Cloaking device

From Academic Kids

In several science fiction universes, a cloaking device is an advanced stealth system which causes a spaceship to be invisible and extremely difficult to detect with normal sensors. However, the idea of a cloaking device could be extended to any object and is not restricted simply to spacecraft.


Star Trek cloaking device

The devices were first introduced and used by the Romulans in the original series episode Balance of Terror. The invisibility came as a surprise to the crew of the starship Enterprise, who considered it only a theoretical possibility. In a later episode, The Enterprise Incident, the Enterprise is sent on a mission to capture one of the devices. Decades later, an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise somewhat contradicted this by revealing in the episode Minefield that Romulans possessed some form of cloaking technology in the mid-22nd Century, suggesting that what was featured in Balance of Terror et al was some sort of improvement, or that, for some reason, Starfleet Intelligence suppressed knowledge of the cloaking devices encountered a century earlier. The Enterprise NX-01 also encountered several other races with cloaking technology, including briefly obtaining a cloak-capable pod belonging to the Suliban.

It was next seen in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock being used by Klingons. To explain this, fans have speculated that as part of an earlier mentioned Romulan-Klingon alliance, the cloaking device was given to the Klingons in return for warp drive. Critics of this theory point out that this requires the Romulans to have fought an interstellar war without faster-than-light drives. The Enterprise episode Minefield shows cloak-using Romulans in a system that was far away from Romulan space, which would certainly have required the use of a warp drive. The alliance must have existed, however, as Romulans have been seen using a Klingon ship in the original series. This has lead some fans to theorise it was this ship, the D-7, that was traded to the Romulans as opposed to the warp drive.

Cloaking is not perfect. In Balance of Terror, the Enterprise was still able to detect the Romulan ship on motion sensors, and in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode The Search we learn that running at a high warp speed may allow detection. The biggest weakness is that the device has such high power demand, it must be deactivated for a ship to enter combat. Thus, an alert enemy can target it normally when the ship decloaks. A major plot element of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the invention of a new type of cloaking device that would allow firing whilst cloaked. However it was learned that the prototype ship using it could be tracked by plasma (gas) exhaust from the ship while moving at impulse.

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Redemption, the Federation discovers a way to use nets of tachyon beams to set traps for cloaking ships. As detection methods advance, so too do cloaking devices.

Many have wondered that after Kirk captured a cloaking device, why the Federation have not used them on their ships. Gene Roddenberry claimed that this is because Starfleet are scientists and not sneaks. Eventually the Federation signed a peace agreement in 2311, the Treaty of Algeron, in which they promised not to develop cloaking technology (The Pegasus). Satisfied that the Federation would not develop threatening technology, the Romulans then turned their attentions inward, and for the most part withdrew from galactic affairs for nearly fifty years.

The Next Generation also featured phased cloaking experiments that differed from traditional cloaking techniques. In The Next Phase, Geordi La Forge and Ro Laren are accidentally cloaked when helping a Romulan ship secretly testing phased cloaking. This technology was different in that it was capable of acting on a personal scale, did not require a cloaking device to stay cloaked, and allowed the cloaked people to pass through solid objects. Geordi and Ro were able to see and communicate with one another though and they discovered, with Data's help, how to detect and deactivate such cloaking. The Pegasus also speculated on a phased cloaking experiment performed by Starfleet that had gone bad similar to Starfleet's previous experiments with a Transwarp drive using the new (at the time) Excelsior class starship.

In Deep Space Nine, the Romulan Empire allowed the Starfleet to place a cloaking device on board the USS Defiant. Originally, the Federation was only allowed to use the device in Gamma Quadrant space, in exchange for any Federation intelligence gathered from the Defiant. However, that restriction soon was regularly ignored by Captain Sisko, who used the device to hide from Klingon vessels during the brief breakdown in relations between those two powers. It was also discovered that the Dominion could detect a cloaked ship by scanning the area with an anti-proton beam. It's not clear if the Federation is still prohibited from using cloaking technology, or if the two powers have since signed a new agreement regarding such technology.

Jem'Hadar warriors are usually equipped with personal cloaking devices.

In Nemesis the Remans developed a new cloaking device which was impenetrable to Federation scans. This was employed on Shinzon's ship the Scimitar. Like the Klingon ship in Star Trek VI, the Scimitar had the ability to fire while cloaked. The Reman ship's cloak was penetrated by telepathy.

Any cloaking device in the real world must be an extension of the basic technologies used by stealth aircraft, such as radar-absorbing dark paint, optical camouflage, cooling the outer surface to minimize electromagnetic emissions (usually infra-red, or other techniques to minimize other EM emissions, and to mimmize particle emissions from the object. The use of certain devices to jam, and confuse remote sensing devices would greatly aid, but are more properly speaking, "active camouflage".

