Phaser Rifles:  2363-2379

A Look at the Weapons of Starfleet
By Special Guest Author "Alyeska"

The primary focus of this article is what is seen in the canon, though there is a smidgen of well-marked non-canon info.  You can safely ignore it.

Ok, this is my first essay of sorts on my analysis of the technology shown in Nemesis.  For this particular essay I shall be detailing the Type-3 phaser rifle seen in the movie.

Note from Guardian:  Where appropriate, I'll be interjecting with additional observations.  These will be visible by the indentation and this color coding.  The images are also interjections on my part.

First some history is required.  There are a variety of phaser rifles that have been shown in Star Trek since TNG and they have a variety of capabilities.  The first rifle of note is the Type-3 rifle.  

This rifle was first seen in TNG and has made more appearances in DS9 then it did in TNG. This rifle seems to be an extension on the Type-2 design currently in use with the same firepower, but greater power storage.

As noted elsewhere, "The Mind's Eye"[TNG5] shows an energy cell capacity on the order of 50 megajoules.

The main way to aim the rifle seems to be through a flip-up scope. To assist with aiming the rifle could also have a flashlight attached, though it conflicted with the scope. 


Sisko never minded showing off his "two-hander".

The somewhat strange thing is that most people did not seem to use this scope, but they still maintained a relatively high level of accuracy when firing against enemies even as far away as 100 meters. This is somewhat explained in the DS9 episode "Return to Grace". Major Kira explains to Tora Ziyal (Dukat's daughter) that the Cardassian phaser rifle is a very rugged but useful weapon to use with only two power settings. She then goes on to describe the Type-3 phaser rifle: “Now this is an entirely different animal. It's Federation standard issue. A little less powerful, but with a lot more options: sixteen beam settings, fully autonomous recharge, multiple target acquisition, gyrostablized . . . the works.”  It has 16 power settings as well as auto targeting features. This would indicate that the rifle can aim for itself and that would actually explain why beams fired from Type-3 rifles do not always line up on axis with the weapon itself. 

In theory, then, the smaller phasers must also have this or a similar feature.  We may also have seen something similar on the rifles from the 2260's, insofar as the little screen with the targeting reticle on it is concerned.

One area of settings not mentioned by Kira are the beam width controls, mentioned by Geordi in "The Mind's Eye"[TNG4].  The full text reads as follows:

Data: "Energy flow is within normal parameters. From the prefire chamber to the emission aperture."
LaForge: "Rapid nadion pulse, right on target. Beam control assembly, safety interlock, both check out. Beam width and intensity controls also responding correctly."

Happily, we've also actually seen this model of phaser fired when the beam width controls have been suitably adjusted.

"Hey, it works better than Lysol."

The last thing known about the Type-3 is that it is a relatively simple and rugged design. Simple in that it is smaller and uses fewer systems then newer rifles, rugged in that it seems capable of taking relatively high levels of abuse. This is shown when the weapon is used to deflect the bladed weapons of both Klingons and Jem’Hadar. 

Noteworthy examples include "To the Death"[DS9-4] and "The Siege of AR-558"[DS9-7].  The former also shows the rifle demonstrating vaporization capabilities.

Because of these two high points it seems this is why the Type-3 is still in production or heavy use even with the existence of the Type-3a and Type-3b rifles.

The next rifle is that of the Compression Phaser Rifle. 

This rifle has been shown to fire both pulses and beams. For the purpose of this essay we will refer to it as the Type-3VGR because of its appearance on that series. We saw it for the most part on Voyager, limited views in "Message in a Bottle"[VOY], and to an extent also on the Equinox as well. The USS Equinox was lost before Voyager (had to be because it was also abducted by Caretaker). We see the Type-3VGR on the Equinox while we see the Type-3VGR as well as the Type-3a and Type-3b on Voyager. The Type-3VGR seems to be made with combat in mind while the Type-3 is more general use for not just in combat. Its rare use and only being put on certain ships indicates that this is possibly a prototype weapon.

It is unclear what advantages the compression phaser rifle is supposed to have over the older version, though there's got to be something.    Presumably, the compression aspect had some unseen utility.  Bigger, bulkier, uglier, harder to handle, and just generally stupid-looking, the weapon had virtually no redeeming characteristics.

The one possible redeeming characteristic is a vague resemblance to the old rifles from the 2260's. But that hardly counts versus everything else.

As with the boxier TNG rifle, this one has been stated to have widebeam capability.  "Worst Case Scenario"[VOY3] features a holographic simulation written by Tuvok shortly after the ship was lost in the Delta Quadrant.  The simulation was written to allow for preparation against any possible Maquis takeover attempt.   In the simulation, Seska threatens a group of prisoners by saying that her rifle is on widebeam and set to kill.

Next is the Type-3a. 

