Battle of Britain

What follows below is the version of the page as it existed on January 6, 2003.  I have created these back-ups for the sake of historical accuracy, since my site and its pages will continue to evolve long after StarDestroyer.Net's attempted "attack on [my] credibility" is forgotten.

Star Trek Ground Combat

Quick Reference:
Photon Grenades, Phaser Kills and Rebuttals, Vehicles, and Conclusions.

Pro-Wars debaters like to point to the numerous examples of ground combat in Star Wars to claim that Star Wars technology would put the smack down on any Federation efforts on the ground. While it is true that we have only seen a scant few examples of Federation ground combat techniques, this shouldn't necessarily be a surprise. Even in the modern era, you can do a lot strategically and tactically with precision aerial bombardment. Witness Yugoslavia.

In an era of starships capable of firing on ground targets with pinpoint accuracy ("A Piece of the Action"[TOS]), sending combat troops to die on enemy fields is often going to be a waste, and will rarely be necessary. This doesn't mean it isn't done, or that the Federation doesn't have the ability . . . Starfleet used "hoppers" to land troops for the defense of Ajilon Prime ("Nor the Battle to the Strong"[DS9]), and 30,000 troops were being carried by a convoy in "Waltz"[DS9]. However, the Federation is not in the business of pacifying hostile populations, unlike the Empire (which pacifies its own).

However, we do know a surprisingly good bit about Federation ground combat techniques, at least those involving small forces. We have seen a few examples.

"Arena"[TOS] and Photon Grenades

In "Arena"[TOS], we see a small ground battle between six Starfleet personnel under Kirk, and an unknown number of Gorn forces (though Spock did say that "we're hopelessly outnumbered"). The redshirt Kirk brought along was vaporized at a range of "1570 yards" (about .8 miles or 1.4 kilometers), and the Gorn promptly starting firing small explosives at the Starfleet personnel.

Another day, another redshirt      Small Gorn mortar flings Kirk

Kirk ordered two men to lay down fire on the coordinates given to them by Spock. Since Spock mentioned intervening high ground, we may assume this was simply suppressive fire designed to either keep the Gorn from charging (such as Gorn can charge, anyway) or to keep them from being able to take up position and vaporize more of the Starfleet personnel . . . probably the latter. In any case, this suggests hand phaser use at ranges of several hundred meters.

"Intervening high ground"

Kirk finally returned fire with a photon grenade launcher, effectively ending the battle. Since the Enterprise was also being attacked, there was no opportunity for orbital support fire (though we know, based on "A Piece of the Action"[TOS], "The Apple"[TOS], and "Who Mourns for Adonais?"[TOS] that the Enterprise-Prime would have been capable of the pinpoint accuracy necessary to take out the Gorn forces without harming Kirk). There was also no opportunity for the launch of a shuttle, which could have been used for ground support as in "Detained"[ENT]. "Arena" is the only time, not counting Insurrection, that we have seen some weapon other than phasers in use by Starfleet on the ground.

While we do not know the maximum range of the photon grenade launcher that Kirk used, we can make some guesses. Kirk fired it at the intervening high ground, some 1200 yards (.65 miles, or 1.1 kilometers) distant, and the young officer seemed concerned that Kirk would use the devices at such close range.

Photon grenade in mid-detonation.

The range was probably a bit low. Spock's tricorder had somehow been overloaded by the Gorn, and, since the Gorn were not visible (according to the statement of the young officer), neither their destination nor their speed was known. Kirk, not knowing how slow the Gorn are on foot, may have overestimated their speed. Alternately, it may be possible that he was correct, and that the large force of Gorn had some sort of vehicle handy. Or, he was just going for show, making sure that he landed the photon grenade in front of them to make them think twice.

Also, the angle at which Kirk planted the grenade launcher, coupled with a look at it's apparent designed angles of fire, would seem to indicate much greater ranges for the photon grenades. Kirk planted it on a 45-degree slope, and it seemed to have only a 45-degree or so possible swivel, around 30 of which he used. In other words, Kirk could have fired a shallow shot using only the natural 45-degree slope, but instead he pointed it high, a good 70 degree angle.

