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Fear the terrorist Semtex pulse bomb

Proliferation of Electromagnetic Bombs... any nation with even a 1940s technology base, once in possession of engineering drawings and specifications for such weapons, could manufacture them ... fabrication of an effective FCG [flux compression generator] can be accomplished with basic electrical materials, common plastic explosives such as C-4 or Semtex, and readily available machine tools such as lathes... for a cost as low as $1,000-2,000... the possibility of less developed nations mass producing such weapons is alarming...

Should treaties be agreed to limit the proliferation of electromagnetic weapons, they would be virtually impossible to enforce ... the possibility of microwave and pulse power technology leaking out to Third World nations or terrorist organisations should not be discounted. The threat of electromagnetic bomb proliferation is very real.

In fact, even the mighty USA has failed to achieve non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse/high-power-microwave weapons to date, though (as has been the case for decades) their arrival is considered imminent. As for terrorists and Third World nations knocking them up for a grand out of Semtex in back-alley machine shops, that was (and remains) fantasy. If Kopp is as right about the F-35 as he was about the pulse bomb, it seems plain that a force of F-35s should be able to slip through the Iranian (or even Russian) air-defence net without breaking a sweat.

Thirdly, Dr Kopp's assessment of the effectiveness of Russian air combat equipment would seem to be rather uncritical, to put it mildly. While more than willing to assert that Lockheed Martin, makers of the F-35, aren't to be trusted on the merits of their product, he is happy to take the claims of Rosoboronexport at face value. People in the West have always tended to exaggerate the technical brilliance of Russian air-combat tech, even back in the Cold War when it was much more amply funded. It is foolish to underestimate the enemy, of course; it's even more foolish to exaggerate the danger.

Then it might be, as Kopp says, that the F-35 will be little better than a non-stealthy aircraft for penetrating Russian-made defence networks - but that certainly doesn't mean that it won't be able to do so. In late 2007, for instance, the Israeli air force were somehow able to mount a raid deep into Syrian airspace defended by several of the Russian missile systems that Kopp cites as a problem for the F-35; and the Syrians never so much as managed to get a shot off.

It seems that in fact there's a lot more to modern electronic warfare than simple factors like radar cross-section, line of sight and missile envelope. Noticeably, the Israelis plan on buying the F-35: they think it'll be useful. They aren't even bothering to ask for Kopp's beloved Raptors.

But Dr Kopp's worldview is one in which Russian-armed enemy air forces are almost unbelievably potent, so much so that absolutely nothing except the Raptor is worth sending against them (except maybe his equally beloved, cranky old F-111s for some reason. These planes retired 12 years ago from US service). This is an odd perspective - as odd as the idea that terrorists can make electropulse weapons out of Semtex in garage machine shops. And it isn't the only minority viewpoint held by Dr Kopp.

Consider the good doctor's thoughts, for instance, on the brand new and outrageously expensive Eurofighter Typhoon - seen by many as the next-best air combat fighter in the world after the Raptor, or even by its advocates as the Raptor's superior in some circumstances. Kopp reckons the Eurofighter is crap - cold meat even for upgraded versions of old Russian jets like the Su-27 Flanker, let alone all the amazing new stuff now on Muscovite drawing boards.

"[The Eurofighter] does not have a decisive advantage in systems and sensors... and will not match a supercruise engine equipped Flanker," Kopp writes. Which is a bit of a bummer, as beating the Flanker was the sole purpose for which the Eurofighter was built, in a 20-year-long odyssey which is set to run on for many years yet - and the primary reason the RAF and its partner air forces say they need it. But it seems they're just kidding themselves, if you believe Dr Carlo Kopp.

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