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Earth's Weapons of the 21st/22nd Centuries

Projectile- and energy-based


This article explores the various weapons developed by Earth during the 21st/22nd centuries, particularly during the war with the Romulans.

Generally, in planet-based wars, the use of ever-more-powerful weapons are limited due to concerns for extreme environmental damage resulting in the death of both sides, not just the enemy. This concern has a tendency to vanish when conflicts involve combat in space. Apart from the practical limitations imposed by the capacity of the space-going vessel and the destructive power of its weapons technology, the only inhibition remaining is based on a culture's views of what is and is not perceived as acceptable, decent or honourable.

The litmus test of a culture's morality is the "grey area" as it applies to the use of weapons in space – whether or not a culture unleashes Armageddon upon the inhabitants of a planet. Such inhibitions can be sorely tested through "fear of the unknown", none more so than when confronting the "faceless enemy".


By the end of the 20th century, the use of chemical-based propellants for guns was coming to a close. The development of electronic firing mechanisms, around the turn of the 21st century, opened a new era for such weapons – no more noise, smoke, flash or heat signatures to give away their position.

During the early part of that century, the "bullets" for such weapons were little more than a handful of ball bearings fired in a stream (line-astern) or as a spread, less than a centimetre apart at several hundred metres per second. As the technologies involved improved, these became somewhat larger, reminiscent of the "shot" of medieval and later warfare, and the velocities involved increased to several thousand metres per second in the near vacuum of space.

The basic "shot" was a solid ball manufactured using all sorts of materials with varying properties, in terms of density and hardness, designed for pure punching-power and pulverising destructiveness. Some were made of a single compound; others comprised two or more layers – for example, a hard core coated with an even harder surface layer.

Later developments saw the introduction of hollow spheres capable of containing all sorts of destructive payloads – predominantly chemical/biochemical and nuclear; despite bans on their use, pure biological payloads were also developed, though were claimed never to have been used by any involved in conflicts on Earth.

The shot could be combined in a stream of any combination – normally, a "solid" was the first out of the barrel, for penetration of the target building/vehicle, followed by a "hollow" containing a suitable lethal or non-lethal payload – solid-, liquid- or gas-based explosives/corrosives/anaesthetics/etc. (The velocity – up to several thousand metres per second – and short distance between the two rounds – less than a centimetre – virtually guaranteed that the second "hollow" round would pass through the hole created by the first "solid", even with a moving target.) These could be used in both personal/portable weapons as well as vehicular delivery systems – by land, sea, air or space.

Even peacetime uses were found for these hollow shot: non-lethal, biochemical gas payloads exploded at a suitable altitude to render rioting crowds unconscious; aerosol-based, biological payloads for the delivery of airborne vaccinations to epidemic-stricken areas, etc.

By the time the Romulan War started around the mid-22nd century, the various technologies involved were well understood and had been developed to offer a wide range of possible effects catering for different scenarios and requirements. The war brought further developments in how such guns were used as spaceship-borne weapons. With the removal of the concern over damage to the Earth's environment, the payloads' destructive capacity could be increased.

Earth's military spaceships were designed and built with three guns on the upper half and three guns on the lower half of the main/primary hull, each gun placed at the corner of a triangle – two front/one rear on the upper hull, one front/two rear on the lower – the combination thus forming an hexagonal arrangement. Existing ships in Earth's Space Forces were modified accordingly.

Seen by an observer outside the ship, a gun resembled an "eye", an hemispherical shape protruding above the ship's hull, with a hole in it – the exit point of the gun barrel. This hemispherical gun could swivel in any direction giving it the ability to fire at any target in its hemispherical line-of-sight. An enemy ship approaching from above or below the horizontal plane could be targeted by, at least, two - and most of the time, all three – guns on that hemisphere of the hull. At least three – and from certain directions, almost all the guns - could target a ship approaching along or near the horizontal plane. In this way, the design complimented the requirements for an engagement with an enemy vessel – presenting the minimum profile maximised the firepower deliverable to the enemy.

The shell of the gun was especially thick – thicker even than the ship's hull. If an enemy vessel targeted a gun, it would swivel the barrel's exit point below the surface of the hull, protecting the barrel whilst presenting its thicker hemispherical shell to the enemy's fire. This was a useful ability - similar to the shark's instinct to roll back its eyes when going in for the kill, to protect them from damage

Whilst still maintaining this protective posture, the gun could swivel round on its azimuth axis to align the barrel with the enemy ship's position, wait for a gap in the enemy ship's fire, before quickly raising the barrel's exit point above the hull to rake the enemy ship and then dropping back into its protective posture – like a soldier hiding behind cover, to pop up and fire a quick burst before dropping down to take cover again.

The primary targets on any space vehicle were:
  • The propulsion systems (deflector dish, the FTL drive/warp nacelles, sub-light drive/impulse engines/exhausts, manoeuvring thrusters/RCS),
  • Offensive and defensive armament (guns/projectile launch systems, energy weapons systems, hull-protection/armour/shielding systems),
  • Other likely weak or entry points (shuttle bay doors, airlocks, "windows" and places where the hull's thickness was likely to be at its thinnest).
A stream of "solids" could be fired at the nacelles, punching through the relatively thinner hull, shattering the warp coils and related vulnerable innards, rendering the nacelles – and the FTL drive – useless. Similar damage could be inflicted on any of the other preferred weak-point targets.

