Warp Stafing.

Within this page, there are references made to the various Star Trek technical manuals. For an explanation of the technical manuals position in the Star Trek universe, look at this defintion of canon. Since warp strafing is a complex and hotly debated issue, let's start with a statement of what is not contested by either side in this debate:- Federation Starships can safely fly at FTL speeds up to and above 1500 times the speed of light (warp 9). The E-D is capable of sub-light speeds up to 0.92c (TNG:TM p 2). Starships at impulse speeds can target other ships at impulse speed. Starships at warp speed can target other ships at warp speed. Photon torpedoes are capable of both FTL and STL speeds, depending on the speed of the firing platform (TNG:TM p 129). This means that if the firing ship is at warp, the torpedo can go to warp. If the firing ship is at impulse, the torpedo is limited to impulse. There have been some occasions where a torpedo fired from impulse has gone to warp, but these occasions are rare and normally involve a modified torpedo. Federation ships and torpedoes have FTL sensors and computers that process at FTL speeds (DS9:TM p85-86). The new ACB Jacketed phasers travel at relative FTL speeds, and are therefore now of some use in relative FTL combat. We have seen Voyager and other ships (even the much older Enterprise NX-01) use phasers at warp speeds. Okay, so that what's agreed by all sides. The first point to be clear on, is that there is no evidence in any of the series, or any of the movies, that says that ships cannot attack impulse targets from warp. None! The writers have never said that it is impossible. Never! However, because it is potentially a powerful tactic, the debate has raged strongly.
The "relative speed" argument! According to the Next Generation Technical Manual, a torpedo's velocity is proportional to the velocity of the launch vehicle. The torpedo will fire at a speed that is 175% of the velocity of the launch vehicle's speed. This velocity is attained by getting a 'boost' from the launch vehicle's warp field. The more powerful the warp field, the more powerful the boost. In other words, if the launch vehicle is traveling at light speed (300,000km/sec), and the torpedo is fired directly forward, the torpedo will travel at 1.75 light speed (525,000km/sec). Whilst it is never clearly stated, it is assumed that if a torpedo is fired backwards, it's speed would be 75% of the launch vehicles in the opposite direction. This would mean that if fired at light speed frommthe aft launcher, from the perspective of the ship, the torpedo would head away at 225,000km/sec. However, from the perspective of an external stationary observer, it would be traveling at 75,000km/sec (300,000km - 225,000km) in the direction of the ships flight. In the DS9 technical manual a torpedoes maximum range was stated to be 4.05 million kilometers. Therefore, a torpedo fired at light speed would travel at 525,000km/sec, and would cover that distance in just 7.7 seconds. Not a problem. However, people have argued that if the starship is at a higher warp speed, the torpedo would have a major problem. Look at it this way. If the firing ship is traveling at 1000 times the speed of light, the torpedo will fire at 1750 times the speed of light. That means it would cover 4.05 million km in just 0.77 seconds. Why is this a problem? Well, in The Next Generation Technical Manual, it says that a torpedo takes 1.02 seconds to arm itself. In this scenario, the torpedo would hit the target before it was armed. Luckily however, that isn't a major problem. Firstly, the "warhead" of the torpedo is made up of antimatter. If antimatter ever touches normal matter, it will explode (this is standard physics). If the torpedo hits a target, even if is not armed, the containment field holding the antimatter will rupture. Once the antimatter comes into contact with any matter (either the remains of the torpedo or the target ship itself), it WILL explode. The explosion may not be quite as powerful as a normal torpedo explosion, but it will happen. Secondly, we have seen that torpedoes fired at high warp, seem to have a much longer range than that stated in the technical manuals. In the Voyager episode "Flashback" we see Klingon ships fire torpedoes at high warp speeds at the USS Excelsior which is traveling at its top speed. The torpedoes are fired from beyond visual range, and appear from behind the Excelsior, rapidly overhauling her. They go from being out of sight (the launching ship is too far away to be seen), to striking the ship in around 2 seconds. Since we know the flight time of the torpedo, it is a simple matter to work out how far it travelled if we know how fast it was going. Now I'm not sure what the top speed of the Excelsior was (Sulu had ordered maximum warp), but I doubt that