Warp drive as a weapon

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by Captain Rob, May 11, 2010.

  1. Captain Rob

    Captain Rob Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Just curious:
    Could a ship's warp drive be used as a weapon of last resort on a planetary target? We've seen on Voyager where the ship lands on a planet for repairs or for some other reason. And we've seen it fly at very low altitude above Earth and that planet with the destroyed cities.
    What if the ship is only about 1000 feet or less in altitude above a major city and it jumps to warp. I'd think that the resulting shock wave would completely obliterate the city. I had seen something similar done in one of the Halo games. I think it was a Covenant ship jumping over a major city in Africa in Halo 2.
    Would Star Fleet and the Federation have a law against it? It could be considered a weapon of mass destruction.
     
  2. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    A shock wave from the fact that the ship just left and vacated a ship-sized hole in the atmosphere? Certainly. A destructive shockwave? I'm not so sure. It would probably be more akin to a moderately strong thunderstorm; cities have survived worse, or sometimes succumbed to less, depending on their construction.

    The ship might achieve better success by flying repeatedly past the city at supersonic speeds, another trick a starship should be quite capable of. This was envisioned as one of the kill modes in the good old Project Pluto where a fission-propelled cruise missile was to zigzag over the Soviet Union, dropping nukes left and right, spewing radioactive exhaust over the countryside - and killing infantry and other soft targets with its sonic boom.

    The destructive effects of the warp field itself are unknown. To be sure, we haven't heard of any in the episodes or movies yet. It might be that a warp field is a relatively low-energy, low-interaction technology or phenomenon that has no applications other than FTL propulsion and the sometimes mentioned reduction of inertial mass.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  3. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It's been discussed before, actually. The fundamental thing to understand is that, if writers/FX people want it too, Warp Drive can and will have this effect on an atmosphere. If they're not paying attention or don't care (TVH) then it won't.

    I would say, in terms of physics alone, the warp drive would have a sort of action-reaction effect where a chunk of the atmosphere around the ship is also accelerated to warp speeds and this huge volume of air produces such a massive vortex that everything within a mile of the ship is sucked into orbit along with it. You might think of this as a supreme destructive version of SDF Macross where the ship uses its fold engines for the first time, depositing itself, several Zentradi squadrons and a major city halfway across the solar system. In this case, the city would end up floating in space as a cloud of minced debris.
     
  4. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The big question mark there would be whether air would be too sluggish to respond to the split-second effects of the warp acceleration. One could just as easily imagine that a starship accelerating from surface standstill to lightspeed could pass through a glass-windowed office building so that she created a perfect ship-shaped hole through it, complete with razor-sharp cutting of the glass but without as much as a single crack in the glass beyond the cut line. (That is, for the second or so until the thunderclap of air rushing in to fill the vacuum would shatter the windows.)

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  5. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Why not detonate the warp core a kilometer or lower above a planetary surface?
     
  6. Captain Rob

    Captain Rob Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I first wondered about the idea the first time I saw TVH. We saw the bird of prey jump to warp in the atmosphere after picking up the whales. I thought that since the warp effect looked like a huge bolt of lightning that it would have a similar effect on the atmosphere. A bolt of lightning is only about the width of a pencil a creates a huge pressure wave of superheated air (thunder). How big would the wave be if the bolt was several hundred feet across? Likewise; how powerful would the pressure wave would have been with the Battlestar Galactica jumped into the atmosphere of New Caprica? All of that displaced air had to go somewhere.
     
  7. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The thing is, that "Thunderclap" is a fairly powerful sonic boom along the ship's flight path with all the energy of an atomic bomb. Furthermore, since the moving starship is compressing the air in front of it at warp speeds as well, what you basically have is an ultra-ultra-ultra sonic shock front moving through the air.

    If the air is too sluggish to move out of the way, the result is that it becomes compressed to the point of ignition and the shockwave is identical to a blast; the starship's flight path through the atmosphere triggers a detonation with all the dynamics of a 300km long hydrogen bomb.
     
  8. Captain Rob

    Captain Rob Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I kind of like the idea of dragging part of the planet into subspace along with the ship. We've seen that the ship can extend and manipulate it's subspace field to encompass other vessels or objects. If there's a building that you really want to get rid of. Just hover the ship near it and extend the subspace field around it. Then jump to warp. I think that the building would be completely disassembled on a molecular level. Or POOF!
    I guess STIV didn't happen in our timeline. I think someone would have noticed a 300 KM long hydrogen bomb going off over the North Pacific at low altitude. I think that part of the North Pacific Ocean would have been vaporized. HMMM, the cause of global warming?
     
