The phaser is the standard Federation beam weapon system.1 The Federation divides weapons into Type classifications; a Type 1 phaser is a small weapon which fits into the palm of the hand, a Type 2 is a larger hand-held variant2, while a Type 3 is a rifle style weapon.3 Phaser hand weapons came into service c.2260, replacing the laser pistols then in service.4 Larger version had been in service on board Starships for at least ten years before this.5 Phaser is an acronym for PHASed Energy Rectification, a term which referred to the original process by which stored or supplied energy was converted to another form for release toward the target without any need for an intermediate energy transformation. Although this term is something of a holdover, it remains true in modern phaser systems.6
Phaser energy is released by the rapid nadion effect. Rapid nadions are short lived subatomic particles which can liberate and transfer strong nuclear forces within a class of crystals called fushigi-no-umi.6
Phasers have various distinct effects on the target. At low settings the beam causes pain and loss of consciousness in most beings.7 At higher levels a great deal of thermal energy is imparted to the target, causing significant heating - phasers can heat rock to 8,000oC.7 Phasers can also be set to nuclear disruption5, and phaser beams can carry physical objects such as nanoprobes.8 Phaser weapons can be set to fire narrow beams9, wide beams10, long pulses11, or short pulses - the latter can even be set to proximity blast if required.12 Federation phaser weapons are enourmously powerful - even a small hand unit is capable of blasting the whole side off a building.13Various models have been used over the years; several designs allow a Type 1 unit to be plugged into a handgrip to form the Type 2.7 In early models the large phasers carried by starships were mounted as single element weapons, known as a phaser bank.14 More modern weapons group weapons into multi-element arrays. These use force coupling to allow the energy of one emitter to be transferred almost instantly to another - a process which can be repeated along arrays of almost limitless size.6 The effects of a Federation Type 1, 2 and 3 weapons are according to a 16 level scale. Settings 1-3 cover stun effects; at levels higher than 7 the majority of phaser energy is in the form of nuclear disruption. A large portion of the target is simultaneously vaporized and transitioned out of the continuum, a process which is instantly fatal. The higher power settings available with Type 3 phasers (setting 9+) cause severe damage over a wide area. These settings are rarely used because of the relatively high power consumption; a single setting 10 discharge uses more than twenty five times as much energy as a setting 7 discharge, while a setting 16 discharge uses over three hundred and fifteen times as much.15
This is a small hand unit, approximately the size of a pack of cards.16 They can fire up to Setting 817, which causes total vaporization of humanoids as 50% of affected matter transitions out of the continuum.18
This is a larger hand unit. Early models of the type 2 phaser used a type 1 phaser clipped into a pistol grip7, but modern weapons seem to have little in common with the smaller model.19 The modern type 2 phaser can fire up to setting 1620, which causes the destruction of some 3,900 metric tons of rock per 0.28 second discharge.21
The type 3 is a rifle version of the phaser weapon. The standard model as used in the mid 2360s used a somewhat similar ""business end"" as the type 2 then in service.20 It had 16 beam settings, with a fully autonomous recharge system. The weapon was gyrostabilised and had multiple target acquisition capability.22 Compared to the type 2 the weapon had a 50% greater energy reserve, but was no more powerful.23
By 2373 the type 3 had been fitted with a modified targeting unit.24
Compression Phaser Rifle : The compression phaser rifle was in service in the early 2370s.25 When the Dominion threat became urgent in late 2370, Starfleet decided to issue its forces with a new class of heavy rifles to increase the firepower available to them. The Modern Phaser Rifle project would evaluate two competing designs, the Heavy phaser rifle and the Compression phaser rifle. Both would be rushed into service as fast as possible.
The Compression rifle concentrated on simplicity. The LiCu 521 discharge crystal was doped with arsenic atoms and trisilinate molecules in order to restrict the phaser energy discharge. The doping materials diverted a small part of the discharging energy to re-establish the charge barrier between the discharge crystal and the Sarium kelleride power crystal, limiting or compressing the beam to a maximum of 200 picoseconds of firing. This would fire the entire energy discharge in a beam of only 6 centimetres length, greatly increasing the intensity of the energy and so enhancing the effect on the target.
