(covers information from several alternate timelines)
"Okay, make nice, give us the ray gun."
Phasers are the most common and standard directed energy weapon in the arsenal of Starfleet and several other powers. Most phasers are classified as particle weapons and fire nadion particle beams, (TNG: "The Mind's Eye"; VOY: "Time and Again") but some like the Ferengi hand phaser are classified as plasma weapons and fire forced plasma beams. (TNG: "Descent") Based on the intensity and field of the beam and a variety of adjustments, a wide variety of effects can be achieved.
Phaser technology used by Starfleet was preceded by phase-modulated particle weapons in the mid-22nd century, including such weapons as the hand-held phase pistol and ship-mounted phase cannon. Laser weapons, such as the laser pistol, were also used before phasers became the standard-issue weapon in the Starfleet arsenal. (Star Trek: Enterprise, all; TOS: "The Cage")
Phaser weaponry was invented during the 23rd century. (TNG: "A Matter of Time") The technology was used by Starfleet as early as 2233; the USS Kelvin was equipped with ship-mounted phaser weapons. (Star Trek) Phaser rifles were used as early as 2265, although at that time officers were still armed with laser pistols. (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before") In 2269, starship bridges were defended by an automatic bridge defense system programmed to defend the ship from capture. (TAS: "Beyond the Farthest Star") On Deneb V, in 2268, death by phaser was one method of execution for those who were given the death penalty. (TOS: "I, Mudd")
The 24th century saw many new advanced forms of phaser weaponry, such as the ever more powerful phaser arrays that made use of multiple phaser emitter segments, and the rapid-fire phaser cannon. (Star Trek: The Next Generation, all; DS9: "The Search, Part I") As a historical note, the regenerative phaser was chosen instead of the TR-116 for development. (DS9: "Field of Fire")
In the 29th century, phaser pistols were still used by Starfleet, (VOY: "Relativity") but subatomic disruptors were used on timeships, such as the Aeon, as the ship-mounted directed energy weapon. (VOY: "Future's End")
Descriptions and uses
The phaser beam could stun, heat, kill, or disintegrate living creatures. Phasers could damage shields or other systems or even cut through a hull. Phasers could also be used to cut through walls and burrow through rock. The beam could be focused to a single spot or widened to impact a large area.
In the nadion particle beam phasers, plasma was passed to a phaser emitter resulting in a discharge of nadion particles. Residual particles could be found in places where a battle had recently taken place. The disruptive effects of nadion discharges were moderated to produce varying effects (discussed below), ranging from benign to extremely destructive. (VOY: "Phage", "Memorial", "Endgame")
The Starfleet-issue personnel phasers came in three types: The phaser type-1 (hand phaser) was small and could be concealed easily. The type 2 phaser was larger and hand-held. It had a longer hand grip or a pistol grip, depending on the model. The phaser type-3 was also known as the phaser rifle. It had a longer barrel, a stock, and some models had a second grip. Over the centuries of use, there have been several models of these weapon types. (TOS: "The Devil in the Dark"; TNG: "The Mind's Eye")
Beyond these types, phasers were usually mounted devices, such as the phaser type-4 used on Starfleet shuttlecraft, all the way up to the large phaser banks and phaser arrays of starships and space stations. Various types of banks, arrays, and emitters existed, such as the more powerful phaser type-8 and the phaser cannon. (TNG: "The Outcast", "Preemptive Strike"; VOY: "Live Fast and Prosper")
Hand-held phasers were also used by Starfleet personnel as tools and not just weapons. The phaser could be used to heat rocks and stones for warmth. (TOS: "The Enemy Within", "Spock's Brain"; TNG: "Final Mission"; VOY: "Parturition"; DS9: "Rocks and Shoals") While there were specialized tools like phaser bores and phaser drills, (TAS: "Once Upon a Planet"; VOY: "Once Upon a Time") Worf once used his type-2 phaser to open a tunnel on the Cardassian planet Celtris III. (TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I") A phaser, when fired together with another in tandem or set to a high setting could create an opening in a solid rock wall. (VOY: "Caretaker"; DS9: "Rapture"; Star Trek: Insurrection)
Different models of phasers made different sounds when fired, depending on the model and setting. Federation phaser fire typically made a high-pitched "whistling" or "tearing" sound, for example. A knowledgeable person could use the sound to differentiate between types and power settings. (TOS: "Errand of Mercy"; TNG: "Too Short a Season"; DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels")