it was less than warp 8. That was the top speed of the old Enterprise, and the Excelsior was supposed to be faster. The torpedoes must have been traveling faster than the Excelsior in order to catch it. Since they also approached from an angle, the speed should have been greater again. However, lets not get carried away, so let's assume that the torpedoes were only traveling at warp 8. Warp 8 is 1024 times the speed of light, so let's be generous again, and round it down to just 1000c to makes things simple and give us a very generous lower limit. We know that at 1000c, the torpedo travels about 300,000,000km every second, and therefore would have covered about 600,000,000km in the two seconds of flight that we see. Of course, since the torpedoes came from an unseen ship, they could have been traveling much further than that. However, we cannot know for certain how far they traveled before we saw them, so let's be very conservative, and just count what we actually saw. The confirmed effective (all three torpedoes DID hit) range is therefore at least 600 million km when fired from warp. Much greater than the stated 4 million km range in the DS9:TM. I know what you're thinking. "Those were Klingon torpedoes, not Federation ones". Now personally I doubt that the Klingons have that much of an advantage over the Federation (especially since the events occurred decades before the latest Star Trek episodes are set). However just in case, what we need is an example of modern Federation torpedoes. Luckily we have one. In Voyager:Dreadnought, we see the USS Voyager fire mark VI photons at the Dreadnought missile (it is clearly stated that the torps are mark VI, so no alien modifications here). The stated speed of Dreadnought (they state it twice so there is NO argument on this one either) is warp nine (ie 1516c). The flight time is about 1.5 seconds, so even if we are generous and say that the torp was only traveling as fast as Dreadnought, AND we round it down to just 1500c, the distance traveled by the torp will still be 675,000,000km. Even if we were even more generous still, and say that there was just 1 second of flight time (minimum needed for arming), the distance would still be 450,000,000km. In this example the all torps hit, so this must be effective range too! This pretty much confirms the range as seen in Flashback, and shows that a Federation starship can fire from far enough away, to make the 1 second arming time a non issue. And finally, one would speculate that being hit by a two meter long, two hundred and fifty kilogram object, traveling at 525,000,000 kilometers a second, would be enough, even without the warhead explosion, to ruin your whole day!
The targeting argument! Lacking any canon or official proof to refute the warp-strafing tactic, the main argument often used is that given the speeds involved, targeting would be impossible. This is a flawed argument since it assumes that ST technology is no more advanced than our own. After all, the Federation has warp drive, which is clearly not possible for us. Why should they also not be able to do other things that we currently find impossible. Anyway, let's leave that aside and concentrate on the argument. What is targeting? Basically it is locating an objects current position, and also it's speed and flight-path. With that information, you can project where the target will be at a given time. Since the Enterprise doesn't generally collide with other planets, ships or asteroids even when at warp speeds, it is logical to assume that it can do all three of the tasks above. Since we have seen the Enterprise and other ships successfully target enemy ships at warp speeds, it is safe to assume that they can do those tasks rather quickly. After all, we know that both torpedoes and starships have Faster than light (FTL) sensors and computers designed for combat at FTL speeds. "Each main computer core incorporates a series of miniature subspace field generators. This permits the transmission and processing of optical data within the core at rates significantly exceeding light speed. Core elements are based on faster than light nanoprocessor units" (TNG:TM p 49) "...targeting data is gathered from the ships various sensor systems and processed at faster than light speeds in the main computers" (TNG:TM p130) "The torpedo is controlled by the on-board computer and sensor array. The main processor for the computer is a bio-neural gel cylinder surrounded by a low level warp field for faster than light computations and a low level thoron web to block threat force countermeasure radiation." (DS9:TM p88). "The majority of instruments in the long range array are active scan subspace devices which permit information gathering at speeds greatly exceeding that of light" (TNG:TM p111) More proof required? The DS9:TM states that "....if the torpedo is