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Given that the Federation defeats the Borg in every encounter they have, why do the Borg always only send one cube to challenge the Federation? They're pretty smart, you'd think they'd figure it out after the Best of Both Worlds arc that the Federation wasn't to be trifled with and send more than one cube in First Contact. Is there ever an explanation given for why they don't do this?

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    Speculative. Can this be made more concrete? I suspect the real answer is that this was done for story purposes. – neilfein Jan 19 '11 at 0:25
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    I asked to determine if it wasn't speculative. Hence the phrasing "is an explanation ever given for this?" – Daniel Bingham Jan 19 '11 at 1:14
  • I may be missing something, but were't there only two attacks on the federation by a borg cube? So should the question be "Given the first cube's failure, why only one the second time?" – MartianInvader Oct 28 '14 at 17:54
  • They realise that after Voyager. And send 7000 cubes. Also, humans were a low boop on Borg radar (before Voyager) - they just don't care, the chances that one cube does it's job are high enough, cubes are expendable, and other cubes had better things to do rather than assault some mid-range humanoid species – Petersaber Aug 6 '15 at 6:34

12 Answers 12

30

This gives me a pretty good idea, especially the first sentence.

In terms of offense and defense, a Borg cube is a fleet in and of itself. Common capabilities of cubes include high warp (transwarp) capabilities, self-regeneration and multiple redundant systems, rapid adaptability to almost any assault (though not complete immunity, in Star Trek: First Contact it's shown that sufficient firepower from Federation ships could still destroy a Borg Cube after it adapted to their weapons), and various beam (tractor beams and cutting beams) and missile weapons. A single Borg cube has, on multiple occasions, taken on entire Federation fleets and held its own. Cubes have been commonly known to carry sphere ships in cavities covered by large slide-away hatches in the outermost layers.

I think it's hard to argue with that and that's a pretty rational explanation. Remember, the Borg won at Wolf 359 (admittedly, with Locutus/Picard's help).

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    Maybe the fact that their homeworld is in the delta quadrant discourage the Borg to send a complete fleet. In the last season of Voyager they were trying to build a conduit from delta to alpha quadrant and send a complete fleet. – ghm1014 Jul 15 '11 at 17:50
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    Right. A single Cube almost made it, defeated only by what any analyst would term a freak accident and improbable amounts of luck on the side of the Federation. It's entirely possible that they figured one single slightly upgraded cube that would not repeat the original's mistakes would be more than enough. – Shadur May 13 '13 at 14:30
41

I'm sorry? In what way were the Borg not successful? They sent one cube, it broke through all of the Federation's defenses, reached earth, dropped its payload and converted the entire planet into a Borg hive many years in the past.

It was only via a fluke that the Enterprise was able to follow them and stop them. And they only just barely managed that.

They even took their queen with them in order to temporally duplicate her. Sounds like a pretty sound plan to me.

The only problem I see is that they waited to the last minute to travel back in time, if they had done so before reaching Federation space, they would have defeated them before they existed. But that would have made a pretty crap movie.

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    Well, they weren't successful the first time with a single cube. And the second time, I'd always figured the whole back in time thing was a desperate gamble. As opposed to the initial plan. They only went for it when the cube was pretty much destroyed. – Daniel Bingham Jan 19 '11 at 2:58
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    @Daniel Bingham: I always considered the initial attack as a distraction. – DampeS8N Jan 19 '11 at 13:01
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    It's true -- they've been nearly successful in every encounter. But they've also failed. Given their inteligence and the resources available to them, you'd think it wouldn't be a big deal for them to send a little more. The fact that they continued to only send a single cube at a time has always struck me as strange and incongruous. It'd be nice if there was some canon explanation for it. But short that, I guess I'll buy the explanation that a) the borg have a long time line and b) they are rightly confident that 1 cube will be a enough despite past failures. – Daniel Bingham Jan 20 '11 at 17:08
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    @Nerrolken I always similarly assumed that the Federation was just one of many current conquests. If they send two cubes to each campaign they can only wage half as many campaigns. So as long as the cubes have a >50% success rate they grow faster by sending one at a time. – Nicholas Oct 28 '14 at 17:05
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    @Nicholas Exactly. As Star Trek fans, we're biased toward considering the Federation both worth conquering, and a tough place to conquer. Aside from Picard's anomalous achievements, the Borg probably wouldn't agree with either of those judgements. – Nerrolken Oct 28 '14 at 17:12
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The Borg aren't as concerned about immediate results as humans. The Collective marches on toward assimilation of all life forms, but it has no desire to do so at any particular pace.

