Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

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Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Megabot » 2018-03-28 06:35pm

I've been thinking about the scifi trope Point Defenseless, where capital ships bristling with firepower are seemingly unable to swat down small enemy craft, especially ones piloted by main characters, turning the snubfighter into the most lethal weapon in the universe. Since AI-controlled point defenses should by all rights be able to effortlessly track and target small craft, could there be a possible in-universe reason for a tendency for point defenses to have such poor marksmanship, if not be entirely absent altogether? The first thing that springs to my mind is the opening of The Last Jedi where the Dreadnought keeps missing Poe's X-Wing, even when he's flying in a straight line at it.

Perhaps highly advanced ECM/jamming that makes targeting useless except at extremely close ranges? I seem to recall the Mobile Suit Gundam universe doing something similar with their electromagnetics-disrupting Minovsky Particle. Of course, we often see point defenses missing even when the target should be well within range to track visibly, and often moving at speeds that are far too slow for space combat, at that...

Or should we just repeat the MST3K Mantra and enjoy the flashy pew-pew space combat?

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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-03-28 07:39pm

You're not the first to wonder about it. ECM is a pretty common excuse, one of those given in Star Wars IIRC. Star Wars actually covers the gamut for snufighter justifications actually as they're such a big part of that universe...

Also Star Wars, for all it's got droids and whatnot, seems a bit lower on AI integration than we might expect. Their gunnery is often still controlled by humans, for example. In the OT era this was explained by the EU as being a result of the Clone Wars fighting against droids... who ironically enough often filled the manual-gunnery role on CIS ships rather than the guns being auto-pointed by AI's.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2018-03-28 11:31pm

Megabot wrote:
2018-03-28 06:35pm
I've been thinking about the scifi trope Point Defenseless, where capital ships bristling with firepower are seemingly unable to swat down small enemy craft, especially ones piloted by main characters, turning the snubfighter into the most lethal weapon in the universe. Since AI-controlled point defenses should by all rights be able to effortlessly track and target small craft, could there be a possible in-universe reason for a tendency for point defenses to have such poor marksmanship, if not be entirely absent altogether? The first thing that springs to my mind is the opening of The Last Jedi where the Dreadnought keeps missing Poe's X-Wing, even when he's flying in a straight line at it.

Perhaps highly advanced ECM/jamming that makes targeting useless except at extremely close ranges? I seem to recall the Mobile Suit Gundam universe doing something similar with their electromagnetics-disrupting Minovsky Particle. Of course, we often see point defenses missing even when the target should be well within range to track visibly, and often moving at speeds that are far too slow for space combat, at that...

Or should we just repeat the MST3K Mantra and enjoy the flashy pew-pew space combat?
In Star Wars at least, the shields are both justifications for Snub Fighters. Fighters can bypass and get under shields to hit surface targets, and their own shields deflect incoming shots away from their hulls.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Galvatron » 2018-03-29 07:56am

Alyrium Denryle wrote:
2018-03-28 11:31pm
In Star Wars at least, the shields are both justifications for Snub Fighters. Fighters can bypass and get under shields to hit surface targets, and their own shields deflect incoming shots away from their hulls.
I assume those are just ray shields since the rebel fighters couldn't get through the ones protecting Scarif or the second Death Star.

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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Steelinghades » 2018-03-29 09:33am

Galvatron wrote:
2018-03-29 07:56am
I assume those are just ray shields since the rebel fighters couldn't get through the ones protecting Scarif or the second Death Star.
I thought the ray/particle shields were a Legends thing, do they actually exist in Disney canon?

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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-03-29 09:34am

They were first brought up in Episode IV
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Tribble » 2018-03-29 11:52am

The idea that fighters in Star Wars are all able to cripple cap ships on the own is kind of a brain bug, at least prior to Episode 8. When it happens its usually due to unique circumstances rather than the fighters being super effective against cap ships by design:

In PM, the fighter attack was completely ineffective until Anakin happened to get into the hangar right as more Trade Federation fighters were launching (which presumably meant the hanger's shields were dropped). He then blew it up from the inside.

