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In "First Contact" Picard kills a couple of Borg drones in the Holodeck with a holographic Tommy gun. It would appear that while the Borg are able to adapt to become impervious to energy weapons, they are vulnerable to bullets. This looks like a gaping logical hole: why couldn't Star Fleet replicate "primitive" assault rifles to fight the Borg, if the knew that phasers were useless against them? Has this ever been addressed?

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Taking a cue from another sci-fi franchise, the Asguard in Stargate SG-1 were so advanced that they never even considered using projectile weapons against the Replicators (who were immune to just about every form of energy weapon). It took us "primitive" humans using projectile weapons for them to find a viable way of combating the Replicators on a small scale. –  Chad Levy Oct 20 '11 at 18:27
@Paperjam, but this explanation does not apply here. Even though the humans in TNG have not used projectile weapons for 2 or 3 centuries, they still know to make them, and they could be easily trained to used them. –  Dima Oct 21 '11 at 14:30
Just because soldiers have guns doesn't mean they stop learning how to use knives. –  Ken Liu Jan 27 '12 at 19:49
@kenliu just to illustrate your point with a section of a well-known space film: youtube.com/watch?v=FNhYJgDdCu4 –  LordScree Jul 14 '12 at 0:40
Aren't holodeck bullets made of energy anyway? Aren't they just light and force fields? –  Kalamane Apr 1 '13 at 21:19

14 Answers 14

up vote 34 down vote accepted

In-universe, I would think that the use of chemical explosives and kinetic energy weapons would be SEVERELY discouraged on any starship, given the chances of a hull breach, and the security forces we typically see would be mostly useless with such weaponry. They have been trained on energy weapons without recoil, with no significant magazine capacity, no need to reload, etc. It would be like taking a group of riflemen and giving them crossbows.

From a writing standpoint, there's just no way for the Borg to be a threat once the Federation begins using firearms instead of energy weapons. Kinetic energy isn't like the magic energy weapons they use - you can't just 'shield' against it (or else punches, swords, etc wouldn't work) and the relative simplicity of even modern firearms to mass-produce (given the established technology of the replicators) would quickly render Borg useless as face-to-face villians.

And CGI battles cost money.

In short: The Federation doesn't have the training to use them well, and would end up killing many of their own (if they even considered the possibility) by using them incorrectly, and if they ever did gain widespread use, the series would lose a major antagonist.

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I don't know... The hull must be built to withstand small meteor impact. And there are probably multiple layers between the walls of the cabins and hallways and the outer hull... Besides there are force-fields to seal a hull breach, like in "Generations". So if the alternative is between being assimilated by the Borg, it may make sense to risk a hull breach. Not to mention that an away team can be beamed aboard a Borg ship, and start shooting there. –  Dima Feb 2 '11 at 22:57
@Dima's 2nd comment: I don't recall ever seeing a Borg Drone using any ranged weaponry, even when it made a hell of a lot of sense to do so. They've always been simple zombies, with no sense of tactics, combined arms, etc. Too bad, it WOULD make them much more interesting. –  Jeff Feb 3 '11 at 18:35
I would say the Borg could adapt to projectile weapons. Do they not create force-fields in front of them? –  cbmeeks Jul 29 '11 at 2:09
@cbmeeks: Yes, but those fields seem to depend on the esoteric nature of phaser 'energy' to stop them. If they could put up shields to stop bullets, they could stop knives and swords. The Klingons have shown us that they don't stop them (despite physical attack with a bladed weapon being something they've almost certainly faced on every planet they've conquered that had sentient, tool-using life. –  Jeff Jul 29 '11 at 13:00
There are force fields. There is artificial gravity. There is neutralisation of inertia. So clearly, the Borg have a big toolbox to pick from to protect themselves from mechanical harm -- if they have reason to and choose to (cost/gain). –  Raphael Jul 9 '12 at 10:25

I think it's interesting that nobody else here has picked up on the inconsistent logic here. I would think the reason is precisely the one most people agree it is not - the shields will be adapted to block physical bullets. All the force fields in use in most places (including Federation ships - think of the brig) will be able to prevent physical things passing through. It isn't hard to imagine the Borg could simply adapt their shields against slower, larger bullets in addition to (or instead of) energy-based weaponry.

