Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

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Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Zor » 2018-04-08 10:39am

When they were first introduced to the Star Trek universe in the Balance of Terror, the capacity which would become iconic of the Romulans is that of cloaking devices. Spacecraft that could make themselves invisible to visual detection and sensors until they fire their weapons at the expense of consuming so much power that weapons and shields can't be used when it's on. The rest of the episode involved the Romulans launching attacks on boarder outposts near the the neutral zone and tangles with the Enterprise. However, given what is listed cloaked ships represented the implications of which was that cloaked ships effectively gave the Romulan Star Empire an "I Win" button in interstellar warfare with the Federation, which does not have that capacity.

The reason for this is simple: Let's say the Romulan Star Empire launches a fleet of warships from one of it's starbases with hidden orders from the admiralty. They turn on their cloaks, cross the neutral zone and fly to Sol system, Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar and other prominent star systems and hang out there for a little bit doing nothing as a timer ticks down to zero. Once it's zero hour they fly over the major inhabited planets, open their shuttle bay doors, kick out a few dozen missiles swerving about and then scoot off. Said missiles stay out of space for a few seconds, then dart down to urban centers, power generators and industrial hubs. In a matter of minutes hundreds to thousands of megaton mushroom cloud appear across the core worlds of the Federation. The Death tole is in the millions at least and efforts need to be made to respond to the situation major rescue operations need to be done while important Federation assets such as command staff and similar have been killed. If done right a fair bit of orbital infrastructure is also taken out as well. The War Fighting capacity of the Federation is now reduced, it's population now lives in fear and much of it's fleet would end recalled to defensive posts. Secondary attacks could still possibly be performed in such a manner. Any counter offensive would take time to assemble while squadrons of cloaked Romulan squadrons could engage Federation ships piecemeal. They may loose some ships in engagements, but they can strike without warning almost with immunity.

It was not until the TNG era that the Federation had a reliable means of detecting cloaked ships, and even that required a fleet of ships be assembled along a known path (leaving aside the "Space Is Big" issues). It could not stop such a first strike operation.

Really, depending on the size of the Romulan fleet, this could be used to pull of devastating decapitation attacks that could leave the entire Federation crippled and ripe for conquest.

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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Crazedwraith » 2018-04-08 11:08am

In what era? In most incarnations even Balance of Terror, practically every time we see a cloak someone is seeing through it to one degree or another.

The border patrols and stations actually give a non-negligible chance that cloaked vessels will be picked up and this far in advance on any first strike capability.

The one example we had of someone trying that. A Breen fleet attacking Earth from cloak was wiped out in short order with most of the damage of their attack being psychological.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-04-08 11:30am

Besides, how are the Roms going to vent all that waste heat if they're cloaked all the way to the Fed core worlds?
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2018-04-08 11:39am

More to the point, the Klingons have had cloaking devices for almost as long, and despite actually being at war with the Federation, did not use a cloaked first strike. Evidently there is some reason for not doing so.

The most likely thing that springs to mind is that there is a limit on how long vessels can remain cloaked and that this is not long enough for a flight to Earth/Vulcan/Andor etc.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Lord Revan » 2018-04-08 01:59pm

Eternal_Freedom wrote:
2018-04-08 11:39am
More to the point, the Klingons have had cloaking devices for almost as long, and despite actually being at war with the Federation, did not use a cloaked first strike. Evidently there is some reason for not doing so.

The most likely thing that springs to mind is that there is a limit on how long vessels can remain cloaked and that this is not long enough for a flight to Earth/Vulcan/Andor etc.
A simple explanation would be that while it might be near impossible to detect a single cloaked ship or a small group of cloaked ships. having a taskforce big enough to cause any signifant damage to major federation systems(or any other enemy for that matter) would cause too much "leaking" to really be undetected, the enemy might not know exactly how many ships and what type of ships they are but they'll know they're coming.

Cloaks work best at raiding the enemy logistics routes and exposed outposts rather then as a way to sneak a major taskforce in an enemy core world.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Batman » 2018-04-08 05:21pm

In 'Balance of Terror' the cloak didn't render the ship undetectable, it merely fuzzied the location to the point it couldn't be directly targeted. The E-Nil could and did track the ship for an extended period of time and could locate it precisely enough to harass it with proximity blasts even if they couldn't land a direct hit
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-04-08 05:53pm

Lots of proximity blasts. Kirk blanketed the general area with phaser fire, akin to WWII destroyers laying depth charge patterns to nail submarines.

