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- For other uses, see Vigilant.
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The basis for this class of ship came from the success of the Defiant-class in the Dominion War which demonstrated that small, heavily armed vessels had a role to play within Starfleet. However, production diminished of this type of warship in the 2380s when emphasis was placed on exploration as well as multi-purpose vessels. This time saw several prototype warships being abandoned in the planning stages. It was in the early part of the 2390s that this changed, when tensions with the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire increased. This necessitated Starfleet Command to turn once more to a ship that was capable of holding its own in battle as well not requiring a large commitment of crew and resources that were needed for larger vessels. This chain of events led to the creation of the first ship of a new class of warship called the Vigilant which was first commissioned in 2394.
From the design, it was clearly seen that it was inspired by its predecessor the Defiant, and similar to those ships it was created for one purpose, namely combat. Its small frame meant that it held limited space for crew and the quarters were not designed for families or guests, which was a feature that was standard on Starfleet vessels tasked with long explorations. Other features that were missing were recreational facilities and lounge areas, which were a common comfort on Federation starships. Instead, a multi-purpose space room provided means for both relaxation and physical training for the crew.
As was the case with the Defiant, the small size of the Vigilant was an advantage in combat situations. Being fast and maneuverable, it was able to turn quickly and fire a torpedo salvo at a target or present its strongest shield to the enemy. This made it perfect in chasing raiders or defending a larger starship, which resulted in Starfleet leaning heavily on the Vigilant-class along with its sister ships such as the Defiant- and Gallant-classes, which were used to protect convoys in contested areas or aid in tracking pirates back to their bases. What it lacked in size, it made up for in terms of power and defense. Its defensive system consisted of two layers of abaltive armor, which protected it from harm. In addition, it possessed reinforced shield generators, which were capable of being modified to protect against different forms of energy weapons. Similar to its defenses, its offensive abilities packed a powerful punch in both its fore and aft sections, which were outfitted with tetryon, plasma or polaron weapons. Certain Vigilants were known to be outfitted with quantum torpedos, though this was not a typical load-out for these ships.
In combat engagements, the Vigilant-class's weapons were capable of being boosted in order to concentrate a massive attack against a single opponent or it could be reconfigured to fire at multiple enemies. The crews of these ships were also known to have been highly trained and made use of shuttles to board an enemy vessel and sabotage it, or were capable of deploying teams to gather intelligence about the enemy. To further complement these ships was the use of new technology that was standard across the entire ship line. These included improved phaser coils, which generated more energy than previous models as well as an advanced torpedo guidance system.
These tactical escorts were often chosen by captains who wanted to serve on the front lines of the battlefield and were not concerned about scientific research or exploration. According to Captain Louisa Mendoza-Perez of the USS Vigilant, "We hit hard and we hit fast. I command the finest warship in the fleet. Diplomacy is for the politicians." (ST website: Ships of the Line)