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Electromagnetic Bomb… 

… A Weapon of Electronic Mass Destruction

by Carlo Kopp
Defense Analyst

High Power Electromagnetic Pulse generation techniques and High Power Microwave technology have matured to the point where practical E-bombs (Electromagnetic bombs) are becoming technically feasible, with new applications in both Strategic and Tactical Information Warfare. The development of conventional E-bomb devices allows their use in non-nuclear confrontations. This paper discusses aspects of the technology base, weapon delivery techniques and proposes a doctrinal foundation for the use of such devices in warhead and bomb applications.


The prosecution of a successful Information Warfare (IW) campaign against an industrialised or post industrial opponent will require a suitable set of tools. As demonstrated in the Desert Storm air campaign, air power has proven to be a most effective means of inhibiting the functions of an opponent’s vital information processing infrastructure. This is because air power allows concurrent or parallel engagement of a large number of targets over geographically significant areas.

While Desert Storm demonstrated that the application of air power was the most practical means of crushing an opponent’s information processing and transmission nodes, the need to physically destroy these with guided munitions absorbed a substantial proportion of available air assets in the early phase of the air campaign. Indeed, the aircraft capable of delivering laser guided bombs were largely occupied with this very target set during the first nights of the air battle.

The efficient execution of an IW campaign against a modern industrial or post-industrial opponent will require the use of specialised tools designed to destroy information systems. Electromagnetic bombs built for this purpose can provide, where delivered by suitable means, a very effective tool for this purpose.

The EMP Effect

The ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP) effect was first observed during the early testing of high altitude airburst nuclear weapons. The effect is characterised by the production of a very short (hundreds of nanoseconds) but intense electromagnetic pulse, which propagates away from its source with ever diminishing intensity, governed by the theory of electromagnetism. The ElectroMagnetic Pulse is in effect an electromagnetic shock wave.

This pulse of energy produces a powerful electromagnetic field, particularly within the vicinity of the weapon burst. The field can be sufficiently strong to produce short lived transient voltages of thousands of Volts (ie kiloVolts) on exposed electrical conductors, such as wires, or conductive tracks on printed circuit boards, where exposed.

It is this aspect of the EMP effect which is of military significance, as it can result in irreversible damage to a wide range of electrical and electronic equipment, particularly computers and radio or radar receivers. Subject to the electromagnetic hardness of the electronics, a measure of the equipment’s resilience to this effect, and the intensity of the field produced by the weapon, the equipment can be irreversibly damaged or in effect electrically destroyed. The damage inflicted is not unlike that experienced through exposure to close proximity lightning strikes, and may require complete replacement of the equipment, or at least substantial portions thereof.

Commercial computer equipment is particularly vulnerable to EMP effects, as it is largely built up of high density Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) devices, which are very sensitive to exposure to high voltage transients. What is significant about MOS devices is that very little energy is required to permanently wound or destroy them, any voltage in typically in excess of tens of Volts can produce an effect termed gate breakdown which effectively destroys the device. Even if the pulse is not powerful enough to produce thermal damage, the power supply in the equipment will readily supply enough energy to complete the destructive process. Wounded devices may still function, but their reliability will be seriously impaired. Shielding electronics by equipment chassis provides only limited protection, as any cables running in and out of the equipment will behave very much like antennae, in effect guiding the high voltage transients into the equipment.

Computers used in data processing systems, communications systems, displays, industrial control applications, including road and rail signalling, and those embedded in military equipment, such as signal processors, electronic flight controls and digital engine control systems, are all potentially vulnerable to the EMP effect.

Other electronic devices and electrical equipment may also be destroyed by the EMP effect. Telecommunications equipment can be highly vulnerable, due to the presence of lengthy copper cables between devices. Receivers of all varieties are particularly sensitive to EMP, as the highly sensitive miniature high frequency transistors and diodes in such equipment are easily destroyed by exposure to high voltage electrical transients. Therefore radar and electronic warfare equipment, satellite, microwave, UHF, VHF, HF and low band communications equipment and television equipment are all potentially vulnerable to the EMP effect.

It is significant that modern military platforms are densely packed with electronic equipment, and unless these platforms are well hardened, an EMP device can substantially reduce their function or render them unusable.

The Technology Base for Conventional Electromagnetic Bombs

The technology base which may be applied to the design of electromagnetic bombs is both diverse, and in many areas quite mature. Key technologies which are extant in the area are explosively pumped Flux Compression Generators (FCG), explosive or propellant driven Magneto-Hydrodynamic (MHD) generators and a range of HPM devices, the foremost of which is the Virtual Cathode Oscillator or Vircator. A wide range of experimental designs have been tested in these technology areas, and a considerable volume of work has been published in unclassified literature.

This paper will review the basic principles and attributes of these technologies, in relation to bomb and warhead applications. It is stressed that this treatment is not exhaustive, and is only intended to illustrate how the technology base can be adapted to an operationally deployable capability.

Explosively Pumped Flux Compression Generators

The explosively pumped FCG is the most mature technology applicable to bomb designs. The FCG was first demonstrated by Clarence Fowler at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) in the late fifties. Since that time a wide range of FCG configurations has been built and tested, both in the US and the USSR, and more recently CIS.

The FCG is a device capable of producing electrical energies of tens of MegaJoules in tens to hundreds of microseconds of time, in a relatively compact package. With peak power levels of the order of TeraWatts to tens of TeraWatts, FCGs may be used directly, or as one shot pulse power supplies for microwave tubes. To place this in perspective, the current produced by a large FCG is between ten to a thousand times greater than that produced by a typical lightning stroke.

The central idea behind the construction of FCGs is that of using a fast explosive to rapidly compress a magnetic field, transferring much energy from the explosive into the magnetic field.

The initial magnetic field in the FCG prior to explosive initiation is produced by a start current. The start current is supplied by an external source, such a a high voltage capacitor bank (Marx bank), a smaller FCG or an MHD device. In principle, any device capable of producing a pulse of electrical current of the order of tens of kiloAmperes to MegaAmperes will be suitable.

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About the author: Luis Miranda

Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Real Agenda. His career spans over 19 years and almost every form of news media. He attended Montclair State University's School of Broadcasting and also obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Luis speaks English, Spanish Portuguese and Italian.

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