About the Author
Rick Sternbach is a Hugo and Emmy Award-winning visual artist with extensive film and television experience. Famous for his work on Star Trek, he has been responsible for a number of starship designs. He co-wrote the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual and the Deep Space Nine Technical Manual.
Ben Robinson worked on The Official Star Trek Fact Files, the most extensive source of Star Trek information ever published. He was also the lead author on the U.S.S. Enterprise Haynes Manual.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
COMMISSIONING A BIRD-OF-PREY
The Bird-of-Prey is the classic Klingon starship. It is a fast and deadly scouting and raiding ship that has been at the heart of the Klingon Defense Force for centuries. The first examples even pre-date Klingon spaceflight. Small fighters with the same basic layout have been in use since early planetary conflicts. That design has been modified over the centuries, first to incorporate impulse engines, then warp engines. Even fundamental changes to the science have been incorporated into the same basic spaceframe. The Klingons have simply seen no need to change something that they believe is fundamentally correct.
By the late 2370s, the design of the Bird-of-Prey had been settled for over a century, but ships were produced at a variety of scales from vast K’vort-class battlecruisers to tiny scouting vessels. The archetypal version of the ship is the B’rel-class, a 139-meter long ship with seven decks and a crew of 36. The internal layout and even weaponry vary from ship to ship, but they are all capable of high warp speeds, and fitted with a cloaking device. To many Klingon minds it is the perfect fighting vessel—as fast, tough and deadly as its crew.
When the semi-mythical Klingon leader Kahless united the Klingon people over a thousand years ago, he established the great Klingon Military Academies, which are operated under the control of the High Council rather than by the individual Great Houses. The most famous of these are the Training Academy at Ogat and the Klingon Naval Academy on Dek’Go’Kor. The Klingon Naval Academy is responsible for the principal design and mass production of ships.
The Academy has far greater resources than even the most powerful of the Great Houses and has the remit of concentrating on large-scale technological developments in areas such as warp and impulse dynamics, and the fundamentals of spaceframe design. The Houses are then left to concentrate on the details of how the ships are fitted out and are much more likely to improve the design of weapons and shielding as they seek to find even the smallest advantage in combat.
Klingon design philosophy has always centered on tried-and-tested methods and places great importance on the ability to mass-produce ships at great speed. As such, it has concentrated on a handful of basic designs, which form the backbone of the Klingon fleet, the Bird-of-Prey and the battle cruiser being the most common. The modular design means that the maximum number of ships can be produced at the fastest possible rate.
Wherever possible, the same structural elements are scaled up or down to produce ships of different sizes. The Klingons are reluctant to make major structural changes to their starship designs, preferring to concentrate on improving the individual systems. As a result, Birds-of-Prey vary enormously in size from tiny B’rel-class scouting ships to vast K’vort-class cruisers. The larger of these ships are literally scaled up versions of the basic design even down to the size of the disruptor cannons, which become enormous units that are almost as long as the smallest ships.
1 Defensive Shield Plating
2 Cloaking Field Emitter
3 Deck 4 Entry/Escape Hatch
4 Subspace Communications Antenna
5 Space Environment Sensor Group
6 Tactical Command Transceiver
7 Atmospheric Flight Flow Sensor
8 Deck 3 Cargo Bay External Access
9 Deck 3 Access Hatch
10 Deck 1 & 2 Dorsal Blister
11 Upper Wing Hinge Plates
12 Lower Wing Hinge Plates
13 Warp Field External Shaping Plates
14 Reaction Control System Thrusters
15 Warp Wing Induction Energy Storage
16 Warp System External Resupply Connections
17 Dorsal Aft Impulse Engines
All the Great Houses in the Empire pledge their loyalty—and their ships—to the High Chancellor.
Of course, this approach means that Klingon ship design is rarely as innovative as that used by other groups such as the Federation and although there have been advances in warp and weapons technology, anyone looking at a Bird-of-Prey from the 2370s would instantly recognize it as being the same as models that were in use well over a century earlier.
