30 May 2012

The Weapons of Sci-Fi: The EM-33 Plasma Pistol from Star Trek: Enterprise

During the original run of Star Trek: Enterprise, I was interested in the original pistol of the NX-01 Enterprise, the plasma DEW EM-33. Here is the ficitional history of the EM-33 that I wrote in 2005.

The Earth Military-33 Plasma Pistol


The iconic weapon of the UFP Starfleet is undoutable the Phaser, and seems that it was always that way. However, in the beginning years of Starfleet, the standard sidearm was the large framed plasma EM-33 pistol. It also service in the United Earth government the Earth Military, Earth Cargo Authority (ECA), from 2133 to the mid-2160s. The name EM-33 refers to the year of being adopted by the United Earth military, 2133, and the EM stands for Earth Military.

Technical Data

This semi-automatic pistol fires bolt of superheated ionized hydrogen gas enveloped by a electromagnetic sabot in the size of 12mm with a capacity of some 40 bolts. Its effective or “kill” range is 150 meters; however, the overall range is 320 meters, with lessened kinetic impact power at the upper range. Within the effective range of 150 meters, a single bolt is able melt .15 meters of harden steel. In the normal combat range of less than 20 meters, the effective penetration doubles. Development of the EM-33 was by Heckler and Koch (H&K) weapons research labs on the Martian colony, and was manufactured by H&K Company factories in Germany on Terra.

Early History of the EM-33

By the 22nd century, Terra was fully recovery from the devastation of the 3rd World War, with help from the Vulcan High Command. The old nation-states of Terra were united under one government, and slow expansion with off-world inter-solar system colonies. Exo-solar system deep space exploration and colonization, such as Vega colony were hampered by limited low warp factors; even so, a small group of people called “Space Boomers” had been extending Terra’s knowledge through long-haul cargo shipments in low-warp vessels.
However, the small United Earth military space fleet did not go much beyond the Sol system for these Space Boomers to protect themselves as best they could with relatively chemically propelled kinetic energy and laser beam pistols, while their starships carried heavier early plasma weapon technology.
The drive to develop stronger offensive weaponry was nonexistent, due Terra’s limited contact with other races outside of the Vulcans, especially hostile ones. However, Earth Cargo Authority personal far from home, did have their run-ins with alien pirates and double-crossing contractors. Their reports back to the ECA HQ back on Terra requested more advanced personal energy weapons. Heeding the “Space Boomers” call, the Earth Military announced in 2127, for a companies to submit entries for a contract for a plasma-based rifle and pistol. In the same year, the Heckler and Koch weapons research labs on Mars was working on a prototype personal plasma weapon system, called internally known as the Mark-27.
By 2131 the entries for the pistol military contact were tested in harsh conditions on Terra, Mars, and on the extreme off-world conditions of Titan. The winner of the contact was the H&K Mark-27. The company went back and made some improvements that were requested by the military, and in 2133, the EM-33 plasma pistol entered service with the Terran military, Starfleet, ECA, and was adopted by many police departments.

Mechanics of the EM-33

Like most plasma-based DEW systems, the H&K EM-33 utilizes a miniaturized magnetic containment bottle near the rear of the pistol’s upper frame. Stored normally is slush hydrogen fuel in a magnetic status. These bottles are not mated with the EM-33 frame until needed, until then; these magnetic bottles are kept in tightly regulated conditions to prevent accidentally plasma detonation.
When needed, the EM-33 is loaded with the bottle, and to be used, a safely switch is clicked to engage a series of lasers to super-heat the cold slush hydrogen fuel to plasma gas, which is about several thousand degrees, the magnetic bottle and a computer system keeps the process in check to prevent overheating and/or explosions.
When the trigger is pulled, a series of events occur in a split-second: a measured amount of slush fuel is released into another chamber, were lasers excite the hydrogen to a gaseous state, at optima temperature, around 4500 degrees, as been reached; the superheated ionized hydrogen gas is injected into the barrel assembly.
Within the barrel assembly, the stream of plasma is formed into cohesive bolt and propelled by powerful electromagnets down the barrel at every-accelerating velocity of somewhere within the several thousand meters per second area. During this an EM sabot is formed around the bolt to prevent the electrons of the superheat ionized-gas from scattering, destroying the cohesion of the bolt. Only the velocity and this EM sabot keep the bolt in a cohesive, lethal state. However, the EM sabot is only temporary, shortening the range of the EM-33 to around 150 meters.

