The mania over non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons is now close to two decades old. And none that are even remotely interesting have ever been produced. However, this has not seriously impeded widespread belief in them, demonstrated by the fact that now not a week goes by without a TV drama or movie using them as plot devices.
Late last week news spiked on alleged mainland Chinese interest in electromagnetic pulse weaponry..
[A] newly disclosed U.S. intelligence assessment describes American concerns that China might be developing sophisticated weapons to zap the self-governing island's electronics, or perhaps to use against an American aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait.
The 2005 assessment by the National Ground Intelligence Center, part of the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, details China's experimentation with electromagnetic pulse and high-power microwave weapons, either of which could theoretically be used to shut down the communications systems and other electronics in Taiwan.
For tv and movie script writing, the electromagnetic pulse weapon is a perfect magic wand, something which can be produced when it's necessary for all electronics to fail in an exciting way.
However, before it became so in the world of entertainment, it was stupidly dreamed of -- and to a certain extent still is -- as a magic wand by people who should have known better in the US military.
For the Post blog article, 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 unprovioked 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.
The Cardiff giant was one of the most famous hoaxes from old weird America.
Andrew D. White, the first president of Cornell University and one of the "giant's" earliest skeptics, remarked in his memoirs of the affair: "There was evidently a 'joy in believing' in the marvel, and this was increased by the peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of the people who can be induced to adopt it."
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.
"One would be amazed if they were not doing this sort of thing," he said.
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.
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.
Electromagnetic and/or high power microwave weapons are also plagued by classic bad science. That is, trivial or insignificant results are reinterpreted as spectacular.
The perfect example is cast by the infamous pain ray, made by Raytheon. For years the pain ray was advertised as something to revolutionize warfare.
When it finally arrived in some working fashion it was used only to shoot tech geek fan boys journalists who could be dependably relied upon to gush over the experience. However, the real world refused to go along with the rubbish. The pain ray was viewed as a short-range torture machine. It was shipped to Afghanistan and quickly withdrawn without firing a shot. At which point Raytheon began a marketing campaign to sell a smaller version for use on unruly convicts confined at state penitentiaries.
It's also a given that electromagnetic pulse weapon projects always attract a fair number of kooks. Invariably, the kooks score publicity victories.
IFor years, the Los Angeles County sheriff's department had a man who was always pushing them. He retired without ever actually seeing a practical version and the Los Angeles police force and sheriffs have not been poorly affected by the lack of access to electromagnetic pulse guns.
In the mid-Nineties a man named Winn Schwartau sponsored yearly "information warfare" conferences that were either alleged proving grounds for electromagnetic pulse rays or simple vehicles for salesmanship on the subject.
Infamously, Schwartau published a paper by someone named Carlo Kopp -- (this common auto-fill-in Google search string on him is revealing) -- describing the imminent arrival of electromagnetic pulse bombs and rays.
That "paper" was from 1996. And the future still hasn't arrived for it.
However, Kopp's paper was copied all through the US military where it successfully contaminated uncritical thinkers for a good long time.
Where is Kopp now?
Damned if I know.
If you've followed the story for a long time, another facet of it is made abundantly clear. Over 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.
Notoriously, just before the United States charged into Iraq 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.
This content was originally published at Dick Destiny blog.