I believe when the Enterprise is engaged against an enemy ship, both ships have to have dropped out of warp and operate at sub-light speeds. But this is still many kilometers per second. Does any canon or even non-canon story address how humans or humanoids are able to make the maneuvers and fire weapons at targets that move at, say, even half the speed of light? (I know I never heard this discussed by characters on STOS).

For example, is there some way in which human reaction time is compensated for by some special systems? When we watch battles, it is deliberately shown as if both ships move like old-fashioned sailing vessels. In part this can be explained by the distances involved -- everyone has watched a jet in the distance appear to move very slowly. (This mystified me as a kid -- if a commercial jet moved at 700 kph, how could we even see it? As far as jet fighters are concerned, I think they rarely fight close to each other -- I am guessing the combatants are usually many km apart).

Thought: The idea that relative speeds are important suggests that an attacker could use software to match speeds, anticipate maneuvers, etc. would allow a human to indeed literally observe the battle without special enhancements. A defender with weaker armaments would try to thwart this, the analog of shaking another fighter plane from one's tail, etc. But just as there are only so many maneuvers one can use in dogfights between fighter planes, there should be ways of anticipating such maneuvers between star ships.

That sort of explanation makes some sense to me -- so now all I am asking is if this is discussed in Star Trek itself.

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    I'd assume that phasers are directed by computers, but I haven't found a citation for it yet. FWIW, phasers have been fired during warp, although it was more common in TOS before the lore was firmly established.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 13:16
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    Remember that it is relative velocity that counts. In the Star Trek battles I remember seeing, relative speeds have been quite low (as have been distances between space fleets). This is of course to make battles more exciting on the screen. Shooting at something you can't see, where you won't know the result of your shooting for hours, doesn't make for very interesting tv. Realistically, long-range target-seeing missiles would be used instead of phasers and short-range photon torpedoes. Write it up as artistic license. Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 13:41
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    @KlausÆ.Mogensen: I'd have to think about this, but sometimes in a battle the defender would take advantage of this and avoid have a low relative velocity, right?
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 14:00
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    @releseabe My problem with answering this, that aside from some dumb examples like the joystick in Insurrection, we never see the ships piloted, or weapons operated manually. The computer is always told to lock onto the enemy and then fire. or execute specific evasive maneuvers. So I don't know what kind of example you need
    – Andrey
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 20:53
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    TOS was produced for a general audience of the 1960s; the characters and action had to be engaging and relatable to that audience. That lead not only to the way characters (such as Kirk) were shaped, but also the way Enterprise, its operation and shipboard life drew inspiration from and ultimately resembled mid-20th century seafaring. So we got starship combat sequences paced out as much to resemble naval warfare as to build dramatic tension.
    – Anthony X
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


It really shouldn't.

In battle, targeting scanners have been mentioned numerous times. Locking onto targets is not done by hand but by the computer (except in extreme cases, such as when the targeting scanners are offline). Given the large distances that starships supposedly have between each other during battle, I don't think it's realistic for a crew member to be able to manually lock on an enemy ship and score hits.

Maneuvering, as you said, can occur at large distances, so I don't think reaction time is that important. Even in battles with lots of ships moving relatively "close" to each other (such as in the Dominion War), you can usually see ships passing by each other without much danger. The computer controls the ship--it just needs orders. If there isn't enough time to input coordinates or even a direction, I'm not sure what the helmsman can do.

  • The only human experience with anything moving near SoL is with things like radio waves between the Earth and Luna or satellite communications and of course light itself travelling great distances with the solar system; humans have no direct experience controlling macro objects that can be literally thousands of kilometers away in a length of time which can't be perceived. I really believe that contrary to what you assert, it really should and therefore I am asking what Star Trek thinks about it or if it has never been addressed in the show or books. But, I have an idea which I will add.
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 0:34

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