Nope, It’s A Bridge

Many of you, gentle readers, are also devotees of the Atomic Rockets web site. (As well you should be, if you are interested in matters rockety.) And, of course, you may have noted the Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval off in the right-hand column.

But today I’m going to talk about a place where I find myself, and the ‘verse, disagreeing with it. Specifically, with “It is a CIC Not a Bridge“. For convenience, I’m going to quote from it here:

That round room in the Starship Enterprise? The one they call the “Bridge?” Wrong term, that thing is a Combat Information Center (CIC). On a real wet-navy vessel, the bridge is a tiny two-station place used to control the the movement of the ship. It only had stations for the navigation and helm.

In other words, the “bridge” on the Starship Enterprise is that little console that Sulu and Chekov sit at.

The CIC is where all the data from the sensors, scoutships, intelligence agencies, central command, and other ships is gathered and evaluated. The important information is passed to the captain along with tactical suggestions. Exactly the way Uhura, Scotty, and Mr. Spock pass information and tactical suggestions to Captain Kirk.–It_is_a_CIC_not_a_Bridge

So, here’s the thing. It’s actually slightly more complicated than that. There are three places on a wet navy vessel all of which do things that people think of as functions of “the bridge”.

There is the CIC, as described above. It’s the information-gathering and decision-making center.

Then there is the wheelhouse, which is where the ship’s movement is controlled from. This, on ships that had a bridge, was usually buried down inside the hull or beneath the superstructure – for one simple reason. You don’t want it shot off. If you lose the wheelhouse, you can’t command the ship any more, so you don’t want it somewhere vulnerable.

And then there is the bridge, which is the place you conn the ship from. It’s up high at the front of the superstructure with generous wings, etc., because its requirement is that you be able to see what the ship’s doing in order to command it.

(On a merchant ship, you probably don’t need a protected CIC, and since you don’t expect anyone to shoot your bridge off, you may have the engine-room telegraphs and wheel up there in one place. On navy vessels, on the other hand, instead of passing engine orders and steering directly, you have a bridge talker yelling “Port 40! Half ahead both!” down voice tubes to the wheelhouse.

On the other hand, the bridge is also exposed to heavy weather, so merchies that expect to encounter the rough stuff may still have a separate wheelhouse. This was actually where they first came from.)

In a historical digression, incidentally, the original bridge is an evolution of what was originally the quarter deck, the raised deck at the stern, on sailing ships. When it became more important to avoid your own smoke than see what your sails were doing, which is to say, as we moved from sail to steam, the raised area moved for’ard and became the bridge as we know it today.

As for the wheelhouse, that came from sailing ship designs in which the poop deck (the highest deck at the stern, typically forming the roof of the stern cabin) was extended forward to cover the quarter deck and the ship’s wheel, on the entirely reasonable grounds that in a storm, it’s easier to steer without being out in the full blast of wind and wave, and in battle, it’s much easier to steer if you have some protection from being shot.

So let’s bring this back around to starships.

You don’t need a bridge in the above sense. As it says further up that page, Rockets Don’t Got Windows – given space ranges and instrumentation, you are never going to be trying to conn the ship with your Mark I Eyeball, which is essentially what a bridge up high is for. Your best view is going to come from sensors, but they can be read just as easily from the CIC, buried deep in the center of the hull for maximum protection.

(Why did the Enterprise designers perch the bridge right up at the top of the saucer, with about three feet between the back of the fancy digital sensor-feed-showing viewscreen and hard vacuum, right where any Tom, Dick, or Kang could shoot at it conveniently? Were they all Romulan spies?)

Do you need a separate wheelhouse? Well, given that starships are certainly going to have fancy electronic controls rather than the hydraulic/pneumatic/etc., systems that imposed constraints on the position of wet navy wheelhouses vis-a-vis the CIC – usually buried down in the bottom of the ship where the armor is thick – I’m going to say probably not. The CIC’s already in the safest place, per above.

(You may have a maneuvering room, as they call the place on submarines, where the engineers translate your requests into detailed instructions to the engines, and given that a starship ACS is probably also rocket engines of some sort, that may also be handled from there – but that’s a different function.)

You are going to have a CIC, because you still need somewhere to coordinate information, make decisions. In my opinion, it will probably also be the wheelhouse (after all, as in the Enterprise example above, it’s just one console, and since the maneuvering orders are going to come from the officer on watch in the CIC anyway, why make him shout any further than he has to?).

The only question is whether it will be called the CIC. The above (combined CIC/wheelhouse) is essentially the arrangement they use on submarines today (where it is called the control room; the bridge is the place you can stand at the top of the conning tower when the boat’s on the surface).

That may be likely nomenclature for starships, too. (Nothing especially that civilian starships are unlikely to have a Combat Information Center.)

