"Point defense" is a military term referring to the active protection of a single asset, such as a ship or a building. In modern terms, this means computerized systems with sophisticated targeting sensors that automatically engage incoming enemy aircraft or missiles. In fiction, this can apply to space combat as well. But when a target is Point Defenseless, these systems never actually work. They may be able to swat Mook swarms from the sky or slag a Red Shirt or two, but even in the best of cases they're mysteriously unable to touch any main character. Their primary purpose seems to be offering an impressive light show.
This may be in part because many fictional point defense system still use WWII-style manually operated, visually targeted cannons instead of the automatic systems that replaced them (even when the story ostensibly has a higher tech level than modern day), but even the most futuristic AI-controlled laser-firing point defenses can fall victim to this trope. Attackers may be forced to jink and dodge, or they may be able to cruise in straight and level while bullets whizz past them, but even if the point defenses manage to take out some of the attackers, it will never be able to stop them all.
This is an application of the Rule of Drama; it's far more dramatic when people have to defend a target, rather than faceless machinery. It can also be a form of Plot Armor and Conservation of Ninjutsu, when point defense can shoot down Mooks and Red Shirts but not main characters. After all, how ignoble would it be for The Hero to get shot down by something as abrupt and impersonal as an automated turret, without even a chance to demonstrate their Improbable Piloting Skills in an Old-School Dogfight? It can be part of Acceptable Breaks from Reality if the game system explicitly intends for a Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors scheme. At its simplest, you could have something like fighter/torpedo boat wolfpacks (In SPACE!) nibbling big-gun battleships to death, which in turn get shredded by PD-heavy escorts or screening elements, which in turn get blown away by battleships...
In gaming, an Arbitrary Minimum Range may be implemented because of this trope, as it'll allow them to target only for things far enough, so they won't get stuck by keep tracking an enemy very close, and cease to function properly.
See also A-Team Firing and Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. If the point defense guns blaze away at where the hero just was, that's a Hero Tracking Failure.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Generally speaking, point defenses in the various Gundam series do little but provide visualspectacle, but every so often they actually manage to accomplish something useful.
Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny are better about this than most other Gundam series, as the main ships of the series are frequently seen shooting down incoming missiles and at least deterring enemies from attacking, though they ultimately play the trope straight, as they never manage to so much as damage any character with a name.
Not really, at least where the Universal Century Gundams are concerned. Cosmic Era point defenses are automated, whereas Universal Century point defenses are manned, which should stand to reason that the Cosmic Era ones should be able to hit people with names. Instead, the manually targeted ones from the Universal Century actually seem to achieve better hit rates where characters are concerned.
Also Cosmic Era point defense weapons are mostly ballistic weapons, and most of the named pilots ride in Mobile Suits with Phase Shift armor, which takes no damage from solid weaponry. Quite a few times early in the series, during the stolen Gundams' fight against Strike and the Archangel, the Archangel's defensive turrets would peg the ZAFT Gundams, but they did no damage because of the armor.
Additionally, quite a few mobile suits (including almost every single Gundam) has vulcan guns mounted in their heads or chests. These rarely ever get used, since all they're good for is taking out cameras or the occasional Critical Hit; they don't even get used to shoot down missiles, their intended function. The only subversion comes in Gundam SEED C.E.73 Stargazer, where we get a very visceral demonstration of anti-personnel machineguns mounted in the Slaughter Daggers' feet. Exceptions also occur in Char's Counterattack (where the Nu Gundam shreds a Geara Doga with its head vulcans) and in Gundam X (where the same happens to the Colrel, a Fragile SpeedsterMonster of the Week mecha).
Special mention has to go to Gundam Build Fighters, the series with probably the most extensive vulcan usage in the entire Gundam franchise. Reiji in particular uses the Build Strike's vulcans quite often, in part because they're its only built-in ranged weapons. In one episode Sei equips the Strike's vulcans with paint bullets to help "tag" an opponent's invisible Attack Drones and make them easier to destroy.
In the Super Dimension Fortress Macross franchise, like Gundam, the point-defense guns light space up like a Christmas tree without actually accomplishing much, with a few exceptions.
In Macross Plus, the latest Super Prototype goes up against the thirty year old guns on the Macross, and ends up having chunks of armor shot off.
In Macross Zero, a minor battleship Algeciras managed to shoot down at least two mooks and two missiles before being sunk by the remaining two ASMs launched by the enemy Ace Pilot and his wing(wo)man. The carrier Asuka herself has several Destroids as point-defense. Predictably, they're chow food for the baddies as well.
In addition, as the first Vajra attack is bearing down on the colony ship, you can see Frontier's point defenses shoot down almost all of them, allowing only the one to get through on-screen (though more apparently make it through later).
Played with in Crest of the Stars: while most ships aren't much in point defense department, they created a class of ship solely as a point defense platform, which mounts CIWS note Close-In Weapon System: point defence stations by the hundred in order to create a veritable (and almost impenetrable) Bullet Hell around its charges.
Amaterasu's point defense system in Starship Operators seems to unable to hit the laser module. Though it might be that PDS can't turn fast enough, since the module is moving quite fast and sliding on the side of the ship, not moving towards it.
In Mai-HiME, a Searrs ship is prominently seen failing to nail Midori and Gakutenou even when they're moving in predictable straight-line paths. When Mai and Kagutsuchi attack some ships, some time is spent showing one SAM going after them. Not even one per ship; one total.
The Phalanx CIWS on one of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in Operation 04 of Sentou Yousei Yukikaze could not take down the JAM fighter heading straight for it. The JAM fighter was supposedly flying lower than the gun's maximum depression point, but in reality the CIWS mount has sufficient depression to fire all the way down to the surface of the ocean. However, the JAM was emitting a massive burst of ECM making it harder to target. The second JAM fighter seemed to have been brought down by another cruiser, but chances are it was Yukikaze's kill.
