Star Trek Ground Combat

Quick Reference:

- Troop Movement: Interstellar, Landing, Mobilization
- Troop Equipment: Phasers, Grenades, Other Weapons, Defensive Tech, Sensor Tech, Other Tech
- Air/Orbital Support
- Conclusions

In an era of starships capable of firing on ground targets with pinpoint accuracy, sending combat troops to die on enemy fields might seem wasteful.  This is even more true when you consider that, even in the 2260's, the weapons of a Federation starship could be set for a large-scale stun effect on the surface below ("A Piece of the Action"[TOS2]).   One can just imagine a grand army of soldiers on a vast plain ready to meet any foe . . . except for the wide beam of light that comes down from the sky and sends them all into blissful slumber.  (Granted, the Federation is not in the business of pacifying hostile populations, unlike the Empire (which pacifies its own).)

Nevertheless, there are times when ground combat is required . . . one doesn't always have a starship at one's disposal, and there are things even a starship cannot do.  Thus, although we haven't seen much of it in the starship-centric canon, we've seen enough ground combat in Trek to get the gist of the Federation's techniques and technologies.  While we're at it, we'll also take a look at the Federation's neighbors and adversaries to see what's common in regimes which enjoy a rough technological parity with the Federation.

I.  Troop Movement:  Interstellar

First, the troops have to get to the planet.  This part of the equation doesn't change much whether one's talking about moving troops through space or over water . . . troop-carrying vessels are needed.   We know of a convoy of ships carrying 30,000 Starfleet troops in "Waltz"[DSN6], though we didn't get a look at the convoy to see if Starfleet makes use of a specialized troop transport ship.

If they did, one might expect something like a Sydney Class or similar transport vessel, or perhaps something akin to the many colony ships we've heard of, modified for wartime.   On the other hand, the Federation-Klingon-Romulan (FKR) Alliance fleet, intent on landing troops on Cardassia in DS9's final episode, didn't appear to have any obvious transport ships.  We had seen Klingon troop transports previously, though, in "Sons and Daughters"[DSN6] (pictured . . . note Bird-of-Prey for scale).


Of course, they wouldn't really need to have dedicated troop transports at Cardassia, except perhaps to prevent large ships like the Galaxy Class from having to do everything.  After all, the total Galaxy volume is about 5,800,000m. Per each of the 42 decks, we'd have an average of about 138,000m. Of course, we're still working in three dimensions, so we need to excise the height value. If we divide by 3.5m (just as a rough average deckheight), we end up with an average floor area per deck of 39,400m. Multiply by 42 decks, and we end up with 1,654,800m. Some, of course, would be taken up by walls, machinery, tankage, and other similar elements. If 40% is so employed, then the remaining space would equal 992,880m, or just under a square kilometer of room.   Not accounting for life support requirements, you should be able to squeeze in several thousand people easily . . . the World Trade Center had about a square kilometer of rentable space and was generally occupied by about 50,000 people.  

Mass certainly wouldn't be an issue . . . Intrepid Class ships like Voyager weighed in at 700,000 metric tons, and the Galaxy Class would be at least about 10 times that massive.  Thus, if you assume that a Starfleet soldier and his equipment weighed 400 pounds (181kg), then even with 50,000 troops you're only talking about adding 9,100 metric tons . . . a drop in the proverbial bucket.

We do know with certainty that the Enterprise-D could carry some 15,000 extra people at least, as per the discussions regarding the evacuation of that many colonists in "The Ensigns of Command"[TNG3].   Given the possibility of 50,000 or more, mixed with the space needed by soldiers for readiness, supplies, and storage of other materiel, up to 15,000 troops and support personnel seems like a decent figure.   (The alternate-universe Enterprise-D from "Yesterday's Enterprise"[TNG3], incidentally, was said to be capable of carrying 6,000 troops, though as a battleship her internal configuration was presumably a bit less cozy.)

All that having been said, not every starship is rigged for passengers or possesses lots of extra unused habitable space.  Intrepid Class starships such as Voyager were "built for combat performance" according to Tom Paris ("The Thaw"[VOY3]).   Voyager's crew of about 150 had to double-bunk to make room for 200 Klingons in "Prophesy"[VOY7], implying that being occupied by 350 people was not in the design.   And while we might be tempted to think that the double-bunking was only required because Voyager was chock-full of supplies for the long journey home, there's also "Friendship One"[VOY7] to consider.  In that episode, evacuation of an accident-ravaged world of 5,500 survivors is planned, and Tuvok notes that it will require 17 trips to another nearby world.  That's an average of about 325 moved per trip, assuming a full crew remains on Voyager, which would imply a maximum headcount of 475 personnel.  But, as reader "Omeganian" points out, a skeleton crew on Voyager might push this down further, perhaps even as low as the 350 of "Prophesy".   Suffice it to say, then, that the Intrepid Class is not much of a passenger liner.

In "Waltz", the Defiant was expected to escort the Federation troop convoy, which probably indicates simple lightly-armed cargo-type vessels similar in concept to the Klingon design above.  

