Cult of EMP Crazy: Our imaginary pulse bomb

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Culture of Lickspittle at 10:30 am by George Smith

Ripples from the Newt Gingrich electromagnetic pulse attack phenom, published in the New York Times days ago, continue lapping over the minds of those mesmerized into believing one of our most long-standing techno-rubbish myths.

In this case, it’s our electromagnetic pulse bomb — the weapon that’s been coming but never quite arriving for twenty years.

Today, in Counterpunch — from the left side of the political spectrum:

While the Times is correct in dismissing any Iranian or North Korean threat—neither country has missiles capable of reaching the U.S., Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and both have never demonstrated a desire to commit national suicide—what Broad does not mention is that the effects of EMP are hardly “poorly understood???: the U.S. has an “E-bomb??? in its arsenal.

More than that, the Pentagon considered using it during the 2003 invasion of Iraq …

The principle is simple enough: a tube filled with explosives, wrapped with copper wire, encased in a metal shell. The copper wire is used to create a powerful magnetic field and when the explosives are fired, they compress the magnetic field to produce a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy called the “Compton effect.???

A large enough device can generate up to two billion watts, about what Hoover Dam turns out in a day.

The weapon is attached to a cruise missile. Any piloted craft would run the risk of frying its own electronics, because EMP waves can bounce off objects, like the ground, and be reflected back at the attack craft.

One of the features of our electromagnetic pulse bomb story — and it’s been a solid one for virtually two decades — is that spectacular claims are routinely made, wonderful things requiring no substantial evidence for verification.

This also is one of the rules William Irving Langmuir developed to described really bad science [in 1953, built upon a description of US physicist Robert Wood’s debunking] of French scientist Rene Blondlot’s “N-Rays” back in 1903 — but that’s another long story.

Briefly, it’s the “science of things that aren’t so” and that neatly describes the provenance of America’s electromagnetic pulse bomb mythos, too.

I’m going to cheat, as usual, and allow something published at Globalsecurity during the summer (by me) to do the heavy lifting. A the time, there was a Post story indicating American worry about a Chinese electromagnetic pulse weapon, brought on by standard pathologies that define the US newsmedia and its interaction with the US war machine.

Because there has been so much nonsense printed in the US media about our electromagnetic pulse bombs and rays (for close to two decades), the Chinese — maybe — thought they should look into it, too. This, in turn, sparked a minor US intelligence evaluation to determine whether or not generals should be worried about such a thing.

Excerpted from the Globalsecurity posting:

For the Washington Post blog article [in mid-summer], the electromagnetic pulse bomb or ray was rebranded as a high power microwave weapon. This is a semantic trick US arms developers came up with a number of years ago to escape the ridicule attached to older electromagnetic weapons projects.

The Post’s blog spawned this explanation, capped by one ludicrous sentence:

“The United States and other governments have long worked to perfect high-power microwave technology.

“The problem, experts say, is that it’s been difficult to make the weapons both safe and effective. An HPM device would have a range of only a few hundred yards; weaponry that was designed to have a greater range could effectively set the atmosphere on fire.”

Set the atmosphere on fire. A good copy editor might have immediately spiked that for the sin of being an unprovoked assault on common sense.

However, the EMP/HPM crowd has played fast and loose with facts for close on twenty years. And they have been very good at getting the ludicrous into the news. The result has been that journalists and passers-by, people who do not know better, fall prey to the classic American trait of belief in utter bull—- because said bull—- is published in so many places …

For the Post, Jason Ukman ran down John Pike at Globalsecurity.Org, an agency for which I’ve been known to take on the role of “expert” on cybersecurity and cyberwar. And electromagnetic pulse bombs and rays used to regularly be part of that beat. giving me ample opportunity over the years to heap scorn upon them.

For the Post, Pike delivered this: “People have been talking about these things for many decades and they just haven’t gone anywhere” …

“All the same, given U.S. research efforts, Pike said it wasn’t surprising that the Chinese were pursuing the technology,” reported the Post.

“One would be amazed if they were not doing this sort of thing,” Pike told the newspaper.

And this is a classic case of mirroring — a foreign power believes it should be in the business of trying to make electromagnetic pulse weapons because it’s military men have read about our efforts to make the same things for years. That no one actually ever makes them, or anything that actually works, is beside the point.