In AOTC IIRC we don't see don't really see fighters attacking cap ships while in orbit.

In RotS, there is plenty of fighting going on so its hard to tell exactly, IIRC but the cap ships we do see getting wrecked are because of hits from other cap ships, not fighters.

ANH went to some length to explain that the attack on the Death was only possible due to the unique circumstances. Basically the Death Star was not designed to handle fighters (though they could have built in more defences if they wanted), they were not going after an obvious target (there were multiple exhaust ports and the one they were after happened to sit below the main port) and Tarkin was too arrogant to launch his own defence screen of fighters, leaving just Vader and his squad on their own. And even then almost everyone was killed and Luke barely made the shot in time.

In ESB, one of the pilots is incredulous at the thought of two-fighters facing a Star Destroyer until Leia points out that the Ion Cannon would be able to cover them as they escape.

In ROTJ the Rebels specifically went after the DS2 before it was finished, which gave them the ability to attack the reactor directly. As for the Executor... that scene wasn't handled very well. The novelization (and IIRC the script as well but I'm not sure on that) mentioned that the combined attack of the fleet briefly knocked the Executor's main shields down, which allowed for the fighters to attack the dome and knock out the bridge deflector shields. The kamikaze attack happened immediately afterwards and before the Executor could increase its firepower enough to prevent it. So its not like the Executor was incapable of defending itself properly under normal circumstances. In ROTJ we even see fighters hitting shielded cap ships... to no effect.

In epsiode 7, I thought it was kind of silly that Poe was able to cause so much damage to a cap ship on his own since we hadn't really seen that before. I kind of gave it a hand-wave since it was possible that they were under the shields the whole time, coming from the inside of the ship and whatnot. But it was stupid, and I remember thinking at the time that it could lead t something along the lines of what we saw in Episode 8...

In Rogue One fighters were able to get in close and cause damage, but it was a fleet engagement and IIRC you can clearly see the Star Destroyers firing and taking hits from other ships as well. Concievable then that a combined attack like in ROTJ would be enough to overwhelm the Star Destroyer's defences.

Episode 8.... ya. Apparently shields are now useless against fighters, which can pass through them easily. And anti-starfighter weapons are just for show because a single X-Wing was able to fly in and blow them all up (main character and all that but still).

I haven't seen much of Rebels, but from what I've gathered all capital ships on both sides are usually under orders not to fire on main characters, since we rarely see them do that. And they may only use tractor beams at the last minute when the main characters are about to escape :P
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-29 01:13pm

Steelinghades wrote:
2018-03-29 09:33am
Galvatron wrote:
2018-03-29 07:56am
I assume those are just ray shields since the rebel fighters couldn't get through the ones protecting Scarif or the second Death Star.
I thought the ray/particle shields were a Legends thing, do they actually exist in Disney canon?
Well, ray shielding is explicitly mentioned more than once in the movies, as are kinds of shielding more generally that deflect blasters ("magnetically sealed" garbage mashers on the Death Star). The main problem is that it was never handled consistently. There was no consistent terminology across all the movies about the names and nature of various types of shields.

Some kinds of shields clearly stop energy beams from blaster-type weapons, but not physical projectiles or walking bodies. Like the Gungan shield generators at Naboo, or any shielding found on the Death Star.*

Some kinds of shields appear to stop both energy weapons and physical movement, i.e. that thing that Anakin and Obi-Wan get caught in while storming Grievous's flagship.

Still others stop some energy beams but not others, e.g. droideka shields that can be penetrated from the inside by their own weapons.

