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Phaser Firepower

Written: 2000.06.13

The TM claims that a Type II hand phaser or Type III phaser rifle can disintegrate 650 m³ of rock with a split-second burst, suggesting that it is capable of destroying thousands of cubic metres of rock per second of continuous firing. However, we have never actually seen a phaser rifle disintegrate anywhere near this much rock. At best, phasers disintegrate a few cubic metres of rock, not thousands of cubic metres per second.

(Alyeska here) Ok… For starters phasers have multiple settings. Second item, in the episode where Picard is captured by the Cardassians one scene shows a hand phaser being used to desentegrate a hole in rock to get to another cave. The hole was over 30 meters long.

Again, the no math mentality, as well as a refusal to accept the observed material-dependent nature of hand phasers. I claimed that phasers couldn't destroy thousands of cubic metres per second as described in the TM, because their observed capabilities have never come anywhere close to that. He retorts by mentioning an incident in which a sustained (read: many seconds) blast from a phaser was used at extreme close range to cut a tunnel that might have been a hundred cubic metres at most. This would suggest a maximum disintegration rate which is orders of magnitude lower than the TM's estimates.

This is by no means the only flaw with this argument. It's also an example of an outright lie, since the episode in question was "Chain of Command", and in that episode, Worf cleared away a bunch of loose rocks in a pre-existing lava tube. He did not have to "disintegrate a hole in rock to get to another cave." In fact, Picard looked through the tube and could see the other cave around the obstructions, before Worf fired.

(E1701 here) The TM is reffering to setting 16, which as indicated by Riker, can vape half of a large facility. The fact that we have never seen such a high setting used before does not contradict it.

This is either an example of outright lies or an example of TNG ignorance (or both). The dialogue which he vaguely describes came from "Frame of Mind", but Riker said nothing about "half of a large facility" in that episode. Furthermore, Riker was in a delusional state, as he was being psychologically tortured by the Tilonians and couldn't separate reality from hallucination. It's pretty sad that "E1701" has to resort to quoting a character who is being psychologically tortured in order to support his ludicrous arguments, and it's even more sad that he has to cover this up by being deliberately vague about where the dialogue came from.

However, the parade of incompetence continues. He goes on to say that we have never seen setting 16 in use, but he is wrong. In "The Vengeance Factor", we saw Riker cranking the power on his type 2 hand phaser to maximum (the camera was looking over his shoulder, and you could see him crank the setting). We then saw him fire the weapon, which destroyed a diminutive blonde woman and did no other damage. Hardly what you would expect for a setting which supposedly blows buildings apart. And there are only two ways to interpret this incident: either I'm 100% correct about phaser effectiveness being incredibly material-dependent, or phasers are far weaker than we think and all of the "punch a hole through wall" incidents involved loose dirt rather than dense rock. Take whichever option you want.


The TM claims that the storage capacities of Type I, II, and III hand phasers are 7.2 TJ, 45 TJ, and 68 TJ respectively. The DS9 TM claims that upgraded Type II and Type III phasers now carry 88 TJ and 345 TJ respectively, and that Bajoran, Klingon, Cardassian, and Jem'Hadar weapons carry 1.2 TJ, 65 TJ, 98 TJ, and 1540TJ respectively. These numbers are consistently in the TJ range, but they appear to be consistently wrong.

(Alyeska here) That made no sense. The bajoran weapons are obviously the weakest and most likely not capable of much beyond scorching the flesh of the enemy. It directly tells that the weapons had been UPGRADED by the time the DS9 TM came out. Further more you can see that Klingon weapons are have more TJ then fed weapons while Cardassians have less. Now the Klingon weapon has no real settings and its TJ doesn't mean to much in comparing it to the federation weapon, same with the Cardassian. As to the Dominion, I assume you meant 154. Also looking at the TM it seems that MW may have been comparing the other races against the Dominions rifle weapon. No where do I see inconsistencies, but rather some one using numbers to try to confuse some one reading it and persuade them to see the wrong thing.

He admits that apart from one obviously accidental typo, I didn't misquote anything. Yet he tries to argue that the passage "made no sense" and that I was trying to "confuse" people. Does he explain exactly how any of my quoted text was incorrect? No. I can't understand what he's even trying to criticize here, since his "rebuttal" actually restates the points I'm making.

BTW, about the phaser upgrades, the DS9 TM describes upgrades in battery-cell capacity (with numbers that don't make any sense). Cell capacity upgrades don't necessarily lead to the firepower, range, or accuracy improvements alluded to in one of the previous arguments.