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Then how come the Borg don't have force fields to stop bat'leths? –  Dima Feb 2 '11 at 23:04
That is a good question. If they have the resources to shield against energy weapons, I see no reason they wouldn't be able to shield against any blunt or sharp trauma weaponry. Inability to adapt to changing tactics perhaps? Although having assimilated countless Klingons, this seems unlikely too. –  Mark Embling Feb 2 '11 at 23:13
@Mark - the brig has the ship's main power to draw upon. Drones have to power all their cybernetics (including subspace relays!) AND whatever shields they generate. We've never seen an instance of a drone being surprised from behind and shot, after 'adaptation' to a phaser setting, so they most likely have been hardwired to turn on their shields for brief periods (when they detect enemies, weapons aimed at them, or possibly the physical action of firing). –  Jeff Feb 3 '11 at 18:49
@Mark: In short, I think it's much more reasonable to assume that the Borg simply don't have a man-portable power storage cell capable of sustaining the power requirements for a kinetic-blocking shield of any strength. Drones would be rather less than useful if they could block one 3-round burst before having to return to the ship and recharge, after all. –  Jeff Feb 3 '11 at 18:50
@Xantec: the communicator didn't have to power a body full of cybernetics, a subspace relay, energy shields, and stay functional for the duration of a battle (5 minutes to several hours). After 2 seconds, it was kaput. –  Jeff Jul 29 '11 at 13:04

This has not been addressed, no.

Kill one Borg with a certain weapon and they will adapt. It's a bit surprising that they had never encountered any culture with projectile weapons, but since they now have, they would technically have adapted.

Of course, First Contact took place in the past and this knowledge never got back to the collective. So I guess the Federation is still good for one single Borg kill with bullets...


They don't seem to adapt to bat'leths very well...

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That's the thing. They put up some sort of a "shield" to block phaser beams, but I have never seen them use any kind of force field to stop anything mechanical. Bullets should work. –  Dima Feb 2 '11 at 14:20
That would really be nice though, say force fields demand too much energy output for a single Borg, so they never adapt. Suddenly, all Starfleet personnel become gunslingers. Star Trek, Far West style! –  MPelletier Feb 2 '11 at 14:57
Star Trek meets Firefly? –  Daniel Bingham Feb 2 '11 at 18:49
@DanielBingham "Y'all live long and prosper!" –  MPelletier Feb 2 '11 at 23:17
It's probably a storywriting decision after all, but could they adapt to physical weapons that easily? Not without losing efficiency (e.g. less agility due to bulky armor). It's a lot easier to deflect energy or radiation opposed to actual matter. As a simple example: You can use a mirror to completely deflect light (pure energy), but it's not that easy wanting to deflect something kinetic. But to be honest, you can reverse the whole question: Why are starfleet officers usually without protection? There are several fights with some force fields, yet tons of redshirts die to weapon fire. –  Mario Jul 8 '12 at 20:53

It's a different universe, but there are parallels to the replicators in Stargate SG1 - they were also initially vulnerable to 'primitive' weapons (i.e. Earth technology) but immune to more sophisticated technology (Asgard, Goa'uld). However, they quickly adapt to the weapons, and so only a limited (given how quickly they can reproduce, basically unimportant) number can be destroyed in this way.

If this was addressed in Star Trek it seems likely that something similar would apply.

