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A Systems Vehicle was a type of very large general purpose Culture spacecraft. They were the largest conventional spacecraft built and operated by the Culture.[1]


The most capable SVs were classified as General Systems Vehicles (GSV). The size range for GSVs was considerable. The Ocean-class was a GSV from at least the 14th century CE - despite much larger GSVs existing at the time[2] - to at least the 19th century CE.[3] The Plate-class was classified as a GSV from at least the 14th century CE[4] to at least the 29th century CE,[5] even when the larger System-class had entered service by the 24th century CE.[1]

Limited Systems Vehicles (LSV) also existed.[6][3][7]

Medium Systems Vehicles (MSV) were very small SVs. The Desert-class, the first type of GSV, was reclassified as a MSV after being superseded by much larger ships.[8][9]


SVs were self-sufficient socio-cultural-economic units, and were the Culture's pre-eminent ambassadors.[10][1] SVs regularly constructed and served as bases for smaller craft, including smaller SVs.[11][8][12] Each was popularly regarded as containing the Culture in microcosm,[10][12] and capable of "rebuilding" the Culture in the event of a catastrophe.[12]

The largest GSVs had billions of sapient inhabitants or passengers.[1] They were likened to be the cities of the Culture because of their high population densities. Most of the Culture lived on Orbitals, which offered much greater space per person.[13][1]

Ships which were accommodation biased had self-sustaining populations that allowed them to crew the ships they constructed. Ship-construction biased - or "throughput" in Contact parlance - ships served as staging areas for off-ship personnel and docked ships.[11]

An atypical SV role was to go into self-imposed communicative and physical isolation as an Oubliettionary. In this role, they were typically uninhabited except for a few drones and attendant ships.[12]



Earlier classes of SV had a central physical hull.[2][14] The hull was subdivided into different sizes and types of "bays"; these included Mainbays,[15] Limited bays,[16] General bays,[2][14] Intermediate bays,[17] Medium bays,[18] and Smallbays.[2]

Later the physical hull was surrounded by a multiple-layer field-complex - a force field enclosure. The enclosure greatly increased the ship's effective internal volume and acted as the outer hull.[19][14][5][1]

Control systems[]

Large GSVs were typically controlled by multiple Minds[3][20][1] operating semi-independently.[1]


The Systems Vehicle was conceived as a Very Large Fast Self-Sufficient Ship. The first class of GSV, the 3.5 km long Desert-class,[8] was in service ca. 6th century BCE.[21]

The type grew larger from there. Much larger GSVs, including ones with over 9 km of physical thickness, were extant by the Idiran-Culture War on the 14th century CE.[2]

GSVs constructed during the lead-up to the war were designed for conversion into direct combat spacecraft. They fulfilled this role early in the war when Offensive Units were rare. Combat GSVs were powerful single-units, but lacked the inherent flexibility of a fleet of smaller spacecraft;[22] very large GSVs were regarded as obsolescent for combat purposes.[2] The high-value nature of GSVs meant their deployment into combat was a concern for strategic-planning Minds.[22]

By the 19th century CE, construction of GSV twice the length with eight times the volume of the Deserts was routine within even larger GSVs; by this time Deserts were classified as MSVs.[8]

The System-class, which entered service at least a few centuries before the 24th century CE, were the largest conventional Culture spacecraft of their time. Unlike earlier SVs, these ships did not have a central physical hull; the main structure was provided exclusively by fields, allowing for a length of 200 km.[1]

The Culture had several hundred thousand SVs in the 29th century CE.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 20
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Consider Phlebas, chapter 8
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Excession, chapter 3.4
  4. Surface Detail, chapter 9
  5. 5.0 5.1 Surface Detail, chapter 5
  6. Consider Phlebas, Dramatis personae
  7. Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 11
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Excession, chapter 5.3
  9. Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 5
  10. 10.0 10.1 Consider Phlebas, chapter 7
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Player of Games, chapter 2
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Surface Detail, chapter 10
  13. The Player of Games, chapter 1
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Excession, chapter 7.2
  15. Excession, chapter 10.6
  16. Excession, chapter 12.6
  17. Matter, chapter 13
  18. Hydrogen Sonata, chapter 9
  19. Look to Windward, chapter 2
  20. Use of Weapons, chapter 4
  21. Excession, chapter 2.2
  22. 22.0 22.1 Look to Windward, chapter 12