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In Star Trek, why doesn’t Earth have planetary defenses?

In both the first and second movies of the reboot, a spaceship either crashes or severely threatens Earth (not to mention Vulcan). That is also the case with DS9, the Borg attack in TNG or the First Contact movie. Generally speaking very few planets in the Star Trek universe seems to implement a planetary defense and most of the ones that do are from "highly advanced" civilizations.

Usually any fixed location is specially vulnerable, so it would seem reasonable to have a good set of planetary defenses to protect any planet from orbital attack. Given the complexity of building a spaceship, having satellites, ground to orbit cannons, emergency shielding and maybe a small permanent fleet wouldn't seem to be out of hand. Usually static defenses are way more powerful than any other type, since you have possibilities that are not constrained (usually) for lack of space.

Is there any in-universe explanation as to why Earth (and other planets) seem to lack these defense systems?

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    Earth does seem to have some defences in Star Trek (2009), since the “defence codes” that Nero extract from Pike have to do something important. However, it’s never explained what those defences are. – alexwlchan Dec 9 '13 at 12:46
  • This might be addressed in another question; I remember answering something about planetary defences, but can't quite remember the specifics (nor can I seem to find it)... – Izkata Dec 9 '13 at 13:19
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    I lied. There’s more technobabble to explain the “defence codes”; see scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/35067/…. – alexwlchan Dec 9 '13 at 14:38
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    Because planetary defenses would contradict Roddenberry rose-colored-glasses visions of global harmony? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 9 '13 at 21:52
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    @DVK The Klingons and Romulans were always threats, so I don't think so – Izkata Dec 10 '13 at 0:04
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Earth does have defences.

Space-based:
Based on what we see in TNG: Best of Both Worlds and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, hostile (or simply non-responsive) objects entering Federation space are detected by monitoring stations along the various borders. Starships then converge on the intruder from all directions, at first in small numbers (with high-warp vessels arriving first) followed by larger numbers of lower warp vessels.

Earth Defence Fleet.
Assuming the object continues toward Earth, it will then encounter larger numbers of Federation vessels. In the case of the Borg, they meet a fleet of 40 ships at Wolf 359 and by the time of Voyager: Endgame, the Earth Defence Fleet alone comprises nearly 30 ships in Earth orbit (and more in the near vicinity). This suggests a fleet strength into the hundreds of vessels.

Mars Defence Perimeter:
Mars plays host to flocks of unmanned 'defence pods' designed to overwhelm intruders by sheer weight of numbers. These converge on the Borg in TNG: Best of Both Worlds, Part II (albeit with little effect).

Ground-based Defences:
Earth appears to have a series of defence systems situated on the planet itself. They aren't described in any detail, but in DS9: Homefront, we're advised that Founder sabotage on the power grid has caused these "surface-based defenses" to become inoperative. This evidently leaves Earth helpless.


Non-canon defences:
In the official novelisation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry makes reference to Earth's defences including the ...

"...sheer weight of Earth and lunar firepower and powerful forcefield protection".

Other Star Trek novels (notably Tales of the Dominion War) have mentioned Earth having at least seven orbital defence platforms.

“Admiral? We’ve lost contact with DP-7.” Lieutenant Hackworth had never seen Starfleet Command lose touch with one of the planetary defense platforms.

  • A large number of Federation vessels seemed to be absent at the beginning of "Generations", no? – mu is too short Feb 2 '15 at 3:52
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    @muistooshort - Earth's defences are presented inconsistently. In the Motion Picture, the Enterprise is the only starfleet vessel within three days travel of Earth(?!). – Valorum Feb 2 '15 at 9:40
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    is "mars defence perimiter" spherical? it almost sounds like it's near Mars, as if the planets are all in a line. but even if this perimeter is circular, that doesn't help, it would have to encompass the entire star, wouldn't it? why do ships entering the solar system have to pass by ANY planet? can they not descend from "above" the solar plane (or ascend from "below" it)? – Dave Cousineau Dec 19 '16 at 11:42
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    @Sahaugin - You've identified one of the main problems with the Star Trek universe, that everything happens in a 2D space – Valorum Dec 19 '16 at 12:59
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The Sol system has the Mars Defense Perimeter. Also there are several heavily armed starbases (Starbase 1, Jupiter Station) and plenty of ships docked around that can be used if need be.

