Electromagnetic Pulse Grenades

There are rumors of a prototype:

Even the highly advanced US forces hadn’t been generally thought to have developed a successful pulse-bomb yet, with most reports indicating that such a capability remains a few years off (as has been the case for decades). Furthermore, the pulse ordnance has usually been seen as large and heavy, in the same league as an aircraft bomb or cruise missile warhead—or in the case of an HPM raygun, of a weapons-pod or aircraft payload size.

Now, however, it appears that in fact the US military has already managed to get the coveted pulse-bomb tech down to grenade size. Colonel Buckhout apparently envisages the Army electronic warfare troopers of tomorrow lobbing a pulse grenade through the window of an enemy command post or similar, so knocking out all their comms.

Posted on February 26, 2009 at 6:48 AM57 Comments


neill February 26, 2009 7:37 AM

unfortunately “enemy command” could also disrupt the militarys GPS or GSM or WiFi just by using good frequency old jamming techniques – if they think a strike is imminent … they all rely more and more on wireless transmissions

get the signal flags out again!

neill February 26, 2009 7:40 AM

sorry … my brain-faster-than-fingers-problem

i meant “… using good OLD frequency jamming techniques …”

Olaf February 26, 2009 7:57 AM


Make your enemies expend money and resources defending against a weapon you don’t actually possess?

Mat February 26, 2009 8:00 AM

An EMP grenade will fry anything unprotected. If word got out that “pulse grenades” are being used, my guess is that the enemy will spend the few bucks needed to enclosed all of their equipment in faraday cages, which, by the by, is very DIY and relatively inexpensive.

The military would probably find a greater strategic advantage in just cutting the power and jamming used radio signals (tactics which are already employed).

Angel one February 26, 2009 8:04 AM

Colonel Buckhout apparently envisages the Army electronic warfare troopers of tomorrow lobbing a pulse grenade through the window of an enemy command post or similar, so knocking out all their comms.

Why bother? If you’re that close to an enemy command center, why not just drop a large bomb from the sky courtesy of the USAF? Why risk getting personnel so close to what is likely to be a heavily protected location?

David W. February 26, 2009 8:08 AM

I have to agree with Angel One here. For that matter, why not toss in a real grenade? Surely killing and wounding the enemy commanders is more effective than just damaging their equipment?

jmr February 26, 2009 8:16 AM

Granted on the above statements about “why not use areal bomb?” for most circumstances. I can think of other circumstances where it might be useful, especially when there is some desire to not actually kill people on foreign soil by means known to be possessed only by particular powers, or to limit collateral damage but still remove command and control capabilities.

In war, having options is a Good(tm) thing.

ac February 26, 2009 8:36 AM

Given how much the US forces rely on electronics and the Taliban, say, do not, is it a good idea to develop a weapon that is more damaging to your own forces than their enemies? The Taliban are unlikely to develop the technology for themselves, but shortly they’ll be able to buy/beg/borrow/steal these EMP grenades. Not exactly a Pyrrhic victory, but kind of similar.

Eric K. February 26, 2009 8:38 AM

All the ideas for EMP weapons I’ve seen in the past have centered around using an explosive to drive the EMP: Large coils of wire compressed by a shaped charge and such.

So unless they’ve changed their approach, a grenade-sized EMP might have a nice lard EMP radius, but is still going to have a significant blast radius. Not something you’d want to lob into a small room if you want to disable computers but not people…

M February 26, 2009 8:59 AM

If the comm equipment is properly shielded, there won’t be a window through which to lob a grenade. Plus if you know where their command post is, a conventional weapon like a rocket/missile would seem like a better choice to avoid having to get that close.

Chris February 26, 2009 9:26 AM

I can see my shares in Tinfoil- hats Inc rising every time a story like this hits the wire 😉

If they can lob something near a room why not use the cheaper high explosive option?

Larry Seltzer February 26, 2009 9:29 AM

They had this on Dr. Who recently. This EMP grenade thingy stopped a cyberman (breaking the emotional inhibitor chip, with tragic consequences, but I digress…)

Couldn’t you generate some useful pulse just with large capacitors?

