June 28, 2010
Last week the Pentagon revealed the existence of a new weapon in the war against roadside bombs: a beam of radio-frequency energy that can detonate hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) at a distance.
And its creators say the potential does not stop there—the beam could be also used to set off other types of warheads before they reached their target. In theory it might be used to set off ammunition before the enemy even has a chance to fire. "The capabilities are not limited to improvised devices," Lee Mastroianni, program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), told Popular Mechanics.
Radio-frequency devices can output extremely powerful, short-duration bursts of energy using a technology known as a Marx Generator. This uses a number of capacitors that are charged in parallel and then discharged simultaneously in series. Texas Tech University's Center for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics has been working on this area under contract for the ONR, with the specific aim of developing pulses strong enough to defeat IEDs. Their 3-million-volt Marx Generator is the size of a bus, and it is probably not a coincidence that the anti-IED beam weapon is said to be the size of a tractor-trailer. The TTU team is also working on a one-shot pulse generator the size of a coffee can and antennas suitable for carrying and directing an intense burst of energy lasting less than a billionth of a second.