Why do they need shields in Star Trek? Doesn't the warp drive work by warping space around the ship? Wouldn't that mean any phaser or torpedos would have to follow the warped space-time around the ship as well?

It seems to me warping space around the ship to make phasers/torpedoes follow the curve of the warped space-time instead of hitting the ship is far more effective then shields. Energy and matter have to follow the space-time curve as it moves so... you can't hit what you can't get to inside a warp bubble.

  • There are several instances (Voyager, TNG, TOS) of phasers being fired at warp, and by TNG, photon torpedoes were warp capable. It's also what knocked the Enterprise out of warp in Into Darkness. – JohnP Apr 25 '14 at 15:24

Ships aren't at Warp speed all the times. There are times when they orbit a planet or move with sub-light speed. Shields can protect ship in these times.

From Memory Alpha:

Warp Drive works by generating warp fields to form a subspace bubble that enveloped the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that could greatly exceed the speed of light.

Yes, Warp Drive distorts local spacetime continuum, that's why a torpedo can't hit a warping vessel unless it has a sustained warp field (See this). This warp field of torpedo is the answer. Talking about real physics, nobody knows what a subspace bubble really is.

  • 1
    The torpedo reference. If I read correctly, the reason your referenced answer says it can't hit a vessel in warp has less to do with the warp field distortion than it does with fact that a torpedo fired from a sub-light vessel can't overtake a vessel in warp. But that assumes they're traveling roughly in the same direction. I would argue that even a sub-light torpedo could impact a vessel in warp if they were headed directly at each other. – Stan Oct 6 '13 at 20:18

From Wikipedia:

warp drive technology creates an artificial "bubble" of normal space-time that surrounds the spacecraft [...] Consequently, spacecraft at warp velocity can continue to interact with objects in "normal space".

It's incorrect that you can't get inside a warp bubble from the outside (see effects of warp collisions). However, there most likely are distortions/damage as the edge of the bubble is traversed. An analogy might be the refraction of light as it passes from one medium to another although that's not destructive.

So shields are still needed.


In the DS9 Technical Manual on page 14 under future advancements:

defensive shield impermeability. Total energy isolation is being studied as a subspace field generation method which allows no interaction between an established shield bubble and an outside force.

According to the TNG Technical Manual page 138, deflector shields are gravitational devices, that bend space around the ship, by passing gravitons through subspace field coils.

The warp drive is a propulsive phenomena that generates its field, by passing energized plasma through the subspace field coils. Furthermore on page 139:

Because of the spatial distortion inherent in the shielding generation process, there is a measurable effect on the geometry of the warp fields that propel the ship.

Both are different methods of creating subspace fields with different properties and effects.

A warp field, is propulsive and intended to lower the mass of the ship, being directed towards the ship, it would be quite useless as a shielding system other than by causing the incoming EM projectile to lose some of its energy due to a weak interaction.

A shield however is a static bubble directed outward from the ship and is therefore effective against incoming material, making it lose most of its energy, although there is always going to be some bleedthrough.

A warp field is not comparatively intense, and is directed towards the ship. A shield is intense, and is directed away from the ship. A warp field sits outside the shield bubble and will allow most energy to pass through it, the shield sits close to the hull and will not allow most energy through it.

Also according to page 138 of the TNG Technical Manual, the shield generators are rated for 473,000 MW per generator. By my calculations, a warp 1 warp field is only 1,000 MW.

Think of the shield as a ball of metal around the ship, and the warp field as a haze of heat and light beyond it.

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