During Ivanovic's invasion in Dance in the Vampire Bund, the Phalanx CIWS guns on the island's perimeter are unable to stop incoming cruise missiles because they were sabotaged. Subverted when the saboteur then turns them on Bund-controlled helicopter gunships.
Mortar Headds in The Five Star Stories are a major exception to this, being covered head to overly long and pointy Mamoru Nagano-designed toe in small-caliber laser emitters and micromissile launchers with firing ports inconspicuously recessed into their armor that routinely make mincemeat out of enemy tankbusters who think going for their legs is a good idea. The author's design sketches show that at least one type of Hover Tank has them, too.
Zig-zagged in Attack on Titan with the "fixed cannons," which in most cases are virtually useless against Titans due to their Healing Factor and/or armor, but are sometimes used to slaughter hundreds of them with special Titan-killing cannonballs.
Averted in Bait and Switch (STO), where the USS Bajor's tactical officer Tess Phohl repeatedly sets one or more phaser strips into point-defense mode to swat torpedoes and enemy fighters.
Seemingly the sole exception in the entire movie is when Junior gets hit by a flak gun while raiding a German airfield. He survives, only to be shot down again later on. He survives that time too.
Worth noting, when they fly into the range of German Anti-Air guns over a bombing target, the fighter pilots have to bug out and link up with the bombers again later, since there is nothing that they can do to defend the heavies from the large anti-aircraft guns. That's certainly acceptable since since the German fighters do the same to avoid friendly fire, of course.
Star Trek: Generations mentions that targeting and shooting a single missile aimed at the sun would have taken "eight to fifteen seconds". Though this may be justified because the missile is clearly Faster Than Light. It should be noted that is also because they were unsure where the missile would be launched from, and the Enterprise while heavily armed isn't actually a warship.
This trope is gloriously, beautifully averted in the climactic battle of the 2009 reboot, however. The Enterprise uses its phaser mounts to stop an entire salvo of missiles from the Narada from hitting the Jellyfish. Part of that is because the missiles haven't yet split into multiple warheads yet, which would make targeting them very difficult.
The climactic battle in A New Hope has the Death Star's (manually aimed) point defense unable to hit more than one or two Red Shirts, forcing Darth Vader and his TIE fighters to go out and take on the Rebels in an Old-School Dogfight. This is noted in the Rebel mission briefing as the reason they sent only fighters; the Empire considered one-man craft to be a negligible threat to the station and so they're basically taking potshots with anti-capital ship weapons. In Return of the Jedi, the Empire learns its lesson and builds its second Death Star with thick anti-fighter defenses and surrounds the whole station in a massive energy shield during construction.
Similarly, the space battle at the end of The Phantom Menace shows Naboo fighters getting blown out of the sky, but they don't seem to bother Anakin in the least.
The film version of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears had a scene where an American carrier (unrealistically traveling without escorts) is set upon by Russian aircraft. It is seen firing its CIWS at the incoming missiles, to little effect. This was actually something of a transplant of a scene from another Tom Clancy novel (see the Literature entry).
Done well in Battle Ship. The invading aliens send out a electromagnetic wave that disables the targeting computers on the destroyers and forces them to eyeball. Despite this many enemy projectiles are shot down and the ships are taken out with shear weight of enemy fire.
Averted in Iron Sky. The US spacecraft deployed against the Moon Nazis effortlessly shoots down any missile that comes near it, and the Nazis only manage to do damage through a Zerg Rush that overwhelms their defenses.
The Icarus Kill Sat in Die Another Day is programmed to automatically target and destroy incoming missiles. When the Big Bad's tech guy tells him of the anti-satellite missile launched at Icarus, the Big Bad isn't worried at all and just lets Icarus do its thing. It was only one missile, though.
The USS Nimitz in Red Storm Rising gets hit by two anti-ship missiles in the first major engagement of World War III due to a targeting conflict; the last two missiles are approaching so close together that the fire-control software, programmed to target the closest incoming vampire first, glitches out. (Possibly inspired by Real Life; see below.) The battle is actually a pretty realistic depiction of point defenses on modern ships, describing the various defensive measures the fleet takes to shoot down the incoming missiles. The CIWS shot down three other missiles, and many more missiles were shot down before they got that close. Too bad there were a couple of hundred missiles launched, each of them effectively a One-Hit Kill on anything smaller than Nimitz herself.
Zig-zagged in Legacy of the Aldenata, where Posleen defensive hardware is very dangerous to anything flying under its own power (even stealth equipment and hero characters), but completely useless against unguided rockets or artillery shells.
Notably, the Empire created an entirely new ship packed with smaller, faster firing turbolasers specifically to counter the Rebellion's overuse of fighters. It still isn't as effective as Old School Dogfighting.
Honor Harrington, being relatively-realistically-extrapolated Space OperaMilitary Science-Fiction, plays with this in fifteen different ways. Firstly, no one is ever actually flying in any sort of Space Fighter that would be vulnerable to point defense systemsnote Although atmospheric vehicles such as aircars, shuttles, pinnaces, and stingships are fair game planetside, but they use many different layers of missile defense to deal with the Macross Missile Massacre that becomes the standard method of attack. Of course, actual point defense systems as we know them are only one layer of this shield, and not nearly the most effective one. On the other hand, they do form one of the final lines of defense against enemy fire. Of course, the older ships of the Solarian League use autocannon point defense (as opposed to laser) which is horribly obsolete compared to Manticoran or Havenite multi-drive missiles, and so will play the trope straight.
Not only Solarian ships are point defenseless, as no ship can stand up to the fire an Apollo-equipped Manty podlaying superdreadnought is able to lay down, including themselves, so every ship can be considered point defenseless. However, no one thinks of this as a good thing, and everybody is looking for new ways to cope with the new threat.
