The Federation implemented a blockade of the Klingon-Romulan border to prevent Romulan supplies getting to the Duras-led faction. In reality space is a void, would a blockade work? Couldn't the Romulans just go around it?

23 ships in the void of space doesn't take up that much real estate. It wasn't a small patch of space that Starfleet was blocking. It was the entire Romulan-Klingon border. No way just 23 ships could cover that vast an area effectively. So why couldn't the Romulans simply circumvent the grid?

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    Can you try and provide more descriptive titles for the questions you are asking in the future?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Oct 23, 2019 at 14:18
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    memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Redemption_II_(episode) I think this is a good question. We can quibble over the details of how effective a tachyon net would be. Let's assume at maximum warp, Starfleet's ships took 2 days to spread out. That means at most you have to go out of your way 4 days to go around. Simple trigonometry indicates it would be significantly less, because you start some distance from the net. (You travel the hypotenuse of the triangle formed by your direct path and going around the blockade.) Seems like a plot hole to me.
    – BAMF4bacon
    Oct 23, 2019 at 20:57
  • Eh, due to warp you can handwave stuff and imagine it happens on ordinary 2D map, preferably squeezed a lot, so detour required is huge. It obviously doesn't work when you have full 3D space with 2D boundary to defend, paired with actual enormous distances. Oct 24, 2019 at 8:54
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    It's a common trope that space shows don't really deal with, well, space very well
    – Kevin
    Oct 25, 2019 at 16:10
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    Well, the Romulans could surely just have flown through the "blockade" seeing how it wasn't a true blockade at all with gaping holes, and Starfleet wasn't supposed to engage in battle anyway. But then, if detected, they'd have to admit to what they were doing, and it was a covert operation. Covert and publicly witnessed doesn't play well together. So the best thing they could do when being shown that they were visible to Data was to turn around silently, not having crossed the border (so... arguably doing a legitimate trip very close to the border only).
    – Damon
    Oct 25, 2019 at 18:06

6 Answers 6


The Romulan ships couldn't detour for the same reason they couldn't just go home and try again next week: the Duras faction won't survive that long without their aid. Gowron's forces launched a major offensive at the same time as the blockade went into place, forcing the Duras sisters to call for more support before they were overrun.

It's also worth pointing out the political angle. Once the Duras-Romulan link was established, Klingon support for the Duras family began to wane. (Nobody likes having their personal conflicts meddled with by outsiders, and Klingons particularly resent the sort of shadow tactics the Romulans use as a matter of course.) The Romulans had to move quickly to bolster the Duras before the tide turned completely against them.

So, the Federation has no need to blockade the entire border. All they need to do is blockade the shortest routes between the Romulan and Duras bases, while applying pressure to force the Romulans to move quickly.

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    I like this comment. The blockade doesn't necessarily stop them from going around, but it reduces the efficiency of running the blockade. Ships taking longer to travel reduce the overall amount of goods they can supply in a unit of time.
    – BAMF4bacon
    Oct 23, 2019 at 21:03

Your Issue - Area

Your question is based on the premise that

23 ships in the void of space doesn't take up that much real estate.

However, there is no detail I'm aware of on the range of the tachyon beams used in the show. There's no indication of how far apart the ships are, so no indication of how "much real estate" the blockade actually covers.

The Real Issue - Density

In the episode, the grid is described as single beams between ships (the graphics appear to support this, too), and a hostile ship needing to cross one of the beams. Even worse, they don't actually show a beam from each ship to every other ship - they go to three or four other ships, not twenty-two others. This wouldn't work at all as described - space is vast, and a beam (by definition) is narrow. A grid of single beams would be very porous.

In order for the "grid" to be effective, it would need to be denser, more like a sheet than a net. It would need actively swept fields from every ship to every other ship. Attempts to penetrate the blockade would be detected by an interruption in the field between two or more ships, and triangulated by the pattern of interruptions between three or more ships.

A field (or swept beam) approach would actually make Sela's attempted countermeasure, flooding the area around Data's ship, more plausible. Throw enough tachyons out there, and you'd mess up the timing around that ship - it wouldn't be able to tell what was a real sweep versus what was an attempted penetration.