That said, I think the Federation's main policy was not to let a hostile force anywhere near earth by sending ships to take care of it as soon as it passes into Federation space, long before they are anywhere near the cited systems like Vulcan and Sol.

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    “The Sol system has the Mars Defense Perimeter. Also there are several heavily armed starbases (Starbase 1, Jupiter Station) and plenty of ships docked around that can be used if need be.” — Not that you see any of that in The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2. There we just get three tiny ships hurtling towards the Borg cube, and promptly being reduced to a fine powder. – Paul D. Waite Dec 10 '13 at 10:12
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    Well given most the ships that had been docked had gone out to Wolf 359, and promptly turned to dust by said both cube, a demonstration of attempting to intercept before getting to earth, they didn't have a lot of force left when that tactic failed. – ewanm89 Dec 10 '13 at 12:36
  • sure, that’s very true. I think it does demonstrate that, apart from ships, there ain’t a lot there to defend good old Sol 3. – Paul D. Waite Dec 10 '13 at 16:46
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    That and "resistance is futile" – ewanm89 Dec 10 '13 at 16:47
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The simplest answer, while federation defenses are amongst the state of the art, and most capable for comparable technology levels in the quadrant, the enemies that get close to destroying earth are overwhelmingly overpowered compared to those defenses.

  1. V'Ger, a technological god, multiple Astronomical Units large. It literally dwarfed everything. Could only be placated.

  2. The Probe, capable of draining power from every technology and cause planetary earthquakes without any apparent method. Could only be placated.

  3. The Borg, a single attack vessel could adapt to the defense weapons and wiped out multiple fleets of ships with out a scratch. Only done in by internal knowledge.

  4. Nero, a massive time traveling industrial ship, shrugged off all ship attacks until the crew was disabled. Still needed the defense codes to prevent being out maneuver or ambushed or bring down shields (ala Kirk bringing down Kahn's shields).

  5. The Vengeance, a highly advanced Dreadnought capital attack ship designed by the Federation, would bypass all automated defenses as it would be coded with valid federation ID, while also being able to completely destroy most ships with its pulsed phasers.

the defenses would keep the Klingons or Romulan or Dominion out (unless sabotaged).

  • The Klingons "never did that" after the breen strafed star fleet command, according to Martok – Tritium21 Feb 2 '15 at 8:38
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I believe that Earth has a mighty and powerful defense system. A system so powerful that Starfleet sometimes lets the Enterprise be the only starship in or near the solar system without fear of any trouble. Despite the fact that the nearest Klingon ruled star system is only a few days away according to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Starfleet command probably believes that the Earth defense systems can hold off any possible Klingon, Romulan, or joint Klingon-Romulan attack.

There are probably concentric systems of giant force field generators, giant phaser banks, and giant photon torpedo launchers in the outer solar system, the middle solar system, the inner solar system, in high Earth orbit, in middle Earth orbit, in low Earth orbit, and on the ground on Earth, each capable of withstanding any predictable attack from any known enemy.

The Earth defense system is nullified three times by unknown enemies far more powerful than Starfleet expects, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and a century later in "The best of Both Worlds". And no doubt after each time the Earth defense system is made even more powerful than before.

In one novel in the Lensman series the government ruling millions of planets in one galaxy assembles its fleet of millions of space battleships and invades another galaxy. The government of the second galaxy sends it fleet of millions of space battleships to intercept them. The fleet of the second galaxy is defeated and the fleet from the first galaxy heads for the capital star system of the second galaxy.

But when they get there they do not attack the two capital planets. They need to capture them intact to learn all the secrets of the enemy government, and they are powerless against the super powerful defenses of those two worlds.

That's right, planetary defense systems capable of holding off attacks by fleets of millions of space battleships.

I'm sure that Earth's defense system was designed to hold off attacks by any fleets imaginable to Starfleet's planners - fleets of tens, hundreds, or thousands of space battleships. So like the builders of the planetary defense systems in the Lensman series, they built defenses that could stop any attacks they could imagine - though on a much smaller scale.

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    This seems speculative at best, unless you consider the various EU novels to be part of the accepted canon. – Valorum Jan 21 '17 at 21:47

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