->''"Your ships are very impressive in the air, or in space, but at this moment, they are on the ground."''
-->-- '''Londo Mollari''', ''Series/BabylonFive''

What do the CoolShip, CoolStarship, and CoolPlane all have in common? They are all at their most vulnerable when in docked in port or while parked on the ground. This is a state of vulnerability that pretty much everyone and everything has to accept at some point, as personnel need food and sleep, ships need maintenance, and nobody has found a way to keep a plane in the sky indefinitely yet. A savvy enemy can use the element of surprise to sucker punch an enemy, even a numerically or technically superior enemy, before they can bring their forces into play. Methods for this can range from [[MolotovTruck Fireships]] to [[DeathFromAbove attack planes]] or a [[MacrossMissileMassacre long range missile attack.]]

Of course, it's also possible to be placed in this position because your ship was badly damaged in a ''previous'' fight, and the enemy is coming back to finish you off before you can finish your repairs.

The Trope name comes from a hunting phrase referring to ducks sitting on the water, often considered to be off limits until they take flight. Due to its applicability, the phrase was adopted in the military aviation community to refer to airplanes that had been caught on the ground, although of course very few pilots have a problem with destroying an enemy plane before it can get airborne.

Historically, a combat pilot would get no credit for destroying an enemy plane while it was still on the ground, until the Americans began to grant credit for such kills during UsefulNotes/WorldWarII[[note]]It was decided that it was better to destroy a German fighter on the ground rather than risk letting it take down an American bomber or two in the air later.[[/note]]. It was theoretically possible to become an ace by only destroying planes on the ground, although German airfields tended to be very heavily defended by [[AntiAir anti-aircraft]] [[MoreDakka batteries]] that could do wonders for shortening your flying career.

Exploiting this trope is a favored tactic of the CombatPragmatist, and a favored method of preventing the FighterLaunchingSequence.

Compare with CoupDeGrace, SickbedSlaying, and SlainInTheirSleep.

JustForFun/NotToBeConfusedWith ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitting_Ducks Sitting Ducks]]'', which was inspired by the same idiom that this Trope draws its name from.



[[folder:Anime And Manga]]
* In ''Anime/MartianSuccessorNadesico'', the Jovian Lizards hit the Nadesico while it's landed to pick up survivors of the invasion of Mars, giving Yurika the SadisticChoice of turning on the ships' DeflectorShields - crushing the refugees beneath it - or letting the attack destroy the Nadesico (likely killing most of the refugees when it crashed in flames). She chooses the former, but not without some angsting.
* The Wolf Pack arc of ''Manga/{{Area 88}}'' focuses on a mercenary group who destroy most of the planes at Area 88 while they're on the ground.
* In the second episode of ''[[Franchise/SentouYouseiYukikaze Yukikaze]]'', the titular [[AIIsACrapshoot plane]] suddenly and inexplicably opens fire on an entire row of FAF planes parked at Tactical Air Base 15, causing the FAF top brass to recall Yukikaze and have it brought in for system checks. [[spoiler:Turns out it was a good thing it did, as those planes had been sabotaged by enemy infiltrators, and Yukikaze was also attempting to kill the infiltrators that were present on the airstrip.]]
* In ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamWing'' the original Deathsycthe was not destroyed in battle. It was captured by OZ and then used as a target for a ''training mission'', where it was destroyed on live TV.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''[[ComicBook/GIJoeARealAmericanHeroMarvel G.I. Joe Special Missions]]'' #3: The Joes bomb the planes of a {{Qurac}} style nation while they are still on the ground. This mission also serves as cover for another Joe team to steal a new Russian fighter from the base.

