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The Grim Ghost November 2 2012 05:36 AM

Some questions about tractor beams
I was having a discussion about tractor beams with a friend of mine and he asked a number of questions that I had no answer for. I figured if anybody would know, you guys would.

1. Do all of the major Trek races use them? Have we seen Klingons, Romulans or Cardassians in particular use them?

2. Can a tractor beam "get a grip" on a shielded ship or other object?

3. Can a tractor beam exert pressure in different directions at once, or would that require two separate beams? As an example, could one tractor beam tear a ship in half?

4. When being used to repel an object, what are the upper limits?

5. What range do they have, specifically in comparison to phasers and torpedos?

6. Why are they not more often used in a weaponized way, as the Borg seemed to use them? Didn't Worf once use them to repel disruptor fire?


Timo November 2 2012 08:09 AM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
1) We see Klingon tractors in e.g. "Way of the Warrior", and they look just like the Fed ones. We hear of Romulan tractors in e.g. "Improbable Cause", although the visual effect is not seen IIRC. We see Cardassian tractors in e.g. "Dax", as the station DS9 is of Cardassian manufacture and supposedly so are its tractor beams; we also hear of Cardassian shipboard tractors in "The Maquis".

We haven't yet specifically heard of any TNG era culture specifically and explicitly lacking tractor beam technology if it possesses things like warp drive, shields and death rays. In the ENT era, lack of tractors is a sign of backwardness for mankind, and several competitors such as Vulcans and Klingons already have those.

2) Shielded targets can be tractored with a powerful enough beam, but shields do make the ship "slippery". The Borg are notorious for catching shielded ships and then proceeding to drain the shields, possibly with the help of a special tractor beam (but regular tractors don't necessarily have a shield-draining quality). Our regular heroes or villains seldom manage to slip from a tractor beam, shields or no shields.

3) We haven't heard of a tractor tearing or shaking a starship in half deliberately, but weak objects may be torn to pieces by a single beam, as in "Tomorrow is Yesterday" where a F-104 fighter was disintegrated by a beam. Also, in "Paradise", a warp tractoring is said to pose the risk of both the involved ships being torn apart.

4) Repelling an entire if unresisting Oberth class starship was done in "Naked Now"; partially repelling a huge Klingon attack cruiser in combat conditions was done in "Way of the Warrior" (or at least the beam repelled the disruptor fire from that ship - we don't know if by affecting the beam, or by shaking the ship itself to disrupt the aim). Both took place at point-blank ranges. Pushing a major stellar body was attempted in "Paradise Syndrome", but with deflectors rather than tractor beams - yet a planetside device acting like a tractor beam ultimately deflected this major, almost Moon-sized body. Similarly, in "Demons", it was told that United Earth in the 22nd century employed a tractor-like planetside device capable of deflecting comets at interplanetary distances.

5) Starship tractors have only ever been used at close ranges. I don't remember references to specific maximum ranges, but I have the nagging feeling there might have been some. The planetside system from "Demons" did have considerable range, easily reaching from Mars to Earth.

6) Speculation only... Tractor beams might add to the destructive potential of a starship, but apparently only at close ranges. Probably they are more trouble than worth both because other types of weapon will decide the battle before that close range is reached, and because creating a tractor connection between two maneuvering vessels poses some risk to the tractoring vessel as well.

Timo Saloniemi

The Grim Ghost November 2 2012 05:31 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
Thanks very much Timo.

chrinFinity November 9 2012 08:10 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
Didn't Nog use the Defiant's tractor while executing a loop to blind a Klingon ship and screw with the Klingon's trajectory when they were bearing down on Defiant?

Unicron November 10 2012 01:29 AM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
Worf did something of that nature against a Vor'Cha in "Way of the Warrior" which was on the Defiant's six, using a tractor beam to decrease its weapons' accuracy by roughly 50%.

blssdwlf November 10 2012 01:54 AM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
They also used a tractor beam to restrict the USS Stargazer's weapons fire in "The Battle"...

Timo November 10 2012 01:16 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
...Although we never saw how that would have worked, as the Stargazer did not fire. Would the beam have stopped any torpedoes launched? Would it have bent phaser beams out of shape? It did not seem to be forcing the ship into a position where the main guns would have pointed away from the E-D!

The idea of blocking torpedo launches is a bit odd to start with, as torpedoes supposedly cannot be used in point blank combat without endangering the attacking vessel as well.

Bending of beams might have worked, though. The "Way of the Warrior" trick indeed caused 50% of the beams to miss, but it also made the disruptor beams look sort of wonky:

This is what the beam looked like before the tractor was applied:

Timo Saloniemi

blssdwlf November 10 2012 03:03 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
True that we didn't see how it would of worked. My suspicion is that it would've been like "WOTW" where it "Limited his field of fire" as Data put it. The phasers and torpedoes would've fired but subtly deflected a few degrees to miss the E-D (most of the time). A few might get through and that's why Riker concentrated shields...

Good point about the torpedoes. Since 6 were presumed to be fired to destroy the Ferengi it is possible they were fired at lower power and the phasers did the most work....

Leathco November 11 2012 07:48 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
My guess is that tractors aren't used often during battle because it wouldn't be efficient to power the tractor beam when those resources could be channeled instead to phasers or shields, or maybe propulsion.

Timo November 11 2012 08:40 PM

Re: Some questions about tractor beams
Our heroes almost invariably try to break out of an enemy tractor beam simply by applying more thrust; supposedly, this trick has high odds of working in the normal case, making combat grappling an impractical maneuver.


Since 6 were presumed to be fired to destroy the Ferengi it is possible they were fired at lower power and the phasers did the most work..
If Picard's "reenactment" is anywhere near accurate, he only commanded the torpedoes to be readied for the final Picard Maneuver, suggesting they were not in use earlier in the battle, but were all expended in the Maneuver. It is even possible Picard did not fire a single shot of any sort before performing the Maneuver, although a bit unlikely.

Firing six torpedoes at point blank range is a mixed bag. Scoring a hit is guaranteed so a single demolition-strength warhead should do the trick. OTOH, that would also be suicidal, so a distributed six-torp salvo might be desirable, even though Picard does not specify low yield in his "reenactment". But why six? Does the ship have six forward tubes? (If she were a refitted Constitution like before the final revision, she'd supposedly have just two!) There wouldn't be time for double or triple shots per tube, surely?

Perhaps Picard originally didn't end up quite that close to the target ship (perhaps even out of fear of her tractors?) and had more room and a longer time interval to spit out fire, and perhaps even maneuver a bit...

Timo Saloniemi

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