I recently started watching the original Star Trek series, and was surprised at the amount at which phase rifles are used. I saw one used in the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", but have yet to see them used since. Why would they not be used more often with landing parties?

Surely they must be more powerful than a hand phaser, and would offer an advantage in fire-power for any engagements. Is there a reason why they are hardly used? Is it simply that hand phasers are powerful enough for most threats?

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    The officers had smaller weapons, unless they were going on a mission where they had advance knowledge that they would need more complex weapons. The grunts had rifles more often than the officers did.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 1:41

4 Answers 4


The simplest answer is that for the majority of engagements, type-3 phaser rifles simply aren't needed, nor do they fit in with the Federation's philosophy of trying to project a non-military demeanour.

Whilst there do seem to be some positive benefits over the type-2 hand phaser (including a larger battery, 'bolt' setting and gyro stabilisation) they basically have the same power settings, ranging from 1-stun through to 16-explosive. The downside is that they're heavier, harder to use in close-combat and apparently have a tendency to break when mistreated.

Major Kira gives us a pretty good overview of the pros and cons of the Phaser Rifle :

Kira takes out a Federation phaser rifle.

KIRA : Now this is an entirely different animal. It's Federation standard issue. A little less powerful, but with more options; sixteen beam settings, fully autonomous recharge, multiple target acquisition, gyrostablized, the works.

It's more complicated, so it's not as good a field weapon. Too many things can go wrong.

The TNG Technical Manual states that Type-3 Phasers aren't part of the standard weapons compliment, suggesting that they will need to be replicated if the need for a more substantial weapon arises. In later seasons of TNG and DS9 they seem to be stored in dedicated weapons lockers:

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This is backed up by the reference for Type-3 phasers in the fully-canon Star Trek Encylopedia: In short, the writers felt that normal hand phasers should be able to cope with almost all situations that the crew encounter [edit mine]

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    The quote is irrelevant -- Kira's comparing a Kardassian phaser rifle to the federation equivalent. Presumably the same comparison could be made to the equivalent kardassian vs. federation hand phasers.
    – DougM
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:07
  • @DougM - It's not irrelevant, she's highlighting the main features of the rifle. When you add that to the link above (regarding the main features of a type 2 hand phaser) it's fairly obvious why a rifle is less useful.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:55
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    @Richard considering when we see the rifles in TNG episodes and movies, they are in crates or lockers, and not replicated. Not that there is any technical reason they couldn't be replicated, but they are never shown to be.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 11:48

@Richard was on the right track, but leaves out a lot of context with the small quote. The full quote puts things in perspective:

Ziyal holds a Cardassian disruptor rifle, following Kira's instructions.

KIRA: This is a standard issue, Cardassian phase-disruptor rifle. It has a four-point-seven megajoule power capacity... three millisecond recharge and two beam settings. [...] This is a good weapon... solid and simple. You can drag it through the mud and it'll still fire.

Essentially comparing the Cardassian Standard Issue Rifle to real world AK-47, the cheap mass produced workhorse of military engagements.

Kira takes out a Federation phaser rifle.

KIRA: Now this is an entirely different animal. It's Federation standard issue. A little less powerful, but with more options... sixteen beam settings... fully autonomous recharge... multiple target acquisition... gyrostablized... the works. It's more complicated, so it's not as good a field weapon. Too many things can go wrong. [...] I think you should stick with the Cardassian rifle. It's smaller and easier to use. And if we get boarded, I don't want you to have to think too much about the weapon you're using.

The Federation standard issue rifle is a bigger, overengineered and delicate piece of equipment. Rationalizing backwards, the same can be assumed of TOS era rifles.

Then you have to account for both In-World and Production reasons. In-world, Star Fleet is a mainly Scientific and Diplomatic organization, with Defense as it's third function. It is not supposed to be a military arm.

More Specifically, The Enterprise is tasked with a diplomatic exploratory mission in deep space. The use of large fire-arms like an assault rifle would go against that mission. The use of side-arms, like a hand phaser (a self defense pistol analog), would not. We have little view of how the rest of Starfleet's standard operating procedures would differ, if any.

Production wise, Star Trek, especially in the majority of TOS episodes and TNG, is supposed to be an idealized utopian society, non-aggressive (Contrast the Mirror Universe or DS9 or Voyager, each which had different reasons to bust out the rifles more often).

  • This is only a partial answer. The quotes from the writer's handbooks shed a bit more light.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 9:28

Staying with the non-militaristic theme of Star Trek; The hand phaser is seen more as personal protection/defensive style weapon, not an offensive weapon, though it can be made to serve that purpose at need. Hand phasers are also far less bulky and threatening but pack enough punch to take care of most situations.

Phaser rifles on the otherhand present a more belligerent and militaristic appearance than the more low key or concealed hand phaser. Generally, landing parties aren't military units intent on engaging in battle with large hostile forces. The phaser rifle is generally considered to be a more aggressive or offensive combat style weapon. Think walking down the street with a concealed handgun as opposed to walking down the street brandishing an M4 carbine. One presents a direct threat and draws attention where the other does not.

For most shipboard action, hand held unit suffice, though it is expected that assault phaser rifles exist for use by larger boarding parties. http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Defensive_system

Starfleet chooses not to go about their business relying on 'shock-and-awe' or using force or the coercion of force to accomplish the mission. It's about mindset. When your tool is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.

  • Even when Khan took over in Space Seed, the whole fight on screen was very civil. But look at TNG. Hand Phasers for most security situations (Series Episodes), but a borg shows up and they break out the rifles (Movies).
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 4:42
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    If a borg showed up wouldn't you break out the rifles too?
    – kleineg
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 12:01
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    @kleineg - Yep I sure would. I would also break out the photon grenades and any Klingon edged weapons I could get my hands on.
    – Morgan
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 3:28
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    @Morgan I love that response, but now all I can think of is the open carry Starfleet movement.
    – kleineg
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 14:41

Perhaps the power level of the rifle is a bit higher than might be needed for shielded or tough targets. Thus Spock ordered one in the pilot episode. He expected a super-tough target.

Another reason is that the rifle has a much higher duty cycle for sustained fire in a military engagement and also carries a power cell capable of several hours of continuous fire instead of 30 minutes for the hand phasers.

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