Battle of Britain

What follows below is the version of the page as it existed on January 6, 2003.  I have created these back-ups for the sake of historical accuracy, since my site and its pages will continue to evolve long after StarDestroyer.Net's attempted "attack on [my] credibility" is forgotten.

The Truth About Warp Maneuvering and Strafing

"Starships can't turn at warp," pro-Wars debaters claim, "so warp strafing is impossible!"

The above argument rests on the concept that starships cannot change course at warp. First, we'll look at that concept, and then we'll look at strafing specifically.

Warp Maneuvering

The claim that warp maneuvering is impossible isn't quite as bad as some of the other common anti-Trek claims, because they are actually going by what a character said in one of the episodes. In the episode "Fury"[VOY], we get a glimpse into a (slightly rewritten) past. It is set during Voyager's first season, and the Vidiian subplot involves the organ-harvesting Vidiians trying to force Voyager toward a warp cul-de-sac so the ship can be captured. This warp cul-de-sac is an area of space littered with "subspace vacuoles", covering seventy percent of the region. Janeway decides to traverse the region anyway, but a special technique has to be used. Why?

Janeway: "Tom, what's the first thing they teach you about maneuvering at warp?"
Tom: "'Faster than light, no left or right.' When possible, maintain a linear trajectory. Course corrections could fracture the hull."
Janeway: "Exactly. We'd have to drop to impulse every time we made a course change."

Voyager ends up engaging in a number of warp mini-jumps, dropping to impulse to turn before jumping again. The region of subspace vacuoles required 200 such course changes.

"Well, okay," you say, "sounds like Federation starships can't turn at warp without tearing themselves apart."

Based solely on that episode, I would agree. However, that is one of hundreds of hours of Star Trek, and the rest of Trek disagrees.

Enterprise's "Shockwave, Pt. II" shows Suliban vessels surrounding the ship and firing on her at warp, maneuvering effortlessly. When Enterprise's hull plating begins to fail on the port side, T'Pol orders a ten-degree turn to the starboard. We see this occur while the ship remains at warp speeds.

Then there's "Operation: Annihilate"[TOS], in which the Enterprise pursues a Denevan ship towards the Denevan sun at a stated speed of warp eight. The Enterprise doesn't make it in time, however, and after the Denevan ship burns up, Kirk orders "one-hundred eighty degrees, hard about". We see the ship turn quickly to port, and it is only several seconds later that Kirk orders a reduction to "sub-warp speed".

In "Elaan of Troyius"[TOS], the Enterprise warp drive has been sabotaged, and then a battle begins against a warp seven Klingon ship which is actually doing the strafing Warsies deny is possible (but we'll come back to that). The bridge conversation implies strongly that the Enterprise would normally be maneuvering at warp in such a battle, since the impulse maneuvers are "sluggish" and make the ship "wallow like a garbage scow against a warp-driven starship." This notion is confirmed when, the engines repaired, Kirk orders a *pivot* at warp two, and the ship fires. The battle is won.

In "The Deadly Years"[TOS], a Starfleet commodore has foolishly taken the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone, where she is being pursued and attacked by "a maximum of ten" Romulan Bird-of-Prey class ships. The Enterprise sailed along at warp five. When Kirk resumes command, he employs a variation of the Corbomite Maneuver, and as the Romulans back off, he has the Enterprise engage in a simultaneous course change and acceleration to warp eight. We see the ship turn with extreme rapidity.

In "The Changeling"[TOS], the battle with Nomad causes the *loss* of "warp maneuvering power" due to the drain on the engines (via the shields).

From "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"[TOS], we have this gem:

Kirk : "Mister Spock, is this ship headed for Ariannus?"
Spock : "Negative captain. The Enterprise is now moving in a circular course."
Scotty : "And at warp 10 we're going nowhere mighty fast."

Circling, and at warp 10 no less!

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey does some serious maneuvering around the sun, and it cannot be explained as the ship simply `being maneuvered' by gravity.

In "The Wounded"[TNG], the Enterprise-D is flying in close formation with the Nebula Class starship Phoenix, escorting that ship back to Starfleet for having been naughty. The captain of the Phoenix, however, isn't done being naughty, and changes course. We can actually see what Picard see, as he observes the Phoenix on the viewscreen . . . it engages in a slow banking turn to starboard, at warp, the 'warp stars' streaking by.

