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Pulse Phaser Rifles

Written: 2000.06.13

The most deadly Federation ground weapon is pictured here, in the form of their top of the line phaser rifle seen in STFC. This rifle differs from previous phaser rifles in that it appears to be a pulse-fire weapon (as opposed to a continuous-beam weapon). It also has a rudimentary aiming device attached to its upper surface, which is clearly visible above. The aiming device may appear to be a fully-functional scope at first glance, but it is actually a searchlight with a primitive aiming reticle (it is actually used to illuminate the area in front of a trooper). Later in the film, the back of the device can be clearly seen and the extremely simplistic nature of its aiming reticle is clearly visible. The range of this weapon is unknown; it was first seen in STFC and it was never used at ranges beyond roughly 15m (which is farther than people think- try taking a 15m tape measure and laying it out). Its power is fairly limited; phaser rifle blasts had no more effect on Borg drones (even before they adapted to the frequency modulations) than bullets from a primitive 20th century "Tommy gun", as seen later in the film. However, it is easily powerful enough to kill a human being, and probably powerful enough to kill a stormtrooper through his plastoid armour.

(BigBryan here) The range of the Type III Phaser rifle seen in Deep Space Nine after the Captain and the main characters crashed landed on a planet after desroy the major White production facility. There, near the end we clearly see that these phaser rifles were being shot near the top of a canyon at least 200 meters down. So it would be safe to presume that the Pulse Phaser Rifle has a range of at least 200m.

First and foremost, this is obviously a red herring. I was talking about the pulse phasers we saw in STFC, and he retorts by talking about Type 3 phaser rifles. That's much like refuting a commentary on shotguns by talking about M-16 assault rifles.

However, our little friend "BigBryan" isn't quite done screwing up yet. He continues with an outright lie. He is obviously talking about "Rocks and Shoals", which was the second part of a two-part story. In the first episode, Sisko and several other DS9 characters had a captured Jem'Hadar ship, and used it to sneak into Dominion territory and plant a bomb on an asteroid which served as a supply depot/production facility for the infamous White drug. They were damaged by the blast, and in "Rocks and Shoals", they crash-landed on a deserted planet, whereupon they did battle with Jem'Hadar soldiers who had also coincidentally crashed on the same planet.

He claims that they fired "at least 200 meters down" to hit the soldiers, but anyone who has actually seen the episode will know that this is a bald-faced lie, unless they have no concept of distance. For the dimensionally challenged among you, 200 metres is a very long distance. Try getting an end-zone seat at a football stadium and sitting in one of the highest rows of the first section. Then, get somebody to sit in one of the end-zone seats at the opposite end of the stadium, again in one of the highest rows of the first section. Now that is 200 metres, and that's a much longer distance than what we saw in "Rocks and Shoals". At 200 metres, you will notice a few things:

  1. People look like ants.

  2. If you yell at them they'll barely hear you, and they won't be able to tell what you're saying.

  3. If you shoot at them, you'll need to use either a scope or a gunsight to hit your target, unless you'd prefer to simply spray the target with a huge number of shots (eg. from an automatic weapon) and hope for a random hit.

Now, is this what we saw in "Rocks and Shoals"? No. The Jem'Hadar were much too large to be 200 metres away. Captain Sisko didn't even have to shout at the top of his lungs for the Jem'Hadar unit commander to understand his request for a meeting. And when the shooting began, no one used scopes or sights. The little amber aiming reticles (or whatever they are) on the phaser rifles stayed down. In fact, most of them didn't even bother raising the gun to eye level, to look down the (sightless) barrel! We saw Sisko and Garak shooting from the hip! And yet, they actually had decent hit ratios. Certainly not 100%, but decent. And far too good to be shooting from the hip from 200 metres away (at moving targets, no less).

As an aside, if you watch the episode, you may notice that a single powerful explosion in the midst of the Jem'Hadar squad would have easily killed them all. An explosion such as the powerful explosion that a Type III phaser rifle is supposedly capable of causing.

Now MW claims that "No more effect on borg drones? then a 20th century Tommy Gun." Well, the phaser rifles were able to effectivley kill them in one shot near the chest area. The phaser rifle is totally 100% accurate if he aim correctly. They is no recoil given by these weapons. A tommy Gun produces recoil, thus you must fire more rounds in order to hit the intended target.

Good example of a red herring. I was talking about destructive power, and he retorted by talking mostly about accuracy and recoil.

I liked the way he quantified accuracy, as "totally 100% accurate". Sorry boys and girls, but that's impossible, and in his case, proof of limited intelligence. Perfect accuracy would mean dimensional tolerances of zero, which are impossible. You can have very high accuracy with a well-built weapon, but zero-tolerance is a political buzz-word, not a legitimate engineering specification.