Star Wars cloaking device

Cloaking devices play a much less significant role in the Star Wars universe. None of the movies show a ship cloaking. The first Star Wars reference to cloaking devices is heard in The Empire Strikes Back when Captain Needa states that no ship as small as the Millennium Falcon can be equipped with a cloaking device—however, the Expanded Universe has appeared to contradict this in places, mentioning that Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious's shuttle had a cloaking device, as did the personal spaceship of his early apprentice, Darth Maul. The only other Star Wars movie that mentions a cloaking device is The Phantom Menace, but again only in passing. Expanded Universe Star Wars books and games have included and elaborated upon cloaking devices, and have presented a solution to the earlier problem as to how big a ship has to be to be equipped with such a device: the original cloaking devices were small objects created from naturally occurring crystals (possibly similar to those used in lightsabers). However, in later years (such as during the Empire) the crystals used for the cloaks seem to have been depleted, with the surviving devices being extremely expensive, meaning only ships as important as Palpatine's shuttle would be equipped with them. The more common device used in the Empire era is an artificial solution that requires a much larger space and energy supply to operate—it was this that Captain Needa was referring to.

The Star Wars universe's cloaking devices were a major element of the "Thrawn Trilogy": it was explained that cloaking devices in the Star Wars galaxy are limited by fundamental laws of physics (in order to observe, one must be observable as well) and were never really put into widespread use, just limited to a few prototypes. The cloaking device renders a ship effectively "double-blind"; a ship using a cloaking device can sense nothing about its surroundings. Although a cloaked ship could fire while cloaked, it would be firing blindly and the probability of hitting its target would be minimal to the point of impracticality, even with the addition of a fire control predictor computer to the system. Worse, basic navigation was impossible, and a cloaked ship might end up fatally ramming an enemy ship or a friendly ship. Communication with a cloaked ship is also impossible.

The plot of the Rebel Assault II video game concentrates on the danger presented by a type of TIE Fighter that can cloak, according to the game the first ship of the size with such a capability. This "TIE Phantom", a modified V-38, had received some combat experience and entered production before the factory and all existing models were destroyed. The cloaking device of the TIE Phantom seems to be fueled by oridium ore and produces a "cloak field" that renders the fighter effectively invisible to both electronic sensors and human sight. The fighter becomes visible a short time before firing, suggesting the cloak field renders the ship double-blind. As the fighter cloaks or uncloaks, various parts of it fade in and out of view and the ship shimmers a blueish color. The TIE Phantom's cloaking device is considered by some to be more of an active stealth system with electronic systems to break up incoming sensor beams and a refractive surface covering to make it harder to spot visually.

Despite the Empire's attempt to produce and use a cloakable fighter, cloaking devices were never widespread in the Star Wars universe. Using the insane Dark Jedi Master Joruus C'Baoth, Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn successfully implemented a plan whereby C'baoth would use the Force to communicate with the firing crews on cloaked dreadnoughts, allowing him to A) fool the New Republic into thinking he had developed a practical cloaking device, which he had not, and B) in the ingenious conquest of the planet Ukio with its defenses intact. Ukio was an important foodstuff-producing plant vital to Thrawn's plans to rapidly expand his forces with clones, and when his fleet advanced Ukio activated their planetary shields, rendering them impervious to orbital bombardment. However, Thrawn had already positioned cloaked dreadnoughts beneath the planetary shield, and using C'baoth's communication with the cloaked ships, he executed an incredibly well timed maneuver: his Star Destroyers would fire at ground targets that were directly underneath the cloaked dreadnoughts; the Star Destroyer fire would be deflected by the shield, but C'baoth would order the cloaked ships to fire a split second later: to the observers on the ground, it appeared that the Star Destroyers were firing through the planetary shield, and Thrawn fooled them into thinking this was some sort of new superweapon which they had no defense against. The government of Ukio then contacted Thrawn and surrendered, with their planetary defenses fully intact for Thrawn to take control of. However, the ruse was eventually revealed, and with the death of C'baoth, cloaking devices were again rendered impractical for widespread deployment.

Other references

The title character of the Predator (movie) films uses an imperfect cloaking device; although the Predator is virtually invisible while stationary, movement causes a characterisic "shimmer" effect, and its wrist blades extend outside the field.

In a 1996 telefilm based upon the long-running British series, Doctor Who, the lead character's vessel, the TARDIS, was said to possess a "cloaking device" which allowed it to take on the form of a British police box. This was a continuity break with the series, which always referred to this capability as being the result of the TARDIS possessing a (malfunctioning) chameleon circuit.

In the 2002-2003 anime series Gundam Seed and its 2004-2005 sequel Gundam Seed Destiny, some mobile suits and space warships are cloaked using the synthetic prism-like particle known as Mirage Colloid.

In the Metal Gear series, portable cloaking technology is a reality. It originally came about in the 1960s, during Operation: Snake Eater, when The Fear, a member of the Cobra Unit who had the attributes of a spider, including the ability to cloak, was defeated by Snake. Presumably, his body was recovered, and technicians found a way to salvage the cloaking technology from The Fear's skin. By 2005, it is contained inside a small box, about the size of a CD player, that enabled the wearer to optically conceal himself.

See also


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