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Gen. Wedge Antilles: So, we're going to hit [the Yuuzhan Vong] with an enemy they've never had the displeasure of facing. We're going to hit them with the Empire. Col. Tycho Celchu: They're not going to like the Empire.
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 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.
A term frequently used in relation to this trope is "glassing," which originally referred to the bombardment being intense enough to cause the soil to vitrify, or melt into volcanic glass.
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 (the primary distinction is that the Kill Sat can't leave orbit under its own power). May involve Nuking 'em, and could be required because It's the Only Way to Be Sure. Has no relation to an Orbital Shot.
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The Colony Drop and related forms are absolutely adored by the Gundam franchise. To wit:
The original Mobile Suit Gundam's backstory includes an attempted colony drop on Brazil that was derailed to Australia. Gundam 0083 gives us a decent peek of the ensuing crater bay carved from the 50-mile radius around what used to be Sydney.
Char's Counterattack more or less revolves around Char doing this and even begins with a preliminary meteor drop on Tibet.
Operation Meteor of Gundam Wing infamy was drafted as a plan to drop an asteroid on Earth, then seize control with the Gundams as the populace runs around in terror. Of course, we wind up seeing what happens when the Gundams jump the gun and their pilots' humanity interferes, but Dekim Barton decides to double back and try it right in Endless Waltz.
After War Gundam X starts with the Space Revolutionary Army devastating the Earth with mass colony drops. The series proper takes place After the End with everyone who's left scrambling to control the titular Gundam, whose Satellite Cannon was designed to shoot the things down.
Gundam SEED Destiny features an attempt to drop a destroyed colony on Earth. Despite the efforts of both the Federation and ZAFT, who together actually manage to take out the majority of the thing, enough damage is caused to re-ignite a second Bloody Valentine War.
Even SD Gundam Force gets in on the action towards the end of its first half, when Chief Haro conducts the largest-scale Bright Slaphomage ever by dropping the hand-shaped Blanc Base on the Dark Axis's Big Zam.
In The 08th MS Team, the entire point of the Apsalus Project is to produce a weapon that can destroy the Federation's headquarters at Jaburo even through the layers of rock and earth protecting it. This is done by strapping a superhigh-powered beam cannon to a mobile armor designed to "bounce" high into the atmosphere and bombard Jaburo like a Kill Sat.
Gundam Evolve featured a Titans Mobile Armor, the Geminus, that was capable of striking ground targets from orbit with a Beam Cannon. It manages to take out a Karaba base before getting destroyed by a team of Zeta Gundams.
The event is arguably even worse in Super Dimension Fortress Macross: the Zentraedi fold into orbit and immediately open fire without giving humanity any time to do more than gawk at the enormous fleet they've amassed. When the Macross and the allied Breetai and Lap Lamiz fleets go after Bodolza, they do so under the assumption that all human life on the planet is dead. Fortunately, it turns out this isn't quite the case: a few million survivors here and there across the surface are located in the following years.
The 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.
Inadvertently in Red Fire, Red Planet. Norigom's "strike package" (really just ten tons of uranium dropped from a Bird-of-Prey at 25,000 km/s) is actually aimed at part of Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, but a chunk of it keeps going after hitting its target and impacts the planet. A Martian city reportedly suffered a direct hit.
Very intentionally done in The Celestia Code. After some runins with changelings, Twilight finally settles on diplomacy. Namely, a politely worded letter ... and borrowing an asteroid when Luna's not looking.
The original plan to deal with the Rebels in The Empire Strikes Back was to bombard the base. When Ozzel screwed up, they resorted to a ground assault.
The various Star Destroyer type vessels 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.
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.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, orbital bombardments come in various degrees, depending on the situation, whether it's supporting an invasion, targeting an enemy's production facilities, making a statement, or other such uses. It went on to introduce the Base Delta Zero, the only Imperial (and pre-Imperial) code not subject to change because they don't want anyone to get the order confused when it comes down, as it's a planetary scale scorched earth tactic that ranged from merely destroying all the assets of production and killing everyone, to outright melting the planet's crust, depending on the resources and disposition of the supervising commander. More information under Literature.
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 exercise. It doesn't end well for them.
