Pulse Weapons: The Economist Catches Up With My Thriller, Slatewiper
BULLETS and bombs are so 20th-century. The wars of the 21st will be dominated by ray guns. That, at least, is the vision of a band of military technologists who are building weapons that work by zapping the enemy’s electronics, rather than blowing him to bits. The result could be conflict that is less bloody, yet more effective, than what is now seen as conventional battle.
Electromagnetic weapons, to give these ray guns their proper name, are inspired by the cold-war idea of using the radio-frequency energy released by an atom bomb exploded high in the atmosphere to burn out an enemy’s electrical grid, telephone network and possibly even the wiring of his motor vehicles, by inducing a sudden surge of electricity in the cables that run these things.
That idea, fortunately, was never tried in earnest (though some tests were carried out). But, by thinking smaller, military planners have developed weapons that use a similar principle, without the need for a nuclear explosion. Instead, they create their electromagnetic pulses with magnetrons, the microwave generators at the hearts of radar sets (and also of microwave ovens). The result is kit that can take down enemy missiles and aircraft, stop tanks in their tracks and bring speedboats to a halt. It can also scare away soldiers without actually killing them.
THE ECONOMIST CATCHES UP TO SLATEWIPER
The concept and practice started when the EMP from Operation Starfish Prime accidentally blew out electrical power in Honolulu in 1962. I created a small version of one in the process of building a high school science fair project in 1966.
In 2003, I resurrected the concept for my thriller, Slatewiper, where the protagonists built a directed energy EMP device to prevent aircraft from launching a bioweapons attack on Tokyo.