moving at warp and the target makes a drop to impulse the torpedo will NOT make a commensurate drop to impulse, since it cannot re-establish it's warp sustainer field. In this case it would detonate on impact or at closest approach using data from the proximity sensors and three axis relative velocity algorithms." Therefore, if fired at warp, the torpedo IS capable of guiding itself to an impact (or close enough for the proximity trigger), if the target drops to impulse. Faced with this evidence, the usual argument is to say that yes, the torpedo can do this if the target drops to impulse speed, but that the firing ship would not be able to get a target lock if the target ship was already at impulse speeds. In effect, this is saying that a starship has less effective computers and sensors than a torpedo. Logically of course, it is reasonable to assume that a starship has better and faster computers and sensors than a lowly torpedo. Starships have shown in the past that they are capable of very accurate targeting, and have even targeted specific sections of ships (i.e. weapons and engines etc) in many episodes. Logically therefore, if a torpedo can successfully make an attack from warp to impulse, it follows that so could a starship. This is supported by the occasions where warp ramming has been discussed on the show (i.e. TNG:Best of both Worlds II & Star Trek: First Contact). In the case of warp ramming, the starship would be effectively performing the same job as a torpedo. That is to say, guiding itself to an impact on the impulse target. This is further supported by the numerous cases where a starship has dropped from warp and come to a complete stop next to another ship in the blink of an eye In the case of The Next Generation episode "Descent", the Enterprise went from high warp to a standstill on the very edge of a planet's atmosphere. Furthermore, we know that a starship can go back to warp just as quickly. events in Star Trek V (where the Enterprise goes to warp to avoid a torpedo) and various other episodes show that the transition to warp can be very fast indeed when required. We know from TNG:The Last Outpost, that the time to go from slow reverse impulse to top warp power is just .300 milliseconds. That is very fast indeed! Therefore, if the ship is capable of guiding itself either to a very close rendezvous, or indeed to an impact, with an impulse target, it logically follows that it must be able to target it accurately. If it can target it, then it can launch a torpedo at it. Once launched, the torpedo can either be guide itself to impact(as shown in the quote from the DS9:TM), or be guided to impact from the ship (which we know can do the job!). The TNG:TM (p130) confirms this by saying... "Since photons are classed as semi-autonomous weapons, initial firing direction is not a major concern. When required, rapid trajectory changes may be executed following launch to achieve target acquisition, cruise tracking and terminal guidance." In other words, torpedoes will continue track the target, and can and will adjust their course all the way in if necessary, until they impact. Of course, it can be clearly shown that starships do have the ability to target impulse speed objects at high warp. All starships have a deflector system that is designed to protect the ship from impacts with small asteroids and interstellar dust particles. At very high speeds (i.e. over 1500 times light speed), even a speck of dust could be dangerous. The starship's protection comes in two systems. The first is a set of five, nested parabolic shields that are projected two kilometers ahead of the ship. These shields are capable of dealing with any "submicron particles". However, it is the second system that interests us. The second system is:- "...a powerful tractor/deflector that sweeps thousands of kilometers ahead of the ship, pushing aside larger objects that present a collision hazard." TNG:TM p 87 You can see the deflector beam in this diagram reproduced from page 88 of the technical manual. This system is described further as:- "Higher sub-light velocities require the use of precision aimed deflector beams directed at specific targets in the projected flight path." TNG:TM p 46 "...warp velocities exceeding warp 8 require the use of two deflector generators operating in phase sync, and velocities greater than warp 9.2 require all three deflector generators." TNG:TM p 88 Therefore, we see that even at high warp speeds (over 1500 times light speed) the Enterprise is capable of hitting particle-sized targets with "precision aimed deflector beams." If the Enterprise can hit objects as small as particles at that speed, does it make sense that it cannot target an Imperial Star Destroyer than is about 1.6 kilometers long? The proof seems clear that targeting is not only possible, but is done regularly.