It is far from unreasonable to suppose that the main defensive shields of large starships are in fact big slab-sided things that a small fighter moving at low relative velocity to the target can literally fly through the gaps in.
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*(Although... didn't some fighters crash on the Death Star surface without leaving visible marks in some scenes? I don't remember if that happened. If it did, it's the sort of thing you'd expect if there was a 'particle shield' hugging the surface of the Death Star and conferring resistance to physical impacts)
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Tribble » 2018-03-29 01:26pm

IIRC the fighters blew up some (anti capital ship) weapons shooting at them, and Luke blew up a tower that Wedge was worried about. We also see the impact from Red leaders torpedoes, which didn't appear to do a whole lot apart from some charring and a small crater.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Patroklos » 2018-03-29 02:33pm

This all leaves aside the issue of local burn through, if it exists. We know armor is a thing in SW ship design, so since shields are an all over (or at least large arc) protective covering and armor is always a point defense, it might be beneficial to let enough or a shots energy through to the armor corresponding to what it can handle (and maybe sacrificing a few surface features) given its probably unlikely that exact spot will be hit again, so that the shield can provide more cover to everything longer.

Also, the droidkas are not unique. ALL fighters and capital ships we see are obviously shooting through their own shields. This leads me to believe shields and weapons can be calibrated to ignore each other if you know the super secret settings, or that shields have some sort of inherent characteristic that lets you time shots through them like a WWI fighter plane propeller. Fields in real life flicker for instance.

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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-29 03:45pm

Tribble wrote:
2018-03-29 01:26pm
IIRC the fighters blew up some (anti capital ship) weapons shooting at them, and Luke blew up a tower that Wedge was worried about. We also see the impact from Red leaders torpedoes, which didn't appear to do a whole lot apart from some charring and a small crater.
Yes. And although the damage was superficial by Death Star standards, you'd think that they'd want better protection than that. After all, damage is still damage even if it has no decisive effect on your craft, and the Death Star must have some reasonably foreseeable surface targets that are actually important. The Empire may have neglected to worry so much about that one small thermal exhaust port, but surely they were thinking about what would happen if the enemy fired on the superlaser emitters or something.

This leads me to conclude that the main defense against weapons fire for the Death Star was not hull-hugging, and that the fighters were firing on the Death Star from the inside of its main line of defense, so that their puny weapons could do even scratch damage to the exterior. There may well have been secondary defenses (particle shields, armor, sheer ablative depth of mass), but the primary barrier against incoming fire seems to have been that "magnetic field" the X-wings had to fly through to get there, or something.
Patroklos wrote:
2018-03-29 02:33pm
Also, the droidkas are not unique. ALL fighters and capital ships we see are obviously shooting through their own shields. This leads me to believe shields and weapons can be calibrated to ignore each other if you know
the super secret settings, or that shields have some sort of inherent characteristic that lets you time shots through them like a WWI fighter plane propeller. Fields in real life flicker for instance.
I'm inclined to agree. The main reason I cited droidekas is how obvious it is that they're firing through their own shields. For most other things in Star Wars, the shields aren't directly visible, and you could at least keep up a pretense that the muzzles of the beam weapons poke out through the shields. Not for droidekas.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2018-03-29 05:40pm

Galvatron wrote:
2018-03-29 07:56am
Alyrium Denryle wrote:
2018-03-28 11:31pm
In Star Wars at least, the shields are both justifications for Snub Fighters. Fighters can bypass and get under shields to hit surface targets, and their own shields deflect incoming shots away from their hulls.
I assume those are just ray shields since the rebel fighters couldn't get through the ones protecting Scarif or the second Death Star.
Planetary shields are a different beast altogether.
Tribble wrote:
2018-03-29 01:26pm
IIRC the fighters blew up some (anti capital ship) weapons shooting at them, and Luke blew up a tower that Wedge was worried about. We also see the impact from Red leaders torpedoes, which didn't appear to do a whole lot apart from some charring and a small crater.
Those torpedoes caused rocking and visible movement throughout a 120 km wide death star. That's no joke.