"The Wounded"[TNG]

Also, by default, starships that can separate at warp (such as the Galaxy Class or the Prometheus Class from "Message in a Bottle"[VOY]) must maneuver at warp at least a bit in order to achieve separation (the Prometheus separated widely at warp). "Encounter at Farpoint[TNG] shows us the separation of a Galaxy Class ship at warp . . . the scene cuts to a frontal side view, and we see the saucer, expected to take a few minutes to drop out of warp (meaning it is still moving faster than light), with the stardrive section at similar speed below and behind. The stardrive section performs a hard starboard 180 degree turn. Though some argue that this scene doesn't use a warp starfield effect and thus did not occur at warp, we have seen the Enterprise at warp in normal starfields before . . . you've seen the scenes, with the ship zipping past in a normal starfield. Is it scientifically valid to be able to see a ship moving faster than light? No, but it is a Star Trek convention (albeit one they later dropped in DS9 and VOY), and with the dialog clearly indicating warp flight, it stands. Further, after the 180, the stardrive section is seen at warp, but the 180 degree turn does not feature the ship going back into warp (with the stretch and flash), because she didn't come out of it in the first place.(*) This turn-on-a-dime is almost Kirk's "warp pivot" move from "Elaan of Troyius"[TOS].

There are many other scenes which involve starships at warp changing course, though the actual event is not seen. One example is "The Ultimate Computer"[TOS], when the M-5 computer changes course to go after a sublight freighter (and, by the way, performs the warp strafing that Warsies claim is impossible). None of these scenes ever involve anything like the phrases "drop to impulse so we can change course", or even anything like the concept. Janeway, in "Human Error"[VOY], actually orders evasive maneuvers at warp. We see some idea of what these would look like when Odo, piloting the venerable old runabout Rio Grande, evades, jinks, and dodges around (and above) a Jem'Hadar attack fighter in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River"[DS9], finally destroying it.


The Voyager episode "Fury" is inconsistent with these examples. It is possible to rationalize it by saying that, all things being equal, it is best to maintain a linear course to prevent stress on the hull, but there are numerous examples to show that any hull stress must be marginal. (What the writers should have written is that the vacuoles were too densely packed to maneuver through, instead of making a throwaway line that contradicted canon fact.) After all, an old Constitution Class starship easily survived a *pivot* at warp speeds, which would presumably involve all sorts of ugly forces that would try to tear the ship into tiny fragments of its former self. A Galaxy Class stardrive section survived a high-warp turn with a turning radius of a few kilometers, at most. Therefore, simple turns simply aren't going to be that bad.

Combat at Warp and Warp Strafing

Combat between two faster-than-light vessels is nothing new, be it with phasers or torpedoes. We've seen it occur as often as we've seen ships maneuvering at warp, from the Suliban assault on the NX-Enterprise in "Shockwave, Pt. II"[ENT], to the aft torpedo firing from "Encounter at Farpoint"[TNG], to the beam weapon combat in "Treachery..."[DS9] and "Message in a Bottle"[VOY]. Last but not least, there's the forward-firing torpedo shot from Klingon ships pursuing the Excelsior in "Flashback"[VOY]. The only implication that FTL combat might cause trouble is from "Fallen Hero"[ENT], where Reed says that has not yet properly adapted the phase cannons to fire without disrupting the warp engines.

Combat between a warp-driven starship and a sublight vessel or target (a.k.a. "warp strafing") is a far more rare occurrence. After all, if you're in the midst of impulse combat and your opponent goes to warp to achieve the strafing advantage, it's hardly inconceivable that you'd zip to warp, likewise. In the case of targets restricted to sublight, however, warp strafing could provide a devastating advantage, in situations where it is compatible with one's goals.

We've seen a few examples of warp strafing in the canon. In "Elaan of Troyius"[TOS], the Enterprise's warp drive has been sabotaged. A Klingon battlecruiser makes several warp and impulse passes against the crippled Enterprise, scoring hits with every disruptor shot. Scotty performs a miracle, and Kirk waits for the right moment to surprise the Klingons with his newly-restored warp capability. After the final pass of the battlecruiser (which occurs at sublight), the Enterprise leaps into a warp two pivot, firing photon torpedoes against the battlecruiser. The Klingon ship is "badly damaged", and limps away. (The Klingon warp strafes are undeniable, but there is a possibility that the Klingon ship had jumped to warp after strafing the Enterprise that last time, though no mention of this is made on-screen.)

In "The Ultimate Computer"[TOS], the Enterprise, under the control of the M-5 computer, attacks the sub-light freighter Woden. The Woden is torpedoed by the Enterprise, which was moving at a stated speed of warp four.