Effectiveness of the EM-33

Plasma weapons have a terrible effect on organic matter; this is due to the super-high heats that are generated by a plasma bolt. When an organic target is impacted by a bolt, kinetic damage is suffered from the semi-solid bolt, but also massive thermal damage from the interior fluid of organic matter. Blood, water, lipids, and other bodily fluids are super-heated in a matter of moments, which results in rapid expansion of these fluids which can cause the organic target to explode in a pink mist. However, with the smaller caliber bolts, like the EM-33 12mm bolt, can generate localized third-degree burns with cauterization of the impact site. Often a plasma bolt impact site on inorganic matter is a blacken hole with a charred zone around it with pin point ‘spatter’ holes dotted the outside.
Even near-misses were considered deadly to the target due to the 4500 degree 12mm bolts, causing third-degree burns. This allowed MACO operators were trained to use the super-heat of the EM-33’s bolt as a less-than-lethal option
Unfortunately, an unlucky shot by an enemy can cause the hydrogen slush containment bottle to explode, killing the owner. The EM-33 upper rail containment bottle holds enough hydrogen fuel for about 40 bolts, and must be recharged under certain conditions. For extended in-field use or combat operations, recharging the EM-33 required spare containment bottles, which placed the operator at risk of a (un)luck strike at the ammunition pouch setting a lethal fire. To counter this, H&K outsourced spare bottle pouch specially constructed to offer short-term thermal flare-up.

Deployment History

For much of the EM-33’s core deployment years: 2133-2151, the weapon was not used in a formal war, the bulk of the combat experience of the pistol was acquired by ECA personal, police officers, and the MACO Special Operations Force. For the most part, the weapon’s core years of deployment were quiet.
By the 2140's, the EM-33 was serving on every ECA vessel, on the street with the police officers on Terra and off, and with nascent Starfleet.
At this time, the United Earth Government developed Starfleet, which was a combination of a space navy, space exploration and science service, staring some responsibilities with the United Earth Space Probe Agency.  All of the space-going combat vessels of the Terran navy were turned over to Starfleet Command, and with this, the EM-33 became the official sidearm of Starfleet. 
However, in 2145, the planetary governor of Vega colony was headed back fromTerra , when her Starfleet transport vessel was attacked by Nausicaan raider, who were common in the area.  Several Intrepid class heavy cruisers were deployed to the distress signal, but the Earth vessel was found empty.  
While the Vuclan High Command attempted negations with the alien pirates, the United Earth behind the Vulcans back,  mobilized an MACO  assault/rescue team. When the location of the Nausicaan terrorist base was learned by Starfleet via Section 31, the Intrepid class heavy cruiser USS-Jackson with 20 MACOS was sent to rescue the colonial governor. This successful rescue operation was visually recorded, and released to the public news media back on Terra, the footage showed the H&K built EM-33 pistol and the new EM-41 plasma rifle in action, this became the EM-33’s finest hour, and one the most tense epsiodes between the Vulcans and the United Earth.

The NX class and the Warp-5 Project

When the UESPA Warp 5 project  was began, its aim was to extend the range of Terran starships to explore and colonize, however, the Vulcan High Command viewed as a threat to both Terra and the rest of the Alpha Quadrant. However, the Vulcans became much more vocal about the dangers of deep space exploration when the keel of the NX class exploration cruiser was laid in 2149. With mankind on the verge of deep space, the Vulcan High Command warned Starfleet Command on the dangers of carrying weapons like the EM-33 with them. The Vulcans had never liked the large plasma pistol, calling it “too offensive”, “a blunt tool of violence”, and “ancient symbol of cowboys”. Primarily, the Vulcans were concerned, that when force was used by Starfleet personal with their EM-33 pistols on a newly discovered race, that the damage that the pistol could infect could start an “intergalactic incident”. The Vulcans informed Starfleet Command that the EM-33 would place any landing party during a first contact situation in danger. The weapon was “too large” and “projected an air of aggression”, the Vulcans said. Their recommendation was for a development of a new direct-energy weapon (DEW) system, one that was fitted with a “less lethal” munition. To counter the Vulcans recommendations, Starfleet informed them that Terra did not possess the technology for a DEW system that fired both lethal and non-lethal energies.

