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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania) March 21, 2003

'Clean' Bomb Can Wipe Out Electronics

By Michael Woods

Iraqi generals shrug off the faint explosion as just another American bomb.

Then fluorescent lights overhead and the TV set, both turned off, glow eerily bright and die with a crackle. An acrid odor of melting plastic insulation seeps out of electrical outlets, telephones, and telecommunications devices. If there's a computer in the bunker, it's toast.

Those surprises may await the enemy if the Pentagon, as widely expected, uses Iraq to test one of its newest and most highly-classified weapons: the E-bomb.

Military officials have both hinted that the electromagnetic bomb may get its battlefield debut in Iraq, and denied knowing anything about the far-out device.

E-bombs are a new generation weapon that use electromagnetic energy. They sometimes are termed "HPM weapons" because they use high-power microwaves -- kicked-up versions of those generated in home ovens.

Pulses of the invisible rays, produced by the weapons, are meant to fry electronic devices and communications systems that control and coordinate modern warfare.

They make a lethal surge of electric current flow through wiring and other circuitry, shorting out computer chips, radios, electric power distribution systems, navigation and guidance systems, even the electronic ignitions in motor vehicles.

Largely spared in the destruction, however, are buildings and people.

The United States' long-standing E-weapon research and development program is headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M. Although the program is top secret, information has trickled out.

"High-power microwave technology is ready for the transition to active weapons in the U. S. military," Air Force Col. Eileen Walling wrote in 2000 in one of the few unclassified reports on the project. "There are signs that microwave weapons will represent a revolutionary concept for warfare, principally because microwaves are designed to incapacitate equipment rather than humans."

Yet at a March 5 briefing, Gen. Tommy Franks, U. S. Central Command commander-in-chief, declined to acknowledge the weapon's existence.

E-weapons reportedly were tested successfully in 1999, and now can be delivered in both laser-guided bombs and cruise missiles.

The Pentagon has known for more than 40 years that intense bursts of electromagnetic radiation can disrupt electronic devices. Nuclear bomb tests over the Pacific Ocean in the late 1950s scrambled radio-navigation systems for hundreds of miles around, and even blew out street lights in Hawaii.

Pulses can be generated in many other ways.

An Australian Air Force study concluded that a device termed a "vircator" is the easiest way to weaponize microwave pulses.

Victors consist of a coil of wire wrapped around a small explosive charge, and would easily fit into a smart bomb or missile warhead. Just before detonation, electric current flows through the coil, creating a magnetic field.

The explosive then detonates from the rear forward, compressing the magnetic field in a way that produces the microwave pulse.

Michael Woods can be reached at mwoods@nationalpress.com or 1-202-662-7072.


INFORMATIONAL GRAPHIC: By N. Rapp and P. Santilli/AP; "Air and Space Power Chronicles," GlobalSecurity.org, AP: (WHEN TECHNOLOGY IS THE TARGET)

Copyright 2003, P.G. Publishing Co.