Note: Some claim the vessel was warp-capable. However, there is no known Starfleet or Earth design of that era which lacked brutally obvious warp nacelles (even the Aurora had them in "Way to Eden"[TOS] in spite of all aesthetics, as did the Y-Class freighter seen in "Fortunate Son"[ENT], the Conestoga from "Terra Nova"[ENT], etc.). Further, the vessel seen on screen is of the old DY configuration, a la Khan's sublight sleeper ship. Further, she is designated as "slow-moving", which would make little sense if understood as anything but sublight, given that the Enterprise's speed at the time the comment was made was somewhere below warp three.

Some have claimed that photon torpedoes cannot be used for warp strafing, but this notion is absurd. Besides the fact that we've seen it done in "The Ultimate Computer" and almost certainly in "Elaan of Troyius", there's plenty of supporting evidence:

"Elaan of Troyius"[TOS], et al.:
Beam weapons may be used to attack sublight targets from a warp-driven ship. Those are unguided, point-and-shoot weapons . . . why should a guided torpedo suddenly be unable to do the same thing?

If they can point the ship and her phasers in the direction of the enemy, and achieve the zillionths-of-a-degree targeting capability necessary to hit the enemy from the ship with a beam, then there is no reason a guided torpedo fired in a similar fashion can't hit the target, especially given that the torp's odds will improve as she gets closer (and thus the target becomes larger and easier to hit).

"Journey to Babel"[TOS]:
Kirk evidently hoped to be able to hit the Orion vessel with phasers or torpedoes as the two ships passed. The Orion ship was moving at a stated speed of warp 8, though she was capable of faster speed. The Enterprise's speed is unknown.

Voyager plans to rescue Chakotay with a dangerous transporter technique: transport of a stationary target by a vessel passing at warp speed. Torres says she has done it before, presumably when part of the Maquis (which suggests, given their limited and out-of-date tech, that it isn't hard).

(Logically, accurately scanning and dematerializing a two-meter tall person while passing by at warp should be far, far harder than pinging a dozens- or hundreds-of-meters long starship with a torpedo.)

"Balance of Terror"[TOS]:
When running from the warp-speed Romulan plasma weapon, Kirk did not order a drop to sublight. If a warp weapon cannot hit a sublight target, this would have been an obvious move.

"The Changeling"[TOS]:
The Enterprise does battle with Nomad, a stationary one-meter target. Scotty diverts partial warp power to the shields, but the ship maintains "warp maneuvering power". This is lost prior to the firing of the torpedo (thereby making this *not* a direct example of torpedo strafing), but the fact that he chose to arm them while at warp (as opposed to the phasers) is quite telling.

When the Enterprise does fire, she shoots from a stated range of 90,000 kilometers.

(Note: There were a few seconds between this statement and the torpedo firing, during which point the Enterprise loses warp maneuvering power. However, another shot by Nomad (whose bolts have a stated speed of warp 15) takes a couple of seconds to reach the ship, meaning that 90,000 kilometers serves as a lower limit.)

From the ship, and assuming Nomad were a full one meter sphere instead of a slender one-meter tube, that's still a target merely 0.0000006366 degrees (0.00229 arc-seconds) in width:

           .5 A / D = tan (.5 (theta))
.5 1m / 90,000,000m = tan (.5 (theta))
  .5m / 90,000,000m = tan (.5 (theta))
          5.5555e-9 = tan (.5 (theta))
     tan (.5 theta) = 0.00000000555
           .5 theta = tan-1 (.00000000555)
           .5 theta = 3.18309e-7
              theta = 6.3661e-7
              theta = 0.0000006366 degrees

Note well, a 1.6 kilometer Imperial Star Destroyer will appear to be .00229 arc-seconds in width (broadside) at 144,000,000 kilometers. Assuming that a torpedo were fired at that range and was moving at twice the speed of light, this would give the torpedo 240 seconds to home in on the target. At 200c, the torpedo fired from that range would have 2.4 seconds to home in on the target. Given that we have seen torpedoes travel, by one approximation, at least 600,000,000 kilometers over the course of a couple of seconds at warp and successfully strike the target, this doesn't present a problem.

In short, there is nothing to suggest that warp strafing is impossible, and the fact that we have actually seen it with both phasers and torpedoes (not to mention knowing it can occur with transporters!) is the nail in the coffin of the idea that it can't be done.

