While Star Trek has had android characters for some time (most notably Data and his Soong-type brethren), and we do see that such androids take part in combat from time to time, I realized that I can't recall ever seeing any purpose-built artificial combat creatures - that is, creatures that are made specifically to fight in a similar way that ordinary biological lifeforms do, whether hand-to-hand, with melee weapons, or with ranged weapons like phasers or disruptors.

I thought of the following, but they don't really match:

  • The Jem-Hadar. They are a purpose-bred fighting force, but they are specifically biological creatures, built by the Dominion using genetic engineering, not mechanical or robotic.
  • The Borg. They are not all specifically bred specifically for combat, and their biological side is of critical importance in the story.
  • Nanites. They are established as a civilization that finds itself fighting from time to time for their own survival, not a purpose-built army.

Did Star Trek ever portray an army of combat robots, androids, or droids in the manner of the Trade Federation droid army in Star Wars or similar? That is, I am generally talking about some civilization fielding a fighting force consisting of large numbers of mechanically assembled creatures purposely built for combat, or at least testing out small numbers of such creatures with an eye to building an army, not a civilization occasionally re-purposing an existing general purpose or otherwise non-combat android for combat detail. Also, android civilizations, societies, or bands that found themselves fighting for survival, fighting for their own political cause, etc., don't count unless they were originally built as fighting androids. Situations in which non-combat-specific androids, driven by plot elements, suddenly rise up and say "Hey, let's stop serving biological lifeforms, let's shoot them with phasers instead, long live metal!" are not what I am talking about.

If a civilization deployed purpose-built mechanical creatures in a quasi-military or paramilitary context such as law enforcement, that can count.

If an android civilization, fighting for a political cause, survival, etc., built new androids specifically designed to fight for them, that can count. For example, if a coalition of Soong-type androids built a new, combat-optimized Soong-type prototype and started testing it out with an eye to mass-produce them and use them to hijack starships, that would count.

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    There is dreadnought, but that's more of a cardassian cruise missile with an AI plugged in that what your looking for. There's also the emergancy command hologram which might count where it mechanical rather than holographic. – Ummdustry Oct 16 at 15:45
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    @Ummdustry - Both considered and rejected for my answer. They're individual examples, not generic fighters – Valorum Oct 16 at 15:49
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    Another one to add to your "close but no cigar" list are the genetically enhanced soldiers from TNGs The Hunted episode. Also DS9 had the biological based Harvesters in the Armageddon Game. – DanK Oct 16 at 16:52
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    Oh, so this somewhat related question is kind of cool. Explains why there isn't a whole lot of robotic characters (militarized or otherwise). – DanK Oct 16 at 17:00
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    This is not the franchise you're looking for – kevin Oct 17 at 12:31

Offhand I can think of at least two examples, both of which killed their creators

  • The Pralor (shown) and Cravic Automated Personnel Units from VOY: Prototype.

    3947: When it was anticipated that the war would end, the Builders no longer required our services and they intended to terminate us. In doing so, they became the enemy. We are programmed to destroy the enemy. It is necessary for our survival. Now that you have constructed a prototype, we will soon outnumber the Cravic units. We will achieve victory.

    enter image description here

  • The Minosian 'Advanced Weapons System' from TNG: Arsenal of Freedom

    "Minos, the arsenal of freedom. Perfection in highly advanced weaponry. Versatility, flexibility, and everything one hundred percent guaranteed! So, lock onto my signal and beam on down! Because we don't just provide weapons, we provide complete weapons sys-"

    enter image description here

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    There are also the warheads from VOY 'Warhead'. – Xantec Oct 16 at 13:55
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    @Xantec - I considered those. They're a robotic body with the scan of a humanoid brain inside. There's no good evidence that they were widely used. – Valorum Oct 16 at 13:59
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    More widely produced than, say, Dreadnaught, even if their deployment was accidental. – Xantec Oct 16 at 14:03
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    Another possible answer is the planet killer from TOS. – Xantec Oct 16 at 14:04
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    @Xantec - Also considered and discarded; "...an army of..." – Valorum Oct 16 at 14:30

The Doomsday Machine

From Star Trek TOS S02E06 - The Doomsday Machine

The Doomsday Machine was a "miles long" planet destroying machine created by an unknown civilization.

enter image description here

SPOCK: She [the Constellation] was attacked by what appears to be essentially ... a robot, an automated weapon of immense size and power. Its apparent function is to smash planets to rubble and then digest the debris for fuel. It is, therefore, self-sustaining as long as there are planetary bodies for it to feed on.