Kirk prepares to fire a photon grenade

I am presuming, of course, based on the appearance of the launcher and the appearance of the photon grenade, that it's a simple gravity-aim device . . . a "dumb bomb", if you will. I would assume, then, that the device would normally be fired at ranges of at least two miles (3.2 kilometers), if not more. I'd consider two miles a lower estimate (considering the young officer's concern, coupled with the fact that the grenade's effect seemed to reach all the way back to the buildings behind Kirk when it was fired at 1200 yards).

At any rate, the Gorn bugged out after they ate the photon grenade, their ship beaming them to safety. I'd say it's likely that they had some casualties among them. But, then, for all we know, the Gorn ship may have simply beamed up the Gorn giblets remaining . . . there's no way to know for sure. They may have been missed entirely by the grenade, but simply pooped their britches and beamed out.

In any event, we've seen one small example of Federation artillery, ending a battle in which a technologically sophisticated enemy force, which hopelessly outnumbered six Starfleet personnel, was forced to withdraw, with "only" two losses on the Starfleet side.

"The Omega Glory"[TOS] and Phaser Two

We also know how well a force of technologically uncivilized natives can be dealt with. In "The Omega Glory", Captain Ronald Tracey and his landing party beam down to the surface of a planet. For reasons unexplained, Tracy stays behind when the rest of his men beam up. Unwittingly, they carry with them some sort of biological warfare agent with them which causes the entire crew of the Exeter to become crystallized. Tracey, his crew dead, awaits death only to find that the planet seems to protect him somehow. He further learns that the simple villagers he and his party visited, the Kohms, have abnormally long lifespans and no diseases. Tracey links the two, and comes to believe that the planet contains a secret fountain of youth. (Unbeknownst to him, they live that way because it is natural for them to).

Tracey sets out to defend the prize he believes he has found, and the riches it could bring if he is rescued. The Kohm villages, meanwhile, are constantly attacked by a tribal society known as the Yangs, and Tracey allies himself with the pre-industrial Kohms, believing that their destruction could be his undoing. Tracey abandons the Prime Directive, and uses his phaser pistol during a Yang attack, slaughtering several hundred Yangs, who are now massing in the thousands for a grand attack.

One week later, the Enterprise has entered orbit. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Lt. Galloway beam over to the Exeter, find the crystallized crew, and learn from the medical log that the planet is their only hope. Quickly beaming down, they find Tracey, and soon learn that he has installed himself as ruler of the Kohms, who are now aware of fireboxes (phasers). Then, Spock and Galloway discover empty phaser power packs, and identify them as Captain Tracey's reserve belt packs. When Kirk prepares to confiscate Tracey's phaser, Tracey takes the Enterprise landing party prisoner, killing Galloway in the process, and puts McCoy to work to find the (non-existent) immortality serum.

Kirk and Spock escape, find McCoy, and prepare to contact the ship. Tracey enters, looking haggard . . . the final Yang attack is in progress.

Tracey: "They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out into the open. And then, they came, and they came. We killed *thousands*, and still they came!"

He goes on to say that they drained four phasers (and/or their power packs), and that his phaser was nearly drained. Granted, Tracey demonstrated a bit of foolishness in this episode, since every time we saw him fire, it was not merely a killing blow, but instead his phaser was rigged for vaporization. However, given that there were several hundred Yang bodies from the attack a week prior, it is clear that Tracy had used less force previously.

Even assuming a mere 2,200 were killed (low "hundreds" plus low "thousands"), that is still 550 deaths per phaser. (There were, after Galloway's death, four phasers on the planet.)

