Mirrors of destruction

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Reports from the US [9] indicate that hardening measures attuned to the behaviour of nuclear EMP bombs do not perform well when dealing with some conventional microwave electromagnetic device designs. It is significant that hardening of systems must be carried out at a system level, as electromagnetic damage to any single element of a complex system could inhibit the function of the whole system. Hardening new build equipment and systems will add a substantial cost burden.

Older equipment and systems may be impossible to harden properly and may require complete replacement. In simple terms, hardening by design is significantly easier than attempting to harden existing equipment.

An interesting aspect of electrical damage to targets is the possibility of wounding semiconductor devices thereby causing equipment to suffer repetitive intermittent faults rather than complete failures. Such faults would tie down considerable maintenance resources while also diminishing the confidence of the operators in the equipment's reliability. Intermittent faults may not be possible to repair economically, thereby causing equipment in this state to be removed from service permanently, with considerable loss in maintenance hours during damage diagnosis.

This factor must also be considered when assessing the hardness of equipment against electromagnetic attack, as partial or incomplete hardening may in this fashion cause more difficulties than it would solve.


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Indeed, shielding which is incomplete may resonate when excited by radiation and thus contribute to damage inflicted upon the equipment contained within it. Other than hardening against attack, facilities which are concealed should not radiate readily detectable emissions.

Where radio frequency communications must be used, low probability of intercept ie spread spectrum techniques should be employed exclusively to preclude the use of site emissions for electromagnetic targeting purposes [DIXON84]. Appropriate suppression of UE is also mandatory.


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  8. Communications networks for voice, data and services should employ topologies with sufficient redundancy and failover mechanisms to allow operation with multiple nodes and links inoperative. This will deny a user of electromagnetic bombs the option of disabling large portions if not the whole of the network by taking down one or more key nodes or links with a single or small number of attacks. The limitations of electromagnetic weapons are determined by weapon implementation and means of delivery.

    Weapon implementation will determine the electromagnetic field strength achievable at a given radius, and its spectral distribution.


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    8. Means of delivery will constrain the accuracy with which the weapon can be positioned in relation to the intended target. Both constrain lethality. In the context of targeting military equipment, it must be noted that thermionic technology ie vacuum tube equipment is substantially more resilient to the electromagnetic weapons effects than solid state ie transistor technology.

      Therefore a weapon optimised to destroy solid state computers and receivers may cause little or no damage to a thermionic technology device, for instance early s Soviet military equipment. Therefore a hard electrical kill may not be achieved against such targets unless a suitable weapon is used. This underscores another limitation of electromagnetic weapons, which is the difficulty in kill assessment.

      Radiating targets such as radars or communications equipment may continue to radiate after an attack even though their receivers and data processing systems have been damaged or destroyed. This means that equipment which has been successfully attacked may still appear to operate. Conversely an opponent may shut down an emitter if attack is imminent and the absence of emissions means that the success or failure of the attack may not be immediately apparent. Assessing whether an attack on a non radiating emitter has been successful is more problematic. A good case can be made for developing tools specifically for the purpose of analysing unintended emissions, not only for targeting purposes, but also for kill assessment.

      An important factor in assessing the lethal coverage of an electromagnetic weapon is atmospheric propagation. While the relationship between electromagnetic field strength and distance from the weapon is one of an inverse square law in free space, the decay in lethal effect with increasing distance within the atmosphere will be greater due quantum physical absorption effects [10]. This is particularly so at higher frequencies, and significant absorption peaks due water vapour and oxygen exist at frequencies above 20 GHz.

      These will therefore contain the effect of HPM weapons to shorter radii than are ideally achievable in the K and L frequency bands. Means of delivery will limit the lethality of an electromagnetic bomb by introducing limits to the weapon's size and the accuracy of its delivery. Should the delivery error be of the order of the weapon's lethal radius for a given detonation altitude, lethality will be significantly diminished.

