Amid all the recent fears about North Korea building an electromagnetic-pulse weapon that could disrupt America’s electronic backbone, another potential threat has been ignored: Russia’s new Alabuga EMP weapons program.
Russian media describes a program that appears to be aimed at developing tactical EMP weapons that would affect a small area, rather than strategic arms that would disable, say, a nation’s entire electrical grid.
“One component of the program involves the development of an EMP missile that emits an electromagnetic pulse 200-300 meters above an enemy position by means of a high-frequency high-power electromagnetic field generator,” according to an article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta and translated by the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office. “This EMP would create an ultra high frequency (UHF) field of approximately 3.5 kilometers, not only disabling computers, radars, communications systems and precision weapons, but also making them unusable by damaging their electronic components. Although the system is nonlethal and causes no adverse effects to humans, the electromagnetic effects of the missile (up to 100 gigawatts) are reportedly comparable to a nuclear weapon.”
The U.S. Army also translated a Svobodnaya Pressa article on a Russian ground-based EMP weapon designed to bring down aircraft. “The Ranets-Ye is based on a MAZ-543 wheeled chassis, weighing around 5 tons. The Ranets-Ye is essentially a short-range surface-to-air system in which the kill element utilized is not a missile, but a 60 degree cone of 500 megawatt SFH radiation that lasts 20 nanoseconds. This EMP is capable of neutralizing all aircraft, cruise missiles, and any munition with electronics. At a range of 8-14 kilometers [4 to 8 miles] the EMP destroys electronic components, and disrupts electronic at a range of up to 40 kilometers [24 miles]. The Ranets-Ye consists of a diesel generator, electromagnetic pulse generator, and targeting radar. The system is also reportedly capable of integrating into air defense networks, in order to obtain targeting data.”
Russian media suggested that Ranets-Ye would be very effective as an air-defense weapon against stealth aircraft and UAVs. Yet significantly, Russian media also noted that the Russian military had not adopted Ranats-Ye because it needs a direct line of sight to the target, and because it needs twenty minutes to recharge its capacitors between pulses.
Meanwhile, the United States is working on its own EMP weapons. The Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP, aims to mount a microwave emitter on a cruise missile. Such a weapon has been touted as a less violent means of disabling the electronics on a North Korean ICBM before it could be launched at the United States. Critics reply that if America were to attack North Korean WMDs, it might just as well use conventional munitions from the start.
Image: Russian RS-24 Yars/SS-27 Mod 2 solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missiles during the Victory Day parade, Moscow, May 9, 2015. Reuters/RIA Novosti.