For hundreds of years the Bird-of-Prey has been designed for warp flight, for sublight travel within a planetary system, and to enter a planet’s atmosphere, where it is highly maneuverable and can land on the surface. All Birds-of-Prey are heavily armed and heavily armored, follow the same basic layout, and are fitted with a cloaking device that can render them invisible to sensors, but beyond this there are significant differences between each ship.
There is no central authority that dictates how a Klingon starship should be fitted out. Although almost all Klingon ships operate as part of the Klingon Defense Force, they are not commissioned or even operated by a central body in the way that ships are in the Federation or the Romulan Empire. Klingon society operates on feudal lines, with individuals and families pledging their allegiance to Houses, the greatest of which come together to form the Klingon High Council, which is led by the High Chancellor. It is these Houses that are responsible for commissioning ships.
1 Central Navigational Deflector
2 Photon Torpedo Launcher
3 Emergency Subspace Buoys
4 Central Computer Core
5 Ventral Sensor Cap
6 Plasma Power Conduit
7 Forward Impulse Engine
8 Active/Passive Targeting Sensors
9 Port Warp Wing
10 Wingtip Disruptor
11 Secondary Disruptor Cannons
12 Primary Disruptor Cannon
13 Warp Field External Shaping Plates
14 Warp Wing Structural Reinforcements
15 Ventral Aft Impulse Engines
16 Deck 7 Loading Ramp
17 Tractor Beam Emitter
Kruge’s Bird-of-Prey decloaking before its encounter with the tiny Merchantman.
This means that individual Birds-of-Prey are fitted out very differently depending on the resources and personal preferences of the House that commissions them. One House may prefer speed and maneuverability over pure power; another may choose to fit its ships with phasers rather than disruptors. There are potentiality as many permutations as there are Klingon ships. It is a well-known saying that no two weapons are the same. This variety has proved a great strength in battle; for example, during the Dominion War one Klingon Bird-of-Prey, the Ki’tang, proved to be immune to the devastating Breen energy dampening weapon because it used a different tritium intermix to the other ships in the fleet.
Despite this enormous diversity in the way Klingon ships are equipped, the fundamental structure of the spaceframe is the same for almost every one and all Birds-of-Prey, whether they are raiders or cruisers, have the same basic layout with the bridge in the section at the head, above the photon torpedo launcher, and the impulse and warp engineering sections at the rear between the wings, which generate the warp fields. The disruptor cannons are always at the tips of the wings, and the bottom of the ship always features a landing ramp that can be extended to the ground.
When a House is ready to commission a ship, it contacts the Naval Academy shipyards and arranges payment. The shipyards then assign a renwl’, or architect, to the project and he meets with the representatives of the House to discuss the exact fit and specifications of the ship. The standard Bird-of -Prey is the 139-meter B’rel-class scout. This is the starting point for every version of the ship and is by far the most common. When a Bird-of-Prey is scaled up, the basic vehicle spaceframe remains proportionally the same, with extra decks being added as the ship increases in size.
1 Defensive Shield Plating
2 Central Navigational Deflector
3 Photon Torpedo Launcher
4 Cloaking Field Emitter
5 Subspace Communications Antenna
6 Active/Passive Targeting Sensors
7 Warp Wing
8 Reaction Control System Thrusters
9 Deck 1 & 2 Dorsal Blister
10 Lower Wing Hinge Plates
11 Short Range Sensors
12 Disruptor Cannon Structural Extension
13 Wingtip Disruptor
14 Secondary Disruptor Cannons
15 Primary Disruptor Cannon
16 Upper Wing Hinge Plates
17 Warp Wing Induction Energy Storage
18 Warp Wing Structural Reinforcements
19 Dorsal Aft Impulse Engines
20 Ventral Aft Impulse Engines
21 Deck 7 Loading Ramp
The Bird-of-Prey is one of the most common ships in the Klingon fleet and is the ideal scouting and raiding vessel.