Mike February 26, 2009 9:38 AM

Isn’t military equipment already protected against EMP? During the cold war it was definitely a requirement that military equipment be able to survive the EMP produced by an air-burst nuclear weapon.

So the practical use of such munitions would be against civilian targets and irregular forces using civilian equipment…

Paeniteo February 26, 2009 10:03 AM

“Colonel Buckhout apparently envisages the Army electronic warfare troopers of tomorrow lobbing a pulse grenade through the window of an enemy command post or similar, so knocking out all their comms.

Wouldn’t lobbing an old-fashioned frag grenade through said window accomplish more or less the same?

FP February 26, 2009 10:07 AM

I’m too lazy to check my physics text books, but it would seem to me that you need a considerable amount of energy to generate an EMP that is effective at anything beyond a trivial distance.

How much energy can you squeeze out of a hand-held device?

Zaphod February 26, 2009 10:08 AM

anyone, anyone, Clive?

I normally wait for guidance from Clive Robinson on such matters (and occasionally another_bruce, now he’s back).


bob February 26, 2009 10:22 AM

@Mike: No, its no longer EMP-proof nor tempest-proof, not even “too complicated for the field” proof.

Once the Soviet Union(TM) went out of business, all enemies were assumed to be low tech and communications (my specialty for >.25 century) went from expensive green boxes built by a major contractor like LM or NG (ie mil-spec, sturdy, reliable, weatherproof, EMP-proof and most importantly gruntproof) to much-less-expensive-as-long-as-you-dont-count-results-as-part-of-the-equation commercial off the shelf stuff (for example a famous brand name that sounds like Crisco) made in China (anybody see an issue here?) which constantly fails at the drop of a hat when used in a “military environment” (dirt, humidity, vibration and most importantly – grunts).

BF Skinner February 26, 2009 11:44 AM

@David W and @Mat
Toss a grenade into the middle of the faraday cage and cook only what’s inside it AND kill the enemy commanders. The enemies extra expense
is now reinforcing the attackers own shielded equipment.

Bombing Hq during combat ops is not a likely target then since it’d already be on the target list.
Hmmmm…bank or telecom comms center? For use outside of a theater of combat?

Oh yeah and if you pulse greade a mobile communications center aren’t you zeroizing valuable intel like the crypto?

BF Skinner February 26, 2009 11:49 AM

Grenade != greade

Zombies – no
Cybermen – could be
Martian War Machines – possible

There was a Sci Am article a few years ago about a theory that 3 or 4 rows of dynamite around a ferrous core detonated progressivly in millisec increments could produce a pulse that was directional.

Say 10 or 15 sticks.

Rasmus Faber February 26, 2009 12:06 PM

During the recent conflict, Israel claimed Hamas had placed a command center under Shifa Hospital.

While a EMP grenade in a hospital or school might still cause disruption, it surely would cause less damage than a bomb or missile. So it seems to me that this might have its uses in many asymmetric scenarios.

Clive Robinson February 26, 2009 12:17 PM

@ Anonymous,

“Grenades were invented to use against infantry weren’t they?”

History is not very clear on this it they may originaly have been developed for ship board use against pirates by the Chinese for their trading vessels (for runner of junks).

We do know that the Chinese where definatly the first to develop rockets as weapons against field troops (pesants with hand reaping tools etc that where sent in as what we would today call “cannon fodder”).

betatron February 26, 2009 12:22 PM

“why not…?” “but, but, but…”

Many of these comments betray glib shallow thinking. An EMP grenade would not be a panacea any more than any other system, but it could give a profound capability…

As far as the idea that the opfor will have TEMPEST hardware… maybe, maybe not. The baddies in Afghanistan/Iraq probably have some hardened stuff, but most of it is very very soft.

Just the ability to zap cabled CCTV systems would seem to be quite useful.

As a collateral benefit, you could potentially fry servers before they could wipe their drives (yes, yes they could still be fragged, fine), plunge the opfor into darkness… sounds good to me.

I’d imagine that forcing the AQ’s in the Afghani/Pakistan region into TEMPEST might provide some collateral paper trails to follow too…

Boon Doggle February 26, 2009 12:23 PM

People miss the real purpose of these devices – and that is to transfer money from the taxpayer to corporations.