KIRK: A robot weapon that purposely destroys entire solar systems. Why?

They surmise that it was meant as a mutually assured destruction device that was meant to prevent war but eventually destroyed both sides of the conflict and has been traveling looking for more planets to destroy since.

Bones: It's a weapon built primarily as a bluff. It's never meant to be used. So strong, it could destroy both sides in a war. Something like the old H-Bomb was supposed to be. That's what I think this is -- a doomsday machine that somebody used in a war uncounted years ago. They don't exist anymore, but the machine is still destroying.

It's not an army but

If a civilization deployed purpose-built mechanical creatures in a quasi-military or paramilitary context such as law enforcement, that can count.

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    While interesting, this doesn't seem to meet the criteria in the question: "creatures that are made specifically to fight in a similar way that ordinary biological lifeforms do, whether hand-to-hand, with melee weapons, or with ranged weapons like phasers or disruptors." – V2Blast Oct 16 at 22:38
  • If you're going to count the doomsday machine, you'd have to also count the Enterprise while it was fitted with M5. – Anthony X Oct 17 at 1:16
  • This is one hell of a reach – user9993 Oct 17 at 14:05
  • Ordinary biological lifeforms may use ranged weapons like Minuteman missiles, which, according to some sources, are also considered "doomsday machines". I guess though that the OP meant more android-like machines. Otherwise, we might consider photon torpedoes to be a "robot army". It is not totally unreasonable to assume that a photon torpedo could be even more "intelligent" than, for example, one of our contemporary robots assembling cars. Regardless, the doomsday machine is a good answer as it is one of the few episodes where it goes "humans against dumb but powerful AI". – Klaws Oct 19 at 15:54

Aliens have them, but the Federation seems to have abandoned that technology.

Sapient missiles ("Warhead", Voy 5x25)

A self-aware weapon of mass destruction.

A Delta Quadrant species put antimatter warheads aboard self-aware missiles. As a conscious being intent on fulfilling its destructive mission at the cost of its own existence, each missile was comparable to a real-world suicide bomber.

Hirogen training facility holograms ("Flesh and Blood", Voy 7x9, 7x10)

Rebel holograms.

(Image source: Star Trek Flesh and Blood, Part II)

The Hirogen used Federation holodeck technology to populate a hunters' training facility with holographic prey. The prey, which by design emulated a number of dangerous intelligent species, were fully capable of violent resistance. The holograms rebelled and won their freedom.

M-5 ("The Ultimate Computer", TOS 2x24)

M-5

Starfleet experimented with thinking computers, placing Kirk's Enterprise under the complete, direct control of M-5 for a simulated battle against four other starships. M-5 treated the war game as a real threat, engaging with lethal force and killing everyone aboard one of the "enemy" vessels. In addition to catastrophically poor judgement, M-5 also displayed an inability to deal with feelings of guilt, choosing suicide once it had reconsidered its actions.

This TOS-era disaster, combined with Earth's conservative approach to innovation following early harmful failures(1), may have led the Federation to restrict the development of battle droid technology.

Satan's Robot (recurring character, Voy)

Satan's Robot

This is not a "real" in-universe example, but it may be circumstantial evidence.

Tom Paris wrote a retro sci-fi holonovel, The Adventures of Captain Proton, and filled it with tropes and over-the-top stereotypes of the genre. His depiction of the villain's clunky, stupid robot thug possibly suggests that 24th-Century humans do not have recent experience thinking of robots as a threat.

In this clip from "Night" (Voy 5x01), Satan's Robot demonstrates its role in Doctor Chaotica's security force, as well as its effectiveness against someone who won't play along with the Captain Proton storyline (Youtube: Paris & Seven vs Robot!, beginning at 0:21):


(1) Genetic innovation is still taboo during the DS9 era, centuries after the Eugenics Wars.