He also tried to weakly address the power issue by saying that phasers can kill Borg drones with a single hit to the chest, implying that this makes them much more powerful than bullets. Gee ... what do you think a bullet does when it punches a hole through a Borg drone's "armour" (as we saw in STFC) and goes through his chest? Yup- you guessed right. It will kill him, just like the phaser hit. In STFC, Picard kept pouring it on after the drone's death because of his fanatical hated for the Borg, not because his weapon was ineffective. Examine the following screenshot of Ensign Lynch, shortly after being gunned down by Picard's tommy gun; notice that you can see blood splatters and multiple bullet holes in his "armour".

Ensign Lynch, recently deceased. Notice the multiple bullet holes in his so-called armour.

If you look very closely, you may also notice signs of extremely ductile failure in the "armour", which is consistent with soft materials such as leather (as opposed to hard materials such as most engineering metals).

MW claims that "Probably powerful enough to kill a stormtrooper through plastoid armor." Probably? That is a strange word to use here. Probably should be replaced with 'It is?'

Actually, "probably" is precisely the right word to use, in spite of our overeager little Trekkie friend's desire to phrase everything as optimistically as possible (and I do believe that his criticism of my choice of words is perhaps the finest example of "nitpicking" the world has ever seen). Yes sir, it's the return of their demand to make generous statements even more generous. I try to be reasonable in giving due credit to phaser effectiveness, but I will not assume things which haven't been verified with a reasonable confidence level. Phaser effectiveness is totally material-dependent, and we don't know anything about its effectiveness on stormtrooper armour material. Hell, we don't know much about stormtrooper armour at all, except that the SWE says it can survive most projectile weapons as well as all manner of harsh environments without corrosion. I reiterate: a phaser can probably kill a stormtrooper. I don't see why they find that statement so objectionable.

A handheld phaser can destroy a building on level 16. So why presume a phaser rifle could not?

Hey, it's the return of our good friend, the vague, unsupported claim! Hello, old friend. How are you doing? Perhaps you're unaware that a Trekkie has used you far too many times now; you should feel violated. Does he explain what size of building can be destroyed with a hand phaser? Does he explain how long it will take? Does he explain what type of building, ie- wood, brick, steel-reinforced concrete, metallic? Does he describe the show in which we saw this happen? Let's get real: we've heard some people boast about this onscreen, but we've never seen it in action. We've seen them make rocks disappear, but we've also seen that phasers are much less effective against metal.

So, in case some of our Trekkie friends know absolutely nothing about buildings, here's a refresher course: commercial, industrial, and military buildings aren't like your grandmother's house. They don't use wooden "two by fours" for load-bearing members. They use steel girders and steel-reinforced concrete pillars. If you want to demolish a building, you must knock out the main load-bearing members, otherwise you'll just blow out part of the wall. And since the main load-bearing members are likely to be largely or entirely metallic, the ability of a phaser to destroy a building is hardly substantiated.

Plastoid armor can not take blows to it without making the stortrooper fall over as seen in RTJ when the Eowoks throw what appear to be about 5 pound stones on them.

Are these people mentally retarded? Talk about ignorance of real life! Even indestructible armour wouldn't keep its wearer from falling over if hit by a sufficiently large object! Is this guy seriously trying to suggest that if you are wearing armour and you fall over, this has something to do with the strength of the armour? Armour blocks projectiles but it doesn't violate conservation of momentum! In real life (there I go, talking about that pesky "real life" thing again), hockey players can get concussions even though their helmets survive the impact; it's the sudden acceleration which knocks them unconscious, not a structural failure of the helmet.

Ewoks throwing rocks

Another trick here is the recurring no math trick. He says the rocks are only five pounds, but a five pound rock is nothing. I can hold a five pound rock in the palm of my hand! So how did he arrive at the 5 pound estimate? Voodoo math? Or no math at all? Take a look at the rocks; they're about the same size as the Ewoks' heads, which in turn are considerably wider than human heads. Let's say the rocks are roughly eight inches wide and spherical. This is more like a 30 pound rock than a 5 pound rock, and if a creature with animal strength hurls a 30 pound rock at your head, that will knock you for a loop! The stormtroopers may not have been killed by those impacts, but it's not unreasonable to think they might have been knocked out, or serious disoriented (as an aside, just to be forthright, the first time I wrote up this page, I accidentally used 8" radius rocks instead of 8" diameter rocks, so I came up with a figure of 180 pounds instead, but an 8" radius is far too large).