* ''Film/PearlHarbor'' and ''Film/ToraToraTora'', obviously. In ''Film/ToraToraTora'', one of the American commanders is GenreSavvy enough to have some of his planes dispersed to various auxiliary airstrips to avoid keeping all of his eggs in one basket. Otherwise, he is bound by his orders to gather the planes together in the middle of the airfields to protect them from saboteurs, which plays directly into the Japanese attack plan.
* ''Film/RedTails'': The German aircraft when Easy, Lightning, Joker, and Junior follow [[NicknamingTheEnemy Pretty Boy]] back to his base.
* ''Film/SkyCaptainAndTheWorldOfTomorrow'': Dr. Totenkopf's robot aircraft catch Sky Captain's planes on the ground (and in their hangers), almost completely wiping them out. Only Sky Captain's plane manages to get off the ground.
* ''Film/DasBoot''. The U-boat survives every attempt to sink it, until it reaches harbour at the end of the movie, only to get sunk by an Allied air raid where it cannot [[DiveDiveDive dive to safety]].
* ''Film/OperationPetticoat'': ''Sea Tiger'' is caught in port when the Japanese attack in the beginning. She is eventually re-floated and repaired, but she suffers from that damage for the rest of the film. Later, they see a Japanese tanker that is moored and sitting low in the water, meaning it hasn't unloaded yet. They are preparing a torpedo attack, when [[CuteClumsyGirl Nurse Crandall]] comes into the conn and accidentally fires it, hitting a truck.
* ''Film/{{U571}}'': Tyler attempts to invoke this by creating a debris field that will make the German destroyer hunting them stop its engines for a sonar search, which will enable them to make an attack on a stationary target with their stern torpedo tubes. [[spoiler:By the time they make it to the surface, the tube is non-functional and they have to make a run for it before it's fixed.]]
* ''Film/TheLastJedi'': Kylo Ren launches a pair of torpedoes into the Resistance cruiser's fighter bay, destroying all of their remaining fighter craft. This also kills all of the pilots who were preparing to launch, with Poe surviving because he was just entering the bay.
* In ''Film/IndependenceDay'', while [[SemperFi Black Knight Squadron]] is [[CurbStompBattle systematically shot]] down by swathes of Invader defender craft over the city destroyer hovering atop the ruins of Los Angeles, another large swarm of defender craft are dispatched to El Toro, where they strafe the base and destroy any aircraft on the tarmac and any attempt at a second wave of the counterattack.
--> '''Radio newscaster:''' [[ThisJustIn Reports are coming in]] that this air battle has repeated itself all over the globe, with the ''exact'' same results.

