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I have begun rewatching a few Star Trek TOS episodes, and have been struck by the apparent ineptitude of the Enterprise's "redshirt" security personnel. Even when compared to security teams of later series (TNG, DS9, VOY, for example), they appear to have essentially zero training:

  • They are frequently overpowered and subdued by unarmed opponents
  • They regularly fire their hand phasers "from the hip," though this one is explainable if phasers have a type of smart-aiming that real-world firearms do not
  • They wave phasers all over and gesture with them while talking, something that would never be done by someone trained with a lethal weapon
  • They exhibit irrational behavior (for example, repeatedly attempting to fire hand phasers at the Nomad probe despite the probe surviving a direct hit from a photon torpedo.)

This question may seem somewhat frivolous, as I believe the "answer" is merely that the show is a product of its times, and nobody expected realistic military tactics on an action/adventure that was in many ways a "space western." However, I think this can also be explained in canon in that the security guards are similar to something like modern-day private security guards: they are trained only for dealing with minor disputes that might arise on a large starship, not for repelling hostile invaders - their weapons are more for intimidation than actual use. This is in contrast with Starfleet's more militaristic beginnings depicted in Enterprise, where the ship's complement eventually included MACO's trained in combat tactics.

I'm pretty sure there's no canonical answer about this, but has it ever been addressed in other materials? I can't even remember a throwaway line about how "our personnel aren't equipped for that!" or some such statement. It seems to me that it would provide a plausible in-universe explanation, so I have trouble believing I am the first to have thought of it.

  • Sorry all for the wall of text here! I really wanted to try to differentiate this from the standard "why are these guys such bad shots in X" questions – Frank Pierce Nov 28 '12 at 18:18
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    The melee scenes in TOS are not much worse than in other TV of that era. Perhaps they are comical to people used to fast and raw (sometimes sophisticated, and sometimes far too florid) staging of fights that have been popular recently, but they are of their time. – dmckee Nov 28 '12 at 18:53
  • @dmckee I wasn't commenting on the melee scenes per se, as sophisticated choreography does not necessarily make something more realistic. I was merely talking about the security tactics used. – Frank Pierce Nov 28 '12 at 19:37
  • Even the 60's TV Robin seemed to have had better defensive skills than the redshirts. – Major Stackings Nov 28 '12 at 21:27
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    Related, maybe Duplicate: Why is Starfleet so poor at security tactics? – Bobby Nov 28 '12 at 21:30
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They are highly trained in hand to hand combat etc. Tasha Yar explicitly states this to an alien guest on the holodeck in TNG:

Episode: Code of Honour

Tasha: I think you should know that there is no physical training anywhere that matches Starfleet, especially its security people.

There are also several references made to their training by Worf and Tuvok although I cannot recall the exact dialog.

The fact that they are functionally ineffective should be interpreted as a plot device otherwise most shows would be very short and not very exciting.

In the same way that Star Wars' Storm Troopers are all terrible shots on screen despite Obi Won mentioning that blaster shots could not have been made by sandmen and only imperial storm troopers are so precise. Otherwise Han, Chewie and Luke would have been immediately killed in the corridor in A New Hope when trying to resuce Leia.

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    Related - Stormtroopers are not "terrible shots" – Beofett Nov 29 '12 at 17:46
  • Can you find a quote by Tasha, or do you know the episode or something? – Izkata Nov 30 '12 at 0:13
  • Did a bit of research, please see my update – Stefan Nov 30 '12 at 9:20
  • I'm marking this as accepted because it explicitly answers my question with a canonical source as "Yes." – Frank Pierce Dec 27 '12 at 15:30
  • Yar takes out one of Q's guards with a quickness in TNG 101, "Encounter at Farpoint." It was like buttah. – Thom Brannan Mar 7 '13 at 8:49
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There are lost languages, lost technologies, lost arts. Imagine you're an inordinately feisty citizen of the Federation in the 23rd Century and you want to learn a martial art. You've heard of kendo, judo, savate and so forth and there are a few books and memory tapes in the library about them. Alas, all the serious practitioners of these arts were killed in the last great war and collapse of civilization. Instead of having a master with decades of experience to guide you, the only tradition and training to be had is what you can piece together from near ancient relics.

