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Inspired by Why don't Starfleet ships use cloaking devices?

I thought a better question is, why do Klingon ships use cloaking devices?

It seems we're always told about Klingon honour and their love of the battle. To die in battle is the ultimate goal of a Klingon warrior. (So it's arguable that defeat can possibly be preferable to victory depending on the means of winning.)

So why would they use a device that lets them sneak around and hide? It seems like more of a Romulan thing to do.

(I'd further point out that the fact that it can't fire while cloaked would seem to mean its main purpose is to avoid a fight!)

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    They are sapient creatures who have many different things they do in spite of it not being their favorite thing at a given moment. Sapient creatures are like that. – Misha R Jul 2 at 16:57
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    The inability to fire while cloaked makes this more akin to stalking prey before dropping cloak for the fight. It reminds me of 18th century naval tactics of flying a false flag - it would be dishonorable to attack while flying false colors, but using false flag to get close enough to the enemy to then run up your actual flag just before opening fire is perfectly acceptable (so long as your true colors are shown when the first shot is fired, it's perfectly legal). – pluckedkiwi Jul 2 at 20:53
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    Re "main purpose is to avoid a fight", if a military on Earth today had technology to conceal significant military assets that had to be disabled to actually engage in combat, its primary purpose would be to gain advantages of position. It would also be used to avoid fighting on unfavourable terms, sure, but it's very simplistic to view no-fire-cloaking as primarily defensive for avoiding battle. – Ben Jul 3 at 0:43
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    @Ben Intelligence and supply delivery would probably be purposes more primary than gaining advantageous positions, but the thrust of your point is correct. – jpmc26 Jul 3 at 8:14
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    You can see it the other way round. Sneaking to the enemy and showing only right before the fight, prevents the enemy from avoiding the fight. – Holger Jul 3 at 10:01
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Worf actually addresses this in the DS9 episode "The Way of the Warrior" and it is because "In war, nothing is more honorable than victory."

Worf: Sir, I strongly recommend against that. It is likely there are cloaked Klingon warships in the vicinity, lying in wait.

Bashir: Doesn't sound very honorable to me.

Worf: In war, nothing is more honorable than victory.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 4 Episode 1, "The Way of the Warrior"

Essentially if victory is the most honourable thing why would you not use all the tools at your disposal to try and win?


It's also worth noting that each culture here on Earth has its own standards for what is and isn't honourable and then magnify that between species and planets. You can't really apply your own concept of honourable onto others and instead have to look at it from their point of view.

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    Although probably the right answer it bugs me... Alien "honour" != human honour :( – Liath Jul 2 at 10:53
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    @Liath Even different cultures on Earth have different meanings of honour and what is/isn't honourable. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 2 at 10:54
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    @TheLethalCarrot, good example: during the Zulu War, the Zulus would slit open the stomachs of the dead and take their clothing. From the European perspective, that's desecrating the body and not very honourable. For the Zulu, however, it released the spirits of their fallen foes, and taking and wearing the clothing was to cleanse the killer of the guilt of homicide. From the Zulu perspective, burying a body intact was trapping the spirit, and not wearing something from the dead meant having no guilt over being a killer, thus European customs could be seen as sociopathic and disrespectful. – Keith Morrison Jul 2 at 15:12
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    Note that the Klingons have important hunting traditions that are sometimes conflated with their warrior traditions - such as when Worf is teaching the Klingons at the prison camp in "Birthright". If the Klingons view war as a clash of hunter vs. prey, cloaking is no more inherently dishonorable than using a duck blind. – Cadence Jul 2 at 20:50
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    @TracyCramer Slitting the stomachs is mentioned here: deadliestblogpage.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/… – called2voyage Jul 2 at 21:02
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One of the main points of the recurring Worf arc throughout TNG and DS9 is that the Klingons are not, in fact, as honorable as they like to claim. Like humans, Klingons have a tendency to say one thing and do another, especially in matters of life and death like war and politics.

Ezri Dax sums it up thusly in DS9 7x22 "Tacking into the Wind":

I see a society that is in deep denial about itself. We're talking about a warrior culture that prides itself on maintaining centuries-old traditions of honor and integrity, but in reality it's willing to accept corruption at the highest levels....

Who was the last leader of the High Council that you respected? Has there even been one? And how many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told it was for the good of the Empire?...

Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man I have ever met and if you're willing to accept men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?

Even if an individual Klingon warrior finds cloaking distasteful or dishonorable, they're likely to accept it in practice because it's "for the good for the Empire" (which it definitely is).

Regarding your last point - not being able to fire while cloaked - note that a) the Klingons have made multiple attempts to solve that problem over the years, and b) they most often use cloaking to ambush their foes. For instance, when the Dominion attacks DS9, the Rotarran lurks in cloak near the Defiant until Dominion ships attack it, then drops in behind them.

