IWS - The Information Warfare Site
News Watch Make a  donation to IWS - The Information Warfare Site Use it for navigation in case java scripts are disabled

Statement of

Dr. R. Alan Kehs
Army Research Lab

before the

Joint Economic Committee

United States Congress

Wednesday, February 25, 1998

"The Radio Frequency Weapons Threat and Proliferation of Radio Frequency Weapons"

      Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I thank you for the opportunity to help shed some light on the widely ignored topics that you have chosen for these hearings. I have spent most of the last twenty years working on various radio frequency weapons technologies and I am currently serving as chair of the tri-service High Power Microwave (HPM) technology coordination panel.

      In general, our security classification guide prevents us from discussing anything but the most generic concepts and severely limits the depth of discussion if we remain at the unclassified, full public release level. It is not deemed to be in our best interests to provide details on our programs or roadmaps to weapons development that might assist rogue states, terrorists and others who would eventually wish to use these weapons against us.

      However, one does not need to rely on classified reports in order to appreciate the potential impact of radio frequency weapons (RFW) or as they are frequently called, HPM weapons. Everyone in this room has undoubtedly experienced Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) to some piece of household electronics. Some common examples are the effects of lightning strikes or automotive ignition noise on radio transmission, placing two computers too close to one another on a bench, driving under power lines while trying to listen to the radio, and so forth.

      A step up from these minor inconveniences is the warning that we hear each time we take off or land in an airplane. We all wonder "can a Gameboy or calculator really cause serious problems to the airplane electronics?" The answer, of course, is that a Gameboy, calculator or cellular telephone is not usually sufficient to disrupt airplane electronics, but it can happen. As a result, we adopt a policy of "better safe than sorry" and shut down electronics during the more critical take off and landing segments of commercial air flights. We have now asked the question "How much power does it take to create problems?" Realistically, these questions cannot be answered at the unclassified, full public release level. More subtly, the question becomes "At what point do common civilian electronic devices become weapons?"

      Let us shift now from the low power levels (microwatts and milliwatts) of gameboys and cellular telephones to the very high power levels (megawatts) of commercially available radar systems, TV transmitters, and particle accelerator tubes. This is the platform from which HPM weapons programs would be based.

      Conceptually, an HPM weapon looks like a radio transmitter. There is a power source, a tube to generate RF energy, and an antenna to radiate the energy appropriately. The key technologies and final products have been under development for the greater part of this century and are readily available on a broad range of markets. In the Army, we make extensive use of surplus radar and radio equipment.

      Military electronics generally contain some electromagnetic shielding and protection devices -- even if they are not specifically designed to withstand an HPM attack. Commercial designers are generally concerned only with FCC limits on EMI and no one knows how susceptible commercial electronic systems might be to a concerted electronic attack. These commercial systems include our banking and telecommunications systems as well as oil and gas distribution and transportation systems, among others. Although these systems are designed to withstand the loss of a critical node, a concerted attack would cause unknown effects.

      HPM technologies appear on the critical technologies list. However, the required special approvals have not slowed the transfer of increasingly powerful and sophisticated HPM technologies to overseas buyers.

      The intelligence community will have to address the threat issues but I believe that they will find existing technology is more than sufficient to support several potential applications and threat scenarios.

      The growing US dependence on sophisticated electronics for warfighting and domestic infrastructure makes us potentially vulnerable to electronic attack. By its nature, the Defense Department is compelled to confront such threats, however, the full range of our technological society is also at risk and much less aware of potential threats. I pray that congress will help all of its agencies and departments to appreciate the increasing seriousness of the questions raised here today and take appropriate actions to evaluate threats and construct appropriate defensive measures.