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    Satan's Robot wasn't much of a "battle droid", more like a general purpose helper that could substitute as a low-quality hired goon, but I don't recall all it's scenes - was it really mainly for fighting? – Xen2050 Oct 17 at 9:20
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    @Xen2050 – I've added a video clip of the robot's in-story combat role. I agree that it's more of a security officer than a soldier, but I think it checks some of the important boxes (roughly humanoid form, designed for violence and intimidation). – Gaultheria Oct 17 at 16:44

We rarely saw "robots" of any kind on Star Trek, at least while Roddenberry had any control. He didn't want to see any stories about mechanical monsters going all "Frankenstein", and he wanted characters with faces who the audience could relate to. The dispassionate Spock, far from unrelatable, served as a lens on the human condition, as did Data. Some mechanical battle bot or man/machine run amok could not have achieved this and would have dragged the show into cliched sci-fi stereotypes.

Battle bots appeared in Star Wars where epic battles were being fought. Epic conflicts of the kind we saw in the Star Wars movies weren't the kind of stories Roddenberry sought to tell. You can't tell big stories in a one hour time slot, and TV series never got and don't get the kind of budget to stage huge battle scenes in a pre-CGI world. The stories were always smaller and more intimate; a "soulless" battle bot would just not fit into that kind of storytelling.

After he passed away, the showrunners who carried on the Star Trek franchise seem not to have been bound by Roddenberry's views, which is why we saw a few examples of very nearly what Roddenberry wanted to avoid.

ST:Voyager episodes "Prototype" and "Warhead" introduced us to perhaps the closest thing in the Star Trek franchise to battle bots, and managed to do it on a personal scale, exploring the human condition and posing ethical dilemmas - very much what vintage Star Trek was all about in its earliest years.

ST:Deep Space Nine managed some epic storytelling with a somewhat serialized format and, thanks to CGI, managed to depict a big space battle or two, but not a battle bot to be seen in the most likely of contexts for one to appear.

In The Next Generation, the only devices which could be considered battle bots, at least in purpose, were the drones in "Arsenal of Freedom".

I've not mentioned the Borg because I assume "battle bot" to mean an artificial soldier set to war by its creator. Although the Borg were substantially artificial and were equipped with weapons, they were a race unto themselves, not an army at the disposal of some civilization somewhere.

I've also not mentioned the Jem'Hadar because they weren't robots; engineered beings, yes, but not mechanical - not androids.

When robots did show up in the original series, none were purposed as implements of war. The closest the show came to robot armies was: (1) "I, Mudd", where there was a planet populated by an "army" of benevolent servants, whose most violent impulses were limited to commandeering the Enterprise and keeping its crew confined, and (2) the presumed "army" of androids of whom only Ruk survived to be found by Roger Korby in "What are Little Girls Made of?". The Losira replicas of "That Which Survives" seemed to be a very limited production run (no more than a few), purposed to selectively defend the outpost, not wage a war.

  • This doesn't answer the question. – Robert Columbia Oct 17 at 1:34
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    but interesting, especially because in Gene Rodenberrys Andromeda war robots where a very common appearnce - and name giving to the show – Christian Oct 17 at 7:20
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    @RobertColumbia Well, it sort of does: it answers "no" and gives a reason why. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 17 at 9:41

There's the original series episode "That_Which_Survives" in which a species called the Kalandans created an artificial planet with automatic defense methods, one of which was the creation of droids in the image of a now deceased and last survivor Losira, who enabled the auto defense systems before she died, where a pre-programmed droid can kill a specific human with a touch.

Towards the end of the episode, the planet creates 3 of these droids, and I would assume it could have created more. (The planet also teleported the Enterprise 990 light years away).

In "I, Mudd," the crew of the Enterprise are held captive by a race of androids who have determined, based on the one example of Harcourt Fenton Mudd, that humans are far too corruptible to be left in charge of the galaxy. They set out to control humanity by serving them. Captain Kirk and company put on such a blinding display of illogic that they confuse the androids so badly that they lock up.

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    These are just a race of androids who formed their own political structure and declared war. They are not a purpose-built robot army. – Robert Columbia Oct 17 at 14:45
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    Sorry, somehow missed that part of the question. Still early. No, other than the defense system that wiped out its owners in an attempt to sell itself to them, I can't think of anything other than the Doomsday Machine. – Grieg PEdersen Oct 17 at 14:47
  • AFAIR, we are not told what the original builders of these androids intended them to be used for. "They have a different plan: they will leave the planet themselves and offer their services to humanity, with the eventual goal of bringing the greedy and aggressive human race under their control." They might be some sort of robot army, even though they might employ more subtle methods of conquest than firing around with phasers. The question does mention conventional fighting, but also "fight in a similar way that ordinary biological lifeforms do" - which does include subtle methods. – Klaws Oct 19 at 15:43

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