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The most remarkable technology by far that multiple civilizations have developed is warp drive, extremely beyond 21st century physics (let alone engineering) despite the occasional article suggesting that we could almost implement it.

On the other hand, making a device which basically shows an observers what is behind it is well-within our reach -- planes which simply display sky on their underside using LEDs and fast computing I believe more or less exist now.

Perhaps cloaking devices have to deal with very complex problems that are presented by sensors that can detect spacecraft even as they move at superluminal speeds -- are the details of cloaking technology discussed in any film or books?

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    According to this question, it's not that the Federation physically can't develop a cloaking system, it's that they legally can't - the Treaty of Algeron prevents them from doing so.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 13, 2021 at 10:25
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    "which basically shows an observers what is behind it" - the cloaking devices shown on ST usually seem considerably more sophisticated than that. For a start, they conceal a ship visually from all directions at a time and also non-visually. Mar 13, 2021 at 13:57
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    So stealing the cloaking device from the Romulans is somehow less of a problem than developing it? I see the bigger problem is using it. Aside from Kirk's act of war against the Romulans.
    – NomadMaker
    Mar 13, 2021 at 15:35
  • @NomadMaker The treaty is a retcon created during TNG-era Trek. memory-beta.fandom.com/wiki/Treaty_of_Algeron Mar 13, 2021 at 17:57
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    Plot. The only answer is "plot", since going around cloaked all the time makes things too easy.
    – RonJohn
    Mar 14, 2021 at 3:28

4 Answers 4

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The Federation did develop cloaking technology on its own.

In 2358, Starfleet Intelligence equipped the USS Pegasus with a device capable of rendering the ship both invisible and intangible. The only problem is that the Federation was forbidden from developing or using cloaking technology in its spacecraft under the Treaty of Algeron, signed between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire in 2311. This was all documented in the TNG episode, "The Pegasus".

Here's what the Star Trek Encyclopedia has to say about the Treaty of Algeron and the phasing cloak:

Treaty of Algeron. Peace accord established between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire following the Tomed Incident of 2311. The Treaty of Algeron reaffirmed the Romulan Neutral Zone, violation of which by either side without adequate notification would be considered an act of war. ("The Defector" [TNG]). The Treaty of Algeron also forbids the Federation from developing or using cloaking device technology in its spacecraft. ("The Pegasus" [TNG]).

phasing cloak. Invisibility-screen generator that was designed not only to disguise a starship from visual and sensor detection, but also to alter the atomic structure of the ship, so that ship could pass through normal matter. The strategic advantages of the device would have been numerous, and the Federation covertly worked on its development, in violation of the Treaty of Algeron. The cloak eventually proved itself in practical use, but the Federation was forbidden from using it by the terms of the treaty. ("The Pegasus" [TNG])


Starfleet also used cloaked self-replicating mines to block passage through the Bajoran wormhole in the DS9 episode, "Call to Arms".


Additionally, in Star Trek: Insurrection, a cloaked holoship was deployed to the Ba'ku planet on the orders of the Federation Council.

Moreover, seemingly cloaked isolation suits were worn by Starfleet observers on the planet's surface.

The use of cloaking technology in these suits wasn't specified within the film itself, but it was specified in the script.

Outside, several other cloaked figures move among the unknowing Ba'ku...

But as Sojef speaks, Artim turns to see the floating head of Data DECLOAKING in mid-air barely a yard away as he removes his helmet... the boy yells... jumps back, falling as Data makes eye contact with him. The Ba'ku scatter... Sojef pulls the boy away to safety...

We notice a slashing burn wound on Data's neck as he fights off an invisible force again... we hear a ripping crunch and a green force field sputters briefly -- a Son'a man in a torn isolation suit partially DECLOAKS as he is slammed to the ground, unconscious. Data rips off the rest of his suit revealing himself, picks up a weapon from the unconscious Son'a, aims it at the rock face...

All the invisible men in suits DECLOAK in the village.

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  • intangible seems like a challenge. my guess is you would change the dimensional resonance of the entire ship with the caveat that the power requirements would be enormous; unless specially boosted, many ships would have to drop out of warp to do this.
    – releseabe
    Mar 13, 2021 at 11:00
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    If I were any of those conspirators lawyer I would point out having a ship in another dimension out of phase is its own thing and not technically a cloak. It for example renders expensive deflectors obsolete. No more dangerous colliding with things. Mar 13, 2021 at 20:54
  • @lucasbachmann: Except for the (possibly many, dangerous?) things that happen to be equally phase-shifted for one reason or another. Mar 13, 2021 at 21:45
  • @releseabe not to mention the added complexity of altering the structure of all living beings on board without killing them. Mar 15, 2021 at 3:22
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    @MissouriSpartan: that's the easy part due to the protection offered by intrinsic biomorphic fields. How could you not know this??
    – releseabe
    Mar 15, 2021 at 5:24
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We've seen that the Federation will do what it has to do when push comes to shove, treaties or not. There's POWERFUL weapons out there, and if brought to bear, we'd use the cloaking device.

