Kobayashi Maru is a test of command ability administered by Starfleet. The scenario requires the test subject to command a starship patrolling a disputed border (typically a neutral zone along the border with the Klingons). During the patrol, the starship receives a distress signal from a freighter, the Kobayashi Maru. The freighter is crippled and losing life support, and they request a rescue from the starship. Unfortunately, the freighter has drifted into the neutral zone -- entering the neutral zone to help the freighter would be an act of war.
By design, rescuing the passengers and crew of the crippled freighter is impossible. If the starship enters the neutral zone to get within transporter range of the freighter, a fleet of Klingon warships will attack the starship with overwhelming numbers. The simulation essentially cheats: no tactics used by the test subject to defeat or bypass the Klingon warships will succeed. The typical result of the test is the destruction of the subject's ship.
The Kobayashi Maru test is administered as a test of character. It's apparent intent is to determine whether the cadet will continue to do his or her duty even when faced with overwhelming odds in a hopeless situation. It may also be designed to determine how cadets will respond to conflicts of duty: protecting Federation citizens versus obeying Federation treaty obligations, for instance.
- James T. Kirk is the only Starfleet cadet to ever beat the Kobayashi Maru test. On his third attempt, he reprogrammed the simulation so he could save the freighter. He got a commendation for original thinking (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
- A non-canon novel, The Kobayashi Maru, addresses how various other TOS characters dealt with the test.
- Chekov entered the neutral zone to save the freighter and came under attack. Overwhelmed, he used his ship's self-destruct mechanism to take several Klingon ships with him.
- Scotty exploited a bug in the way the simulation modeled shield mechanics to inflict a disproportionately high number of Klingon casualties. He was transferred from the command track to engineering as a result (which was what he wanted all along).
- Sulu chose to respect the Federation's treaty obligations and refused to take his ship into the neutral zone to assist the freighter.
- The non-canon ENT relaunch novel Kobayashi Maru reveals the origins of the Kobayashi Maru scenario.
Purpose and Problems
- Administration of the test differs between ST2 and other appearances. In ST2, the subject of the test was Lieutenant Saavik, a commissioned officer. In other appearances, it is usually being administered to cadets.
- In the 2009 Star Trek movie, the test is actually designed by Spock, who says its purpose is to determine whether an officer can control himself and his crew in the face of overwhelming fear. This claim is illogical, since any cadet taking the test knows that the situation is a simulation: there is no real danger, so there can be no overwhelming fear.
- The dialogue in the film indicates that Commander Spock had programmed the test for the past four years, rather than having originally created it. However, Spock's security safeguards are inadequate.
- Also in ST2009, McCoy and Uhura obviously know that the test is designed to be unbeatable (probably because they've already been participants). Such knowledge would appear to defeat the stated purpose of the test. In contrast, Saavik is apparently unaware of the unfair conditions of the test in ST2.
- As the Kobayashi Maru is a character test, it is unclear why Starfleet would allow cadets/officers to retake it, unless they are also measuring the subject's stubbornness.