In the alternate reality created by Nero's temporal incursion, hand phasers of the late 2250s emitted concentrated bolts of phaser energy rather than the steady streams generated by phasers of the prime reality. In addition, these phasers had a rotating nozzle which flipped when set from stun to kill or vice versa. The ship-mounted phaser banks aboard the USS Enterprise were also used to fire bolts resembling proximity blasts. (Star Trek)
While phasers were powerful weapons, they also had limitations. Phasers had no effect on neutronium alloys or the dikironium cloud creature. (TOS: "The Doomsday Machine", "Obsession") The creature known as Armus even seemed to be able to feed off of phaser blasts. (TNG: "Skin of Evil") In 2369, two type-2 hand phasers at maximum level were unable to penetrate the toranium inlays of Cardassian doors. Major Kira Nerys recommended a bipolar torch to be used to cut through the door. (DS9: "The Forsaken")
Hand phasers could be made to overload, either deliberately or by sabotage. Phasers in the process of overloading emitted a distinctive high-pitched whine. The weapon released all of its energy in an explosion capable of doing considerable damage to its surroundings. In 2266, Lenore Karidian attempted to murder James T. Kirk by hiding an overloading phaser in his cabin. (TOS: "The Conscience of the King") In 2269, Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu were almost killed while on the Kalandan outpost planet, when its defensive computer fused the controls on Kirk's phaser, causing it to overload. (TOS: "That Which Survives")
Personnel phasers were normally set to fire a single steady stream of nadion particles. This beam could be widened to perform a phaser sweep. Most types of phasers could be set to alternatively fire a concentrated bolt of phaser energy. In addition a personnel phaser could be set to fire a spread of multiple beams at once, a field burst of a specific frequency, a luvetric pulse, or an expanding energy pulse. (TOS: "The Enemy Within"; TNG: "Time's Arrow, Part II", "Descent"; DS9: "The Way of the Warrior", "The Adversary")
Phasers had an adjustable resonance frequency. When modified, the color of the beam changed. Borg systems were vulnerable to a frequency spread in the high narrow band, but compensated for the weakness after Locutus was assimilated in 2366. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds") In 2367, the phaser adapter was designed, a chip that automatically retuned the phaser to a random setting after each discharge. Using the adapter, phasers were set on a rotating modulation to allow at most twelve shots to penetrate Borg shielding before they adapted. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"; Star Trek: First Contact; VOY: "Scorpion") Hand phasers also had an adjustable dispersion frequency measured in gigahertz and they could be set for specific phase variances. These allowed the phaser beam impact targets that were phased or interphased. (VOY: "Distant Origin", "Scientific Method") A phaser's setting could be modified to disrupt a hologram's holo-matrix. (VOY: "Renaissance Man")
Like the transporters and sensors, hand-held and starship-mounted phasers were also inoperative in areas with high levels of hyperonic radiation, because the phaser beams were randomized by the radiation. To compensate, it was possible to modify a phaser with a servo circuit that continuously recollimated the output. Neural subprocessors of Soong-type androids could be utilized as these servos. (TNG: "The Ensigns of Command")
Starship-mounted phasers were also normally set to fire steady streams. They could also be set to fire concentrated bolts of phaser energy that detonated at a specific point in space known as proximity blasts. In addition to the powerful settings, the ship's phasers also had a stun setting that could be used to render lifeforms unconscious when fired at a planetary surface from orbit. (TOS: "Balance of Terror", "The Trouble with Tribbles", "A Piece of the Action")
It was possible to configure starship phasers to also fire energy beams for power transfer, antimatter spreads, laser pulse beams, photon pulses, pulse compression waves, modulating phaser pulses, and covariant phaser pulses. (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint", "Sub Rosa", "Peak Performance", "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II", "The Outcast"; DS9: "Emissary"; VOY: "Dark Frontier", "Parturition")
The 23rd and 24th century personnel phasers included several settings.
