"We're a mile deep on an asteroid. Almost solid iron. And even through our deflectors, it did this."
--Commander of Federation Neutral Zone Outpost 4
During a briefing following the initial attacks on Neutral Zone outposts, Spock described what was known about the Romulan weapon. According to Starfleet researchers, the weapon was an "enveloping plasma" that caused its targets to implode. One plasma torpedo was sufficient to destroy the shields and weapons of a Federation outpost, and a second torpedo shattered the asteroid on which the outpost was built. One torpedo also damaged the fully-shielded Enterprise, even though much of the torpedo's energy had dissipated due to range. The weapon's power is certainly impressive: the destruction of a nickel-iron asteroid of at least two miles diameter would take hundreds of megatons of energy, which would certainly be an achievable energy yield for a space-faring civilization.
Even though it is capable of overtaking a Constitution-class starship in full retreat, a plasma torpedo has a relatively limited range. Only cloaking technology enabled the Romulan ship to get into effective range of its targets. As noted above, a plasma torpedo lost so much energy pursuing the fleeing Enterprise that when it finally struck, it no longer had enough energy to destroy the target.
Lieutenant Sulu believed that a single phaser shot would be sufficient to detonate a plasma torpedo prematurely. He did not actually get to test his idea, however, since his ship's phasers were off line at the time.
The Romulans stopped using plasma torpedoes on their starships after a technology exchange with the Klingons. In the 24th century, Romulan ships carry disruptors and photon torpedoes. The range limitations and high energy consumption of plasma torpedoes may have lead to their being replaced. The Enterprise was also able to survive hits from plasma torpedoes in "The Deadly Years", indicating that Federation engineers had made some progress in improving shield performance against them.
Plasma torpedoes continued to be used to protect ground installations and on orbital defense platforms. It is unknown if these weapons are identical to the TOS-era torpedo or a derivative design.
- Estimated using the SDN Asteroid Destruction Calculator for a 3200m diameter nickel-iron asteroid.
- Trekkies often inflate this estimate to gigatons, for no substantial reason.