"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit
... It's the only way to be sure."
Ellen Ripley, Aliens
In some science-fiction it is impractical to transport enough ground troops to invade a planet or The Empire
simply wants to make a statement, so they bombard a planet with a bunch of nukes or large kinetics
, or more rarely Energy Weapons
of some sort. This bombardment may be limited to a small geographical area but more often it is a general assault that wipes out most civilization if not all life on the planet.
Subtrope of Death from Above
, supertrope to Colony Drop
, usually less powerful than an Earth-Shattering Kaboom
. Kill Sat
is a specific example where the bombardment is carried out by a satellite instead of a ship.
Anime and Manga
- Warren Ellis comic Global Frequency featured the threat of kinetic spears; weapons designed to be dropped from satellites, heat up on re-entry, and strike the ground with the force of a tactical nuke, and as hot as the edge of the sun. Part of a 'die-back' protocol.
- The various Star Destroyer type vessels in Star Wars are equipped for orbital bombardment; the Expanded Universe says they were designed around the task, which is part of why they so heavily outgunned everything else in space at the time and had such an advantage against other vessels designed for starship combat. Notably, in the novel Rebel Dream, a Super Star Destroyer uses this tactic while defending - by using ground troops to force the enemy into specific locations on the planet below, where they could safely be blown to bits. Repeatedly.
- And of course there's the Death Star, designed specifically to blow up a planet.
- The Republic Attack Cruisers/Venator-class Star Destroyers from the prequel featured similar systems, but they had a unique drawback: because of the placement of their weapons, they were great for orbital bombardment, but crap for ship-to-ship combat. This was fixed with the later Star Destroyers.
- Referenced in Aliens with Ripley's famous "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
- In Soldier the captain wants to do this to the settlers on the garbage planet, but the colonel vetoes that in favor of giving his genetically engineered soldiers some excercise. It doesn't end well for them.
- Men In Black. After the Bug kills the Arquilian prince and steals the Galaxy, an Arquillian battle cruiser enters orbit around the Earth. It sends an ultimatum: deliver the Galaxy or it will destroy the Earth. It then fires a warning shot at the North Pole to make it clear that it means it.
- In Star Trek: First Contact, when Borg ship arrives at Earth in the past, it begins blasting Zefram Cochrane's installation where his ship was to be launched the following morning.
Live Action TV
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress the lunar rebels use the mass driver meant for sending shipments of grain back to Earth to drop big rocks on Earth military bases.
- From the Legacy of the Aldenata series by John Ringo:
- The Posleen invasion was lead off by kinetic weapon strikes on planetary defense centers and various pyramid structures around the world (due to a resemblance to similar structures set up by the Posleen, who consider them important).
- In Hell's Faire, the heroes and the entire population of Earth, are totally screwed until the fleet unexpectedly returns and uses kinetic bombardment to destroy every important target on the ground.
- O'Neal's team finds out what it's like to be on the receiving end of it, in The Eye of the Storm (free sneak preview available here, containing the scene in question in Chapter Four).
- The Western Galactic Empire of Robert Zubrin's The Holy Land uses Psioray bombardment. Capable of wide-area bombardment, accurate to within one-tenth of a percent of the range fired, can be tuned to only affect specific groups of beings (even more specifically than species), and reduces the targets to less than an inch in height, while leaving, for instance, local birds, lizards, and predatory insects the same size. Poor Peru. Poor Iowa.
- In Footfall (by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) the alien invaders have two versions of this. First, they use space-based lasers and 'Rods From God' to destroy Earth's military forces and insurgents; later, after Kansas is nuked to defeat their first invasion they land the eponymous 'Foot' (an asteroid) in the Indian Ocean to try to force Earth's surrender (it doesn't work).
- In the Wing Commander novel Fleet Action, multiple Terran Confederation planets are bombarded from orbit by a massive Kilrathi fleet the humans are unable to stop, using antimatter warheads and dirty nukes specifically employed to sterilize worlds.
- Starship Troopers acknowledges that if you just want to kill stuff that lives on the surface, nuking it from orbit is usually much more effective. Two problems with this: the Bugs don't live on the surface, and while the Skinnies do, the humans are hoping to turn them into allies/trading partners in the future and don't want to completely wipe them out.