As an aside, it would be very difficult to lift and throw such heavy rocks as easily as the Ewoks did in the film. A Trekkie could easily argue that the rocks were actually made of styrofoam and the Ewoks were actors, but that isn't an option when we're dealing with suspension of disbelief. If we treat the films as if they actually happened, then we must accept that an Ewok can pick up a piece of rock the size of his head and throw it around as easily as a human would throw a styrofoam prop. This would make them much stronger than humans (particularly given their small size), but that's hardly surprising. The world is full of animals which easily outclass us in terms of physical strength.

And in books the armor could too be dented by throwing a rod at it.

Yet another vague, unsupported claim. Which book? And perhaps more importantly, how heavy was the rod? Do we have any idea what its velocity was? Was it thrown by a two year old child or a hulking Wookie? How big was this "dent?" Do we have an excerpt? Can't he bother to describe the situation in detail? How can anyone even guess how strong stormtrooper armour is, based on the above statement? It's so vague it could describe anything from a pencil to a spear. It could describe anything from a harmless dent to a killing blow.

By the way, you may notice that there was no visible denting on the stormtrooper helmets from the rocks that hit them in the scene from which the above screenshot was taken. Their helmets were so strong that they easily warded off the impact of the rocks, almost as if the rocks were nothing but harmless styrofoam props :)

(Alyeska here) it is also important to note that the Tommy gun was firing holographic bullets. While normally only energy, when any object in a holodeck is in contact with another object foreign to the holodeck the transporter tech replaces the holo bulet with a real one. Combine that with the safteys being turned off and you get a real bullet that strikes the Borg drones that were trying to get to picard. Another interesting item.

Can you say "red herring?" Of course you can. Who cares how the holodeck makes the bullet? The point is that it is a tommy-gun bullet (or a functionally identical fascismile thereof), therefore tommy-gun bullets can easily punch through Borg chest plating. One thing I'll say in this guy's favour is that some Trekkies in the past have made silly unsupported claims that the holodeck made super-duper bullets that vastly outstripped the power of a real tommy gun, and he wasn't foolish enough to go down that road.

Considering the close nature of inter ship combat zoom features would not be needed on any weapons. So if the aiming reticle was capable of zooming out, whats to say the person operating the zoom feature actualy had the weapon zoomed out? Considering the advanced nature of many star trek things the zoom feature would more then likely be a digital thing. In close quarter combat it would be set to normal so that one could aim at objects close to them selves without warping their vision and blocking out potential enemies.

Yup, you guessed it. More unsupported claims. Maybe someone should explain to him that before reeling off a long explanation of the ramifications of the combat zoom features of a phaser rifle, he should first provide evidence that they exist. I'm not categorically denying the possibility of such things, but I would like to see some evidence. You know, evidence ... that thing people are supposed to use in order to support their arguments.

(E1701 here) 15 meters is only a long range for stormies... *grin*.

Typical silly Trekkie fanatic statement, based on the fact that stormtroopers don't hit their targets every time (as if Fed soldiers do). It looks like we're back to the common ignorance of real life problem, so it's time for a reality check: haven't these guys ever watched any of those police officer documentaries? I've seen footage of a trained police officer emptying his revolver at a man less than ten metres away from him, without scoring one hit! It isn't that easy to hit a moving target, especially when that target is shooting back at you. To quote Gene Hackman in "Unforgiven", "that'll just flat-out rattle some folks.".

However, the aiming device is unimportant. In fact, the sights on the blasters look more like "primitive" scopes than anything else. No, sights are never going to be super advanced unless they either aim the gun for you, or they are scopes desinged to deal with hostile conditions.

Blaster diagramSmells an awful lot like a strawman attack to me. Since when did I ever say that the scope on a blaster is "super advanced"? Sure, it has a scope, and a folding stock so that you can put it up against your shoulder. This suggests that it is probably designed to be used for long-range shots if necessary, although you wouldn't often see that in starship boarding actions or the sort of jungle combat we saw in ROTJ. But I never said anywhere that the scope had any super-duper capabilities.

It does have some capabilities beyond a simple optical scope; the attached diagram from the EGWT shows that a power source is required for the scope, and that the blaster rifle has a targeting sensor. Interestingly enough, it also shows that there is a knob for the power setting, which supports the observation that blaster yield is variable; watch Han Solo's blaster destroying chunks of the docking bay wall in ANH, and then watch other scenes in which blaster shots are set to strictly anti-personnel levels.

However, the precise nature of the targeting sensor and powered scope are unknown. The system could be anything from a simple optical scope with a rangefinder to an advanced broad-spectrum imaging system with IFF (identify friend or foe) capabilities. The weapon was probably designed for simplicity and reliability rather than flashiness, so it would seem likely that it's something in between those two extremes; probably an optical/infrared/night-sight scope with a rangefinder.