In the first film, 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 the title sequence of the second film, Serleena's starship blows up several planets for no apparent reason on her way to Earth.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: The Enterprise lays in a photon torpedo strike on "God" in order to cover the escape of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock. It only serves to slow their pursuer down momentarily.
In Star Trek: First Contact, when the Borg sphere arrives at Earth in the past, it begins blasting Zefram Cochrane's installation where his ship was to be launched the following morning. This stops rather abruptly when Picard puts a quantum torpedo volley up its tailpipe.
Stargate Continuum: Double Subverted. The combined fleets of the System Lords under a Time Traveling Ba'al arrive in Earth orbit and initially just sit there and look threatening, because Ba'al had grown to like the old timeline's Earth and wanted to offer them status as an autonomous protectorate of the Goa'uld Empire. After Qetesh kills him, thinking he's off his rocker, she orders the fleet to go back to Goa'uld Plan A and opens fire on the planet.
Iron Sky: The Moon Nazis start the attack on Earth by dropping asteroids they towed into orbit with their Zeppelin battleships.
Also in Heinlein's Space Cadet, the primary mission of the Space Patrol is to ensure peace on Earth by maintaining orbiting nuclear weapons which they would use on any aggressor. Cadet Dodson serves a tour onboard a Patrol Ship whose prime mission is to coordinate such a bombardment. To keep the crew busy, they (including Dodson) perform routine maintenance on such bomb satellites.
There's an amusing scene regarding these about two-thirds of the way through the book, where Dodson explains this to his parents and that one of the bombs will be directly overhead by the time they finish dinner. His mom panics — "What if it falls?" — which leads to Dodson having to explain how orbital mechanics work and that if Space Patrol wanted to nuke them they'd use a different bomb further back on the same orbit that could actually dump enough velocity to hit them. Dad doesn't find this very reassuring.
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, 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.
Also, it would destroy valuable real estate that humans could use in victory. As the book says, you can kill everything from orbit but you need a kid with a rifle on the ground to hold it.
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 the planet has to have had its space-borne defense destroyed and be given a chance to surrender first. If the planet refuses to surrender then Orbital Bombardment is allowed but only against military targets (which does include bombarding the politicians who control the military). Of course since ships and missiles tend to fly around at relativistic speeds a "miss" can easily destroy an ecosystem and debris from orbital combat can cause massive damage (as was seen in Oyster Bay). If the Eridani Edict is disobeyed the theoretical penalty is the complete destruction of the offending government by the Solarian League, but given how poorly the League fleet performs against Manticore and Haven when they actually join the fight it's questionable whether the threat can be backed up anymore...although those same star nations are probably quite willing to enforce the Edict themselves.
When orbital bombardment is used, the weapons of choice are kinetic bombs. These weigh about half a ton and have impeller drives, and depending on their acceleration can produce blasts sized to take out anything from an outhouse to a city.
On at least one occasion, striking a planet from orbit (or beyond) is referred to as the Heinlein Maneuver. That the Havenites refuse to even risk it is one of their early redeeming qualities. That the Masadans directly set out to do this is probably the second or third time they cross a Moral Event Horizon (Blackbird Base being the first).
Not long before In Enemy Hands, Admiral Esther McQueen used orbital kinetic strikes from her flagship PNS Rousseau in combination with low-altitude bombing to foil an attempted coup against the Committee of Public Safety. The bombing in particular got her the In-Series Nickname "Admiral Cluster Bomb".
Much later in the series, one of the villains establishes their evilness by destroying several cities with kinetic strikes to put down a popular rebellion against the local Puppet State government. The Manticorans return the favor, destroying the villain's headquarters with a precision strike from orbit.
The Shongairi in Out of the Dark open their invasion of earth with a kinetic bombardment that levels several cities. They later bombard a U.S. Army tank unit that refused to surrender and in the end the Shongairi leader wants to reduce earth to rubble.
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.
In Line of Delirium the three Imperial colonies in the Shedar (Alpha Cassiopeiae) system were invaded by the fast-breeding Sakkra. Civilians were evacuated (mostly women and children, although not all women left), while most men chose to stay and fight. Instead of trying to retake the planets, which would result in huge casualties, The Emperor decides to bombard them with meson bombs. The invaders and the defenders were killed, and the planets were made uninhabitable. The Empire proceeded to retaliate and wiped out the entire Sakkra species.
