UDF Ranks and Roles

The UDF has become an effective and efficient force for defending the colonies, but it was created hastily, and without the benefit of recent experience.  As a result, the process of coordinating and stabilizing itself was a long one, sometimes fraught with internal conflicts that threatened to destroy the organization from the inside out.  Since then, thanks to lessons learned during the Water War, the UDF has finally settled into a stable and well-structured entity, to the benefit (and relief) of those it was created to protect.

The Unified Defense Force was created in direct response to threatening actions being undertaken by the government of Tranquility,

which had demanded its independence from the Consortium, the governmental entity for all three colonies. As Tranquility began seizing and converting vessels, transforming them into warships, the GC understood that unless they acted to respond, Tranquility would soon have the means to bend the other colonies to their demands, which were growing more outrageous each day. Although Gateway and Catalon already maintained their own localized peacekeeping organizations, none of them were trained in spaceborne combat, nor had the vessels or equipment with which to engage in such. This shortfall was corrected almost literally overnight. All six of the massive Starhammer prospecting vessels were called home, to be adapted for use in the new military force. Their dedicated navigation support craft, the “Bouncers”, were also converted, transforming the powerful, nimble tugs into fighters. By the end of the Water War, the UDF was well-established as a defensive armada for the colonies. Unfortunately, due to the fact that such a military organization hadn’t existed for centuries, there was some internal confusion, especially regarding rank structure.

Since the UDF was formed using concepts and ideas that had been relegated to historical texts archived long ago, there seemed to be no logical way to organize the personnel to avoid conflicts within the chain of command, without completely disrupting the organization entirely. Often, two officers of the same technical rank were placed in positions that gave one inherent authority over another, and special roles were later created in an effort to address the frequent bouts of infighting and insubordination that resulted from the confusion.

With time, a more reliable rank structure began to evolve, and even though there are still some instances of internal conflicts, they can usually be attributed to personal causes.

UDF recruits begin their initial training in a series of comprehensive survival courses. During the first six months of their career, they will study basic vacuum survival skills and essential piloting theory (both atmospheric and airless). They will also undertake a series of tests that will help to determine where they will fit best within the Service. During the final month of these courses, Decimator flight training is added to the curriculum, with each recruit accumulating at least ten hours each of physical flight time by the time they graduate.

Upon graduation, the recruits are then distributed into the Service, each according to their capabilities. Usually, they can be relatively-certain of receiving the assignment of their choice, but they are not offered the ability to select their initial post. Any couples or close relatives who graduate together will not be permitted to assume posts on the same vessel. During this critical phase of their training, the Admiralty feels that it is essential that the recruits remain as free from unnecessary distraction from their duties as possible, as they will soon be responsible for making decisions that could directly affect the lives of others aboard. The separation requirement does not apply to couples or close relatives posted at operational support facilities.

General Crew : Deckhands

Deckhand

Once posted to an active vessel, recruits (now holding the rank of Midshipman) begin their primary training. Most initial deployments last for one full year, during which the new crewmembers will be tested and groomed in preparation for the role that bast matches their particular skills and capabilities. By the end of first deployment, the Midshipmen have selected, or have been selected for a particular career path. There are three paths to consider:

Specialist Crew

Flight Command

Fleet Strike

Specialist Crew

The Specialist Crew track does not include pilot training beyond that which is undertaken at boot camp. As they progress through the ranks, crewmembers hone their more specific skills to eventually assume a position within one of the Specialist fields, which include:

Engineering badges

Tactical badges

Comms badges

Medical badges

These four Specialist categories can sometimes overlap, allowing the individual disciplines to contribute to the solution of a unique problem.  For example, a Chief Comms Specialist can call on assistance from an Engineering Specialist to address a hardware-related problem with one of the SARA support systems that interfaces with navigation, and therefore, with the drive system. More focused roles aboard the ship, such as basic personnel administration positions, are filled by crewmembers with a related Specialist rating or higher. An exception to this is the role of shipboard security, which is traditionally manned by Fleet Strike.

Flight

Pilots badges

If the crewmember desires (and has the prerequisite skillset and affinities for) Flight Command, he or she will have the opportunity to enroll in the Flight Academy, where they will first undergo the complete fighter pilot instructional courses, a prerequisite for Command training. The new trainees first spend three months studying general tactics, elevating in rank to ensign in the process, and then another three months learning advanced maneuvering and navigation skills. During this stage, the pilots are paired off, and will always fly together, one flying as navigator in the second seat for the other. They will switch roles with every individual flight, giving each a chance to master the myriad finer points of flight and navigation, while honing their ability to coordinate their efforts effectively with others.

Completion of this stage of training elevates the pilots into “1st Class” status, lieutenant junior-grade rank, and they receive their first set of wings, silver-colored in reference to their lack of combat ability.  At this point, they are presented with the opportunity to suspend their training for up to six months, and gather further piloting experience in non-critical capacities. There are almost always a few individuals who take advantage of the chance, but recently, a greater percentage of new pilots are opting to proceed directly into the next stage, likely due to concern over the impending Tarthet assault.

The final stage of their training, combat flight instruction, now begins. The training pairs are extended. Each now flies solo in a single-seat Decimator variant, but still never alone.  Temporary mini-squadrons are formed, composed of one or more training pairs and an experienced instructor. At this phase, they will learn how to operate the Decimator’s weapons and targeting systems, and how to use them effectively both while flying solo and in coordinated strike formations. They will spend another three months completing the final phase of their flight training, after which they will undertake the final exam for initial certification.