One of the recurring elements of the books is loving, detailed descriptions of how many missiles are whittled away—or not—by each layer of protection. They almost invariably end with "[X] got through." followed by a cut to the targets' experience, often with an Oh, Crap or several.
Averted in David Drake's Hammer's Slammers stories because the availability of near-light-speed energy weapons has rendered aircraft and slow-flying missiles obsolete in a combat zone; if you can see it, you can kill it.
In the assorted Starfire books by Steven White (and David Weber), point defense against fighters and missiles is a critical part of combat but doesn't work nearly as well as you'd think their technology should allow.
In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar books, the Race uses anti-missile missiles to shoot down World War II-era human missiles. However, human missiles get better and better as the war rages on, and the Race is incapable of manufacturing more missiles. These AM missiles generally have a good track record, with the notable exception of the Dora railway gun, which managed to fire two shots and blow up two Race starships. The large Dora rounds are misidentified by a Race radar technician as missiles, who engages standard anti-missile defenses. However, the rounds' thick shells prevent them from being shot down by the AM missiles. Then again, there's nothing that the lizards could've done at this point, as their starships are merely interstellar troop transports with no armor or armaments of their own.
The Race learns by Colonization, though, and puts up Kill Sats and defense turrets on their ships in orbit, especially since the three major human powers have developed space flight and regularly launch nuke-armed spacecraft on patrols. The Race's ships now feature not only their patented AM missiles but also point-defense machineguns, which form the second line of defense. Since both are radar-guided and computer-controlled, they rarely miss.
Live Action TV
This appeared to be the case for both the Colonials and the Cylons in the original Battlestar Galactica back in the 70's. Both sides used slow-firing, slow tracking gun turrets that were easily overwhelmed by the fast-moving Raiders and Vipers, and depended on their embarked fighter wings for effective defense.
In the new Battlestar Galactica the Cylon Basestars are literally point defenseless, with sound justification. They rely on their Raiders to intercept enemy missiles and fighters (although they can shoot enemy missiles with their own missiles), as well as get in the way of enemy shells. The Raiders are even capable of faster-than-light travel, allowing the Cylons to engage the Colonials without ever bringing their motherships close. If they find themselves in a fight sans Raiders, however, the Colonial ships usually end up pounding them into scrap. The Battlestars, by contrast, have massive gun batteries to lay down Defensive Supression Barrages to force the Cylons to give them some breathing room.
A first season episode with Galactica's Viper wing launching a raid on a Cylon asteroid base subverted this trope. Even when using a Kansas City Shuffle to fake out the Cylons' Raider defenders, and Wild Weasel tactics to suppress the Cylon anti-airspace defenses, the Viper pilots still get swatted like helpless flies due to the sheer volume of enemy fire. While the Redshirts are dying, however, Lee manages to pull off an Airstrike Impossible by flying through a tunnel to get inside the base's defenses. In Galactica terms, this would be called "Pulling a Starbuck".
Zig-zagged in Andromeda, the titular ship has both Point-Defense Lasers and remote drones but enemy missiles still manage to hit it often.
It's implied in the pilot episode that most of the PDLs are still aimed manually. While the AI can do it, a Macross Missile Massacre can overwhelm her targeting capabilities.
A common battle tactic in the Star Trek universe (especially with small, nimble ships like the Defiant) is to fly so close to enemy ships that it is impossible to get a target lock.
Utterly Averted. The first time we see the station use their Defense Grid in action against a large force of attacking raiders, two of the enemy fighters get swatted within seconds, and that's because most of the Interceptor guns are kept aimed at their mothership (once they realize the mothership is disarmed, the Interceptors are aimed at the raider fighters, who are annihilated within seconds). In the second season, the audience is informed that B5's Defense Grid is considered substandard, and they receive a Mid-Season Upgrade. That said, even the upgraded defense grid could be overwhelmed with sheer weight of fire.
They even use point defense against enemy energy weapons (hence why they dedicated only a couple guns to point defense duty when the raiders attacked: if their mothership was armed, they would have had to intercept its fire). In "A Voice in the Wilderness, Part II" the heavy cruiser EAS Hyperion blocks fire from alien warships with its dorsal turrets (not even the dedicated Interceptors!), and the Babylon 5 station itself does it every time it's attacked.
One episode in season 4 has the Minbari employ a technique they literally call "skin dancing": basically using this trope against the Drakh by hugging the hull of their mothership to pick up the speed they need to escape an ambush. It works.
A third-party supplement for d20 Anime used this trope in order to match the feel of real anime. One of the settings, a Serial Numbers Filed Off version of Macross, has a sidebar describing the capabilities of the heroes' home base ship, saying that it has no stats due to "dramatic immunity" (except in the final battle) and that its point defenses can mow down hordes of cannon fodder mecha, but are useless against the enemy commanders (who will no doubt develop rivalries with the protagonists).
Anti-missile systems in BattleTech have aspects of this. Depending on the ruleset, they either run out of ammo almost instantly or are actually forbidden from being 100% effective — ie, if the attacker succeeded on his to-hit roll, at least one missile will hit the target, regardless of how good its point defense is.
Potentially averted in the advanced aerospace rules, however. While there aren't many — if any — canon designs that do so, a large enough spacecraft operating under those can in principle be designed with enough anti-missile systems to render itself utterly immune to incoming missile fire, at least for as long as ammunition and heat sinks hold out.
Surprisingly an Averted Trope in Mekton. A well-designed point-defense system can shred virtually any Mekton in only a few hits. For this reason, point defense is very often left out of warship designs...
Averted in Battlefleet Gothic, most starships have at least one point of Turrets that can hold off torpedoes and bombers. Though most ships only have one or two points of turrets, meaning that on average a Lunar-class cruiser attacked by four bomber squadrons is still going to take three of the attacks.