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.
The Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine has a Chaos Space Marine warship blow away the Blood Angels' entire motor pool. At the end of the next book, Deus Sanguinius, a high-ranking Blood Angel regretfullynote The Blood Angels are one of the nicer chapters. notes that a planet will have to be hit with an Exterminatus.
In Duty Calls, the Imperial fleet supporting the Imperial Guard's ground operations against a Tyranid invasion by blasting any 'nid-held locations they find out about. The planet's weather patterns make finding out about them difficult, unfortunately.
Done by Chaos in Cain's Last Stand when Warmaster Varan's forces flatten the PDF headquarters with a battleship's lance batteries. The for-once-not-incompetent brass had already evacuated but we don't know the casualties.
As previously mentioned, the Base Delta Zero, fan nicknamed "BDZ," was introduced here, specifically by The Imperial Sourcebook for the Star Wars RPG. Interestingly, while it's been threatened several times the only known time in the Imperial era a BDZ was successfully carried out was in the backstory to the Hand of Thrawn duology against Caamas, and that was by a mercenary fleet rather than Imperial regulars. How far it goes depends on varying factors, with Soontir Fel envisioning his ordered but aborted Base Delta Zero on Nar Shaddaa involving burned-out buildings, surface landings and mop-up operations, while kill-crazy guys like General Grievous have liquefied entire surfaces of planets.
In Rogue Squadron the New Republic uses the ISD Emancipator, one of two ISDs captured by the Rebellion at Endor, in an unsuccessful attempt to bring down the theatre deflector shield protecting the Imperial surface base on Borleias. Interestingly Wedge Antilles notes during the briefing that the Hoth solution, a ground attack against the generators, has historically been more successful. In the end it doesn't matter: the attack is a spectacular failure due to intelligence missing that the general in command had an extra power supply for the base.
Offscreen in Wedge's Gamble, Warlord Zsinj's SSD Iron Fist does a hit-and-run attack on the Rogues' surface base on Noquivzor in retaliation for them blowing up a couple of his ships earlier. Becomes an Exploited Trope: Tycho is listed as MIA after the attack, which lets him rescue the Rogues later in the book.
In the Jedi Academy Trilogy Admiral Daala uses her Star Destroyers to bombard civilian targets on Mon Calamari before a gambit by Admiral Ackbar costs her an ISD and forces her to retreat.
New Jedi Order: The Yuuzhan Vong were inordinately fond of the Colony Drop form, particularly bombarding GFFA planets with their own orbital defense stations. The particular version used against Sernpidal in Vector Prime, crashing a planet's moon into it, they call Yo'gand's Core after their first Supreme Overlord who pioneered the tactic. They also use the ship-against-planet form a few times, including to glass N'zoth. On the flip side, the NJO novel Rebel Dream gives us Operation Emperor's Hammer, a.k.a. Operation Infantry Can't Do Shit About Super Star Destroyers.
Seen repeatedly in the Star Carrier series by Ian Douglas. When the America carrier battle group first meets the Turusch they're doing their utmost to bring down a theatre shield protecting a Marines base on Eta Bo÷tis IV. After the battle group drives them off, they eventually return and obliterate the entire colony with kinetic strikes from multi-AU ranges. Late in the book they attack Sol the same way. The few shots that get through cause devastation on Earth and Mars and slag several space stations. And that's just the first book.
In Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy setting, the First Galactic War started when the President of the Earth Alliance unilaterally decided to forcibly bring the Lost Colonies under Earth control in order to solve Earth's overpopulation problem. He sends a strike fleet to one of the more developed colonies called Dabog. The admiral of the fleet opens the invasion by nuking two major cities on the planet from orbit without warning. When the colonists are able to successfully fight off the invasion forces, the admiral pulls his forces back and has the planet sterilized by repeated nuclear bombardment as a message to the other colonies. This only serves to unify the Free Colonies against the threat, and the bloody war drags on for several decades instead of being a quick show of force, ending with the colonies coming out on top. Even a thousand years later, Dabog is still too radioactive to re-settle. Instead, it serves as a silent memorial to all those who refused to bow down to tyranny.
