In this article, we will examine the EMP, or electromagnetic pulse.
EMPs have shown up from a wide variety of sources within the C&C games.
• Tiberian Sun: EMP Cannon, Mobile EM-Pulse
• Generals: EMP Pulse
• Tiberium Wars: EMP Grenades, Shockwave Artillery, EMP Coils, EMP Blast, EMP Control Center
In real life, EMPs can be produced both naturally and from manmade devices. Films, television shows, and video games have thoroughly confused the reality of EMPs, making them more destructive in some cases, or less so in others.
Broadly speaking, an EMP is a burst of electromagnetic radiation. It should be noted that EMPs are not restricted to electromagnetic radiation alone, this type is merely the most significant as it can be projected over large distances without a conductive medium. They can also come in the forms of electric or magnetic fields, or electric current. The first type is the most practical for use as a weapon, so it is what this article will be focusing on.
A single pulse can cover a wide range of frequencies, but not all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation are considered to be part of an EMP. All frequencies from infrared and higher (visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, gamma rays) are disregarded.
The first issue with C&C EMPs that should be addressed is not a comparison to reality, but a question of grammar. The Chinese General’s power, EMP Pulse is redundant as it could be read electromagnetic pulse pulse. The Awakened and Enlightened from the Marked of Kane arsenal bear a similarity with their EMP Blast abilities.
Since EMPs only cover frequencies below visible light, they are invisible. That said, EMPs absolutely can cause electric arcs and sparking as a secondary effects from the medium they are passing through. Depending on the circumstance, this can include the air itself. The effects in the C&C games are still exaggerated of course, but a lack of any effects would make for a dull experience.
Interestingly, the most powerful electromagnetic pulses that are produced from manmade devices are nuclear explosions. Although quite a number of the C&C games feature nuclear weapons, none of these explosions are accompanied by an EMP effect. A point of fact, manmade EMPs are so closely tied to nuclear explosions, other military applications of them are referred to as non-nuclear electromagnetic pulses, or NNEMPs.
Most NNEMPs are produced using a method known as an explosively pumped flux compression generator. This uses a conventional explosive to generate sufficient energy to produce the pulse, but the resulting EMP will be significantly weaker than a nuclear EMP. The EPFCG will be destroyed by the explosive, so it can only be used once. Nevertheless, such a device can be quite small, enough so that it can be carried by a single person. This means that vehicles such as the Mobile EM-Pulse and Raider Buggy upgraded with EMP Coils could feasibly store several of these generators. Additionally, EPFCGs require a strong initial electrical charge from an outside source to initiate, answering the need for a cooldown delay on EMP attacks.
Larger explosive EMPs in the C&C games like the poorly named EMP Pulse bomb in Generals and the Shockwave Artillery in Tiberium Wars could also carry EPFCGs as part of their payload, making these weapons perhaps the most realistic in the series.
EMP Grenades are far too small to use a EPFCG inside each one, especially when these grenades supposedly also feature a rocket booster and guidance systems. The EMP aspect is only one among a list of reasons these grenades are fanciful.
Not all NNEMPs are produced with an EPFCG, they can be generated over an antenna or projection dish from a capacitor bank dump into a frequency generator. A device of this type might more closely resemble the Microwave Tank deployed by the USA in Zero Hour. The Microwave Tank is capable of disabling vehicles, but there is no indication it is meant to be using an EMP, which would also discharge as a pulse rather than sustained beam.
Finally, are the effects of EMPs realistic in C&C? Not really. Power lines and anything connected to them are the most vulnerable, and an EMP can knock out a power grid. Unprotected vehicles are not especially vulnerable though, and will likely emerge completely unscathed more often than not. Some things that can result from an EMP against a vehicle include erroneous readouts, engine shutting down (but can be immediately restarted), or damaged components that will require replacement. Military equipment is hardened against EMPs however, and in a scenario where EMPs are expected, it could be assumed even more effort would be put in to harden equipment.