In Star Trek Beyond, why were the Enterprise's shields

so useless against Krall's swarm ships, which seem to just fly through them as if they weren't even there?

In all the previous movies, the shields have always protected ships to some extent. The exceptions were Wrath of Khan where the Reliant was able to get shots in before Enterprise raised them, and Generations where the Klingons found the shield frequencies.

But in this movie the writers seem to have no knowledge of how shields work and the swarm ships (which were physical objects that could have been easily blocked by shields) seem to just fly through them.

I can understand that the writers wanted Krall to win the battle but they could have made it work according to the Star Trek universe rules, meaning get the shields get weakened and then penetrated.

  • 2
    Bear in mind that Star Trek Beyond is set in an alternate timeline to the old films/TV shows. I can't remember to what extent we've seen shields used in the 3 films released in this new timeline, but is it possible that the shields are only able to block energy based weapons now? Meaning physical objects can just pass straight through? – Dr R Dizzle Aug 1 '16 at 14:08
  • 11
    @DrRDizzle we have seen similar happenings already in tng and also ds9. Ramming with shuttlesize+ sized objects seems to be working quite good in all of star trek – Thomas Aug 1 '16 at 14:16
  • 1
    These are ships made specifically to board shielded ships. – Slacklord the Terrible Aug 1 '16 at 16:13
  • 3
    @Valorum Also notable: the swarm ships were clearly designed to work that way, albeit possibly not on the same sort of target, since they open up like a hollow point and give the cockpit access to the inside of whatever they penetrate. – Slacklord the Terrible Aug 1 '16 at 16:57
  • 8
    "That's what the swarm is – sophisticated mining equipment. All those soldiers were just worker drones. Krall turned them into an army, and turned the swarm into a weapon. There's all this great backstory to be explored in the novelisation!”" - Simon Pegg; empireonline.com/movies/features/… – Valorum Aug 1 '16 at 16:58

The shields are definitely up, but the swarm ships seem to be completely unaffected.

As far as can be told, there's no explanation offered why this is the case but the Conn Officer seems quite surprised that they're useless, suggesting that they should have proven more resilient.

Chekov: Shield frequencies are having no effect, Captain.

  • 17
    I like this answer best because it mentions Chekov surprise at the shields not working. Which seems to indicate that shields "should" work against this type of attack. – AbuMariam Aug 1 '16 at 15:20
  • 34
    This is called "hanging a lantern" on the problem. Clearly the producers decided that we did not need a technobabble explanation for the shields being so useless, but needed us to know that — in-universe — there was one. We just don't know what it was (and neither do the characters, for that matter). And so we move on with the story. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 1 '16 at 17:14
  • 13
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit - More usually a "lampshade" than a lantern, but you're completely right. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LampshadeHanging – Valorum Aug 1 '16 at 17:23
  • 6
    SPOILER: The reason shields are unaffected is likely due to the villain's true identity, and knowledge of Starfleet technology. – Liesmith Aug 1 '16 at 17:44
  • 7
    @Thomas I think shields are something of a victim of the "Worf Effect" - tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheWorfEffect - presumably the cases where they successfully stop problems from occurring aren't interesting enough to show on-screen. – Walt Aug 1 '16 at 17:53

As I haven't seen the film itself, just the trailer, I'm making assumptions on that one (although I don't think they would change).

Shields in Star Trek reduce the damage that beam and projectile weapons (phasers, disruptors, torpedoes) do to ships, and negate damage from small asteroids by pushing them aside (navigational deflectors).

The swarm ships, though, seem to be of at least shuttle size, and numerous times kamikaze/ramming attacks from ships of that size have proven to be too much for the shields to do much about.

This has happened time and again in almost every property of Star Trek:

  • The Next Generation: Multiple times in the show shuttlecraft or whole starships crashed into the Enterprise; mostly during time paradox episodes, as it almost always resulted in the destruction of the Enterprise.

  • The Next Generation: Worf flies a shuttle inside the Borgs' shields to get on board a Borg cube.

  • Deep Space Nine: In the episode where the Dominion declares war on the Federation, a Galaxy class ship travels through the wormhole to the Gamma quadrant and gets destroyed by a single Jem’Hadar fighter ramming it.

  • Star Trek: First Contact: The Defiant is ordered on a ramming course into a Borg cube (not shown on screen due to interference). The Defiant would have probably caused massive damage to the cube despite the cube’s strong shields.

  • Star Trek: Nemesis: The Enterprise rams a Reman super warship. No advantage due to shields for either of the two sides.