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But that's just the thing, in the SG1 universe the Asgard could not fight the replicators, because they had never invented projectile weapons. The humans had, and used them extensively. The replicators could only "adapt" by replicating faster and reconstituting the "bugs" faster. I suppose the Borg could also "adapt" by cranking out more drones faster, but that's not the point. Individual drones, just like individual replicator "bugs" are vulnerable to bullets. Yet somehow the humans of the ST universe did not catch on. –  Dima Feb 2 '11 at 20:10
No, they adapted when creating the "human-form" replicators, which were not vulnerable to projectile weapons. The human-form replicators are more similar to the Borg drones than the bug replicators, so would presumably develop a similar resistance. –  Tony Meyer Feb 2 '11 at 23:43
Ah, you are right, of course. Forgot about them. Still, it is a very different situation. It took the replicators a huge span of time to develop the "human-forms" in the accelerated time-bubble while the Borg adapt to phaser fire in real-time. –  Dima Feb 3 '11 at 3:36

I think the reasoning of the writers would simply be that after that attack the borg would adapt and become invulnerable to holographic bullets. But you know, the writers aren't perfect.

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Going from the other answers about needing a portable power source, I think the answer is a little simpler:

Phasers and energy weapons are energy!

Why not absorb part of it to generate the force field in the first place? That would explain why projectiles, bat'leths, and punches still work, and the drones wouldn't need a huge power source to keep using the force fields as they get fired at.

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By the time of the episode on which a holodeck Moriarty becomes sentient, the series established that physical constructs on the holodeck are made of "holo-matter" (whatever that is). In the movie, "First Contact," we see the Borg's first encounter with bullets made of holo-matter.

So, even if the Borg had tuned their force fields to deflect objects made of ordinary matter, they might still have had to adapt to holo-matter projectiles.

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That may be true. But we see no evidence that the Borg drones can deflect object made of ordinary matter. We only know that they have the ability to adopt their shields against phasers. We also know that they are vulnerable to bladed weapons. –  Dima Jul 16 '12 at 14:27

There are a ton of answers to this question already, but to me it seems like the answer hasnt really been hit upon yet.

First, maintaining kinetic shielding all the time would be expensive, from an energy perspective. Faced with a culture that has thus far used only energy weapons against them, it makes more sense for the Borg to choose defenses appropriate for the enemy they face. I have to think, though, that if projectile weapons started to become the primary mode of combat against the Borg in any one engagement, they would adapt to block bullets (holographic or otherwise) as well.

The primary objection I've seen here to this line of logic is this:

They don't seem to adapt to bat'leths very well...

But remember that the Borg's primary objective is not to kill, but to grow, to adapt. To "Add your technological and biological distinctiveness to [their] own". As such, their primary means of offense is to assimilate - and all examples of assimilation that I've seen from the Borg are from close range - hand to hand. Also note that all kinetic force shielding we've seen in the Star Trek universe is bidirectional - nothing in, nothing out. A drone, then, in close enough range to engage in hand to hand combat for the purposes of assimilation, would be forced to disengage any kinetic shielding to press his attack - thus rendering him vulnerable to punches, bat'leths, etc.

In short, the Borg would adapt to kinetic weapons with kinetic shielding in a prolonged engagement with a culture that made use of them, but would have to disengage this shielding at close range to assimilate any combatants.

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Not all examples of assimilation are at close range - they once had this nifty airborne virus idea, en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Nanoprobe_virus –  Junuxx Jun 15 '13 at 19:55

I don't see how everyone draws this conclusion from 2 Borg getting dropped on a holodeck. Energy weapons have been known to kill 2 or 3 drones before they adapt and this is sometimes with significant durations between kills.

I just looked at the First Contact scene, and after Picard shot up some drink glasses on the table, the 1st drone starts getting hit; Then, 6 seconds later, the 1st drone has already fallen, and the 2nd drone is already taking hits.

Since it's commonly shown that you can kill 2 drones in quick succession but the 3rd or 4th will have adapted, I wouldn't start suggesting bullets is a surefire work-around. Aside from it being a dress-up scene for Picard showing off the holodeck to the new-comer, it was also a means of acquiring weapons that the Borg had not YET adapted to.

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They don't use projectile weapons because projectile weapons run out of ammunition.

Logically, shields can defend against projectiles; otherwise, the navigational deflector couldn't exist. Therefore, we must conclude that the Borg don't bother to defend against projectiles.


Because the replicator capacity of a Galaxy-class starship cannot produce enough ammunition to significantly reduce the Borg's numbers.

Resistance isn't futile because the Borg are invincible. It's futile because there are too darn many of them.