II.  Troop Movement:  Landing

Upon arrival in the system, you have to get the troops on the ground.  It's not known precisely how this is done for one's average Starfleet ground force on one's average troop-carrying vessel.   Though the simplest solution would be for the vessel to land, it's more likely -- judging by the normal Starfleet paradigm -- that they would not.

Thus, how rapidly a transport can offload its troops probably depends mostly on the number of transporters.  Just for comparison's sake, the Galaxy Class features at least twenty personnel-capable transporter rooms according to the evacuation instructions in "11001001"[TNG2], giving the ship one transporter room per every fifty personnel:

"Decks 2-4 to Cargo transporters. Decks 5-10, proceed to transporters 1, 2, 3, and 4. Decks 6-16, proceed to transporters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Decks 17-28, proceed to transporters 11, 12, 13, and 14. Decks 29-42, proceed to transporters 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. This is not a drill."

Assuming six people could be transported every 20 seconds in each transporter room, then a Galaxy Class ship can offload some 360 personnel per minute, allowing total evac in less than three minutes.  On the other hand, if we gave Voyager one transporter room per every fifty crew, the ship would only have three transporter rooms.  And yet, Voyager beamed the entire Klingon crew of 200 off of their exploding vessel in "Prophesy"[VOY7] in under ten seconds, and did so by way of site-to-site transport to the shuttlebay.  Thus, it's possible that the 360 estimate is low-end, or that there is a "burst mode" emergency transport option.

On a Galaxy Class ship, there are additional transporters capable of beaming personnel and supplies over and above the 20+ counted above.  This includes Cargo Bay 2 (located on or near deck seven, as per Picard's orders during the ship evacuation in "Starship Mine"[TNG6]), and Cargo Bays 3 and 11.  Both feature a large oval transporter unit seen in "Datalore"[TNG1] and "Symbiosis"[TNG1], as opposed to the simpler, smaller round model from Cargo Bay 4 seen in "Power Play"[TNG5]).  The large oval unit is pictured.

And, as long as we're counting, the smallish, mostly-hollow holoship from Insurrection had 14 long-range transporter units according to Ahdar Ru'afo, and even smaller vessels get into the game.  We've seen transporters capable of beaming up to five people at once in use on Type-6 and Type-7 shuttlecraft ("Best of Both Worlds"[TNG4], "The Outcast"[TNG5], "Gambit, Part II"[TNG7]).   Also noteworthy are runabout transporters which, despite only having two actual pads, are capable of beaming six people simultaneously ("The Ship"[DSN5]) or nearly simultaneously ("By Inferno's Light"[DSN5]).  However, this capability only appeared after 2370, since a rescue operation was hampered in "The Homecoming"[DSN2] by the fact that only two could be beamed to a runabout at one time.

Shipboard transporters have also been used on multiple occasions to beam entire vehicles into the shuttlebays.  This was actually seen in Nemesis with a Reman Scorpion, and has also been referred to as occurring in with a Ferengi shuttlepod in "False Profits"[VOY3] and a Type-9 'speedboat' shuttlecraft in "Real Life"[VOY3] . . . an impressive maneuver given that the latter is a warp-four-capable vessel.   (Picard also planned to do so with the much larger Type-7 shuttle in "Deja Q"[TNG3], but his efforts were thwarted by a member of the Q continuum.)

Suffice it to say, it's likely that a military troop transport would have plenty of transporter units to allow for rapid debarkation of troops and equipment.

It's also conceivable that a dedicated transport ship would have sufficient shuttles and other auxiliary vehicles to offload everyone in a timely manner.  On the other hand, whereas the Enterprise-D could've grabbed the 15,000 colonists from the "Ensigns..." planet in less than the allotted three days with transporters, it would take her four weeks and four days with their shuttlecraft complement.  If wartime transports were equipped according to a similar rationale, then offloading could take a long time if transporters or a large number of heavier shuttles weren't available.

Another option, unlikely but available, would be orbital skydiving.  While Kirk's orbital skydiving scene was cut from Generations, the idea and costume appeared again in "Extreme Risk"[VOY5] on Torres.  As Seven of Nine describes it, orbital skydiving is "leaping from a spacecraft at exospheric altitudes . . . a curious form of recreation."   Orbital skydiving is more dangerous from higher altitudes . . . the shuttle pilot in B'Elanna's simulation warned of danger at 200km, though the nature of the planet in question is unclear.   In any case, I find it unlikely that one would see swarms of such orbital paratroopers departing a transport ship, though it's possible that individual insertions could occur in this manner.   

III.  Troop Movement:  Mobilization

In large-scale ground battles Starfleet has been known to make use of transporters for troop insertion and movement, even using ground-based transporter units in situations without starship support.   The dying soldier of "Nor the Battle to the Strong"[DSN5] made this point, noting that it was only the Klingon use of transporter scramblers that enabled them to pin down the Starfleet force he was a part of.   The same relocation maneuver is true of smaller unit actions.  "Homefront"[DSN4] shows the mobilization of Starfleet assets in a planetwide peacekeeping role by use of starship  transporters when Earth and her orbiting habitats and bases were rendered powerless by sabotage.  

