The hell-lance is a charged particle beam weapon and one of the primary weapons employed by both Alliance and Syndic warships. Unlike many other ship-based weapons, such as specter missiles and grapeshot, hell-lances are not dependent upon expendable ammunition, needing only a source of power to operate.
Hell-lances launch charged particle 'spears' which impact the target, dealing considerable damage. Hell-lances do not have as long of an effective range as Specters. Hell-lances are used for both ship-to-ship combat and bombardment of surface targets. The charged particle 'spears' generated by each Hell-lance battery are visible to the unaided human eye. While target selection and aiming during fleet engagements is handled by the limited artificial intelligence of each ship, each of the individual generators which produce the hell-lance 'spear' is serviced by a gun crew of several sailors.
Hell-lances are able to fire extremely rapidly, often firing 2 or 3 volleys within the split second engagements. However, the design that allows this is unable to cope with continued firing (over 20 seconds) and the hell-lances quickly overheat (and are unable to continue firing).
In the wake of the tactical defeat inflicted on the Alliance Fleet at the First Battle of Lakota, Captain Geary takes time to personally review areas of the Dauntless that were most heavily damaged during the fighting. During this inspection it becomes apparent that at least several, but probably a good many, of the total hell-lance projectors aboard Dauntless are inoperable, as, despite the emergency repairs that have taken place aboard ship, sailors are being scrounged and cannibalized from former posts in order to serve the remaining weaponry.