Throughout the series we have seen how powerful holograms can be, especially in Voyager with the advancements for the Hirogens and the evolution of the Doctor. In TNG "Descent Pt 1" we saw that with the safeties disabled, a holographic Borg could kill Data. In First Contact we saw Picard use holograms to kill Borg when phaser rifles were ineffective.

So why then are there not holoprojectors on every deck casting legions of kill-bots when the ship is boarded? Or even a single projector to protect critical areas like Engineering or the Bridge?

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    Okay there, Phil...
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 3:17
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    Why not just go all the way and fill the entire volume (or whichever part needs defending) of the ship with holographic cement/steel/any hard material? Instant death (or at least completely immobilization) to invaders, no possible damage to ship or allies (no sentinels shooting weapons, can omit holographic cement where your allies stand). The answer is probably 'it doesn't make good television'. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 18:46
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    Just get a fistful of Datas.
    – iMerchant
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 21:33
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    Just to point out the Borg was easily able to take out a hologram in First Contact. The holographic Maître D' attempted to stop the two Borgs from entering but they caused some type of disruption to it. So I would question their effectiveness as soon as the Borg treated holographs as a threat and started making adaptions.
    – Puddler
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 0:23

5 Answers 5


Thaddeus Howze's answer is good but I think more focus has to be placed on the out-of-universe elements.

There are a lot of far more vicious ways to use most of the tech in star trek, holographic security personnel are weaksauce: if you can have a working holographic grenade or machine guns by means of creating force fields there's little need for the actual grenade of machine gun: just use the same fields to rip invaders to pieces.

Even if you want to go non-lethal riot foam and nets materializing around the invaders up to their necks would be an obvious application.

But that wouldn't make very good TV.

There's no tension, there's nothing at stake if "we're being boarded" is followed a few seconds later by "boarding resolved, they're all buried up to their necks in holographic taffy and being rolled to the brig"

Com badges get lost etc but the ship so regularly loses lots of crew to boarders that pretty much any such system would entail less death and destruction on the ship.

Every second week the crew of the enterprise suffer amnesia about devices which would easily solve this weeks problem.

But there would be no tension or drama if the crew played full munchkin. There's long long long lists of "forgotten technology" which is shown to work in one episode but which is never ever applied again.

A version of start trek that consisted of just the captain lounging in his chair having a pina colada while the latest borg attack is dismembered would not be fun to watch, there would be no struggle and enemies playing to an equivalent level to make for proper drama would make battles almost incomprehensible to an audience.

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    "There's no tension, there's nothing at stake" - frankly, in some of the episodes featuring enemies successfully boarding a vessel due to the sheer incompetence of shipboard security, my suspension of disbelief was seriously at stake more than once. In fact, it was not only at stake, but sometimes downright broke down, in which case any tension would suddenly vanish. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 17:59
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    "[T]here's nothing at stake if 'we're being boarded' is followed a few seconds later by 'boarding resolved, they're all buried up to their necks in holographic taffy and being rolled to the brig". Only because they're just discussing it on the bridge. If they followed the "Show, don't tell" rule, that might be the best boarding scene they ever made.
    – Ray
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 19:37
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    I would watch a show that largely consisted of Patrick Stewart sipping cocktails and commentating on monitors displaying the comically doomed attempts of hostile aliens to board his ship...
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 0:41
  • This is the reason IMHO and it is a common thing in stories.
    – Stefan
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 7:53
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    "enemies playing to an equivalent level to make for proper drama would make battles almost incomprehensible to an audience" - I think this is an important point. Other species could have counter-tech, but much of the combat would then be things appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason.
    – alex_d
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 11:01

The simplest reason: Holograms need power and computer resources. Both are at a premium and could become unexpectedly unavailable during emergencies. Nothing like losing your computer core and all of your Emergency Military Holograms at a critical juncture.

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  • Given that a ship can take damage during battles, the simplest technologies are often the best to prevent boarders from moving through your ship.

  • In the Federation, this is usually the intelligent deployment of security force fields supported by highly trained security personnel and supported by a ship-wide general awareness and training of all personnel on board.