However, most Klingon commanders are happy with the standard sized ship. The disagreements tend to come when the shipyard has to fit the engines and weapon systems. Not all Klingons appreciate the compromises that are needed to produce an effective ship and there are stories of Klingon Houses insisting on overpowered engines and dangerously over-specced disruptors. The renwl’ has a duty to reign in these excesses and to produce a good fighting ship. It is not unheard of for these disagreements to end in violence and accordingly the architects are among the most physically impressive and skilled non-warriors in the Klingon Empire. It is a position of great honor since it is one of the rare roles that allows a common civilian to tell a noble warrior that he is wrong.
1 Cloaking Field Emitter
2 Central Navigational Deflector
3 Defensive Shield Plating
4 Space Environment Sensor Group
5 Ventral Sensor Cap
6 Central Computer Core
7 Plasma Power Conduit
8 Atmospheric Flight Flow Sensor
9 Short Range Sensors
10 Lower Wing Hinge Plates
11 Upper Wing Hinge Plates
12 Warp Wing Induction Energy Storage
13 Reaction Control System Thrusters
14 Warp Field External Shaping Plates
15 Disruptor Cannon Structural Extension
16 Wingtip Disruptor
17 Secondary Disruptor Cannons
18 Primary Disruptor Cannon
Klingon Birds-of-Prey fought on both sides of the Klingon civil war that followed K’mpec’s death and captains such as Kurn became important men.
The internal layout of a Bird-of-Prey can vary enormously from ship to ship. Commander Kruge favoured an unusual design of bridge that put him on a raised platform.
The wiser houses understand exactly what it takes to make a good fighting ship, which, according to the Klingon bards, should be like a finely balanced blade, quick to respond to the hand but heavy and sharp enough to cut deep. As a result there is such a thing as a classic Bird-of-Prey and any differences normally relate to the internal layout, the kind of torpedoes carried and the precise balance between maneuverability and power.
One of the defining characteristics of the Bird-of-Prey’s design is the Klingons’ devotion to multiple redundancies. All the ship’s important systems operate in pairs—or multiples—of interconnected systems. Thus there are twin warp cores, and 12 impulse engines that produce forward propulsion (a further pair of impulse engines produces downward ‘thrust’). Even the EPS (electroplasma) conduits that distribute power around the ship operate in branching pairs.
If one of the systems is completely knocked out there is another to take over its duties, but this isn’t simply a case of one system coming into play when another fails; the systems on a Bird-of-Prey are interconnected and permanently operating. This means that if one of the warp cores isn’t functioning at full capacity, the other one can take on a portion of its load to compensate. The Klingons have taken the system even further so the impulse and warp engines are tied into one another and can supplement each other if one of them is severely damaged.
By designing their ships this way, the Klingons are following the nature of their own bodies, which have a similar form of redundancy known as brak’lul. For example, the Klingon body has 23 ribs (double the number found on a human being), two livers, and an eight-chambered rather than four-chambered heart.
In many ways this system of multiple redundancies could be seen as wasteful. In some cases it means forcing barely compatible systems to work together in ways that other cultures wouldn’t even attempt, but it also makes Klingon ships remarkably tough and as a consequence they can withstand more damage than almost any comparable vessel.
The biggest differences between individual Birds-of-Prey are often seen in the internal layout. The interior bulkheads are designed to be repositionable, so that a commander can choose how the internal volume is divided. A B’rel-class ship is actually surprisingly spacious for the standard crew of 36, but in some cases commanders still insist on making their crews share quarters and devoting disproportionately large areas to cargo. Even after the ship has been commissioned the bulkheads can be moved around easily, converting a raiding ship into a troop transporter that is suitable for delivering warriors to the front line of a ground-based battle.
Whereas the outside of a Bird-of-Prey rarely varies, the design of the bridges can be as different as the men who command them. Some versions are dominated by throne-like command chairs on raised platforms with the other bridge officers seated in a well around the edge of the room; others use a periscope-like device that descends from the deck above and allows the commander to target the weapons personally. The most common version places the commander in the center of the room, with the helm and navigation stations directly in front of him, his first officer behind him and other bridge stations around the perimeter of the room.