The "We haven't seen it done, therefore it can't be done." argument. (Also known as the "La la la...I can't hear you" argument.) This is the final argument usually used, since there is NO canon or official evidence to directly disprove the tactic. It is a debatable point to decide where the burden of proof rests. Since so much proof has been shown to support warp strafing, should we have to find more, or should it's detractors have to supply at least some proof of their own? However, lets go that extra mile and examine reasons why we do not see this tactic used more often? It is of course impossible to give reasons for every occurrence, just as it is impossible to explain every tactical decision in real military history. However there are a number of reasons why it might not be used in every case:- Firstly, since almost all ships in Star Trek possess warp drive, the tactic would not generally be effective. It would not work against a ship that had warp and could, at the press of a button, just accelerate away at warp speeds. In very few cases are there attacks on targets limited to impulse, and pretty much all other those case ARE used as examples of warp strafing. Secondly, in the majority of cases of attacks against DS9 (a stationary target), it was clear that the enemy did not want to destroy the station, merely capture it. Phasers are far more "precise" weapons than torpedoes. A torpedo explodes with a force of at around 64 megatons, and canon evidence shows that the yield might well be up to the gigaton range. Phasers would therefore be the weapons of choice, and they are generally impulse speed weapons. This might therefore preclude a warp speed attack. Thirdly, in many cases, battles take place near planets and other gravity wells, which have been shown to interfere adversely with warp drive. If this were the case, then it might not be an advisable tactic. This would explain the examples of the power generator asteroids in DS9 (they were in orbit of a planet), and maybe even DS9, since we know that the wormhole exerts gravitational effects on the surrounding region of space. To further discredit this argument, we can show examples where warp to impulse attacks 'are' performed:- The first example occurs in the episode, "The Ultimate Computer". The Enterprise is put under the control of a computer system called M5. Inevitably, the computer malfunctions and attacks various ships. One of the ships that are attacked is an old DY-100 class ore freighter called SS Woden. The DY-100 class has NO warp drive, and even it's sub-light drive system is very primitive since it uses old nuclear engines (ref ST:Encyclopedia). They are generally used as interplanetary craft, but they have been used for interstellar travel by fitting cryogenic "sleeper" systems to allow the crew to survive the long sub-light travel between stars (ref ST:Encyclopedia). When the Enterprise attacks the Woden, it is clearly stated that the Woden is a "...large, slow vessel". It is also clearly stated that the Enterprise is initially at warp three, and then later accelerates to warp four to attack. Torpedoes are fired and the Woden is destroyed. A clear case of a warp-impulse attack! Secondly, the asteroid attack scene in the film Star Trek, The Motion Picture (note, there are specific times given in this scene, but since the wormhole effect causes time to dilate, they cannot be considered reliable guides). The Enterprise achieves warp 1, but then it's engines malfunction, and a wormhole effect is formed (note, this is not the same as the wormhole from DS9). The ship cannot slow to impulse speeds or turn away because the wormhole effect has locked the helm. Ahead of the ship is an asteroid that the ship will hit before helm control can be regained. The Enterprise fires a torpedo, and destroys the asteroid. Only after it is destroyed, does the Enterprise slow to impulse. It is then stated that they have dropped to 0.8c. The visuals support this clearly. When the Enterprise is at warp 1, we clearly see the stars flying past the ships in the characteristic warp effect. When the wormhole effect formed, stars can still be seen flying past showing the ship to still be at warp. When the ship fires the torpedo, we can clearly see that stars are still flying past the ship. Only when the asteroid is destroyed and the ship slows to impulse, do the stars appear to be stationary. Asteroids are natural phenomena, and cannot travel at faster than light speeds. Therefore, the Enterprise at warp MUST have successfully fired on a target traveling at slower than light speeds. A third example comes from the episode, "Balance of Terror". The Enterprise is fighting a Romulan ship, with a powerful weapon that has destroyed a number of Federation bases. The Romulan ship is limited to "simple impulse". This is clearly stated in the episode and supporting official material. The Romulans are running back to the safety of the neutral zone, when the Enterprise arrives. Just before the Romulan ship enters the neutral zone, Kirk orders "Full ahead Mr Sulu, maximum warp". At no point after this, do we hear Kirk order the ship to slow down. In fact, the only orders we hear are to prepare weapons, and to fire etc. When we see the Enterprise firing, we can also clearly see stars flying by, which is the effect we normally see when the Enterprise is at warp speeds. Therefore, Kirk's order and the on screen visuals agree that the Enterprise is at warp when it fires. If as the episode clearly