By the 24th century, Federation Starfleet force fields were commonplace and were rated by intensity, ranging in strength from level 1-10. A level 10 force field is the strongest and would be used, for example, during a scientific experiment of which the outcome was unknown, or known to be explosive in nature. Applications range from creating holograms to sealing a hull breach to personal force fields designed to keep potential assailants at bay. (TNG: "Realm of Fear", "The Most Toys"; Star Trek Generations; Star Trek: Insurrection; DS9: "Playing God", "Starship Down", "Take Me Out to the Holosuite"; VOY: "State of Flux", "Course: Oblivion")

I imagine ships after the 24th century might use such holographic security or maintenance systems technology in very limited environments, preventing boarders, or working in areas where Human workers might be in danger but a hologram with the right enhancement may be able to complete repairs or repel boarders. But this technology could be vulnerable to any number of means of disruption given the state of technology in the 24th century.

  • An enemy scans your ship and discovers you have holographic emitters all over your ship. Since Red Alert status would bring them online into a defensive posture, the enemy should be able to notice them coming online when your shields go up.

  • Anyone familiar with the technology or your military methodology may target your shipboard computer cores since boarding would be best resolved by destroying the protective holograms emitter systems.

  • Even if the system were somehow able to be isolated or distributed making it less vulnerable to outright destruction, there is always the possibility of a malfunction, hacking or other form of override or as yet unknown difficulty. This also means the ship is vulnerable to technology override in isolated regions. The Federation has encountered species with superior technology or capable of augmenting agents with superior technology skills in the past (See: Cytherians) in the past. Now your hacked holographic security system is capable of taking over YOUR ship.

  • Given the number of holodeck malfunctions which take place in the Federation, putting this technology everywhere should give you a chill rather than the warm comforted feeling of protection.

  • If your ship is depending on this holographic defense force, it is more vulnerable in the event of an outage, because your crew may be less effectively trained in such activities or are far less effective than they might have been if they were training regularly for anti-boarding techniques.

    • Why would the Federation stop or reduce such training activities for the crew? Because the Federation is not a military operation, they are on exploratory missions. This might give them the opportunity to staff more scientists and engineers to help in their continued mission to explore the galaxy.

    • Could those people be trained in anti-boarding techniques? Certainly. But they would be less effective than the holographic defense system in use in our theoretical advanced spaceship. Much less effective.

  • As a member of the United States Navy, we spent a great deal of time and effort to train a crew to repel boarders. Drilling and practice need to be done under adverse conditions: low-light, no light, fire, flooding and containment issue to best prepare crews for circumstances they may encounter under such conditions. If this is left completely in the hands of holograms, the skills and preparedness would suffer if the crew were forced into these roles with the loss of the centralized computer system.

  • Roddenberry was a military man and wanted to believe in a future where Humans would be in charge of their destiny using technology, not being replaced by technology. It may have been idealistic, and at our current rate of replacing people with machines, outdated but I can see the value of maintaining training in regard to repelling boarding parties using strategic force fields which are far easier to use, use far less computer resources and properly managed can limit the movement of enemy personnel, containing them until they can be neutralized.

enter image description here

  • If the Federation were less enlightened, they could conceivably enable their holosecurity systems to act in far less humane ways, making short work of any invader and likely violating whatever passes for the Geneva Convention in the Federation Universe. If they decided to create molecular thin beams of force like this laser-grid, keep them invisible, no invader would ever dare to board their vessels without some means of disrupting holographic technology.

  • Speaking of disrupting holographic technology, there are likely ways to disrupt force fields, holographic constructs and other such creations, which have never been discussed on the show. These technologies would likely proliferate once such defenses were in widespread use. Each form of attack ultimately leads to a defense for it.

On the Other Hand:

Voyager came into the possession of a 29th century device called the Mobile Holographic Emitter.

The autonomous self-sustaining mobile holo-emitter, or mobile emitter, was a piece of 29th century technology designed to remotely power and enable a single holographic instance away from permanent holoemitters. Constructed of a poly-deutonic alloy unknown to 24th century science, the mobile emitter was approximately the size of a Human palm. (VOY: "Future's End, Part II", "Message in a Bottle", "Drone", "Renaissance Man")

  • With the acquisition, discovery and eventual reverse engineering, assuming it would be allowed by Starfleet Command, this technology would make it would be possible to have Emergency Military Personnel who would only exist during boarding emergencies, and would be returned to the storage locker when done.

  • They would be self-contained, armed with the best weapons, tactics and completely immune to enemy fire. Contain their emitters within a force field and they would be the perfect assault team, if you didn't mind using a technology whose intrinsic value, should it fall into enemy hands would be incalculable.

  • In fact, your enemy may choose to attack you just to get their hands on technology with a 500 year jump in capacity even if they couldn't immediately understand it. I suspect the Federation would probably not be willing to risk the effects such a loss could incur to the Federation.