After the war, the Confederacy of Suns sends warships to locate secret Earth Alliance bases (usually automated and underground) and destroys them using tornado missiles launched from orbit. If the planet has a tropopause layer, the missiles detonate and generate temporary tornadoes that seek out air shafts (all underground bases need them) and destroy anything in the base.
During a ground battle in Valor's Trial the Others' Space Navy apparently say "screw this" and strike the place from space with some sort of tactical warhead that fuses the entire battlefield into volcanic glass, killing almost everyone on both sides.
While they're never used, all warships in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series (and subsequent books) are armed with nukes. However, when the Race nukes human cities, they do so using "killercraft" (jet fighters). In Homeward Bound, the US sends a Sleeper Starship towards Home, the Race's homeworld in Tau Ceti, armed to the teeth with nukes in a clear case of Gunboat Diplomacy. When the humans reveal that they possess FTL starships, the Race comes up with a counter in the form of their STL starships being capable of being launched towards Earth to impact the planet at 50% of the speed of light.
In The Lost Fleet, it's standard practice in the Forever War by both sides to bombard enemy planets using "rocks" in order to reduce the enemy's recruitment pool and industrial strength. When John Geary (who spent 100 years as a Human Popsicle) learns of this, he is horrified that The Alliance has stooped so low. He is determined to put an end to this.
In the Hostile Takeover series by S. Andrew Swann, the tactic is called "orbital reduction of target", and consists of dropping a cloud of thin, heavy filaments from orbit. This smashes up the target area, has good ground-penetrating properties, and leaves the surroundings essentially undamaged. In the backstory Jonah Dacham destroyed the city of Styx this way, killing 35,000 people, including his mother. (Not really; someone else had her killed.) Later, Klaus Dacham does the same thing to the refugees from Godwin Arms.
In the Troy Rising series by John Ringo, Earth is subject to kinetic bombardment multiple times. The first three bombardments target major cities. Afterwards, humanity abandons urban culture. The last orbital bombardment to actually hit Earth was targeted at the leaders of the major nations of Earth, with the intent of causing paralyzing power struggles. Unfortunately, as all the targeted nations have very clear rules of succession, all it did was piss us off.
In "The Coming of Shadows" a group of Shadow ships demolish a Narn orbital base at the behest of their long-time enemies the Centauri, then turn their guns on the colony below.
In "The Long Twilight Struggle", the Centauri use mass drivers (cannons shooting small asteroids) to bombard the Narn homeworld. In Season 3, the effects are shown — including altered climate due to atmospheric dust. This attack was severe enough that even the Vorlons, who explicitly take no interest in the younger races affairs, issued an official protest of the Centauri Republic's actions.
Also almost the fate of Earth, at the end of Clarke's presidency of the Earth Alliance in "Endgame". He sets Earth's orbital defense satellites to start nuking targets on the surface and then shoots himself so he can't be forced to countermand the order. The Alliance of alien and renegade Earth ships led by Sheridan destroy the entire defense grid to stop this.
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).
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.
A Crusade episode also has the Excalibur using its Wave Motion Gun to destroy a mine being used by a technomage named Alwyn to amplify a spell to destroy another EarthForce ship. This was all a ploy by Gideon, Galen, and Alwyn to destroy the mine that was making locals sick. Alwyn, a master of illusion, was never there.
Star Trek has shown cases of orbital bombardment a number of times, and discussed the possibility a few times more.
"A Piece of the Action" had non-lethal orbital bombardment (a precision phaser blast from the Enterprise set on stun).
"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.
One episode has another non-lethal example when the Enterprise uses her phasers to bore a hole in a planet so an away team can beam to an underground location they couldn't get to otherwise.
In "Code of Honor" Picard orders photon torpedoes to fired and detonated high over the planet's cities as a show of force after Lutan abducts Natasha Yar. At least, that's what it's supposed to be. Later scenes on the surface show no indication such bombardment took place and it's never mentioned again.
In "The Die Is Cast", the combined Obsidian Order/Tal Shiar strike force moves in to blow away the Founder Homeworld. Their opening volley supposedly destroys 30% of the planet's crust, and while the visual effects don't really mesh with what they say, we still see attacks that would devastate entire continents.
