By Dr R. Brahmachari.
After the discovery of electromagnetic waves by the German physicist, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, in 1908, they are extensively used as a vehicle of communication both in civilian as well as in military arena. But till mid-1960s, nobody could guess that this harmless phenomenon could be used as a military weapon to render enemy war equipments inactive and kill people or rather grill people to death.
The story began in 1962, when America exploded a nuclear bomb 30 km (or 19 miles) up in the atmosphere and it was found that the highly energetic electromagnetic waves caused by the explosion disrupted radio broadcast, by creating disturbances in the functioning of the electronic equipments of a radio station as far as 1,200 km away. Though the impulse lasted for a fraction of a second (hence harmless to humans), it was enough to make scientists believe that high-powered micro-waves (HPM) could be used as potential weapons to disrupt enemy communication systems and render their radar system and other vital electronic instruments inactive.
Today most of the war weapons are controlled and guided by complicated and highly sophisticated electronic gadgets and an exposure of these equipments to high energy electromagnetic radiations like micro-waves, X-rays, gamma rays or ultraviolet rays can render them inactive and hence, collapse the entire defence system of the enemy. As soon as the military top brass of the US could grasp the enormous potential of HPMs as a military weapon, the US marine laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico was entrusted with the task of developing suitable devices capable of generating impulses of extremely high energy electromagnetic waves.
Though the entire project is working under tight security, many believe that the scientists have become successful in developing a device capable of generating HPMs, those that are comparable to the radiations emitted by a nuclear explosion. The apprehension has been supported by an off-the-track comment made by the then Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference in 2002. The Australian scientists working in the same field are more or les confident that the scientists at Kirtland have developed an electromagnetic weapon called Vircator, capable of generating HPMs. They also believe that the US could use this weapon in its war against Islamic terrorism.
Vircators could be housed within conventional weapons and guided to hit a particular target using cruise missiles.
The mechanism by which the Vircator works is not clearly known. But many believe that it utilises a low-power explosion to compress the electric energy stored in a coil and the low frequency electromagnetic waves it generates are used to accelerate electrons contained in a cavity of high energy. Finally, the oscillations of these high-energy electrons produce HPMs. These HPMs could then be guided towards the target using suitable antennas. Specially designed Vircators could be housed within conventional weapons and guided to hit a particular target using cruise missiles.
As mentioned above, the guiding mechanism of long-range missiles and the detonating mechanism of a nuclear device use highly sophisticated electronic equipments. So, one of the most important uses of HPMs might be to misguide incoming enemy missiles, possibly carrying nuclear warheads, from their intending course and thus creating a safe umbrella. It should be noted here that high-energy micro-waves can penetrate any non-conducting barrier like buildings, bunkers and so on. Thus, HPMs are capable of destroying the control and detonating mechanisms of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), like nuclear weapons, which are usually stored in bunkers hundreds of metres below the ground. For example, if CIA could locate the spot where nuclear bombs of a rogue state are stored, it can disable their detonating mechanisms using Vircators. Australian experts believe that the US has already been able to develop more powerful and reusable versions of Vircators, that could be carried by war vessels to the proximity of the targets.
But there are difficulties as well. In today'sworld, US war-technology is most advanced and makes use of most sophisticated electronic control equipments. So, there is every possibility that a Vircator used by the US army to cripple enemy warheads, might disrupt America'sown control equipments, which in military language is called the ?fratricidal problem?. And hence, one has to develop fool-proof protecting systems to keep one'sown control equipments unaffected by HPMs.
One approach is to cover one'sentire control mechanism with conducting material like metals, as metals are opaque to HPMs. Here, one should notice that aircraft are naturally protected by their outer metal cover. The other way is to divert incoming HPMs to the ground with the help of specially designed antennas. But such foolproof systems are yet to be developed.
It has been mentioned above that airplanes are naturally protected by their outer metal cover. ?Even with such a protection, America remains nervous about using electromagnetic weapons close to manned aircraft,? says Shri Piers Wood, a fellow at the Global Security Organisation-an American think-tank. ?That is why America is putting more and more emphasis on unmanned war-planes, starting from small pilotless drones to unmanned helicopters,? he adds. Unlike warplanes, passenger Jets are not so well protected against HPMs and are hence susceptible even to chance exposure to electromagnetic emissions generated inside from passengers? mobile phones, or from a laptop computer. Experts believe that a terrorist equipped with a low-powered portable device, that does not need explosion to trigger the emission of HPMs, can cause even a Jumbo Jet to crash.
Scientists at the American Marine Corp'sJoint Non-Lethal Weapon Directorate in Quantico, Virginia, are, on the other hand, working to develop technologically less challenging devices to be used against humans. These are aimed to produce optical disorders leading to temporary blindness and similar other disabilities arising out of malfunctioning of brains of the affected people. These scientists have been successful in developing another technology, popularly known as Self Denial or (SD), that aims to heat up people using a high-energy beam of millimetre-length microwaves. Its working principle is similar to that of a domestic micro-wave oven and the latest version of SD is believed to be capable of raising the skin temperature of a victim up to 55oC, from a distance of 750 metres. Hence, there is no doubt that it could fry the victim if applied from close proximity.
Scientists are now trying to develop a portable version of SD, so that it could easily be brought close to the target, even by a jeep. They are also trying to develop a more improved variety of SD, which would be equally effective when applied from a longer distance. The urban warfare experts agree that modern arsenals like SD would enable America to clean a city, or a block of it, of unwanted people (e.g. Jehadi terrorists), without going door to door by risking their lives.
From the above discussion it becomes evident that modern weapons like Vircator and Self Denial should make America technological more advanced in modern warfare, and help it immensely to conquer the enemy forces more quickly and effectively with less loss of lives. But human rights people are raising complaints against the application of the said electromagnetic weapons. They accuse that exposure to HPM and SD could cause permanent health disorders and more importantly, exposure to SD from proximity could cause severe trauma or even death of the victim. While commenting on the debate, David Fidler, a law professor at the Indiana University, said, ?As these weapons are new and not unlikely to be used on the civilian population, it is not yet clear whether using them would be legal under the existing laws that regulate armed conflicts.?
But after all, there is nothing illegal in love and war. Most importantly, America would render a great service to humanity if it should disable the deadly nuclear weapons held by the rogue States like Pakistan, North Korea and others.