The Federation is a defense orientated faction and has an usually flexible fleet composition. Their ships have powerful shields and have decent special abilities which compensate for their lack of firepower compared to the other factions. However, do not let this obscure the truth. The Federation has an abundance of fast ships with long range torpedo and beam based weapons - all of which make the Federation a great faction for quick hit and run attacks. Likewise, most Federation vessels have 360 degree firing arcs, which means that you can continue firing at chasing ships until these vessels are forced to break off their attacks for fear of destruction. Always keep your vessels firing at maximum range.
Most Federation vessels are primarily armed with torpedo and beam weaponry, which makes them do generally more damage in the cruiser and battleship phases of the game.
To get access to more advanced ships, a Federation player needs only research chassis upgrades at Starfleet Engineering. All the special abilities for ships are researched at Starfleet Science. Ship and station improvements are researched at Starfleet Engineering (shields and weapons) and Starfleet Science (sensors).
Federation research is generally cheap, and it is important that you always remember to upgrade your support vessels, as your fleets will often rely on these ships to control a battle – much more than other factions. For this reason, relying on small strike groups - like the Klingons do - is more difficult when playing as this faction, since starships rely on each other to make the most of their abilities. Many Federation abilities have tradeoffs, so be careful when using them.
All Federation shipyards are relatively cheaper and can allow you to build early and advanced vessels in significant quantities, despite their seemingly long build times.
The Federation turret and sensor station system is different from other factions. Instead of building a specific turret or sensor station, the Federation player must build a cheap platform first. After building a platform, a turret or sensor station is selected. This can be used to great effect to prevent or dissuade harassment. Usually one or two hotkeyed platforms can be built adjacent to each mining facility and moon (providing maximum coverage to the weak miners). By carefully watching the minimap you can very quickly upgrade these platforms should your opponent try to make some hit and runs. Against Klingons, building and upgrading one platform can even allow you to get some potshots off at the hulls of these vessels as they decloak.