A different kind of weapon...


February 20, 2003, 12:24 PM
Here's an article from the NY Times' Science Section on Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. I thought it was interesting. It surprised me to learn that many devices/circuits, which have been hardened against EMP generated by a nuclear burst, would not be protected against newer gen (microwave, etc.) weapons.



Weapons That Disable Circuitry May Get First Use in Iraq

February 20, 2003

AS the United States readies for a possible conflict in
Iraq, many of the star weapons from the Persian Gulf war of
1991 are back and deadlier than ever. The smart bombs are
smarter. The stealth planes are sneakier. Even the ground
troops are better equipped than they were a dozen years

Yet according to military experts, the biggest technical
revelation of another war in the region may not be
improvements to old systems but rather a new category of
firepower known as directed-energy weapons.

Think invisible lasers, using high-powered microwaves and
other sorts of radiation rather than the pulses of visible
light common in science fiction. These new systems, which
have been under development in countries including Britain,
China, Russia and the United States for at least a decade,
are not designed to kill people. Conventional bombs, guns
and artillery can take care of that.

Rather, most of the directed-energy systems are meant to
kill electronics, to disrupt or destroy the digital devices
that control the information lifeblood of modern societies
and modern military forces. By contrast, traditional
jamming equipment blocks communications gear from
functioning but does not actually damage the device.

"If there is a war in Iraq, there is no question in my mind
that we will see the use of both directed-energy and
radio-frequency weaponry,'' said John Arquilla, a professor
of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in
Monterey, Calif., referring to both the new sorts of
weapons and traditional jamming technology. "Over the last
several years, a great deal of research has been undertaken
in this area both by the United States but also by other
countries, not all of them allied with us."

That is why, like the genie escaping its bottle, directed
energy may harbor danger for the United States itself, not
just for its adversaries. With its increasing reliance on
digital communications and information systems, the United
States is perhaps the most vulnerable potential target for
directed-energy devices, military experts say.

But for the moment, most directed-energy specialists are
concentrating on the possible uses of the technology
against Iraq.

For instance, military experts say that the United States
or Britain could use cruise missiles or commando units to
deliver a directed-energy weapon within a few thousand feet
of an Iraqi control bunker that happened to be close to a
large civilian population. If the weapon functioned
properly, it would disable or destroy the electronics
inside the bunker without the risks associated with a
conventional missile attack or bombing.

As the government works on new battlefield and continental
missile-defense systems, directed-energy research is also
helping to develop energy beams to be used to shoot down

And while directed-energy weapons are not generally meant
to kill people, there are certainly antipersonnel
applications. In addition to the anti-electronics weapons,
other directed-energy systems under development are meant
to use microwaves to make people feel pain in the outer
layer of the skin without generally causing physical
damage. That pain is intended to inspire an instinct to

In describing the use of such systems, which are meant to
be mounted on a truck or perhaps on an all-wheel-drive
Hummer vehicle, weapons experts constantly evoke "Black
Hawk Down,'' the book and film that describe the chaotic
1993 United States military intervention in Somalia. In
Somalia, United States soldiers had little way to disperse
angry groups of civilians without firing.

"I can see something like this being especially effective
someplace like downtown Baghdad,'' said Christopher
Hellman, a senior research analyst at the Center for
Defense Information, a think tank in Washington. "If one of
Saddam Hussein's tactics is going to be to flood Baghdad
with civilians, this could be really nice to have.''

"I think that one is pretty close,'' to operational
deployment, Mr. Hellman added. "If it's even remotely
close, I'd bet they're working 24-7 to get it ready.''

Mr. Hellman estimated that the government has recently been
spending "tens or maybe hundreds of millions of dollars
annually'' on directed-energy systems. "As long as you're
not talking billions,'' he added, "it's not statistically

What is significant is determining the ability of potential
foes to develop such devices themselves. For now, military
experts generally appear to believe that directed-energy
weapons are beyond the technical reach of terrorist groups.

"Considering that the United States has struggled with this
and has taken a long time to get it to the verge of
operational use, I think it would be tough for terrorists
to get something they could use in this area,'' said David
A. Fulghum, senior military editor for Aviation Week &
Space Technology, a leading industry magazine. "I think it
would probably be easier for them to develop a nuclear
weapon and try to employ the electromagnetic pulse produced
by that than to try to develop high-power microwave

Nonetheless, as the nation's civilian society and
especially its military apparatus come to depend ever more
on electronic communication and information systems, the
development of such systems by potentially unfriendly
nations with significant industrial and technological
abilities could become a military quandary.

"Over the last generation, digital technology has infused
every facet of American life,'' said Loren B. Thompson,
chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a
nonprofit national security think tank in Virginia, and
co-author of a directed-energy study that the group
released this month. "There is a tendency to think of the
Information Age threat as consisting of software worms or
viruses or a shutdown of electrical power, but there is a
middle ground where energy is used to erase or disrupt or
destroy digital systems without cutting off power and
without introducing contaminating software.''

Mr. Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School said, "This
is one of the major Achilles' heels of the increasing use
of technology in the United States military."

"Most of what we have today is not hardened against this
kind of capability and we are extremely vulnerable, so it
makes sense for other militaries to be exploring these
sorts of capabilities,'' Mr. Arquilla added. Referring to
the Chinese army, he said, "We have seen increasing
experiments in this area by the People's Liberation Army
and other militaries.''