In PM, the fighter attack was completely ineffective until Anakin happened to get into the hangar right as more Trade Federation fighters were launching (which presumably meant the hanger's shields were dropped). He then blew it up from the inside.
The Trade Federation also has visibly different shielding effects from everyone else in the clone wars. It's not unreasonable to think that their capital ship shields are of a non-standard design.
In RotS, there is plenty of fighting going on so its hard to tell exactly, IIRC but the cap ships we do see getting wrecked are because of hits from other cap ships, not fighters.
They were also at point blank range and had been fighting for a while.
In ESB, one of the pilots is incredulous at the thought of two-fighters facing a Star Destroyer until Leia points out that the Ion Cannon would be able to cover them as they escape.
Not being able to kill doesn't mean it's not a thread, and ISDs do have point defense weapons. What we typically see are fighters going in and taking out soft targets like weapons emplacements, sensors, and shield emitters, or covering purpose build bombers that CAN threaten the mission operability of a capital ship.

I haven't seen much of Rebels, but from what I've gathered all capital ships on both sides are usually under orders not to fire on main characters, since we rarely see them do that. And they may only use tractor beams at the last minute when the main characters are about to escape :P
Shielding effects when visible are well out from the ship, and capital ship engagements tend to happen at very very close range where volume of fire will overwhelm shields pretty quickly. That's mostly from Clone Wars which is still cannon. Rebels I haven't seen much of. fighters can pretty obviously slip under shields to hit soft targets.

Honestly, it really is pretty damn consistent, for *most* capital ships
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-29 05:43pm

Alyrium Denryle wrote:
2018-03-29 05:40pm
Those torpedoes caused rocking and visible movement throughout a 120 km wide death star. That's no joke.
Well, we see people getting rocked around in random sections of Death Star corridor, but those could be close to the blast site. Did Tarkin's command post get shaken up? I forget.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-03-29 08:05pm

No, the DS command center was never shaken up.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Batman » 2018-03-29 08:39pm

S_J wrote: It is far from unreasonable to suppose that the main defensive shields of large starships are in fact big slab-sided things that a small fighter moving at low relative velocity to the target can literally fly through the gaps in.
In ANH, Han mentions 'angling the deflectors' which would be moderately pointless (and likely impossible) in a bubble/hull-hugging shield, and in ESB 3PO mentions they 'lost the main rear deflector shield' intimating the rear shields are not one monolithic block.
Also, 'We're passing through their magnetic field. Set deflectors to double front' from ANH may indicate the ability of snubfighters to get beneath capital shields is due to shield/shield interaction.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-03-29 08:53pm

U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
2018-03-29 08:05pm
No, the DS command center was never shaken up.
Well then, what part of the Death Star remote from the point of impact got smacked around?

I mean, you'd expect that a proton torpedo hitting the surface would cause "quakes" near the point of impact, just like if someone dropped a big bomb a few miles from where I was standing, there'd probably be some pretty significant ground tremors and shocks. It's only impressive if the whole Death Star, or a large fraction of it, is substantially shaken up.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Imperial528 » 2018-03-29 09:23pm

One thing to consider is that we don't know how standard shielding is. For a real life analogy: basically any large ocean going ship has some sort of radar. Radar comes in all flavors in both design and effect, and military ships usually mount several sorts at once.

With Trek, it's clear the Federation uses very standard implementation of technologies throughout their designs of varying scale, and this is mentioned rather consistently. With Wars this is never really discussed and the technology is much more part of the setting than the plot so it doesn't need to be.

Thus, what may appear to be inconsistent behavior of shielding, may simply be different methods of shielding, even between examples of vessels of the same design. Especially since we've already seen that different sorts of shields can be used on the same ship.

Given the scale of the Empire there may even be the sort of issue that the Soviets had during WW2. All those T-34s that are made a bit differently depending on the factory, but so long as they match a common performance standard and have interchangeable enough parts then it doesn't matter so much.