It's a gun after all, not a scientific research centre, and as far as I can tell, that's as much information as you realistically need for combat. Of course, since I am a civilian, I speak strictly from book knowledge. If any battle-hardened soldiers out there ever felt the need for more complex information out of a gun, please feel free to E-mail me with corrections.

No new scope has ever replaced the reliability or usefulness of a good 'ole iron sight. And that is effectively what the sighting devices on the rifles are.

At close range, he's right about the uselessness of a scope. But at long range, he's wrong. A scope is absolutely necessary for a sniper rifle, and the fact that we never see them on phaser rifles tends to suggest that they aren't designed to be used that way. As for the "sighting devices" on phaser rifles, that's an outright deception, and a pretty feeble one at that.

He probably assumes nobody out there knows anything about guns, so he can spout whatever nonsense he wants. But in real life, there are only two types of sights: the cool laser sights that we saw in Terminator, and the old-fashioned type which he's talking about. The old-fashioned type is simple enough: there's a raised bump near the business end of the gun, and you line it up with protruding features (or a peep-hole sight) farther back along the gun in order to aim your weapon. Simple enough? Two bumpies: line 'em up and shoot.

A Federation phaser rifleNow, I invite you to take a good look at a Star Trek phaser rifle. It obviously doesn't use laser sights, or we would see the beams (or the little red dots on their targets). But does it have old-fashioned sights? Absolutely not. As you can see, the top of the gun is flat. Worse yet, the business end is very wide (actually, it looks just like the end of a type II hand phaser), thus making it even more difficult to line up for a shot. The only visual aid is the cheesy little flip-up panel, and it can't be a sight because you need two bumpies to line up, not one. It's not a gunsight; it's obviously a typically decorative Federation-style HUD panel, making it exactly the sort of over-complicated, unreliable, useless distraction that Kira complained about in "Return to Grace".

However, they are not that inferior. In Insurrection, the good Doctor Crusher manages to destroy a small flying robot that is no larger than the average trap pidgeon. That is the equivilant of nailing a trap pidgeon with a modern .410 shotgun. Damn fine accuracy, and she is by no means a sharpshooter, unlike Will Riker, Worf, and Data. A Tommy gun is notoriuosly inaccurate.

Sniff ... sniff ... what's that smell? Oh yes, I recognize it now. Yet another bad Trekkie strawman attack. I never said the phaser rifle was inferior in accuracy to a Tommy gun! As an aside, those drones looked bigger than clay pidgeons to me.

As an aside, since when did Worf become a sharpshooter?

Kudos to the Captain for even managing to hit almost every shot. The simple explanation is that the pulse pahser rifles carry about the same kenetic energy as a 10 ga. Shotgun (which is a lot), yet they carry far more firepower, as evidenced in Insurrection when two pulses and a beam blew away a cavern wall on a low setting.

This is a leap in logic if I ever saw one. How on Earth does he jump from shotgun accuracy to shotgun recoil? Is he seriously trying to suggest that any weapon with the accuracy of a shotgun must therefore have the recoil of a shotgun? Why?

As an aside, he tosses in an unsupported claim about how he was using a "low setting" in Insurrection, but he provides no evidence whatsoever. Anyone who has seen Insurrection will know that no orders about "low settings" were given.

And yes, it was a low setting. As shown by one episode of TNG, Riker states that a single blast from a Type II phaser on setting 16 will blow away half of a very large building. In the cavern they were likely toned it down to setting 5 or 6, if that.

More unsupported claims. Did we see this destruction of "half of a very large building?" No. Do we treat character boasts as direct observations? If so, then nothing can penetrate the shields of a TradeFed battleship, and the Death Star is the ultimate power in the universe.

Notice how he is incredibly vague about the episode in question. He doesn't provide even the slightest description of what happened in the episode, never mind the actual episode name. This makes it almost impossible to check the validity of his claim, and I have no doubt that this is deliberate (after all, if he remembered a particular line of dialogue, you would think he'd be able to describe the episode's basic plot, even if he can't remember its title).

Luckily, it's possible to figure out which episode he's talking about, even if he wants to keep it a secret. It must be "frame of mind", in which Riker is in a delusional nightmare caused by Tilonian torturers. In the episode he grabs a phaser and tells his captors that "I'm setting it to level 16. That should take out the side of the building." He had no idea how large the building was, so "E1701"'s comment about the "very large building" must have been a figment of his over-active imagination. And of course, we didn't see him actually do it, so we don't have any direct observations to support his claim.

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