TM errors are not unprecedented; no one questions that the tactical effectiveness of shipboard phaser banks is far larger than the 5.1MW and 4.8MW figures in the TM and DS9 TM, and no one questions that Federation shields are capable of withstanding much more than 550 MW even though the DS9 TM says otherwise. In the case of hand weapon battery cells, Data indicated that the power cell drain was only 1.05MW in "The Mind's Eye" and Kira indicated that Cardassian phaser pistols have an energy capacity of 4.7 MJ in "Return to Grace". Both canon incidents override the TM in the event of a conflict.

Yes they do. So he agrees with me. I'm still trying to figure out how any of this constitutes a rebuttal.


If a Type II hand phaser truly carries 88 TJ, then Roga Danar's overload phaser should have exploded with a yield equivalent to 11 kilotons, or 70% of the Hiroshima nuclear blast in World War 2. Even if a phaser overload only releases the energy in the prefire chamber (presumably equal to one shot), we know that individual shot yields must be at least 1/1000th of the battery-cell capacity if not much more, since they cannot fire more than a thousand shots (if that many) before recharging (in "Siege of AR-588" we saw them keeping spare cells, which would be unnecessary if a single cell carries thousands of shots). So, even if an overload releases only one shot worth of energy, it would still be equivalent to several tons of TNT if the TM's battery cell capacity claims are to be believed. Ro Laren's disruptor pistol explosion did not injure her even though she was within 20 metres of the blast, which would be utterly ridiculous if the overload detonation was equivalent to several tons (or worse yet, kilotons), as some Federation cultists claim.

(Alyeska here) a nuclear reactor overloading does not have the same firepower of an atomic weapon. A phaser is not designed as a bomb, while the blast would be dangerous that is not its primary purpose. However taking that powersource and specifically building a bomb out of it you can get something much more powerfull.

More unsupported claims. He claims the phaser is analogous to a nuclear reactor without explaining why. Sure, some types of energy storage device don't release their stored energy upon destruction, but others do (eg. a propane tank). In this case, the phaser clearly does release a lot of its energy when overloaded, because the TM says so and because the phaser overload has been used repeatedly throughout the show's history as a makeshift bomb (eg. "The Next Phase").

The whole point of my argument was that phaser shots (or battery cells) can't possibly involve terajoules of energy, contrary to some of the mindlessly stupid claims being spouted by certain vocal Trekkie fanatics on the newsgroups and discussion groups. The fact that a phaser overload releases at least one shot worth of energy acts as proof that the terajoule shot and storage estimates are wrong, unless we're to believe that a phaser carries many millions of shots.


Some Federation cultists claim that tricorder readings may assist in locating targets, but they won't help the user physically aim the weapon, unlike the simple addition of sights and scopes.

(Alyeska here) Tricorders do not have to be aimed in the direction they are scanning. Multiple episodes have shown this, its just that many of the actors like to turn when operating the tricorder.

Another strawman attack. I never said tricorders had to be aimed in the direction they're scanning, and to be honest, I have absolutely no idea how this person got the impression that I did. A tricorder can be used to help you figure out roughly where a target is, but it won't help you aim your weapon. That statement is virtually unassailable, so he ignores it and uses straw. Gee, I would give him points for effort, but I'm not a kindergarten teacher.


A somewhat bizarre Federation cultist claim is the claim that Federation phaser rifles automatically track and target objects, and then fire off-axis at those targets. Since this capability has never been demonstrated in any televised episode or movie and has never been described in the ST Encyclopedia or TM, we can only conclude that Federation cultists are so fanatical that they are willing to invent new capabilities out of thin air in order to exaggerate Federation ground combat effectiveness.

(Alyeska here) this is a clear case of not even reading the DS9 TM. It is stated that the newer pulse phaser rifles have tracking sensors. The rifle tells you when you are on target and when to shoot. Even better is that it can be set to fire when it happens across the target. It won't target for you but when you bring the weapon properly on target it will fire FOR you. This also proves that the "Primitive" aiming recticle is not so primitive.

This is a good example of the red herring. I state that I see no validity in the "fire off-axis" claims and he retorts by stating that the pulse phasers have sensors. What on Earth does that have to do with their ability or inability to fire off-axis? So they have sensors; why does that mean they can fire off-axis?

Another problem with the above "rebuttal" is that it incorporates the over-used tactic of the unsupported claim. The DS9 TM says that phasers have sensors, but says nothing about auto-firing or even the on-target indicator of which he speaks. The sensors are most likely similar to tricorders; they can tell you what's ahead, but that doesn't mean the phaser aims itself or shoots when it sees a target. Perhaps next time, he'll provide actual excerpts from the TM so that we can differentiate the official information from the figments of his fevered imagination.