There is no individual ego pushing to get it done in one person's lifetime. There is no one to get impatient or anxious. The Borg continue to do what they do, confident that their assimilation of the Federation will succeed. Maybe not this time, but they will succeed. And of course, losing ships and lives along the way is of no consequence to the Collective.

18
  1. The Borg do not conquer
  2. The expeditions to the delta quadrant are "reconnaissance in force" missions, not invasions.
  3. The Collective is a large distributed network
  4. the Collective still has communications time-lags.
  5. Borg are Overconfident
  6. Individuals and Cubes are expendable

The Borg Do Not Conquer

The evidence in Voyager is pretty darned clear - the Borg are not conquerers in the sense that we think of, say, the British Empire.

We know the Borg are not terribly innovative; they brute force solutions. They rely upon others being innovative and then capturing and assimilating knowledgable technicians.

Assimilation of worlds allows a massive data dump, and a large new population from which to staff a new location, but, fundamentally, it's a process much like a viral infection - they have no real desire to kill the host, just to turn the host to replication of the virus.

Reconnaissance In Force

A tricky military concept, the Reconnaissance In Force (RIF) looks like a small scale invasion to the inexperienced eye. It isn't. It's a very thorough attack, calculated to find the strengths and weaknesses of the target.

That's exactly what the sequence of cubes seems perfect to do. Find out what the strengths and weaknesses are of the Federation. They find out that the Federation is big enough to be a threat, but not technologically advanced enough to be a major threat. By poking them with a cube, it also provokes strategies to overcome them, and projected solutions to those strategies. If the cube can assimilate some or all of those strategies, the RIF has had a tech success even as the cube is lost.

We see this in the continued improvements in adaptation time.

The Collective is Large and Distributed

The Borg are not actually all that centralized. They rely upon localized assets making decisions. Until the threat level was established, the collective could not see making a major bid to tackle the Alpha Quadrant. They were, in a word, busy. Busy being Borg in the Delta Quadrant. Busy fighting Species 8472. Busy collecting new developments from the stragglers of assimilated races.

A cube or 5 isn't a big expense, per se. They are capital ships, for certain, but the borg could, in theory, rapidly build a dozen for a fleet. But that dozen would be better used elsewhere, until the failures of the Time Sphere at Earth.

The local command node probably couldn't afford to send more than one at a time. While the collective could, the local node can't. It's got other fish to fry - establishing a secure base near the Alpha Quadrant, and poking all the locals.

They probably even calculate that they're being subtle.

Communications Lags

We know from Voyager that the communications network is fast, faster than the Federation's, but still not instant. And, like any hierarchy, information gets filtered. Local failures thus take time to become important enough to be passed upchain, and once passed, still take time to reach headquarters.

A Cube might be a single "hive mind", but the sector node is a collection of short-lagged ones. We see this effect in several episodes in both TNG and Voyager - present a small enough threat, and you don't get reported until after the assimilation... or its failure.

Borg are Overconfident

We see, in every encounter, that the Borg consider themselves, as a collective, the superior civilization. They have an overconfidence that is well earned. They inherited it as part of their developmental path, and it served them well enough, so well that it became part of the core Borg identity. It's only finally hit major challenges with Species 8472 and with the Federation.

Individuals and Cubes are expendable

The Borg consider individuals, and even any single cube, as a resource - one to be expended in gaining information. The Borg have only two real goals - information gain and continuation. These lead to secondary goals - security, threat assessment, force projection, and target selection.

