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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 they 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
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    Just because soldiers have guns doesn't mean they stop learning how to use knives. – Ken Liu Jan 27 '12 at 19:49
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    @kenliu just to illustrate your point with a section of a well-known space film: youtube.com/watch?v=FNhYJgDdCu4 – oliver-clare Jul 14 '12 at 0:40
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    Aren't holodeck bullets made of energy anyway? Aren't they just light and force fields? – Kalamane Apr 1 '13 at 21:19
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    I have a snake gun for camping. It's been a while since I camped. That thing is buried somewhere in a closet, ammunition stored elsewhere. If a snake crossed paths with me now in any situation where I would need that gun I would definitely lose because the threat of encountering a snake is so low that I don't keep the provisions to safeguard against them readily available. It's not that I dont have them, just that it's rare enough to not justify the preparation. Maybe the borg aren't as big a threat as they make them out to be and because of that, being prepared for them wasnt deemed necessary – Kai Qing Nov 21 '18 at 16:16

18 Answers 18

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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
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    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
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    @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
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    @Jeff: In Voyager episode "Year of Hell", force fields are seen sealing gaping holes in the hull for days, if not weeks. – HNL Jan 22 '12 at 1:50
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    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
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There is 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
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    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
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    @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
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    @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
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    @Dima: the energy required to deflect a bullet moving at a few thousand feet per second is much less than is required to stop a bat'leth. The reason why a bullet is effective is because of it's small size, increase the size without increasing the mass and it's nothing. And the small size makes it easier for a shield. So, the answer is that they probably do, but it takes longer to adapt. – jmoreno Mar 17 '12 at 5:48
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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
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    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
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    Star Trek meets Firefly? – Daniel Bingham Feb 2 '11 at 18:49
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    @DanielBingham "Y'all live long and prosper!" – MPelletier Feb 2 '11 at 23:17
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    Civilisations with projectile weapons are probably too primitive to add to the Borg collective. Therefore, it is not that they haven't come across them but actively avoided such societies. – DarkHeart Apr 23 '17 at 12:48
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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.

  • 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
  • This answer is definitely the one that makes the most sense, and explains why they're so formidable in hand-to-hand combat without being completely invincible. – Perkins Oct 2 '15 at 23:56
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It's a different universe, but there are parallels to the replicators in Stargate SG-1 - 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
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    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
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    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
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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
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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.

9

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.

  • 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
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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.

  • 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
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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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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.

3

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.

Why?

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
1

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

  • No, the TR-116 was designed for dampening fields were Phasers were disabled, they later figured out a way to make Phasers work in these environments. – ench Feb 13 '17 at 23:52
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I am going to add to this, the Borg don't think like us, so the energy weapon shielding is probably there because:

  1. Energy based weapons are widespread.
  2. They don't need constant recharging/reloading.

Because of point 2, it makes sense to eventually be able to adapt to it so drones can assimilate their target. The shield is not there to protect the drone, just to ensure assimilation.

So many people here seem to be thinking that the Borg have these shields to protect its drones, but when you go into this thinking that the only concern of the Borg Collective is assimilation, and that drones are irrelevant, it becomes clearer why kinetic weapons are not a concern.

We know:

  1. Drones can be bought back from death 72 hours after their death.
  2. Tactical drones are outfitted to assimilate targets they are not outfitted for their protection.

Kinetic weapons jam, they need to be reloaded, and individuals have a finite amount of capacity. So eventually they will run out of ammo and then be forced to fight hand to hand, and eventually they will be overrun by sheer numbers.

I would imagine the Borg consider kinetic weapons to be a matter of fielding the numbers, assimilating once they wear their enemies' resources down (I believe Q alludes to this when the Enterprise first encounters the Borg).

Once that has been done, they can choose to revive and repair drones or recycle them for parts, because by this point those drones have already given over any information that the Collective might want.

The Borg do not care about losing drones in the manner to which we care about losing people. They can replenish and repair, and coupled with kinetic weapons being what they are, I would imagine this is a good in universe reason for the lack of kinetic shields.

  • Great answer, very logical and well reasoned! :) You're right about the Borg, they wouldn't be concerned with individual drones, their goal is assimilation, individual drones are irrelevant. – Bellatrix Jul 11 '17 at 2:30
0

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.

0

In Generations, the Duras sisters are only able to penetrate the E-D shields after obtaining the shield frequencies thru Geordis visor. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that photon torpedoes (solid weapons possessing significant KE) can be blocked by energy shields. I think this is borne out in scenes from other Trek footage as well.