However, it was the "hollows" and their uses that really came to the fore during the conflict. Whereas the guns' Earth-based use was as a stream of shot comprising a handful of "solids" and "hollows" – wall-penetration followed by suitable payload – the wish to maximise destructive effect whilst minimising use of ammunition meant that the two purposes were combined into a single "hollow" shot. This meant that, what would have taken a stream of shot could be accomplished with but one hollow.

A hollow, polygonal sphere made up of tetrahedral shapes with the points facing inward, surrounded an inner layer of high explosive with arming/detonating systems. This in turn surrounded a biochemically inert shell containing, as an example, a highly corrosive gaseous payload under high pressure. This shot could be fired at an enemy ship's weak point – for example, a nacelle. As before, the hard outer shell enabled penetration of the hull; this first impact would arm the explosive.

The second impact – whether against a warp coil or the inside of the nacelle's far wall - would detonate the HE, sending the outer shell of the "hollow" throughout the nacelle as tetrahedral "caltrop" shrapnel – this, along with the HE itself, would further damage the innards of the nacelle.

Finally, the biochemical payload would be released as a fast expanding gas (the vacuum-exposed nacelle would certainly ensure this), dissolving and corroding everything it touched.

This, and similar developments, meant that solid shot, as such, was no longer needed – after 150 years, it was the end of an era for the first type of ammunition used by gun-based, electronic firing systems. As Earth's munitions industry now only needed to concentrate on "hollows", this resulted in a speed-up of production – the savings on materials also meant that what would have comprised a single "solid" could now be used to make many more casings for "hollows".

Apart from the increased use of biochemical payloads, the concomitant increased use of atomic/nuclear payloads also meant that the munitions suppliers could turn their attention – and R&D budgets – to ever-more destructive nuclear weapons.

The 20th century had seen the development of a plethora of atomic and nuclear weapons - hydrogen, neutron, "red mercury", etc. Since the early 21st century, positronium-derived anti-matter weapons had been theorised about and later developed during the mid-to-late 21st century. Both fission and fusion weapons were available for use – including mini- and micro- versions. Even various EM generating payloads could be used in the "hollows" to make UV, infrared, microwave, X- and gamma ray bombs.

Freed from concern about damage to Earth's environment, all of these came to be used as payloads in the new, multi-purpose "hollow" munitions being manufactured and used with devastating effect by Earth's Space Forces against the enemy's ships during the Romulan War.

Their very success as a munitions-delivery system of ship-destroying power was to be the guns' downfall.

They spurred the development of energy shields and barriers – a means to keep such destructiveness at a distance from a ship's hull. Such shields in turn, caused these guns to fall out of favour – their destructive power was not up to the task of breaking down the shields nor reaching the hull with their destructive power when exploded at a distance.

As a result, the other types of projectile-based weapons – torpedoes and missiles – which had been qualitatively more successful though less favoured for a ship's ability to carry relatively few of them, came to replace them.


Due to a ship's inability to carry many of these, in comparison with ammunition for their guns, they were not as highly favoured projectile-based weapons – in spite of their greater destructive power. They used the same payload as the "hollow" bullets fired by the ships' guns – just much larger amounts, increasing their destructive capability considerably. Also, unlike the guns' ammunition, which was "line-of-sight" only, these could manoeuvre to track down and destroy an enemy ship.

They became particularly useful when dealing with visually-stealthed enemy vessels – ships with "space-black" hulls. The Romulans might have been able to make their ships invisible to the eye and/or hide their ships' exhaust trails but they couldn't hide their power-curve signatures.

A missile would be launched, which had been programmed with the enemy's power curve – if it detected such, the missile would home in on its target. Needless to say, the Romulan ship would manoeuvre in an attempt to evade it whilst granting enough time to destroy such a missile.

The next tactic that was developed by Earth's Space Forces was to launch a "decoy flotilla" – a group of small decoys, each programmed with the ship's own power curve, surrounding the ship. Using "flocking" software, the decoys were programmed to move with the ship as a "fleet", thus confusing the enemy as to how many ships they were engaging.

The decoys were also programmed with the enemy's power curve(s) – if an enemy ship approached the outer edge of the "decoy flotilla", the nearest decoy(s) would begin to home in on it. This helped to reveal where such stealthed, enemy vessels were in relation to a given Earth ship – as well as to Earth's forces – during an engagement.

The decoys contained high explosives, sometimes chemical, sometimes atomic. Within a certain critical distance to an enemy ship, the decoy would accelerate and detonate against its hull. Their destructive force may not have been equal to that of the individual missiles, but they were highly effective. Romulan ships were driven to wasting precious energy resources to destroy all such approaching decoys if they wished to engage Earth's ships at closer quarters. In doing so, they would have clearly revealed their position and been targeted by all the weapons systems available to Earth's forces.

Indeed, flotillas of these decoys could be launched which would act independently of the launching vessel – a "roving minefield", following and homing-in on enemy power signatures.