Steven Hoober February 26, 2009 1:23 PM

Stop thinking of his lame example. Think of what the point of the electronics is. Almost entirely: communications. And you say that even the Taliban don’t use electronics? Then I guess we caught them all since they didn’t use radios to coordinate and avoid coalition forces in the mountains.

EMP could be useful for jamming communictions (even wire-line communications) temporarily. Yes, it would affect friendly comms also, but then it’s like minefields or artillery fire; plan on a denied area for a denied time and since you know, it’s not a problem, but an advantage.

Jamming with conventional transmitters does not do this. Key is that inconveniently large vehicles and aircraft are required. A small, portable, disposable item (even if only backpack sized) with a broadband attack would be very useful in most battlefields, but especially for many types of counter-insurgency.

And if you want FUD, clearly we need to ban these and kill everyone who knows how they work. I mean, what if a bad guy got it and detonated in the middle of a school? With all those computers! Someone, please think of the children!

Caleb Jones February 26, 2009 2:07 PM

I’m too lazy to check my physics text books, but it would seem to me that you need a considerable amount of energy to generate an EMP that is effective at anything beyond a trivial distance.

How much energy can you squeeze out of a hand-held device?

E = mc^2 — q.e.d.

Clive Robinson February 26, 2009 2:40 PM

@ Zaphod,

You have made my ears turn red 😉


The theory behind EMP weapons is fairly simple, it’s the practicalities that are the hard bit.

Basicly the idea is as follows, take the energy of a storage device and dump it into an inductor then get the energy to come out again in a a ten billionth or less of a second.

The resulting multi terrawatt pulse of energy is then directed by a transmission line or antenna in the desired direction.

Sounds easy 😉 but believe me it is not.

The closest practical device capable of producing something like this is the Z Machine (funny I mentioned this just a few days ago on Bruces blog about lost laptops).

Essentially the machine was designed to generate fussion in a controlled environment for testing various asspects of H Bomb design. Which is obviously cheaper than finding unihabited tropical paradise islands and atols and turning them into baran craters (silly fact the two piece ladies swimming costum was named after Bikini Atol, as it was supposed to do for men what the nuke tests had done for the atol…).

One idea fielded is to use the zeta pinch effect that generates the fussion plasma in a microwave cavity this then comes out of a suitable wave guide into a dish that is pointed at the target of choice.

However this is not strictly an EMP weapon but a HERF (high energy Radio Frequency) weapon. Which in reality is what most EMP weapons turn into due to bandwidth limitations.

An idea fielded a good few years ago was a “variable inductor” to generate the pulse using explosives which is what a couple of people above where refering to.

In essence you make an inductor in a cone shape with variable thickness wire. The final turn being effectivly a length of very low impedance pipe with a cut in it mounted in a metal plate.

You dump a very high current into the inductor, and when the energy in the inductor peaks you detonat the shapped very high (speed) explosives. These burn in the direction of the final turn. In the process they effectivly start shorting out the turns of the inductor which has the effect of rapidly building up the current in the coil (although the energy remains the same). Effectivly it takes the energy of the slow charging pulse and reduces the pulse length to a very very short period. Which obviously gives you a very very high power pulse of extreamly short duration.

The main problems with non fission/fusion EMP weapons is resistance and bandwidth. The first has to be zero and the second infinite which is easy in theory but impossible in practice. Then there are the physical constraints and other issues to do with generating the slow charging pulse.

Then there is another slightly lesser known problem with EMP weapons. In that the narrower the pulse effectivly the higher the effective electomagnetic frequency of the pulse.

As some will know hard X-rays are dificult to focus and can go through the metal of a “tin plate” Faraday shield in the same way a hot bullet goes through a plastic tub of butter substitute spread.

Get the pulse short enough and you are talking radiation that even the thickness of the Earth won’t stop…

And contry to what you may be thinking EMP weapons do significant harm to humans in the same way a high power pulse radar or X-Ray machine will.

They can (in theory) produce energy fields so high that the gases in the atmospher would flash over into plasma at several millions of Kelvin.

There are some untested theories that you could combine the effects of a HERF gun and EMP generator to make a plasma weapon.

Personally I don’t want to be within a thousand miles of anybody testing such devices.

