What Does An Operations Officer Do?

We’ve all watched Star Trek. At least, I’m going to go ahead and presume at least some level of familiarity with the show. In both TNG and Voyager, one of the key bridge roles was ‘Operations Officer’, a role that, frankly, was undefined. On the Enterprise, it was trusted to Starfleet’s only android, while on Voyager, it was given to a rookie right out of the Academy, but in both cases, the primary role seemed to be ‘Exposition Officer’. If something was coming towards the ship, they would report it. Frankly, it always seemed to me like it was a combination of the Navigator and Science Officer from TOS, but...that didn’t really make sense to me.

Nevertheless, when it came time to start work on Price of Admiralty, I went ahead and included one in the crew roster, more because there was a character I needed to put into the ship rather than because I had any clear idea what his role would be. I knew what everyone else was doing, but I was still vague on this one. Something to do with administration, perhaps, I thought - and then I went ahead and added an ‘Administrative Officer’ to the roster over the course of the books, though the role vanished rather quickly.

Finally, after a lot of thought, I managed to define it, and it is this. The Operations Officer is responsible for all Bridge Operations; all of the watchstanding officers report to him, and his task is to manage shift rotations, supervise training and discipline, cross-training and emergency cover. He also acts as third-in-command of the ship, after the Executive Officer. A needed role, something that places him into a story context - as many scenes on Alamo will always take place on the Bridge. (That’s a key element. If you want a character to be something other than a name, he needs a reason to be involved in whatever the ship is doing. Which is why Medical Officers can be damned difficult to write for.)

Security Officer is another role which has evolved somewhat in my mind. Initially, it was Security in the classic ‘Star Trek’ sense, a group of guards responsible for protecting key areas of the ship, but when there is a platoon of Espatiers on board, that seemed rather redundant; my in-universe explanation is that the different Planetary Fleets had different definitions, that the Callisto Orbital Patrol was rather more authoritarian than the Martian Defence Force, who had a different idea - that it was responsible for System Security, and was essentially a room full of hackers.

Even that is potentially subject to change, and if you have reached the end of the latest book, you’ll see what I mean; System Security was originally a responsibility of the Systems Officer, and periodically Quinn did agitate to get his staff back under his control. Now there is a new role, and you’ll see that coming into play in the next few books, and that is something that I got out of David Gerrold’s ‘World of Star Trek’ - the professional landing party, a dedicated team that can be sent down for missions.

It does make a lot of sense - and I can recommend the book where it is outlined in greater detail - but the short version is that it makes no sense for a senior officer to be leading such a team. I’ve tried to avoid landing teams being Captain, First Officer, et cetera, and this codifies that. A junior, but trusted, officer is given the command, with a team of specialists - paramedics, technicians, and so on. For combat missions, Cooper’s Espatiers get the job. That’s what they are there for.

Something that I have been trying to show is that the Fleet is evolving extremely rapidly. Five years ago, it was a begrudged collection of battlecruisers, cast-offs from the Planetary Fleets, responsible for patrolling close interstellar space. Oddly, it turns out that space is a lot more dangerous than anyone had thought, and a collection of war scares has led to a dramatic expansion of the fleet, both in terms of absorbing the Planetary Fleets into the Triplanetary Fleet (something that will be explored in pending books, but the three independent Planetary Forces don’t really exist any more except as reserve formations) and in the construction of new ships. Right now, the logistics tail is being expanded, as ships are operating far further than anyone had previously thought.

That changes the nature of the Fleet. More Admirals, more organization at home, more ships, and a clearer definition of what is needed. The Espatiers have gone from a specialized boarding force to one that is now required to operate on a variety of planetary surfaces, re-learning techniques that haven’t been used for centuries. Their technology is distressingly old in many ways, because no-one has researched ground-forces equipment in the Triplanetary Confederation, well, ever. Protected Forces is up-to-date, top equipment, but no-one thought that battles on open planetary surfaces would happen. Now the battle honors list Ragnarok, Jefferson, Haven, Thule, and are only going to expand.

The same in the fleet. Merging three sets of doctrines together is going to be a rough and ready process, especially as capital ship commanders tend to have greater latitude, though that is settling down. To an extent, the Captain can - at present - choose where he needs department heads. Take the position of Deck Officer, for example. Alamo managed without one for a long time, but my thought was that when Alamo had a Flight Commander on board, the position was superfluous, that a supervised Chief could handle the shuttles, and that the Sub-Lieutenant was needed elsewhere.

Having a Science Officer on board was a new requirement after Desdemona - and suddenly, the fleet found itself needing archaeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists. Certainly they would have had plenty of astrophysicists, chemists, cosmologists on hand - but in a space-based culture, how many archaeologists would there be? Just a few hobbyists, and that’s all they began with. Lots of re-training taking place, lots of people taking correspondence courses, new classes at the Triplanetary Academy.

Something else I haven’t really covered, because it hasn’t really come up in a story yet, but the Triplanetary Fleet now has its own training academy. Previously, there were three, at Mars, Callisto and Titan. While there are still three, they are now under a single control - in fact, there will be four shortly. In the transition period, there was a ‘Finishing School’ where the best candidates from the three training academies spent a year, but now it works differently. A four-year course on Mars as the central campus, with specialist training at Callisto, Titan, and Ragnarok - I have it in mind that ultimately, Ragnarok will be where all Espatiers are trained, as there they can do Protected Forces and Planetary Warfare.

There’s a lot more going on. I need to do a post on the ‘State of the Triplanetary Fleet’, and that’s high on my priorities list at the moment. I have plans for this blog, and there should be a window of a couple of weeks when I can work seriously on them - hopefully, I can bring these changes live for the launch of the next book, which is still scheduled for January 4th. There will be maps, as well - I spent about eight hours yesterday re-drawing the map of Known Space to incorporate the next dozen Alamos, as well as the spin-off...and yes, that’s happening, and I’ll be writing about that as well...

No comments:

Post a Comment