Electro Magnetic Pulse Weapons: The Shock & Awe Effect


“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”

If the above words of President Jimmy Carter holds true even to this date, is it possible to wage war not for the purpose of killing each other’s children but to factually stop an adversary in his tracks and yet harm neither hide nor hair? The answer is Yes and it lies in the use of High Power Microwave (HPM) Weapons.

It was during the early testing of the High Altitude Airburst Nuclear Weapons that the Electro Magnetic Pulse or EMP effect was first observed. EMP is essentially an electromagnetic shock wave. It produces a very short but highly intense electromagnetic pulse, which spreads away from its starting place with ever thinning concentration. The idea behind using an EMP weapon is to prevent the enemy from effectively using their communications. An EMP weapon will induce currents large enough to liquefy circuitry. Even less powerful bursts can momentarily disrupt electrical apparatus or lastingly damage Integrated Circuits, making them redundant for minutes and even days. Humans trapped in the explosion of an EMP will largely remain untouched and may even fail to realize that they have been hit.

The technology that goes behind in designing Electromagnetic Bombs has evolved over the years and is now quite mature. Crucial technologies which are in existence in this area are explosive or propellant driven Magneto-Hydrodynamic (MHD) generators, explosively pumped Flux Compression Generators (FCG), and a wide variety of HPM devices, the most renowned of which is the Virtual Cathode Oscillator.

Gigawatts of power is required to supply the microwave source of an E-Bomb. It is here that the Flux Compression Generators comes handy. The most renowned type consists of an explosive laden copper cylinder which is enclosed by a helical current carrying coil. When it explodes, the explosion burns out the cylinder thereby short-circuiting the coil, gradually dropping the number of twirls in the coil, consequently condensing the magnetic flux.

Compared to the Flux Compression Generators, the technology that goes behind designing of explosive or propellant driven Magneto-Hydrodynamic generators is less mature. The basic theory behind the design of Magneto-Hydrodynamic generators is that a conductor travelling through a magnetic field will create an electrical current oblique to the course of the field as well as the conductor movement. The conductor of the MHD is a plasma of ionised volatile or propellant gas, which moves through the magnetic field. Electrodes which are in contact with the plasma jet collect the current.

The Virtual Cathode Oscillator or Vircator is of great significance as it is a device capable of creating a very strong single pulse of radiation. It’s design is not complex and it can function over a comparatively broad band of microwave frequencies. The basic idea governing the Vircator is that of rushing a shrill current electron beam next to a foil anode. Numerous electrons will go by the anode, creating an effervesce of space charge at the back of the anode. If the space charge area is placed into a reverberating cavity which is suitably tuned then high peak powers can be pulled off.

In order to increase the lethality of an E-Bomb it is essential to increase the power attached into the target set. The electromagnetic bomb can be programmed to set off at the optimal place to inflict a maximum electrical impairment. Just like explosive warheads, electromagnetic warheads can be fitted to a number of delivery vehicles, prominent among them being Cruise Missiles and air delivered bombs such as J-DAMs. EMP weapons can be used for both soft and hard electrical kill. A hard electrical kill by the use of an EMP device will be accomplished in those cases where critical electrical damage is accomplished against a target so as to necessitate it’s replacement.

In reflection, it can be said that an EMP attack is not far fetched. A successful EMP attack can completely cripple the adversaries communication network while at the same time leaving humans untouched. Given their non lethal nature EMP weapons should be positioned against locations where humans would get killed or wounded if a different warfare technique had been used .

About the Author
Debajit Sarkar has over 8 years experience as a consultant, programmer and business analyst with a diverse background in program and project management, strategic management planning and policy analysis in the Defense sector. He researches Smart Weapons and UAVs and closely monitors the emergence of Artificial Intelligence in the Defense sector. His work has allowed him to investigate how Embedded Systems can be better utilized for Home Automation. He has presented algorithms which compute optimal policies for these timed domains.

Mr. Sarkar holds a Bachelors in Commerce (Honours) and a Post Graduation in Computer Application and has worked as a Business Analyst for 4 years with Deloitte and Touche. Currently he works as an Independent Consultant specializing in Smart Weapons and UAV research. In this capacity he successfully delivers business development strategies in the Defense sector and help achieve growth objectives for business enterprises, on a consulting and contract basis. His value proposition is to provide winning client solutions using consultative, and facilitating skills