  • Great quote, it does the analysis for you! – Jordan Rieger Jul 4 at 0:24
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    "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson – EvilSnack Jul 4 at 1:10
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At least one Klingon has indeed said that killing without showing one’s face is dishonorable. It’s just that Klingons (the ones who rise to the top, anyway) go ahead and do it when it’s to their advantage.

There is at least one time when Klingons choose to attack without activating their cloaking devices. In the alternative timeline of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Commander Riker remarks on the audacity of the three Klingon battlecruisers not even bothering to cloak. Although we never see the Klingons’ perspective, the clear implication is that they’re confident they don’t need any more of an advantage. It might be that the Klingon commander believes cloaking when he or she outnumbers the enemy three-to-one would seem overly cautious, or that they considered it more honorable not to cloak if they didn’t need to. However, since the Klingons would have known that the Enterprise could outrun but not outgun them, they might have been trying to intimidate Picard into running away. Or it’s possible that one of their ships’ cloaking devices was broken.

Klingon attitudes to the cloaking device are almost entirely pragmatic. This is particularly clear in the TNG episode “A Matter of Honor,” where it’s a major plot point that a Klingon first officer is supposed to assassinate a captain who becomes weak or unfit, but it’s never even suggested that there’s anything dishonorable about cloaking to ambush the Enterprise, and the Starfleet crew simply assumes that’s what the Klingons are up to the moment they don’t see them.

Out of Universe: Klingons Weren’t Honorable Until Twenty Years Later

That aspect of Klingon culture was established on The Next Generation. It had developed in non-canonical works first (particularly the novels of John M. Ford, one of which the actors playing Klingons in the first season of Discovery were asked to read) and was later retconned into Star Trek canon set prior to TOS. However, Klingons weren’t depicted as being obsessed with their honor before around 1988. Even then, it was a targ-eat-targ galaxy. Klingons got cloaking devices on Star Trek long before they got an honor culture.

The original idea of the Romulans (who invented the cloaking device) sharing technology with the Klingons was just an excuse to re-use props and keep “The Enterprise Incident” under budget.

The first Klingons confirmed to have cloaking devices on-screen didn’t care about honor at all. The first Klingon ship with a cloaking device appeared in the animated episode “The Time Trap.” The Klingons there were treacherous liars who plotted to plant a bomb on the Enterprise while pretending to work together to escape the eponymous trap, and then as soon as that was foiled, they completely fabricated a story about how they alone saved the day.

You can see one minor Klingon character act with something resembling honor in the first canonical appearance of a cloaked Klingon ship, in Star Trek III. It’s a hint of what Klingons would act like from then on, alongside how they’d always acted before. The Klingon spy there understands when her lover kills her because she has seen the top-secret document she just gave him. The villainous Klingon captain who kills her tells her she “will be remembered with honor.” But he uses his cloak to ambush and destroy a freighter, then brags that now he won’t have to pay them like he promised.

In the Star Trek movies made while TNG was in production, the Klingons start talking more about honor, but they have no compunctions about firing while cloaked, framing someone else for an assassination, or claiming that Shakespeare wrote in Klingon.

In-Universe: They Were Never That Honorable

There’s a line in the TNG episode “Reunion” where the dying Klingon leader tells Picard, “The Klingon who kills without showing his face has no honor.” In context, however, he’s asking Picard to solve the mystery of which Klingon warlord has done just that, and expressing remorse about all the dishonorable things he has done for the good of the Empire, such as covering up the truth about Worf’s father. The rival who wins that succession crisis turns out to be not much better. In the same episode, the half-Klingon Ambassador K’ehleyr says cynically that a Klingon civil war is starting because of “The usual excuses. Tradition, duty, honor.” This theme keeps reappearing until Worf finds out that he himself will be assassinated after promising the House of Mogh will stop the cycle of vengeance, and be remembered as a weakling. Klingon honor is honored more often in the breach than the observance.

Even in the episode that established the Klingon warrior tradition and its rituals, “Heart of Glory,” the honorable, religious warriors are self-consciously fundamentalist separatists from a mainstream they see as decadent.