Admiral Leyton:  "Mr. President, we can use the Lakota's transporters and communications system to mobilize every Starfleet officer on Earth in less than 12 hours."

Various other episodes have shown away teams relocating via site-to-site transport, including "Angel One"[TNG1] and "The Ship"[DSN5]. 

Such a rapid relocation of assets would be profoundly useful . . . an almost instantaneous version of the United States chopper-based relocation tactics of Viet Nam or Afghanistan, which allowed for extraordinary applications of force concentration against enemy positions.  (And, given that even a runabout can detect and map tunnels and other kilometers-deep underground structures from orbit ("The Sword of Kahless"[DSN4]), with tricorders having shown similar effectiveness when on the ground, the tunnelling problems relating to those historical examples would be moot.)

Star Trek V shows the use of shuttlecraft for deploying a well-armed landing party, and of course this would be the expected maneuver if transporters were not available for whatever reason.

Also mentioned as being a part of Starfleet's forces at Ajilon Prime were "hoppers".   (It is not clear if hoppers were capable of making orbit, though if they were this would also solve the debarkation issue nicely.  However, the name "hopper" suggests that these ought to be relatively short-range atmospheric craft.) 

Sadly, we never got to see one, though we do get some reports as to their capabilities.   A lone hopper, for instance, was waiting to evacuate the doctors and patients at the field hospital where most of the episode takes place.   There were no less than 10 doctors and orderlies, and one of them says that they had over 70 patients that they had to move to the hopper.  Thus, at least one type of hopper is available that can carry at least 80 people, several of whom would be laid down.   Similarly, the dying soldier on Ajilon Prime refers to a hopper his platoon was boarding.  In modern parlance, a platoon commonly refers to 16-44 soldiers.   The hopper is noted as having sustained a great pounding due to Klingon fire while loading the platoon . . . the dying soldier had stayed behind to give covering fire, suggesting that much of the Klingon fire would've been disruptor-based.

Get your Starfleet Humvee
 at your local dealer's 2378 
Closeout Sale!Star Trek: Nemesis shows us our first glimpse of a dedicated Starfleet ground vehicle, the "Argo" shuttle's associated jeep.   It is, for all practical purposes, just a dune buggy with a fat phaser rifle on the back and a special shuttle to carry it.   

The combination is apparently a special-purpose system designed for environments hostile to transporters and antigravs (though trouble with the latter is rare).   The use of the shuttle at all is evidence for the former, along with Geordi's direct statements.  As for the latter, we have several facts.  First, antigrav technology has been used aboard even Earth civilian vehicles since at least the 2150's ("Shockwave, Pt. I"[ENT1]), with Earth and Federation Starfleet shuttles having employed it for as long ("Strange New World"[ENT1], Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, "The Child"[TNG2], "Unnatural Selection"[TNG2], et cetera).   However, with the Argo we see a shuttle which, in flight, produces the heat distortions of a hot jet of air beneath it, and when landing or taking off produces a huge dust cloud like one would expect from a helicopter or, better yet, a Harrier VTOL jet.  These are not seen in normal antigrav operation.  Thus, we have yet to see a "normal" Starfleet ground vehicle.

As for the Federation's neighbors, we've heard of a Klingon "ground assault vehicle" in "Elogium"[VOY2], though we know very little about it.  We only know that Torres referred to the fact that it has a device to remove animals from its path, suggesting that it either rolls on or hovers near the ground.  Then there is the Cardassian "skimmer", mentioned by Kira in "The Darkness and the Light"[DSN5] as being employed during the Cardassian Occupation.  Kira, in telling a tale of her first engagement as a resistance fighter, recalls that the vehicle "set down", then the hatch opened and the first Cardassian appeared.  This suggests that the vehicle not only "skims" or hovers, but is fully enclosed.   Such a vehicle may have been what Garak referred to in "The Wire"[DSN2] when he claimed to have been a part of the "Cardassian mechanized infantry".   Similarly, "Business as Usual"[DSN5] refers to the sale of 2000 "assault skimmers" by weapons merchant Hagath, though no additional details regarding the vehicles are given. 

IV.  Troop Equipment

A.  Phasers

(See also Lee Kelly's excellent for additional discussion on these and other weapons.)

Phasers are the ever-present Starfleet weapon, and a basic part of any equipment list.  From small units hardly larger than a modern cellphone to large and bulky rifles, phasers are as much tools as they are weapons . . . but as weapons they truly shine.  Phasers come in three main varieties, popularly referred to by type in keeping with the "Phaser One" and "Phaser Two" designations from "Devil in the Dark"[TOS1], referring to the 'hand phaser' and 'phaser pistol' respectively.   There is also the phaser rifle, which is usually referred to as the Type III.

