Why can't the Federation use cloaking technology?

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by SicOne, May 9, 2014.

  1. SicOne

    SicOne Commodore Commodore

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    I'm not sure why the Romulans and Klingons get to use cloaking technology but the Federation doesn't. I mean, clearly there's a portion of a treaty somewhere (Treaty of Algeron, perhaps?) that says something to the effect that the Federation won't develop or use cloaking technology, thus Picard's aggrieved speech during TNG's "The Pegasus", but I don't know WHY the Federation would agree to such a unilateral limitation in the first place, especially when her at-the-time most intractable enemies use them willy-nilly. Such a "we can beat them fair and square without relying on being sneaky" approach seems rather naive from a real-world perspective. Like the Klingons say, "In war, there is nothing more honorable than victory"...

    Thinking about this main question, however, brought up a few side-questions as well.

    (1) Have we seen the Federation use cloaking technology since the "Pegasus" TNG episode, aside from the cloaking device on the Defiant on loan from the Romulans and the cloaked self-replicating minefield from DS9's "Call To Arms"?

    (2) Did the Romulans give/lend a new cloaking device to the Federation for the replacement Defiant? I'm assuming the original was lost when the original Defiant was destroyed in DS9s "Changing Face of Evil".

    (3) And what became of the phasing cloak from USS Pegasus? IIRC, Picard said he was going to tell the Romulans all about it, but do we know if he ever got around to doing that very thing? Or do the Romulans only know of it from what sensor telemetry they got off the warbird in that episode?

    Educate me, folks. Thanks.
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, it's never been stated on the show, but it seems to me that cloaking tech wouldn't really work with most kinds of Federation ship. We know that cloaks aren't perfect, that on the one hand they take a lot of power to maintain, and on the other hand, a ship has to minimize its power usage to keep emissions to a minimum (like a submarine on silent running -- since, of course, "Balance of Terror" was an homage to WWII submarine movies to begin with). So that creates a problem of diminishing returns. The ships that can best make use of cloaks are stripped-down, austere battleships that don't expend a lot of power on nonessentials -- like Romulan and Klingon ships, or like the Defiant. But most Starfleet vessels are multipurpose craft serving as science vessels, diplomatic couriers, and the like rather than exclusively as combat or defense vessels. They expend a lot of energy on research labs, crew comforts, recreational facilities, and so on, and that would make them harder to cloak.

    So cloaks aren't really a pure advantage to the side that has them. There are certain inescapable limitations they impose on their users. Or at least, there should be, though the 24th-century shows kind of ignored this common-sense conclusion by putting cloaks on enormous ships like Romulan D'Deridex-class Warbirds and those gigantic Klingon dreadnoughts. Still, it stands to reason there are some tradeoffs necessary, restrictions on power usage in order to allow such comically oversized ships to cloak their emissions effectively. Cloaked ships are specialized to do one thing -- sneak around for the purposes of espionage and surprise attacks -- and beyond that there's not that much use to them. Starfleet's design philosophy is built around adaptable, generalist vessels, and they probably feel that versatility is a greater advantage than the rather limited benefit of invisibility.
     
  3. cbspock

    cbspock Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well the real reason is Gene said the Federation doesn't sneak around. Also in universe, it seems Starfleet spends most of their time finding ways to defeat cloaking technology instead of trying to use it themselves since it doesn't have a general application for them like you said Chris.


    -Chris
     
  4. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

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    As you say it's down to the Treaty of Algeron, and once again as you say we don't know why, perhaps the Romulan's gave up something in the treaty that was equally valuable to the Federation.
     
  5. BritishSeaPower

    BritishSeaPower Captain Captain

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    I believe there's a one-off line in DS9: Avatar that says either the Defiant crew salvaged the cloak from the destroyed ship and the Romulans allowed them to keep it or that the Romulans gave the the UFP another cloaking device for the Sao Palo/Defiant because of the war and then voted to let them keep it afterward.
     
  6. Technobuilder

    Technobuilder Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Federation has been shown in the past utilizing a type of cloaking technology when dealing in Cultural/Pre-Warp observation scenarios such as Duckblinds and Encounter Suits. There is also the example of the Cloaked Holoship from Insurrection but the books have pointed to Section 31's involvement there as the reason for the cloak existing.

    All in all, the Federation has the ability to cloak things, but apparently not in a way that breaks the Treaty of Algeron.
     
  7. BritishSeaPower

    BritishSeaPower Captain Captain

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    My feeling on this is that the Treaty probably only prohibits ship mounted cloaks? I know the cloaked encounter suits pop up a few times in the Post-Nem novels, in DTI: Forgotten History for one.
     
  8. Technobuilder

    Technobuilder Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Honestly that's kinda my take on it as well. The Federation tends to focus on superior sensors, but they also utilize stealth tech that doesn't make a ship invisible and that seems to pass muster as well when the Treaty is mentioned.
     
  9. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    I don't see how they could have salvaged it - the Dominion took the Chin'toka System in the aftermath of (and as a result of) the battle, so how could they have retrieved any systems from the wreckage? I must say I've forgotten about the line you mention - in fact, that always bothered me, in that I couldn't remember why on Ear- on Bajor - the second Defiant had a cloak in the relaunch.

    The Romulan ambassador must have been rather annoyed with them.

    "The agreement says only the Defiant can have a cloaking device. Well, we've painted over this new ship and called it Defiant, so it counts! It's even a Defiant-class! Gimme, gimme, gimme!"
     
