I just watched a star trek episode where a group of ferengi complete a prisoner exchange (the only instance I can think of, showing a military squad in star trek), and I noticed that the leader carried a pistol, while the 5 others carried rifles. This reminded me that in warhammer 40k, space marines typically carry bolters (two-handed rifles), while the squad leader carries a pistol. Even in star wars, I notice that the higher up the ranks you go, the less weapons and armor they wear.

It seems to be a consistent thing in sci-fi, that the squad leader has a smaller weapon. Why is this?

  • 4
    It's consistent with current military too AFAIK. Officers have sidearms...enlisted have rifles. Officers tell soldiers where and how...not do it themselves....in broad terms.
    – Paulie_D
    Dec 18, 2016 at 17:12
  • 1
    Because officers need their hands for pointing at things and writing stuff down.
    – Valorum
    Dec 18, 2016 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


This is based on the real world to a great extent.

For a lot of the history of firearms the individual weapons used by infantry soldiers have been quite long and somewhat unwieldy, requiring both hands to handle this is fine for ordinary soldiers as using their weapon is their main task in combat. However officers and senior NCOs might also have to use radios, binoculars, maps etc so having a long rifle was a major encumbrance. Equally they would not necessarily be expected to use their weapon much apart form for personal protection as their main job is to coordinate their own troops, communicate with their own superiors and maintain awareness of what is going on in the battlefield as a whole. So a smaller weapon like a pistol or sub machine-gun was more convenient and more useful in the sort of close quarter fighting where they would need their personal weapon.

There is also the fact that more senior and staff officers tend to have more of an administrative type role where a large weapon would be unnecessary and very impractical.

Towards the second half of the 20th century this trend started to reverse as infantry rifles became more compact, lighter and less of an encumbrance. There is also the consideration that having a recognisably different weapon makes leaders easier to identify by snipers.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.