- Setting number one is also called the base cycle stunning force. (TOS: "The Enemy Within") This minimal setting caused only a stun effect to the average humanoid lifeform. A hit would leave the target dazed and unable to think straight for a short time. (TOS: "The Man Trap") When used at close range, a phaser set on stun was still capable of inducing sufficient trauma to kill if fired at a vital organ such as the brain. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) Two phasers set on setting one fired simultaneously could break large objects into pieces, such as the urns of Taurus II. (TAS: "The Lorelei Signal")
- Setting 3.1 was enough to cause a Changeling to experience similar discomfort. Setting 3.4 or 3.5 was determined to be a stun setting that would effectively stun and force any Changeling to revert back into the gelatinous state. (DS9: "Homefront") A wide-field stun setting was used when large groups needed to be stunned with a single shot. (TOS: "The Return of the Archons") Some stun settings could also cause unconsciousness. Although mostly harmless when used at these low settings, multiple phaser stuns like this could result in injury and death. (TNG: "Samaritan Snare") There was a heavy stun force setting and a maximum stun setting also known as full stun charge. (TOS: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"; TNG: "Legacy"; TAS: "The Eye of the Beholder") The highest stun setting was strong enough to immobilize a soong-type android. (TNG: "A Matter of Time")
- A phaser could be used to heat a variety of substances, such as rocks or even coffee. (TOS: "The Enemy Within", "The Corbomite Maneuver", "Spock's Brain") Phasers could be set to inflict non-lethal second degree burns. (VOY: "Worst Case Scenario") Settings 6 and 7 caused severe burns in the flesh of humanoids. (TNG: "Night Terrors") Setting 7 was also powerful enough to vaporize noranium carbide. (TNG: "The Vengeance Factor") Phasers could be used to melt certain ores from solid to liquid. (TNG: "The Enemy") They could also be used to quickly boil through tens of meters of ice. (TAS: "The Slaver Weapon")
- One-quarter and level 10 were names of the kill setting for humanoid forms. (TOS: "The Man Trap"; TNG: "Aquiel") The kill setting on hand phasers used by the Mordanites had a distinct sound from the stun setting. (TNG: "Too Short a Season") To a humanoid infected by a neural parasite, the kill setting only caused unconsciousness, due to the high levels of adrenaline in the target's body. However, extended exposure to a body part such as the head of a humanoid would cause it to explosively vaporize. Two phasers set to kill could also disintegrate smaller lifeforms such as the neural parasite mother creature with extended exposure. (TNG: "Conspiracy")
- Cutting settings could be used to slice off segments of a steelplast wall, (TNG: "Too Short a Season") a standard starfleet corridor wall, (TOS: "The Naked Time", "The Way to Eden") or even to slice off body parts. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
- The normal maximum setting on a hand phaser would vaporize a humanoid lifeform or a Human-size android with a single hit. (TOS: "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"; TNG: "The Vengeance Factor"; Star Trek: First Contact) This was also called disintegration. (ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II") When used as a means of suicide, the phaser would also disintegrate along with the person shooting at himself. (TOS: "Elaan of Troyius") There was also a maximum setting that could set parts of clothing or humanoids on fire. (TNG: "Datalore", "The Wounded") Against a Horta, even when set specifically for silicon, the maximum setting would only hurt the creature. (TOS: "The Devil in the Dark") Disruptor-B was another maximum setting for the type 2 phaser. It was also called the disruptor effect setting. This setting was assessed to be the most effective against gaseous dikironium. (TOS: "Obsession")
- The standard level 16 setting on a type 2 phaser could be used to vaporize tunnels through rock large enough to crawl through. (TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I") The level 16 wide-field setting could easily destroy half of a large building with a single shot. (TNG: "Frame of Mind") However there were materials phasers couldn't cut through even at this maximum level, such as toranium (DS9: "The Forsaken") and the unknown material used to create the Hotel Royale on Theta VIII. (TNG: "The Royale")
Types of phaser weapons
There were several numbered types of phasers of increasing size and capability: types 1, 2, and 3 were personnel phasers, and types 4 and above were ship-mounted weapons. The phasers mounted aboard starships were considerably more powerful than those used by Starfleet personnel, owing to the increased power reserves available. Early phasers, such as the MK IX/01 type found on the USS Enterprise, were mounted in banks of one or two emitters.
