Defiants small size means less space for weapons, for shield generators, etc. Most of all it means less space for the warp core. Traditionally, warp cores are many decks tall - the Galaxy class warp core is twelve decks tall, the Sovereign warp core fourteen decks! Yet the Defiants warp core is only three or four decks, but is supposed to be more powerful than the Galaxy warp core. The galaxy class type 10 phaser arrays contain emitters some six metres across; Defiants pulse cannon are only about three or four metres on a side, yet four of these are supposed to put out a lot more power than the two hundred emitters which make up even one of the main arrays of the Galaxy.
Many people say one of the best advantages of the Defiant is that, being so small, she can dodge most incoming fire. But while that may be true against the likes of the Klingons, the Federation almost never misses a target - a good example being the battle between the Defiant and the Federation starship Lakota. The Lakota hit the Defiant with every single shot! It's been suggested that Worf was (a) holding back in order to avoid killing those on the Lakota, and (b) not very competent in his use of the Defiant. For the first, in my opinion holding back from hurting an opponent hardly involves sitting still and letting them kill your people in return! For the second - Worf was chief tactical officer of the Federation flagship for years, while Sisko was first officer on a Miranda class - a century old design. If anything Worfs starship combat skills should comfortably exceed Siskos.
What the show *should* have given us, in my opinion, was something Defiant shaped, about three hundred and fifty metres long, with two full-sized warp cores laid flat on their sides along the long axis of the ship. They should have used the 'deflector cannon' idea from "Best of Both Worlds", and turned that entire nose structure into one big gun.
However, my opinion counts for nothing next to on-screen canon, so I've written Defiant up as the warp speed death machine the writers have made her. The back history is pretty much canon, though I've twisted it a bit to fit in with the history I wrote for the Sovereign class.
The Defiant is a highly controversial ship in some ways. Firstly, it throws up yet another error in the DS9 TM. The book has the Defiant with a top speed of Warp 9.982, while the episode "The Sound of her Voice" establishes a more modest top speed of Warp 9.5.
But this is peanuts compared to the issue of the Defiants size. Surely it would not be so difficult to ask the creator of a Starship to set a concrete size of their ship which everybody then sticks to. Yet apparently, different departments use completely different sizes for the same ship!
Defiant is, without doubt, the biggest example of this problem. The official length of the ship is 170 metres, according to the DS9 Technical Manual. However, if we look at the ships deck plans in the back of the book, we see several illustrations of people standing on the four decks. Taking these to be about 1.8 metres tall, we get a length of about 115 metres for the ship - if it's 170 metres long then those people are 266 cm tall, or about eight feet nine inches!
Comparing the Defiant to other ships leads to all kinds of numbers. When we see the ship above a Galor in "Defiant", it appears to be about 60 metres long. This is reinforced by the battle sequence in "First Contact"; the Enterprise-E swoops past behind the Defiant. Given that the E-E is "nearly seven hundred metres long" according to Picard, the Defiant looks to be in the region of 50 - 60 metres in comparison.
On the other hand, the episode "The Sound of Her Voice" includes a shot of the hangar doors in the ships belly. Assuming the shuttle is a reasonable size, the circular doors are about 15 metres in diameter. If so, then the ship itself is about 130 metres across, and so about 170 metres long again. The episode "One Little Ship" includes a comparison with a Danube class Runabout - this ship is radically shrunk later in the episode, but we see it full size to start with - which makes the Defiant look significantly more than 170 metres long.
If you look at the inside of the nacelles of the Defiant, there are clearly visible two or three rows of lights. These look exactly like windows; if we assume that they are windows, then with a spacing of around 3.4 metres the whole ship becomes a good 8+ decks tall, and goes back to about 170 metres again.
So, what are we to believe? The DS9 TM schematics are repeatedly seen
on screen, and so are canon. But so are the VFX shots which give a radically
different size. It's a real mess, and there's just no way to settle it
sensibly. What I've done is go with the 170 metre length, but you'd be
just as correct to claim any of the other figures are true.
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