Phasers show a number of interesting and very unusual properties separating them from mere projectile weapons.  They are capable of anything from stunning to roasting to dynamiting to "vaporizing" (though seldom does vaporization actually result in vapor), and have multiple beam width options including a pencil-thin ray and a wide-field cone or plane.   Last but not least, phaser beams can be fired in directions which do not follow the obvious axis of the weapon.  The direction of the beam generally corresponds to the line of sight of the person firing the phaser, suggesting that there may be eye tracking technology in use.  That would not necessarily be too different than what can be done today.  Alternately (or perhaps additionally), an auto-aiming feature may be employed, as implied by Kira in regards to the phaser rifle in "Return to Grace"[DSN4].  It seems there's even a range-limiting feature for wide-beam settings.

Our understanding of how phasers do their thing is rather limited.  Commonly referred to as energy weapons, the phaser's beam is known to be at least partially composed of plain old photons ("The Outcast"[TNG5]), though this is somewhat confusing given the beam's slower-than-light speed.  There's also some sort of particle stream involved composed of nadions.  Very little is known about these, though we've heard them mentioned in relation to personal phasers on two occasions ("The Mind's Eye"[TNG4], "Time and Again"[VOY1]), and in reference to ship phasers as often ("Demon"[VOY4], "Endgame"[VOY7]).  One can safely presume that the more exotic abilities of a phaser are linked in some way with these particles, whereas references to the EM properties of the phaser beam (such as in "Best of Both Worlds, Pt. I"[TNG3], et al.) would refer to the discharge of photons.

In "The Mind's Eye"[TNG5], Data and Geordi are in Engineering testing a recovered phaser rifle. Though it turns out to be a copy of a Federation rifle and of Romulan origin, the following energy usage comment by Data illicits no apparent suspicion:

Data: "Energy cell usage remains constant at 1.05 megajoules per second. Curious . . . the efficiency reading on the discharge crystal is well above Starfleet specifications."

A few seconds later, Data mentions that the normal phaser discharge crystal fires with 86.5% efficiency, which (for example) could be taken to imply a direct firepower of .91 megajoules per second. According to DITL, the weapon is fired for a total of 51 seconds. We do not know if the stated draw is the maximum of the phaser rifle, nor are we told the actual output/yield.  However, given what was seen, the energy cell must have a capacity of at least 50 megajoules, or the equivalent of over 10 kilograms of TNT.

(Other examples require that the phasers be even more energetic.  "The Galileo Seven"[TOS1] features the use of phasers drained into a shuttlecraft's engines to enable it to take off and make orbit.  Even reducing the likely mass of a TNG Type 6 shuttle by several factors, this is at least 5 metric tons that has to be put into orbit of a world which showed at least nearly Earth-normal gravity.  Even the most ludicrously conservative estimate from this example would still be in the range of many hundreds of megajoules.)

Of course, we know that hand phasers can "vaporize" human beings in some manner. Just to vaporize a single kilogram of water at 37 degrees Celsius requires 2,764,600 joules (2.7 megajoules).  Human beings, of course, are made of more than just water, and commonly weigh in at about 60 kilograms.  So, we know that the effective yield of a phaser should be in the range of at least 150 megajoules, though this is would not seem to be the genuine level of energy being directed at the target.  Given a phaser's ability to heat and melt rock and metal, however, energy yields in this range must be present.  In TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and Insurrection, we've seen phasers used to heat rocks to glowing or blow them apart, and we've been told in TOS of nearly 8,000 degree temperatures being created by phasers.

More on the statements above can be seen in the following links:

     Phasers of the 2260's

     Phasers of the NextGen Era (2363-2379)

  Phaser Rifles of the NextGen Era (by "Alyeska")

Given weapons of such authority, it is clear that there are a number of battle tactics that simply won't work against Starfleet personnel armed with phasers.   Any open-field sort of combat, be it in the form of firing lines or charges, simply won't be effective if even one redshirt can poke his head up and get off decent shots.   That means, then, that warfare involving firing lines, massed troop charges, and other curious throwbacks as seen in the Star Wars prequels just won't work.

B.  Grenades 

1.  Stun Grenades

With a range of several meters, these small thrown objects are capable of incapacitating multiple enemies simultaneously.  They've been seen in use on several occasions, including "Shockwave, Pt. I"[ENT1], "Anomaly"[ENT3], and "Damage"[ENT3].   Stun grenades ought to have a variable delay timer, given Trip's reference to his stun grenade being on a three-second delay in "Shockwave".

The mechanism by which stunning occurs is not clear.  They seem to be akin to a flash-bang inasmuch as there is a very bright light and lots of noise.   However, Trip's grenade went off for almost three seconds, and featured a 'zappy' sound.   In "Anomaly", Archer ordered their use in the torpedo bay due to fear of the armed spatial torpedoes lying near the enemy position, which would suggest that they aren't powerfully explosive and probably aren't EMP-based.  

In any case, weapons of this particular type are not seen in use by Starfleet after the 2150's.  However, the Jem'Hadar were seen to employ a simple flash-bang device in "What You Leave Behind"[DSN7]. 

2. Photon Grenades

Unquestionably in use are photon grenades.   Again, these are weapons which we've seen little of, but when we have seen them they have been devastating.   In "Arena"[TOS1], we see a small ground battle between six Starfleet personnel under Kirk, and Gorn forces sufficient to leave the Enterprise personnel "hopelessly outnumbered", according to Spock.  