- Type 1 phaser was a small concealable sidearm weapon
- Type 2 phaser was a larger sidearm-type weapon which evolved from a pistol-style design
- Type 3 phaser was a rifle-sized weapon
These main types and technologies were further classified to distinguish the many variations.
- Hand phaser
- Plasma phaser - a proposed anti-Borg weapon
- Regenerative phaser
- Class 3 defensive - used on Miranda-class supply ships
- Particle phaser - used on transport ships from Boreal III
- Phaser bank
|Tools: phaser bore • phaser drill|
|Weapons: Automatic bridge defense system • Bajoran phaser • Bajoran phaser rifle • compression phaser rifle • Ferengi phaser • Galor-class phaser bank • hand phaser • Kzinti phaser • particle phaser • phaser array • phaser bank • phaser cannon • phaser emitter • phaser pulse • phaser type-1 • phaser type-2 • phaser type-3 • phaser type-4 • phaser type-8 • plasma phaser • Regalian phaser rifle • regenerative phaser|
|Other: phaser adapter • phaser coil • phaser coolant • phaser coupling • phaser range • phaser relay • phaser room • phaser sweep|
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Gene Roddenberry had some problems with the look of hand-held phasers. "He didn't want the phasers to look like guns," explained Production Designer Herman Zimmerman, "with handles and trigger guards and triggers [....] But he didn't do that on the classic series and they didn't do it in the features, which Gene had very little to do with; they used pistol grips and rifles, and Gene was never happy with any of that." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 12, p. 24)
Establishing phaser technology
During The Original Series, the mechanics of phasers were never explained on screen. However, as early as the release of The Making of Star Trek in 1968, the technology behind phasers was explained. Phasers are, according to the book, basically lasers, but they have the beam set on a pulsating frequency that can be specifically set to interfere and interact with the wave pattern of any molecular form. This is called "phasing" the beam frequency, hence the name phaser.
According to Gene Roddenberry in The Making of Star Trek, two days into filming of the second pilot, they realized that three years later, people were going to say, "Oh, come on, lasers can't do that." The term was consequently substituted, based on the idea of the phasing principle of physics, which is a way of increasing power. Apparently, Roddenberry was talking of using higher phase velocities (aka frequencies) of light that, in turn, consist of higher energy photons. These accounts suggest that the laser weapons seen in "The Cage" and phasers of the rest of the show were possibly just two different terms for the same thing.
Released in 1979, the Spaceflight Chronology (p. 173) offers an alternative explanation of the technology. It states that phaser weapons were in fact developed by Starfleet to combine the benefits of two previously used weapon technologies: particle-beam cannons and laser banks. While particle weapons delivered a big punch, they had trouble penetrating shields, whereas lasers penetrated shielding easily, but had very little impact force to do damage. Two years after the events of "The Cage", when the problem with frequency aligning the two systems to work simultaneously in ship-mounted phasers was solved, the development of hand phasers began. This timeline for phaser development would, however, not be compatible with canonical accounts, as we saw ship-mounted phasers used by the USS Kelvin in the 2009 film Star Trek, over twenty years before the events of "The Cage".