Kruge’s Bird-of-Prey confronts the Constitution-class U.S.S. Enterprise in orbit around the Genesis planet.
B’REL VERSUS K’VORT-CLASS
Some Birds-of-Prey have featured a periscope-iike device that the captain uses to target the weapons.
Once a Bird-of-Prey is completed it is delivered to the House that commissioned it, and under Klingon tradition, instantly pledged to serve in the Klingon Defense Force. Klingon Houses vary enormously in size. The most powerful Houses consist of thousands of men, and may control hundreds of ships. For example, in the early 23rd century the House of Jarod controlled over 250 ships. At the opposite end of the scale a smaller House might control just a single ship.
Following Kahless’s reforms, the Houses all agreed to send their men and ships to serve in the Klingon Defense Force. The administration of this is controlled by the High Council and the major appointments are made by the High Chancellor himself. In theory, the Houses only hold their possessions with the consent of the High Chancellor, who can revoke their privileges and take control of their ships and lands. However, the Chancellor is rarely in a position to do this, and depends on the support of the more powerful houses. As a result, senior appointments can depend as much on family connections as on personal excellence.
In the centuries after Kahless, the Great Houses all pledged their allegiance to an Emperor, but in practice individual captains and the leaders of the Houses formed an often uneasy alliance that kept the Empire together. Little has changed in the last thousand years and as such the captain of a Klingon ship has very real political power.
The leader of a Great House appoints the captain and crew of each ship, and their first loyalty is almost always to him before the Emperor or the High Chancellor. In times of conflict it is not uncommon for the Houses to form power blocks that are opposed to the High Chancellor or one another. It is less common, but not unheard of, for the captains of individual ships to disobey orders given by the leader of their House and choose their own side in a conflict.
The individual Houses also have their own facilities for developing new weapons, and as soon as cloaking technology was acquired several of the more powerful Houses started looking for ways to overcome its limitations. Scientists from the House of Chang managed to develop the device to a point where ships could actually fire while cloaked. Because of the way Klingon society operates, this technology was not shared with the other Houses or the Klingon Defense Force. Chang preferred to keep the technology to himself and to use it in a bid for power.
In the 2290s General Chang used a prototype Bird-of-Prey with an advanced cloaking device to disrupt peace negotiations with the Federation.
CLOAKING DEVICE HISTORY
All Birds-of-Prey are fitted with a cloaking device that renders the ship invisible to both the naked eye and almost all forms of sensor. The Klingons first acquired cloaking technology in 2268 during a brief alliance with the Romulan Star Empire and since then it has become a standard feature on all Klingon ships. Over the years, it has been continually upgraded but, apart from a few brief periods, has always had some important limitations: a cloaked ship cannot communicate with anyone else or fire any kind of weapon. The cloak works by generating a quantum phase bubble around the ship that instantaneously teleports EM radiation to the other side of the cloaked area.
The Klingons had been interested in cloaking technology since their first encounters with the Romulans in the 22nd century, but Klingon scientists had never been able to develop an effective version of their own. By the mid-2260s both the Klingon and Romulan empires had become concerned about the expansion of the United Federation of Planets, which was growing at the fastest rate in its history. The Federation, which had been at war with both empires, was gaining new members and resources at a phenomenal rate. Although the Romulans and Klingons were extremely suspicious of one another it was clear to them that they were in danger of being marginalized.
The Romulans had emerged from isolation in 2266 and tried the Federation’s defenses with a new generation of cloaked ship. Although the cloaking technology appeared promising, the ship failed to return, leading many in the Romulan military to feel that it was underpowered. In particular they were concerned that Federation ships had greater firepower, better defenses and could achieve higher speeds.
The following year the Klingons launched an all-out war against the Federation, but were halted by an extremely powerful species, called the Organians, who imposed a peace treaty on them. To many Klingons the Organian peace treaty seemed to favor the Federation, since it set up a system where the control of unaligned worlds was determined by the economic rather than military benefits either power could offer. The Klingons were concerned that the Federation was acquiring valuable resources that would leave them much better equipped for war.