* Clive Cussler's Literature/DirkPittAdventures novel ''The Mediterranean Caper''. A UsefulNotes/WorldWarI biplane strafes a U.S. Air Force base and destroys a number of F-105 Starfire jet fighters and C-133 Cargomasters while they're helpless on the ground.
* Admiral Leighton launches a raid on a the Spanish harbor of Rosas, in order to attack and sink a squadron of damaged French warships while they attempted to make repairs in the HoratioHornblower novel ''Flying Colours''.
* ''Literature/HonorHarrington'' had several examples of this trope, typically against complacent pickets in systems that were considered unlikely to be attacked. Generally speaking, the ships on the receiving end had to be drifting with cold nodes, preventing them from getting a [[DeflectorShields wedge or sidewalls]] up in time to defend themselves.
** In ''Mission Of Honor'', [[spoiler:The Manticore and Grayson home systems]] get cold-cocked by an unexpected new enemy, in the [[WhamEpisode single most one-sided engagement of the series]]. Just after [[TemptingFate they had decided that things looked as if they would come out on top]].
* One of [[CombatPragmatist Wedge Antilles's]] favored tricks during the Literature/XWingSeries is to take out an enemy's air force while it's still on the ground. In ''Wraith Squadron'', he orders a commando strike that destroys the launch tubes for the enemy's underground hangars, keeping a third of their fighters from participating in the final battle. In ''Starfighters of Adumar'', he performs the same feat on a much larger scale during the invasion of Cartaan; knowing his enemy will attempt a noon-time bombing run, he attacks at dawn; while the enemy's fighters can get in the air, their multiple-crew vehicles, including their ''Meteor''-class [[AntiAir point defense]] [[GiantMook heavy gunships]] are still on the ground when his bombers arrive. His proteges in Wraith Squadron use the trick again in ''Mercy Kill'', destroying six out of the enemy's eight ready fighters (they have ''[[UnwittingPawn plans]]'' for the other two) as the first act of their final plan.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/BlackSheepSquadron'': {{Lampshaded}} by the narrator in one episode to show how a particular new pilot was both [[TooDumbToLive very foolish]] ''and'' very good. He attempted to take off while being strafed by Japanese Zeroes, and somehow managed to get up in the air AND get behind the planes that had just been flying behind him trying to shoot him up. He still gets [[WhatTheHellHero chewed out]] for trying that to begin with.
* ''Series/BabylonFive'':
** Londo's CrowningMomentOfAwesome was when he invoked this trope on [[spoiler:the Shadow base on Centauri Prime.]]
** Prior to his arriving on Babylon 5, Captain Sheridan's own crowning moment was his defeat of the Minbari warship ''Black Star'', despite his ship being a SittingDuck (having been crippled by the ''Black Star'' in a previous attack), via some previously placed nuclear bombs in an AsteroidThicket.
** Later on, Captain Sheridan attempted to invoke this trope on a Shadow [[FanNickname Battlecrab]] on [[spoiler:the Jovian moon of Ganymede]], but arrived just in time to see the ship launch and destroy the facilities there.
** In the backstory, this is how [=EarthForce=] successfully destroyed a Centauri base in 2175: many times [=EarthForce=] squadrons had chased Centauri privateers (employed by House Jaddo's rivals to "protest" Jaddo's monopoly of Earth-Centauri trade) to Centauri Royal Navy base but had not attacked, but one day the human ships suddenly fired a volley of nukes, with the Centauri caught by surprise because, in their complete technological and military superiority, they didn't expect them to be so suicidally stupid.
* In ''Series/{{Crusade}}'', the heroes had to be mindful of the fact that using the ''Excalibur's'' WaveMotionGun rendered the ship helpless for a short period of time, due to the power drain required to use the weapon.
* In the pilot for ''Series/BuckRogersInTheTwentyFifthCentury'', by DressingAsTheEnemy, Buck is able to put [[BananaInTheTailpipe bombs in the tailpipes]] of almost all of the Draconian attack fighters while they are preparing to launch.
* Used in both series of ''Franchise/{{Battlestar Galactica}}'', in different ways. In the [[Series/BattlestarGalactica1978 original series]], the Cylons planned to attack the ''[[TheBattlestar Galactica]]'' while all of her pilots were being honored at a party on the planet Carillon. Fortunately, Commander Adama was far too GenreSavvy to let that happen, and came up with a BatmanGambit of his own.
** In [[Series/BattleStarGalactica2003 the reboot series]], the Cylons were able to ''[[TheComputerIsACheatingBastard invoke]]'' this trope via a computer virus that [[EverythingIsOnline remotely shut down all of the Colonial fleet's systems]], leaving their ships adrift in space at the [[CurbstompBattle worst possible moment]].

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Task Force Games
** Several ''TabletopGame/StarFleetBattles'' scenarios involved ships being caught by surprise attacks while in orbit or docked to a space station. The scenario usually had rules for "powering up" ship systems so the ships could fight.
** ''TabletopGame/{{Starfire}}'' scenario "The Paurl Harbor Raid". Rigellian carriers smashed Khanate battleships "at anchor" in Paurl Harbor, an obvious ShoutOut to "Pearl Harbor".