The 1991 reference book Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (pp. 123-125) explain the inner mechanisms of a phaser in more elaborate detail. Phaser is, according to the book, the acronym for phased energy rectification – named for the process of turning stored energy into an energy beam without an intermediate transformation. Energetic plasma is pumped to a prefire chamber made out of a superconducting lithium-copper. There, it undergoes a rapid nadion effect in which strong nuclear forces are liberated. A protonic charge forms and is released in pulses to the emitter made out of the same superconductive crystal. A beam of elecromagnetic energy is released from it, at the speed of light. On starships, energy for phasers originates from the EPS, while on hand units, the charge of energetic plasma is stored into sarium-krellide. This material is used because it can't accidentally release the charge of plasma.
Dialogue in the 1991 episode TNG: "The Mind's Eye" concerning the internal mechanics of a type 3 phaser rifle confirm, canonically, all the elements as they were established in the Manual. However, in Star Trek, phasers have been regularly used while starships travel at warp speeds, so the beam must also be traveling at faster-than-light velocities. Beginning with the 1993 episode TNG: "Inheritance", instead of being labeled as EM weapons, as the reference works have stated, phasers have been consistently referred to as particle beam weapons on screen. This information was also included in the 1994 Star Trek: Voyager Technical Manual - Writer's Guide, and has been corroborated in such episodes as "Time and Again", "Memorial" and "Endgame".
Even though the phaser beam was canonically established as not a beam of pure EM energy but a particle beam of nadions, the 1998 reference book Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual still goes on to describe the phaser beam as an EM energy beam. According to page 84 of the Manual, a phaser beam can be delivered at warp speeds due to an annular confinement beam jacket and other advances in subspace technology. These are stated to be new inventions in the late-24th century. However, considering that first on-screen uses of phasers at warp occurred as early as the first season of The Original Series, this timeline for the invention would be inconsistent with canon. Furthermore, according to page 92 of the Manual, when phasers are fired by a ship with deflector shields active, the beam is frequency locked to the second-order harmonics of the shield emissions. This prevents the beam impacting on the shields and overloading them, or rebounding back at the firing ship.
It is not known what class of Federation starships was the first to use phaser array strips instead of banks, but "Yesterday's Enterprise" establishes the Ambassador-class to be the earliest known ship design to employ them in the 2340s.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (pages 135 - 137) lists various settings for Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 phasers, some of which have not been mentioned on screen and some which have been given a different effect. Type 1 phasers had the first eight settings; type 2 and 3 phasers had all sixteen settings.
- Light Stun - causes central nervous system impairment on humanoids, unconsciousness for up to 5 minutes. Long exposure by several shots causes reversible neural damage.
- Medium Stun - causes unconsciousness from 5 to 15 minutes. Long exposure causes irreversible neural damage, along with damage to epithelial tissue.
- Heavy Stun - causes unconsciousness from 15 to 60 minutes depending on the level of biological resistance. Significantly heats up metals.
- Thermal Effects - causes extensive neural damage to humanoids and skin burns limited to the outer layers. Causes metals to retain heat when applied for over five seconds.
- Thermal Effects - causes severe outer layer skin burns. Can penetrate simple personal force fields after five seconds of application.
- Disruption Effects - penetrates organic and structural materials. The thermal damage level decreases from this level onward.
- Disruption Effects - due to widespread disruption effects, kills humanoids.
- Disruption Effects - causes a cascade disruption that vaporizes humanoid organisms. Any unprotected material can be penetrated.
- Disruption Effects - causes medium alloys and structural materials, over a meter thick, to exhibit energy rebound prior to vaporization.