  • Star Trek (2009): The wreck of a starship damages the outer hull; shields have no visible effect.

So in essence, it seems that with an impacting object above a specific size and speed, the shields become useless or reduce the damage only minimally.

  • 1
    You could add ST:Nemesis to the list: Picard has the Enterprise ram Shinzon's Warbird. – TheBloodyPoet Aug 1 '16 at 14:38
  • 1
    You could also add the time in ST:TNG when Data and Worf use a shuttle to get inside the Borg's shield so that they can warp onto the ship. – SGR Aug 1 '16 at 14:57
  • 1
    @recognizer yeah although they always try to raise shields there. what is also interesting according to the accepted answer they sounded surprised in universe that shields dont have an effect – Thomas Aug 1 '16 at 16:45
  • 2
    In the Nemesis example, I guess the ships were in a stalemate situation, both mostly out of energy, thus no proper shields (only structural integrity fields) – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 1 '16 at 20:01
  • 2
    @jeff like mentioned I didnt watch the film itself so far. but if its asteroids you are talking about this is where things get tricky as the navigational deflectors should move them out of the way. With ships on the other hand the navigational def. doesnt work as they move under their own powers and thus try to resist any attempt to alter their course. That is at least how i always understood things there. – Thomas Aug 2 '16 at 14:49

There is a line in the movie mentioning the ineffectiveness of the shields against the swarm ships — annoyingly I can’t remember it, but it is mentioned in this Reddit post, which claims the line mentions shield frequencies.

As you noted, there’s precedent from Generations that shields can be ineffective if the enemy knows their frequency. As you’ll also remember from later in the movie, Krall is actually

a former Starfleet captain

and has been

accessing lots of Starfleet information already, including Captain Kirk’s personal log.

As such, although it’s not made clear in the movie, I think it’s reasonable to assume that:

  1. Krall has discovered the Enterprise’s shield frequency and used that to allow the swarm ships to pass through; and

  2. the writers of the movie actually do know a couple of things about Star Trek, including how shields are meant to work.

  • Yes exactly, Krall knows all about the Enterprise as he was monitoring starfleet data and his agent was used to lure it to him, and as we've seen in other Trek sources (remember they used to have to keep cycling the phaser and shield frequencies when fighting the Borg), knowing the shield frequency allows you to get weapons through it. – The Wandering Dev Manager Aug 1 '16 at 14:53
  • That's a good point. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 1 '16 at 17:39
  • 1
    Yeah, I often use hundred-year-old technology to hack into the encrypted communications and databases of my adversaries quite easily :-P – Jeff Aug 2 '16 at 6:53
  • @Jeff: no-one said it was easy Jeff! Using hundred-year-old technology for computer hacks never is. – Paul D. Waite Aug 2 '16 at 11:47
  • @Jeff : The thing is, yes, the technology he started with was 100+ yrs old. However he also has had 100+ years to keep up with Starfleet... – serakfalcon Oct 13 '16 at 12:11

Shields aren't designed,nor are they capable of protection against high-speed ram attacks. That's why navigation deflectors are used to clear out debris in the path of FTL ships.

  • 5
    Do you have any references to back up your statements? While it seems like a reasonable hypothesis, it would add credibility if you could give some in-universe or official explanation that agrees with your assessment. – Jane S Aug 1 '16 at 22:52
  • 2
    @JaneS - User MichaelHancock made the point (in a deleted answer) that "in regards to navigational deflectors, check out the Voyager episode "Year of Hell". When Voyager's deflector is offline and they run into a meteor shower the ship starts being hit. Janeway then forces her way into deflector control, realigns the emitters and the ship is safe again." – Valorum Aug 2 '16 at 8:41
  • 2
    Nope. If that was the case, some bright spark would have invented a frag torpedo, and suddenly shields would be useless. Navigational deflectors are weak shields designed only to protect against small, low-energy collisions, and thus use far less energy, which is why they are used for navigation rather than full-blown combat shields. – Benubird Aug 3 '16 at 9:53

This happens fairly commonly in Star Trek, in reverse. Firing on a Borg ship usually only works once or twice due to them somehow figuring out the firing frequencies and adjusting their shields accordingly.

Also, in the most high-tech of starships, it's possible to transport people even though shields are up, even though enemies can't teleport through the shields, suggesting that if the frequencies of the shield is known it's possible to bypass them. While any random object might not be able to get through, ships with specific enhancements to negate common Starfleet shield frequencies, on the other hand should have no such restriction...