The Academy final exam, known as the Gauntlet, is composed of an intense “obstacle course”, which the pilots must successfully complete in order to officially graduate from the Academy as certified combat-capable pilots. Successful completion of the Gauntlet marks the point at which they become eligible to receive a long-term combat-capable squadron assignment, or if they so choose (and are qualified), proceed to Command School instead.  Graduates replace their silver wings with gold, granted full pilot status, and promote to lieutenant.

Those students who complete the exam with special distinction are granted the designation of Master Pilot, which remains a permanent part of their record, regardless of their certification status. Master Pilots are required to re-certify to maintain active flight status every five years instead of the usual two, but even a Master Pilot whose certification has lapsed cannot be considered eligible for active flight duty. Only twelve pilots have attained this special designation, and at the time of this writing, five of them are still active in the Service. The Gauntlet speed record is currently held by captain Kevin Corval, commanding officer of Nova squadron.

Interestingly, Nova’s membership is composed of an inordinate number of individuals whose Gauntlet trials were exceptional in one fashion or another.  For example, the second-fastest record is held by Wing Three of Nova, Commander Kyrie Galos.  Commander Elian Mayhew, currently Nova’s Wing Five, was officially recognized for uncommon valor after placing himself and his fighter directly in harm’s way, in the process saving the lives of six other Academy trainees and their instructors.  The event resulted in multiple recommendations to elevate commander Mayhew to Master Pilot, but there was apparently some doubt as to whether he had actually been responsible for the accident in the first place.  Because of the debate (which continues to this day), commander Mayhew’s status remains at “Pilot”, but the commendation for valor is uncontested.

Pilot training completed, those aspiring to enter the command track must first accept an assignment to a squadron.  Once they have promoted another rank to commander, they then become eligible for command school.  All command staff, with the exception of Admirals, are fully-certed pilots, and must re-cert bi-annually to remain qualified for command postings. If a commanding officer comes due for recertification while deployed, the next senior command officer, in tandem with the most senior squadron commander aboard, are responsible for administering recertification trials. There have been attempts to dispute these requirements (and the training process) for command, but as the Decimator squadrons represent the UDF’s primary first-engagement platform, heavier focus is necessarily placed on them, and there are too many recorded situations where the ability for a member of command to take the “hotseat” has resulted in a positive outcome for those disputes to gain a foothold.

Command

Command badges

Once a pilot has risen to the rank of commander, they become eligible for command training, which entails six months of further education, followed by six months of light duty practical experience assignments aboard short-jump tenders or similar light support vessels. Entrance into the Command line is finally attained at the conclusion of the trial period, and following positive performance reviews by an immediate superior officer.

The Command line is considerably trimmed-down from the organization structure outlined in the old militaries.  In the UDF, Command line officers represent the primary authority throughout the Service.  Those pilots who hold the rank of commander or captain hold authority over the lower ranks, of course, but those same ranks within the Command line hold even greater authority.  Examples of Command line officers with pilot-achievable ranks are Wing Commander (captain), ship’s Executive Officer (commander), and ship’s Commanding Officer (captain).

Flag ranks begin at Fleet Commander, typically the Executive Officer of the flagship, who is chosen from among the XOs already serving in that capacity aboard one of the Starhammers.  Fleet Captain is of course the Commanding Officer of the flagship, also chosen from among the existing Starhammer skippers..

Further up the chain are the Vice or Rear Admirals, the Executive Officers of the Admiralty, responsible for coordinating the lower senior officers of the fleet.

Next in-line are the Admirals, who represent the highest direct authority in the UDF, with respect to the rest of the regular servicemen and women.  They also act as the liasions between the Vice/Rear Admirals, and the Admiralty Council itself.

Fleet Admirals are the ultimate authority within the UDF.  They are the Admirals’ “captains”, in a sense. There are six Fleet Admirals, all of which form the Admiralty Council, which creates and maintains UDF policies and procedures, and serves as the primary interface between the UDF and its own authority, the colonial government (General Consortium, or GC).

Fleet Strike

FleetStrike badges

Fleet Strike, the third primary career track for new recruits, represents the “grunt” component of the UDF, a role that was filled long ago by Marines. Members of Fleet Strike are among the most hardened, combat-capable individuals one is likely to find anywhere within the Service. They are fully trained and skilled in combat tactics, which is why senior Fleet Strike officers are frequently assigned to advisory positions within the ship’s CIC, the Combat Information Center.

Fleet Strike are the ultimate weapons and tactics Specialists.  Every stage of their training is designed to further develop each individual into a veritable juggernaut of offensive capability.  While they rarely maintain advanced piloting skills, they are usually heavily sought after to sit guns for the flight squadrons, as they are generally considered to be the most skilled with Decimator targeting and weapons systems.  The fact that the Academy’s advanced flight combat training courses were designed by Fleet Strike does much to reinforce this belief.

Fleet Strike is considered to be an isolated track, almost an exclusive kind of club.  There has never been an instance of a member of Fleet Strike “jumping the line” to assume a role in a different career track, with one possible exception.  Though the official record does not reflect it, Gunnery Sergeant Sergei Petrov is believed to have been permanently recruited as weapons officer for Nova Squadron’s Wing One (Cpt. Corval).  Though other squadron and wing commanders have certainly tried to do the same, Fleet Strike has otherwise maintained a very rigid hold on its membership.

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