  • Challenge on your "Time Trap" analysis: from a Klingon perspective, working together with Starfleet to escape the trap might be the dishonourable action - disgracing the Empire, or something like that - while a daring mission to infiltrate Starfleet's most advanced vessel and sabotage it with an inferior force is worthy of praise and glory. "Jay'Mz, Son of Aan'dRhew, of the House Bonde", or something like that – Chronocidal Jul 3 at 8:38
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    Ah, sorry - I wasn't implying that he was being more honourable from a Klingon perspective, just that he was trying to look more honourable. Yes, he's lying through his teeth - but so long as he doesn't get caught he can pretend to be an "honourable warrior" who undertook a difficult task to overcome insurmountable odds, instead of working with the enemy (dishonourable) to save his own skin, and then attempting to betray the alliance and stab them in the back (even more dishonourable, practically Romulan...) – Chronocidal Jul 3 at 12:22
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    @Chronocidal That works as an explanation: Those Klingons didn’t actually care about acting honorably, only about keeping up their reputation with their own people. In that case, it’s worth noting that Klingons have never bothered to pretend that they don’t use cloaking devices. – Davislor Jul 3 at 13:02
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    @Chronocidal In particular, in “A Matter of Honor,” where it’s revealed that a Klingon first officer is supposed to kill a captain who becomes weak or unfit, it never even occurs to anyone to question whether it’s honorable for the Klingon ship to cloak to ambush the Enterprise, which also simply assumes that’s what the Klingons are doing. – Davislor Jul 3 at 13:07
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    Great analysis, I was hoping someone would go out-of-universe and point out the obvious change in Klingon portrayal by the producers over time. – Jordan Rieger Jul 4 at 0:25
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The Klingon's warrior ethos is similar to the Japanese Bushido code in World War Two and cloaked space ships are obviously similar to submarines (warships that can operate hidden from sight). The Japanese used submarines extensively in the war. Somewhat tellingly, they used them as warships designed to sink other warships. Unlike the Germans and the Americans, they didn't use them to go after merchant vessels (at least with any regularity). Stealth has long been a part of military strategy. I don't think that Japanese naval officers on submarines had any great qualms about their mode of warfare. (On the other hand, Japanese naval officers had an antipathy towards escort duty. No good warrior wants to spend their time escorting civilian cargo ships. Even though the Japanese submarine arm was quite developed, its antisubmarine capabilities were surprisingly weak.)

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Argument by analogy is only as strong as you can make the analogy; can you better explain how Klingon code is similar to Bushido? It is that point on which the strength of your answer relies and you seem to gloss over it. – DavidW Jul 2 at 20:14
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    @DavidW One way the anology is very direct to Star Trek: The cloaking device was introduced in “Balance of Terror,” which lifted the plot of the movie “The Enemy Below” and perhaps “Run Silent, Run Deep.” The cloaked Romulan ship stood in for a German or Japanese submarine, and the Enterprise for an American destroyer. – Davislor Jul 2 at 22:48
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    One useful thing in bringing up Bushido is to highlight how the modern western idea of honour does not necessarily match very well to the codes of honour of warrior cultures. In both Bushido and the Chivalric cultures murdering unarmed peasants was common. The requirements of honour only seem to apply to other nobility. If a knight or samurai can ride in to a village, kill everyone there and burn it to the ground and still think of themselves as honourable then I'm sure a Klingon captain can do the same after blowing up a defenceless freighter. – Eric Nolan Jul 3 at 14:17
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Klingons saw no honor or glory in dying or putting oneself in a position of weakness. Not to take an advantage is foolish. As (the clone of Kahless) put it in the Next Generation episode "Rightful Heir":

KAHLESS: Long ago, a storm was heading toward the city of Quin'lat. The people sought protection within the walls. All except one man who remained outside. I went to him and asked what he was doing. I am not afraid, he said. I will not hide my face behind stone and mortar. I will stand before the wind and make it respect me. I honoured his choice and went inside. The next day, the storm came and the man was killed. The wind does not respect a fool.

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In ST:Discovery, we have the Battle of the Binary Stars, which illustrated the brutality of the device.

T'Kuvma, the Klingon who starts the fight (and subsequent war) is not above using cloaking devices or deception to win. From the screenplay

ANDERSON: Attention, Klingon leader. I am Admiral Brett Anderson. I speak with the authority of the entire Federation when I propose a cease-fire so that we might resolve this conflict with no further bloodshed.

T'KUVMA: Admiral, I am T'Kuvma. I am pleased you are here. We have been waiting for someone worthy of our attention. Your offer of a cease-fire is accepted.

ANDERSON: Good. Because, if we're fighting, we're not talking. Prepare to receive my envoy. We'll get ready for your arrival. Let's end this so we can get (STATIC CRACKLING) (DISTORTED): What was that?

SARU: The Europa has disengaged.

The USS Europa was rammed by a cloaked ship. While the Europa got a measure of revenge by self destructing, and taking her slayers with her, it was a pyrrhic at best. The Klingons won the day as a result.

  • This doesn't explain why they use cloaking devices at all (particularly in the context of honor and the glory of battle as the asker mentions). – V2Blast Jul 5 at 9:26
  • @V2Blast Yes it does. T'Kuvma used subterfuge and cloaked ships to gain advantage over the Federation and win the fight. No Klingons considered that dishonorable – Machavity Jul 5 at 12:15
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As @DavisLor briefly mentioned, Klingons and Romulans traded technology. He mentions it as an "out of universe" reason, but there's a pretty detailed description of what's going on is another Question's Answer.

Is there a canon reason why Klingon and Romulan vessels are so similar in shape?

While they were swapping tech, I don't see much of a reason why manufacturers would go through the trouble of putting in something as complicated an invasive as a cloaking device and make it an "option", like bucket seats and power locks.

A cloaking device could be used as any other sales feature, to bring in more customers. In a universe with them, you'd be a fool not to have one in battle, right?

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