The Wilson Energies Limited 001 series Phase Pistol

In mid-2149, Starfleet Command requested defense companies to submit DEW systems with non-lethal energies ability, while the United Earth Military and the ECA did not want the new weapon systems; they felt the non-lethal system would compromise the combat effectiveness of the weapon.
In addition, most of the defense companies stated the new dual energy DEW weapons would be expensive. The only company to come in with a design on budget and on time was the small Wilson Energies Limited company from North Carolina, North America, on Terra. Wilson Energies Limited did have on contract with Starfleet, for the much unloved Class III Close Quarters Plasma Carbine, developed for the limited space within a starship. However, Wilson Energies Limited is primarily known for its industrial mining lasers, used mostly on the Luna mining colonies. The Wilson-001 series Phase Pistol was much different than the H&K EM-33. The pistol was smaller, and featured a rechargeable and swappable energy cell. The weapon fires a stream of Rapid Nadions, which are limited-life subatomic particles that are used in a pulse-like form disrupting cellular functions via thermal/EM damage in the “Kill” setting. The “stun” setting is used to temporary disruption of the central nervous system (CNS), to immobilize the target, and cause a “black-out” effect. The Wilson-001 Phase Pistol RN-energy stream allows for the shooter to direct a narrow beam of energy on a target for longer periods of time than the very short-term effects of a plasma bolt. This is helpful in cutting operations, or heating an object, or defeating personal body armor. Starfleet was impressed with the Phase Pistol and official adopted the sidearm in 2151. However, Starfleet was the only Terran organization to buy the Phase Pistol in large numbers; several police departments had ordered a few.
Starfleet was able to afford such numbers of the pistol via a funding grant by the Vulcan High Command. It is rumored in the Terran defense company circles, that Wilson Energies Limited was helped by Vulcan technology provided by the Vulcan High Command. The pride of Starfleet, the NX-01 Enterprise only carried 15 of these units until 2152.
One of the reasons cited for the sea change from the EM-33 to the Phase Pistol, was due to the during combat engagements, when the EM-33experienced rapid firing conditions, the ramping up of the slush hydrogen feeding and the laser vaporization systems often suffered from inconstancy in regards to the size of the bolt, the strength of the EM sabot, which all effected range and point-of-impact lethality. There was nothing that could be done about this issue at the time, simply put; Terran technology was unable to improve this issue with plasma-based DEW. The Wilson Energies Limited 001-Series Phase Pistol suffered none of these; the emitter monitors the beam output for ramping issues, keeping the output clean

Late History of the EM-33

With losing the Starfleet contract for their EM-33, Heckler and Koch set about to design an EM-33 that could fire a non-lethal energy, to protect the future of their military and police contracts. In 2152, the H&K R&D labs on Mars had developed an EM-33 that fired a charge of 150,000 volts through the barrel emitter on the EM pistol model, the same technology as mounted onto the EM-41 rifle. This much more limited than the Wilson Energies Limited 001 series Phase Pistol. These were known as the EM-33A1 and the E-41A1. The EM-33 plasma pistol was phased out slowly by the Terran military and the ECA throughout the 2150’s. However, during the Romulan Wars (2156-2160), the mass mobilization of Terran armed forces outstripped the supply of Phase Pistols, causing the older EM-33/EM-33A1 were broken out of storage for use by Starfleet and United Earth military units. Once the Romulan Wars were over in 2160, so was the use of the EM-33 and EM-33A1, by this time, the upgraded Wilson Energies Limited 002 series Phase Pistol was in wide deployment.

The Assault Phaser: the 23rd Century EM-33?