(E1701 here) Incorrect. It is quite possible to look off-axis with a scope. The phaser rifles we have seen have been specifically designed to fight in close quarters, where scope use would be useless... even downright suicidal. In such cases, hipshooting and iron sights are still the most effective.

This is getting to be a tired theme, and an obvious strawman attack. Yes, scopes aren't useful at close range. But no one ever said they were! They're useful for long-range shots, not short-range shots. They're common on blaster rifles but not on phaser rifles, therefore blaster rifles were probably designed with long-range use in mind, and phaser rifles probably weren't. He has no answer to that, so he invents a strawman about me claiming that scopes are useful at short range.

As for his claim that it is possible to look off-axis with a scope, that is another example of ignorance of real life. A scope is an optical device like a telescope, based on lenses which focus images coming from a particular direction (although some futuristic scopes may be based on cameras, even though reliability might be compromised as a result). In any case, there is a very narrow range of angles through which light will hit your eye, so you will only see what you need to see. Any attempt to explain away the effectiveness of scopes for long-range shots is idiotic; they are used in real life to improve targeting accuracy for long-range shots, and they do work. Of course they're not useful in close quarters, but no one is saying that they are.

And finally, he inadvertently provides more evidence for the inferiority of phaser rifles when he touts the simple gunsight, since phaser rifles don't have gunsights.


The Federation appears to have used mortars and grenades in its past. In "Arena" we saw a TOS-era Federation officer named Captain Kirk, launching a "photon grenade" from a mortar. His first officer claimed that it was dangerous even at a range of 1 kilometre, but when the grenade was actually launched and detonated we saw no damage in their vicinity whatsoever (no flying debris, no mushroom cloud, no shockwave, no fireball, no seismic disruptions, no heating or disruption of the rocks and dirt in their area, etc). It is therefore most likely that Spock was concerned that Kirk would damage his eyesight by looking at the flash, because they hunched down behind some rocks and were perfectly safe. If the weapon actually released nuclear-yield EM radiation, hunching down behind a rock would not have saved them. Nuclear-yield EM radiation would superheat the surrounding air and create a shockwave, which would have been seen and felt. This did not happen.

(Alyeska here) an episode of TNG specifically mentions the use of photon grenades. The other item is that the mortars used by the klingons are most likely weaker weapons since klingons do like close combat. Their apparent weakness may actually be that the weapon is meant to stun the enemy which it did quite effectively.

More red herrings. I explained that the grenades and mortars we've seen in Star Trek are nowhere near as powerful as some Trekkies claim, and he retorts by trying to explain why they're not very powerful. Who cares why they're not very powerful? Imaginary reasons don't change observed results, and they certainly don't change the point I was making.

(E1701 here) As I recall, the photon grenade also landed behind a rather large rocky hill. And no Federation weapon seen to date has been so crude as to require a mushroom cloud or massive ground-shaking explosion. Also, another possibility backed up by the visulas indicated that the hill may have been much farther than a kilometer away.

The mushroom cloud produced by Ivy Mike, which was the codename for the world's first fusion bombThis is such a beautiful example of brain-damaged Trekkie anti-scientific thought that I was initially tempted to print it out and frame it. Yes boys and girls, he's proudly displaying his ignorance of real life. He thinks he can disprove my statements about the "Arena" photon grenade being less than nuclear weapon yield with his silly claim that only a "crude" high-yield weapon would make a mushroom cloud. However, mushroom clouds and massive ground-shaking explosions have nothing to do with how "crude" a weapon is, and everything to do with how powerful it is. You can not release enormous quantities of energy without suffering the inevitable side effects.

Doesn't this pinhead know what causes a mushroom cloud? A large release of energy superheats any materials in its immediate vicinity (including air). This superheated mass of air, debris, and assorted vapourized materials will rapidly expand outwards. As it expands, its density decreases and it becomes buoyant in the atmosphere. This causes it to rise. As it rises, it continues to expand because of its high temperature (this is why hot-air balloons rise, remember?). The result is the infamous mushroom cloud, which is caused by any sufficiently large and localized release of energy in atmosphere. There is no such thing as a high-yield explosion in atmosphere which won't create a mushroom cloud. It doesn't have to be nuclear; a large and intense chemical explosion can also produce a mushroom cloud.

Obviously, our "E1701" aliased friend needs to spend less time watching TV and more time taking remedial science classes.


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