Civilian Shield During Warfare By Fred Reed
January 26, 2008
Civilian Shield During Warfare
By Fred ReedIn modern wars, people react poorly to the killing of civilians. Thus, for strategically important reasons of public relations (odd phrase, but accurate), militaries would like to avoid “collateral damage.” Consequently we see an emphasis on “precision” weapons and on nonlethal armament.Today, the Pentagon is reviving an old idea with a twist. I see in various sources, for example Aviation Week, that the military has awarded a contract for $75 million for the development of tactical EMP — electromagnetic pulse — weapons. The idea is that these would burn out an enemy”s electronics while killing no one.
The principle is simple enough. Background: A radio works because the electromagnetic signal from the radio station causes a voltage in the radio”s antenna.
An EMP weapon employs what amounts to a very brief but exceedingly powerful radio signal. This causes an electrical surge of perhaps thousands of volts in the wiring of electronic equipment, destroying it.
The effectiveness of such weapons was demonstrated long ago, in the Starfish Prime test of 1962 when the military exploded a 1.4 megaton bomb 250 miles above Johnston Island in the Pacific.
Such explosions produce a massive electromagnetic pulse. A thousand miles way in Hawaii, according to contemporary accounts, power lines melted, traffic lights malfunctioned, television sets and radios quit, burglar alarms sounded. Telephone service between the islands was disrupted because microwave relays burned out.
In a war, much of a nation”s electronic infrastructure could be disabled in a fraction of a second. As in Starfish Prime, this could be done easily by exploding a nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere over the target.
What the Air Force Research Lab is working on is a tad different. Instead of using a nuclear bomb to saturate a large area, it wants aircraft to carry high-powered microwave emitters “as counterelectronics payloads that would not cause physical damage to buildings or harm to humans.” That is, as a nondeath ray.
The notion fits well with modern political restrictions on war. Today, an enemy communications center downtown would be eliminated by “precision” bombs, half of which would miss and destroy kindergartens instead. The public reaction, in the target city and at home, would be serious. A good EMP weapon would fry the communications while doing nothing at all to the kindergartens. Raytheon and BAE Systems North America are involved in researching such weapons.
Nonlethal microwaves have other uses in a heavily urbanized world. Raytheon in particular sells what it calls Vigilant Eagle, a directed-microwave system designed to protect airliners against shoulder-fired missiles.
Says Raytheon, “Vigilant Eagle creates a dome of protection around an airport that protects all aircraft. Missiles are identified and tracked, and a high-power amplifier-transmitter (HAT) radiates a beam of directed electromagnetic energy to disrupt the missile and divert it away from the target aircraft.” The missile would still fall somewhere and do no good, but trying to down a missile with a gun system would result in explosive projectiles falling in large numbers in the suburbs.
Should the research pay off, public antipathy to wars would presumably diminish. Whether that would be a good thing is debatable.