Voyager is lost and has to pass through some pretty hostile territories. So a simple question: wouldn't a cloak have made their journey easier and safer even if it's only used sometimes?

We know the Federation can make cloaks: they did it with cloaked mines in DS9 and and the USS Pegasus in TNG. So it's not like the Federation doesn't know how to make them, they are only prevented from using them because of the treaty.

Given Voyager is far away for the Romulans anyway, and a cloak would greatly increase their chance of survival in hostile space I'm surprised nobody ever suggested it, even the Maquis.

Is there something I have missed about the Federations knowledge of cloaks, or something else that would have prevented them from replicating one and hooking it up to the ship? It seems a pretty obvious device to use if you're strolling through a hostile neighborhood.

  • 28
    "The Federation can build a cloaking device" and "A single Federation vessel stranded on the other side of the galaxy with no experts in cloaking technology can build a cloaking device" are two very different statements. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 20:10
  • 7
    Harry Kim and company were able to break the Warp 10 barrier. In comparison, they should have been able to build a cloaking device that was ten times better than the Romulan version. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 21:50
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    @HamSandwich we don't talk about that episode
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 22:36
  • 10
    @HamSandwich Being able to do ABC doesn't mean you'll automatically be able to do XYZ. Somebody can be a great carpenter but not know anything about fixing cars. Somebody can be a great warp drive engineer and not know anything about cloaking technology. Commented May 1, 2018 at 0:45
  • 6
    I'm reminded of The Thaw when the Doctor claims Janeway is willing to give the Fear Clown a cloaking device. "I already have a cloaking device," he retorts while twirling and a cloak appears on his shoulders!
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 4:23

8 Answers 8


Because it's against Federation law.

For the entire run of Voyager Janeway is grappling with two main concepts, that they're separated from the Federation and need to do what it takes to survive and that they're still a Federation vessel and need to stick to Federation rules. This evidently included upholding the Treaty of Algeron and not using or developing a cloaking device.

Seska points out (in VOY: State of Flux) that there are many things that Janeway could theoretically do but that she doesn't do. This includes forging alliances with baddies, sharing tech and, presumably, building all manner of illegal weapons and cloaks.

SESKA: I did it for you. I did it for this crew. We are alone here, at the mercy of any number of hostile aliens, because of the incomprehensible decision of a Federation Captain. A Federation Captain who destroyed our only chance to get home. Federation rules. Federation nobility. Federation compassion? Do you understand, if this had been a Cardassian ship, we would be home now. We must begin to forge alliances. To survive, we must have powerful friends. The Kazon-Nistrim were willing to be our protectors in return for some minor technology.

Because it would fundamentally change the tone of the show.

One of the guiding tenets of Star Trek (until recently) is that the heroes of the show should be precisely that, evolved humans who largely act in moral ways.

"The Pegasus" (TNG) establishes that the Federation relinquished the right to develop or use such devices under the Treaty of Algeron. Additionally, Gene Roddenberry once indicated that "our people are scientists and explorers— they don't go sneaking around." We therefore assume Starfleet has a policy against such things.

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

That includes not sneaking, lying or generally being evasive.

  • 3
    Could it be argued that using a cloaking device would not be illegal because they're not in territory where they would encounter other parties to the Treaty of Algeron? Otherwise it's like using the Outer Space Treaty 1967 to prevent a lost human ship beyond Pluto from using an Orion Drive to get home.
    – Dai
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:24
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    @Dai - Federation law doesn't stop at the Federation border. Federation law doesn't cease to be in effect just because you think you'll get away with breaking it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:34
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    @DonBranson - "Picard: In the Treaty of Algeron the Federation specifically agreed not to develop cloaking technology." - st-minutiae.com/resources/scripts/264.txt
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 22:26
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    Borders are probably less relevant than law on the high seas: A naval vessel is still subject to the laws of the country it belongs to even in international waters, so the idea that they could build a cloaking device because they're a long way away would be comparable to the USS Enterprise (not the one you're thinking of, but CVN-65) deciding to make nerve gas while deployed in the Pacific, just because it's expedient.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 12:09
  • 1
    @Joshua - You might as well ask why Voyager doesn't arm itself with biogenic weapons. They clearly have the capacity, capability and need. But they don't, because it's morally and ethically wrong and illegal.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 6, 2018 at 12:43

They most likely didn't have the equipment, materials, first hand knowledge to build one. The Pegasus was a research vessel, the Defiant was a prototype, so that information would probably be classified.

