Couple of things I noticed on seeing STID again last night. Two main reactions for local expert analysis:
- The Trick Shots -
It was hard to see at first, but I spotted it the third time around and I had to hunt down some screencanps just to be sure.
It seems the phaser blasts from the USS Vengeance do not actually travel in a straight line. Quite the contrary, they seem to curve through space in these wide twisty arcs before finding their way to the Enterprise' hull.
I'm tempted to think this might be a novel application of deflector shields, e.g. the shields literally deflect enemy weapons fire away from the ship, causing it to veer partially off target, and the shields being at low power explains why those blasts still managed to hit the ship. This is my preferred explanation because it has the fewest variables involved and, let's face it, would just be kind of a cool way to re-imagine deflectors.
The other possibility comes from the fact that the red blasts used by both Enterprise and the Vengeance in the last two movies were never verbally identified as phasers. Indeed, the one time they were actually referred to at all in STXI is when Kirk shouts "Arm photons, fire everything we've got!" It could be, therefore, that the red bolts we've been associating with phasers are, in fact, very small photonic weapons fired like cannon shells that may even have their own guidance systems. That theory would explain both their relatively slow speed (the putative "phaser" bolts are only twice as fast as the blue photon torpedoes) and would be consistent with the photon launchers on the Kelvin 30 years earlier.
- Battle pods -
Small object shaped like a giant doughnut hole is seen floating through space, firing torpedoes at the Enterprise. Battle drone does not seem to be armed with phasers, although it may or may not be equipped with two different types of torpedoes. These pods are never seen firing phasers, despite the fact that they are in locations about where phasers seem to be coming from in the warp speed attack. This, again, lends some credence to the theory that the red-colored bolts are actually some kind of small torpedo and not phasers after all.
- Trails -
Using same screencap above. We have today the first known instance of a Starfleet torpedo leaving a visible exhaust trail as it flies through space. We can't know the relationship between these weapons and the standard photon torpedo -- if there is such a thing as "standard" -- but if I had to guess, I'd say the "smoky" torpedoes are probably from Vengeance' native compliment of the modified long-range Khanpedoes.
Combined with the revelation of additional launch ports on the side of the Enterprise's hull and the enlarged size of the torpedoes themselves, I'm thinking that we might need to fundamentally reevaluate how we think about Starfleet weaponry. We've gotten comfortable with the idea that Starfleet carries exactly two types of weapons and one or two versions of each on board their ships, but in a modern navy this is far from the case; guided missile cruisers like the Kirov have not less than three different types of anti-ship missiles and two different types of SAMs. Aegis cruisers have multi-purpose missiles for engaging sea/air targets, cruise missiles, harpoon antishipping missiles and smaller more specialized point defense missiles like ESSM, in addition to slower moving water-bound torpedoes.
Abramsverse starships may have simply moved away from phasers as a primary armament, relying instead on far more powerful volleys of short-ranged torpedoes. The rationale would seem to be that while phasers have theoretically unlimited ammo, a mini-torpedo can do ten times the damage with a single shot and is less likely to miss its target. The precedent for this would be in ST09 when we saw crews loading cylinders into what appeared to be launch tubes in the torpedo room; apart from the fact that these cylinders seem much too small to be "normal" torpedo casings, they're installed in housings that are facing in opposite directions, side by side.
That, to me, suggests that the ball turrets we've been seeing on the saucer section of the Enterprise are, in fact, small photon launchers, highly directional and very fast-firing counterparts of the spatial torpedo tubes we saw on NX-01.
With six shots per turret and twelve turrets on the Enterprise, this would mean the ship is capable of launching a total of 72 small general-purpose torpedoes in a single barrage. The main torpedo launcher probably a very heavy, medium-range anti-ship weapon fed from a rotary magazine in the neck of the ship. The tubes we saw in broadside would ordinarily be used for drones, probes, mines, or assorted long-range weapons of a type we would normally call "cruise missiles."