This is a defensive technology that uses active magnetic fields, but in a different way from Electromagnetic Defense Fields or Plasma Shields, which will be discussed in their own articles. This concept is also sometimes called a lightning shield.
Large capacitors (or their futuristic equivalents) on board a vehicle would build up and store a tremendous amount of electrical charge, which can be routed to conductive grids on the outer hull. The ship projects a weak electromagnetic field around itself. Any physical object entering this field would become instantly charged, allowing an open circuit to be formed with the ship's capacitors. From an observer outside, it would look very much as if a bolt of lightning lanced outward from the vehicle to incinerate the incoming threat.
The system would be set up so that it would activate automatically to intercept anything of significant size entering the triggering field. A vehicle would typically carry multiple high power capacitors to handle incoming multiple threats, each being activated in quick succession as needed.
Though originally conceived of as a defense for armored ground vehicles, an electrostatic defense field would only be of limited use to them. Ideally an incoming target should be either vaporized or deflected upon being hit by the immense electrical discharge. However, it would not necessarily work well against high-velocity rounds with dense penetrator cores that typically make up anti-tank rounds. This is in addition to incidental metal objects (shrapnel, debris, casings, etc) that could accidentally trigger the field, leaving the vehicle vulnerable while the charge builds back up.
Lightning shields rather come into their own on space vehicles. Out of the atmosphere, there is very little stray debris that will accidentally trigger the defense response. What debris there is, in the form of micrometeoroids and shrapnel, the field can readily take care of, at least in small numbers. Projectiles may or may not be successfully deflected by this system, depending on their manufacture, inertia, and mass.
Electrostatic defense fields would also be able to affect plasma beam bolts. Lasers would not be affected at all, however, and particle beams would be moving too fast to be intercepted by the electrical discharge.
Like with their cousin, the electromagnetic ‘deflector’ shield, having a lightning shield active would wreak havoc with radio communication for the vehicle, and the field would show up prominently on enemy sensors.
Fire, Fusion, And Steel: The Traveller Technical Architecture, a supplement for the Traveller RPG, published by GDW
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