The battle begins when a redshirt is vaporized at a range of "1570 yards" (about .8 miles or 1.4 kilometers).   The Gorn promptly begin firing on the Starfleet personnel.   (It isn't clear what sort of weapon they were employing . . . I've previously assumed that some sort of shells were used based on the sound and explosions, but "Friday's Child"[TOS2] shows that a phaser that will utterly vaporize a person will also produce large explosions against the ground when apparently using the same setting.  In any case, the beam that zapped the redshirt was invisible, so the weapon which blows Kirk into the armory pit could also be a beam.)

Kirk finally reached the outpost's armory, returning fire with a photon grenade launcher.   This effectively ended the battle. Since the Enterprise was also being attacked, there was no opportunity for beamout, orbital support fire, or shuttle launch.

While we do not know the maximum range of the photon grenade launcher that Kirk used, we can make some guesses. Kirk fired it in the direction of the intervening high ground.  The young tactical officer seemed concerned that Kirk would use the devices at such close range.

Kirk:   "An evaluation, Mr. Kelowitz. Where do you think they are?"
Kelowitz:  "If I were them, I'd go to the high ground on the right. I'd make it 1,200 yards, azimuth 87. It's pretty close for one of these little jewels, Captain."
Kirk:   "It'll be a lot closer to them. Stand clear."

Photon grenade 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 a 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 the large force of Gorn had some sort of vehicle handy.  It seems most likely, however, that he was just going for show, making sure that he landed the photon grenade in front of them to make them think twice.  Given the fact that he also fired a bit off to the left, that seems the most likely option.

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.

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. It would follow, 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).

Given the concern of the young officer at the range, we can make some guesses as to the yield of the photon grenade.   A 150-ton (625GJ) nuke, for instance, would produce first-degree burns at just over half a kilometer, according to equations made available by Carey Sublette, with third degree burns at up to 320 meters.  When we focus back on Kirk and company after the detonation there's also a breeze, implying that there might've been very minor blast-related overpressure effects as far back as the buildings of the Cestus III outpost.  This also suggests something in the hundreds of gigajoules range if we use nuclear equations as our guide.  Modern mortar shells, by contrast, can only hope for single or low double-digit kilograms of TNT, extending their damage by use of shrapnel.

At any rate, the Gorn bugged out after being subjected to the photon grenade, their ship beaming them to safety. It isn't clear whether they had casualties (or if the whole group was a casualty), or whether they were simply suitably impressed and decided to make a hasty exit.   In any event, we've seen one small example of Federation artillery.  It ended 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.

We've also heard of photon grenades in the 24th Century.  Their potential use as a distraction for a hostage rescue mission was discussed in "Legacy"[TNG4].  Geordi suggested beaming them into a structure on a low setting, stating that it wouldn't kill the people in the adjoining chambers, but that it would "shake them up a lot".  Tom Paris expresses familiarity with photon grenades in "Year of Hell, Pt. II"[VOY4].  Finally, Admiral Leyton refers to Starfleet having stockpiles of photon grenades in "Homefront"[DSN4], in an amount he describes as "enough to equip an entire army".

C.  Other Weapons

Starfleet has occasionally employed other weapons besides phasers.   Picard's equipment list in Insurrection, for instance, included phaser rifles, seven metric tons of ultritium explosives, eight tetryon pulse launchers, and ten isomagnetic disintegrators.   We'll start from there.

1.  Ultritium

It isn't clear just what the hell Picard intended to do with seven metric tons of ultritium, but suffice it to say that it would be a very large barbecue.  A Bajoran earring composed of the material was considered sufficient to produce a twenty meter lethal blast radius in "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"[DSN6], so unless it was super-dense, the yield of the material must be profound even in very small masses.    (Judging by the fact it was an earring and didn't tear Kira's ear off or appear to produce discomfort when worn, it could not have been superdense.)

Similarly, two Antedeans intended to blow up an entire diplomatic conference in "Manhunt"[TNG2] by using the ultritium lining in their robes . . . the robes appeared light and flowy throughout the episode.   A Jem'Hadar warship fired dozens, if not hundreds, of ultritium concussion shells at a planet's surface over several hours in "The Ship"[DSN5], as part of a psychological warfare effort to flush Sisko and company out of a crashed Jem'Hadar warship.  It was noted that if they'd been hit by one, the crashed ship . . . which was mostly embedded in rock and had already survived uncontrolled de-orbit and smacking into a planet at high speed . . . would've been destroyed.  Though the precise class of ship involved in the bombardment isn't known, it seems unlikely that these devices were very large, or else the entire ship would've been filled to bursting with ultritium.  Unfortunately, the detonations occurred at a sufficient distance to prevent us from seeing them directly, though they were quite audible. 

Microwave pulse detonators seem to be the preferred method of ignition (at least in non-combat applications), according to the screen from "Night Terrors"[TNG4].

As of the 2350's, the material wasn't readily identifiable by sensors, though by the 2360's a tricorder scan could readily detect it whereas a transporter could not.