states, the Romulan ship is not capable of warp this must be a warp to impulse attack. There has been some debate as to whether the ship did have an FTL drive, but was just powered by impulse power. There are arguments both ways with this. Firstly, when Scotty says they have simple impulse power, he is directly responding to Kirk's question "Can we catch them?". In other words, his impulse power comment refers directly to the ships speed. However, we also know that somehow, the Romulans were able to cross interstellar distances. It is possible that impulse drive can perform limited FTL speeds. Maybe the Romulan ship was the futuristic equivelent of a modern light missile boat. It carries a heavy punch, but requires transport to and from the war zone. Maybe there was a Romulan 'tug' waiting for it. We just don't know. Clearly the intention of the writers was for the ship to be incapable of FTL speeds on its own. A final example can be found in the oft quoted, "Elaan of Troyius" episode. The Enterprise's warp drive is sabotaged with a bomb that will explode if it goes to warp. The ship comes under attack from a Klingon warship that makes repeated warp speed attack runs. This episode is replete with quotes about the superiority of a warp drive starship over one limited to impulse: - "Mr Sulu, standby to make your maneuvers smartly, she'll be sluggish on response" - Kirk commenting on the response speed of a ship limited to impulse over one with warp drive. "Manoeuvre? Aye, we can wallow like a garbage scow against a warp driven starship." - Scotty commenting on the maneuvering ability of the ship at impulse compared to the ship at warp. "She won't respond fast enough on impulse" - Sulu apologizing for not being able to protect a damaged deflector from the warp speed Klingon ship. When the Klingon makes it's first run, Spock says that it's speed is "..better than warp six". We never hear any report that the speed was reduced. The Klingon ship does not fire on the first attack run, since it was merely trying to get the Enterprise to go to warp, and thus to blow itself up. However, this does ask an important question. Why, if the Klingon could not attack from warp, would the Enterprise want to accelerate to warp speeds? After all, if the anti warp strafing argument was correct, and no attack could be made from warp, the Enterprise would be perfectly safe at impulse speed. The only logical answer is that the Enterprise was in danger, and that is only possible if the Klingons could attack at warp. If the Klingons had to slow down to attack, then everything would be even. Kirk obviously feels that the Enterprise needs warp speed to adequately defend itself. On another attack run, Spock says that the Klingon's speed is "..better than warp seven". Again, we never hear of any reduction of speed. In fact, the Klingon ship fires mere seconds after Spock makes this speed report. This would leave very little time for the Klingon ship to slow to impulse, target and fire. The detractors often argue that Sulu counts down the range, and that the range drops too slowly for the ship to be at warp. There are two problems with this. Firstly, even if the range did drop slowly, this can be explained. We do not know whether the Klingon ship was heading directly at the Enterprise. All we know is that Sulu was describing the range to a point in space, not the closing speed, or necessarily even the range to the Klingon, or even the actual speed of the two ships. What if Sulu was estimating the Enterprise's range to the attack point? What if the Klingon ship was circling the Enterprise and spiralling inwards, then the range reduction could be quite slow, but the Klingon ship could still be traveling quite fast. The advantage that the Klingon commander would gain from this maneuver is that their torpedoes would travel up to 75% faster than the firing ship, and would therefore be impossible for the Enterprise to avoid (as was shown in the episode). The Enterprise's torpedoes however would be limited to sub-light speed, and could not hope to catch the warp speed Klingon ship. Since we know that torpedoes are not limited to firing at targets directly ahead (TNG:TM p 130) this tactic could work quite well. Secondly, the people who use this argument convieniently forget that Mr Spock is also talking in this scene, and he is clearly stating the speed of the Klingon ship. Who should we trust more? Mr Spock, who is renowned for knowledge, scientific ability and commitment to precision when making reports, or Mr Sulu? I'll leave you to decide who you would trust. Finally, it should be noted that Sulu only speaks in the first attack. In the other attacks, especially the "warp seven" attack, Sulu doesn't speak, but Spock continues to state the Klingon speed, saying they are "..better than warp seven". Summary. We have shown that there is no evidence whatsoever in either canon or official Star Trek sources that say that a warp to impulse attack is impossible. We have clearly shown that ST targeting technology is not only capable of hitting targets from warp, but also that it does so regularly with the navigational deflector. We have shown that Federation weapon systems possess the necessary range, and computational capacity to successfully make a sucessful warp to impulse attack. Finally, we have shown FOUR examples of the tactic actually being used. Therefore, warp strafing MUST be possible.

Click for main page

Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!