Point Defense and shipboard phasers, deflectors and shields oh my!

A friend has created “canon” by saying that a ship with missiles (How this differs from torpedoes is beyond me.) is perfectly capable of destroying a starship with shields because the shields do not stop solid matter. He notes several episodes where shuttlecraft pierced enemy shields to deliver a strike teams or whatever.

My counter argument is that there are two kinds of shields, defense screens (shields) and deflectors. Deflectors are designed to stop solid matter from penetrating the ship, and would stop missiles from impacting. If they can stop anything from micro meterore to asteroids, then they can turn a missle aside. Defense screens (Shields) are designed to dissipate energy weapons, preventing them from doing damage.

What about phasers or phaser arrays as point defense weapons? In most episodes of the various incarnations, starship phasers are shown to be monolithic high energy weapons capable of wreaking horrible destruction in controlled bursts. But what is their rate of fire? Can they cycle fast enough to be point defense weapons?

So, if a ship launches, say 16 missiles at medium range, would a starship be able to use its phasers to defend itself by firing fast enough to destroy the missiles before they impacted?

I am standing by, awaiting your wisdom!

The cases where a shuttle penetrated a ship’s shields were exceptions to the rules. The impulse exhaust destabilized a portion of aft shields, the Kazon focus fired on a specific point of Voyager’s shields. When Roga Danar ran his fake suicide run on the Enterprise his ship bounced off the shields.


Mechanic wise, they are not really any different in my opinion. They may deal less damage and may or may not have the high yield effect, but they have the same basic function. They both have fuel, an engine, a warhead, and a guidance system. The main difference ‘lore’ wise might be that the photon torpedo might have a small shielding unit built in, for the express purpose of making sure that a ship firing a minimal power wide-area attack with a weapons array won’t prematurely detonate a torpedo.

As for penetrating an enemies shields, there are a few episodes where it was mainly plot focus that allowed that to happen. Arguably, if you manage to find the correct shield modulation for the enemy ship, you can make it through their shields. However, if you manage to do that with a shuttle, it would be better to simply relay the info to your main ship and allow them to fire away and bypass the enemy shields in the first place with the weapon attacks. (Like the Duras sisters did in Generations.)

If that were truly the case, then they would also turn away torpedoes. Again, I think this might be part of the built-in components of a torpedo. (One of the reasons why they glow.) The shielding and other components work together with the propulsion unit to thwart and confuse the ship’s deflector shields in order to get close enough. Granted, mechanic wise, this is all kind of built into the task to hit the target. If a missile doesn’t have the same components, or quality of components, raise the difficulty to hit.

As for firing multiple shots to destroy 16 missiles? For one, each time you fire (unless you have independent phaser power supply talent) it costs your ship 1 point of energy. If your ship has enough energy to make 16 shots in one turn, use a different tactic to avoid the 16 missiles. :stuck_out_tongue:

That said, weapon arrays (not banks or cannons, but arrays) have the option of using an area attack. Before firing, specify you want to fire an area attack, and then for each effect rolled, you can hit an additional target within close range of the initial target (targets in contact with the target are automatically affected). So, a ship firing at the missiles (best estimate of difficulty being 2 for energy weapon, +1 for small target, +0 for medium range) would get to hit 1 missile, plus 1 additional missile for each effect rolled, costing 1 energy. That one attack would take the action of one player.

However, missiles, like torpedoes, would probably be fast-moving targets, and hit in the same ‘action’ that they are fired. So unless there is more than one player on the ship holding or readying their action to use the phasers as point-defense weaponry, those 16 missiles would hit at the same time they are launched, and would probably use the same rules as the ‘spread’ for torpedoes.

1 Like

Shields definitely protect against torpedoes. In Voyager, it was a big deal when the Krenim’s chroniton torpedoes could penetrate Voyager’s shields. Also, there was a TNG episode where someone bounces a shuttle off the ship’s shields. So they definitely do stop solid matter.

As far as I recall, there is no indication in canon that there are multiple types of shields that are used against particle weapons or solid objects. Shields are shields. The main deflector on a ship is used to push small objects out of a ship’s trajectory, but this has no use in combat.

As for missiles and torpedoes, they are essentially the same thing. The real-world difference is that torpedoes travel underwater and missiles travel through the air.

In TOS, the Enterprise used something called a “Proximity blast” which might be used for anti-missile defense. However, I imagine that most torpedoes use special coating or jammers to interfere with a ship’s targeting scanners so that it is not trivial to just shoot down a torpedo.

Yes, shields most definately stop matter, along with most other things (energy, radiation etc). This is why torpedoes detonate against a shield.

There is of course the matter that if missiles did ignore shields, every species would be armed with missiles as it would be stupid not to.

As far as point defence goes, I tend to think that phasers are too slow to be able to lock on to something like a torpedo. It’s been shown a few times that a ship manoeuvring fast enough can evade phaser hits, and torpedoes are often shown as outpacing target ships

I found this article online, which seems to me well researched and complete. http://www.st-v-sw.net/STSWstnemram.html

I don’t think it is a matter of phasers being “slow” after all they are light! I should think that they do not fire quickly because of recharge rate, or something along those lines. Perhaps, due to heat dispersion. Tasha Yar, in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” talks about the marked improvement in the modern energy dissipation rates of “D” shields versus “C” shields.

SSIRON: I agree that shields protect versus torpedoes. However there are circumstances in which shields could be overcome, by blast damage, As for photon torpedoes having shields of their own - there is no canon evidence for this conclusion. The “glow” could just as easily be the drive system of the torpedo.

Shran: I found an interesting article that seems to be complete and well researched: ST-v-SW.Net - The Nemesis Fallacy

No, they aren’t. They’re a “rapid nadion effect” (Sternbach & Okuda, STTNG Tech Manual). They are a stream of subatomic particles that interact with atomic nuclei.

Good job taking the idea of phasers being slow super literally folks. I was of course talking more about the targeting systems that they rely upon and the time which the beam takes to reach its target, relative to the target’s own movement. Phasers arent 100% accurate, this is known.

1 Like

I’m not doing repeated frame by frames (in part, because I don’t have the DVD/BluRays), but, we know that the beam takes a couple frames to propagate. I slowed down one on youtube to 25%, and it was 3 frames to from first spark exit to past edge of screen.

Realistically, the propagation of the phaser should be fairly high sublight. We’ve never seen a case where a sublight vessel was missed because the phasers couldn’t catch up.

So, the speed should be probably 0.95 to 0.99 C for the nadion burst… even tho the video implies around 6-24 km/s.

The one I slowed to 25% to count the propagation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eB8dN7pNJ1o



Good job taking the idea of phasers being slow super literally folks. I was of course talking more about the targeting systems that they rely upon and the time which the beam takes to reach its target, relative to the target’s own movement. Phasers aren’t 100% accurate, this is known.

To my manner of thinking, phasers aren’t “slow” but the recharge rate on the conductor coils (or whatever babble one wishes to use) may be. I should think they require a great deal of energy which takes time (mayhaps, infinitesimal) to build up in the system before they can be fired again. Since we are dealing with tech which does not yet exist, I suppose we can get away with anything we need to happen in the scene. In TOS the phaser control room (Episode “Balance of Terror”) the operator (the guy who hits the button to fire the phaser) is unconscious and Spock runs in to accomplish this task. Granted this is a TV show, after all, but there is obviously a human element to operating these weapon systems. My original question was not directed at the nature of what a phaser “is” rather at what the rate of fire it had, and whether or not it could be utilized as a point defense weapon against a saturation attack.