In "Broken Link", Garak tries to take over the Defiant's weapon systems and points out to Worf that their ship could reduce the new Founder Homeworld to a smoking cinder in short order.
"The Dogs of War" shows a Dominion propaganda video of a Jem'Hadar battleship blasting apart a Cardassian Rebellion outpost on the surface of a planetoid.
In "What You Leave Behind", the Jem'Hadar blow away Lakarian City on Cardassia Prime in retaliation for Cardassian civilians fighting in support of the Cardassian Rebellion. When this instead causes the entire Cardassian military to pull a Heel Race Turn in mid-battle, the female Founder orders the orbital genocide of the entire Cardassian species. 800 million die before Odo is able to convince the Founder to capitulate.
The series had occasional instances of the Goa'uld bombarding planetary surfaces with low-power blasts from Ha'tak-class motherships as a terror tactic ("The Warrior", "The Sentinel"), to cow the inhabitants into surrendering. In at least two alternate timelines/universes ("There But For the Grace of God", Stargate Continuum) they also used full-power multimegaton blasts to attack Earth, with the practical effect of both terrorizing the populace and culling them to a manageable number. There's a good reason why Goa'uld rule scattered backwards villages instead of entire cities.
In "Pretense" SG-1 tails Jaffa ground forces on Tollana and discovers them fiddling around with the Tollans' anti-orbital cannons, each of which could one-shot a Ha'tak. Turns out they were painting them as targets to let the mothership take them all out at once. Fortunately, Teal'c convinced the Nox Lya to make one of the cannons invisible.
The Ori also used this on occasion. In "Counterstrike" Adria uses her mothership's main gun to demolish the Dakara superweapon (and most of the city along with it). In "Line in the Sand" an Ori mothership tried to destroy a village that refused to convert to Origin, but Sam was able to phase out the entire village until the ship leaves. She duplicated this feat in an alternate universe in "The Road Not Taken" by using the entire power grid of the continental United States to phase out the whole planet. Cue a rather disconcerting visual of the shot from the main gun travelling straight through Sam and doing squat.
Over in the Pegasus Galaxy in Stargate Atlantis, we have what is probably the single most spectacular use of orbital bombardment in the franchise. In "First Strike" the SGC attacked Asuras with the Horizon weapons system, a MIRV launched from the Daedalus-class battlecruiser 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, and retaliated next week by attacking Atlantis with an orbital weapon of their own.
Destroy The Godmodder: If a large spaceship gets summoned, chances are it does this at least once before it dies. Not always successfully, as demonstrated by the UNSC Preston Cole opening fire on Clover, and having every single gun misfire simultaneously.
Many Imperial vessels are capable of Exterminatus, cleansing a planet deemed unsalvageable 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.
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. They either crash and do a lot of damage or crash-land and act like non-reusable drop ships.
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.
The game 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.
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 sci-fi variant of Stratego the Spotter unit calls down orbital laser strikes.
The West End Star Wars RPG has torpedo spheres, siege vessels designed for cracking planetary deflector shields via Macross Missile Massacre, followed by a computer-controlled turbolaser attack against the generators to open the way for ground invasion. This was a time-consuming process, which was part of the official reasoning for the Death Star's introduction.
The Covenant fleet glassed multiple planets from orbit during their genocidal war against humanity. How well this works depends on which source you read: In Halo 3 the rebel Elites glass half of Africa in about a half hour to stop the Flood, but some of the novels state the Covenant just glasses population centers because it's nearly as effective and trying to glass the whole planet takes months.
Halo: Reach: 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 The Forerunner Saga, the Forerunners put down a rebellious planet, with the full fury of their fleets on display. These include deploying possibly billions of fighter craft and sentinels, bombardments of plasma, antimatter-matter annihilations, and stranger energies, laser blasts that cut across entire continents, and actually ripping out massive sections of the planet's crust and overturning them.
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.
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).
Dreadnoughts can be also built with a Siege Driver, a massive mass driver that fires asteroids at planets. Two or three is usually enough to depopulate a world, although environmental damage will be extensive. In most cases, the planet will be rendered uninhabitable by such bombardment.