That lack of transporter scanning is noteworthy, given that in "The Darkness and The Light"[DSN5] we learn of remats, devices which are intended to negatively affect a person's attempt at beaming.   When employed, they produce a smoking corpse during the rematerialization stage of transport.  It is, in effect, a small and rude version of the transporter scrambler.  Specific scanning and protocols are in place for just such devices, though they can be rigged to try to confuse sensors.   It's strange, then, that the transporter cannot detect simple things like ultritium, since a timed ultritium detonation could produce a far worse result than a remat.  However, timing wouldn't really be a necessity . . . "The Ascent"[DSN5] shows a bomb which is set to detonate if transported.

2.  Tetryon Pulse Launchers / Isomagnetic Disintegrators

Also mentioned in the Insurrection weapon list is the isomagnetic disintegrator, commonly believed to be used in Star Trek: Insurrection against the Son'a.  The weapon's output was no greater than that observed in "Hide and Q" from the tiny 'cricket' phaser, but it was used at a much greater range than we saw from the small phaser.  That said, it's still unclear why the weapon was being used . . . a standard phaser or phaser rifle is more than capable of hitting distant targets.  

(In "Hide and Q", the bridge crew comments on what is believed to be a musket-equipped French regiment heading toward them in Q's game.  We're told that the 100 meter range and questionable accuracy mean that the weapons hardly classify as such to the Starfleet personnel.

 If, on the other hand, it is the tetryon pulse launcher, then there may be some logic to its use.  You see, tetryons have some relation to disruptors . . . "Blood Oath"[DSN2] involves remodulation of a Klingon ship's disruptor cannons to produce a tetryon particle bombardment of a compound on the surface of a planet.   The principle behind this bombardment was not destruction, but deactivation of the directed energy weapons at the compound.   If the tetryon pulse launcher is what Worf used, then its limited destructiveness would be irrelevant and incidental  . . . his primary goal would've been deactivation of the enemy weapons.  The disruptor-like bolt that the weapon fired may support such a notion, especially given that it is a "tetryon pulse launcher".  However, this is just idle theorizing on my part, as we have no evidence either way.)

3.  Other Explosives

Other sorts of explosives have been seen from time to time.  Reed aboard the NX-01 makes extensive use of small remote-detonated explosive charges.  In addition to "Regeneration"[ENT2] (pictured), they've been seen in "The Andorian Incident"[ENT1] and "Detained"[ENT1]. The units come in two different sizes . . . the large ones are similar in size to stun grenades (and may actually use the same casing), and the smaller ones are about the size of a pen or pencil.   The largest observed planted charges we've seen were in use by the the Voyager crew against the Borg, as can be seen below from "Dark Frontier"[VOY5].  Three of these "spatial charges" were carried in a rigid case and used to destroy a particular piece of equipment on the Borg ship.  

The yield of these weapons is unclear, but given that the bigger ones are all about the size of a photon grenade one would presume that, at least in the Voyager case, the weapons could be equally as powerful. At the very least, assuming an ultritium-class explosive of a size similar to a Bajoran earring, a twenty-meter kill zone seems likely.  

4.  Other Starfleet and Alien Weapons

Starfleet has a projectile weapon, the TR-116.  Though never put in production, it remains as a readily available replicator pattern.  It was developed by Starfleet Security some years ago for use in "energy dampening fields or radiogenic environments", but advancements in phaser technology rendered the weapon moot.  More on it can be found here.  Finally, certain weapons lockers aboard a starship include good old fashioned knives, with sheath. ("Macrocosm"[VOY3]).

Also of interest is the alien technology of the Federation's neighbors.  For example, we get to see a wide variety of alien beam weapons in "Business as Usual"[DSN5].  While there is no reason to presume that each would have a Starfleet analog, it also doesn't follow that these weapons will be significantly more advanced than those of Starfleet.

"Nor the Battle to the Strong"[DSN5] also shows us the use of Klingon shells against personnel.  These shells produced rather tiny explosions compared to what we might expect.   They were no larger than the phaser and Jem'Hadar rifle impacts from "Rocks and Shoals"[DSN6], and were generally smaller than the Gorn weapon blasts from "Arena".  The shells produced explosions of variable size . . . the one below is a roughly average-sized explosion as seen in mid-detonation.  The larger explosions demonstrated concussive blast effects, flopping a crouched Bashir to the ground and leading Jake to believe he'd been killed.

Bashir runs from a near-miss

Why the Klingons would use such tiny shells is unclear . . . if the shells were ultritium, for example, then they'd have to be about the size of a BB (i.e. 0.177cal) or less.  Of course, given that they were targeting the rather spindly Dr. Bashir in his blue uniform, along with the similarly spindly Jake Sisko in his civilian garb, the Klingons might've just been having a little fun.  But still, while an ultritium BB gun would be cool, you wouldn't normally go to all the trouble of using a large number of BBs to clear an area if a couple of hand grenades would do.  

