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Cloaking Technology

[Editor's note: this page on RSA's site claims that since ST cloaking devices are smaller than SW cloaking devices, they must be superior for that reason alone]

Anderson's page on comparative cloaking technology of the two universes is decent in terms of a comparison of one thing: size. He is correct that Star Wars cloaking devices are larger and bulkier (and, indirectly, that they require more power) than Star Wars cloaking devices. However, the page also appears to fall for one enormous fallacy: that larger necessitates a less advanced device. This may seem like a reasonable thing to believe at first (after all, smaller devices require vastly more miniaturization of components), but this ignores one fundamental principle: in order to reasonably compare two technologies, the two technologies must have similar purposes and functions. [Editor's note: this is a fine example of RSA employing the "false analogy" fallacy] That is, if Anderson is to claim that the Star Trek cloaking device is more advanced than its Star Wars opponent because of its smaller size, he must first demonstrate that the two devices accomplish similar feats. Both cloaking technologies are designed to prevent detection by other starships, but it is unknown whether Star Trek ships or Star Wars ships use more developed sensor technology. It should also be noted that, while the Star Trek cloaking devices almost invariably foil UFP sensors, they are far from perfect. Cloaked starships have been detected and tracked through many obvious methods, including exhaust (Star Trek VI). Sulu even spotted a cloaked starship with unaided eyes, though it is clear that when properly cloaked a ship is invisible to the naked eye (Star Trek IV).

Cloaks in Star Trek rely on their opponent being either incapable of analyzing relevant sensor data for anomalies or incapable of detecting any of a number of traits that alert wary passersby of the ship's presence. This has been demonstrated numerous times, but the most pertinent examples include Star Trek VI, in which Kirk and his crew modify a photon torpedo to track a cloaked Klingon warship by following its exhaust, and in "When the Bough Breaks" [TNG], in which the Enterprise was incapable of detecting an entire planet. The planetary cloak only functioned by warping light, and had no effect on any other type of energy or matter. The cloak does not appear to change anything about a starship, except for its electromagnetic signature. It should also be noted that only two ships in all of Star Trek could fire when cloaked, and both of these ships are considered to be extremely advanced models. These are all serious technological limitations, but Anderson overlooks these in proclaiming that Star Wars has limited technology.

[Editor's note: you may also wish to note that Obi-Wan Kenobi could identify the "gravity silhouette" of Kamino from thousands of light years away, thus confirming that it still exists, yet no one in ST could pick up an entire planet, despite the fact that it is an object of legend and speculation and people already have an idea where it should be (in other words, Trek sensors are overrated). Moreover, the exhaust emission problem of cloaked ships under impulse drive has never been successfully addressed by RSA or anyone else who would wish to claim that they're immune to passive infrared sensor technology. Unless they sit still and shut everything down, there's no reason why they won't be picked up easily by garden-variety passive infrared]

It is interesting to note that Star Wars sensors are almost certainly capable of detecting cloaked ships in Star Trek. Star Trek cloaking shields, after all, do nothing that can prevent a Force-user from detecting them. Star Trek cloaking devices do not even prevent telepaths and empaths from finding them, as shown in "Star Trek: Nemesis." In Star Wars, to be effective a cloaking device would almost certainly need to do such a thing in order to be effective. In the canonical TPM novelization "He [Darth Maul] lifted his arm to view the control panel strapped to his forearm, picked out the settings he wished to engage, and punched in the calculations required to identify the enemy he was looking for. Jedi Knights would manifest a particularly strong presence in the Force. It took only a minute. He turned back toward his ship. Spherical probe droids floated through the hatchway, one after another" (page 149, hardcover). Thus it is clear that Star Wars sensors can easily be modified to pick up disturbances in the Force, and that such sensors can fit in very small volumes—the probe droids shown in TPM are smaller than one cubic meter. It is unclear what cloaking devices in the canonical Star Wars are capable of, but they are evidently capable of theoretically fooling an Imperator class Star Destroyer's sensors. This would necessitate cloaking the presence of the Force from an area, and represents an ability that the UFP's sensors clearly do not have. Thus, it is clear that Star Wars cloaking technology is more effective in at least one area than the comparative Star Trek technology, even if we do not have a canonical example of a Star Wars cloaking shield in effect.

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