By the 2280's, Starfleet In response, Admiral Nogura pushed for development of a hand-held combined phaser pistol that could preform both offensive and defensive actions with equal effectiveness, and featured 'hot-swap' power cells, thus increasing its tactical depth. Support was not forthcoming from the traditional circles within Starfleet, and the project looked dead, until Adrimal Cartwright and Colonel West, along with Captain Kirk added their support, allowing for the new offensive phaser project to be pushed forward. Colonel West, during the backroom discussions on the Assault Phaser, connected the old EM-33 large-framed Plasma Pistol to the modern Assault Phaser. Wilson Arms Limited, in parentership with a Zaranite weapon research firm, answered the call, due to Adrmal Nogura eyeing a complete wholesale replacement of the all Federation's stock of previous phaser-II models, which could have ended the very existence of Wilson Arms Limited. In 2286, Captain Kirk and his head of security, Pavel Chekov, pushed for the new Enterprise-A to be the first Federation starship to have its armory filled with the new Wilson Assault Phaser, this forged a tread throughout the fleet, causing the Assault Phaser to be the fashionable weapon for security personal and Away teams by the time of the Camp Khitomer in 2293.   

The Colonel Patrick West Collection

Every future historian that researches the mid-22nd centuries wholes a debt of gratitude to the Colonel Patrick West (2243-2293). In the entries on Federation history, longtime hawkish Starfleet officer and brilliant diplomatic and military strategist, Colonel Patrick West is forever tied to the Camp Khitomer Conspiracy, tarnishing his sterling record. Colonel West's involvement in those events of 2293, overshadowed his accomplishments with the Office of Strategic Planning and being  a noted collector of artifacts associated with the MACOs. At the time of his death in 2293, he had the largest collection of MACO artifacts in the Federation. After this death, his widow, Mary, donated his entire collection to the Fleet Museum in San Diego, save for two of his finest examples of the iconic EM-33 pistols. One was given another noted collection of Earth artifacts, Captain James T. Kirk and Admiral Harry Morrow. In a odd twist of fate, artifacts, namely the disruptor sniper rifle used at Khitomer Conference by Colonel West is on display along with his private MACO collection, demonstrating duality of this complex Starfleet officer.

Writer's Notes

The fictional arms company, Wilson Energies Limited comes from the non-canon FASA Star Trek: The Next Generation that was published around 1987, but was ordered pulled off the market by Paramount. Wilson Energies Limited was the manufacturer of the Phasers on the Enterprise-D, even a very cool phaser rifle, the Mark-VII. I used the real-world Hecker and Koch company because I loved H&K, but also, the EM-33 reminds me of the Mark 23 SOCOM offensive pistol. The partner company of Wilson for the development of the Assault Phaser, the Zaranite laser firm is from the background alien race that as been in canon Star Trek works since the 1979 movie, and a racial profile was featured in the FASA Star Trek: IV Sourcebook Update. I including the section on the Assault Phaser because I felt that was a style connection between the two weapons.


  1. If the Vulcans think the EM-33 is too large, scary, and threatening, what would they think the Lewiston MK17 from E.E. Doc Smith's "Triplanetary"?

    The MK17 is described as containing thousands upon thousands of kilowatt-hours of stored energy (you house electrical bill is measured in kilowatt-hours), and the beam could melt the engine block of a car. Charging a single Lewiston battery takes several years worth of an average modern person's electrical energy usage!! Another weapon with absurd power is the mesotron pistol from the "Cities in Flight" series. The mesotron pistol is described as being better for demolishing buildings than antipersonnel uses. If we ever become an interstellar civilization with access to incredible amounts of energy, such vicious blasters would actually fit in with the incredible scale of everything else we would do.

    Your history of the EM-33 was fun to read, William- thanks for sharing. Plasma weapons are rather scientifically dubious, but if we could make such a beast, it might behave a bit like what you describe. Plasma weapons would cause some pretty hideous wounds.

    I was a little puzzled by your reference to the slush hydrogen "detonating". The EM-33 needs a battery to power the laser array and acceleration coils. This battery contains all the energy that goes into heating the plasma bolt, so shouldn't the battery pose a much greater explosion hazard than the hydrogen fuel?