Objections and Rebuttals

1."Encounter at Farpoint"[TNG]

(*) Warsies still try to claim that the Enterprise-D did not turn on a dime at warp in "Encounter at Farpoint"[TNG], based on the argument that a lack of warp stars is proof of non-warp speed. Therefore, I have made a further analysis of the episode as it played out:

In short, early TNG sometimes made the error of trying to show warp-driven ships at warp from a stationary camera position, and this stationary position would not have warp stars, even if the ship was at warp. For example, in this very episode, moments before the separation, the Enterprise is running from Q at high warp, but the chase is shown from a stationary camera position as two flybys without "warp stars", as you can see here: Capture
(Q Fireball warp flyby . . . no warp stars)

The claim is made that the stardrive section decelerated to impulse speeds, but this just isn't so. The ship was moving at a speed of at least warp 9.5, being chased by Q. Capture
(Viewscreen image of Q . . . warp stars)

Picard moves to the battle bridge with a plan to make good the escape of the saucer. Capture
(Crew arriving at battle bridge)

Just before Yar fires torpedoes in the hopes of blinding the Q at the moment of separation (dumb idea, but they didn't know he was omnipotent at the time), Picard tells Worf: "At the moment of separation, we'll reverse power just enough to get your saucer section out ahead and clear of us." Worf acknowledges. Capture
(Worf in the center seat)

We see the saucer separation, and we see the saucer appear to pull ahead by several dozen meters, just as Picard said. Capture
(Saucer Sep, tight shot on battle bridge exterior . . . warp stars) Capture
(Saucer Sep, wider shot of ventral saucer and forward engineering hull . . . warp stars) Capture
As you saw in that last shot, both sections were at warp speeds. With the saucer "out ahead and clear", the stardrive section turns to face the Q. The shot of the ship is from a stationary location, and we see the ship turn on a dime and go flying back toward the Q. When it does so, there is no "warp flash" of the ship going back into warp. Why? Because it never dropped out of warp to begin with. Capture
(Stardrive section has begun its turn, saucer visible continuing on course) Capture
(Stardrive section continuing turn) Capture
(Stardrive section continuing turn, nice close shot) Capture
(Distant shot of Stardrive headed away)

There is then a moment's reaction shot of Picard, lasting about three seconds. It should be noted that this is not long enough to allow for the special effect of the ship going into warp that you see at the end of the opening credits. When this reaction shot is over, there is a mobile (with warp stars) shot of the stardrive moving at warp. Capture
(Stardrive at warp)

Shortly thereafter, Picard orders the ship to come to a stop. He says "reverse power", then Data acknowledges: "Reverse power, decelerating." The deceleration of the stardrive section from warp speeds takes six seconds... we see the stars slow from "warp stars" to normal impulse-speed "stars" on the bridge. Capture
(E-D Stardrive has slowed to impulse)

That is the nail in the coffin of the "they dropped out of warp to turn" idea, beyond the simple fact of the way warp was portrayed in early TNG. The fact that the ship took six seconds to drop out of warp with reverse power means that the ship could not have dropped to impulse to make the hard starboard turn. It also means that the saucer section, which could not have reversed warp power, was still at warp in that shot.

2."Elaan of Troyius"[TOS]

Some Warsies have tried to claim that the Enterprise was not, in fact, warp-strafed by the Klingons in "Elaan of Troyius"[TOS]. Their reasoning involves the fact that at times, Sulu called out ranges in kilometers, and a starship at lightspeed could not have been at the slow speeds indicated by those ranges.

It is true that the Klingon ship wasn't always at warp, but there is clear evidence that at other times, it was. Take a look at the breakdown of the attack runs on the Enterprise:

First Pass:
Not a warp strafe
The Klingon ship approached at warp six, then apparently slowed down, allowing Sulu to make small incremental range callouts of about 10,000 kilometers per second. The Klingons did not fire, hoping the Enterprise would go to warp and blow herself to bits with the engines rigged.

(Elaan goes to sickbay. Changes clothes. Returns wearing dilithium necklace.)

Second Pass:
Not a warp strafe
The Klingon ship approached at sublight from 500,000 kilometers. Ten seconds later, they were at 300,000 kilometers, suggesting a speed of roughly 20,000 kilometers per second. Within a second of Sulu saying 100,000 kilometers, they fired, hitting the ship.

(Kirk orders Sulu to keep the forward shields to the Klingons.)