Deflectors are not shields so to speak. Deflectors generally implies navigational deflectors which are designed to deflect space debris from the flight path of the ship. If borg had deflectors I think they would be useless against projectile weapons. I seriously doubt that at near point blank range personal deflectors could alter the flight path of a bullet travelling 1000 ft/s. There is no evidence this could be so.

Force fields as stated earlier stop matter in both directions but I dont recall forcefields like this being used anywhere other than in large installations. The implication here is that they require too much energy to be portable. So the borg are not equipped imo with either deflectors or forcefields and therefore they are indeed energy shields similar to those (in principle) to those mounted on starships.

So since energy shields can stop KE impacts why didnt the borg shields stop the holobullets? Some good theories about the nature of the holobullets and indeed maybe the borg had simply not yet adapted. Or maybe the writers are just inconsistent.

In regards to the latter consider that any starship shield that is subject to multiple energy impacts weaken over time and eventually fail. So why do phaser rifles canaonically able to vaporize solid rock not eventually weaken and overwhelm borg personal shielding? It seems unlikely that the borg drones can carry enough energy modules to resist multiple simultaneous phaser hits over time yet we never see multiple starfleet personnel aim all weapons at one borg. Curious. Possible the borg shielding absorbs the energy to power the shield but there is no stated evidence to that fact. And drones are not seen to carry capacitors to absorb that energy and regardless enough concentrated fire should overwhelm them as well. Perhaps the borg receive wireless energy thru subspace?

But back to KE. I think the borg would adapt to KE based weapons since we know energy shields can block KE impacts. But the borg personal shielding may not be able to stop all KE impacts. Does anyone think that starship shields would protect against an impact from a large asteroid with a relative impact of say 50000km/hr? I think not. The sheer momentum of mass would rapidly overwhelm the shields. So borg personal shields may similarly be overwhelmed by KE projectiles with sufficient momentum.

If starfleet was smart they would engage borg drones with phaser fire then with KE rounds and finally a good plasma grenade. Borg personal shielding would not be powerful enough or be able to adapt quick enough to constantly changing forms of energy impacts.

So in short yes borg shields would have adapted to KE weapons and starfleet personal battle tactics are terrible bordering on horrific incompetence. Perhaps starfleet should issue bat'leths.........

  • Welcome to SFFSE! Would you be able to improve the formatting of this answer a bit to make it less conversational and more directly answering the question? This would greatly improve the quality of your answer. – Often Right Jul 15 '15 at 6:12
  • Worth pointing out, Photon Torpedoes do not operate via kinetic energy, they use a matter-antimatter warhead. – ench Feb 13 '17 at 23:54
-1

The answer is fairly simple. Bullets have different kinetic energies so dispersing energy, no they couldn't adapt to it since every single bullet would have different kinetic energy output. However as for shielding against slower moving objects yes they could probably adapt to that.

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    If you are agreeing that projectile weapons are the best solution against the Borg, then this might be better served as a comment. If you are trying to give a reason why projectile weapons were not used, it does not come across clearly. Can you elaborate? – Adele C Feb 13 '17 at 22:28
-1

We only see the Tommy gun used once by Picard in First Contact movie. The thing is, it is also explicitly stated in the movie that you can get away with a few shots against drones before they adapt.

So, there's no real reason why the Borg wouldn't be able to adapt to projectiles or Bath'leths... we just don't see them do this because I would imagine such weapons aren't standard issue on Federation ships, plus, they require of a person to be in relatively close proximity to their opponent. Borg drones are quite powerful strength-wise and they usually overwhelm their opponents with numbers.

Voyager was long gone in the Delta Quadrant by then, and despite this, we saw that projectile based weapons have 0 effect against regular forcefields. Worf was able to fashion a personal force-field using his commbadge (the field was unstable, likely due to him adapting a commbadge for something completely different), but as it was shown, the bullet harmlessly exploded/bounced off the forcefield.

I don't think that these weapons would pose any harm to materials that Starfleet and the Federation use in the future... nevermind the Borg.

Actually, I find it a bit incomprehensible that the Borg armor that covers a drone would be incapable of stopping bullets on its own without force-fields... or swords, or bath'leths.

We do have flexible and thin armor capable of stopping numerous ranged weapons... so unless you hit the borg in a soft spot (where their actual exposed skin is), I don't think one could realistically expect to kill them easily or sever their limbs for that matter.

Besides, even if you get away with it on one or several drones, like with anything else, they will adapt.

Also, it is a lot easier to modify energy weapons to continue harming the Borg than fashioning ranged weapons on the fly you hadn't tried yet.

protected by Community Nov 19 '18 at 13:09

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