The point defense in GURPS: Spaceships is not terribly effective, very dangerous when combined with the massive damage missiles can do. A later supplement in the series added the Missile Shield design switch to let beam weapons hit as many incoming objects per second as they can fire shots.
In general, any game where the player controls a single fighter (optionally Recycled IN SPACE!) will likely feature large (space)ships with highly ineffective point defenses. Probably because a halfway efficient point defense would send the player back to the loading screen fast and often.
In the first Crysis game, the US fleet isn't the least bit able to defend itself against the slow moving hordes of alien ships. Worse, the fleet gets only a 5 second warning about the approaching ships before they wreck the carrier's flight deck by simply crashing into it. A later cutscene shows many more alien craft in the background, and a nuclear warhead had just been detonated, so they could've easily told us the aliens did a Zerg Rush and 99% were shot down before getting close and have the damage done by the remaining 1%, or that the systems were blinded by the nuke's EMP waves.
In the various Star Wars space sim games, there are often laser turrets that are more specifically designed for swatting X-wings. They tend to fail horribly at their jobs when you learn how to handle them.
In the X-Wing and Tie Fighter games, you can simply jiggle the stick while moving in any direction but directly at a turret to evade all fire — the Frickin' Laser Beams move so slowly that the slightest deviation in direction will throw a shot off.
The Rogue Squadron games often forced you to directly confront these laser turrets, which is suicidal to do head-on, but if you can get below their firing arc (and they're often on top of hills or on canyon ledges to facilitate this), they're completely helpless.
Star Wars Battlefront II's Space Combat mode avoided player immunity to AA by having the automated turrets of capital ships shoot lasers which exploded when near their target (don't think about how this is supposed to work). This made up for their poor accuracy by making it extremely difficult for small fighters like A-Wings to fly within range of them, lest they run into a flak barrage and immediately explode, but for anything bigger (especially a heavily-armored bomber, the only type of ship expected to get in and stay close to the enemy capital ship) they barely even qualified as a nuisance. It is possible to kill these guns by either landing inside the enemy ship and blowing up the turret control computer (since it's the first thing beyond the hangar, this is more a matter of time than anything else), or just blow up the ship's shields and then take out the guns themselves. Note that there are automatic guns inside the ships with regenerative health. And they are very good at making life hell for infiltrators.
Human players can actually take control of smaller point defense guns in multiplayer. It's not popular for a number of reasons. It doesn't score many points, it's boring, it's difficult to do, and you have a tendency to die at random for no reason whatsoever while at the AA gun controls thanks to a bug.
Mostly averted in Privateer 2, in which even cargo freighters are at Gunship Rescue level thanks to their relentless, targeted, and high-powered turret fire. Either you're constantly evading, you get out of range, or you get shredded. Depending on the ship, you might be able to take it out by getting into that blind spot.
Capital ships in Homeworld almost invariably need escorts against waves of fighters, as they have little or no point defense. This is a deliberate part of the Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors, and a few capital ships are effective against fighters at the cost of not countering what capital ships normally counter — Missile Destroyers, for instance, will shred fighter fleets. On the other hand, the Mothership itself is armed with some serious point defenses that can repel anything short of a massed bomber attack.
In Homeworld Cataclysm, most of the ships end up subverting this trope. All of the larger capital ships are at least armed with homing energy cannons or precise guns that severely negate the usefulness of fighter squadrons against them. The Somtaaw capital ships carry missile launchers in addition to the rest of their guns, killing off any chance of a serious fighter attack.
Cataclysm also brings us a whole new way of averting this trope - the little Sentinel defense pods, which are armed with a single (upgradable) gun. A full dozen of them are needed to fully shield a ship, but when you achieve that the ship's shield itself dakkas attacking fighters with frightful effectiveness.
Homeworld 2's capital ships takes this trope down half a notch. Battlecruisers and Destroyers, especially of the Hiigaran kind, have developed pretty potent antifighter defense for ships that are built from the ground-up to pick on others their own size. This perk gives capital ships an edge against lone fighter squadrons, forcing the opponent to utilize numbers if he wants his winning edge back.
The fan-created mod Homeworld 2: Point Defense Systems attempts to address the problem directly in the name of realism. All capital ships get secondary guns dedicated to shooting down incoming missiles and fighters. The massive firepower of the capital ships makes up for whatever lack of ability the strike craft have in taking on the big boys. While the added point defense systems are far from perfect (again, balance), it is still a very noticeable subversion of this trope.
Ships in Nexus: The Jupiter Incident can be equipped with rapid-fire flak lasers that can destroy enemy fighters and incoming missiles (but not torpedoes, they are too fast) — though you're better off with fighter escort since they break off and intercept threats automatically.
Most fighters lack sufficient firepower to do decent damage to enemy ships. Their main goal is to disable subsystems. Higher-end fighters have lasers powerful enough to penetrate shields.
Gratuitous Space Battles has this as one aspect. Fighters/Bombers can easily destroy even biggest ship since to BFG cannons can't lock and fire fast enough. On the other hand, if fleet has even decent Point Defence systems, fighters are having hard time. All part of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors.
Well, not so much RPS and much more appropriate defensive allocation. Any cruiser can stock more than enough anti-fighter/bomber point defense to shred even the largest cloud of them, but it'll cost them points that could be used for much heavier firepower, possibly leaving them open to capital ships. It must be pointed out that no quantity of fighters alone will be able to destroy a fleet that is prepared for them.
Also, it's not really that the BFGs can't hit the fighter/bombers, it's that they alone fly under the Cap ships' shields, thus attacking the generally weaker hull directly.