  9. Timo

    Timo Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    ...Yet, simultaneously, takes that detonation with it to the outer space. The ship has cleared the entire atmosphere and then some in a millisecond, after all.

    That's the main thing about the effects of atmospheric warping: none of the direct ones lasts for long. The secondary effects may be potent, but they wouldn't feature anything so sluggish as compression or heating or bending. An air molecule or an iron atom in a lattice would simply suddenly find its neighbor missing, with little indication of what had happened to it. Unless warp fields radiate energies familiar to today's science (and we do have that visible flash of warp entry in some cases, those colorful trails in others, probably depending on the camera position), the secondary effects will be solely based on the suddenly introduced existence of that ship-shaped (or warp field -shaped) hole through the atmosphere.

    Timo Saloniemi
     
  10. C.E. Evans

    C.E. Evans Admiral Admiral

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    My own take is that warp fields don't extend that much beyond the hull of a ship and might only have an effect on something with an extremely powerful gravitational field--like a star--or perhaps a region where there's a lot of subspace instability like the Hekaras Corridor...
     
  11. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Sure, but the air it passes through can only travel at the speed of sound, and so can the shockwave. Since the ship moves through that entire column of air essentially instantly, it compresses all of the air in that column into one incredibly long shock multi-megaton shock front.

    But again: unless a warp field is involved, these molecules can only interact at the speed of light, and macroscopically at the local speed of sound. When half the molecules in a volume of gas are suddenly ripped away, the immediate result is the other half of those molecules are suddenly compelled to rush into the empty volume as fast as it possible can. The effect is identical to the remaining volume of air suddenly, explosively, increasing pressure.

    Now imagine if that sudden cavity was caused by a pneumatic piston moving at ten times the speed of sound. The action of the piston scooping the air creates a sonic boom in the remaining volume, which THEN has to rush in to fill the sudden vacuum behind it. So that's sudden hypersonic compression followed by sudden decompression.
     
  12. Marten

    Marten Captain Captain

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    The Halo reference is not entirerly correct, since they use another method of FTL-travel. Slipstream, or something, I think.
     
  13. Caliburn24

    Caliburn24 Commodore Commodore

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    Well, if we're going to use warp-drive as a weapon I would do it properly.

    How much destructive force would a small ship or warp-missile traveling at warp-speed have on a planet or enemy ship?

    Current science tells us that a relatively small chunk of rock traveling at a decent percentage of light speed would have an enormous amount of kinetic destructive power. Does that change drastically when you put that same chunk of rock in a warp field and accelerate beyond light speed?
     
  14. Captain Rob

    Captain Rob Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well, my premise is that it's a manned starship with no other weapons available. You want to save both the ship and its' occupants. Plus it has the advantage of being repeatable. Using the Voyager example: They have to land in a destroyed city for repairs. They're discovered by enemy forces just as the warp drive is restored but no weapons are available. They have to leave in a hurry and they don't want anyone left to follow them. I know that's a little different from that episode's plot.
    As for an object already traveling at warp. From what we've been told about warp drive and subspace, I don't think that the object traveling in subspace would have any interaction with a mass in normal space, such as a planet. Now high sublight speed in normal space would have a huge effect. All of the regular laws of physics are in full effect. Starships and shuttlecraft use subspace fields to neutralize the effects of gravity from whatever planet they're near or on. Therefore that planet's mass and, as a result, it's gravitational field do not extend into subspace. I think that supermassive objects such as stars and blackholes do extend their presence into subspace from what we've seen onscreen.
    I think that a warp missile would be effective by dropping out of warp just short of the planet's surface and detonating it's warp core. Now if it had that wonderful metaphasic cloak. it could drop out of warp below the planet's surface while simultaneously detonating it's warp core and blasting the planet to bits. No wonder they were banned.
     
  15. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Starships don't travel "in subspace" while at warp, so this is a non-issue. Any massive object or particle that encounters the ship will cause some damage unless deflectors and shields push it out of the way (this is the whole point of "navigational deflectors" remember?)

    It wouldn't need to drop out of warp at all, just ram the object at warp speed so that a huge chunk of the target is briefly accelerated to superluminal velocities and slammed into any material next to it. That'd make one hell of an impressive boom.