The Pegasus was a treaty violation, and the Defiant's cloak was only operated when there was a Romulan on board(and was only on the Defiant, not the Sao Paulo or the other Defiant-class ship we see). Also, we don't know what it takes to build a cloak, nor did we know that Voyager had the supplies. Heck, the original mission was just a shakedown run to get some Maquis, not a full on mission, so it probably wasn't equipped to construct those sorts of things, and even then it had to really work to keep things together, since that first interaction with the Caretaker array really did a number on the ship.

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    The Defian't cloak is only supposed to be operated with a Romulan on board. They do it all the time though, eg in "For the Cause." It doesn't change your answer, really, just wanted to point that out. Commented May 1, 2018 at 13:06
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    @BlueFootedBooby - That's largely because the Romulan lady was supposed to be a new background character but audiences didn't like her and the writers thought she was pointless so they just quietly edited her out.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:42

Out of universe answer - it would make for an awfully boring series.

Episode 1 - Pilot, everything bad happens, entire trip home gets setup.

Episode 2 - bad stuff happens, inspiring the creation of a cloak.

Episode 3 - Cloak is created, so Voyager can sneak past a threat

Episode 4 - Cloak is deployed so Voyager can bypass a threat

Episode n - Cloak is engaged, Voyager cloaks around a threat.....

The cloak would have to be broken a lot, or fail to work as expected, or even attracting plot elements like a flame in the dark.

  • 7
    Ah, Star Trek Mad Libs: "In today's episode, the cloaking device failed because a SUBSPACE NEUTRINO PULSE caused a BACHMANN-TURNER OVERLOAD in the HOLOPROJECTOR."
    – R.M.
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 15:05
  • 2
    Voyager was the worst for mad libs.
    – nomen
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 18:35

The federation does not have a good history with building their own cloaking devices the Pegasus exploded and the Defiant, and other cloaks in DS9, either use actual Romulan made units or units manufactured using a Romulan pattern. In order to cloak Voyager you'd need the equipment, time, and expertise to build a unit customised for her. Equipment is probably a non-starter given the initial lack of a lot of basic engineering supplies, time is probably the biggest problem since Voyager is almost continuously harassed by one group or another the whole way home tying up a lot of engineering time in repairs and makeshifts, expertise they probably can do via the holodeck though.

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    Also, does anyone else in the Delta Quadrant have cloaking tech? (I don't recall, it's been a while.) If they need to negotiate trades for materials and/or machinery to build one (or if people catch them using one) it could potentially alter the balance of power in the quadrant quite dramatically. Not the sort of thing the Federation is generally keen on doing.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:09
  • @Steve-O The Borg but they don't use it, the Hunters maybe, I don't recall anyone making use of it to any great degree that's for sure.
    – Ash
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:23
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    @Steve-O 3 that I can remember: The Voth - 'Distant Origins' , The Ramurans - 'Unforgettable' and The Kraylor - 'Nightingale'. The last one I think would give them the techs design if they asked, the other 2 most certainly wouldn't. While limited to a few it did exist in the quadrant
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:31
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    and the Hierarchy - 'Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy' almost forgot about them
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 19:50
  • @Matt Okay clearly I need to watch the series again.
    – Ash
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 11:41

They had to boldly explore to find new people and technology that could bring them home faster.

They didn't utilize a cloaking device because they were not trying to hide (usually). They were so far away from home that most of the crew would die of old age before they arrived if they were not actively exploring alternative paths and technology. Their only chance of making it home sooner was to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before! Notice that they must go boldly, not sneakily, if they are to actually meet someone or discover something that could shorten their return trip.