The original Freespace played this very straight, with even the heaviest Destroyers packing no more than a few easily-dodgeable "blob turrets" and puny missile launchers. In response, the sequel loaded every capital ship down with exploding flak and hitscan Anti-Fighter Beams. For the most part this was an improvement, but it also gave birth to the Aeolus-Class Cruiser, a Demonic Spider so tough it never makes an un-nerfed appearance at any point in the campaign. The turret AI was also made a bit more intelligent: it will now attempt to shoot down incoming bombs, and even prioritize them over nearby enemy fighters.
Some fan-made mods take it even further: The Procyon Insurgency ups the fire rate on the blob turrets to the point where they're practically beam gatlings, making them extremely dangerous.
Ace Combat's flying fortresses and naval ships frequently carry AA guns, but they're mostly harmless except at the very highest difficulty levels because of how the games handle damage. They're also completely unable to shoot down the player's missiles. On the other hand, flying fortresses and ships can also launch missiles, which can knock you right out of the sky.
In Ace Combat 5, the heroes' aircraft carrier is damaged by a sea-skimming anti-ship missile during a cutscene, despite its CIWS's attempts to shoot it down. This is actually fairly realistic — see Real Life, below.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception includes "high-performance" AAA that is able to intercept your bombs and missiles in one mission (two, actually... sort of). This is so significant for the series that the mission briefing and Mission Control specifically point out the aversion.
In Joint AssaultSulejmani's Varcolac has a rear-facing gatling that shoots missiles aimed at his six out of the air.
In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, when attacking Renegade Russian ships, a few of the larger ships ships are actually able to successfully defend against uncoordinated missile strikes with their CIWS, requiring the player to use overwhelm the point defenses by striking simultaneously with other aircraft.
Point defense guns in The Sigma Star Saga fire at a 45-degree angle that can't be altered.
Sins of a Solar Empire has starbases, massive structures bristling with weapons, thick armor and powerful shields... but nothing that can target strikecraft. In fact, most ships lack anti-fighter weapons. The TEC Kol-class battleships do have a special ability that allows them to destroy every enemy fighter craft near them... by loading their autocannons with shrapnel and firing all at the same time, basically, creating a wall of death for any enemy fighter.
Sword of the Stars features point defense guns. Ballistics are optimized to shoot down down drones and mines, whereas Laser Point Defenses are best against torpedoes and missiles. High-tech Phasers are more effective and can kill multiple targets in one sweep, but are a late-game tech that is rarely available. Argos Naval Yard introduced Interceptor Missiles, which are even better at nailing drones, mines and torpedoes but cannot hit missiles. Take note, though, that the necessary research option is only randomly available and the Random Number God may not like you. Any weapon can be used for point defense in a pinch, even Mass Drivers and Heavy Combat Lasers, but the faster turret tracking of dedicated PD weapons is preferred. Furthermore, ship design firing arcs affect the usefulness of PD - Tarka in particular are very bad at nailing munitions coming in from above or below the plane of combat.
There are also "light emitters" (they don't emit light; they're just a smaller version of the standard "emitter"). A single blast can eliminate several missiles closeby. Their fire rate is a little slow, though.
The best way to deal with missiles seems to be is to use a dedicated Wild Weasel destroyer, which attracts most of the enemy missiles toward it while sending the rest back at the enemy (and the enemy won't try to destroy them, as they don't classify as "foe"). Of course, if you want your Wild Weasel to survive the battle (or even the first volley), you better keep a few dedicated PD ships nearby to swat all the missiles before they hit.
The sequel mixes it up by nerfing Phaser PD to have lower rate of fire, so it's not so good against waves of hardened heavy missiles or battleriders. Also, while Interceptor Missiles can now hit other missiles, but the low rate of fire makes them better against few hardened ordnance than swarms of normal missiles and can also be spoofed unlike the other direct-fire options. Furthermore, missiles have new tricks such as launching uninterceptable submunitions from standoff range, reducing the size of the intercept window.
Averted in the Meta Knight's Revenge from Kirby Super Star: The Halberd's gun batteries are able to shoot down Kirby's Warp Star and swat him off the bridge, forcing him to assault it again with Dyna Blade. Even then, she gets shot down almost instantly and barely manages to get Kirby on board.
Supreme Commander provides an aversion. Between the availability of base-covering shields, artillery emplacements and long range radar, base defenses can do an acceptable job of holding off an attack.
In the Forged Alliance expansion, the UEF gained a new unit type specifically designed to overwhelm tactical missile defenses through sheer numbers.
Same for its predecessor Total Annihilation, which even featured a couple of very powerful turrets that were expensive and slow to build, but would One-Hit Kill anything short of a superheavy tank.
Total Annihilation adds an interesting wrinkle to its point defenses, in that their effective firing range often significantly exceeds their own visual range, and they won't automatically target enemies on radar detection. Thus, in order to make a base's point-defences effective, it's necessary to supplement them with patrolling vehicles to keep the surrounding terrain in sight, acting as spotters for the defensive emplacements.
While autofiring Point Defense cannons didn't appear until SE4, in the Space Empires games point defense cannons will generally rip apart missiles and fighters.
In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, The Subspace Gunship has enough auto-turrets to literally fill the sky with projectiles.... yet they can't hit the broad side of a barn door. The destruction of the Halberd was implied to be a deliberate action on part of the heroes; once the smaller ships are released, the Gunship's turrets are suddenly slightly less accurate than your average Imperial Stormtrooper. Even Olimar's ship (shown later as barely capable of keeping up with the other ships) has little trouble avoiding the enemy fire.
In Infinite Space, AA lasers avert this in that they can and do shred fighters, but they're just not as useful as having a fighter complement of your own since the game prevents you from moving if you're under attack from fighters. One instance where this is best averted is in your first fight with Oisin, where he shoots tracker mines that keep your ship from moving and just blow up your fighters, whereas using your AA lasers finishes the fight in a few seconds.
