Somewhere, out in deep space, the Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701-D, is patrolling a sector, keeping the Universe safe for what passes for democracy in the 24th Century. Suddenly, Lt. Worf speaks up. Sensors have detected an unidentified ship directly ahead. Captain Picard calls battle stations, that annoying red alert klaxon sounds, and for no good reason the entire bridge is flooded with dramatic mood lighting. The Captain tells Worf to punch it up on the video panel.
Last Christmas Eve, I found myself dragged into a nerd debate. While most of our friends discussed their recent parenthood and similar trials, three of us huddled around a dining-room table and discussed the sci-fi we grew up with and entered adulthood with. Of course, we all loved Star Trek, and a lot of talk centered around it, but then the topic of Star Blazers and its original form, Uchuu Senkan Yamato came up. Eventually, we started a full-bore geek out “hoodwin” of which ship would prevail in battle: The Starship Enterprise, or Earth Defense Force Ship Argo.
Finally, in a vain attempt to avoid working on a novel I agreed to write but am finding myself hating every step of the way, I set out to discern just which ship would prevail in battle. And my conclusion surprised me.
Before I go any further, may the hardcore anime fans forgive me for using the American names throughout this piece, but it’s how I remember the show the best. Also, fans of the original series of Star Trek will need to forgive me for using the Enterprise-D, but I do so because of all the ships to bear the name, it’s the best documented “canonically.”
To start let’s look at the size of the two ships.
According to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual” the USS Enterprise NCC-1701D is 642.5 meters long. (For this image I rounded it up to 643, so sue me.) We have to assume that the Argo is the same size as the original Japanese Battleship Yamato, from which it is supposed to be constructed. That would put it at 263 meters long, less than half the length of the Enterprise. While my first impression of each ship would have had the Argo completely dwarfed by the giant floating hotel that is the Enterprise-D, the two aren’t that mismatched. However, the smaller size does make the Argo a slightly smaller target and a lot more mobile, so evasive tactics should help it.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that each ship goes into the encounter knowing that the other is hostile for some reason. I really don’t believe that Captains Picard and Avatar (or Wildstar, for that matter) would just enter the fray with guns blazing without talking to the other, but since this is a giant geek-out battle, we’ll take hostility as read. The first question becomes, who can get in the first shot?
We know from the Comet Empire series that the maximum range on the Argo’s shock cannons started out at 7.5 megameters, or 7,500 kilometers, but that they were eventually upgraded to a 10 megameter (10,000 km) range. According to the “Technical Manual,” the Enterprise-D’s phaser range, however, is 300,000 km. This means that the Enterprise can start firing on the Argo much sooner than the Argo can fight back, and since Lt. Worf seems to miss a lot less often than the Gamilons do when he shoots, we can safely assume that the first three shots will take out the Argo’s main guns in short order. It’s also safe to say that the ship’s side-mounted pulse lasers will also get knocked out, but Worf probably wouldn’t bother, since in the episode “The Outrageous Okana,” Riker informs us that mere lasers wouldn’t even cut through the Enterprise’s navigational deflectors, let alone the main shields, so the lasers are useless. Also, any missiles that the Argo decided to launch would most likely be shot down in short order by the Enterprise’s phasers.
However, since the Argo has the miraculous “space warp” ability to suddenly jump from one place to another quickly, albeit with a shitload of preparation during which it’s supposedly helpless, let’s cut the Argo a break here. Let’s assume that the initial encounter between the two ships comes as the Argo is coming out of a warp, dropping them 5,000 km away from the Enterprise. This gives them an equal chance at first shot. Surely this gives the Argo the advantage, right?
No. We’ve seen from experience that Picard is very quick to react, and as soon as the Argo starts coming out of its warp, before it can recover and react, he will order a red alert and throw his shields up. We saw from the Comet Empire series that the shock cannons of the Earth Defense Force Flagship Andromeda, which were supposed to be more powerful than the Argo, couldn’t do crap against the energy shields around the top of the Comet Empire fortress Gatlantis. Thus, the Argo could keep pounding away for several minutes with its shock cannons, and the Enterprise’s shields would hold up.
Finally, in all desperation, the Argo starts to power up its Wave Motion Gun. This proved tricky for me to account for in this scenario, because the only answer for “how powerful is the Wave Motion Gun” seems to be either “really fucking powerful” or “just as powerful as we need.” However, the Wave Motion Gun has four fatal drawbacks.
First, the Gun fires pure energy. The Enterprise’s shields do wonders with dispersing energy. In fact, the Enterprise-D’s shields withstood the accidental self destruct of the USS Yamato (foreshadowing?) in the episode “Contagion.” The Tech manual claims that the self-destructive force of a Galaxy Class starship is equivalent to 10,000,000,000,000,000 joules, or one and a half shitloads of energy as I like to think about it. Odds are that if the Enterprise’s shields could stand up to this, they should be able to stand up to the Wave Motion Gun with only minor structural damage to the ship and all the shield generators being burned out. That, however, is the Argo’s best case scenario because of the other drawbacks.
Two, to aim the Gun, you have to point the ship right at what you are shooting at. Inability to aim the Gun autonomously means that the Enterprise can simply swing around and dive under or over the Argo, or at least keep moving, preventing the crew from aiming the Gun properly.
Third, the Gun seems to always require at least a ten second countdown, not to mention the time it takes to channel all of the engine’s energy into the Gun itself. This would allow LaForge, Wesley, Ro, or Ensign Huxtable more than enough time to move the ship out of the way before the gun fires. Whether or not Deanna could do it if she were at helm, seeing as how she crashed the ship twice, is debatable.
Fourth, the Gun seems really vulnerable to stuff going down its barrel. In the “Quest For Iscandar” series, the ship is almost destroyed by a drill missile burrowing its way down the Gun’s barrel, and in the “Comet Empire,” simply having one of Desslok’s mines in front of the barrel prevents the Argo from firing. (Sandor actually says “If we fire the gun now, we’ll blow up the ship!”) So, if Picard has half a brain in his head, as the Gun starts powering up, he’ll tell Worf to fire a photon torpedo down that big gaping hole in the front of the Argo. Boom. No more Wave Motion Gun, and likely no more Argo.
So, then the question becomes “can the Argo run away?” If the ship can survive the battle long enough to perform a Space Warp, and wasn’t too badly damaged to make a warp, the odds are they can. In “Quest For Iscandar” the Argo managed to travel 296,000 light years in under one year, meaning that their average speed was more than 296,000 times the speed of light. That includes stopping for battles, resupply missions, for Homer to try to swim home, and for Conroy to use the bathroom. The Enterprise’s normal cruising speed is Warp 6, or (according to the Technical Manual) 352 times the speed of light. This means that at normal cruising speed, the Enterprise would need 841 years to make the same trip. Even at Warp 9, the trip would take the Enterprise 195 years. Things level out somewhat at Warp 9.9999, where the Enterprise would be able to make the Iscandar trip in 542 days, but not only would they still be unable to catch up with the Argo, LaForge would never be able to sustain that kind of speed for more than a few minutes. Thus, the Argo escapes, and lives to fight another day.
Unless the Traveler or Q is aboard…but that’s another episode.