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I'm writing a steampunk novel set 600 years into the future after WWIII sends humankind back to the stone age. Slowly, the survivors begin industrializing again, and currently have steam technology which they use to power large mechs (15 feet high). The opposing side also builds mechs, but they are equipped with computers systems and powered electronically. What could the good guys do to theoretically stop the more advanced suits without killing their own in the process? Is there some kind of gun that shoots high-powered magnets or a hand-held emp ray that can be used to halt them in their tracks? I need a targeted solution that can be deployed without affecting the electrical grid (and not dependent on it either). The steam suits are made of stainless steel and use hydraulics and a rankine steam cyclone engine. I was thinking of having the opposing mechs have their hulls made out of something like this:

“Composite metal foams (CMFs) are little-known materials that are beginning to show some big promise. Last year we saw researchers adapt these lightweight materials to stop various forms of radiation in their tracks, and now the same team has ramped things up to offer protection from something with a bit more force: an armour-piercing bullet, which was turned to dust on impact. Building on this previous work, Rabiei then set about building high-strength armor. The shield was comprised of boron carbide ceramics as the strike face, with composite metal foam (CMF) as the bullet kinetic energy absorber layer and Kevlar panels as backplates. To test its durability, Rabiei and her team took aim with a 7.62 x 63 mm M2 armor-piercing projectile, which was fired in line with the standard testing procedures established by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). “We could stop the bullet at a total thickness of less than an inch, while the indentation on the back was less than 8 mm," Rabiei says. "To put that in context, the NIJ standard allows up to 44 mm (1.73 in) indentation in the back of an armor." https://newatlas.com/metal-foam-bullets/42731/

But would that material also protect it from a magnetic pulse attack?

EDIT: I realize that my previous description of the computer systems are throwing people off. When I said advanced I mean compared to steam tech. Not compared to modern day. Advanced for that era, which would be primitive by today's standards. Think apollo 13--only not that advanced. Scaled down enough to fit in a mech, but not powerful enough to do much.

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    $\begingroup$ It might only work once, but funneling all available steam into a crack in the electronic mech's armor might short out its electronics. ...and maybe even boil its crew. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Apr 17 '18 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ For modern technology level, properly shielded vehicles are significantly more vulnerable to missiles than to any EMP generators of practical size. Vehicle's sensors (cameras, radars) are more vulnerable, though. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Apr 17 '18 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE. Please take a moment to visit our tour and read through our help center pages. Do you remember the old Civ III game where a single group of spearmen could hold off tanks? That's what you seem to have, and it's unbelievable (having an all-stainless steam mech is unbelievable). I recommend you focus more on your backstory before you worry about this, because the trick with Steampunk is believably balancing old-vs-new tech. You don't have that balance. Your computer-controlled mechs can lob shells from miles away. Your steam mechs can't. Therefore, an EMP is useless. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 18 '18 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ The computer powered mechs are primitive, as the technology is in its infancy. There are no navigational missile guidance systems. It is not on par with tech we have today. It's what you would expect to see in a simple tractor or front loader. What would be a more believable material to have the mechs made of? It needs to be impervious to water. And most any steampunk novel includes some degree of suspension of belief. $\endgroup$ – Ash Apr 18 '18 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ One side has advanced computers and the other has only steam tech? Not only is that a pretty unimaginable turn of events, but there is just no way that the steam side even has a chance $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 18 '18 at 2:46
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Magnetic bolas.

argentine bolas https://www.pinterest.com/pin/425730970997216277

The bolas is a thrown weapon consisting of weights at the end of long cords. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolas On striking the animal, the weights whip around in decreasing circles, leaving the animal entangled by the cords.

Your mech-busting bolas uses powerful fixed magnets for weights. As these whip around the computer mech, the moving magnets induce currents in any conductive material within the magnetic fields. Magnetic fields know no barriers and cannot be blocked. As the circumference of the moving magnets decreases and the cords tighten, induced fields get stronger because the magnets are closer and are moving faster.

Induced eddy currents will wreak havoc on the internal circuitry of the computer mech. A steam mech will not be vulnerable to this sort of attack.

The magnetic bolas will be reusable if reclaimed. It might be useful for other things as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would the magnets not attach to the side of the mech instead of wrapping around? Though the hull will not be magnetic there may be bits inside that are. And how would I get something like that to wrap around a mech of a girth about ten feet? Would it have to wrap exactly around where the navigation computer is at the control panel or does it matter? Here's a simliar mech I have used as inspiration: techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/… $\endgroup$ – Ash Apr 18 '18 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the fixed magnets stick to your own Mech? since its stainless steel? $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Apr 18 '18 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ No Shadowzee. It would be more of a common stainless steel, which is 'austenitic' and includes nickel. $\endgroup$ – Ash Apr 18 '18 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ ‘Magnetic fields know no barriers and cannot be blocked’- true of slowly changing fields, but if your magnetic field is changing rapidly enough to induce current then Mr Faraday would like a word about the properties of wire mesh. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 18 '18 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs: for the sake of the steam mech folks hopefully you are not consulting for the computer mech team. Ash: you would get it to wrap because your antimech bola is long. The more the moving fields intersect with the fussy internal bits, the better. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 18 '18 at 14:16
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I'm not sure if this would be plausible in real life, but it might work in a story. Essentially, they could shoot a canister object at the enemy, with a large coil inside it. Upon collision the coil slides forward generating a huge current (You could potentially move the coil faster by having another pressurized canister on the inside? or maybe some explosives to drive the coil forward. Just have them punctured on impact). This should generate a fairly localized EMP blast around where the canister lands.

Other than that, I don't see a particularly good way of deploying an EMP without having your mechs carry a large emp machine on their back, but in those cases, the range would be much larger and possible affect the surrounding area and your own mechs without using some plot armor.

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