Peter La Franchi/MELBOURNE

Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation has revealed a research and development programme for non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bombs, and is building at least one prototype for testing. The weapon would be used to neutralise electronics without damaging people or property.

The DSTO is also claiming that EMP weapons are already available with second generation variants likely to be commonplace by 2010.

At least one of the Australian prototype weapons under development is based around a thermal-battery powered repetitive electro-magnetic pulse generator. It produces several hundred kV of output, but has an effective range of only a few metres.

According to Wayne Philp, senior researcher at the DSTO Electronic Warfare division, "a prototype [thermal battery powered] device is under development within DSTO."

However, Philp also says the DSTO is studying designs which use a high explosive-powered flux pulse generator, and a high explosive-powered variant fitted with an amplifying tube system.

Philp told the Australian Army's annual land warfare conference (held in Melbourne last week) that the EMP research programme was "a slightly sensitive topic" and declined to provide any technical details about the prototypes.

EMP bombs are believed to have been in US and Russian inventories for at least eight years, although DSTO is the first to openly admit a development programme.

Last year, Russia accused the USA of using air-launched EMP weapons during the Kosovo campaign. This has not been substantiated, although the USA has acknowledged using airburst bombs loaded with carbon graphite filaments to short-circuit power grids in Serbia and during the 1991 Gulf War.

Philp told the conference that EMP weapons are ideally suited to use in urban areas. "These weapons only damage and adversely effect electronic devices and electromagnetic media, rather than buildings, homes, agriculture, livestock and people."

He says EMP bombs are, in the main, "still in laboratories or in prototype stages". Typical performance characteristics are "peak powers in excess of 100MW, energy between 10-1000J, pulse width between 10-100ns, and pulse repetition rates between 100-1000Hz.

"It is likely within this decade, radio frequency weapons will be able to neutralise electronics on the ground. On current indications, an effective radius of a kilometre or more would soon seem to be possible."

Source: Flight International