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.


"Balance of Terror"


This page is set to include a firepower analysis in the next revision, but for now only has basic data and corrections to misconceptions about the device.


The episode "Balance of Terror"[TOS] gives us our first glimpse of a devastating Romulan weapon. Composed of plasma and capable of being accelerated to and maneuvered at warp speeds, this weapon destroyed two-mile diameter asteroids and the Earth Outposts within with only two shots.

The weapon was used aboard Romulan Bird-of-Prey class ships, not to be confused with their Klingon counterparts. These ~130 meter ships were warp-capable and outfitted with cloaking devices, serving as the Romulan ship-of-the-line until their acquisition of Klingon K't'inga hulls circa 2268. The Romulan ship had a severe weakness, however . . . with the power-intensive systems of cloaking and the plasma weapon, the ship's "simple impulse" (i.e. fusion) powerplant simply couldn't keep up.

The Warp Drive Question

Some have disputed elements of the above statements. For example, it has been stated that the Romulan ship was a sublight-only vessel.

This simply does not follow, for several reasons. Let's take a look at the episode and see what the simple canon reasons are.

Spock: "Still no answer from Outpost Two, Captain, and now number Three has gone silent."
Kirk: "Maintain course for Outpost Four..."

Within about two minutes of this conversation, Outpost Four comes under attack.

Now, take a look at Trek5's excellent screen capture of the map of the area as seen in the episode, replicated below:

The Neutral Zone
An updated version of this appears in Star Trek: Nemesis

It was to take the Enterprise about seven minutes to traverse the distance to Outpost Four at maximum warp speed, from the Enterprise position seen in the screenshot. From the front of the E's blip to the bottom left corner of Outpost Four's icon is 201 pixels. From the lower right corner of Outpost Four's icon to the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone is 40.5 pixels, and 14 pixels to the Federation side of the zone. From the uppermost point of the Outpost Three icon to the lower left corner of the Outpost Four icon is 14 pixels. These are conservative figures, due to the way I counted between the closest points on each icon, but will do to prove the point:

The Enterprise, travelling at maximum warp (presumably 8, though we've seen them at 9 for short periods in "Enterprise Incident"), would have been moving at ~28 pixels per minute. The exact time between Spock reporting that Outpost Three had gone silent and his report that Outpost Four had reported being under attack was 1 minute, 12 seconds. So, a minimum of 1.2 minutes elapsed, during which time the Romulan ship would have traveled a minimum distance of 14 pixels, for a speed of 11.67 pixels per minute, or 41% of the Enterprise's maximum warp speed.

After the destruction of Outpost Four, the Romulan ship, low on fuel (as stated repeatedly by the Romulan crew and commander), then tried to make its way home. It turned to 111 mark 14, and 7.5 minutes later in the episode the Enterprise was "less than an hour" from entering the Neutral Zone. Assuming one hour exactly for the Romulan ship to go from Outpost Four to the Neutral Zone, this works out to .23 pixels per minute, or .008 of the maximum warp speed of the Enterprise. This is obviously the conservative choice of speed for a Romulan vessel low on fuel.

Now, all we need is the maximum warp speed of the Enterprise. I am choosing to disregard Spock's figure of 11 hours to travel 990.7 light years in "That Which Survives"[TOS], suggesting 90 ly/hr, or 788,400 times lightspeed, and I'll also discount "Bread and Circuses"[TOS], which has the Enterprise cross .2 light years in about a minute, suggesting a speed of 107,000c. These speeds are simply too far above the maximums suggested elsewhere, and I am choosing to aim for more of a median value.

The Kelvan-enhanced Enterprise was travelling at warp 11 to the Andromeda galaxy in "By Any Other Name", and would take 300 years to reach it. The Andromeda galaxy is at least 2,500,000 light years away, giving Warp 11 a rough speed of 8333c. (By the way, the Enterprise-D would have taken 300 years to travel 2.7 million light years in 'WNOHGB'.) If warp eight is even 25% of that figure, it still works out to over 2000c. So, if the Romulan ship was moving at .008 of the Enterprise maximum, it would still be travelling at a speed of 16c to the Neutral Zone, after having made its trip to attack Outpost Four at a speed of at least 850c.

Sixteen times lightspeed would be a rather peculiar velocity for an impulse-only spacecraft.

For additional information, I shall direct you toward Ex Astris Scientia's excellent site on the subject.

The Plasma Weapon Question

It has also been argued that the Romulan plasma weapon was not maneuverable at warp speeds. However, this is an unsupportable denial. When the ship fires at the Enterprise, which has reversed her warp engines, the vessel is obviously above the plane of the ship. This fact, mixed with the Enterprise's rearward acceleration, requires the maneuvering plasma weapon, by geometric necessity.

First, the Enterprise was travelling at warp in a forward direction, then in reverse. We can see the stars merging toward the center of the viewscreen image after reverse warp begins. The Romulan ship then appears above the center of the screen, and fires the plasma weapon. It is only after this fact that maximum reverse warp is achieved.

A series of high-quality screen captures of the event, provided by Trek5.com (caps 156-170).

Because Poe and others have strangely denied that the Romulans were above the plane of the Enterprise, even though this is rather obvious, I have taken the liberty of drawing it out for them, making lines on the viewscreen to demonstrate the point. The "X" marks the spot the stars are receding toward, and you can see quite clearly the position of the Romulan ship as it fires in Trek5 cap 157:

Dead center?  I think not!

Poe and others then argued that the Romulans ship simply fired to lead the target. However, this is unsupported by the canon visuals. The plasma weapon heads toward the Enterprise when fired (meaning at a downward angle, toward the ship directly), and moments later, as the Enterprise is running from it at full reverse warp, the plasma weapon is in the dead center of the viewscreen. This is visible in Trek5 caps 164 and 166.

We end up, in short, with the following positions of the ships (not to scale, but simply showing the concept):

The line represents the course of the plasma weapon, had the Enterprise been stationary in cap 157. This line will be curved due to the reversing Enterprise, and the plasma weapon's down-toward-the-E vs. chasing-from-in-front-of-the-E course, as per the visuals.

The course of the weapon changes as the scenes progress.
Enterprise direction indicated by blue arrow.

A curved line is a changing course. A curved line for a weapon indicates that the weapon changed its course. Therefore, the Romulan plasma weapon was capable of tracking its target, and maneuvering to hit it.


Thanks to Ex Astris Scientia for the side views of the two ships. Many borrow from Bernd . . . far too few acknowledge him.


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