Humans can also research and build Node Missiles, which are basically destroyer-sized missiles capable of FTL travel. While their intended use is to soften up enemy defenses (i.e. ships, satellites) before the arrival of the main fleet, they can just as well be used to conduct bombardments of planets from star systems away. They're actually more effective at this than destroying ships, as they move so fast that even regular missiles have a hard time keeping up.
The 40K-based game series Dawn of War has several examples, naturally:
The Space Marine Force Commander has an Orbital Bombardment power, which has the Astartes' orbiting Battle Barge fire 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).
In Knights of the Old Republic, Darth Malak orders an orbital bombardment of Taris (giving us the page picture), effectively bombing the planet into the stone age in an attempt to get one Jedi (who escapes). It's also explained that the Rakata bombarded Tatooine long ago, and that this is how it came to be a sandy desert planet to begin with.
Bomber spacecraft in Ten Minute Space Strategy are necessary in order to destroy enemy's colonies and, consequently, win the game. Without fighters escorting them, they are sitting ducks, however.
In the third mission of the first game the Taiidan Empire incinerates Kharak's atmosphere from orbit using an illegal atmosphere-deprivation weapon.
The backstory for Homeworld 2 explains that the Hiigarans (before their exile) first did this to the Taiidan with conventional weapons, which is why the Taiidani retaliated and took Hiigara for themselves, kicking the Hiigarans out. Later in the actual game the Vaygr attempt this on Hiigara, and you as the player have to stop them by intercepting the missiles and destroying the bombardment platforms, or else it's Game Over.
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 landed Reaper destroyer on Rannoch, which Shepard takes out by painting it as a target for the Normandy and the entire quarian fleet.
The Reapers don't generally do this: their goal is to harvest life, not obliterate it, and bombardment kind of defeats their purpose, at least if it's done before harvesting is complete. Javik, however, mentions a planet from his time, Atespa, which was such a Death World that the Reapers' ground troops were getting eaten by the native fauna. The Reapers eventually gave up and nuked the planet from orbit.
Engineers have an Orbital Strike power for use during ground missions that deals a lot of damage in a very localized area. A targeting grid appears on the ground, then a couple seconds later a Pillar of Light comes out of the sky. Season 8's Voth lockbox introduced an unlockable trait that allows the targeting grid to follow the target in case they try to get clear before your ship fires. In a frequently amusing case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, the power also works on interior maps, such as indoors on starships.
Episode "Romulan Mystery", mission "Cutting the Cord" has the Player Character marking ground targets for their orbiting ship to destroy, including an Iconian gate.
Episode "Dominion Domination", mission "The New Link" has one of the KDF PC's bridge officers suggest calling in the fleet for a quick bombardment to make sure that a group of changelings you encountered don't try to stick around after you leave. The Starfleet version of the mission instead suggests that the planet will be declared a no-fly zone and the changelings left in peace.
Episode "Borg Collective", mission "Collateral Damage" has Undine warships begin glassing a planet the Borg are assimilating. The season 9 update replaced this mission with "A Gathering Darkness", where the Undine ships start with small-scale tactical bombardment then switch to an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
In Sins of a Solar Empire, capital ships and bombardment frigates can do this to enemy planets to depopulate them, allowing your own colony ships to claim the world for you.
In Galactic Civilizations, one of the ways of softening up planetary defenses during an invasion is to drop asteroids on it. While this helps drastically reduce the number of defenders, it also severely reduces the planetary quality.
In the Master of Orion, this is one option for dealing with enemy colonies after defeating defending fleets and defense stations. It can wipe out ground troops, civilian populations, and planetary improvements, leaving an empty planet ready for resettlement. Or just an empty planet if it's toxicnote meaning it cannot be terraformed, and mineral-poor. Certain late-game weapons upgrade this to Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
Averted (and noted) in X Com Enemy Unknown. Your chief engineer notes that the aliens must have this capability as their technology is so far advanced, and the fact that they aren't simply wiping you off the map by lobbing in asteroids hints at bigger plans for humanity.
Exterminatus Now, as a parody of 40k, features Exterminatus. However here it's a localized attack rather than a planet-wrecking one.
In Crimson Dark the Republic of Daranir launched an indiscriminate bombardment of the Cirin Alliance planet Farhaven.