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Some facts about the real world, Terra 2023: tensions between Russia, NATO, China, DPRK, India etc. are high. These powers keep trying to get the edge over each other to establish missile supremacy. The Cold War ended in a perpetual deadlock: nobody came up with a way to destroy their enemies without the destruction being mutual.

Everyone wants hypersonic missiles to get a new edge in this dangerous game, an offensive weapon that can outmatch most defenses.

The above is all factual, now comes the bit that's a bit more worldbuilding. What would give a nation a breakthrough edge in missile defense, and could it hypothetically be Tesla Coils?

Imagine Country A's nuclear submarines launch missiles at Country B's silos and military bases. The missiles are approaching their targets when they enter a perimeter of defensive Tesla Coils and get zapped. The missiles may be hypersonic, but the Tesla Coil arc is literally lightning-quick.

Am I right in thinking that the electric arc could outrun a missile? And in thinking that they are somewhat self-aiming because they follow the path of least resistance, in other words that the arc will go to the missile and not miss? Could it be used as a speculative missile defense?

(This question is somewhat similar to mine, but in a very different world and not focusing on the same aspects of defensive Tesla Coils I am.)

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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it be trivially simple to design a lightning-proof missile? Aircraft already have this feature, and so do space launchers (there are pictures of Soyuz getting struck by lightning during ascent without undue effect). I don't see why a military hypersonic missile would somehow be lacking these aerospace standard protections. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good point Dragongeek I hadn't thought about that $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, it should be noted that while the actual lightning bolt can be very fast, the whole "struck by lightning" process is slow enough that humans can dodge lighting bolts. It takes time for the charges to build up--if you are about to be struck by lighting, your hair stands on end, you see small sparks, and you can smell ozone--enough time to hopefully dive into cover. While a lightning bolt may be faster than a hypersonic missile in a race, forming the ionized pathway takes time and hypersonic missiles are fast $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ How would the coil know that it's supposed to hit the missile and not anything else within range? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Cadence, that depends on where the coil is located. It could be on a perimeter fence around the base/silo. Anything flying through gets zapped $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:59

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Am I right in thinking that the electric arc could outrun a missile?

Sure. Lightning propagates at quite a few kilometers per second. A hypersonic weapon approaching the ground probably manages 2.

And in thinking that they are somewhat self-aiming because they follow the path of least resistance, in other words that the arc will go to the missile and not miss?

Least resistance maybe, but why should that lead to the missile? And if it does lead to the missile, why should the arc travel through it? A big Tesla coil might frazzle you if you get close enough, but you’re probably touching the ground. A missile won’t be, and unless it is a ground penetrating weapon or a dud it won’t ever be.

Now, you could build an electrolaser, and use that to ionize the air between your coil and the target, but it still wouldn’t be touching the ground. You could ionize two trails, but then you’re limited by the insulating gap between them. Turn your coil up too high and it’ll short across the gap instead of getting the target.

Could it be used as a speculative missile defense?

An electrolaser? Maybe. But if you can build one of those, the zapping bit doesn’t have to be a Tesla coil. Nothing special about those, except they look cool. Something other than a Tesla coil works work just as well and probably better.

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    $\begingroup$ Right, electrolasers are another thing I am considering for "what would give a country a defensive edge" $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 15, 2023 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ "Least resistance maybe, but why should that lead to the missile?" – from behind maybe... does the missile leave a trail of ionised air in its wake? Lightning tends to hit THINGS, objects in the air, rather than empty sky, so if there is a missile in the sky... $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 16, 2023 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Lightning can sometimes hit things in the air, on its from from A to B, because something in between was more conductive than the air. But the thing being hit has to position itself between A and B in the first place. Tesla coil arcing is rather different from a lightning strike, so the two cannot be trivially compared here. Consider though that if you had a magic missile fence that relied on big electrical differentials between "posts", things passing between the "posts" might be at risk, but things striking the "posts" directly are not. Your defenses are themselves highly vulnerable. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2023 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ That seems acceptable. Say the posts are 4m wide and 200m apart, there's about a 2% chance of the post being hit by the missile, and if the post is hit by the missile, it's still done its job: stopping the missile hitting the base. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 16, 2023 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @wokopa 2%? More like 100%, because it'll be the first thing that people attack. Also, if you're coming down from above the fence (maybe not even in the far field area) you'll be safe from it because it either can't arc, or won't deliver enough oomph. An electrolaser or other interception system can't be trivially bypassed, and can be rather more hardened. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2023 at 14:52

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