- Disruption Effects - causes heavy alloys and structural materials to absorb or rebound energy. There is a 0.55 second delay before the material vaporizes.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes ultra-dense alloys and structural materials to absorb or rebound energy before vaporization. There is a 0.2 second delay before the material vaporizes. Approximately 10 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes ultra-dense alloys and structural materials to absorb or rebound energy before vaporization. There is a 0.1 second delay before the material vaporizes. Approximately 50 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes shielded matter to exhibit minor vibrational heating effects. Approximately 90 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes shielded matter to exhibit medium vibrational heating effects. Approximately 160 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes shielded matter to exhibit major vibrational heating effects. Approximately 370 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
- Explosive/Disruption Effects - causes shielded matter to exhibit light mechanical fracturing damage. Approximately 650 cubic meters of rock are disintegrated per shot.
The Star Fleet Technical Manual gives the effective ranges for different settings. On the type 1 phaser they were: stun - thirty meters, heat - two meters, disrupt - twenty meters, dematerialization - ten meters. On the type 2 phaser the ranges were: stun - ninety meters, heat - six meters, disrupt - sixty meters, dematerialization - thirty meters. Setting dials on the hand phasers indicated nine settings on the type 1 phaser and fifteen on the type 2 phaser, of which all above ten were labeled by the letters A through E. The letters might be a reference to the disruptor-B setting mentioned in "Obsession", which would make it setting 10B. According to Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise, the hand phasers used during the first four movies had only three preset levels: stun, disrupt, and dematerialize.
Commenting on phaser firepower, Ronald D. Moore said: "The weapons are way too powerful to present them in any realistic kind of way. Given the real power of a hand phaser, we shouldn't be able to show ANY firefights on camera where the opponents are even in sight of each other, much less around the corner! It's annoying, but just one of those things that we tend to slide by in order to concentrate on telling a dramatic and interesting story." (AOL chat, 1997)
The relative power of phasers was also referenced on screen in TOS: "Bread and Circuses", when Proconsul Claudius Marcus of the planet 892-IV stated that it was his understanding that one hundred men armed with phasers could probably defeat the combined armies of his entire empire. The Romans on 892-IV were at the time armed with machine guns and early 20th century level technology.
Other types of starship phasers
- Type V phaser was used on auxiliary craft. In Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual it was stated that type 7 shuttlecrafts and type 9A cargo shuttles used phaser emitters of this type during special operations. According to Star Trek: Starship Spotter the Chaffee shuttlepod and the Delta Flyer also used this phaser type.
- Type VI phaser was used on auxiliary craft and runabouts. According to the Star Trek: Starship Spotter, the Aeroshuttle and Danube-class starships phaser arrays were of this type.
- Type VII phaser was used on starships. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and Star Trek: Starship Spotter, the twin phaser banks on Miranda-class starships were of this type.
- Type IX phaser is used on starships. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, the Ambassador-class, Centaur-type, Curry-type, and one type of Excelsior-class variant used them. The phaser emitters in the rotary weapon arrays of the weapon sail towers of Deep Space 9 were of this type.
- Type X phaser was used on starships. According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, this was the type name of the phaser arrays used on the Galaxy-class starships. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual the Akira-class, Norway-class, Nebula-class, Saber-class, Soyuz-class, and one type of Constitution-class variant also used them. The fixed phaser emitters in the weapon sail towers of Deep Space 9 were of this type. According to Star Trek: Starship Spotter, the Intrepid-class and Nova-class also used them.
- Type X+ phaser was used for planetary defense. According to Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, this was the designation of some large dedicated planetary phaser defense emitters.
- Type XI phaser was normally used for planetary defense. According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual', the emitters were designed to minimize atmospheric blooming of the beam. The phaser emitters in the carriages, embedded into the habitat ring of Deep Space 9, were of this type, modified for use in space.
- Type XII phaser was used on starships. According to Star Trek: Starship Spotter this is the type designation of the phaser cannons of the Defiant-class starships and the standard beam phaser arrays of the Prometheus-class and Sovereign-class starships.
None of these type designations have been mentioned on screen.