The following quote is by Janeway in the first episode, which makes their mission clear.

We're alone in an uncharted part of the galaxy. We have already made some friends here, and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we're going to face, but one thing is clear. Both crews are going to have to work together if we're to survive. That's why Commander Chakotay and I have agreed that this should be one crew. A Starfleet crew. And as the only Starfleet vessel assigned to the Delta Quadrant, we'll continue to follow our directive to seek out new worlds and explore space. But our primary goal is clear. Even at maximum speeds, it would take seventy five years to reach the Federation, but I'm not willing to settle for that. There's another entity like the Caretaker out there somewhere who has the ability to get us there a lot faster. We'll be looking for her, and we'll be looking for wormholes, spatial rifts, or new technologies to help us. Somewhere along this journey, we'll find a way back. Mister Paris, set a course for home.

As a final observation, it seems that they may have occasionally utilized a cloaking device if they had the ability to make one. When future Janeway gives them cloaking technology to hide from the Borg, they happily utilize it.

  • 1
    The stealth tech was one thing they couldn't use if I remember correctly , but Janeway danced on a knife edge multiple times to justify her actions, ignoring an arrangement with a species they may never see again seems a good choice. I'm not talking about sneaking around all the way - simply when they know its hostile territory like in 'The Swarm', (she already violated her ethics by knowingly entering their space)
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 22:17

There are two in-universe answers to this question, one has already been mentioned: The Treaty of Algeron is a Federation directive which binds Federation vessels the same as the Prime Directive. That treaty has nothing to do with being in Romulan or Federation space any more than the Geneva Convention on applies to nations who sign it.

Aside from that, in the closing scene of “The Enterprise Incident” Spock gave the answer to this question. After he and Captain Kirk successfully stole a Romulan cloaking device from a Klingon-designed Romulan ship - and inadvertently kidnapped their Romulan commander while transporting Spock away from the Romulan ship, Chief Engineer Scott installed the cloaking device and Enterprise successfully used it to escape the Romulans. In the turbo lift while Spock was escorting the captured commander to quarters, she reminded him that the Romulans will very soon be able to penetrate the cloaking device he stole. Spock responded:

Obviously, military secrets are the most fleeting of all.

Thus even when Federation ships were equipped with cloaking technology it was understood that the advantage is very short-lived. It would eventually just become a waste of energy and ballast against their most dangerous enemies. By the time TNG, DS9, and Voyager came along Romulan cloaking would only be useful to bully less-advanced civilizations. A real-life example of this problem can be seen in US Naval ships which used to use camouflage paint until the development of RADAR made it obsolete (see picture below) enter image description here


There are two big reasons for this. It has already been pointed out that it is against Federation Law, but also Voyager itself did not have the expertise or resources to build a successful one.

Against Federation Law - This is specifically in relation to The Treaty of Algeron of 2311, which was a treaty signed with the Romulans. Not only did this treaty establish the boundary of the Romulan Neutral Zone, it also required that Federation Ships not equip cloaking devices on their starships. This also limited research into them significantly, so the Federation may have had secret and illegal research projects into designing them, none had been successful to date at the launch of Voyager. The Federation may have intel and tactical data on cloaking devices from the Klingons and Romulans, but there are no canon sources of actual trading of engineering data or technical specs of the devices themselves. So the Federation is limited to sensor data on how the device operates, and even then with particular ships and power sources those devices have been designed to specifically operate with.

No expertise or resources - This goes into the successful design of a federation cloaking device. With regard to the Pegasus, not just designing a federation cloaking device, but a phasing cloaking device proved deadly for the ship and her crew. Even though the Enterprise successfully used said device, it was only because of the dire circumstances they were in, and was not guaranteed to work as intended. Other than this single prototype, there was no other federation cloaking device prototypes to design off of. As for the mines from DS9, there are two variables to account for. First of all, this occurred several years into Voyager's journey and DS9 having a working cloaking device to work off of.

