I think the title covers my question pretty well. How is it suppose to work and what makes it more effective than other kinds of weaponary?

Edit: All very good answers, I'll wait a little bit more before accepting in case anyone else has anything to add.

2 Answers 2


In addition to what StasM pointed out, photon torpedoes had many uses. They were notably used as caskets and flares, by stripping them down to empty "torpedo casings". As far as what makes them preferable to more conventional warheads, photon torpedoes were known for their extremely crippling and damaging explosive yields. In fact, if a photon torpedo was fired at a target in close range, the explosion could end up disabling the firing ship in addition to obliterating the target.

Photon torpedoes weren't only ship-to-ship weapons, but served ship-to-ground roles as well. The torpedo's shielding can allow it to bury itself into a planet's surface completely intact. They were highly effective for destroying ground-based targets from inside itself. A 25 isoton torpedo could destroy an entire city in mere seconds.

Another great thing about photon torpedoes was they could be modified to different explosive yields and firepower. So you could fine-tune a specialized torpedo for a specific task on-ship. Essentially, the photon torpedo became the goto weapon when the Federation wanted to proverbially "get shit done." (Pardon my terminology.) These babies gave you a lot of bang for your buck.

Source: Photon torpedo on Memory Alpha

  • I'd make a difference here between the weapon (photon torpedo) and the use of the same carrier vehicle as a cargo pod, casket, recce vehicle, etc. We already see this today, where a single vehicle can be adopted to many missions by changing its payload (e.g. the USN examined the use of anti-ship missiles without warheads as target drones, and the USAF has since Vietnam using target drones as recce vehicles).
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 10:42
  • The "if fired a close range" thing kinda bothered me when I watched a second season TNG episode where they quarantine then destroy said ship. It seemed like they closed to an extremely short distance before blowing it up with a torpedo.
    – Nick T
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 15:58
  • @jwenting Quite correct. I can see how that could be an area of confusion. Star Trek generally refers to the torpedoes alternate, generally less violent, uses as a "[photon] torpedo casing." Mostly because they strip out most of its guts, notably, the warhead. I've updated my answer accordingly.
    – Kevin Mark
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 20:08
  • @Nick T, I believe this was to ensure that they hit a specific part of the ship to ensure it was destroyed to a point where nothing could possibly have survived. It was quarantined to begin with, so we can assume there's some pretty dang nasty stuff on there. I believe the Enterprise's defensives system were advanced enough, at that point, to not be in danger at such a close distance.
    – Kevin Mark
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 20:11

Memory Alpha describes photon torpedo as "warp-capable tactical matter/antimatter weapons commonly deployed aboard starships and starbases". So one difference would be warp-capable (speed & range).

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