  10. BritishSeaPower

    BritishSeaPower Captain Captain

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    Well, Memory Beta does confirm that it is Avatar that mentions Defiant II having a cloaking device but the way it's written is vague. "... Romulans voted to allow the Federation to keep the borrowed cloaking device it utilized."
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    The thing is, there's much more to cloaking than just making something undetectable in visible light. The holographic encounter suits used in Insurrection are just meant to fool the eyes of pre-industrial native peoples; we're shown outright in the movie that they can be detected by sensors, presumably in infrared and the like. The books have established that they can block life signs too, but concealing a ship in space is a much more difficult proposition, because of the laws of thermodynamics. Contrary to the "space is cold" myth, vacuum is an insulator. There's nothing to carry heat away from a spaceship except its own thermal radiation. So any ship in space is going to have a heat signature that's hard to conceal. If you block it from radiating outward, then your ship overheats and you die. And you can't really transfer it somewhere else, because, again, there's nothing but vacuum around you, no handy ocean or ground to dump your heat into. So basically any ship in space with a living crew and active power systems is going to be thermally detectable, period. Trek cloaks would have to have some pretty weird superscience coming into play to get around that basic problem. It's a far greater challenge than just blending into the scenery.

    (And really, being invisible in space is pretty easy -- just turn off your lights! It's dark out there! Visible light is simply not the key issue when it comes to cloaking spaceships.)

    Also, "Balance of Terror" established that starships have something called "motion detectors," sensors that could detect the motions even of a cloaked Bird of Prey -- although later generations of cloak clearly found a way to hide from those sensors. How do you detect the motion of something in vacuum when you can't see it? Short of detecting very subtle disruptions in the tenuous interstellar medium, the most likely approach would be some kind of extremely sensitive gravity-wave detector picking up the waves created by the moving mass of a ship. (In reality, gravity waves are incredibly hard to detect unless they're immensely powerful, but maybe a ship with warp coils would create more forceful gravity waves when it moves.) It would take still another kind of magical superscience to cancel out the effects of a ship's mass (although not too different from the kind that the TNG Tech Manual posited is involved in impulse drive, reducing the inertial mass of a ship to make it easier to maneuver).

    In short, a ship-cloaking device would need a lot more going on than what you'd need to make a person invisible. So personal invisibility shields wouldn't fall under the treaties that affected ship-cloaking tech, any more than a commercial satellite-launching rocket would run afoul of ballistic-missile treaties.
     
  12. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    What about the magical word "subspace"? Could a vessel shunt all the heat it radiates into subspace? Maybe into a "deeper level" - since we know such things exist - than most subspace sensors are equipped under normal circumstances to penetrate?
     
  13. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Which possibly translates to "Koval threatened a few people's children and the Federation got what it wanted..." :shifty:
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    It would pretty much have to. But the point is, despite how it's portrayed in the visual medium of television, the important part of cloaking a ship isn't invisibility to the eye. So other forms of invisibility, like holographic isolation suits, are a different matter.

    Really, if you think about it, basic invisibility is integral to holodeck/suite technology. A holosimulation involves concealing the walls, floor, and ceiling of the chamber, and often involves creating the illusion that people who are actually standing within a few meters of each other are much further apart or even unseen by one another due to intervening structures. For instance, if you enter a holographic Baker Street, climb the steps to 221B, knock on the door, and are allowed in to find Data Holmes and Geordi Watson within, you don't see them until you get to that part of the simulated environment, but in reality, they've been in the same smallish room with you the whole time. What is that if not invisibility?
     
  15. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Star Trek has one of the most detailed technological backgrounds of any popular science fiction I know, but apparently there's still a great deal that hasn't been entirely thought through. :) I'm reminded of a former discussion here about the awesome superweapon that is the transporter, and how rarely anyone in-universe or out seems to realize what it's capable of...
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    A discussion started by me, most likely, since that's one of my perennial complaints. (I mean, it can beam up entire shuttlecraft! That means it can totally disintegrate any spaceship components in a matter of seconds!)
     
  17. Enterprise1701

    Enterprise1701 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    This occurred to me: maybe the Federation's reason for not using cloaks is because it's a moral betrayal of its civilians. Like the real-life debate over the U.S. military's drone warfare.
    Then again, the Federation's rivals/enemies can all legally possess them, so that reason isn't likely.

    Slightly related note: according to background graphics in Star Trek Into Darkness the Federation in AR 2259 is banned from using cloaks. Then in The Khitomer Conflict Section 31's starships have cloaking devices that are superior to those of the Romulans.
     
  18. Hartzilla2007

    Hartzilla2007 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Okay what is the moral objection to an invisibility, other than some childish nonsense about fair play in possible interstellar conflict?

    I mean seriously it turns the ship invisible, its not a freaking WMD.
     
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    One can't take those graphics too seriously. They weren't meant to be an actual part of the story, just a bit of background texture that cannibalized a bunch of prior Trek ideas to fill space on the screen. Any such anachronistic references should probably be taken more as placeholder text than canonical information.
     
  20. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I seem to recall that in TNG Borg arc stories from 2005/2007 (possible "Resistance") it was mentioned that all Starfleet vessels have cloaking devices, but they can only be activated with a series of codes supplied by the Admiralty, and only in times great need (of course in the book, at the time that Janeway and Picard used it, the Romulan Empire was divided and Janeway felt that the Treaty was no longer in place).