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/AeroFighters Assault'', one of the bonus mission has you protecting your AirborneAircraftCarrier from enemy attacks while it's refueling.
* ''VideoGame/SecretWeaponsOfTheLuftwaffe'':
** One hypothetical German mission is attacking an Allied bomber base in Britain and destroying the B-17's on the ground before they can take off.
** Another mission involved taking off while your airbase was under attack and fighting off the enemy planes.
* The first German campaign mission in ''VideoGame/RedBaron'' was being on the receiving end of one of these. You had to get your plane into the air while your airbase was being strafed by attacking Allied planes.
* An available tactic in a few missions of ''VideoGame/RogueSquadron''.
* If you get into a Japanese harbor in ''Silent Hunter 4'', you can often find a lot of enemy ships that are this.
* ''VideoGame/AceCombat'':
** The player takes out bombers or other aircraft on the ground from time to time. Attacking ships at anchor also shows up occasionally.
** The player becomes the subject of this trope a few times, with ''you'' being the sitting duck after being on the receiving end of a surprise attack on your base or needing to refuel mid-combat. Slowly taxiing to the runway while fuel trucks and hangars are bombed to oblivion around you is one of the most intense scenes in the game.
* In the Virmire mission of ''[[VideoGame/MassEffect1 Mass Effect]]'', one way you can help your allies against Saren's base is destroying his fighters when they come in to rearm.
** It features heavily in the [[spoiler:Reapers']] plan to [[TakeOverTheWorld Take Over The Galaxy]] [[spoiler:Again]]. By attacking the Citadel first [[spoiler:through its built-in mass relay]], they can make sitting ducks out of both the Fleet ''and'' the Council with one fell swoop.
** In ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'', the ''Normandy'' is disabled by a computer virus and then [[spoiler:boarded by the Collectors.]]
* In several ''VideoGame/{{Civilization}}'' games and ''VideoGame/SidMeiersAlphaCentauri'', ships in port in a city/base under attack receive a negative modifier to their defense, reflecting this trope.
* In the ''Franchise/{{Halo}}'' series, all Covenant spacecraft have DeflectorShields that reduce humanity's [[MacrossMissileMassacre Archer missiles]] into a WorfBarrage. Once they go down for whatever reason, those same missiles prove to be quite effective. In particular, the first mission in ''VideoGame/{{Halo 4}}'' has the player shred an entire cruiser with a measly two missile pods.
* In ''VideoGame/{{Xenonauts}}'', approaching a landed UFO is a very tricky and dangerous business, but if it works out, its as good as yours.
* As GDI in ''VideoGame/CommandAndConquerTiberiumWars'', you are told to infiltrate and then attack a Nod Weapons depot before they can deploy their tanks against you. Which is a good thing, as the sheer mass of tanks takes up a quarter of the map. However, They aren't crewed, so you get some satisfying target practice after the pain it is to [[ThatOneLevel infiltrate the base in the first place]].
* ''VideoGame/StarcraftBroodWar'' has a level where Kerrigan turns against her allies, the Dominions led by General Duke ([[KickTheSonOfABitch to most players' glee]]) and the Protoss led by Fenix ([[PlayerPunch to their consternation]]). You start with a time limit during which neither base produces units or attack waves, letting you take out one faction's base.
--> '''Terran Marine:''' Kerrigan caught us with our pants down, but it's time to start givin' some back!
* ''VideoGame/CommandAndConquerGenerals'' annoyingly uses this along with ArtificialStupidity: your units will often be more than happy to let an enemy shoot them without reacting, unless they're told to guard the terrain, in which case they'll chase after the attacker and get themselves killed.
* ''VideoGame/WarcraftIII'' has a similar level in the expansion where Kerrigan sneaks her way into a city controlled by the Dreadlord Detheroc and the humans he's mind-controlled (led by [[HateSink Grand Marshal Garithos]]). As in Brood War, the timer is usually enough to take out a single side's base (with the game itself recommending you use banshees to possess powerful enemy units along the way).