The problem with these types of weapons can be explained. But it’s never mentioned in news stories. Never.

Two years ago I put it this way …

The fundamental problem associated with non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons is simple to describe.

And it’s never addressed, except through elliptical statements about limits of their “portability” and the ability to predictably “couple” the weapon’s electromagnetic effect to a target. The problem is this: dispersion cripples such notional weapons, or as a scientist might say, any effect is constrained by the law of inverse squares. Nature’s laws, fortunately for us, aren’t subject to whimsical change.

“The intensity of the influence at any given radius r is the source strength divided by the area of the sphere,” explains a page at a university physics department. “Being strictly geometric in its origin, the inverse square law applies to diverse phenomena. Point sources of gravitational force, electric field, light, sound or radiation obey the inverse square law. It is a subject of continuing debate with a source such as a skunk on top of a flag pole; will it’s smell drop off according to the inverse square law?”

A bit of scientific humor, the latter bit about the skunk.

But there is never any humor associated with stories of electromagnetic pulse bombs [and rays]. It is always deadly serious stuff.

If you’ve followed the story for a long time, another facet of it is made abundantly clear. Through the years, various kooks associated with electromagnetic weaponry have come and gone. Some have retired. One, a much decorated old military man, even died before he found the grail.

But the ranks of electromagnetic pulse nuts is never really thinned. There are always more of them arriving or in development.

The National Ground Intelligence Center assessment on China’s interest in the empire’s electromagnetic pulse weapon crap is here.

On page four of the eight page scan, it reads:

“It is widely acknowledged that (conventional) explosively powered [radio frequency] sources with military application are a difficult technological hurdle (despite some overly hyped Internet articles on e-bombs to the contrary), and it is very unlikely that China could have overcome these hurdles.”

Over the years, I’ve been responsible for damaging many of these articles. What the assessment does not mention is that defense contractors in the pay of the US military were those who were very guilty of the hype thing.

Here is an older listing of various “experts” going on about electromagnetic pulse weapons in the mainstream news — from 1997 — by me.

Notoriously, just before the United States charged into Iraq a decade ago an editor from one of the big news agencies called to ask how journalists could protect their laptops and phones from the electromagnetic pulse weapons we were allegedly about to use on Saddam Hussein.

The man wanted to know if they could store their stuff in a microwave oven, the reasoning being that if a microwave kept radiation in during cooking, it might keep it out, too.

No joke, sadly. Electromagnetic pulse weapons over Iraq in 2003. Now you know why we won that so easily.

Like the related techno-mythology of electromagnetic pulse attack on the United, the mythology of our (or someone else’s) magical electromagnetic pulse bomb refuses to die.

It’s regularly published here, there and everywhere, completely free of any reasonable standard of proof. And you can distinguish it by the many features described here. The most amusing, or painful — depending on your mood, are the fantasies fit for the entertainment of small children.

In summer with the Washington Post it was “set the atmosphere on fire.”

For today’s piece in Counterpunch: “A large enough device can generate up to two billion watts, about what Hoover Dam turns out in a day.”

Getting this techno-crazy-weapon excrement into print in the United States is easy. Publishing something sensible on the subject, not so much.


  1. User Hostile said,

    December 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Per this link:

    What this means is the dam is capable of a peak capacity of generating 2.0 Gigawatts [i]continuously[/i]. Not “daily.” If the dam only produced a sum total of 2.0 GW continuously every 24 hours, Hoover Dam’s peak generating capacity would only been generating 23 kW. This would be approximately equal to driving my car at 60 mph.

    The journalist is clearly ignorant of basic physics–his story would have been more impressive if he’d said instead, “A large enough device can generate up to two billion watts, about what Hoover Dam at full throttle can turn out in one second!”

    When an engineer can turn out better copy than a journalist….

  2. Christoph Hechl said,

    December 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    compound – element
    W – Wh
    percentages – percentage points

    If a “journalist” has to include one of those phrases in an article, then it is almost guaranteed, that he/she will pick the wrong one.
    The intensity of the field is reduced by the square of the distance, but a true journo will easily believe, that this can be overcome if you focus the output of the explosion or whatever. They won’t understand, that focussing only means, that you put a constant factor against a squared variable, which may increase your useful range, but not o an extent where useful can be of a sensible dimension.
    Feel free to add other pairs to the above list.