Which makes sense, as "Balance Of Terror" was based loosely on movies such as The Cruel Sea, and The Enemy Below..
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Batman » 2018-04-08 06:06pm

My point was he knew the ship was there, with enough accuracy to be able to bother it (even if it took a lot of effort) so at least with that generation cloak, a preemptive strike by the Romulans against the Federation likely wouldn't have been possible.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-04-08 06:37pm

There's also the Romulan Commander's statement in 'Face of the Enemy.
TROI: We will be cloaked.
TORETH: The cloaking device does not always make us invulnerable, and you would know that if you had spent any time at all in the field. The Federation has littered it's borders with subspace listening posts, with gravitic sensors. They may even have a tachyon detection grid in operation, in which case they will know that we're there. If we are discovered in Federation territory, it will be interpreted as an act of war.
Clearly such a manuever is something that the Federation has prepared for, and Romulan officers are aware of, knowing not to underestimate their enemy.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Lord Revan » 2018-04-08 09:04pm

My point was that a major taskforce might not be able to sneak up on a federation coreworld. Also the Bird of Prey in Balance of Terror was for all intents and purposes invisible at the strategic level aka the Enterprise didn't detect and track the ship until after they were already aware of its presence and actively looking for it, the UFP outposts were caught totally unprepared, granted those were minor outposts and it was just 1 ship.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by bilateralrope » 2018-04-09 12:03am

FaxModem1 wrote:
2018-04-08 06:37pm
There's also the Romulan Commander's statement in 'Face of the Enemy.
TROI: We will be cloaked.
TORETH: The cloaking device does not always make us invulnerable, and you would know that if you had spent any time at all in the field. The Federation has littered it's borders with subspace listening posts, with gravitic sensors. They may even have a tachyon detection grid in operation, in which case they will know that we're there. If we are discovered in Federation territory, it will be interpreted as an act of war.
Clearly such a manuever is something that the Federation has prepared for, and Romulan officers are aware of, knowing not to underestimate their enemy.
Plus he was talking about border outposts. The core worlds are likely to have better sensors and other defenses not seen on the ever expanding frontier.

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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-04-09 08:21am

Suffice to say that the cloaking device gives the Romulans the potential for surprise attacks and first strike attacks. But the larger the scale you use it on, and the longer the distances you have to travel under cover of the cloak, and the closer you fly to major enemy installations, the greater the risk of detection.

A strategically effective first strike would require the attacker to use the cloak for very large fleets, traveling long distances, and flying close to many major installations. It would be very likely to be spotted and retaliated against.

The cloaking device is much more effective as a weapon for more limited first strikes on the operational level (hit a frontier starbase and blow up the ships docked there), or for tactical deception (have three cloaked ships reinforcing the two visible ships).
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Lord Revan » 2018-04-09 08:34am

Simon_Jester wrote:
2018-04-09 08:21am
Suffice to say that the cloaking device gives the Romulans the potential for surprise attacks and first strike attacks. But the larger the scale you use it on, and the longer the distances you have to travel under cover of the cloak, and the closer you fly to major enemy installations, the greater the risk of detection.

A strategically effective first strike would require the attacker to use the cloak for very large fleets, traveling long distances, and flying close to many major installations. It would be very likely to be spotted and retaliated against.

The cloaking device is much more effective as a weapon for more limited first strikes on the operational level (hit a frontier starbase and blow up the ships docked there), or for tactical deception (have three cloaked ships reinforcing the two visible ships).
also for sneak attacks on vunerble spots on the enemy logistics network it might mean hitting a frontier starbase or a docked ships but could also mean hitting the enemy freighters/transports when they're at sublight, or possibly even while at warp.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-04-09 11:41am

Well yes, but at that point you're thinking in terms of commerce raiding strategies, not "first strike" sneak attacks against fixed vulnerable targets.

The cloak enables you to slip past border defenses much if not all of the time, so as to carry out a raiding strategy. It can be used for relatively 'shallow' penetrations of enemy space to hit targets close to the border in a surprise attack. What it does not automatically do, since it does not confer perfect invisibility, is allow you to carry out a deep penetration attack in strength, with a large force.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-04-09 05:00pm

As for the Klingons: stupid as it may be, at least by the TNG era they were all hung up on 'honour' et cetera. A strike from cloak may have seemed dishonourable to them. Particularly after it only worked for a little while for General Chang...

IIRC the only Klingon ship we saw cloaked, apart from maybe Worf's mirror-universe Negh'var in DS9, was pretty much always the little D'deridex (I'm not even gonna bother getting into the various scaling issues). It may have been that they had issues scaling up the cloaking field in mass production. Anyway, the D'deridex doesn't have very much space (unless you think it's been perfectly enlarged into something half the size of a Galaxy) and presumably simply opening a hatch and shoving a torpedo through would be a bit of a hassle; shuttles would be right out.

A thought: Perhaps cloaks depend upon the hull being all in one piece, i.e. no openings apart from those that can be controlled such as torpedo ports? Thus opening a shuttle bay would disrupt the cloak? But I'm forgetting, did the ST:IV crew board the Bounty via its hatch a time or two while the ship was cloaked?
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Crazedwraith » 2018-04-09 05:22pm

D'deridex was the romulan warbird. Voluminous but hollow.