Starcraft plays it straight with the Protoss Carrier which launches waves of small drones to attack the target, but itself has no weaponry of any kind. StarCraft II averts it with the Terrans' new Raven, which is able to deploy a Point Defense Laser drone to hover over your forces shooting down a good percentage of enemy missile/beam attacks until it runs out of energy.
Played with for the Battlecruisers in Starcraft II. In game they fire single blasts, but during the cutscenes they are shown to have numerous turrets designed to shoot down small enemy craft.
However, despite the significant defenses, battlecruisers tend to be overwhelmed by mutalisks regardless.
In EVE Online, larger ships tend to cart around larger weapons. Makes sense, yes? Larger weapon turrets unfortunately track more slowly than smaller ones. This results in battleships that can slug it out with another battleship, but can't manage to pick off the swarms of frigates that will attack because its anti-battleship cannons track too slowly. This can be fixed by having some ships in the fleet outfitted with smaller weapons specifically to deal with the smaller ships, functioning as roving point-defense ships. Often, however, the battleships will simply load up on multiple flights or drones to deal with smaller annoyances.
Even then, there's still the fact that big ships take longer to lock on to targets than small ships. The best defense is to have some smaller ships in your fleet. Any fleet commander worth his salt will ensure this.
Possible. Some ships may have only larger guns that can't track faster fighters or missiles. In X3 the Kha'ak have an inverted version, suffering from Crippling Overspecialization where, while their weapons make great point defense, they don't scale well and their capital ships can't stand up to their peers. On the other hand, certain weapons (chiefly the Flak Artillery Array and Starburst Shockwave Cannon) are extremely effective against fighters (rapid fire, high shot speed, large hitbox, heavy damage) but their range is too short to use against capitals unless you get to point-blank range.
With the Bonus Packscripts installed, the trope is thoroughly averted for player-owned ships of Commonwealth design. Mosquito Missile Defense uses the otherwise worthless Mosquito missile to intercept incoming ordnance. Capital ships can potentially carry thousands, making for an all but impenetrable missile shield. But the script doesn't work on ships that can't normally fire Mosquitoes, making it useless on M7MMissileFrigates and anything built by the Terrans. X3: Albion Prelude allows every ship to use Mosquitoes.
As expected from its source material, most battleships in Super Robot Wars have terrible accuracy when used against anything besides Mecha-Mooks, and basically any boss will freaking laugh at any weapon they'd be hit by except ones that are so huge they have sections of their ship built around them.
The Human Cruiser from Star Control has point defense lasers as a secondary weapon to compliment its nuclear missile launcher, but they're only really useful on the interstellar equivalent of peashooters (or possibly Cherry Tapping). Anything thicker will cruise right through to hit the ship. The Precursor flagship can be outfitted with P.D. lasers with similar properties.
On the other hand, their PD system absolutely pissed off the Ur-Quan, who use swarms of fighters. And in Star Control 2, the Orz Marines would have fits trying to get through Cruiser Point Defense, though you have to annoy them pretty bad before they'll attack at all. In most other circumstances though, the Cruiser is better off spamming nukes.
A computer-controlled Ur-Quan Dreadnought will not launch fighters at an Earthling Cruiser. Then again, it doesn't have to. It can just close in and blast the Puny Earthlings into atoms. Computer is also quite adept at shooting down the slow missiles with the Dreadnought's main gun or the primary weapon of other ships.
Anti missile guns in Mechwarrior 3 shoot down incoming missiles, if you remember to turn them on. Enemies seem to lack them.
Mechwarrior Online also has Anti-Missile systems as an available modification for every 'Mech. Larger missile flights tend to overwhelm them but they are somewhat effective, particularly when combined with Electronic Countermeasures.
The aggressive defence augmentation of Deus Ex destroys missiles before they can hit you, at higher levels it can actually hurt enemies by making their rockets explode near them.
Dead Space has automated asteroid defence guns which are supposed to protect the ship from bits and pieces of the planet it's cracking. It fails, requiring you to manually operate one until it can be rebooted.
Battlestar Galactica Online: Lines are generally bad at targetting small, agile Strikes. Flyswatting is the job of Escorts, but a good or much higher-level Strike pilot can still give them a run for their money.
City of Heroes has an aversion with the Vanguard Base in the Rikti Warzone. The turrets around the base are level 54, generally Lieutenants and Bosses, are backed up by a pair of level 54 Humongous Mecha, whereas the nearest enemies are, at maximum, level 38. The said, it is played straight during missions involving the Vanguard base, as those selfsame turrets are spawned to the level of the mission, alongside notably more enemies than they can usually successfully take on, and the mecha are taken out before the mission. Similarly, the turrets in the Shadow Shard are never shown firing on anything (because they actually predate the Turrets enemy group).
Nearly every Core (torso, that is) unit from Armored Core carried a point-defense unit against incoming missile, from the first game. This explains the barrel-like protrusions from many Cores. Starting from Armored Core 2, shoulder-mounted CIWS systems start to be introduced, from missile, laser and gun-based interception, to simple missile misdirection. Their effectiveness range from "acceptable", "total protection", and "dead weight".
Oddly, the only game that lacks any point defence system is Armored Core 4 and for Answer, relegating anti-missile to flares only. This being 4/fA, that seldom works due to the sheer Macross Missile Massacre feats that other AC units can pull off.
Somewhat averted in Strike Suit Zero as every capital ship is armed with point defense systems. Flak cannons however only have a short range, and are far more effective on shields than armor. Enemy flak cannons are only a real threat to the player early on, until the player realises that they can strike from out of range (or when the turrets are facing away from the player). The point defense on allied ships is damaged in the first few missions, so the player is relied upon to eliminate enemy torpedoes, and the flak defenses can be overwhelmed by multiple attackers. When there are only one or two attackers, or multiple defending ships, flak can be very effective at defense.