  • I have an alternate idea, which is that the "tachyon beams" are just some center-focus that can be used to aim the net, but the net may have actually spread out some wider sweeps. So, for each beam that was visibly shown on the computer monitor, that visible line represents the center of what was actually a cone-shaped amount of emitting tachyons. But thin lines made for a much more easily understandable visual for us (the viewing audience) and for the characters as well. Is it seem reasonably feasible that is what actually happened (despite the script's words not indicating this)?
    – TOOGAM
    Oct 26, 2019 at 15:04
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    Its worth noting that a beam isn't always just a beam in star trek, in the episode ENT Bounty 2x25 Archer is held on a Tellarite's ship behind a force field that looks like a net made of beams with huge holes between, big enough to get through, but when he touches in between them its clear that the beams fill in the space between too. So there is evidence that beams can fill the entire area in between (at least in Star Trek)
    – Matt
    Oct 26, 2019 at 22:14

A plausible explanation is that while the ships could go around, the delay would be punitive enough to lose the war.

At first, I found this a hard pill to swallow. After all, a 20 hour ultimatum from Sela -- surely you can fly around that blockade in a day! Moreover, she travelled to meet Picard in person, so it can't be that far, right?

Let's crunch some numbers. It is reasonable to assume that the Romulans are bringing large amounts of supplies. A couple of (high-speed) Warbirds can't carry enough, so the supplies are being brought by transport ships.

Transport / trade / supply ships don't necessarily travel at high warp. Travel at Warp 5 is about 6x as slow as at Warp 9. Let's say going around the blockade (assuming it's 2 days travel wide at warp 9) would add a whole week to travel time to go around. The show mentioned "urgency" several times. (Obviously, these numbers are soft, but it illustrates the point.)

The blockade was placed smack dab in the middle of the supply line, meaning that whatever the time delay to go around is, ships closest to the blockade would be hurt the most by having to go around.

The ships currently running the supplies would have to go around or try to run the blockade. If they try to go around, they take an extra 7 days to do it, and this basically means that the Federation completely stopped the shipments for 7 days.

To illustrate the point: Let's say for example there are 5 transports headed to the destination each 1 day apart. They will all start to go around the blockade; because of geometry of diverting along a hypotenuse, the ships furthest away are delayed the least. So instead of 7 days of steady supplies, they would instead receive 5 days worth of supplies 7 days later. That is clearly very bad.

The actual amounts of time don't matter. The point is that circumventing the blockade is a major disruption. It stops supplies for a certain amount of time and then makes time between shipments longer until a new strategy is adopted.

Let's assume the Romulans can adapt, sending more ships and accounting for the longer travel time by going around. Maybe even using faster ships.

No matter what, the Federation blockade adds X days of delay.

Sela knows that this time period is too long; it means their plan fails. So she makes the decision to try and run the blockade.

Doesn't that seem bone-headed? I was thinking, "Send half the ships at least? CMON!"

She could tell her ships to try and go around and then resume course if a solution is found.
That's bad for several reasons. (1) When they resume course, they are off-course and so the delay of starting to go around and then back-tracking is worse than just waiting to run straight through the blockade. (2) It's risky. Spreading out means more chances to get caught. You might need the Warbird's energy and technology to run the blockade, i.e. "high powered" solution, so you need to stick together anyways. (3) The ships are still late; the Federation's strategy wins and you just scattered your ships like a sprinkling of salt into a war zone for no benefit.

In the end, going around is not an effective enough option. Sela is smart enough to know this, so she doesn't try. She "goes all in" on running the blockade with all the supplies. It's the last good move she has left.

Another plausible explanation is that the Romulans could go around, but simply don't want to. Consider the psychology. The Romulans do sneak around, but are somewhat contrary in their nature: they also face challenges head on. Romulans are proud and don't back down from a fight. They are masters of intrigue. They might be thinking, "Why should we run around Picard's blockade like a scared animal when we can defeat Picard with guile? Stare him down until he blinks!"

Sela demonstrates she understands the strategy very well. But it could hurt the morale of her crew and how she is perceived by her crew and her superiors if she were not to use a show of strength when challenged.