There's an abundance of technology left lying around... stuff developed but not utilized. Some with "political reasons", some just should have never been written. Defensive and OFFENSIVE tech.

The biggest offensive example that nobody talks about - The Dimensional Inverter. A rag-tag group of dissidents can't put together a teleporter so they need to use the B-technology to teleport. Big plot point - it causes a slow and painful death after repeated uses. It's a Doctor Crusher episode.

Overlooked feature - A garage-built version teleports freely through the shields of a ship in orbit. Imagine how different space battles would be if you could Dim-Invert bombs into the reactor room or bridge of your opponent. Invert 1 into each of the 5 ships 2 seconds apart, timed to explode simultaneously. No one would even know their fleet was under attack until they were all wiped out. Home in time for tea.

It's just completely OP so,

  1. the good guys would never use it and
  2. the bad guys would (and we'd all have to learn to speak Ansata).

If shields became useless, we'd use cloaking in a heartbeat.


“The High Ground” (rumors say "the writing staff didn't like it") Try a Google search on Star Trek "Dimensional Inverter" and you'll see basically no discussion of it (other than direct descriptions of the episode plot) for a decade.

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Cloaking technology that can beat advanced sensors is complicated.

In “Balance of Terror”, the Romulan cloaking device was good enough to hide the ship so long as it didn't move. In “The Enterprise Incident” the Romulans developed a cloaking device that could hide from sensors, and the Enterprise had to capture one to help understand it.

In “Into the Forest I Go”, the Klingon cloaking device could be penetrated by the Discovery making numerous micro jumps around it to find imperfections.

Tachyon leaks and antiproton leaks were a common issue for cloaks. An advanced Reman cloak in Star Trek: Nemesis didn’t produce these, and was able to devastate the Enterprise-E until they found a way to hit it via blind firing.

Cloaking took so much power that often ships couldn't fire when cloaked.

In “Balance of Terror”, the ship couldn't fire when cloaked due to the draw of power. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a Klingon ship that could fire when cloaked was designed, and was used to frame Kirk. They found it through a complex sensor technique.

These two effects mean that, in addition to the other answers which note it was illegal, it was a technically very complicated and expensive process to design a ship which could cloak well enough to hide from sensors. Starfleet could probably cloak their ships well enough to hide them from primitives, given that they stole several cloaking devices, but it would require a lot of research and experimentation to design a cloak which was useful against its rivals.

In “The Pegasus”, they attempt to design a cloaking system and manage to destroy their ship. It’s clearly not an easy task.

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  • I think the main issue holding Starfleet back from developing their own cloaking device was the Treaty of Algeron, rather the technological difficulty of the task. I'm not saying it would've been easy, or that there wouldn't have been bugs to iron out in early prototypes, but Starfleet engineers are extremely resourceful, and they likely would've overcome all that if they weren't forbidden from developing the technology openly. Mar 15, 2021 at 1:57
  • Also, it appeared that the phasing cloak installed on the USS Pegasus did work. It just had to be handled carefully, since there was a danger of overheating and blowing out the relays. This occurred on the Pegasus, likely because the mutineers drove the people most familiar with the prototype (like Erik Pressman) off the ship. When that same device was installed on the Enterprise-D, Geordi handled it carefully enough to prevent the relays from blowing out, and as far as we know, the Romulans weren't aware that the Enterprise was cloaked until it decloaked right in front of them. Mar 15, 2021 at 3:28
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I’m sure I saw an episode where a character said the Federation had philosophical objections against using cloaking devices. The use of cloaked ships would run counter to the Federation’s self-image of being friendly explorers/benevolent colonisers, not deceptive (Romulans) or warlike (Klingons).

I don’t have any source for this. I’d I can recall it, I’ll add it.

However, Federation science teams would use holographic technology to hide observation posts. So it can provide a moral argument for using stealth technology.

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    Consistency, thy name is Federation. Mar 13, 2021 at 22:30
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    There were out-of-universe interviews where this was discussed. Gene Roddenberry is widely reported to have said "Explorers don't go sneaking around." I don't think there was an in-universe explanation given until the TNG era. Mar 14, 2021 at 1:12

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