Enemy point defense becomes far more effective when you face the Black Fleet, as their ships are armed with anti-fighter lasers that out-range all of the players weapons, though they do become less accurate and easier to dodge at range.
Very much averted with Team Fortress 2's sentry guns, which can shred an entire team of enemy players in seconds if they go toe-to-toe or try to just run past. Of course, this is to compensate for their Artificial Stupidity — they are plenty of ways to outwit them, although the gun's owner can make this more difficult if he's nearby.
Averted in Earth 2160 where Morphidian aliens can breed a type of airship fitted with dozens of lasers able to shoot down pretty much any amount of missiles.
Averted in Mass Effect. Ships mount GARDIAN laser turrets to destroy incoming ordnance and fighters. At close range they double as an offensive weapon, since kinetic barriers are useless against energy weapons. One of the many reasons humanity scares the galaxy is because only humans thought to build capital ships armed with nothing but fighters.
While most of the Wing Commander series plays this trope straight, there are two exceptions:
In Armada, the carrier flak cannons are very dangerous, and exceedingly accurate. They can shred even heavy fighters in a small handful of shots. Should a torpedo-equipped fighter run into an unescorted carrier on the strategic map, however, the torpedo run is a cutscene where the attack always succeeds.
In Prophecy, the rear gun turret on the Triton transports isn't necessarily fatal to the player's fighter, but it is quite good at shooting down torpedoes launched at the engine, required to kill them. The positioning also makes the turret difficult to destroy so that it won't interfere with an attack.
Star Trek Online has a partial example. While standard torpedoes cannot be targeted by your guns, you can shoot down heavy torpedoes, boarding shuttles, mines, and fighters.
In Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, the counter to fast-moving Martian flying machines is theoretically the AA gun and its vehicular counterpart, the mobile anti-aircraft array. However, the comparatively short range and low damage of these weapons mean that it's often just as effective (if not more so) to use a unit or two of armoured track layers, whose weapons also hit instantly and do more damage.
Averted in the Navel Ops series. The customization allowed in the game means that you can fit your ships with enough point-defense guns that any missiles, torpedoes, or aircraft that get into range will instantly cease to exist.
Short-range weapons in Strange Adventures In Infinite Space automatically target enemy missiles. Depending on how good the weapon is, it may stop every missile, unless the enemy (or you) is using the Multi-Missile Launcher. Fighters are also fairly easy to kill and can be specifically targeted.
Tales Of Honor The Secret Fleet is based on the Honorverse but takes great liberties when portraying battles (in fact, most ships have shapes that are vastly different from the double-cone shapes all ships in the books have). Basically, all battles are one-on-one, and ships hang in space and exchange volleys of missiles. All ships have sidewalls, but they can be easily overwhelmed with enough hits. Ships can also roll to present their dorsal wedges that completely block any incoming missile for a few seconds (the "roll" ability must recharge). The three point-defense systems available on larger ships are lasers (the final layer before impact), counter-missiles (middle layer), and ECM (first layer). ECM sends some missiles off-course, while lasers and counter-missiles destroy a certain number of missiles. Each point-defense system can be subverted by special missiles that also damage this particular system if they hit the hull (e.g. red missiles are immune to point-defense lasers and damage the laser system on impact). All point-defense systems must recharge after use.
Gargoyles used this heavily. One wonders why Xanatos and Macbeth invested so much money in their respective point-defence systems, given that the turrets were invariably too slow to track gargoyles in Not Quite Flight and were made short work of.
In reality, modern point defense systems are last-ditch desperation weapons primarily intended for use against incoming missiles; a missile only gets close enough to be engaged by point defenses if someone else has already screwed up. Given the difficulty of hitting a relatively small target hurtling toward you at multiple times the speed of sound in the few seconds between when you can first detect it and when it hits you, even modern anti-missile systems are far from foolproof, though they certainly aren't useless.
It should be noted that the US Phalanx CIWS is actually very accurate and effective when automated. The downside is that it can't be kept automated for long periods of time due to the chance of false positives and friendly fire. Most systems will alert a human operator before actually engaging a potential threat.
It's biggest weakness is speed, due to the short range, by the time the gun can actually hit the incoming missile it will often be close enough that the fragments and burning jet fuel might still hit the ship anyway.
A notable cause of failure in modern point defense is actually programming errors.
Older model Patriot systems used in the first Gulf War had a critical rounding oversight in the internal clock, totally insignificant at first, but which snowballed hour after hour until they couldn't hit an idling Zeppelin. Until the software was patched, they had to be manually rebooted every few hours to stay accurate.
Because they were originally designed to engage planes, Patriot missiles tended to detonate too slowly when fired at SCUD missiles (which travel much faster than manned aircraft), resulting in actual performance falling short of test results until a later software update. In fact, Coalition propaganda aside, the Patriot missiles were proving so useless in stopping the SCUDs from hitting Israeli targets that Israel was preparing its own military retaliation over the pleas of the US Government to hold back and only called it off when Saddam Hussein admitted defeat and pulled out of Kuwait.
A big problem the patriots had wasn't that they were failing to hit the SCU Ds. Not only did the patriot's warheads detonate too slowly, they are also indiscriminate about what part of the SCUD they hit (as mentioned they were designed to hit planes where the point is largely moot.) Many SCU Ds were hit by Patriots, but only the rocket was destroyed. The SCUD's warhead remained intact, and would then fall to Earth. If that plummeting warhead happened to land on a populated area, the fact the SCUD itself was intercepted by the patriot became moot. Later updates to the system designed specifically to intercept ballistic missiles were made to ensure that the interceptor exploded ahead of the missile it was intercepting, thus maximizing the odds of destroying the warhead.