This decoy system also added to the possible tactical use of missiles and torpedoes. Instead of actively seeking an enemy ship based on its power curve, the missiles and torpedoes were launched and then went into "dormant" mode, waiting for an enemy ship to pass close by before "ambushing" the target. Such projectiles were visually-stealthed as best as possible – this combined with their generating only a small amount of energy associated with their target monitoring/tracking system, made this tactic highly successful.

Since such energy radiation – small as it was – might give its position away, other means of "hiding in plain sight" were adopted from yet another type of missile.

The EMP missile/torpedo was a hybrid between projectile and energy weapons called a beam weapon. These generally delivered radiation, such as gamma radiation, which could not be done safely on board a ship.

Unlike the ships' lasers (see the relevant section), these were a single-use, beam weapon encased in a torpedo. The reason why it was used as such instead of within the ship was to do away with the armoury crew having to deal with a spent "shell" which might well have been leaking dangerous radiation.

It was the possibility of this residual radiation, which was used as a means of camouflaging the "sleeper" missiles. Instead of trying to hide, it would "leak" gamma radiation as if it were a spent EMP missile. If an enemy vessel passed close by, believing itself safe, or approached it directly with a view to collecting the "spent" torpedo to study the weapon's technology, the "sleeper" would, as before, ambush the Romulan ship.

Engagements might end without all these projectile weapons having been triggered. After a battle, support ships would move in and collect all such unused projectiles - missiles, decoys, etc. The support vessel would transmit a disarm code before taking the device on board to be reused in the next engagement with the enemy.


By their very nature, lasers were the distance-weapon of preference. In a mere second, they could cross 300,000km, delivering their energy to a relatively small target area. From rather large devices, over a period of time, they became smaller whilst increasing the capability of their energy output.

By the time the Romulan War started, the solid-state laser could burn a hole through several centimetres of carbon-steel in less than a second. However, since the materials used in the 22nd century were tougher than carbon steel, it needed several seconds of burning to cut through a ship's hull.

As with the guns, they were arranged as three main lasers, each at the point of a triangle on the top and bottom of the main hull, again, forming an hexagonal arrangement. Fire control systems ensured that all the lasers, like the guns, could be coordinated to fire at a single point, if required.

Apart from the main lasers, there were a number of other lasers which generated various frequencies suitable for different purposes – UV/normal/infrared light, microwaves, x-rays, even gamma rays.

The lasers could be used to ensure secure communications between ships or ship-to-shore. They could also be used, at low power, to map a planet or moon's topology – by varying the wavelength, the laser could "see" through cloud layers, even those of a gas giant. The laser could be used in its own right or as a carrier wave for something else.

In an engagement, a laser would be fired directly at the target. If, for any reason, the target were able to evade this, the laser would be circled around the target at a very high rate, before being slowly contracted in a diminishing cone of fire, thus ensuring a hit on the target.

Lasers could also be used to "paint the target" for a suitable projectile weapon – a laser-guided missile/torpedo.


Internal security systems comprised, for the most part, non-lethal deterrence weapons to protect weak points of the ship – airlocks, landing bays, etc - anywhere likely to be vulnerable to intruders.

A corridor leading to or from an airlock could be filled with an electrical current, rendering anyone so exposed unconscious. This would be particularly designed against an enemy sending a boarding/raiding party to take over the ship.

PEP weapons and other laser systems were installed along such corridors to add extra defensive capabilities.

Similar systems were installed in the landing bays to giving complete crossfire capabilities to prevent a hostile party boarding the ship using a shuttle.


The main weapon carried by personnel was the "arc thrower" – an air taser, which used a low-powered laser to create a tunnel of ionised air through which an electric charge could travel from the gun to the target. This would resemble a lightning flash dropping the target to the ground.

This would be particularly useful if an enemy had docked with an airlock and then attempted to send a boarding party on board, leaving its doors open – the electric charge could be directed into the enemy vessel as well.

Other weapons included projectiles, which could hunt targets around corners; a projectile could be fired to the end of a T-junction, where it would scan the corridor on either arm of the T before firing energy beams at detected hostiles.


In contrast to the 23rd and 24th centuries, the use of weapons were different both in terms of what was used and which were preferred for combat at-a-distance and combat at close quarters.

Sub-light instead of faster-than-light - instead of phasers and photon torpedoes, it was lasers, missiles and guns.
Instead of torpedoes for distance with phasers up close, it was lasers at distance, missiles at medium range and guns up close.

The success of the guns at close quarters, spurred the development of shields to protect vulnerable points on a ship.

The success of the homing-missiles using the enemy's power signature spurred the development of the Romulans' signature technology – the cloaking device.

It is possible that these successes are the reason why the Romulans remained in their own space for another century – they were unwilling to risk confrontation until they could hide their ships' power signatures from the homing-missiles.


Anti-matter/Positronium –
EMP bomb –
Centripetal/rail-gun weapons –
Flocking software –
GM bio-weapons –
Micro-fusion weapons –
Non-/less-lethal/stun weapons –
"USAF 2025 Study" –

(Theory by James Burke)

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