Now back to reality the closest we have got to generating a suitably short duration pulse is the Zeta pinch and that is not practical as a field weapon (or any other kind for that matter).

In practice we are down to wide band HERF weapons. The energy in these is actually not that great and what is very suceptable is the gate insulation in CMOS semiconductors or other field effect devices. Other semiconductors less so. And Valves (remember those) although not immune are very close to being so.

On of the shocks the US had was when the pilot deffected in the latest MIG. When they looked in the avionics they where suprised to find “acorn” style valves…

JimFive February 26, 2009 3:07 PM

@Everyone who wonders why not to use a real bomb.

Because your objective is in the room and you don’t want to blow it(or him) up.

Has no one read Starship Troopers? Why do you have infantry when you can blow up a planet? Because you don’t always WANT to blow up the planet.


-ac- February 26, 2009 4:24 PM

So… keep a backup laptop/wireless comm kit in a metal box? Sell it to the gvt as disaster planning kit? Along with a hand little device to detect when an EMP was nearby? (then the green light goes out, you’ve been hit)

Andrew February 26, 2009 4:36 PM

David W. says: “I have to agree with Angel One here. For that matter, why not toss in a real grenade? Surely killing and wounding the enemy commanders is more effective than just damaging their equipment?”

No. Fully operational backup command centers and personnel would take over the load, quite quickly.

What is wanted is commanders, who are still in lawful and nominal control, who are deprived of the working tools they need to do their jobs. The few orders they get out will be senseless, because they are deprived of C3I. Also there is the panic value and the ‘brush with death’ psychological factor to consider.

Realistic February 26, 2009 4:54 PM

Wondering as to the general credibility of the reporting article — they comment that the US Department of Justice is working on this????

Filias Cupio February 26, 2009 5:56 PM

Getting rather off topic but:
@Clive Robinson
“Get the pulse short enough and you are talking radiation that even the thickness of the Earth won’t stop…”

No, you can’t do that with electromagnetic radiation. Very high energy gamma rays interact readily with matter. To penetrate the Earth you need neutrinos.

Getting back to topic: The original ‘grenade through the command post window’ example was silly, and attacking it is a straw man. However, many of the counter examples are rather silly too. How is taking commanders out of communication better than killing them? Either way, the grunts and alternative commanders find they’ve gone off air, and respond the same way. The command-post-in-a-school/hospital scenario: How often will this happen? Is it worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and the logistics to deploy this new weapon to account for it? (And the lament should be “Won’t anyone think of the pocket calculators?” The poor things will be off to Silicon Heaven.)

doug coulter February 26, 2009 6:44 PM


You’re almost right. Not quite. Whatever the acronym you use for an “emp weapon” (one of which makes them hard to look up in wiki due to it’s similarity to a common sex transferred disease HERP), the energy “isn’t the same”. The initial energy put into the inductor is only the field current of a mechanical generator driven by high explosives, so it’s a quick way to use that space- and weight-dense energy source and convert it to RF. Quite ingenious, but most explanations omit this feature, due to the writers not knowing (not having clearance to know). However, if you look at the unclassified illustrations with this and Maxwell’s equations in mind, it’s pretty obvious.
(There, I get to keep my clearance)

They don’t usually make much in the way of X rays or gamma rays. No one and no technology on earth can make a pulse that short (and that’s not what determines the photon wavelength anyway, though the photon wavelength is an effective limit on how short a pulse can be made), and this is on the order of microseconds or many nanoseconds using these devices — not even close to visible light frequency or even IR.

Even lasers are just into the sub picosecond range using exotic techniques, and they are getting close to the limits imposed by IR — not even close to X rays, many octaves higher.

In fact, a main problem with the earlier devices was getting the wavelength short enough to radiate from a “reasonable sized” antenna at all. If the voltage gets high enough, and there is plenty of high Z stuff (like tungsten) getting hit by electrons that just happen to get accelerated to same high voltages — two ifs in a row — you can get X rays. But never anything that can pass through the earth.
Hey, even CERN can’t do that…with the highest energy accelerator on the planet. And there’s a moderately obvious reason. Any photon above about 1.02 MeV creates a positron-electron pair when perturbed, such as when passing by any charged particle. These annihilate, and produce two .511 MeV photons in turn, which get stopped in a few feet at most. This fundamental (and experimentally tested) limit is the basis of all cosmological assumptions about the cosmic background radiation — it’s cooled down 511 KeV photons due to the universal expansion. Neutrons can go a bit farther, but not much — half life is a limit if not captured anyway.