      This is of particular importance when assessing the lethality of unguided electromagnetic bombs, as delivery errors will be more substantial than those experienced with guided weapons such as GPS guided bombs.

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      Therefore accuracy of delivery and achievable lethal radius must be considered against the allowable collateral damage for the chosen target. Where collateral electrical damage is a consideration, accuracy of delivery and lethal radius are key parameters. An inaccurately delivered weapon of large lethal radius may be unusable against a target should the likely collateral electrical damage be beyond acceptable limits.

      This can be a major issue for users constrained by treaty provisions on collateral damage [AAP].

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      At the time of writing, the United States and the CIS are the only two nations with the established technology base and the depth of specific experience to design weapons based upon this technology. However, the relative simplicity of the FCG and the Vircator suggests that any nation with even a s technology base, once in possession of engineering drawings and specifications for such weapons, could manufacture them. As an example, the fabrication of an effective FCG can be accomplished with basic electrical materials, common plastic explosives such as C-4 or Semtex, and readily available machine tools such as lathes and suitable mandrels for forming coils.

      This cost could be even lower in a Third World or newly industrialised economy. While the relative simplicity and thus low cost of such weapons can be considered of benefit to First World nations intending to build viable war stocks or maintain production in wartime, the possibility of less developed nations mass producing such weapons is alarming.

      The dependence of modern economies upon their information technology infrastructure makes them highly vulnerable to attack with such weapons, providing that these can be delivered to their targets. Of major concern is the vulnerability resulting from increasing use of communications and data communications schemes based upon copper cable media. If the copper medium were to be replaced en masse with optical fibre in order to achieve higher bandwidths, the communications infrastructure would become significantly more robust against electromagnetic attack as a result.

      Moreover, the gradual replacement of coaxial Ethernet networking with Base-T twisted pair equipment has further increased the vulnerability of wiring systems inside buildings. It is not unreasonable to assume that the data and services communications infrastructure in the West will remain a "soft" electromagnetic target in the forseeable future. At this time no counter-proliferation regimes exist. Should treaties be agreed to limit the proliferation of electromagnetic weapons, they would be virtually impossible to enforce given the common availability of suitable materials and tools.

      With the former CIS suffering significant economic difficulties, the possibility of CIS designed microwave and pulse power technology leaking out to Third World nations or terrorist organisations should not be discounted. The threat of electromagnetic bomb proliferation is very real. A fundamental tenet of IW is that complex organisational systems such as governments, industries and military forces cannot function without the flow of information through their structures.

      Information flows within these structures in several directions, under typical conditions of function. A trivial model for this function would see commands and directives flowing outward from a central decisionmaking element, with information about the state of the system flowing in the opposite direction. Real systems are substantially more complex. This is of military significance because stopping this flow of information will severely debilitate the function of any such system. Stopping the outward flow of information produces paralysis, as commands cannot reach the elements which are to execute them.

      Stopping the inward flow of information isolates the decisionmaking element from reality, and thus severely inhibits its capacity to make rational decisions which are sensitive to the currency of information at hand. The recent evolution of strategic air warfare indicates a growing trend toward targeting strategies which exploit this most fundamental vulnerability of any large and organised system [11].

      The Desert Storm air war of is a good instance, with a substantial effort expended against such targets. Indeed, the model used for modern strategic air attack places leadership and its supporting communications in the position of highest targeting priority [WARDEN95]. No less importantly, modern Electronic Combat concentrates upon the disruption and destruction of communications and information gathering sensors used to support military operations. Again the Desert Storm air war provides a good illustration of the application of this method. A strategy which stresses attack upon the information processing and communications elements of the systems which it is targeting offers a very high payoff, as it will introduce an increasing level of paralysis and disorientation within its target.

      Electromagnetic bombs are a powerful tool in the implementation of such a strategy. The central objective of Electronic Combat EC operations is the command of the electromagnetic spectrum, achieved by soft and hard kill means [12] against the opponent's electronic assets. The underlying objective of commanding the electromagnetic spectrum is to interrupt or substantially reduce the flow of information through the opponent's air defence system, air operations environment and between functional elements of weapon systems.