That is why the Pentagon in recent years has intensified
its research on possible defenses and countermeasures
against an enemy's directed-energy weapons systems.

In the early 1960's, the United States and the Soviet Union
first recognized the potentially destructive effects of the
electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, emitted by nuclear weapons
detonations. In addition to releasing heat and physical
energy, a nuclear detonation releases high amounts of
electromagnetic radiation.

That radiation can disrupt the operation of semiconductors,
which form the basis of transistors, which in turn form the
basis of microchips. Semiconductors essentially operate by
regulating a flow of electrons, or current. When a large
amount of external radiation is applied to a semiconductor,
it can induce more current to flow than the semiconductor
was built to handle, potentially destroying the device.

From the 1960's through the end of the cold war, the United
States and the Soviet Union spent billions of dollars to
protect their electronics systems, or "harden" them,
against the effect of a nuclear-generated electromagnetic
pulse. Because old-fashioned vacuum tubes are generally
impervious to EMP, the Soviet Union also used tubes in some
of its sensitive systems.

Put simply, the new generation of directed-energy weapons
is meant to emulate the sort of damage that nuclear EMP can
inflict upon electronics but at far less range, with more
control of the damage and without all of the ancillary
physical destruction and radioactivity.

There are important technical differences, however, both in
how and in what sort of electromagnetic energy is

The epicenter of most directed-energy weapons research in
the United States is Kirtland Air Force Base in
Albuquerque. A spokesman at Kirtland said that he could not
comment beyond the information on the base's Web site
(www.de.afrl.af .mil). Companies including TRW, Raytheon
and Lockheed Martin are also engaged in directed-energy
research. In addition, the research involves nonclassified
work being conducted by civilians such as Edl Schamiloglu,
director of the pulsed power, beams and microwave
laboratory at the University of New Mexico's department of
electrical and computer engineering.

Mr. Schamiloglu said most of the research on
directed-energy applications over the last 15 years has
focused on the part of the microwave range of the
electromagnetic spectrum between 1 gigahertz, or 1 billion
cycles per second, and 10 gigahertz.

By contrast, nuclear-generated EMP tends to be at much
lower frequency ranges, generally below 1 gigahertz. That
means that existing safeguards against nuclear EMP will not
protect against the new generation of directed-energy

Most of the details on directed-energy weapons are
classified. But there appear to be some reasons the
military is focusing on the microwave band.

First, it bypasses existing protections against
nuclear-generated EMP.

Second, microwaves in the 1 gigahertz to 10 gigahertz band
appear to be especially efficient at generating excessive
current within modern semiconductors.

Third, the physical characteristics of microwaves appear to
lend themselves to offensive applications against
electronic targets - even those as simple as a PC. "Look at
your computer,'' Mr. Schamiloglu said. "Look at the disc
drive, the CD-ROM drive, the air slots, even the hole for
the power cord. The holes are about half an inch. The slots
are about 6 inches and there is conducting material all
around them." Because those specifications correspond
closely to the wavelengths of the directed-energy beams, he
said, "those are perfect antennas for microwaves.''

There are two main families of anti-electronics
directed-energy weapons: ultra-wideband devices and
high-power microwave systems. Ultra-wideband weapons, known
as UWB, emit energy across a relatively large swath of the
electromagnetic spectrum. High-power microwave devices
concentrate high amounts of energy in a very narrow
frequency band. High-power microwave devices are generally
used to destroy electrical components, while UWB devices
are more likely to only temporarily disrupt target devices.

One of the main problems in developing all of these sorts
of directed-energy systems has been generating the
necessary power. Nuclear EMP obviously has a tremendous
power source. Initial versions of directed-energy weapons
in the United States and particularly in the Soviet Union
also focused on chemical explosions as a potential power

Over the last decade, however, directed-energy systems have
become viable weapons largely because of advances in
batteries and capacitors that allow a large amount of
electrical energy to be delivered in a very quick pulse. A
capacitor is an electrical device that stores and releases
power. The use of electrical power allows the use of
antennas that can focus the electromagnetic energy into a
beam rather than an omnidirectional pattern, as a bomb
would produce. Military experts say the range of modern
directed-energy weapons could generally be measured in
thousands of feet.

"High-power microwaves have been around since the late
60's, early 70's, but they were strictly laboratory
equipment,'' Mr. Schamiloglu said. "It's because of the
technology advances in capacitors, switches and batteries
that you can now think about making these smaller. And once
they are smaller they become of interest to various
branches of the military and you can see the

Mr. Fulghum of Aviation Week said cruise missiles were the
most likely way that high-power microwave or ultra-wideband
weapons would be delivered in the event of hostilities in
Iraq. Cruise missiles appear optimal because even using a
beam configuration, a directed-energy weapon is likely to
disable the vehicle that delivers it.

"The first step is to put it in a cruise missile that isn't
necessarily coming back,'' Mr. Fulghum said.


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February 20, 2003, 12:52 PM
Impressive technology with some practical problems, like fratricide and collateral damage. Imagine the friends we'd make in Baghdad if one of these popped all the TV stations and Al Jazeera right before the evening news came on.:cuss:

TFL Survivor

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