Only neutrinos can pass through earth, precisely because they rarely interact with anything whatever, regardless of energy. EMP weapons don’t make neutrinos, and would be safe if they did — no interactions!

At any rate, X rays aren’t what’s wanted anyway. The military can tune at least the bomb type devices to a certain range, that for instance resonates the gaps in a PC box as slot antennas for example, but doesn’t affect much else. Ditto other situations needing other wavelengths (power lines and phone lines need long wavelengths). For most uses, narrow band is better, but they take what they can get out of the pulse generator, which tends toward wide bandwidth due to the short pulse. There have even been schemes to use the big pulse to drive a one-shot magnetron or TW/klystron tube to get just the frequency wanted.

@ larry,
Yes, you can generate a big pulse with large capacitors (if you have a way to charge same). the key word here is “large”. Not practical to carry around. For example, the 6 kilojoule capacitors (120uF at 10kv) I have here in my physics lab would do quite nicely, and unless heroic measures are taken (lots of shielding, low inductance paths and so on), blow up PC’s to about 30 ft when suddenly discharged — I have the fried gear to show for that one. The thing is, they weigh 375 pounds each and are pretty large, wouldn’t fit in the trunk of some small automobiles — and they are about the best anyone’s money can buy. Mine are about 14″ by 6″ by 3 feet.

A small-medium capacitor is usually used to charge the “field winding” of the “explosive driven” mechanical generator that is an EMP weapon.
The smaller cap is charged by batteries and a DC to DC converter normally, but of course there are other ways. It represents a very tiny fraction of the total energy output.

To all — yes, you can get a lot of energy into a handheld device — via chemical explosives, which are now only a little better (a few times) than lithium ion batteries in energy density — we’ve hit a chemical wall on the periodic table to do much better, no matter what the green car/battery guys say. I’m too lazy right now to work out the conversion to joules, but a good HE is a bunch better than any known capacitor (including the nano supercap stuff) in energy density per size or per weight.

Anyone who has ever shot a pound of tannerite,
(will rip the average auto to shreds and spread them around for hundreds of feet) or even a soup can full of gasoline with a high powered rifle can attest — small things can go bang quite well.
The military explosives are of course a little better.

Even they have constraints due to usage that prevent them from using the most energetic stuff most of the time — you wouldn’t want a whole squad to go up in smoke when the guy carrying the satchel charge gets it hit by a bullet, right? So they tend toward lower energy/safer stuff than the “best that can be made” for most applications. They also need stuff that can be stored in lousy conditions for years and still work, which turns out to be a fairly serious constraint. All of the bleeding edge “hot stuff” so far, isn’t all that stable either. So it remains a curiosity in the lab, or is used by one-shot terrorists who don’t care to survive the process.

Rough order of magnitude — my 6kJ capacitor is about the same energy as one .50 cal BMG shell.
(within a factor of a few) puts into the actual bullet at about 30% efficiency — the other 2/3 is blast, friction, heat, etc. The capacitor is quite a lot larger and heavier for the same energy.

You’d know if one of these went off — most of the energy, as usual, comes out as a plain old blast, and yes, they work when wet. You get at most tens of percent conversion to electricity with one.

Clive Robinson February 26, 2009 11:35 PM

@ Doug coulter,

“(There, I get to keep my clearance)”

Thankfully I gave up the need to keep mine years ago (about the time the CFA poped up) but as you know the beast that it is has a very long reach…

There was a Russian lad who actually put the effect you are skirting around on the Internet several years ago but it has long since disappeared for some reason unknown…

Yup you have me on the through the earth bit, and I guess you are being kind not to pull up the other far out bit 8)

As you noted there is quite a few limits on the “simple theories” of EMP weapons most of which oddly owe their discovery one way or the other to the activities of the odd astronomer and Victorian gent.

