Key point: It is unclear how such an EMP weapon would be successfully invented and deployed.
If the U.S. Army has its way, America’s next secret weapon may be an electromagnetic pulse artillery shell that paralyzes an enemy city.
These special shells won’t carry high explosive. Instead they will emit EMP bursts, or some other non-kinetic technology, to disrupt the computers, radio communications, Internet links and other ties that bind modern societies. And do so without creating any physical damage.
This is sort of a twenty-first-century version of the neutron bomb, that notorious Cold War weapon designed to kill Soviet soldiers through a burst of radiation, while inflicting little damage to property. Except this weapon targets the radio frequency networks that keep a nation functioning.
The concept is expressed in a single paragraph in a new Army research proposal:
Extensive use of wireless RF [radio frequency] networking for critical infrastructure and communications systems provides an alternative attack vector for the neutralization of an adversary’s underlying industrial, civil, and communications infrastructure without the destruction of the hardware associated with those systems. Advances in munitions-based microelectronics and power technologies make possible the implementation of non-kinetic cyber and electromagnetic – or electronic warfare (EW) – attacks that could be delivered via artillery launched munitions. The precision delivery of the non-kinetic effects (NKE) electronics payload close to the target allows low power operation which limits the geographical extent of impacted systems, and reduces the overall impact on the electromagnetic spectrum.
In addition, the weapon must fit in a 155-millimeter artillery projectile, with the eventual goal of shrinking the weapon’s size so that a single shell can carry multiple submunitions, each capable of creating electronic havoc.