Such a situation would explain why Kirk and his security personnel seem to know a smattering of martial arts, about as much as you'd pick up taking a self-defense class for a few weeks after you'd been mugged. The security personnel are trained, but the overall knowledge of close combat tactics is low because the traditions are slowly being built back up.

  • That is exactly my thought. Earth is relearning their fighting arts from aliens and through experience, since their world was devastated by a war leaving almost nothing but data records and probably few of those. Security teams are relearning what works best. I remember that episode of Charlie X when they were teaching combat techniques, they seem so simple to a person like me who has been trained by the military and martial arts instruction. +1, sir. – Thaddeus Howze Nov 30 '12 at 21:14
  • Kyle. +1 That is an excellent point. I'd never considered that and I've always been appalled at the ineptitude of their so-called fighting skills. This would be a very good explanation for their extreme wimpyness. lol – Morgan Jan 8 '14 at 0:20
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    It's almost like they're... actors with only basic training in combat... or something.... – Ellesedil Jun 8 '16 at 17:14
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I think it's in fact just a plot device. It's just unrealistic to have e.g. science or medical staff being able to better fight someone than trained security (take Spock or McCoy for example; sure, some might be worse, but they seem to be better than any of them, no matter whether they have to dodge blows, shots or anything else). Even if that'd be the case, why don't they replace bad personnel?

Different question: Why are they "red shirts" at all? Throughout the series there are at least a few occasions where red shirts are killed by non-energy weapons and there are obviously enough species still using some kind of kinetic weapons (classic guns, arrows, darts, etc.). Yet no security officer is ever seen wearing some kind of protective armor (excluding Enterprise). Even if it wouldn't fully protect you from getting shot by a phaser, some protection sounds better than no protection at all. Today's soldiers aren't fighting naked just because the "bad guys" got armor piercing rounds anyway.

But the whole thing isn't TOS only and by far not only related to red shirts:

The most common reason for any ship in Star Trek to blow up seems to be the warp core breaking (or more specifically the fields keeping everything where it should be). Holes in the hull, structural problems, etc.? Yes, they appear from time to time, but most often it's just some random hit, followed by "oh no, the warp core is breaking!" Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of most Star Trek series (probably excluding DS9), but are they really that dumb? They can travel faster than light, travel back in time, create things out of thin air (okay, energy), beam around, etc. but they can't improve the obvious weak point of pretty much any ship? I don't think so. If you've built a tank and it can be killed by a precise shot to blow up its fuel, I add even more armor in that section. With force fields and stuff this should be even easier.

And another example on a more direct combat related thingy: Fights in corridors aboard starships!

These are pretty common in some seasons and series, especially in TNG and Voyager. More or less classic gunfights onboard spaceships. People getting shot, boarding crews rushing through corridors, etc. people having to dodge shots while trying to get wounded people out of harms,... I think you know what I'm talking about.

Other episodes there's some bad guy (or somehow influenced crew member, like Data) trying to escape the ship. Noone is able to get a hold of them, because they're protected by force fields established throughout the ship, always encapsulating the fleeing person. This sounds like a perfect solution for any "only one man to rescue the ship from boarding party" scenarios, yet it's never used. Picard, Janeway, the Doctor, etc. they all rush through tunnels, dodge shots, sneak around, etc. Why don't they use these force fields? They're probably useless vs. the Borg, but other enemies like the terrorists trying to takeover Enterprise during some cleaning action in a starbase? Very odd...

With all these examples, I clearly think such things like red shirts getting killed over and over again or doing stupid things are really only plot devices. Don't even think about it. It might be related to the time some series got created (especially in the case of TOS), but it also happens in later episodes. I don't want to call it bad writing or anything like that, because most often there's no better solution to sell some situation as threatening, despite it appearing rather poor, when analyzed.

Or, to get back on the initial question: They are trained and they should be considered good, it's just required to kill one of them and kill them fast (without always trying to come up with some kind of ambush situation or anything like that) to not waste show time, while showing the threat of death to other crew members.

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    +1 Sadly this is almost certainly true, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the claim of bad writing. I think you are allowed to enjoy and even applaud shows that are badly written. Let's face it almost all sci-fi for television/mass consumption is badly written from the point of view of reality checks. – DRF Dec 30 '15 at 14:31

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