As just about anyone who has seen the first six Star Wars movies knows, the main capital ship of the Empire, the Imperial Star Destroyer (ISD), was not the same as the main capital ship used by the Republic of the Clone Wars, the Venator Class. And, as those familiar with the Expanded Universe are aware, the Star Destroyer was not the largest and most powerful ship in the Empire’s arsenal. What maybe isn’t so clear is why did they make the change, and why did the Empire that always goes for the biggest and the best in weaponry, adopt a ship that wasn’t even the biggest they could create as their main capital ship? Well let’s take this one step at a time.
So first off why the change? Well simply put the Venator, like a lot of Republic military technology, was specialized to fight the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Though unlike my look on blasters of the GAR where it was the technology that was specialized, in this case it was the tactics. As Palpatine knew who the Republic Navy would be fighting, and knew that the enemy favored capital ships that could field hundreds to thousands of droid starfighters each. A Providence Class Cruiser carrier could hold 240 Starfighters and the Lucerhulk Battleships could field 1500, and the Vulture Droids and Tri fighters used by the confederacy were cheap, didn’t require pilots, and easy to mass produce in those numbers.
So he needed a ship that could field a similar number of its own starfighters to counter them and the Venator was born. While technically a cruiser and still having some heavy armament meant for capital ship duties it was really meant as a heavy starfighter carrier and could field up to 420 starfighters. In fact the ship was practically built for this one role, as much of its bulk was used to house those starfighters it had the standard ventral hangar bay, but the bow could be completely opened up to reveal a 500m long dorsal flight deck for mass launch of its compliment of starfighters.
As such each Venator could take on equal or more than its own number in CIS ships, staying at a stand off range so enemy ships wouldn’t take advantage of the weaker armor and firepower, and allowing their generally superior starfighters to win the day. This tactic was incredibly successful for a while, though as knows the battle of Coruscant proved, the CIS eventually figured this out and would in the later war fight at extreme close range taking advantage of their superior armor and firepower.
So, when the CIS eventually fell the Venators became basically useless. Sure, they were decent combat platforms, but only boasted 8 dual heavy turbolasers turrets, 2 medium turbolasers cannons, and 52 point defense laser canons and 4 proton torpedo tubes, and while those would be a good amount of firepower for a frigate, they would be considered pea shooters on a cruiser, which it was a cruiser. Their only need was to combat the sheer volume of starfighters the confederacy could throw at them and now that they were gone there was no competent threat in the Galaxy that could manufacture and field that many starfighters in one engagement involving a few capital ships. Sure the empire did produce some carrier focused ships at this time like the Ton-Falk Class cruisers but these ships almost never carried more than a few to half a dozen starfighter squadrons. In fact even non Imperials thought this as other ships eventually used by the Rebellion that focused on Starfighter carriers like the Quesar Fire-Class Bulk Cruisers, could hold and launch dozens, and not hundreds of starightrers.
What they needed was a large capital ship, that could still field a decent starfighter compliment but nothing too excessive, but had the shielding and firepower to be able to take on multiple ships of cruiser class or bigger. Now the Empire did have ships of this type in service, the Victory Class however they were 200m shorter than the Venators, and while they boasted around 8 times the firepower and 3 times the armor as a Venator, were just too small and too slow to be useful in this new role. Enter the Imperial Class Star Destroyers which were designed to accomplish everything stated above and then some. The ship that was perfect for the role that the Empire needed.
But the ISD was only about 450m longer than the Venator. They had the capability to make much bigger ships than that, so If they wanted bigger why did they settle on a ship that wasn’t as big as they could make ships? Well this one is a lot more straight forward.
So as a quick example, let’s say you were the military leader of 10 planets, and you had enough resources and manpower to create either 8 really, really big ships, or 40 just big ships? Well if you went with the former you simply would not have enough ships to defend all 10 planets at any one time. At the very least 2 planets will have to go completely undefended, and if an enemy attacked one planet and you needed to bring in reinforcements, each ship you brought in would leave another planet undefended. However if you made the 40 ships you have 4 ships per planet, meaning each planet has some defense force. Sure those 4 big ships do not have the firepower of 1 really, really big ship, but they are more flexible and more mobile. In this case if one planet got attacked and you needed to defend it you could pull one or two ships from the nearby planets to reinforce the attacking planet, while still leaving the other planets defended.
Therefore, they went with a ship that wasn’t necessarily the biggest they could make. The Empire had a large amount of territory to hold on to, a lot of systems to defend, and each ship costs time, resources and manpower to build and operate. And they ended up needing around 25000 ships to fit this role. So, by making their main capital ship big but not too big, they ensured that they could make them in the number needed to properly defend their Empire, while still having enough armor, shielding and firepower to do what they needed to do. Yes they made bigger ships, but they were few in number and more meant as terror weapons or weapons to hold strategic points rather than a workhorse capital ship that could fill a variety of tasks and deployments.
So that is in a nutshell why the Empire ended up replacing the Venator with the Imperial Class. As always let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I said and, as always, until next time.