[[folder: Western Animation]]
* In the ''WesternAnimation/SupermanTheAnimatedSeries'' episode that introduces Braniac, the Kryptonian robot hacks into the [=LexCorp=] computers that are targeting his ship and Luthor says this trope word for word if Braniac hacks into the world's defense computers.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* The Japanese raids on [[UsefulNotes/WorldWarII Pearl Harbor and the Philippines]], catching the American Pacific Fleet and the hundreds of planes based on Oahu (bunched together to prevent sabotage) flat-footed as big easy targets for the Japanese to destroy, is quite possibly the TropeCodifier. Although the Imperial Japanese Navy failed in their ''primary'' objective, the destruction of the American carriers, and [[AwakeningTheSleepingGiant contributed to the US entering the war]], it was a punishing blow for the unprepared American forces. It would be six months before the Allies could regain the initiative and start pushing the Japanese back.
** One of the main reasons ''why'' the Americans were sitting ducks in Pearl Harbor was partially due to surprise, and partially due to being GenreSavvy in the wrong department. In Hawaii, while no one was prepared for an aerial attack, the top brass at Oahu were more concerned with possible saboteurs, since the appearance of Hawaii's natives made it hard to tell a native apart from a Japanese spy. For this reason, the fighters were organized in large, clustered groups which made them easier to guard and watch over, but also made quick takeoffs in an emergency—such as, say, an aerial attack—all but impossible…
** The Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands had similar results, for a slightly different reason: The Americans scrambled their planes upon hearing about the attack on Oahu, but the expected Japanese air attack didn't arrive until many of the American planes landed to refuel.
** The US Navy got its revenge at the Battle of Midway, where American bombers caught the Japanese carriers right as they were getting ready to launch the next wave of their own attack aircraft. All four of these carriers had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and all four were sunk during the battle (at the cost of the USS ''Yorktown'').
** The German Luftwaffe's victories over the Polish, French, and Soviet air forces early in WWII were mostly from destroying enemy planes on the ground, rather than in the air. The initial successes in the Battle of Britain came from the Luftwaffe targeting RAF airfields; though most British planes often made it into the air for each engagement, the Germans would bomb runways to ensure that landing was more difficult.
* Earlier in UsefulNotes/WorldWarII, HMS ''Royal Oak'' was lying at anchor in Scapa Flow on October 14, 1939 when it was torpedoed by a U-Boat.
** On the other hand, this happened when the Germans tried protecting U-Boats by using mounted anti-aircraft guns to shoot at Allied warplanes. Unfortunately for the U-Boats, those pilots quickly got over their surprise by realizing that in order to use those guns have to stay stationary and surfaced, and thus a sitting duck target worth facing the firepower.
* Operation Focus was the opening airstrike by Israel at the start of the [[UsefulNotes/ArabIsraeliConflict Six-Day War of 1967]]. At 07:45 on June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive airstrike, using very nearly every airworthy plane they had, which destroyed the majority of the Egyptian air force on the ground. By noon, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces, with about 450 aircraft, were destroyed, allowing the Israelis to enjoy air supremacy for the entire war. The war only [[ShapedLikeItself lasted six days]].
* UsefulNotes/ThePeloponnesianWar ended when the Spartans found the whole Athenian fleet beached and their crew ashore foraging.
* The [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Taranto Night of Taranto]], in which British carrier-launched bombers disabled three (out of six) of the Italian Navy's battleships (one, the ''Cavour'', was never repaired), plus two cruisers and two planes, with the original plan of finishing the job the following night being scrapped due bad weather. Notably, [[FollowTheLeader this inspired the attack on Pearl Harbor]]: Pearl Harbor, like Taranto, was a very shallow harbour (hence why the Americans didn't bother to deploy torpedo nets. The Italians, being more GenreSavvy, were deploying their own, but just hadn't made enough nets yet), and the Japanese, who were already studying how to pull it off, used the data from the attack to perfect their own plans.
** Often pulled by the Italians themselves: during UsefulNotes/WorldWarI [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS_Wien they would use small motorboats with torpedoes strapped on them to infiltrate Austro-Hungarian harbours and sink the warships there]] and invented the manned torpedo to deal with the increased surveillance and the deploying of torpedo nets (the former wasn't much of a problem, but [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakar_mockery the latter had foiled attempts at repeating the performance]]), an invention they used to [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raid_on_Alexandria_%281941%29 take revenge for the events of Taranto by sinking two battleships moored at Alexandria]], among other attacks-including ''six'' breaching of ''Gibraltar''.
* The first carrier-launched air raid exploited this trope during UsefulNotes/WorldWarI. HMS ''Furious'', a battlecruiser which had her forward and aft guns replaced with launch and recovery decks, launched seven Sopwith Camels which attacked the German airship base at Tondern, which had previously been considered beyond the range of air attack. In return for one British pilot lost, the Germans lost two zeppelins and a balloon. The zeppelins in particular would have been very difficult to engage if they were airborne.