    We clearly can't fit all the stuff needed to form a super-heated plasma bolt in a handgun yet, even if we find a way to solve the blooming and air resistance issues. I've wondered if there are any exotic subatomic particles that a particle weapon like the phase pistol might use- most real world discussions are limited to electrons, protons, heavy atomic nuclei, and clusters of atoms. Occasionally I find reference to muon beam weapons. Most Trek weapon project imaginary energy instead of something we know of.

    I notice that the EM-33 seems to have visible sights, but the Phase Pistol and TNG phasers do not. I suppose the Vulcan High Command thinks having gun sights is also the "ancient symbol of cowboys" and "too threatening", or maybe you are supposed to aim using the visible trail of the nadion beam?

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. Thanks Mr. Phoenix for the information, and I must admit that I should have included the batteries in the explosive.
    My guess on the visual sights was due to the EM-33 being a 'pulse' rather than beam DEW, and I believe you are correct, I would guess you are to use the nadion beam for aiming.
    Really wished they had kept the EM-33 around, and included the Phase Pistol much later in the series. If I was on the NX-01, I would carry a EM-33 over the Phase Pistol...and my god, how ugly is that phase-III compact rifle that they carried around before the EM41 MACO carbine?
    I hope you enjoyed my including Colonel West into the mix, I think he added something.

  3. Colonel West was the assassin in The Undiscovered Country, wasn't he? That means, if he was one of the people pushing for the adoption of the Assault Phaser, he died by his own favorite weapon!! Phasers.net says that originally the Starfleet assassin was to use a breakdown carbine version of the Assault Phaser instead of a Klingon disruptor rifle.

    I think the Phase Pistol was introduced to include more traditional phaser-like elements in the show. The Phase Pistol is pretty neat- I like continuous beam DEW- but it would make more sense for the EM-33 to be used as the standard issue sidearm for some time even after the invention of the Phase Pistol- especially if the Phase Pistol is more expensive. However, if I had been in charge of the production of Star Trek Enterprise, I would have armed the crew with laser beam pistols.

    The EM-33 can only fire plasma bolts, so it can only be used as a weapon. The Phase Pistol is a deadly weapon as well, but it has a less-lethal mode and can operate as a heat ray or a cutting tool. Space explorers will want versatile weapons, since they may encounter any number of strange situations. This may be part of the reason why the crew of NX-01 carry the phase pistol over the EM-33. Who knows- if you were actually part of the crew of the NX-01, maybe you would choose the smaller, deadly recoilless Phase Pistol over the bulky, heavy EM-33, especially if the EM-33 suffered from overheating and high recoil. If you think about it, the Phase Pistol is actually a bit scarier than the EM-33. If you turn the setting dial to "cutting beam", you could slice somebody in half- even though we never see them use those settings on a living target.

    I still want sights on my ray-gun. Most rays will be invisible or only marginally visible, and who wants to miss and then have to sweep the beam around to the target? That said, the glowing trail would make a continuous-beam weapon like the Phase Pistol easy to aim. Oddly, though, the characters on the show often fire a short burst that hits the target immediately, with no extra sweeping around required.

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. I have to admit, Mr. Phoenix, I've been thinking about the phasers of Star Trek quite abit, and I've come to a conclusion, if the phaser beam is strong enough, it would be one hell of a cutter!
    Another point I've come to realize, is that the Phaser is the only sci-fi weapon to be explored over nearly 200 years of development and over 40 years of real-time, no weapon in sci-fi has been changed, modified, and analyzed like the Starfleet phaser

  5. An interesting website. Enjoyed reading the future history of plasma-beam weaponry. Would also be nice seeing some future weaponry from other alternate future timelines, such as "Lost In Space", etc.

    Ward Kendall
    "Hold Back This Day"

    They Made Their Last Stand On Mars...

  6. At times, creators use different weaponry to express the difference between the "normal" reality and the "alternate" reality. Could be an interesting blogpost! Thanks for the tip!