The 1.02 Gigawatt Fallacy

Long ago, the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual gave Star Trek fans a glimpse into the inner workings of the newest Enterprise . . . NCC-1701-D. For some time, it was an invaluable resource in Vs. debates, as well, for there was the veritable bible of Trek technology in one small package, surpassable only by the canon itself.

The book was not without its flaws, at least when pressed into service in such debates. Though an enjoyable read even today, it had some peculiarities. One of the most notable involved phasers, both the handheld units and the shipboard arrays.

"As installed in the Galaxy class, the main ship's phasers are rated as Type X, the largest emitters available for starship use. Individual emitter segments are capable of directing 5.1 megawatts. By comparison, the small personal phasers issued to Starfleet crew members are Type I and II, the latter being limited to 0.01 MW. [...] A typical large phaser array aboard the USS Enterprise, such as the upper dorsal array on the Saucer Module, consists of two hundred emitter segments in a dense linear arrangement [...] Energy from all discharged segments passes directionally over neighboring segments due to force coupling, converging on the release point, where the beam will emerge and travel at c to the target."
- ST:TNG Technical Manual, pp. 123, 125

From the above, it seemed pretty clear that the 200 emitter segments of the dorsal saucer array (the largest aboardship) would, when the array was fired, each direct 5.1 megawatts and join their energies together into a larger blow of 200 x 5.1 megawatts. Or, 1.02 gigawatts. Sure, there was talk of nadions, strong nuclear force liberation, nuclear disruption effects, and so on, but the simple digits of the 1.02 gigawatt figure reigned supreme as a solid, basic value that people could wrap their head around. 1.02 gigajoules per second . . . no problem.

Ah, but there were problems.  First, those hand phasers capable of vaporizing people repeatedly demonstrated a greater power level than a mere 10,000 joules/second.   Also photon torpedoes, according to the Tech Manual and assuming maximum theoretical yield, released almost 268,000,000 gigajoules when they exploded. Assuming a full second for detonation, that would make torpedoes 268 million times more effective than phasers. And, let's not forget that phasers had been seen to be used effectively against shields, even though there was no matter to disrupt. Last, but most certainly not least, we've seen the ship's phasers do far more than 1.02 gigawatts could ever hope to accomplish in any form.

Clearly, something was amiss . . . so who else but the opposition stands ready to leap into the fray and demand that the silliest possible solution (and also the one most harmful to the other side) is the correct one. And that's just what some did back in 2002.  Mike Wong ( assigns the entire Enterprise-D a phaser power of 3.6 gigawatts across all possible emitters on his "Five Minutes" page (and, as of this update in July 2005, it's still there).

As always happens in such circumstances, they've chosen to ignore certain important facts.

First, there's the simple matter of the Paramount policy in regards to what is and is not Star Trek fact.  Second, they simply haven't looked at the ship. In this thread of the newsgroup, we get to see the actual counting of emitter segments take place. The results are tallied in this post. As you can see, the dorsal saucer array doesn't have a mere 200 segments . . . the actual number is around 950.

Even if we accept the ridiculous 5.1 MW per emitter segment figure (in spite of the fact that a comparatively-tiny phaser rifle can put out one-fifth that number with ease), we do not come up with 1.02 gigawatts, but instead 4.85 gigawatts.

Thus, if one is simply intent on arguing for the lowest possible figures . . . figures from the Trek non-canon anyway . . .  and if one is bent on ignoring every canon instance of actual phaser fire, the least one could do is accept the phasers the way they really are when just sitting unused.

Special thanks to the participants of, notably Graham Kennedy and Mike Dicenso.