Although it was by far the simpler of the two weapons, great difficulties were encountered during the development of the compression rifle. Most of these centred around thermal damage to the discharge crystal resulting from the very high energy intensities flowing through it. Average firing lifetime of an emitter crystal in the first model developed was only 9.6 nanoseconds - 48 discharges - a far from acceptable figure. Redesign of the shape of the emitter boosted this figure to 28 nanoseconds, still not sufficient for a field weapon. The solution arrived at was to install two high capacity cooling systems, one mounted on either side of the rifle. This boosted the emitter crystals lifetime to 600 nanoseconds, or 3,000 discharges. Starfleet deemed this just about acceptable and rushed the compression rifle into limited service.
The weapon was never satisfactory - although the cooling systems worked reasonably well they made the weapon heavy and difficult to use properly at long ranges. The emitter crystal was also rather sensitive to adverse environmental conditions, and if not treated carefully cracking could occur - a breakdown which would lead to a thermal explosion on the next discharge. Although it was issued to some ground forces units and to the four units of the Intrepid class Starship then in service, several thermal explosion accidents forced Starfleet to withdraw the compression rifle shortly after it entered service in 2371. None now remain in use.
Type 3b : This weapon was based on research done in connection with the Sovereign class starship. It incorporates the first true transitional-phase pulse accelerator, a field-replacable deuterium plasma generator, twelve stage plasma accelerator, and a five stage cascading prefire chamber. The weapon is capable of firing either beams or pulses. The 3b also has a new seeker/tracker, which is capable of both passive and active EM and subspace detectors.
The weapon has been produced in at least two variants; one with duranium alloy metal stiffening on the barrel and one without.26
The type 4 phaser is a medium sized device fitted to small vehicles such as shuttlecraft.27
As of 2364 this was the heaviest weapon in use aboard Federation vessels, comprising the main armament of the Galaxy class starship.6
Previously designated as the 'Type 10+' for security reasons, the Type 12 phaser has been used in dedicated planetary defence arrays and as the main armament of heavy fortified starbases since 2363. It was considered that the Type 12 was unsuitable for use on a starship platform because the energy requirements of the array where too high and the supporting hardware too bulky. However, by 2368 the power plant of the Sovereign class had grown large enough to support Type 12 arrays in place of the planned Type 10 models; technical improvements had also allowed for considerable shrinkage in the size of the equipment. The main phaser armament of the new Sovereign class starship therefore comprises Type 12 phaser arrays as does the armament of the Prometheus class currently under development. These are the most powerful phaser weapons currently in use by the Federation.
It has long been recognized that the initial impact of a phaser strike on a shield system is the most damaging part of the firing sequence. Many cultures have sought to increase weapon effectiveness against shields by developing pulse cannon - that is, weapons which fire large numbers of tightly packaged bursts rather than a continuous stream. Early Federation vessels such as the Constitution class where equipped with weapons which could fire such pulses12, but the weapon is not without its drawbacks; the hardware involved tends to be very difficult to manage precisely, resulting in much poorer control over the beam characteristics. The Federations starship design ethic has always stressed that full control must be maintained over all weapons at all times, in order to allow non lethal force to be used in starship combat situations; in addition, many scientific experiments use weapon systems to apply energy in controlled amounts to external phenomena in order to study reactions. Given this, the Federation gradually moved away from pulse cannon. The refit given to the Constitutions in the 2270's removed the pulse firing feature from that class, equipping them with a 'rapid burst mode' which was something of a compromise between pulse and continuous phaser beams.11 Further designs continued to de-emphasize the pulse firing feature, although all basic phaser hardware is capable of firing relatively short bursts and this has remained a feature of Federation combat tactics.19
With the development of the USS Defiant, the pulse phaser cannon was finally reintroduced to Starfleet. Defiant is a warship, pure and simple; her designers had no real interest in conducting experiments, and the attitude towards the level of lethality of her armament could perhaps best be summed up by the phrase 'take no prisoners'! Defiant's main armament comprises four heavy pulse cannon28 which fire very tightly confined bursts of phaser energy for maximum impact on shielding systems. High overall energy delivered over a very short period combines with a high firing rate to produce a performance against modern shield systems which can best be described as devastating.
On her first active mission the Defiant faced a group of Dominion Attack Ships29; these vessels had successfully withstood several minutes of fire fighting with a Galaxy class starship30, but Defiant's phaser cannon cut through their shields within moments.28 Subsequent combat experience has shown the value of this weapons system31, which is currently being developed for use in other vessels.