On the other hand, a single Klingon soldier could theoretically carry a rather large cache of such shells, and the launcher wouldn't need to be large at all.    In a proper operation with a large number of such shells in use simultaneously (but still not so many as to come close to matching the volume of a photon grenade), you could clear out a significant area without significant disruption of the local geology or the enemy's technology, and without significant use of one's available rounds.   This would also work to just plain freak out the enemy, a tactic used by the Jem'Hadar in "The Ship", and which worked (whether intentionally or not) on Ajilon Prime, as the Starfleet soldier who shot himself in the episode could attest.

Still, on the one hand it seems rather un-Klingon to use such multi-round 'finesse', instead of single-round raw overkill . . . but then these are the same guys who like to fly around in swarms of Birds-of-Prey instead of sending in a few attack cruisers, so we can hardly say with certainty what they'd use based on cultural criteria.


D.  Defensive Tech

Because a common Starfleet ship's away team on a standard exploratory mission doesn't carry much in the way of defensive gear, it may be surprising to learn how much defensive technology is available.   Fortunately, we've seen enough special operations and dedicated Starfleet military personnel to get the gist of what the Federation's armies might carry to the front lines, including personal forcefield emitters and light armor tunics.

More can be found at Trek Ground Combat - Defense.

E.  Sensor Tech

If knowledge is power, then the Federation tricorder might be the most powerful tool at the disposal of Federation ground troops.  As reader Raymond Ford puts it:  "Tricorders combine the features of many devices carried by modern infantry (especially the equipment-heavy United States) - a GPS equivalent, a PDA/laptop equivalent, various kinds of sensors, etc. Best of all, it combines it all in a handheld package. This reduces the amount of gear that a Federation soldier needs to carry."

More on tricorders and other sensor devices can be found at Trek Ground Combat - Sensors.

F.  Other Tech

Though I hesitate to mention them, they are obviously a Starfleet device carried aboard ships at least in the late 23rd Century, and are not without tactical applications.   The US military was and continues to be interested in something conceptually similar.  Boba Fett seems to make good use of a much less advanced version.   

Yes, I'm talking about the boots.

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Spock demonstrates the use of little jetboots and what is presumably an anti-grav belt.


I mention the antigrav nature of the belt primarily due to the second shot above, which features Spock oriented laterally (with Kirk hanging upside-down) where the thrust from the boots would of course be of no value in keeping him airborne.  Also noteworthy in regards to the antigrav concept are the scenes of McCoy and Kirk hanging on to a jetboot-equipped Spock in an Enterprise turboshaft . . . we see scenes of the men's feet dangling to the side of the jetboots instead of trying to stand on them.   It seems quite impossible that Kirk's girth and McCoy's age would've allowed them to simply hang by Spock's neck and shoulders in such a fashion, even considering the moves (the stunt double for) Kirk made on El Capitan earlier in the film.

Antigrav units have been seen or referred to fairly often.  These usually take the form of antigrav carts, as seen in ST:TMP, "Hollow Pursuits"[TNG3], and so on.  On smaller scales, we've also seen meter-long latch-on antigravs in "The Changeling"[TOS2], and heard of antigrav harnesses for climbing purposes ("Bloodlines"[TNG7]), which seemed to be standard equipment in Picard's mind given his surprise that Jason Vigo did not use them.  The smallest observed antigrav unit is from ST:TMP, and shows what one might call an "antigrav ladder" (though seemingly not a very safe one, as seen to the right).

The boot-belt combo was evidently capable of pretty good thrust . . . Spock was able to flip over and overtake the falling Kirk in sufficient time to save him when he fell from the face of El Capitan.   And, in the turboshaft scene, the auxiliary rockets on the boots were seen to propel not just Spock but also Kirk and McCoy up a turboshaft at a very high velocity, implying a quite remarkable performance from the boot-belt pair . . . the equivalent of several hundred pounds of thrust at least, depending on the number of "marshmelons" consumed and the level of gravity cancellation (or whatever it is) involved.

Though one of the detriments of jetpacks noted by the military would be exposure to enemy fire, the devices would be extremely useful on very rough terrain simply as a means of transport.  (And, of course, with a personal forcefield in use, the issue of exposure to enemy fire could be lessened somewhat, beyond simple suprise factor or the small size of the target compared to a shuttle or hopper.)   However, having them as boots does serve as a detriment all its own, since they certainly don't look like they'd be as comfortable as a good pair of hiking boots.   Thus, one of the advantages they might offer . . . rapid displacement in a pinch . . . is thwarted by the fact that you'd have to stop and change shoes.  This, presumably, is why they are not employed in Star Trek V's desert crossing to Paradise City.

Nevertheless, one can imagine that the boot-belt combination might be useful in certain situations when available, especially reconnaissance and rescue, and could also allow for a new spin on the "air cavalry" concept.   Last but not least, the boots could be extremely useful as parachute analogs.

V.  Orbital and Air Support

We've only infrequently seen starship weaponry fired in support of ground personnel in Star Trek ground combat (either because no ship is in orbit, or the ship in orbit is being attacked at the same time as the ground battle is afoot, et cetera), though when it has been employed it has generally proven devastating . . . much like airstrikes today.