I can't believe no one has pointed out the obvious downside to this idea yet: doing this means that your ship, heir to a long tradition of holodeck malfunctions that invariably end up disabling any and all safety protocols, is full of autonomous combat holograms.

Seriously, that's just asking for it...

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    This. If Enterprise D had a battery of trained military holographic personnel loaded in the computer and ready to go at the press of a button, the crew wouldn't have survived season 1. And I doubt Voyager would have managed to get as far as episode 2. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 20:13
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    Agree. The first thing I thought of was this scene in the Voyager episode "The Killing Game," where the Hirogen take over the ship and have everyone running around in holodecks to destructive consequences: ex-astris-scientia.org/episodes/caps_voy/… If there's anything we've learned from Star Trek, it's that sooner or later holographic technology is going to bite you in the rear.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 20:15
  • I was going to answer with "anti-hologram prejudice" (c.f. VOY:"Author, Author"), but this is probably a better explanation.
    – k_g
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 0:45

Holograms by themselves are not solid. Solidity is instead created by manipulating force fields in such a way as to have the desired effect. This can be combined with a holographic image to create a convincing illusion of a real object, which will stand up to basic inspection such as touch. For things like food, the desired substance is replicated and beamed into place.

Force fields are used for security purposes, as seen in "Brothers" (TNG 4x03), where a mind-controlled(-ish?) Data triggers the security fields throughout the deck in a specific sequence, ironically preventing the ship's security personnel from stopping him. We've also seen multiple uses of force fields around the transporter pads, in both "Brothers" and "The Hunted" (TNG 3x11), though in the latter the field had to be dropped before the transporter could engage, which has its own issues.

None of these are lethal uses of force fields. This is intentional. If someone is boarding your vessel, you (probably) do not want to kill them, particularly if you are from the peaceful Federation. Instead, you want to detain the boarder, which is exactly what the aforementioned systems are designed to do.

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    They're also not lethal to friendlies who might get caught in them. It's very difficult for the ships to identify enemies. Commbadges get stolen/lost/broken. Borg tech gets borrowed/stolen/put to use. Friendly races turn traitor (Seska), and unfriendly races become friends (Seven, the Horta). People get duplicated ALL. THE. TIME (Mirror Universe, Thomas Riker).
    – miltonaut
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 3:40
  • @miltonaut: "Friendly races turn traitor (Seska)" - oh right, the Cardassians, our old buddies. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 18:05
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    @O.R.Mapper Yeah, but wasn't she disguised as a Bajoran at first?
    – miltonaut
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 14:07
  • @miltonaut: Apparently only visually so; she evaded providing a blood sample in sickbay to avoid detection. Certainly, for such a high-risk application as described here, you'd scan individuals a bit more thoroughly rather than just for their outward appearance. For instance, by using the same scanners that can distinguish specific lifesigns across a distance of lightyears, as happened in Workforce. Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 21:29

Star Trek was designed with the idea that we're talking about normal people in normal circumstances. There are (mostly) no genetically engineered, cybernetically-enhanced, post-human walking gods on the main crew. Even Data, Geordi, and Worf have negative issues to go with their superior aspects.

Since the show is about the people, it would go against the very nature of the show to leave defense of the ship to a bunch of mindless automatons. Certainly, we see cases where automated defense system and the like exist, but it makes for a pretty boring story if the defense systems just work. And if the defenses need to fail three times an episode just so the crew can experience dramatically-interesting danger, why have them in the first place?

You can certainly make arguments for stories with plenty of dramatic tension without the bridge being taken over by hostiles every other episode, but that's just not the Star Trek we got.

  • In fact, adding to your point that the show is about the people, we see some of the "mindless automatons" growing into what can be considered individuals (Voyager's EMH) and that growth being used as a plot point (VOY Author, Author for one).
    – user
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 9:41
  • "with plenty of dramatic tension without the bridge being taken over by hostiles every other episode, but that's just not the Star Trek we got" - actually, I thought one of the things that does make Star Trek stand out among plenty of other scifi shows is exactly that it is not about "the bridge being taken over by hostiles every other episode" (or any hostile activity, for that matter). Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 18:03
  • It's not the star trek we got and it's not the star trek I want. I want a story about Humans (and semi-humans, and androids that wish they were humans, and aliens who seem pretty human to me) who live in a high tech environment. Not a story about an environment defending itself from the chaos and malice of an unkind universe. I identify with characters that bleed literally (worf) or who wish they could (data).
    – Warren P
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 15:52

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