This rifle was first seen in First Contact. It is listed in the DS9 TM as a Compression phaser rifle. This is supported by the fact that we have only ever seen it fire pulse shots. The Type-3VGR and the Type-3b rifles fire both pulses and beams, so it seems this rifle can fire both. However I have a different theory on this weapon. Starfleet created two weapon prototype systems. The Type-3VGR and the Type-3a. The Type-3VGR showed itself to be an ineffective combat design while the Type-3a compression rifle lacked the features needed. Both the 3a and the 3VGR were steps to the final design, the 3b. It seems to be a much more heavily combat orientated design, possibly a production model over the Type-3VGR. The rifle features such things as a combo scope and flashlight as well as retracting sling and a trigger guard.

The newest rifle before Nemesis is the Type-3b. 

This rifle as stated by the DS9 TM “The type-3b also boasts a new seeker/tracker, possessing both passive and active EM and subspace detectors.” Combined with the previous information it would seem part of how Phaser Rifles work is that they use some sort of auto tracking capability and that the Type-3b has the best auto tracking capability. The rifle looks visually similar to that of the Type-3a, but has a different barrel to the weapon that is smoother and more rounded, also somewhat smaller. This rifle also has performance differences. In VGR this rifle has been shown to fire beams while in First Contact and Insurrection it fired pulses. At first I would have written this off to being a VFX mistake but then Nemesis changed this. The Reman rifle in Nemesis fired both pulses and beams. This is two completely different weapons that have similar properties. I am inclined to agree now that the Type-3b is a multi use rifle that can fire both beams and pulses. 

The ability to switch from beams to pulses has been observed in the DS9-favored Type III, as well.   In "The Adversary"[DS9-3], the hunt for the changeling aboard the Defiant involves use of the phaser rifles to fire a large glowing pulse, whereas most of the time we see the weapon fire a beam.

In Insurrection, two rifle pulses and one relatively short beam from a Type II blasted a hole of approximately six cubic meters in a cave wall.  The pulses were apparently equal to the beam in energy:

(Note:  images 1, 2, and 8 of the group above were contrast- and brightness-enhanced,
in order to allow us to be able to see what the heck was going on.)

Of course, given that Sisko put a similar-size hole in a wall with his Type II on a vaporization setting in "Rapture"[DS9-5], one wonders why they went to all the trouble and danger of blasting the hole in that fashion.  This would have to be one of those rare occasions wherein Sisko showed more finesse than Picard.

(As before, the last image is contrast-enhanced so we can see.)

But, we digress to the pulse versus beam issue:

This would also be why the Type-3b is not listed as a Compression rifle while the Type-3a was. It would seem that design properties were combined from the Type-3 and Type-3a into the Type-3b. It should be noted that the Type-3a, 3b, and 3VGR all had to have a similar design period and construction with maybe a few months separating them for Voyager to have had a stock of the 3b and 3VGR. Something else should be noted about the Type-3a and 3b designs. They can take sustained shock damage from close combat when smashing them against Borg drones with Klingon level strength or using them to smash combat drones like the Son'a use while the rifle shows no visible damage.

The newest rifle shown is that in Nemesis. 

Upon first inspection the rifle seems identical to the Type-3b except it has a targeting sight. However there are enough differences that this should be considered a new subclass just as the 3b is to the 3a. This rifle for now will be called the Type-3c. The Type-3c has one immediately obvious difference from the 3b. This rifle now sports a red targeting sight positioned behind and slightly above the flashlight. Also the Flashlight is of a new and seemingly more powerful design as its shape has changed to allow a larger flashlight point. The less obvious changes are the power and charge indicators on top of the rifle just behind the flashlight. There also seems to be a battery charger handle that is pulled to “cock” the rifle. 

Possibly this has to do with the power clip or is merely a way to check that the rifle is fully powered.

I personally find it unlikely that this little red doohickey is the power cell.   For starters, the power cell on the Type III is seen in "Siege..." to be a much larger object on the rear of the rifle.   Further, the stock of the weapon would seem to be superfluous if the power cell and phaser beam/pulse generation are all going on well forward of the trigger and other controls.   Last but not least, a similar red cell is seen in the Type II phasers, once again forward of the controls, and also on the phase pistols of the 2150's in a similar location.  As with the rifles, this would render the handles of those devices superfluous.    I would surmise that this red object is in some way connected with generating the nadions associated with phasers (as referenced in "Endgame"[VOY7]).

Additionally the rifle has a slightly altered emission tip. First looking at the rifle one would think that targeting sight is for a backup somewhat similar to the Type-3 incase the targeting capabilities are compromised. However combat performance of the rifle indicates this is either untrue or the rifle has altered capabilities for that particular combat. Throughout the movie Nemesis the Type-3c was seen in combat twice and both times it had similar shown capabilities. The rifle was firing a slightly different looking pulse and had a different sound then the 3b did in Insurrection and First Contact. 

The Nemesis version fired little nondescript blaster-style bolts, whereas the version in FC and INS fired pulses that looked like baby photon torpedoes. 