Wong's Counterclaims

Ground Attack Laser Canon, 2254

Rabid Warsies have tried desperate measures to avoiding letting these canon facts stand. From a page on the topic, one Warsie claims that the weapon used could not have been a hand phaser (no matter what we thought we saw). Instead, he claims that somewhere, somehow, Captain Tracey was using a large cannon, perhaps like the laser cannon seen in "The Cage"[TOS], picture above. His argument is based on the following:

"No Visual Evidence: We never saw this battle or the drained phasers. We know that heavier weapons do exist, and would be appropriate for a large-scale battle. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that they must have used hand phasers. It is questionable even to assume that they probably used hand phasers; is Captain Tracy had a starship, he probably had access to the same kind of weapons that Captain Pike and Captain Kirk did, so why wouldn't he have used them?"

Clearly, someone hasn't watched the episode. We did see the mostly-drained phaser of Tracey's, and the phasers of the Enterprise party are unaccounted for during that time. Further, as the Yangs closed in on the village, Tracey ordered Kirk to contact the Enterprise and obtain more phaser pistols with more power packs. Sulu refused, citing regulations requiring some sort of confirmation.

As for why Tracey didn't get something larger beamed down, when would he have done it, and who would've done the beaming? His crew returned to the Exeter and promptly died, before Tracey began to get his ideas about a fountain of youth that had to be defended. Also, if his crew was as honorable as Sulu, they wouldn't have beamed down heavy artillery to a world protected by the Prime Directive.

"Human ergonomics: Handguns have an extremely limited effective range because of the limitations of a human being trying to aim a one-handed weapon. These limitations will be just as important in the 23rd century as they are today; as Khan Noonian Singh pointed out in "Space Seed", there may have been technical advancement in the 23rd century, but man himself has not changed at all. If thousands of primitives charged at men armed only with handguns, they would overrun the defenders in short order because the defenders' weaponry would be ineffective until the attackers are already within range for primitive weapons like spears and arrows."

Having fired a small variety of pistols in my day, I can vouch for the fact that the primary problem limiting the effective range of a handgun isn't so much human error as short barrels. Bullets from a 9mm Beretta handgun will almost never travel the same exact direction twice, even if you hold the thing with two hands and have it seated on a surface. Gravity must also be taken into account, since gravity plus air resistance cause the bullet to drop as it flies.

Another issue to consider is feedback. When you fire a gun, the bullet exits the barrel, and recoil (plus the action of the gun, if semi-automatic) throw off your aim. To fire again at the same target, you must aim anew, trying to adjust not only for where the bullet went before, but also adjusting for where you think you were aiming earlier. A phaser would not have such difficulties, since there is no recoil of any sort, and you get instant feedback due to the visible beam. Just hold down the trigger and, if you're missing, adjust. Or, sweep the horizon with it and watch the fur fly.

And, of course, the one-handed weapon argument is lessened by the fact that most pistol marksmen fire with both hands. A phaser could be held the same way, if needed.

Obviously, Tracy and the Kohms were overrun eventually. A phaser does not equal invincibility, though I'd call at least 550 deaths per phaser pretty invincible.

"Power Packs: Phaser power packs were found in the hands of dead Yangs, but TOS-era hand phasers have integral fuel cells rather than removable ammunition clips, as we saw in "The Galileo Seven" where Scotty's phaser discharge procedure required the entire phaser rather than removable power packs. So if their hand phasers had integral fuel cells, then what were these phaser power packs used for? Obviously, for an entirely different type of phaser, such as a sustained-fire weapon like that seen in "The Cage"."

Again, false on several counts. The power packs were not found in the Yang hands, for starters. As for the suggesting that Tracey had the weapon from "The Cage"?

No, that doesn't hold water. The Cage weapon was powered from orbit. Remember Spock on the Enterprise saying their circuits were heating? Besides, if those little phaser handles were charging something that big, I'd be impressed.

Also, there is no reason to assume that Scotty's phaser discharge move was done because phaser power packs were integral. It could just as easily have been the only way he had handy at the time to discharge them, since I doubt shuttles usually would have a "plug your phaser in here" port, and being on a crashed shuttle leaves you low on supplies.