Several years ago much to my surprise I was shown some interesting historical bits. It turns out the Victorians where generating quite high powers of microwave energy via a strange contraption that looked like a stove pipe hat made of copper with two hemispherical electrodes. Apparently they generated enough energy to cause wiring around the walls of the room to become sufficiently live that it was easily detectable, and one of the reported observations sounded a lot like an open line wave meter (similar to that that Randel and Boot measured the output frequency of their little power oscilator).

With regards to tungsten targets if hit with the right sort of energy they will produce a plasma that if excited in a different way will produce a coherant X-ray source.

From what I can remember the first such device was part of SDI back in the 1980’s and was tucked away down in Nevader and supposadly used a small nuke to get the desired result.

Some felt that reusable EMP weapons could be used to replace the nuke, and some early experiments indicated that it was possible.

As far as I’m aware the current crop of coherant x-ray sources use two pulses of light to produce bursts of soft x-rays for plasma imaging in fusion research.

All that aside I’m guessing there are still arguments about how EMP weapons should be clasified.

And my current fav kitchen table top version uses a very cheap magnetron coupled into a long horn with a channel plate beam former at the end. In ordinary mode you get about 700 Watts doing quite a bit of damage to moderatly shielded equipment quite a bit further than the 30ft your monster cap does. A friend figures it will make a quite effective mobile phone killer.

I’m figuring on building a much higher voltage pulse power supply and getting a bit more stick out of the magnetron the real problem as I guess you know is the switch but hey theres ways and means.

I never liked either Traveling Wave tubes or klystrons they need a lot of love and care and are quite fragile (definatly not No10 size muddy boot proof) pluss their efficiency is not that great giving rise to other niggeling problems, oh and they also go “soft” to quickly, but if you need the frequency coverage they are even now hard to beat.

greg February 27, 2009 5:56 AM

I call FUD as the useful range is squat. As indicated by CR and DC, the real physics just doesn’t work for something small. Unless you go for a plain old microwave generator, that is still not all that compact. And even then since 1-4 GHz bus lines tend to transmit rather well in that range, a lot of modern stuff is shielded for it (for interference reasons). The only thing i can see it work with any reliably or range that matters is “down the antenna” of Radio devices.

MuesliEater February 27, 2009 8:16 AM

We could always stop wasting money on military technology designed for the type of wars we don’t have (and don’t win), and spend it on education, health and poverty reduction, in the hope that fewer people would want to kill us.

But EMP grenades and laser thingys are more fun I suppose. And when sea levels rise and a few billion people want to come here, we’ll need lots of weapons to stop’em.

Go2Null February 27, 2009 9:38 AM

Why EMP?
Capture location, leaving infrastructure (reasonably) intact.
Then swap out electronics with your own.
Personnel health is by-product. Although may be useful for their expertise and manpower.

Clive Robinson February 27, 2009 11:34 AM

@ Zaphod,

“@Clive – thank you. I’m up to speed now :-)”

No thanks to my son who was “jumping” on my opperation site whilst I was tapping my post out on the mobile. I forgot to add atributation marks and (anon-y-mouse) IDs to the post between “As some will know” and “Back to reality”.

The claims where made by various people trying to get Ronny Ray-guns “Star Wars” Strateagic Defence Initiative (SDI) funding (which for some reason GWB revived).

Basicly as SDI was to be spaced based, a lot of the weapons proposed where to be powered by electricity.

This was either as “particle/field/plasma” (X-Ray lasers etc) or very high velocity micro-mass weapons such as “rail guns”.

And in amongst the bandits and their chums you would get classic comments such as,

“Dr XYZ’s assistant told me we need 10^12 watts of power to be effective and apparently the Doc’s currently getting 10^6 in the lab so I guess wer’e half way there”…

from a politico’s aid.

Almost outrageous amount of money (for the 80’s peanuts today 😉 where being thrown at such things as X-Ray lasers (yup they exist just about in table top form these days).

Thankfully some of the stuff has carried forward into the “holy grail” of “green fusion power” research, which as always is just under a decade away 😉

Sgt. Barnes February 28, 2009 9:43 AM

Yeah. Good. Make sure you have ’em manufactured in RED China, since you have no factories of your own left. Outsource all your other weapons and supplies, too. God knows, you can rely on COMMUNIST China to never go up against you.