In late 2267, a Romulan delegation approached the Klingon Empire, offering them access to cloaking and computer technology in return for starship designs and disruptor technology. Many members of the Klingon High Council were suspicious of the Romulans’ motives, but the lure of cloaking technology proved too great and by early 2268 the Romulan Senate and the Klingon High Council had signed a treaty that provided for a limited exchange of technology and offered guarantees about encroaching into one another’s space.
The first D7-class Klingon cruisers were delivered to the Romulans within a matter of months, while the Romulans handed over four working cloaking devices. The cloaking devices required a certain amount of modification before they could work with the Klingon ships—in particular the Klingon warp engines had to be realigned to reduce their radiation emissions, and top speeds had to be cut to avoid detection. The cloaking devices also required constant monitoring. Only a handful of engineers in the Imperial Fleet understood how to operate them and Klingon captains had little idea of how to adjust their tactics.
The Federation was so alarmed by this development that they risked a major diplomatic incident by breaching the Romulan Neutral Zone and stealing a cloaking device from one of the newly supplied D7 battle cruisers. The Klingons proved that Starfleet’s concern was justified the following year, when the Klingon commanders Kor and Kang took two cloaked divisions of D5 battle cruisers to launch a surprise attack on Caleb IV. The attack was devastating and became known as a famous victory.
However, even at this early stage the Romulan-Klingon alliance was showing signs of stress. Despite the assurances given in the treaty, the Romulans took advantage of their new battle cruiser technology to annex several disputed worlds along the Klingon-Romulan border. The Klingons retaliated and within a matter of months the treaty was in tatters.
The Klingons first acquired cloaking technology in 2268 as part of a technology exchange with the Romulans. In return the Romulans gained access to the designs for Klingon battle cruisers.
The cloaking device normally prevents a cloaked ship from firing its weapons. This limitation was briefly overcome by General Chang in the early 2290s who developed a Bird-of-Prey that could fire torpedoes while cloaked.
Meanwhile, the Federation appeared to be developing new countermeasures against the cloaking device. The balance of power had shifted, and although hostilities continued, the Klingons drew back from all-out war. They took advantage of the situation to roll out the technology to the entire Imperial Fleet, in a massive program that saw every ship from the tiniest scout to the largest warship fitted with a cloaking device.
The Great Houses set their scientists to improving the cloak and overcoming its limitations, which prevented a cloaked ship from firing any kind of weaponry. By 2292 the House of Chang had developed a prototype Bird-of-Prey that could fire while cloaked. This relied on a special modification that allowed photon torpedoes to be fired through the cloaking field. Since the prototype was destroyed and Chang did not make the technology available to the Klingon Defense Force, it is not absolutely clear how the modification worked. It is thought to have involved an active, energized surface material that was built into the torpedo housings. This meant that the torpedoes could pass through the cloaking field without being affected by the spatial distortion. The modifications reduced the overall effectiveness of the cloak, and exposed the General’s vessel to repeated—and fatal—return fire from Starfleet’s Enterprise and Excelsior starships.
After the 2270s the Klingons and Romulans did not share cloaking technology until the Dominion War and as a result the approaches have diverged slightly. The Romulans in particular have experimented with methods of moving an entire ship out of phase with the normal universe, not only making it undetectable but potentially immune to weapons fire. The Klingons have concentrated on methods of firing while cloaked. To date neither of these approaches have met with lasting success.
The Dominion War posed such a great threat that the Klingons and the Romulans eventually allowed a modification of their treaties with the Federation so that the U.S.S. Defiant could be equipped with a cloaking device. Klingon scientists had to redouble their efforts to improve the cloaking device after it emerged that the Dominion could detect cloaked ships. The cloak remains a vital asset for the Klingon Empire, despite its controversial history connected with the Romulans, and it is now impossible to imagine a Bird-of-Prey that cannot conceal itself from its enemies.