It is worth mentioning here that Wah Chang designed the phasers with power packs in mind, and that these were seen in "The Omega Glory". The handles were removable power packs. The only time we actually see handles without phasers is Omega Glory . . . Spock holds them up for Kirk's viewing. There's a good article about phasers, and you can even see the phaser power pack prop in the first image, which (gasp!) looks like a phaser handle.

"Yang Bodies: The bodies of dead Yangs were left on the battlefield after the massacre. Early TOS-era hand phasers did not appear to have as many attenuation settings as later models. They appeared to have only two settings: stun and kill. Moreover, those are the only settings we ever heard mentioned by any of the characters on the show. Since the Yangs' bodies did not disappear, this strongly suggests that a weapon other than a hand phaser was used."

We may have only heard them speak of stun and kill, but we've certainly seen phasers used on other settings besides stunning and vaporizing. In "Conscience of the King"[TOS], Lenore kills Kodos with a phaser, but his body remains, and appears undamaged. In "The Enemy Within"[TOS], Sulu sets his phaser to widebeam (actually a series of small beams at variable angles) and heats rocks with them. McCoy used a Phaser One (which plugs into the top of Phaser Two and controls Phaser Two) to heat rocks individually in "A Private Little War"[TOS]. All of this suggests that there is a setting between stun and a vaporizing "kill" level. Further, if you spent any extra time at the above website, you certainly saw the infinitely variable dials and gauges.

"It's logically obvious that Captain Tracy must have used large weapons on the Yangs, and the fact that we've actually seen such TOS-era weapons is merely icing on the cake."

No, it's not logically obvious at all, because he never had the opportunity to acquire anything larger than what he had, which was a simple pistol and some reserve belt packs. Spock specifically says that Tracey drove off the attackers a week prior with his phaser.

It is sad how far Rabid Warsies will go to avoid the facts.

Star Trek: Nemesis and Ground Transport

Star Trek: Nemesis is due to show us a dedicated ground vehicle, which is basically a glorified dune buggy with a large phaser weapon on the back. I can't say I'm impressed by this, but at least there is evidence of a mobile unit. At least it looks like it would be faster than an AT-AT, AT-ST, or AT-TE. However, since the speeder bike chase scene in Return of the Jedi involved speeds of about 30 meters/second (108kph, or 67mph), it is likely that they would outpace the dune buggy, especially over rough terrain. (The RoTJ novelisation claims speeds of "two hundred miles per hour" (321kph, or 89.4 m/s), though this is not seen in the film.)

Starfleet Ground Transport
Get your Starfleet Humvee
 at your local dealer's 2373 
Closeout Sale!
And it flies, too . . . er, sort of . . .


It is interesting to compare "Arena" to the battles we've seen in Star Wars. The Starfleet combatants lacked air support, though we've only seen that used once in the three large ground battles Star Wars has shown us (twice if you count Snowspeeders vs. AT-ATs on Hoth), and those unshielded techno-Huey LAATs the Republic used in Attack of the Clones would be pretty easy to pick off with a phaser, though they could do some damage beforehand. (Strangely, the AoTC novelisation claims that the gunships are shielded . . . however, this is never seen in the movie. Odd.) Of course, if the Starfleet soldiers had air support (in the form of shuttlecraft, or even the NX-01's shuttlepod from "Detained"), the techno-Hueys probably wouldn't have the opportunity to fire more than a couple of shots.

The Empire seems to have ignored the need for weapons that are not line-of-sight, so if they try to land a force or use walkers to come in from the horizon or a few kilometers, they might find themselves surprised to be bombarded from outside visual range by photon grenades. Or, they could simply be stunned from orbit, as seen in "A Piece of the Action"[TOS].