What This All Means

Until the Federation proves to be a threat, they are more useful for being innovators, rather than being bulk assimilated. The first cube at Wolf 359 is a test, not a real invasion. The threat of assimilation was very real, but it was more a test of if Picard's own arrogance about the Federation was worthwhile.

It was. As a reconnaissance, it worked. It showed the Borg that, if they needed to, they could just overwhelm the Federation with numbers; something that they couldn't do with 8472. Again, overconfidence in setting their simulation parameters. By the time they realized they had been overconfident, it was time for a new, and more drastic plan.

Further, it set the federation a technical bar to overcome, one that would make their later assimilation more worthwhile. Keep poking until it becomes apparent that they have a new technology to be assimilated.

The Federation didn't rise to the bar - they found the weaknesses in Borg Society and exploited them, rather than looking into new technologies.

The Time Sphere isn't really about assimilation - it's about preventing the Federation disruption to their own culture. It is about not letting Hugh and 7 of 9 lead rebellions. It's about retaining internal control - because that's the one thing the Federation attacked, time and again.


Side Commentary

The collective as a whole was not bothered by the loss of the queen in the movie. The Time Sphere was shown to be expensive, and may have been a regional level decision, not a collective-wide one. In any case, it was a response to the the Federation threat to their cultural integrity, not a military threat.

As to "Why at Earth?" probably because they were looking at the time distortion, fine tuning for a period before radio, but not before manufacturing. A time when the drones they will make will be suitably minded to adapt to tech, but not sufficiently advanced as to be able to resist or understand the computer networking until well integrated. It's easier to do that if you are in scanning range.

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    On RIF, that is what they do with the Drones. Each drone is marched slowly to its death without strategy until a the right shield harmonics are found to protect from the phaser or pulse rifle. Makes sense they would send ships the same way. – AthomSfere May 10 '13 at 16:51
  • "much like a viral infection - they have no real desire to kill the host, just to turn the host to replication of the virus" -- and also much like a viral infection, they wind up killing the host regardless whether that's what they want or not. – Shadur Sep 27 '17 at 7:19
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I could only speculate, but their mathematical predictions probably tell them they only need one cube to defeat anything Starfleet could throw at them, and can't take into account the human factor/hero factor

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    Apparently they make their mathematical predictions without making any statistical analysis of the previous attempts :( – R. Martinho Fernandes Jan 19 '11 at 0:28
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    @MartinhoFernandes: They just never assimilated an actuary before. – MPelletier Jan 19 '11 at 18:39
  • @MPelletier: very hilarious still valid explanation :))) – Wojciech Kaczmarek Feb 4 '11 at 14:50
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    I would also guess that they are factoring in efficiency as well. If one cube is almost guaranteed to succeed, two cubes is incredible overkill and they could certainly use the second cube elsewhere. (I also seem to remember in some Trek universe that they actually did send three cubes to fight some replicants, and the Federation ship that followed this amazing display caught up to see all three destroyed. Right?) – Wayne Apr 26 '11 at 21:51
  • @MartinhoFernandes: Why assimilate a creature that would only detract from perfection? – James Sheridan Mar 28 '14 at 4:27
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The Borg are obsessed with efficiency and in "Endgame" it is revealed that the trans-warp network the Borg have contains only exit apertures in the Alpha quadrant. Assembling an armada to shatter the Federation would be stupid because it would not be practical to get needed drones/ships/general supplies back to the collective heartland in the Delta quadrant using ship-borne trans-warp drives; the trip would take months/years and the Borg would likely take losses along the way back. The Borg are also aware that the Alpha quadrant is not likely to have technologies that the Borg can assimilate to help them achieve a more desirable level of logistical organization. Furthermore, if a large Borg presence near earth became known to the major powers of the Alpha quadrant, the isolated Borg fleet would almost certainly be surrounded and obliterated by a large combined force of ships from the Klingon, Romulan, Cardassian, and other nations. The Alpha quadrant powers would also probably assemble massive a fleet to guard the trans-warp aperture from future attacks. This whole scheme would be a disaster for the Borg. That's why they never sent more ships. The likelihood is the Borg will keep conquering in an outward style from their home in the Delta Quadrant until the Borg "border" the Federation. Then it would be much easier for them to conquer the Federation and the Alpha quadrant.