Except in this cases, it's ISDs and how exactly their shielding works.

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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Soontir C'boath » 2018-03-29 09:40pm

The problem with evaluating shields in Star Wars is that they are pretty much a fiat of plot and really don't have a rhyme or reason of how they work from one situation to another.

In the OT, shields seems to be mostly hull hugging such as when Tantive IV fired back on the star destroyer with little effect on its surface. Same goes on in the space battle in ROTJ where weapons fire and careening fighters can be seen exploding against the hull hugging shields of star destroyers and Mon Calamari ships. Yet at the same time, we get moments where fighters do blow up the shield generator off the star destroyers from a distance far from hull hugging. (though I would still argue that it was the fleet's turbolasers at Ackbar's command that did the Executor in) It's also stupid because after the Executor lost its bridge deflector shields, Piett said "intensify the forward batteries, I don't want anything to get through" which seems to give a pretty damn good impression that physical objects like fighters and their ordinance getting through aren't an issue while they are on.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Soontir C'boath » 2018-03-29 10:13pm

In ESB, a commanding officer reported to Vader that they were sustaining damage from getting hit by asteroids, but they are a far cry from one man fighters.

Anyway further on in ESB, Needa raised shields only after Han turned back to the Avenger in an attack position. If Han could have unloaded a bunch of ordinance on the star destroyer willy nilly, why bother? Yet, we also see Han attached the Falcon to the back of the bridge tower. Speculating, one would think Han waited in the blind spot for them to drop the shield for him to attach to the ship.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Soontir C'boath » 2018-03-29 10:47pm

Fuck it, you know what. I take my first statement back, the sequel trilogy really was the only one that really jumped the shark on shields. They basically took what the first Death Star had and ran away with it like a bitch when everything else we have seen in the OT and PT were consistent.

Hell even in Rogue One, a transport collided and exploded against the Devastator and did absolutely nothing to it.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-03-30 01:15am

Megabot wrote:
2018-03-28 06:35pm
Perhaps highly advanced ECM/jamming that makes targeting useless except at extremely close ranges?
That doesn't work, blinding a human with a laser is much easier then defeating other forms of guidance systems. The only reason this isn't a massive topic in real life yet is because the world signed a treat in the 1990s to restrict that form of weapon, and only after they had been built. The US had a man portable device in the Gulf War (that wasn't used) that could blind enemy troops on a 300m wide arc at a range of several kilometers. A laser blinder Bradley that was deployed but not used was reported as able to damage optical devices at 8km...which means it would melt eyeballs. Now with have helicopters buzzing around in combat with multiple laser turrets can that blind multiple simultaneous incoming MANPADS at once, combat proven years ago. But the lasers are nice and eye safe to comply with the laser weapons treaty. Helps that they are trying to blind IR wavelengths and not optical, as no optical homing MANPADS exists...yet. One or two ABM weapons do in fact use human visual guidance alongside IR.

Burning peoples heads off is not restricted by treaty, nor is temporary blinding. Both would be employed if a war started right now between peer opponents.

I seem to recall the Mobile Suit Gundam universe doing something similar with their electromagnetics-disrupting Minovsky Particle. Of course, we often see point defenses missing even when the target should be well within range to track visibly, and often moving at speeds that are far too slow for space combat, at that...
The problem is even if you restrict the defenses to visual wavelengths they'll still pickup a target in the equivalent of earth orbit at a range of hundreds or thousands of kilometers. The lack of an atmosphere equivalent to scatter light makes this rather easy. Thermal imaging becomes lol effective, after all NASA is trying to build a thermal telescope right now that will see heat that originated tens of billions of lightyears away.