Another reason to not go around: The Romulans also perceived the blockade as a temporary setback. They are confident they will find a solution; their understanding of cloaking technology is superior to the Federation, so they are willing to bet on beating them with Science. In the end, this turned out to be correct. If it were not for Commander Data's playing the hero, they would have won this way.


The map below shows that there is a Federation border on either side of the Klingon border. There were several episodes where the Romulans and Federation almost went to war for one side or the other entering the Neutral Zone, so while the Romulans wanted to disrupt the Klingon Empire, it wasn't worth risking war with the Federation, which as you can see is much larger than the Romulan Empire.

I also don't have a reference for this, but I think I remember hearing in some episode or another that there are monitoring stations at the Neutral Zone, so they would have been able to notice if a Romulan fleet went through their part of the border.

There is a barrier that prevents ships from crossing the galactic boundary, or going above the galactic disc, it is shown in TOS.

Alpha Quadrant Map

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    There's a barrier above and around the top and bottom of the galactic plane. If you enter it, you die; scifi.stackexchange.com/a/144821/20774
    – Valorum
    Oct 23, 2019 at 14:37
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    @Vaalorum. You, and possibly also Daishozen, are confusing two different terms. The galactic disc is a disc of stars, dust & gas about 100,000 light years in diameter, and at Earth's distance from the galactic center it is at least 1,000 light years thick, though its thickness is hard to measure. The galactic plane is an abstraction, a mathematical plane of infinitesimally small thickness at the center of the galactic disc. The Star Trek fictional barrier is around the galactic disc, not he galactic plane. Oct 23, 2019 at 15:29
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    agree w/ @M.A.Golding - nothing prevents crossing galactic plane that we yet know of in-universe. The original title of the question even references the STII idea of Spock's that Khan is limited to two-dimensional thinking and to take the Enterprise to a different "depth"
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 23, 2019 at 15:36
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    Edited "galactic plane" to "galactic disc" as per M. A. Golding's comment. If I am in error, please feel free to return it to its original wording. Oct 23, 2019 at 16:20
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    Re: "The map below shows that there is a Federation border on either side of the Klingon border": That's a two-dimensional map representing part of three-dimensional space. You seem to be assuming that all borders extend perpendicularly to the map -- e.g., that the Federation is in two completely separate pieces -- but that's not true. There's no reason to think that "either side of the Klingon border" is even a well-defined concept (at least in the way that you mean it).
    – ruakh
    Oct 24, 2019 at 20:17

Because writers aren't very good at grasping how big space is and that things that work on Earth don't work in space because of it.


  • I'd say it's a combination of that, and their failure to notice that space is actually 3-dimensional. Ships are basically planar, and always seem to yaw away from one another with very little yawing (except above a planet). Whatever those 20 ships would do, there is absolutely no way the Romulans couldn't just circumvent them with ease.
    – einpoklum
    Nov 30, 2021 at 22:38

There is an example in Star Trek where beams connect to each other, see this example from Season 2 - Episode 25 of Enterpise

enter image description here

From the image its clear that you could fit through the beams, but when Archer touches in-between them they shock him. There would be no need for the beams if they didn't form the field. This is well before TNG era, so its not hard to believe that the beams to detect the Romulans are doing more than act like a laser, and are in fact filling the gaps in-between too.

The tholian web shows the same thing so there is strong canon evidence that going through the breams may not be possible

As for the 2nd interpretation of the question (its not clear if you are asking about circumventing the beams or the entire grid)

The grid didn't have to cover the whole boarder as others have stated: just enough so that by the time the supplies got to the Klingon's it would be to late. We have no details on how far apart those ships are. Its mentioned that they need the supplies urgently so any delay would mean defeat. They could have gone around but they didn't have the time. The Federation was only blocking the shortest route so there wouldn't be enough time to go around


The grid didn't have to span the full boarder, just enough to make the shipments useless, and those ships could have been days apart from each other at maximum warp. There simply wasn't enough time to go around. And the beams don't have to act like lasers in Star Trek, they can fill in the gaps too (somehow)

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