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PostPosted: Mon Aug 26, 2013 12:36 am 
Broken Crown Panelist
Broken Crown Panelist

Joined: Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:47 pm
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Electromagnetic Pulses: Weapons of the Future?

The Republican primaries for the 2012 election was notable for the short and sudden surges of several candidates before they fell back to Earth, giving the nomination to Mitt Romney. These candidates included Rick Santorum, Rich Perry, Herman Cain, and, perhaps the highest flying, at least in terms of ideas, Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has a long history of endorsing broad ranging ideas. One of the ideas that Gingrich championed was alerting Americans to the danger posed by. electromagnetic pulse weapons. This post will briefly explore what these weapons do, what sort of devices can create electromagnetic pules, and what their effects can be. Many believe that the threat from these weapons is overblown and we will not get into that debate; this post serves as an introduction to these weapons.


What does an EMP Weapon Do?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon seeks to damage and destroy US infrastructure that is part of the electric grid. It does so by overwhelming electric circuitry with an intense electromagnetic field. Ever since the 19th century, it has been known that a varying magnetic field can create, or “induce” a current in a circuit. For example, the changing electromagnetic field produced by a radio station propagates through the air, and induces a current in the antenna, which leads to you being able to hear the radio. The field transmitted by a radio station is, however, relatively weak.

If the electromagnetic field signal would be very strong, it would create a large current in your radio and fry its circuitry. But it could wreak far worse damage than that: A big surge could melt transmission wires, destroy batteries, disable machines connected to the electric grid, including networks of computers, and it might even explode transformers!

Clearly, a giant pulse of electromagnetic energy could pose a very big problem for anything in its path, but what could create such a hazard?

What Can Serve as an EMP Weapon?

Nuclear Weapons:
When the US tested nuclear weapons, they anticipated and tried to mitigate the effect of the EMP on their equipment. A nuclear explosion emits a vast number of high-energy photons, which in turns rip the electrons off of molecules in the atmosphere. This creates the EMP.

The problem became significant for the general public with the Starfish Prime test in July 1962, which was a nuclear test in space, 250 miles above the mid-Pacific ocean. The test knocked out hundreds of streetlights in Hawaii and damaging infrastructure, despite it being close to 1000 miles away from the blast site. A 1964 test by the Soviets caused a fire in a power plant. A powerful nuclear blast over a land mass has the ability to cause widespread damage.

The below images shows that the effects of an EMP can be felt over a huge range. This shows a simulation of the distance over which a major disturbance is felt for a bomb of the size of Starfish Prime detonated 250 miles above the center of North America. EMP effects are felt over a huge swath of the United States. The top of the image shows the mechanism by which an explosion creates an EMP.

Source: Wikipedia

Non-nuclear EMPs: It is possible to create a device that takes the energy from a convention, non-nuclear explosion and convert it into an EMP. The idea behind this originated with Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident, back in 1951. The range of these weapons is far less than that of nuclear EMPs, but can be deployed far more easily and may be a more realistic pathway for groups that do not have the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon hundreds of miles above Earth.
The goal for deploying such weapons would be to create blackouts and infrastructure damamge on a more localized scale.

To date, there has been much speculation about possible designs for such a weapon and what the state of the art is for the US military. EMP weapons might be highly desirable because they are non-lethal, but might be incredibly effective in disrupting enemy communications and equipment.

As mentioned in the introduction, the scale and reality of the threat of EMPs is a matter of debate, but these weapons are based on very real physics.

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