It never made any sense that Trek shields weren't capable of blocking kinetic attacks. Starship shields work very similarly to internal forcefields (which are more than capable of preventing any and all kinds of attacks). We've seen Worf rig up a personal shield in TNG from a commbadge that managed to deflect several bullets.

Shuttles in comparison to a much larger starship would have a similar effect... they would run up against the shields and would effectively ram INTO the shields without penetrating them.

With the case of DS9... we do have at least 1 example of Jem'Hadaar kamikaze runs not being effective. The Dominion's first attack (with the Cardassians) on DS9. There was a scene where a Jem'Hadaar attack ship attempted to ram the station... and we've seen it clearly impact the station's shields without penetrating them (the station was at the time under heavy assault from the Dominion/Cardassian fleet no less).

In the episode where a Jem'Hadaar attack ship rammed a Galaxy class - by that point the crew already turned the shields off as they were useless against polaron beams and shuffled the energy into reinforcing Phasers instead. That's why the attack ship was able to successfully take out the Odyssey.

As for subsequent scenes where we've seen Dominion kamikaze runs being effective... well, most of those scenes already occurred with both sides being under heavy fire and shields being mostly or completely drained.

DS9 VFX department was almost criminally negligent in showing shields during fleet battles - which is one of the reasons why single weapon shots would start taking out ships or make large holes in them (which simply wouldn't have happened that fast - but I guess that for the sake of the story, we've seen an abridged version of the battle where you get the general idea - although, with fleets, I think what the VFX team decided to do instead of showing shields glowing, they ended up just dissipating the shots into the hull without them doing anything).

Star Trek Nemesis however somehow managed to completely ignore a layered shield system on the Scimitar which allowed the Enterprise to get through as if they weren't there. Though, that movie also showcased skin-tight shields, which might explain why the shield wasn't immediately visible on other sections of the Scimitar (because energy weapons seem to be dissipated throughout the shield, while a starship kamikaze run produces a more localized effect).

Still doesn't make sense to be honest, because the Scimitar's shields should have been A LOT more effective - but we don't know what Picard might have done off-screen to negate Scimitar's shields.

As for 'Year of Hell'... those were micro-meteroids... so navigational shields are used for moving space debris (matter) that travels at very high speeds out of the way of the ship primarily (although, they seem to simply REPEL and alter the trajectory of the said objects as opposed to allowing them to make contact in the first place), but they do seem to be effective against energy based attacks too (TNG mentioned that lasers aren't enough to even penetrate navigational shields)... just nowhere near on the level of actual defensive shields.

As for Beyond movie swarm... the crew did act surprised the shields were not effective, indicating that they should have been.

Its one of the things I don't like about these new movies... shields for example are portrayed as non-existent actually. If you look at the battle between the Enterprise and Vengeance for instance (Star Trek Darkness), you'd see that each phaser shot and torpedo makes contact on the hull itself as if the shields aren't there (and Kirk did order shields up with enough time just before the Vengeance started attacking).

Now, this could be explained in another way: the Vengeance was a top-secret Federation ship, and therefore could have had Enterprise shield frequencies, making them useless against their weapons.

But this doesn't seem likely... just as unlikely as the premise that detonating several torpedoes INSIDE the Vengeance wouldn't destroy it. Ok... starships are highly advanced and made from really tough materials, so even these torpedoes could easily destroy a planetary surface in a few shots, on starships (even interiors) they wouldn't necessarily incur too much damage... however, 1 torpedo was detonated in close proximity to 71 others. Durability aside, that SHOULD have destroyed the Vengeance right then and there, or at least vaporize an entire secondary hull, breach all its way to the Warp core and take out the entire ship (unless the ship had advanced internal forcefields capable of limiting such damage, but generally, I would imagine that the Vengeance's warp core detonating from inside it would be more than enough to overload any such defenses).

So, we have expamples of Trek shields being very effective against kinetic and kamikaze attacks (not just energy based weapons). Problem is that in the case of the movies, things like this get overlooked for the sake of increasing the drama.

In 'Beyond' though, Krall already had information about Yorktown and the Enterprise, meaning he probably had what he needed to increase the swarm's effectiveness in negating the Enterprise shields (likely by modifying the swarm fleet with adaptive shield frequencies that would respond to several different Federation shield frequencies) - although its still a bit dubious as to how he was able to penetrate Federation comm frequencies and acquire sensitive data. Advanced tech will take you only so far, and the Federation by the mid 23rd century already had it's technology from a mixture of dozens of different alien species. I find it unlikely that such versatility and combination could be easily penetrated by Krall even if he did have underlying understanding of Starfleet - but as I said, things changed radically.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.