The little klingon BoP is usually considered B'rel in supplementary material but on screen evidence is hazy.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-04-09 05:24pm

Crap. It's been a while since I played STO. I suppose it shows.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-04-09 05:31pm

Elheru Aran wrote:
2018-04-09 05:00pm
As for the Klingons: stupid as it may be, at least by the TNG era they were all hung up on 'honour' et cetera. A strike from cloak may have seemed dishonourable to them. Particularly after it only worked for a little while for General Chang...

IIRC the only Klingon ship we saw cloaked, apart from maybe Worf's mirror-universe Negh'var in DS9, was pretty much always the little D'deridex (I'm not even gonna bother getting into the various scaling issues). It may have been that they had issues scaling up the cloaking field in mass production. Anyway, the D'deridex doesn't have very much space (unless you think it's been perfectly enlarged into something half the size of a Galaxy) and presumably simply opening a hatch and shoving a torpedo through would be a bit of a hassle; shuttles would be right out.

A thought: Perhaps cloaks depend upon the hull being all in one piece, i.e. no openings apart from those that can be controlled such as torpedo ports? Thus opening a shuttle bay would disrupt the cloak? But I'm forgetting, did the ST:IV crew board the Bounty via its hatch a time or two while the ship was cloaked?
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As Crazedwraith stated the smaller BoP was the B'rel, while the larger one was the K'vort. Even the K'vort is somewhat smaller than a GCS.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-04-09 05:37pm

The annoying thing about the sizes is that the K'vort is *exactly* the same as the B'rel. It's such a blatant scaling error that I have no idea why it's taken as canon in any shape or form. If the K'vort was a legitimately larger version of the B'rel, it should have more firepower and options such as a shuttle bay. As is, functionally they're identical; I've never seen, nor heard of, a K'vort doing anything that a B'rel couldn't, nor the sizes being acknowledged in dialogue.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Batman » 2018-04-09 07:52pm

The damn thing didn't even stay the same size throughout TVH. It was tiny while parked yet looked humongous when decloaking in front of the whaler.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by Lord Revan » 2018-04-09 09:28pm

yeah the klingon BoP suffers from the "defiant issue" of not having a consistent size, being the size of a (large) shuttle craft (like in some fleet scenes in DS9 and while landed in ST4) at smallest to being bigger then the D'deridex (or at least as big).

I think the most commonly accepted size is about 100-110 meters , so small by trek standards but huge if stood next to one. What in looked next to the whaler seemed pretty close what a 100-110 m BoP would look like.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by bilateralrope » 2018-04-10 01:09am

Assume the Klingons or Romulans pull off such an attack. What happens next ?

If it's the Romulans, they just struck a significant blow to the Federation. Strengthening the relative position of the Klingons. should the Klingons win against the Federation, they are likely to go after the Romulans next.

If it's the Klingons, that would get the Organians involved. I don't remember any Klingons with cloaking in TOS, so the Klingons can't even attempt an attack like this before the Organians forced the Fedeation and Klingons into that treaty.

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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by LaCroix » 2018-04-10 01:48am

Just one random thought -

I mean, most of cloaked ships do have wings of some form - a feature not really useful for ships with enough thrust to land on power alone. More surface area means less energy radiation per m², makes it easier for the shield to scatter the emissions to looks like random background noise.

So, maybe the weird hollow shape of the D'deridex is due to it's cloaking needs? A big hollow space inside the ship, with lot's of extra surface area to allow for at least some limited energy radiation for prolonged cloaking?
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-04-10 07:45am

Except the cloaking device consumes so much power, shields can't be used, if I'm not mistaken. Even if the shields could be used, that's still more waste heat that can't be radiated away to space, because of the cloak.
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Re: Romulan first strike capacity: the strategic value of cloaked ships

Post by LaCroix » 2018-04-10 11:03am

Sorry, I meant shield as in "cloaking shield", as it must be a shield-like bubble field projected around the ship. I assume the way a cloak does work is a field that is randomly scattering all kinds of emissions in random directions to dampen everything to the point of background noise (with occasional blips if use engines or active sensors, which might locally overwhelm the cloak.

That would also explain why you might be able to fire photon torps while cloaked, but not use shields or energy weapons. And energy scattering field would be opposing a shield bubble within vehemently, and defocus an energy beam, throwing the aim off/reducing effect.

The second part of my hypothesis is that wings do not make sense in a space design, unless you need the radiation surface area - then it makes sense.

Radiating the same amount of energy off two wings (the full loop of the D'deridex) instead of just the upper wing, like in other designs that only have one, means that you can still power a twice as big drive (D'deridex needs huge ones to propel the ship to the speeds they are supposed to acheive) and still expect the cloak to be up to the task. With only one wing to radiate energy off, the cloak might not work, and you would be easily able to track them, and maybe even aim. The underslung wing is mostly a huge radiatior with backup systems to make the best of the extra space.

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(The only mark in the lower section is "cargo bays" and "tractor emitter". All other systems are in the upper section)

Stationary, only having to run the basic life support and minimal systems, the huge surface area would make the ship even better cloaked than the other ships, and I faintly remember that a stationary D'deridex is considered to be almost undetectable.
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