Something we've become quite familiar with in Star Trek is the "Set phasers to stun" with away parties if they don't want to kill somebody. Is there in Star Trek a similar weapon (setting) for ship to ship weapons, e.g. an EMP canon or something similar, in case you want / need to incapacitate an enemy ship without risking the crew's lifes.

  • Wouldn't an EMP weapon shut the whole ship down including life support? I think that's why they target engines to incapacitate.
    – mwarren
    May 17 '21 at 13:46
  • The crew regularly bugger up 'incapacitating other ships' and end up blasting them into dust
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 13:55
  • @mwarren Yes, but no live support means, contrary to a hull breach, not immediate death. They still have time to save the crew from that. Also, stunned means not permenantly taken out of order but simply for some time.
    – Shade
    May 17 '21 at 14:45
  • @Valorum I don't think it's an easy task. A stunned ship could also have a problem with the antimatter / singularity if it becomes absolutely powerless.
    – Shade
    May 17 '21 at 14:49
  • 1
    In Star Wars they have "Ion cannons" that do precisely this
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 15:11

I'm not sure about phasers, but in several episodes, EM pulses have been used to disable systems: From Memory Alpha:

An electromagnetic pulse (often referred to as an EM pulse or EMP) was a short-duration burst of broadband, high-intensity electromagnetic energy, capable of disrupting magnetic fields and producing current or voltage surges in conductive materials via magnetic induction.

Later that year, the USS Discovery crew used an electromagnetic pulse to deactivate the time crystal in the Red Angel's suit, as part of their plan to trap her. (DIS: "The Red Angel")

The detection grid of the Imperial Hall on Ilari was vulnerable to a narrow-band EM pulse during its maintenance cycle every ten hours. In 2373, the USS Voyager considered using this weakness to storm the Hall and remove Tieran from Kes' body, but Tieran was already aware of the vulnerability and informed them that his soldiers would be waiting. (VOY: "Warlord")

In 2374, (during Operation Return), the Dominion jammed the Federation's communications by generating a rotating EM pulse. (DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels")

IKS Rotarran emitting an EM pulse.

In 2375, while proposing to destroy the Monac shipyard, Miles O'Brien suggested that they could have IKS Rotarran fire an EM pulse at the Monac star to trigger a solar plasma ejection. (DS9: "Shadows and Symbols")

Later the same year, B'Elanna Torres attempted to disable a Druoda series 5 long-range tactical armor unit by sending an EM pulse through its power matrix, to no effect. (VOY: "Warhead")


  • Quite a few of these aren't ship-based weapons. You'd do better to pick out the ones that relate to the question being asked...
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 15:10

Check the answers to


In the TOS episode "A Piece of the Action" The Enterprise fires its main phaser banks on stun setting from outer space through the atmosphere of a planet to stun people on the ground. Despite passing though many miles of atmosphere, the phaser beam was not modified to either "too faint to notice" or "kill" but remained in stun form.

Thus it is possible that if the main phasers were fired at stun setting at an enemy space shipe the beam might menetrate the hull while remaining a stun bean instead of becoming a a "too faint to notice" or a "kill" beam. Thus it is possible that the Enteprise could fire its main phasers at stun setting at another ship, stun all the crew, and beam a boarding party aboard to take control.

Or the phaser beam might bounce off or be absorbed by the hull.

In the TOS episode "The Day of the Dove" the Enterprise fires its phasers at a disabled and abandoned Klingon ship without force shields and totally vaporizes it in one shot.

This implies that the force shields of a spaceship have many times the defensive power of the spaceship's hull. And most of the times when a starship wanted to disable another ship, the other ship would already have its energy screens on. So the question becomes whether a phaser beam on stun setting could penetrate the force shields and the hull of another spaceship.

In many Star Trek movies and episodes, a space battle ends when one ship disables another ship's weapons, and/or shields, and/or warp drive. I note that once a ship's shields are down, it might become vulnerable to a phaser beam set on stun.

And once a ship's shields are down and its weapons are down, the other ship can beam a boarding party aboard to capture it if that is desired.


The main phasers of the Enterprise can fire a "stun" over a large area.

This is seen in the episode A Piece of the Action.

Kirk has Scotty stun the attacking gangsters around Bela Okmyx's office building.

The power level of the ship's phaser banks must therefore be at least somewhat variable. That would allow using lower power when firingon other ships.

In The Ultimate Computer, the weapons on the Enterprise and several other Federation ships are turned down while conducting war games with the M5 in command - basically turning the ships' phasers into a laser tag system.

M5 later turns the power back up and destroys the Excalibur, killing all personell on board. M5 also severely damages the Lexington, killing 53 of the crew.

In response,the other ships involved in the execises ask for and receive permission from Starfleet Command to put their phasers back to full power and destroy the Enterprise.

Several Star Trek novels also mention this ability to vary the power of the ship's main phaser banks.

In the novel Chain of Attack, Kirk orders the phasers turned down to demonstrate their ability penetrate the shields of the a Hoshan ship. The phasers (even at reduced power) easily penetrate the shields on the Hoshan ship and destroy the probe that was used as a target.

  • I'm not really sure that any of these examples address the question asked, which is whether there's a setting which incapacitates ships. The first example isn't about a ship. In the wargame example, the opposing ship needs to simulate damage.
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 14:13
  • @Valorum: They certainly demonstrate that the output power of the phasers can be varied from very low to full power. In between would be "incapacitate."
    – JRE
    May 17 '21 at 14:16
  • I'm not really sure that that follows. There may be a power threshold at which they go from being deadly to simply becoming ineffective.
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 14:19
  • @JRE The stun setting on person vs person is specifically designed to stun an opponent and not have the risk of killing him. Your answer can give an indication that they have the possibility to make less damage or can, if wanted, obliterate another ship but it's no answer if they can specifically incapacitate another ship without (or very low) risk of killing.
    – Shade
    May 17 '21 at 14:44

Sort of.

We do see shield penetration at times. For example, in The Jem'Hadar the The Jem'Hadar's weapons can penetrate shields like they aren't there. We've also seen various efforts to target shield emitters, like The Forgotten, or The Wounded where focused fire on the Cardiassian shield emitter forced them to stand down without all dying.

In The Way of the Warrior breaking the shield emitters allows Klingons to teleport on board to do bad things.

If you have superior technology, you can bypass the shields and do whatever stunning things you wish. You can focus firepower on shields, and while some may die during this (we have seen many exploding consoles), you can minimize casualties. We haven't seen any direct stun ship to ship weapons.

Any such weapons would likely require vast technological superiority.

  • In TNG: Conundrum, the baddies use some sort of modified scanner to penetrate the shields and amnesia-fy the whole crew (including Data, for some reason)
    – Valorum
    May 17 '21 at 15:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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