"Shockwave, Pt. I"[ENT1]   -   Archer calls for and receives a precision phase cannonade against a lunar-docked Suliban cruiser.  The move was made in support of Archer's raiding party aboard the vessel that had become pinned down.  Damage was limited to the area near the approaching Suliban personnel, whereas the Enterprise party was unharmed.

"Who Mourns for Adonais?"[TOS2]   -   Kirk calls in an orbital bombardment of Apollo's power source structure.  The Enterprise was under attack from the surface at the time.

"The Apple"[TOS2]   -    Kirk orders a phaser bombardment of the Vaal structure on the surface, overloading and destroying its inner mechanism.  Though not under attack per se, the Enterprise was suffering from severe power drain by the Vaal device at the time.

"A Piece of the Action"[TOS2]   -   Kirk, trapped in a 1930's-style gangster's paradise, orders ship's phasers set to stun and fired on an area of the surface.  Moments later, his intended effort to impress the local bosses succeeds as the various combatants on the street below are rendered unconscious.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier   -   Kirk, having given careful orders to the Enterprise, receives a low-yield precision photon torpedo hit on the position he was occupying (before he ran like hell, that is), nearly killing "God".  

"Alliances"[VOY2]   -   Chakotay fires from orbit upon an alien shuttle engaged in air-to-surface weapons fire directed at Voyager personnel, among others.

Though not quite counting as air/orbital support fire, the cannon from "The Cage"[TOS] was powered from orbit.   The firepower of the weapon is unclear, but it was thought capable of shearing off the top of the knoll pictured below in a second or less at less than a full-power level.  

Scaling off of Captain Pike from earlier in the episode, that suggests that several cubic meters of rock would have been removed quite rapidly, though whether this would've occurred primarily in the form of an explosion of debris or as vaporization is unclear.

The use of air support has unfortunately also been only rarely seen, though again the results are generally quite good when it is employed.  "Detained"[ENT1] features the use of a phase-weapon equipped shuttlepod against a prison colony in support of a prison break.   Passes by the pod rapidly resulted in watchtowers being destroyed, at least one large hole being blasted in the prison wall to allow the detainees to escape, and various other large explosions being produced.  Based on the size of the hole in the thick outer wall (visible in the episode as detainees escape through it) and assuming the qualities of concrete, I would estimate the yield to be in the low-dozens of megajoules.

Though not a combat situation per se, "The Galileo Seven"[TOS1] features shuttlecraft used in a support role in a planetary search which featured a number of landing parties.   

"Future's End, Pt. II"[VOY3] does feature the use of a shuttlecraft weaponry in support of ground personnel.  When an eighteen-wheeler tries to run down Tom Paris on a desert road on late 20th Century Earth, an approaching Type-9 ("speedboat") shuttlecraft blows the semi into debris using its phasers.

Is that Goliath?Eat this, Road Hog!
Who needs KITT?

Starfleet's fighter, used to great effect in the Dominion War, would also be quite useful for ground support actions.  Her armaments include omnidirectional phaser emitters on her bottom side as seen in "The Maquis, Pt. II"[DSN2], as well as some stronger fixed-axis weapons of unspecified type seen in use against Cardassian Galor Class Destroyers at various times in the Dominion War.  The Maquis ships fired normal phasers from this location in "The Maquis", and also featured torpedoes which launched from the nose.

(It's worth noting that Captain Keogh, in "The Jem'Hadar"[DSN3], described the two Maquis vessels as "lightly-armed shuttlecraft".  But, given how they fought three Starfleet runabouts to a draw and considering that Keogh was questioning the DS9 crew's combat experience, that claim can be dismissed.)


It's most unfortunate that we never got to see a well-equipped Federation army on the front lines of a major ground battle during the Dominion War.  (Stupid budgets.)  The closest we came was a the field hospital near the perimeter of a small settlement on Ajilon Prime from "Nor the Battle to the Strong" (though even if we had been on the perimeter with the troops that battle was hardly major).  And, of course, we saw the worn down, undermanned, undersupplied garrison from "The Siege of AR-558"[DS9-7], which had only phaser rifles, tricorders, and attitude.

As a result, most of what we know is what we've been directly told, and I've tried to avoid inferring more than what's been said.  Nevertheless, what we know of is more than enough to be more than impressive.  As the leader of a 20th Century Rome put it in "Bread and Circuses"[TOS2], one hundred men armed with phasers "could probably defeat the combined armies of our entire empire".   He was probably right . . . even without several seconds of dwell time, it's easy to see how a tank would fare against a phaser beam . . . but the situation would've been far worse if the men were equipped with more than just their phasers.


Back in early 2000, it was claimed by some of the more rabid members of alt.startrek.vs.starwars that a Canadian Army battalion would defeat an equal Federation force.  The information provided above is a somewhat more detailed version of my original response, and yet the situation hasn't changed . . . the opposition still supports such a claim, and they're still just as wrong.


Special thanks to "The Committee", as well as to reader R. Ford, whose extensive feedback on the page was most helpful.