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Yes, projectile weapons run out of ammunition... Just as a phaser's power source will eventually run out of juice. The "fact" is that phasers become ineffective against the Borg after two or three shots, while a Tommy gun evidently has done a much better job. And while starships have deflector shields, it would be much more expensive to equip every drone with one. –  Dima Jul 9 '12 at 0:47

Perhaps the reason the Borg do not bother with kinetic shielding is more to do with medical technology. If your medical technology is so advanced that most non-catastrophic trauma can be repaired (for example, recall that Picard survives a knife through the heart!), projectile weapons become much less of a threat. Whilst it is possible to disable a drone with a projectile weapon, it would be quite easy to beam them back to the Cube for repair and regeneration, obviating the need for kinetic shielding. Of course in First Contact the Cube is gone, and this could explain the vulnerability of the Borg to the holographic tommygun.

Conversely, future energy weapons set to "kill" would presumably be designed to defeat the medical technology of the day by dealing some irreparable tissue damage, beyond ordinary trauma; this is usually depicted as vapourisation! This would necessitate the adaptive shielding technology to protect drones from energy weapons.

It may not be easy to implement a shield to protect from hand-to-hand weapons. Assuming that a viable kinetic shield technology exists, it is likely to be power-intensive, so given the limited energy storage capacity of individual drones, they will only want to activate it in the face of a genuine threat. When a small rigid object is approaching you at faster than the speed of sound it is almost certainly a threat, hence a shield could be configured to automatically activate in response to bullets. A much larger and relatively slower moving rigid object (such as a bat'leth) may be difficult to distinguish from the environment, however.

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Sorry, but my question was not why the Borg do not bother with kinetic shielding, but why the Federation does not exploit that. –  Dima Jul 16 '12 at 14:29
Maybe the Federation don't exploit it, because it has been tried (off-screen) and found to be ineffective for the reasons given above. In which case, the effectiveness of the Tommygun in First Contact can be ascribed solely to the absence of the Cube. –  orzmzcy Jul 17 '12 at 1:53
You're quite right though, it's a bit of a stretch. It would be nice if the writers had put a little more thought in to this, but I regard the TNG movies as only semi-canon anyway :) –  orzmzcy Jul 17 '12 at 1:55

I believe the TR-116 (the sniper rifle from DS9) was originally designed for fighting Borg.

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There are two more things to consider that haven't been covered yet. One is that, in the holodeck a bullet fired from a holographic gun is neither solid nor does it have the signature of an energy weapon. Only when the projectile is about to interact with a real object (in this case the Borg drone) and the safeties are off will the holodeck replicate a real bullet with the required energy. So from one standpoint we can view any being in the holodeck as having hundreds or thousands of kinetic energy weapons aimed at them at all time in the form of holo-diode coupled replicators. It would likely be difficult to adapt to such a system, and also thus the big need for safeties to restrict such replication to prevent accidents.

The other thing to consider is that an energy shield can deflect a bullet, even a holographic one. Worf devised such a device using his communicator in A Fist Full of Datas. This may have been easier since Worf was more familiar with the technology, or due to the circumstances of the malfunction at the time, but it does suggest that eventually the Borg would have been able to adapt.

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+1 for an interesting point - basically the holodeck logic "decided" the drones are supposed to be wounded and made it so... I wonder if a simple "spawn severe wounds in all Borg drones" order would have worked as well –  Zommuter Jul 24 '13 at 11:44

I would say they HAVE adapted to projectile weapons - just not in the manner we'd expect.

The Borg are numerous, and their single-ship fleet (the Cubes are massive in scale) are large and resilient to damage. Picard may have managed to hold off the Borg for a short time by summoning a Tommy Gun, but the entire ship was still in danger, and so was he after he ran out of bullets, because of the sheer number and overwhelming size of the Borg forces.

In short - by sheer number and size, the Borg have adapted to projectile weaponry by making loss from it meaningless and wasteful for their enemies to invest in - the cost of making enough guns and bullets to fight the Borg in this way would be unreasonable.

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