Feeds

Pentagon in $75m electropulse blast-ray programme

Terawatt RF zap weapons sought

Business security measures using SSL

Despite decades of disappointment, plucky Pentagon boffinry chiefs continue to seek a working electromagnetic pulse weapon - the dreaded, circuitry-frying "e-bomb".

The US Air Force Research Laboratory is now initiating a five-year, $75m programme intended to finally get the field of electropulse combat kickstarted.

Wired magazine reported yesterday on the upcoming High Energy Research and Applications (HERA*) programme, advertised by the airforce war boffins here.

The preferred airforce term for the desired kit is High Power Microwave (HPM). The HERA programme is supposed to "deliver aerial and ground based HPM weapon systems... close to an end product" by 2012. This dovetails nicely with hints given in a presentation by a Pentagon research chief some months ago.

The HERA notice says the Air Force would like zappers delivering peak power in the multi-gigawatt range, or even more.

"Research and experiments will be conducted with the goal of... increasing power (trillion watt range)... mating advanced weapons concept devices to HPM generators..."

Millimetre-wave pulses in the lotsa-gigawatt intensity range - let alone terawatt - can run up against "air breakdown limits" where the very air itself starts to glow with the energy being beamed through it. While no doubt very cool in appearance, from the war boffins' point of view this is a problem as they want the power to get into the enemy's circuitry rather than waste itself in flashy pyrotechnics. They'd like candidates for the $75m to have "innovative methods to overcome air breakdown limits" up their sleeve.

Among other things, the lucky organisation will also need plenty of staff suitable for a "CRITICAL NUCLEAR WEAPON DESIGN INFORMATION" security clearance. This is probably to do with the fact that most of the decent HPM pulses produced so far have been side effects of atomic bomb explosions.

All this is pretty tasty stuff: but it isn't a death ray, or anyway isn't meant to be. The idea is to mount strikes against "targets set such as... facilities with electronic systems" or "centers of gravity". The electropulse blast would knock out communications, data, and/or power grid networks, by overloading their circuits with fatal RF-induced spikes.

(This was what evil Sean Bean planned to do to London in the Bond caper Goldeneye, using a space-based nuclear HPM gizmo built by the Russians and controlled from a thinly-disguised shopping centre.)

That's not to say that microwaves at this sort of power couldn't hurt or kill people, but if that's what you want to do there are easier and cheaper ways. This probably is what the Pentagon says, an attempt to kill electronics rather than humans.

Even so, nobody needs to start wrapping all their gear in Faraday cages just yet. People have been foretelling the HPM e-bomb forever, and many disappointments have been suffered. This is likely to be just another long shot on the part of the US air force, who'd very much like to have some more options in between dropping leaflets and blowing everything up.

So leave that tinfoil on the shelf for now. ®

Bootnote

*Another poor acronym, Hera being an unsuitable goddess for a programme like this. We'd have gone with lightning gods: ZEUS (Zapper Effects for Unlikely Scenarios), or THOR (Terawatt Hardkill Option Research).

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.