Klingon Bird of Prey
The Klingon Bird of Prey is a type of vessel that has seen service in the Klingon Empire since the late 23rd century. It has become a ubiquitous warship of the empire used in a wide variety of missions, such as spying, reconnaissance, commerce raiding, and combat. Birds of Prey proved quite effective even during the Dominion War, where they fared well against the mainstay of the Dominion fleet - the Jem'Hadar Attack ship.
One cannot think Klingon without immediately thinking of these vessels.
There are actually two distinct classes of Klingon Bird of Prey.
The scout model bird of prey, sometimes erroneously referred to as the B'Rel class, was most frequently encountered during the TOS movie era and DS9. It is a small, agile and very light craft with a crew between 12 and 36. The class was first encountered on screen during the Genesis Incident, when Captain Kruge took his Bird of Prey deep into Federation space and destroyed the USS Grissom and ambushed and crippled the USS Enterprise. Pavel Chekov detected the Bird of Prey for a moment on the scanners before she cloaked and identified her as a "scout class vessel" (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). Sulu verified that the crew compliment as about a dozen. The Bird of Prey in the movie novelization is described as a Klingon fighter.
The cruiser model is a far heavier vessel designed to go toe-to-toe with Federation starships. The class was first identified as such by Wesley Crusher during an attack by three K'Vort-class cruisers on the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-C in "Yesterday's Enterprise". Identical ships, under Ferengi control, were later identified as B'Rel-class in "Rascals".
Despite the differences in size and combat role, all Klingon Birds of Prey share certain common features.
- Cloaking device - every Bird of Prey is equipped with a cloaking device. During the Genesis incident, the cloaking device on Kruge's vessel created a visible distortion effect, especially when the ship was in motion. No similar distortion effect has been seen in any other cloaked Bird of Prey, which could indicate that Kruge's cloak was an inferior model or malfunctioning at the time. Typical Birds of Prey had to lower their shields and could not fire weapons while cloaked, but General Chang possessed a prototype Bird of Prey which could launch torpedoes while cloaked. Such Birds of Prey were never seen in later encounters.
- Disruptor cannons - both variations of the Bird of Prey carry rapid-fire disruptor cannons in their wingtips. A steady fusillade from these cannons could destroy a Dominion fighter in a single salvo.
- Photon torpedoes - every Bird of Prey has a torpedo tube located in the bow. An "emergency tube" was mentioned during the ship's first appearance but quickly forgotten.
- Variable-geometry wing design - the angle of the wings of Bird of Prey is variable. What role the various wing positions play is unknown, as the Birds of Prey have been observed to attack in all wing positions: raised above the hull, parallel to the hull, and down below the hull.
The scout model has one feature that is not confirmed in the cruiser model. The scout can safely enter a planet's atmosphere and land on the surface. There is one instance where cruisers may have exhibited atmospheric capabilities. During the Dominion War, an attack led by General Martok against a Dominion base on Trekla V shows Birds of Prey decloaking and strafing a base on the surface. There is no mention of the class of these vessels, but the fact that they later engaged Cardassian capital ships -- and Kor commanded a single Bird of Prey in a suicide attack on 10 Dominion fighters -- suggests that this was a cruiser. (DS9, "Once more Unto the Breach")
In-universe, the modern Bird of Prey was the result of a design evolution extending back to the 22nd century. The earliest Bird of Prey shown lacked the cloaking device, but possessed the same characteristic head-body-wings design.(ENT, "The Expanse")
The Klingon Bird of Prey was first depicted during the Genesis incident in which it was instantly recognized by Sulu when decloaking, suggesting the vessel was already in service for some time by the time it made its appearance in Star Trek III.
The Bird of Prey soon replaced the Klingon D-7 and the K'T'Inga class cruisers as the standard Klingon warship generally encountered by Starfleet during the Motion Picture era of Star Trek and even during TNG era it was an extremely common vessel probably produced in massive numbers given the inordinate amount of Birds of Prey encountered as opposed to other Klingon warships.
Out of universe note on the nomenclature of the Klingon ship, in early drafts of Star Trek III Kruge was supposed to steal a Romulan Bird Of Prey and use its cloaking device to carry out his illegal mission into Federation space but over time the vessel became a Klingon ship; however, the class name never changed. The Romulan connection is still visible in the feather pattern on the bottom of the hull, reminiscent of the Romulan Bird of Prey.