In all reality its perfectly possible to create fiction that copes with something resembling modern air defense but most people just don't want to try and the original Star Wars Disney is mindlessly parroting dates to 1979 when reality was a little bit less clear. Instead everyone just wants to recreate WW2 in space because that's easy to understand. Or rather they want to recreate like ~1940-41 in space, because frankly even by the end of 1943 close range visual attacks were already approaching suicide on well defended targets. Thus why weapons like Fritz X and then the kamikaze became so important. While the Allies in Normandy with overwhelming air power... still lost over 1,700 planes in the first month of fighting.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-03-30 01:20am

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-03-29 03:45pm
Yes. And although the damage was superficial by Death Star standards, you'd think that they'd want better protection than that. After all, damage is still damage even if it has no decisive effect on your craft, and the Death Star must have some reasonably foreseeable surface targets that are actually important. The Empire may have neglected to worry so much about that one small thermal exhaust port, but surely they were thinking about what would happen if the enemy fired on the superlaser emitters or something.
The Death Star surface is so irregular it would be illogical to pin the main defenses to that surface. Perhaps the shield could somehow do that, but armor certainly couldn't because the volumn wouldn't exist to do it unless the armor was extremely thin. And that would multiply the mass and cost immensely. I'd reckon that the main armor deck is probably where the bottom of the Death Star trenches are. Explaining the minor damage from the Proton torpedo miss and providing one uniform surface with minimal preforations to mount protection against. This would be more or less exactly how a battleship would be armored too. Everything about it would be more or less expendable.

Key items like a superlaser emitter might have protruding armor, but that'd also be a physically big piece not unlike a battleship turret. It wouldn't make sense for the Death Star to primarily rely on armor say 1 meter thick as could be mounted on random laser turrets.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Lord Insanity » 2018-03-30 06:49pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-03-29 01:13pm
Still others stop some energy beams but not others, e.g. droideka shields that can be penetrated from the inside by their own weapons.
When droideka's first show up in TPM we clearly see them sticking their blaster barrels through their shields. They immediately fire and the recoil pushes them back behind their shield bubble. Then they push the barrels out and repeat. It has been a while since I watched any Clone Wars episodes. Maybe the kids cartoon didn't bother animating that kind of detail but TPM definitely did. However the Clone Wars did show characters exploiting this on rare occasions where they managed to get behind a droideka and slowly push a weapon through the shield to take out the droideka. (both a jedi with a lightsaber and a clone trooper with a blaster were shown to do this at least once each.)
Soontir C'boath wrote:
2018-03-29 10:47pm
Fuck it, you know what. I take my first statement back, the sequel trilogy really was the only one that really jumped the shark on shields. They basically took what the first Death Star had and ran away with it like a bitch when everything else we have seen in the OT and PT were consistent.

Hell even in Rogue One, a transport collided and exploded against the Devastator and did absolutely nothing to it.
That pretty much sums it up. I would argue that the cartoons have been mostly consistent too. That just makes 7 and 8 stick out even worse.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by Batman » 2018-03-30 07:32pm

It's also possible they open Honorverse style 'gunports' (or for the Rhodanites, 'Strukturlücken') in the shield for their weapons to fire through. If timed closely enough (which should be easily doable with modern day computing, leave alone a civilization that casually uses advanced AI for farm labour) that'd be visually indistinguishable from firing through the shield.
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Re: Possible justifications for Point Defenseless

Post by SpottedKitty » 2018-03-30 09:37pm

Batman wrote:
2018-03-29 08:39pm
In ANH, Han mentions 'angling the deflectors' which would be moderately pointless (and likely impossible) in a bubble/hull-hugging shield, and in ESB 3PO mentions they 'lost the main rear deflector shield' intimating the rear shields are not one monolithic block.
I always thought of this as connected to the red screen thingy we see a couple of times when Luke and Han are plinking the attacking TIE fighters — two parallel planes made up of squares, sometimes one or two of them blinking. If that's a status graphic, it implies the shields are generated in zones, letting an attacker blow a hole without having to take the whole shield down.
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