There are several types of weapons:
1. Mass drivers - Mass drivers are guns that fire solid matter projectiles. The defensive counterpart for mass drivers is armor. The highest-damage mass driver weapon is the Black Hole Gun at 16 damage.
2. Beam weapons - Beam weapons use directed energy and/or particles as projectiles. Shields are the appropriate defensive mechanism. Beam weapons have a long research path, but the Doom Ray packs one of the largest punches in the game at 22 damage.
3. Missiles - Missiles are self-propelled weapons that carry large, powerful warheads. Missiles can be shot down by point defense. Missiles are a tried and true tech. The Black Hole Eruptor deals the highest damage of any single weapon... 25!
The AI players will adapt to your tactics. It is advisable to keep a variant of your ship to upgrade to in case this happens.
Attack strength can be improved on all ships by a percentage due to Race bonus, Mining starbases, Military starbase modules, or specific Technologies. These bonuses will show as increased defense levels compared to components on ships. For example, a 20% Attack bonus will give a ship with 5 Missile strength effectively 6 in combat.