During the Dominion War the Klingon Empire modified its treaties with the Federation to allow the Federation to equip one of its warships, the U.S.S. Defiant, with a Romulan cloaking device.
The warp wings on the Bird-of-Prey are variable geometry, which means they have the capability of altering their angle for three distinct flight modes: Flight, in which the wings are held out roughly horizontal to the ship; Attack, where the wings are dropped to a 45-degree angle bellow the ship; and Landing, where the wings are swept up keeping them free of the ground. Each of these three positions has distinct advantages and alters the way the wings function, and the position is determined by either internal hardware configurations or external conditions, with movements achieved by a redundant series of heavy-duty electromechanical actuators.
The wings are each attached to the hull structure by way of a substantial hinge assembly 1.74 meters in diameter outboard of Deck 5. Six identical pairs of rotational mounts are gamma welded to each side of the aft hull and to each wing box in a microgravity assembly fixture. The fixture is equipped with 235 precision optical and magnetic sensor guides to align the hinge sections to accept the tempered duranium center cylinder.
Six pairs of actuator motors and multiple position and torsion sensors are integrated within the rotational joints. When the wings are moved, the actuators are controlled by the central computer according to the ship’s real-time flight mode, or commanded by the helm officer within the flight safety limits perceived by the navigational system. Normal motion rates are kept to within 5–8 degrees per second while in space, though emergency motor power can be applied to move though 14 degrees per second. Power for the actuators comes from three pairs of medium step-down plasma nodes.
In the flight position the wings take on the role that is served by warp nacelles on most other vessels, with superheated plasma energizing warp coils to create a warp field around the ship. When the Bird-of-Prey is in this mode the wings are generally level with the horizontal plane of the ship and with each other. Standard warp flight for the Bird-of-Prey involves energy fields that move the vessel most efficiently when they are coplanar, emanating from the warp plates vertically and aft and interacting only minimally above or below the ship.
The transverse plasma conduit connecting the warp reactors to the wings on Deck 5 incorporates a rotating joint, which is fully open in the cruise configuration. This allows for the most speed and faster-than-light (FTL) maneuvering options in transport or battle situations.
Attack maneuvers with the disruptors powered up require the wings to transition to the dropped position, at least 43 degrees away from horizontal. This transition can occur while the ship is slowing from warp to sublight, and in fact the lowered wings can facilitate the bleed-off of warp field energy. This procedure is sometimes used as a braking tactic to allow a Bird-of-Prey to switch from being pursued to becoming the pursuer. The dropped wings create a constriction in the warp plasma conduit necessary for the disruptors to pressurize properly and form plasma bolts dense enough to inflict major damage.
Disruptor bolts can be fired at more flattened angles, though the energy contained in each bolt will be diminished. In some cases, this may be enough to disable an enemy vessel, especially if boarding and not immediate destruction is the objective. The attack position has the added benefit of protecting the lower decks in the aft hull, where the warp cores are situated, plus the ship’s neck structure from certain angles. While the defensive shield grid and armor plating remain the primary lines of defense, the wings can shadow the ship from incoming energy weapons fire or projectile weapon detonation.
Landing position elevates the wings to approximately 40 degrees above the plane of the hinge. This procedure lifts the wingtip disruptors safely above ground level and minimizes hardware impacts with support crews and maintenance equipment. It also helps to center the wing mass over the deployed landing gear. The wingtip separation distance is decreased, allowing for touchdowns in areas that might be slightly less open than at dedicated bases. Once on the ground, the wings can be lowered for repair work or routine checks.
Structural rigidity at each flight position is enhanced by two distinctive sets of interleaved hinge plates on each side of the ship. The upper halves are attached to the hull, the lower halves to the warp wing box. The plates, fabricated from duranium titanide, are allowed to slide past each other until exposed to a modified tractor field, which causes them to grab and lock. The locked plates are particularly helpful during planetary landings and takeoffs where the wings need to be supported against gravity, even with the help of the mass-lightening impulse engines.