The one cube was most likely sent in an effort to destabilize the Federation. No doubt the Borg probably do that to other peoples around the galaxy before they reach them with a more sustainable, larger force, just as I explained up there. They would probably keep sending ships to destabilize the Alpha quadrant, little by little, before they assaulted them.

Sabotage via trans-warp network. Not overthrow.

5

I believe that not a single episode or movie explains this (excuse for poor) strategy, but the corpus around the Borg, up to Voyager, provides some clues to that.

I believe distance is mostly to blame. Before Voyager came out, very little was established of transwarp conduits, and so the general plotlines followed along the idea that Borg cubes came out of the depths of the Delta Quadrant, and thus took a generally long time to get reach the Earth.

Plus, plot-wise, defeating a single Borg cube was hard enough, sending in dozens on the second round only to have our heroes beat them (for the sole purpose of them having to win in the end :P) would seem far fetched.

Other works of sci-fi have used similar devices where a first conquest task force is sent ahead of a larger colonization one.

SUPPLEMENTAL:

There's also another factor: The Borg collective is a wide ranging "empire" of sorts. Borg space spans thousands of light years. They're potentially stretching their resources to the limit. Hence, perhaps they can only afford to send one ship at a time.

  • When the enterprise meets the Borg the second time, they already discover the transwarp conduits, and they are already in the alpha quadrant/section. This answer makes no sense to me. – Samuel Herzog Jan 19 '11 at 4:47
  • @SamuelHerzog I had forgotten about Descent. Drats! That episode does indeed introduce transwarp conduits. Thanks for pointing that out. – MPelletier Jan 19 '11 at 11:59
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    Let's also not overestimate the writers ability of figuring out all possible contingencies. First Contact had some flaws, not least of which is that the Borg send a ship in the "present", only so it can launch locally a sphere capable of time travel. Instead of travelling back in time from a safe distance. – MPelletier Jan 19 '11 at 18:36
4

So you're looking for a "in-Universe" answer, not a "because it fits the story" answer. In Voyager at various points groups of cubes are observed, a large number against Species 8472 and a larger number guarding their hubs. Even in the "home space" area of the Borg multiple cubes are rare, so it seems reasonable that it takes a lot of resources to construct & man a new Cube. Considering the defeats the Borg have suffered at the hands of the Federation(really at the hands of just 2 particular starships) perhaps the Borg have decided that they are too powerful to engage with at the moment, and have devoted their resources to consolidating their power-base and figuring out how to beat those pesky Enterprise/Voyager captains. That is the strong implication of the finale of Voyager, where the Borg Queen is obsessed with just getting Janeway.

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Sometimes they send two-in-one ... the cube and the sphere.

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It may not have been that important to them to conquer the Federation. If they win, great, they have a new culture to eat. If not, it may stimulate Starfleet to develop new defensive technologies (which it arguably did with the quantum torpedo) to make them a tastier meal next time. After all, if need be, they can always send a whole fleet when they really want to assimilate the Federation. And Starfleet has shown itself very capable of innovation compared to most cultures seen in the show.

If the Borg think with one mind, then it's probably a very long-lived one. They may naturally play the long game.

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The "in-universe" answer is they only needed one cube. The Federation did not have enough weapons to stop even one cube. One cube would infect the entire Federation one planet at a time and spread like a virus.

But for the plot, just one cube that could not be stopped made the Borg seem very scary.

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It seemed overkill. They may have the resources, but the Borg have their hands in many honeypots. Some of the species they spar with undoubtedly required more of their resources to deal with. It doesn't seem that far off in asking why the US military doesn't commit more resources, or the Empire in Star Wars doesn't make TWO Death Stars.

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