I can't speak for Voyager, since I don't recall whether Captain Janeway used photons against Borg Cubes, but in TNG, specifically, "Q Who," photon torpedoes are shown to have no effect. The ship phasers do plenty of damage, yet when fleeing from the Borg Cube, the Enterprise's photon torpedoes are ineffectual.

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    The plot required them to be ineffectual, to show how out-matched the Enterprise was.
    – Derek
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 3:53
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    photon torpedoes are ineffective on federation ships before the sheilds are down, question is unclear, photon torpedos are kinetic damage, a typical fight is phasers or disrupters to drain shield energy integrity to the point were a torpedo can blow the remaining shields, strain the remaining sheilds, or do direct damage to the enemy ship
    – Himarm
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 3:58
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    I am not too familiar with the canon, so take me suggestion with a grain of salt. Photon torpedoes must utilize photons in some capacity. If the vast computational capacity of the Borg could calculate the vibration frequency of the torpedoes photons, and then emitted a counter-frequency that essentially cancels out the effects of that torpedo, then they would be completely ineffective. Yes, I am aware that my answer boils down to "They reversed the polarity" Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 8:16
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    I think the "canon" reason is as Magikarp states. The Borg utilised adaptive shielding. If you hit them with your weapons, the first shot should, in theory, always work. But every shot after that will not, because the Borg will adapt to your weapon frequencies. Essentially, they deliberately modify their shields on the fly to be strongest against your particular weapons. That's why frequency modulation is the best way to beat them. They can't adapt to a single weapon frequency if you hit them with all the frequencies. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 9:00
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    Photon Torpedos are matter / anti-matter warheads. So most of the energy is released as radiation (much like a nuke). A destructive shockwave can only form, if that energy heats up matter to a form where it expands supersonic. Without matter absorbing the heat, there will be no effective explosion. So if the hull is not penetrated and is shielded from the radiation, there is little effect to the ships hull.
    – Adwaenyth
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


Photon torpedoes work on a principle of massive radiation and kinetic damage. With their shields up, they would be deflected. A phaser is a directed energy weapon, which can be re-modulated to bypass the shield harmonics of a vessel, in this case by using a sweeping frequency voyager can penetrate the shields of the Borg vessel until the frequency is blocked.

  • So photons never work as long as the target has its shields intact? Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 18:21
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    @T-1000'sSon I think everyone is misunderstanding this situation except this answer. Photon torpedoes are antimatter warheads. That is a bomb. No frequencies. Just explosions. To block an explosion you simply need a shield that can withstand that kinetic energy. Phasers operate with frequencies. This is why they started to use the phaser adapter in the show so that the Borg could not "adapt" to the weapons specific frequency and cause their weapons to become ineffective. The torpedoes were ineffective because the Borg shields were just that good. This is a good answer.
    – Odin1806
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 21:23
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    @T-1000'sSon Photon torpedoes work in a situation where the shield doesn't have the power to deflect the kinetic damage, but as we all know, Borg shields are incredibly powerful. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 10:22

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