In the Falklands War a number of British Type 42 destroyers got hit by not only guided anti-ship missiles but also Argentine aircraft lobbing unguided munitions at them. The early iterations of the class were fitted with GWS30 Sea Dart surface-to-air missile system for anti-air defense; problem was, if aircraft or missiles managed to close to within a certain range, software issues with the SAM system caused them to be unable to properly track and fire at targets because they were too close. This limitation was the reason why the class was latter fitted with two Mk.15 Phalanx CIWS.
The newer Sea Wolf SAM fitted to a few ships in the fleet had a problem with its fire-control software that most likely inspired the example in Red Storm Rising described above; when multiple Argentine fighter-bombers approached in line-abreast formation, the program threw a fit because it was supposed to target the closest threat first.
On the other hand, when the Sea Wolf's automated system worked properly, it was often so effective that the first inkling British sailors had of an Argentine attack was when the enemy planes started blowing up.
The Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system proved so effective (up to around 90% success rate) at shooting down rockets that the Palestinians were forced to change tactics from firing one or two at a time to a real world Macross Missile Massacre. The success rate for interceptions has since dropped to around 75%.
Since initial deployment, considerable doubt has surfaced about the efficacy of the system. And while it is almost certainly the most effective (and certainly most tested) missile interception system in the world, its interception rates are far below those numbers. The system has had particular issues with detonating the warheads of incoming rockets. For one reason or another, however, it is apparently impossible to know just how effective it really is.
There's actually a group of people dedicating to make this trope Truth in Television — the Wild Weasel units' mission is the suppression of enemy anti-air fire. They do this primarily by deliberately drawing fire and then letting other members of the team destroy the AA facilities that revealed themselves by attacking. Appropriately, their unofficial motto is "YGBSM", which stands for "you gotta be shittin' me", supposedly the response of one of the original Wild Weasel team members upon being told the details of his new assignment.
This trope probably originates in WWII. The targeting computers of the time were no match for the speed and agility of small aircraft; flak could shoot down level bombers (at least if you used enough flak), but against small craft, the best you could really hope for was to make them flinch. But if they flinched and messed up their attack run, you were just as alive as you would have been had you shot them down. There were several cases in the Pacific of heroic pilots pushing through the flak screen, and others of pilots trying to do so and failing.
The Battle of the Eastern Solomons provides a good example: the last of Imperial Japan's pre-war carrier pilots pressed their attack home into the teeth of flak from both Enterprise and the new battleship North Carolina and several other ships. They got three hits on Enterprise, but three quarters of them died to do it.
Kamikazes were the ultimate recognition that it was impossible to accurately aim a bomb or torpedo under fire from US ships. Turning the aircraft itself into the weapon meant it had to be hard-killed to stop it, and consequently upped the percentage of hits. But the IJN air wing was too humane to use kamikazes effectively: they sent only one or two pilots at a time on these literal SuicideMissions, which meant that the target ship and its escorts could concentrate all their fire on a tiny number of incoming aircraft. And by this time, the US was fielding dedicated anti-air cruisers... Kamikazes still hit quite frequently, as a proportion of all kamikaze missions flown, but they never attacked in massed waves, and never accomplished more than piecemeal damage or the sinking of a few light escorts.
Strategic bombers, most famously the American B-17 Flying Fortress, were armed to the teeth, with more and more defensive firepower added in later models. Compare the B Model◊ to the G Model◊. Formations of these planes were very difficult to approach. The Luftwaffe's early-war tactic was to make head-on strafing runs note which were as terrifying for the German pilots as it was for the American bomber crews, exploiting how the B-17 didn't have a chin turret for firing directly forward; once it added one, the Germans switched to trying to break up the formation with rockets, or using "Schräge Musik" guns, firing upwards from the fighter instead of in its direction of flight.
In reality, "Schräge Musik" was designed and used to attack Royal Air Force night bombers. Unlike American bombers, which had a belly turret, RAF Lancasters and Halifaxes devoted their belly space to radar in order to attack accurately (relatively speaking, that is). Without look-outs beneath, the German pilots sidle into place in the dark and attack at their leisure.
Attacking American bombers from behind was never a good idea. The attacking fighter's closing speed was lower, and the B-17s could bring almost their full complement of guns to bear. One account relates that an ME-262 that tried this disintegrated under the sheer volume of heavy machine-gun fire.
A number of major warships were lost on both sides during the war as a result of anti-aircraft fire being vastly inferior to a screen of actual fighter planes, which underlined the rise of the Aircraft Carrier and the fall of conventional big-gun battleships. After 1941, it would be sensible to consider any major warship operating outside of the range of land-based or carrier-based aircraft to be a sitting duck.
HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk in 1941 by land-based Japanese aircraft, and became the first capital ships to be sunk purely by air-power. They were operating without the support of any smaller vessels or fighter cover.
The Bismarck was famously crippled by carrier-based Swordfish aircraft before being sunk by a Naval taskforce, but the Germans made several other attempts to break out into the Atlantic with "lone wolf" warships without air support. Her sister ship, Tirpitz, was sunk by land-based bombers. During the last attack waves, the main 15" guns were used in an anti-aircraft role but didn't have much effect.
The Yamato was sent out towards the end of the war in a last ditch attempt to delay the US advance, and was sunk by carrier based aircraft. Her sister ship, the Musashi was sunk several months previously by a concerted carrier-based air attack and also had no available fighter cover. Both ships attempted to use their main armament (18"!) as antiaircraft guns firing specialised shells, but to no good effect.
This had been much less the case in WWI.
Zeppelins look floaty, vulnerable, and helpless, but they were the most heavily armed aircraft that have ever been fielded. (The British R38 patrol airship fielded 24 machine guns and an autocannon.)
Observation balloons were unarmed, but very heavily protected by fighters and flak; the few pilots who specialized in fighting them had a reputation for suicidal courage, by the standards of a profession in which one's life expectancy was about a week. Even if they survived the fighters and flak, they were at risk from being killed when the hydrogen balloon exploded.