- As might be expected, the Lensmen get into this particular Arms Race. If you're lucky, they're just tossing bombs at you. If you get them really mad, they target you with a couple of planets moving at several times c. With diametrically opposed vectors. It's called the "nutcracker", and the results are described as the creation of a new, temporary star.
- In the Honorverse orbital bombardment is restricted under the Eridani Edict in that all orbiting ships and structures have to be destroyed first and the planet has to be given a chance to surrender first. But since ships and missiles tend to fly around at relativistic speeds a "miss" can easily destroy an ecosystem.
- The Mote In Gods Eye. In the Back Story to the novel, five Imperial battleships destroyed all life on the rebellious planet Istvan, killing tens of millions of human beings.
- It mentioned in Line of Delirium that Kay Dutch's home planet was bombed so hard by The Empire that its oceans are still burning, thirty years later.
- Between Planets. The Federation has a large space station in orbit around Earth called Circum-Terra. It's their main guided-missile control station, and can fire missiles at any city on Earth. It has between 200 and 1,000 fission bomb rockets and components for the manufacture of fusion bombs.
- In the Safehold series Langhorne used this to kill off those who disagreed with his philosophy for running a colony, during the rest of the series, the heroes are worried that the bombardment may be set off again if any use of advanced technology is detected.
- In the fifth novel of the Dune series, Heretics of Dune, Honored Matres ships blast the surface of Arrakis into molten slag, sterilizing it.
- In Chapterhouse: Dune Honored Matres ships destroyed the planet Tleilax and many Bene Gesserit Sisterhood planets.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) begins with the nuclear annihilation of humanity by the Cylons.
- Babylon 5:
- At the end of the second season, the Centauri use mass drivers to bombard the homeworld of their long-time enemies the Narns. In Season 3, the effects are shown -- including altered climate due to atmospheric dust.
- Also almost the fate of Earth, at the end of Clarke's presidency of the Earth Alliance.
- Later on, the Narn, with the help of the Drazi, proceed to Centauri Prime to return the favor, though they at least restrain themselves to only using conventional heavy weapons (causing untold thousands of deaths, as opposed to the Centauri's attack on Narn being essentially a WMD attack severe enough that even the Vorlons gave them a "What the Hell, Hero?" response.
- Also from Babylon 5, the Shadow planet-killers used bombardment of many thermonuclear devices shot into the planet's crust, which would burrow down to the core and destabilize it. The planet remained intact, but totally sterilized and volcanically volatile on the surface. The Vorlon planet-killers were more of the Earth-Shattering Kaboom variety, by contrast.
- In the movie A Call To Arms, which served as a pilot to the spinoff Crusade, the Drakh got hold of a planet-killer abandoned by the Shadows, and used it on Dureen's homeworld, before threatening Earth with it.
- Star Trek has shown cases of orbital bombardment a few times, and discussed the possibility a few times more. Star Trek S 2 E 17 A Piece Of The Action had non-lethal orbital bombardment (a precision phaser blast from the Enterprise set on stun).
- In the episode "Mirror Mirror", this is the standard way the Terran Empire deals with cultures that refuse them.
- "A Taste of Armageddon". After Captain Kirk is captured by the Eminians, he gives Scotty General Order 24. Unless he countermands his order, in two hours the Enterprise will destroy the entire inhabited surface of Eminiar Seven.
- Used infrequently in the Stargate Verse, mostly as a terror tactic by the Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 (Death from Above is good for scaring primitive cultures and will make more advanced ones take cover). Arguably the most spectacular instance of this, though, came from the Tau'ri side in Stargate Atlantis: the Horizon weapons system, a MIRV launched from the Daedalus-class battlecruiser and tipped with six 280-gigaton naquadria bombs. The resulting blasts razed an entire continent, though as the inhabitants were self-replicating machines they cleaned up quickly.
- Warhammer 40,000: Many Imperial vessels are capable of Exterminatus, cleansing a planet deemed unsaveable by the Inquisition with virus-bombs that turn all living things into highly flammable organic matter or cyclonic torpedoes that shatter the planet's crust.
- Also from Warhammer 40K: Ork roks combine this with Colony Drop and It's Raining Men, being asteroids that are hollowed out, filled with orks, guns, and engines, then sent hurtling through space (or from ships onto planets) until they crash on a planet.
- Traveller has "ortillery" or "orbital artillery" including nukes, fusion cannons, and meson guns among others. Most of which the Imperial Navy tries to maintain a monopoly on.