      In this context the ability of electromagnetic bombs to achieve kills against a wide range of target types allows their general application to the task of inflicting attrition upon an opponent's electronic assets, be they specialised air defence assets or more general Command-Control-Communications C3 and other military assets.

      Electromagnetic bombs can be a means of both soft and hard electrical kill, subject to the lethality of the weapon and the hardness of its target.

      A hard electrical kill by means of an electromagnetic device will be achieved in those instances where such severe electrical damage is achieved against a target so as to require the replacement of most if not all of its internal electronics. Electronic combat operations using electromagnetic devices involve the use of these to attack radar, C3 and air defence weapon systems. These should always be attacked initially with an electromagnetic weapon to achieve soft or hard electrical kills, followed up by attack with conventional munitions to preclude possible repair of disabled assets at a later time.

      As with conventional SEAD operations, the greatest payoff will be achieved by using electromagnetic weapons against systems of strategic importance first, followed in turn by those of operational and tactical importance [KOPP92]. In comparison with an AntiRadiation Missile ARM - a missile which homes on the emissions from a threat radar , the established and specialised tool in the conduct of SEAD operations, an electromagnetic bomb can achieve kills against multiple targets of diverse types within its lethal footprint.

      Therefore electromagnetic weapons are a significant force multiplier in electronic combat operations. A conventional electronic combat campaign, or intensive electronic combat operations, will initially concentrate on saturating the opponent's electronic defences, denying information and inflicting maximum attrition upon electronic assets. The force multiplication offered by electromagnetic weapons vastly reduces the number of air assets required to inflict substantial attrition, and where proper electronic reconnaissance has been carried out beforehand, also reduces the need for specialised assets such as ARM firing aircraft equipped with costly emitter locating systems.

      The massed application of electromagnetic bombs in the opening phase of an electronic battle will allow much faster attainment of command of the electromagnetic spectrum, as it will inflict attrition upon electronic assets at a much faster rate than possible with conventional means. Whilst the immaturity of conventional electromagnetic weapons precludes an exact analysis of the scale of force multiplication achievable, it is evident that a single aircraft carrying an electromagnetic bomb capable of concurrently disabling a SAM site with its colocated acquisition radar and supporting radar directed AAA weapons, will have the potency of the several ARM firing and support jamming aircraft required to accomplish the same result by conventional means.

      This and the ability of multirole tactical aircraft to perform this task allows for a much greater concentration of force in the opening phase of the battle, for a given force size. In summary the massed application of electromagnetic weapons to Electronic Combat operations will provide for a much faster rate of attrition against hostile electronic assets, achievable with a significantly reduced number of specialised and multirole air assets [13]. This will allow even a modestly sized force to apply overwhelming pressure in the initial phase of an electronic battle, and therefore achieve command of the electromagnetic spectrum in a significantly shorter time than by conventional means.

      The modern approach to strategic air warfare reflects in many respects aspects of the IW model, in that much effort is expended in disabling an opponent's fundamental information processing infrastructure. Since we however are yet to see a systematic IW doctrine which has been tested in combat, this paper will approach the subject from a more conservative viewpoint and use established strategic doctrine. In descending order of importance, these are the nation's leadership and supporting C3 system, its essential economic infrastructure, its transportation network, its population and its fielded military forces.

      Electromagnetic weapons may be productively used against all elements in this model, and provide a particularly high payoff when applied against a highly industrialised and geographically concentrated opponent. Of particular importance in the context of strategic air attack, is that while electromagnetic weapons are lethal to electronics, they have little if any effect on humans.

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      This is a characteristic which is not shared with established conventional and nuclear weapons. This selectivity in lethal effect makes electromagnetic weapons far more readily applicable to a strategic air attack campaign, and reduces the internal political pressure which is experienced by the leadership of any democracy which must commit to warfare. An opponent may be rendered militarily, politically and economically ineffective with little if any loss in human life.