Additionally the rifle was firing at much higher rates of fire. The most shown was a three shot burst in the space of less then a second. The rifle also did not have the accuracy levels of ANY of the previous rifles. There are three possible explanations for this. The first is that the auto targeting feature was removed to allow for greater refire. This explains why the red sight was installed. The second is that auto targeting can not be used with the high refire rate, which again is why the red sight was installed. The third option is that the Type-3c is a shipboard model of the phaser rifle. Accurate fire is very important for longer range combat whereas close combat uses higher rates of fire. An example of this is the MP5 compared to the M-16. High rates of fire can cause the enemy to take cover allowing you to advance. Any option seems reasonable, though I am inclined to go with the third because the rifle is used for the most part on the ship itself. It seems they traded off one capability for another. 

Alternately, the reason there might've seemed to be a bit less accuracy in Nemesis (assuming there was) is because they were firing more and without as much caution, instead of some goofy trade-off of capabilities.  

1.  Getting a high refire rate that the weapon can support and maintain will help produce this sort of thing . . . anyone who's ever played online games featuring a pistol versus some sort of godawful chain gun of death will know this.  With the pistol or a sniper rifle (here analogous to a phaser rifle with lesser recharge or fewer total shots available), you aim as carefully as possible.  With the chain gun (with much faster "recharge" and more total shots available), you don't have to worry about it so much . . . just hose 'em.

2.  The Remans were spraying the place down with weapons fire.   Compare this level of stress to that which would exist in First Contact or Insurrection, wherein only the latter involves incoming fire (and that fire was simply the occasional dart from the flying drones).   Whether it was stress-induced missing or simply suppressive fire, any lessening of the accuracy is more than understandable.

If this is the case then its likely the 3b is still a main production model and this is merely another variant rifle for different uses. Another thing should be noted in Nemesis is that Picard used the 3c to hit a Reman over the head twice. 

Actually, the first hit struck the Reman on the shoulder armor . . . not that it helps the situation much.

The rifle broke cleanly in half and was bent at a bad angle. 

Possible explanations for this is a faulty weapon because of a random flaw in the construction. This seems plausible because faults do happen by accident. The other is that when the rifle went into main production cheaper materials were used. 

Alternately, the weapon can be disassembled, and unfortunately there were a couple of screws loose.  This seems the most plausible option given the split along the weapon's seams, since I find it unlikely that the post-Dominion War Starfleet would replace the Type III's that could stop a bat'leth with a cheap plastic toy gun.  (Even in "Siege...", for instance, when Sisko was using his rifle as a club and beating the hell out of Jem'Hadar left and right, his weapon would still fire right up until he got knocked out . . . though the weapon did get bent up a bit.)

In any case, Picard seemed as surprised as the rest of us.

However the second is unlikely for two reasons. Compared to other governments the Federation seems obsessed with safety and they have an insane number of safety measures, like 2nd emergency coupling and the sort. 

I believe this refers to "Destiny"[DS9-3], wherein a Cardassian scientist aboard DS9 is shocked to find that Starfleet requires secondary backups for many systems, in addition to the primary and backup units.

It seems unlikely they would compromise the design this way. Secondly is that this is a new design variant off the other rifle and it does not seem to be in full production yet so the design can not yet be altered. Its possible this design is even in testing still.

Of course, not everything that sucks is a prototype.

As a end note there is one last rifle. This is the Type-3EVA as I call it. 

Incidentally, this is my personal favorite next to the plain ole' Type III.

This rifle was also featured in First Contact. Its design follows the Type-3a more closely, except this rifle has been optimized for EVA type combat. 

 . . . i.e. for situations wherein one is decked out in an EVA suit with the fat fingers caused by the gloves, and so on . . . 

It has a forward grip to allow for easier aiming and quicker use. The trigger guard has been removed. There is no sling, and the stock has been “hollowed” out. There are also two magnetic points on the rifle that allow it to be placed down in a zero-G environment. Other then the mostly cosmetic outer changes its operational patterns are identical to the Type-3a.

Further end note. The DS9 TM states that the Bajoran Phaser rifle are technologically similar to Starfleet units. Given that for the majority of DS9 the Type-3s were used and Bajoran weapons never fired pulses, the comparison seems clear. As stated by the DS9 TM: “The Rifle also contains a seeker/tracker, which operates primarily on IR and amplified biogenic fields. During the occupation, some early rifle units were outfitted with target discriminators: Bajoran fighters using coded biogenic transponders, in theory, would not be hit by friendly fire.” The implication of this statement is quite clear. Bajoran weapons used Friend/Foe systems as well as varying targeting programs. These rifles are stated similar to the Type-3s. The 3a, and 3b are more advanced then the Type-3 and likely have superior capabilities in this regard. This would explain the high accuracy of the 3a and 3b rifles even when fired from the hip.

Generally speaking, there seems to be little point to having a rifle if indeed the handheld phasers demonstrate assisted aiming.   The only potential reason might be that the rifles have better aiming capability, allowing for far longer ranges than even the smaller units can support.   In any case, we haven't seen them demonstrate far higher power levels.


Special thanks to Lee Kelly's Phasers.Net  for many of the pictures used on this page.

Note well that Alyeska switched the 3a and 3b from the Phasers.Net identification.  Though I loathe the idea of having something contrary to Lee Kelly's excellent site, the apparent dominance of the ugly round-nose phaser in post-FC material would seem to bear that decision out.  


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