a system where the beam energy is temporarily stored in high-speed coils and then released in bursts. Targets had a harder time dealing with them compared to standard phasers.

Defensively, the Defiant featured two main systems that added to its uniqueness and general toughness. Firstly, the hull is fitted with ablative armor plating, something Starfleet R&D had worked on for years, shrinking it down before successfully applying it to the Defiant. The armor dissipated attacking energy beams over the hull. Energy above a certain threshold level caused it to boil off at a molecular level, creating a particle cloud that helped disperse the beam.

Its defenses were complemented by a cloaking device, an understandably controversial inclusion given that the Defiant was a Federation vessel. The utilisation of such a device was disallowed by the Romulan senate as a temporary amendment to the Treaty of Algeron, which was originally signed in 2311 after mutual agreement to re-establish of the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Federation agreed to never develop or use any type of cloaking device. But because of the potential threat the Dominion posed to everyone in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, it was decided that the Defiant could use a cloak in exchange for information on the Dominion. A Romulan officer was posted on the ship in charge of the cloaking device, but they were not included past the initial mission.

The Defiant (Sort-of) Meets Its End

While the Defiant's capabilities made it a fearsome weapon in the Alpha Quadrant's fight against the Dominion, it met its end came in the Cardassian system of Chin'toka, where it was destroyed by a mysterious energy weapon developed by the Breen.

After this, Sisko received special dispensation to rename the Defiant-class USS Sao Paulo to Defiant, just as a Constitution-class vessel had previously been renamed Enterprise after the destruction of the original ship. However, the new Defiant kept the same registry, unlike the Enterprise's NCC-1701-A.

Defiant is destroyed by a mysterious weapon. Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Defiant is destroyed by a mysterious weapon. Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

By the end of the Dominion war, several Defiant-class vessels were serving across Starfleet, demonstrating the success of the class as commanded by Sisko and his crew. But it's the original Defiant that will always be seen as the success story of the line. The fought against all odds and helped break the lines of the Dominion and the Jem'Hadar, restoring freedom once more to Cardassia, Bajor, and the Alpha Quadrant.

Contributing Editor

Charlie Brigden has been obsessed with spaceships, horror films, and film music since a young age and can usually be found across the internet writing about one of those three. He lives in South Wales UK with his family, cats, dogs, and tarantulas.