What would a photon grenade do to an AT-AT walker? Well, they held up quite nicely against the small arms fire of the Rebels, but that really isn't saying much, because so did snow. Their armor is apparently weaker in some places than the bridge doors of a Trade Federation battleship, given that Luke merely swiped at the AT-AT with his lightsabre and opened it up, whereas Qui-Gon had to let his lightsabre dwell on the door for a long time. Also, the neck of an AT-AT seems to be a weak point, considering how the thing lit up when one of the Rebel snowspeeders shot it there.

All the same, I'd imagine it would take a direct hit by a photon grenade to really take that thing out. However, a near-miss might serve to knock it down, given the blast radius of a photon grenade. This knock-down might occur through concussion, or (more likely) the same sort of systems damage caused by Luke's grenade in TESB.

One interesting thing is Imperial AT-STs. Using calculations based on the way these weapons damaged tiny trees, some have claimed 2 megajoules for the cannons on these smaller walkers. This is equivalent to under half a kilogram (or .88 pounds) of TNT, or the explosive equivalent of over three grenades. However, AT-ST cannons are shown to damage/destroy other AT-STs, so AT-STs would seem to be vulnerable to 2 megajoule blasts, given that there was no apparent difference in the bolts used.

For an interesting comparison, look at the little holes in the trees of ROTJ, and then compare that with the amount of far-denser rock destroyed by phasers in Star Trek: Insurrection. One good hand phaser fired by someone behind a California Redwood could wipe out a force of AT-STs. And heaven forbid that someone whip out a phaser and wipe out those advancing lines of troops as seen in TPM and AoTC.

Update: I'm going to have to find out more about these.

Just for fun:

Kirk's photon grenade showed blast effects (very light, perhaps 1 pound per square inch (psi) overpressure) at just over a kilometer, based on the appearance of a breeze when we see Kirk reacting to the photon grenade blast. It was a just-barely airburst (the center of the explosion wasn't far from the ground).

Anyway, if we were to use the observed overpressure and if we were to translate that into nuclear terms (with standard nuclear equations), I'd start with the following:

(And yes, I know the photon grenade wasn't a nuke. I'm just playing.)

Blast wave effects fall off at the cube of the radius from the explosion, as I recall... a 2.5 kiloton blast would produce 4.6 psi overpressure at a kilometer, and based on what we saw, I'd guesstimate that there was _maybe_ 1 psi of overpressure on Kirk. I'd like to say there was half that, but I don't know what to plug in to the blast wave effects equation for .5 psi overpressure. :)

The equation for blast effects of a nuke is:

r_blast = Y^0.33 * constant_bl.

The constant_bl for 1 psi is 2.2, and gets larger with less overpressure (3 psi overpressure is a constant of 1). Let's make it 2.5, just in case, suggesting a less-than-1psi overpressure and making things easier to calculate.

So, 1 = Y^.33 x 2.5
or .4 = Y^.33

Now, .06 raised to .33 equals .395, so we'll use that.

So, Y = .06

Y is in multiples of 2.5 kilotons, so Actual Yield = .06 x 2.5

Actual Yield = .15 kilotons

That's 150 tons of TNT equivalence, or just over 600 gigajoules (627.6, if you were curious.) The NX-Enterprise phasers are rated for 500 gigajoules, according to Malcolm, so these photon grenades are pretty dang spiffy.

Now, that figure naturally relies on a whole bunch of loose assumptions, but I figure it makes for a pretty decent ballpark, at least, of Kirk's photon grenade.

Also, just for fun:

A 150 ton nuke (positively tiny . . . I'm not sure they can make them that small) set off at just over a kilometer would cause third-degree burns at up to 320 meters, with lesser first-degree burns occurring at just under half a kilometer. If it had been a nuke, that would explain why the redshirt was nervous. Kirk was about to turn up the heat a little, even from a kilometer away. The Gorn, who started the battle at "1570 yards" (1435 meters), but then started moving (not like they could have gotten very far), would have been nicely toasty, I would think.

Modern mortar shells, by contrast, can only hope for single or low double-digit kilograms of TNT, extending their damage by use of shrapnel.

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