September 20, 2001
5:04 PM   Subscribe

This popular mechanics article on E-bombs will keep you from sleeping tonight. For as little as $400 and some 1940's era technology, you could wipe out much of western civilization's infrastructure in an instant. We're about to enter a terrifying new world of combat.
posted by mathowie (14 comments total)
Talk about chilling...
If we can find this information so easily I dread to think what others may have their hands on right now.
Perhaps it goes to show that, given the potential for mayhem at people's disposal it´s almost a victory for free will and basic morality that so few take advantage of it...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:12 PM on September 20, 2001

So interesting.

I wonder why Ted Kascinzki (sp) never thought about this-- it seems that it would be the weapon of choice for eco-terrorists, who probably don't want to kill people but wouldn't mind knocking society back 200 years.
posted by cell divide at 5:25 PM on September 20, 2001

Hm. Two thoughts:

1) If a terrorist can build one of these right now for $400, why is it the United States Armed Forces can't even get a basic prototype ready to test until next year, and why hasn't any terrorist done so yet?

2) Popular Mechanics has a history of being just a touch on the paranoid side when it comes to the possibilities of using technology for destructive purposes. Practically nothing they've written about in this area has ever come true, for as long as I've been reading them, which is a number of years.
posted by aaron at 5:26 PM on September 20, 2001

Aaron-- good point! It's what makes the mag so funny, it's always predicting the wildest things, and it never, ever comes true!
posted by cell divide at 5:31 PM on September 20, 2001

We've been hearing these threats for years (that price is at least 5 years old) but they never become fact. It's just not that easy to create massive EMP without a nuke and it's not very easy to do from any distance. If it was possible to do for $400, there'd be a ton of them - forget the terrorists and think of how many high school / college students or wannabe l33t h8x0rs would have made one.
posted by adamsc at 5:34 PM on September 20, 2001

Everything I've ever read about e-bombs and EMP weapons is that they don't work. For example, a while ago I was looking into the HERF gun (for those bastards with the 500-watt trunk-mounted speakers who seem to think 1am is an ideal time to listen to music) and everything I read suggests that building even a small scale device with limited range is freakishly difficult. The e-bomb effect had been noticed first as an after effect of nuclear weapons explosions (although this article says the effect was first postulated in '25); creating a similar effect sans nuclear explosion is still so far from do-able that it is as aaron suggests all but paranoid to imagine otherwise (well, for now), FCG or not. After all, if PM is publishing the FCG effect, I find it hard to believe the military hasn't already tried it and found it wanting, if they're still focusing on more conventional superconductor methods.
posted by hincandenza at 5:38 PM on September 20, 2001

I read this article a few months ago in the actual physical magazine, and if they keep writing nonsense, in my eyes at least it's a tabloid magazine.
posted by HoldenCaulfield at 5:41 PM on September 20, 2001

They do come in really handy if one of those spider thingys attacks you on the Nebuchadnezzar though.

There is no spoon
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:41 PM on September 20, 2001

I don't think that the power levels are there to actually do what they're saying. The graphic shows an entire city being blasted, but if this is powered by simple explosives I suspect it wouldn't have much more range than the blast itself. Remember that an EMP dissipates as the square of the distance from the blast.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:12 PM on September 20, 2001

What SDB said; hence the reason that EMP levels of destruction described in that article haven't been seen outside of nuclear test blasts...
posted by hincandenza at 8:36 PM on September 20, 2001

since its so easy and cheap it could be the next project for the science fair.
posted by redhead at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2001

I first heard about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bombs back in the mid 1970s from a friend who worked for Allied Signal. If they haven't been able to make one yet, chances are it's really, really hard or not at all possible.
posted by Qubit at 9:34 PM on September 20, 2001

Yea, I've read about this kind of technology for years but nothing ever seems to come of it. I once saw a demonstration on TV where they used a similar device to knock out a moving car by zapping it's electronics as it drove by, but it had to be right underneath the car to work. It may have even been a simulated demo, and not the real thing.
posted by ArkIlloid at 10:17 PM on September 20, 2001

I think the demo on TV you talk about was Dateline NBC. It was a few years ago. They killed a late 80's Corvette with a EMP device. I don't remember if the device was required to be under the car, though.
posted by internal at 7:11 AM on September 21, 2001

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