- The General magazine Volume 13 #6, article "Saga of the Bug War". This article on the Starship Troopers game included rules for Terran starships in orbit passing over the field of battle and firing down nuclear rockets to destroy targets on the ground.
- Star Fleet Battles allowed ships to launch drones (nuclear missiles) at a planet to destroy surface installations.
- After the Klingons invaded and conquered the Hydrans, they put space stations in orbit around the Hydran planets which could destroy the Hydrans on the surface if they revolted. Unfortunately they didn't provide as much protection against attack from space as they did against attack from the ground, and the Hydrans were eventually able to capture them.
- Banned by the Ares Conventions and the Clans' even more restrictive code of honor in BattleTech. Though the Word of Blake don't care for those rules.
- Eclipse Phase: When the TITANS started forcibly uploading people en masse the various human and transhuman powers of the solar system tended to respond by hitting them from orbit with nukes, asteroids, and anitmatter. There are still areas of Mars and the moon that are under quarantine, and of course earth is unfit for transhuman life as far as many are concerned. Also many Firewall Sentinels still drop hypersonic rocks on TITAN remnants.
- In the Halo verse, the Covenant fleet plasma-bombards planets into molten glass.
- Halo: Reach brings us the target locator, in which you can laze targets for artillery.
- At the end of Tip of the Spear, the supercarrier Long Night of Solace delivers a DFA attack on the frigate Grafton.
- Halo 4 introduced targetable ordinance drops. While intended to supply the user with a weapon, the drop will also insta-kill most players if they're standing under it.
- Halo Wars lets players who are playing as the UNSC faction call down fire from the MAC gun (Magnetic Accelerator Cannon) of an orbiting warship. In addition the Covenant Prophet faction can call down an orbital laser beam which can be left active indefinitely (and steered around) assuming you have the resources.
- In the backstory of StarCraft the Terran Confederacy nuked Korhal into radioactive desert, which led to the restrictions on nuclear weapons that resulted in Terrans only using very weak tactical nukes that have to be guided by ground soldiers with laser pointers. Also the Protoss "purified" Terran colonies that were infested with Zerg during the first campaign. In both cases the planets were recolonized later on.
- EVE Online Fan Vid Day of Darkness II features Gallente Sentry Drones performing an orbital bombardment. Also, Admiral Tovil-Toba performs a Colony Drop with his multi-kilometer spaceship
- In Sword of the Stars ships can attack enemy colonies during tactical combat. Mass drivers, (nuclear) missiles, and even lasers that merely damage other ships kill millions when used against planetary populations. There are also specialized Assault Shuttles that go on bombing runs and Biowar missiles carrying Synthetic Plagues that don't damage terraforming or infrastructure (aside from Beast Bomb and Nanoplagues that is).
- The 40K-based game series Dawn of War has several examples, naturally:
- The Space Marine's Orbital Bombardment, which fires multiple Pillars Of Light into the general area of the selected location. In Dark Crusade, you can hijack the Orbital relay, letting you use the ability on the Space Marines (they fire one on their own base in the ending).
- The Tau have the Orbital Strike ability, which fires a single massive beam on one point, which then spreads out. In Soulstorm, the Ethereal orders the Air Caste to fire into their base as a desperate maneuver. The Ar'ka cannon could be considered a variation, since it serves as a lunar-based planetary bombardment system (it can strike any of the four planets in the system).
- Dawn of War II: Retribution demonstrates Exterminatus on Typhon Primaris.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, Darth Malak orders an orbital bombardment of Taris, effectively bombing the planet into stone age in an attempt to get one Jedi (who escapes).
- Bomber spacecraft in Ten Minute Space Strategy are neccessary in order to destroy enemy's colonies and, consequently, win the game. Without fighters escorting them, they are sitting ducks, however.
- In the first mission of Homeworld the Taiidan Empire incinerates Kharak's atmosphere.
- The tactic is present in Mass Effect, with the first game mentioning that during the turian occupation of Shanxi the turians were more than happy to blow away city blocks from orbit to take out single squads of human soldiers. During a sidequest, Shepard offers to have the Normandy hit a rachni hive from orbit. In Mass Effect 3 one of Diana Allers' news stories mentions that the Reapers blew away Adelaide, Australia with an orbital strike. And then of course there's the battle with the Reaper destroyer on Rannoch, which Shepard takes out by painting it as a target for the Normandy and the entire quarian fleet.