Ground Force Defense

In light of the weapons of the 24th Century, a great many defensive techniques simply won't work.  As seen in "Business as Usual" and inferrable from phasers, even a dense suit of armor won't protect a person from the powerful weapons commonly fielded.   And even then, the dense suit of armor can do little more than severely limit movement, outweighing any protection from shrapnel that the armor might offer.

Nonetheless, we've seen light armor from time to time.  Starfleet security personnel of the late 23rd Century employed rigid armor around the torso along with a helmet, and of course the rigid Klingon uniforms (and Cardassian uniforms, especially those in use circa 2367) could be construed as a light armor.   During the Dominion War, Starfleet soldiers were fitted with light armor tunics.  Composed of multiple layers of thick, rubbery-looking material, the suit evidently allowed the officer below to survive a hit from a disruptor or something similarly nasty.  Without medical care, however, he later died of his injuries.

We get several indications of the thickness of the uniform.  Note the thickness of the charred and seared-away regions, and also the thickness of the material of the outer sleeves which look to be at least a centimeter thick.  Sadly, we don't know what the material is, nor do we ever learn what the tunic is capable of repelling.  We do know that in the same episode, two personnel in similar suits were killed by direct disruptor hits, so the suits are not all-powerful.  However, they are a vast improvement over the simple polymer-thread uniforms commonly employed.

We've also seen Starfleet crews make use of ballistic shields.  These handheld defensive items were employed against the projectile-weapon-based "Galactic Army of Light" on Nimbus III circa 2287.  

One of the intriguing aspects of this item was its manner of storage.  Despite protecting its user from projectiles when deployed, the objects were nevertheless able to be rolled lengthwise into a small cylinder.  One is reminded of the "slap bracelets" of the early 1990's which allowed for a similar maneuver to be made.   Of course, a slap bracelet shield would perform poorly against bullets (one hit in the center and it would roll up), so perhaps some sort of nanotech or electromechanic implementation is in play.  Below, we see the shields being rolled, stored, and in their stored configuration.

Significant advancements in personal shielding occurred from the late 23rd Century to the late 24th.   In 2372, Admiral Leyton notes that Starfleet resources at Earth include "stockpiles of phaser rifles, personal forcefields, photon grenades . . . enough to equip an entire army."   Note well the mention of personal forcefields.   Though we haven't seen soldiers employing forcefield emitters on a massive scale, we can get some good guesses as to what they are like.

They would not have to be very large devices.   In 2369, Picard's covert strike team made use of small deflector shield emitters in the subterranean caves of Celtris III as a means of preventing pursuit.

As can be seen from the floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall sparkling effect, the tiny device was capable of creating a forcefield which covered an area greater than four square meters.  This is perhaps the best indication of what Leyton might've been referring to, since we can presume that the devices above would not only block Cardassian bodies, but would offer at least some modicum of resistance to Cardassian weapons as well.   The devices could evidently only produce a flat forcefield, however . . . Beverly had some trouble setting it to cover the entire passageway when rushed.   A similarly useful but larger and less mobile device was seen in Insurrection.  It could evidently generate a forcefield without as much concern about aiming the emitter, given that this one is projecting a forcefield around the corner from itself:

We've also seen smaller devices produce forcefields, though none of these would seem to be the combat forcefield emitters mentioned.  Worf, for instance, crafted a forcefield emitter out of his communicator and a small pile of 19th Century tools and objects.   It was sufficient to deflect several incoming holodeck bullets before failure.

Also in 2369, we saw the use of what was described as a "subspace forcefield" ("Timescape"[TNG6]).   They were constructed from emergency transporter armbands which had their subspace emitters reconfigured . . . this is possibly similar in concept to the use of the communicator above.   They were set to allow for a skintight forcefield, and this field was visible only on activation or deactivation.  The activation is seen below:

And, in 2371's "State of Flux"[VOY1], we see another armband used as a forcefield emitter, though the original function of this one is not known.  Seska used it to generate a "localized subspace bubble" which not only allowed her to penetrate a Kazon forcefield, but also protected her from the radiation aboard the Kazon ship (though a fluctuation did cause it to allow radiation through).

Neither armband device, however, is a personal shield in the proper sense, because both allowed for use of the transporter even when the forcefield was engaged.  Further, the effect of weapons fire against these forcefields is unclear . . . though Seska's bubble protected her from the harmful nucleonic radiation, it is not clear what a phaser shot would do.

Also listable in the realm of defensive tech would be transport inhibitors, similar if not identical to transporter scramblers except for the kinder, gentler-sounding name.   As seen in Insurrection, these devices prevent the use of transporters within a range of at least a dozen meters or so.   They are presumably not forcefield projectors judging by the ease with which they were dispatched by Son'a shuttle weapons fire, and so the true method of their operation is unclear.   Though apparently fairly light for their size, they are nevertheless hardly an easily-transported item (if you'll forgive the pun). 

Fixed Defenses

Larger-scale defensive shields have also been seen or mentioned rather often.   These allow for the protection of a base or perhaps a small city.  (Planetary shields are a topic for another page, and are not noted here.)  Here is a brief listing of a few examples:

"Lessons"[TNG6] features the use of deflector units as a literal firewall, creating a thermal perimeter around a Federation installation.

"Gambit, Pt. II"[TNG7] makes reference to a shielded Federation science outpost on a planet's surface.  The science station would not have withstood an attack by an orbiting mercenary ship, but the shield and the outpost's defensive weapons were thought to be sufficient to make a fight of it.

"Nor the Battle to the Strong"[DS9-5] includes mention of a shield protecting the settlement near the field hospital on Ajilon Prime.  The main generator for the settlement had been destroyed, and thus an unknown number of portable generators were being employed to keep the shield up (though it didn't last long).

A magnetic shield intended to prevent beaming was employed on the Klingon penal asteroid Rura Penthe in the 2290's (Star Trek VI).  The shield did not cover the entire surface, however.

Less-advanced cultures have also made use of fixed shield emplacements.  A shield was employed by the humans of Moab IV who, upon colonizing the planet circa 2168, had shut themselves off from the rest of humanity ("The Masterpiece Society"[TNG5]).  The shield served primarily as a containment barrier between their lush biosphere and the harsh, dead world beyond, reinforcing the biosphere dome.  A security field of unspecified size was employed to protect negotiations at a coastal city between a planet's two warring powers in "Man of the People"[TNG6].    The Kes and the Prytt from "Attached"[TNG7] employed a shielded border in addition to their continent-covering shields.

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