13 March 2009

EMP Weapons Keep Getting More Powerful

Previous e-bomb designs were based on explosively driven magnetic flux compression generators. They used a series of tightly wound, current-carrying metal coils that are rapidly compressed by an explosion. The new technology is much more compact. It's based on research showing that some magnets will spontaneously demagnetize when hit by a powerful enough shock wave, releasing a pulse of energy, in the process. The technical term is "pressure-induced magnetic phase transition." _Wired
Researchers are developing new ways to project a powerful electromagnetic field outward through space. We are all familiar with nuclear EMP. The method described above, using tightly wound metallic coils -- explosively compressed -- is one conventional, non-nuclear approach. A newer, more destructive method is described below:
Hybrid munitions would give warheads the added punch of an e-bomb that can "destroy and disable electronic systems and their operators" all in one blast. The key is a magnet that blows up and spontaneously demagnetizes, releasing energy as a pulse of power.

...Having proved the principle by blowing up neodymium magnets (like the ones in your headphones) the Army's Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (Amrdec) have moved on to lead zirconate titanate magnets. The current state of the art is described as a completely explosive ultracompact high-voltage nanosecond pulse-generating system, occupying about one-fifth of a cubic inch.

There are engineering challenges at the other end. For this new weapon to work, you need an antenna that can fit inside a warhead, but is big enough to do the job. The problem is, the size is dictated by the properties of the electromagnetic pulse to be generated. You could used some sort of folding antenna, perhaps. The Army is going one step further and using an antenna made out of fire. To be more exact, Allen Stults of Amrdec is using the jet of ionized plasma produced by the explosion as an antenna.

...The multifunction warhead technology is being applied to several types of weapon, including TOW missiles, 70mm helicopter rockets and the bomblets dispensed by MLRS artillery. The effects of e-bombs are notoriously unpredictable. A lot depends on the exact type of electronic component and its orientation compared to the e-bomb. The new munitions will have two crucial advantages over previous e-bombs: they are small, and should not cause electronic "friendly fire" casualties hundreds of meters away. And because they still have the same blast, fragmentation and armor-piercing properties as they did, commanders can be confident that they're not wasting space carrying rounds that might have no effect. _Wired
Being able to knock out an enemy's command and control structure is more than half the battle, on a modern electronic battlefield.

The US has used simple weapons such as long metallic ribbons to short out high voltage transmission lines, against Iraq and against Serbia. More sophisticated, focused methods of destroying electronics and electrical equipment have also been used by US forces in battle.

High tech societies are exquisitely vulnerable to loss of communications and loss of power. Ordinary citizens sometimes appear incapable of imagining what their life without electronic communications and without electrical power would be like. That is not a problem. They may learn soon enough, from direct experience.

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