Third Pass:
Warp Strafe
The Klingon ship approached at a speed which Spock read as "greater than warp seven". Sulu did not call out ranges this time out. Kirk ordered Sulu to turn hard over as the Klingons approached, saying "he's going for our flank." The external shot showed the ship slowly drifting and turning to port. They were hit, apparently shot in the butt. The ship shakes.

(Possible extra pass here, since Spock says, a few seconds after the 3rd pass, "he passed us again, damage to our number four shield". But, no shaking happens. I can't imagine why Spock would say they'd been passed again, though, if everybody knew that. Another pass at this point would suggest a second warp strafing run, or else some impressive impulse maneuvering.)

(Dilithium found in Elaan's necklace.)

Fourth Pass:
Warp Strafe Likely
This attack run was given neither a range nor a speed, but it was clear that the Klingons were gunning for the number four shield, and the last time they were aiming for what Kirk was protecting, they warp strafed. Also, there is no indication that they slowed from the last run. Kirk orders Sulu hard to port, and the Enterprise turns very quickly, but they are still hit. Shields hold.

(Number four shield collapses. Impulse power at 31 percent. (Because of another shake-free strafe?) Kirk tries to stall for time while Scotty and Spock try to get the engines back online.

Fifth Pass:
Not a warp strafe
The Enterprise gets warp maneuvering power back online, Kirk plans to pivot at warp two and fire torpedoes. Sulu calls out the ranges, starting at 100,000 kilometers. Kirk orders Chekov to hold fire until minimum range. The Klingons pass, shooting just as shields are brought to full power. The Enterprise jumps to warp two and pivots (using the drifting-left shot from earlier, but much faster) and fires torpedoes, hitting the forward port areas of the Klingon ship. The Klingons withdraw.

As you can see, there was at least one, almost certainly two, and possibly three or four Klingon warp strafes in this episode. Further, if the Klingons did not accelerate to warp after what I call the 5th pass, then the Enterprise was at warp and warp-strafed them back.

Rabid Warsies such as Wayne Poe also try to claim that the Klingon ship wasn't warp strafing because there was no warp starfield effect. However, this is silly, since TOS was highly inconsistent with its use of starfield motion. If you watch "Elaan of Troyius", you'll see fast, slow, and medium-speed star motions all used in reference to both warp and impulse, because there was no dedicated, consistently-used TOS warp effect.

For a full episode breakdown, click here.

3.Photorps routinely miss targets at ranges of just a few kilometers.

This claim is simply false. So far as I know off the top of my head, the only examples of torpedo misses are:

"Journey to Babel"[TOS], in which the Enterprise fires on and repeatedly misses a target which is passing them at ludicrous warp speeds.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where the starship Reliant, earlier referred to as having damage to her photon controls, misses the Enterprise by a scant few meters, then makes a wide miss later when her sensors are almost totally obscured by the nebula.

"Genesis"[TNG], explicitly referred to as a guidance error of Worf's new torpedo guidance system.

"Hope and Fear"[VOY], during Voyager's first experience in the slipstream (which hardly constitutes a normal example).

"Way of the Warrior"[DS9], where groups of torpedoes "missed" in the exact same directions . . . and we know there were plenty of off-screen targets (as per the torpedo chase shot).

3a. But we couldn't see any ships in that direction.

Kira: "Eight Klingon ships destroyed. Several heavily damaged."

Eight Klingon starships were not seen to be hit during the firing scene she reports about. More weapons firings than the ones seen in that scene were not observed. Ergo, more were hit, but were not seen being hit, by the weapons we saw fired. Given the torpedo chase shot (a trailing view from behind a torpedo in-flight), we know there were ships beyond other ships, outside visual range.

4. Just because the ship can target an object or a person's molecules at warp, it doesn't mean the torpedo can guide itself toward a target in the same way.

The weapons don't need the capability if the ship has it, though it would be helpful. The reverse is also true. It would have to be proven that neither the ship nor the weapon is capable of that level of targeting, but this is impossible . . . we know at least one is (i.e. the transporter example), and we know from the prior examples of torpedo warp strafing that one or the other has been the case for a long time, and is sufficient.

We don't know if the torpedoes already seen to be used for warp strafing were fired dumb, set along a pre-programmed course, given telemetry updates from the ship, or guided themselves in. Given the targeting ability already displayed in sublight and FTL, however, one of the latter two is most likely. And, given Worf's comments about the torpedo's onboard guidance system in "Genesis"[TNG] and Timicin's guidance program in "Half a Life"[TNG], it's likely the last option.

Special thanks to Graham Kennedy for the "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" information and the screencaps from "The Wounded"[TNG]

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