On the other hand, the Imperial Navy, and their merchant tradition, call it the bridge. Why? Well, unlike our submarines, there isn’t another bridge somewhere to clash with it – and you get your best view of what’s around from it – and in the meantime, it’s a name that’s got centuries, indeed millennia, of tradition behind it as The Place From Which Ships Are Commanded. It’s a word, in a nutshell, that’s got weight.

And since you’re combining all the functions back together, as they were in the beginning, that counts plenty.

The quarter deck, on the other hand, that’s somewhere else.

10 thoughts on “Nope, It’s A Bridge

  1. Don’t forget that the Trek-verse is rather light on the armor so burying your command center in the hull doesn’t help much when any shit seems to either be stopped by shields or punch all the way through the ship.

  2. I think it became readily apparent that the Enterprise’s designers were secretly on some crude hedonics the moment they settled on the layout for the superstructure.

  3. Hey, you beat me to the submarine reference! And yes, you drive the ship from Control, there are repeaters for sonar/fire control displays there, etc. The bridge is strictly the place where the Officer of the Deck and Lookout (and Force Protection Watch, post-9/11) stand while the boat is on the surface. Last man down, flip off the Russian spy satellite! (And yes, I did break one junior officer into a horrible case of giggles when I physically did that before we submerged)

    “(Why did the Enterprise designers perch the bridge right up at the top of the saucer, with about three feet between the back of the fancy digital sensor-feed-showing viewscreen and hard vacuum, right where any Tom, Dick, or Kang could shoot at it conveniently? Were they all Romulan spies?)”

    Actually, because the original idea was a glass canopy, making the saucer a giant version of Spaceman Spiff’s flying saucer. That was a sufficiently silly idea that they plated over the canopy before the first model was built, thankfully.

    Personally, I am very fond of Dream Pod 9’s Jovian Chronicles setting, their ships are very well-designed for the most part. The only exception is the external habitation centrifuges. The ships are big enough that you could have a 40-50m diameter centrifuge inside all the armor, instead of a 285m diameter external centrifuge.

  4. Oh, and the quarterdeck, being the place where you formally receive visitors to the ship, is going to be right next to the primary airlock and small craft bay.

  5. Hm. Makes me think of the ‘Children of a Dead Earth’ video game (near-future space combat). Many ships I’ve seen there have a unified bridge/CIC, but compact computerized expert systems attached to all major systems through the ship. If the redundant links to the bridge fall silent, the individual systems will try to intercommunicate as best they can and do something, generally some combination of flee, await orders signed by a fleet admiral, or try your best to kill everything without a friendly IFF.

  6. Big (US) Naval ships don’t have a ‘wheelhouse’ – unless you’re going waaaaaaaaaaaaay back, a couple generations or more.

    We have a bridge – where the ship is conned from (and where the helmsman steers and the lee-helsmen passes engine order from – or, in the case of gas-turbine ships, directly controls speed). And that is high up in a place with good visibility. The ship is still conned from here during combat though.

    There’s a CIC – that is, when possible, inside the hull where its protected. Some classes of ships (FFG-7, for example, where its right under and slightly behind the bridge – the missile and gunnery control room is right underneath (so one good hit will take everything out . . . )) they are not.

    There’s ‘after-steering’. This is the room (or rooms) where the steering gear (the hydraulic rams that move the rudder) is at. You can take control and steer from there but its normally unmanned (only during critical situations – General Quarters and close manuevering like entering/exiting port or underway replenishment). But these guys are only steering if the bridge is destroyed or the bridge control panel is otherwise inoperative.

    Some ships have a secondary conn – which duplicates the helm/lee helm, conn, and navigation stations of the bridge but even that is placed someplace with an exterior view and you conn and steer from there. On the Forrestal class carrier its placed up front right under the flight deck. Most ships do not have a separate secondary conn though.

    It is perfectly legitimate for the ‘bridge’ (the conn and helm station) to be inside CiC. There is, obviously, no particular need to it to be separate since the only reason it is on wet-navy ships is that the Conn needs to be able to visually look at what’s happening outside the ship – there’s lot’s of things that don’t show up on radar.

    The maneuvering room will likely in the same situation as a modern gas turbine ship – its there (like the after-steering rooms) as a backup if the remote stations are lost but it won’t normally be in control.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. Much of my knowledge on the subject comes from RN ships of an older generation, so I appreciate the up-to-date perspective.

      (As the above post is itself to be quoted on Atomic Rockets, I’ll be sure to pass your comment along as well.)

  7. Weird, I had another comment before my last one, wonder where it went? Alistair, could you check the spam-filters, please?

    Anyway, since it’s not here:

    “(Why did the Enterprise designers perch the bridge right up at the top of the saucer, with about three feet between the back of the fancy digital sensor-feed-showing viewscreen and hard vacuum, right where any Tom, Dick, or Kang could shoot at it conveniently? Were they all Romulan spies?)”
    It’s my understanding that originally, the Enterprise was going to have a clear canopy over a cockpit like Spaceman Spiff’s little saucer.

    But someone decided that it was a little too hard to believe.

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