This entry is for reference purposes only. The Star Trek name, fictional characters, and all references to phasers remains the copyright of CBS Paramount Television.
The phaser – the name is derived from PHASed Energy Rectification – is a family of futuristic beamed-energy devices in Star Trek that replaced the primitive weapons of a bygone era which fired a solid projectile such as a bullet; weapons of this type were referred to as 'guns'. Although certainly essential as a means of personal defence, phasers have other beneficial uses in a hostile environment as we shall see later.
The energy beam of phasers of all types includes a visible light component, usually red or orange in colour, to enable the user to see where the energy is impacting the object being fired at. A control enables the user to vary the width of the beam to suit the application to which the phaser is being used.
Types of Phaser
There are three types of hand phaser: type-1, type-2 and type-3:
The type-1 phaser fits in the palm of a hand or may be carried in a pocket and thus at least to some extent concealed — walking into a meeting with an Ambassador while carrying a visible weapon is probably not a sensible ploy in diplomatic terms. It has limited, albeit still lethal, capabilities.
The type-2 phaser is a pistol-like device, larger and significantly more powerful than a type-1 unit. It is always either carried or held in a holster. Early-model type-2 phasers were actually a type-1 phaser clipped into an extender module with a hand-grip handle, and provided at least double the power capability of a type-1. Later models were entirely separate units.
The type-3 phaser is a rifle and is the most powerful weapon of the family. It is however not standard issue, and may be drawn from the armoury only on specific instruction from a senior officer prior to joining a landing party. The type-2 units are so effective that type-3 phaser rifles are rarely required.
Interestingly, the type-2 phasers are more popular with a number of ship's personnel, not because of their greater fire power, but because the pistol-like design – resembling the 'guns' mentioned earlier – looked more threatening and more likely to deter a potential attacker.
The energy output level of a phaser may be set to one of a number of different power levels, classified as 'stun' settings, 'heat' settings and 'disrupt' settings. 'Stun' settings are used to temporarily disable a life-form for between five minutes and one hour. 'Heat' settings are used to deposit energy into a solid object, thereby causing it to heat up. A useful application of this is to heat a large rock, enabling personnel in an emergency to keep warm in very cold environments – several phasers may be fired at the same object to increase this effect. The higher 'heat' settings can be used to cut open solid objects. 'Disrupt' settings are used to completely destroy or even vaporise an object. Naturally the higher the setting, the more energy is used. All phasers have power-packs that hold a finite amount of energy – the more they are used, the quicker they will discharge. This limits their operational life between charges1.
Safety aboard any ship is of paramount importance and Starfleet ships are no exception. Safety systems link all phasers to the ship's computers. These interlocks prevent phasers from being fired at power levels above stun whilst aboard. They can also prevent the phaser being fired by anyone other than the person it has been issued to.
We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill
At one point the Borg learned how to adapt themselves to the frequency of the phaser's energy beam, nullifying its effect. Starfleet weapon developers countered this with new models that constantly vary the output frequency in a pseudo-random manner.
A Phaser Tale
'The Most Toys'
Lt Commander Data was abducted by Kivas Fajo, a Zibalian collector of unique things such as Vincent van Gogh's painting The Starry Night, and a lapling, which was the very last living specimen of its (previously thought extinct) species. Data being the only one of his kind (except for his sometime cognitive brother Lore) was an object of pride for Fajo, who wasted no time arranging to show him off to fellow traders.
Data was kept in a locked room with the rest of the prized collection, under threat of disruption by an (outlawed) phaser weapon. Fajo instructed his slave Varria to guard Data while he entertained his dinner guests, but she ended up being persuaded to help Data escape. Her punishment was being annihilated by a disrupter blast of Fajo's illegal gun. Data had been programmed to do no harm but he fired the dropped disruptor at Fajo just as he was beamed away by the Transporter Chief, who reported that he was able to neutralise the blast before materialisation. When Data beamed back on board and Riker enquired about the firing of the illegal weapon, Data stated that 'something must have happened during transport'.
Type-4 phasers are large and portable, designed to be fitted to unarmed shuttlecraft when extra firepower is required. For example, when Starfleet's armada was practically wiped out by the Borg at Wolf 359, just about anything that could fly was armed and launched into battle against the Borg Cubes.
The starship's main phaser is classified as a type-10. The Galaxy class USS Enterprise-D has a phaser bank which is located under the saucer section of the ship. It has a range of up to 300,000km, and can easily operate from orbit to a planet's surface; it can target individual buildings on the surface. Like hand phasers it has settings from stun to disintegrate. It can only be used when the ship is travelling at sub-light speed.
The Phaser Range
The Phaser Range was a recreational and training facility on the Enterprise-D. Several regular characters honed their shooting skills in the darkened room, firing at random holographic targets. The exercise could be conducted alone or with an opponent to provide some competition. People who would not normally interact, like Lt Worf and Guinan, shared a session, with the much-more experienced El-Aurian soundly beating the Klingon security officer. Other participants, like Commander Riker and his father, laid ghosts of the past to rest during their sparring session.