So when Voyager entered the Delta Quadrant, the ship was already looking at limited resources, which would have made prototyping any such device prohibitively expensive. Especially accounting for the facts that the prototype may not be effective at first, or cause some sort of "Star Trek-esque" failure due to a malfunction.

Designing from scratch, and building from scratch, a cloaking device for Voyager was just not feasible.

  • Given that the Enterprise-D's tactical database has extensive records of Klingon vessel design, I find it vanishingly(!) unlikely that the crew of the Voyager lack the knowledge or capacity to build a working cloak; youtu.be/IvEHp_4rUJ0?t=1m53s
    – Valorum
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 18:53
  • I can understand that, and also the tactical data of Romulan ships as well, considering the Klingons got their technology from them. However, these were only sensor readings that would provide data as to the operation of the device, and in relation to that particular ship type, and their power source. There were not any known trading of technical engineering data on the designs of the cloaking device themselves. Even then, they would have to be modified to that ship, which even the Defiant needed a Romulan advisor to help them out with. Commented May 4, 2018 at 18:59
  • The Romulan advisor was there to help them integrate a state-of-the-art cloak with the Defiant, itself a second generation prototype. There's no reason to assume that a normal Klingon cloak (such as the one that Quark and Rom steal and install in TNG: The Emperor's New Cloak) would be beyond the capacity of the Voyager to create.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 19:03
  • So in both of these cases, we're dealing with provided hardware, which has been proven in designs they were intended to be normally integrated with. So only the adapting of completed and tested hardware would work in the argument for the Defiant and Quark and Rom. Also in terms of DS9, this occurred after Voyager left. For the question of the OP, we're dealing with Voyager, which did not have any existing hardware to adapt, only technical operation data from intel and outdated technology, no actual blueprints, and also no assistance in integrating the technology into their ship. Commented May 4, 2018 at 19:08
  • You offer a fine point, but with nothing to back it up
    – Valorum
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 19:19

It is mostly because plot device, cloaking would just make the travel too easy and boring.

Since the technology is mostly unknown and barely used in delta quadrant, beside maybe the borg, the native space faring never built counter to detect cloaked ships. And we know that starfleet have the skills to build a proper cloaking device, if i remember, the pegasus incident didn't come from phasing cloak failure (the enterprise success to use the device proved this), but from the mutiny battle occuring inside the ship (so more human error than technology failure). And the episode 2x23 The thaws, also proved that Voyager crew has the knowledge and tools to build a cloaking device if they want.

  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Most of what you say about is already addressed in the question (thought it's not clear that "The Thaw" establishes Voyager can manufacture a cloaking device as opposed to merely being able to describe how they work), and all that's left is a statement that it's a choice of the writers. Setting aside that this has already been addressed in other answers, in-universe answers are preferred over out-of-universe ones and "because plot" is usually not considered a good answer. Please only add new answers when you have something new to add.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 15:51
  • @davidw I'd not be so hasty to say, carte blanche, that out-of-universe answers are not preferred. More that if you're going to say "the writers did it to make plot easier" you have to back it up with a quote from the writers or at least similar. That aside there is a time and place for them, but its often tricky to get right
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 1:47
  • @AncientSwordRage I believe I said "in-universe answers are preferred over out-of-universe ones" not that out-of-universe answers weren't acceptable. I was highlighting more the unsupported "because plot" statement. But I take your point that I should have asked for out-of-universe support for out-of-universe reasons. (I normally do, but I think I was running up against the character limit there.)
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 1:59
  • @davidw one being preferred or the other not preferred is pretty much the same to me. Its not a guide I'd find useful as a whole. I totally get character limits issues, just I'd put the "support for out-of-universe arguements" front and center
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 2:01
  • @AncientSwordRage That's fair, I'll do better next time. As far as a preference - I think that's something I've absorbed from the community (or at least the more vocal portion), possibly in error, but informed by posts like this.
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 2:06

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