Freakin’ DUH!

Xoebe March 1, 2009 10:46 AM

It is an element of strategy to encourage your opponent to develop defenses to weapons that do not exist – except that he doesn’t know that.

This worked for the U.S. in the Cold War. It backfired badly for Saddam Hussein.

As far as EMP grenades? Nobody in alqaeda cares, and they aren’t the ones the message was intended for.

kangaroo March 2, 2009 5:51 PM

Why? Why? Why?

Everyone makes it to complicated. Who cares about killing the enemy? It’s their equipment that is of value. Grenades shred — but some small but valuable communications equipment or information processing machinery might survive. On the other hand, protecting from an em pulse, particularly for commodity products, while leaving them usable is a different target.

Not so complicated. Throw a grenade and an EM-pulse thingy in the room. Whether the humans survive or not is irrelevant — they’re just servants to the real commanders.

Jonadab the Unsightly One March 6, 2009 8:22 AM

Make your enemies expend money and
resources defending against a weapon
you don’t actually possess?

We did that to the Soviets in the eighties, just by credibly threatening to develop space-based anti-missile tech (which furthermore on the face of it would have been purely defensive, which was a big PR win for us).

They poured trainloads of money into more ICBMs and nuclear warheads than would actually have been needed to make the whole globe uninhabitable, on the theory that we might someday be able to stop a high percentage of them mid-flight. If they hadn’t, there was the risk that we’d actually get SDI working at some point, and then we’d be able to nuke them with impunity if we chose. They couldn’t risk letting that happen, EVER, so they went ahead and built gazillions more ICBMs and warheads than they needed, even though we didn’t have the ability to shoot them down mid-flight.

Then they basically went bankrupt. (That would have happened eventually anyway, but huge amounts of military spending significantly accelerated it.)

Does the US military really have EMP grenades? Who knows? We’ve been known in the past to find out ten or twenty years later that the military did have a technology that was widely believed impractical. The bletchley park codebreaking, and similar work done in the US around the same time, springs immediately to mind as an obvious historical example of this. So it’s plausible that they could have developed something fairly groundbreaking and managed to keep a lid on it for a while. (Not groundbreaking in terms of weird and unlikely new physics, but groundbreaking in terms of getting something into a workable and usable state that’s already understood to be possible in theory, but thought to be years or decades away in practice.)

Khasgiwale March 14, 2009 5:49 AM

Why do developed nations spend sp much money on surgical methods to kill people or destroy equipment when there is poverty doing their job albiet not at the location of their choice. When a fragmentation grenede is sufficient and doing the job why waste money on more cosmetic improvements. Instead of such options why not give the option of LIVING to the underdeveloped world by providing them with a cheap technology to purify or desalinate water at a cheaper cost ?

Dryak May 18, 2009 2:48 PM

Using an EM grenade is better than killing everyone in sight, especially in recon or silent search and rescue missions.

MBC July 15, 2009 6:04 PM

um…. my understanding is that most ump and hmp devices utilise a conventional explosive to provide the energy for the pulse. the emp pulse is several orders larger than the conventional explosion that generates it, however the conventional blast & fragmention is still present, and at yeilds concurrent with standard warheads.

Patrick Lowrie December 3, 2009 5:58 PM

I am a bit taken aback by your statement that the EMP weapon is presumably “years away.” This weapon is alive and well and several are stored in Russian silos. All it takes to create a strategic EMP is to send a large yield nuclear weapon up to several miles above the ground and set it off. The reason this weapon isn’t used is that the effects are excessively widespread for it to be tactically useful.
A terrorist with a hydrogen bomb and a rocket capable of carrying it up to an altitude of 100 miles or more could cause significant damage to the infrastructure of the USA. Possible? You bet! Get a copy of “SS-18: The SATAN Legacy.” It has all you never wanted to know about EMP.

Nitin Kushwaha May 28, 2010 3:59 PM

This was already designed by Sir Nikola Tesla,
an EMP gun…
and was reported to be tested, and Tungaska is the region which was hit..

Nikola Tesla –Man beyond his Time!!

Nitin Kushwaha

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.