Thanks to US Sanctions! China’s High-Power Microwave Weapons Breakthrough: Drones Rendered Scrap Metal

According to a report from the South China Morning Post on February 8th, Chinese scientists have achieved a breakthrough in a high-power microwave weapon that is low-power, high-power, and capable of long-term operation. This deals a significant blow to the US military’s “Replicator” drone program, which has invested heavily in targeting China. In the face of such high-power microwave weapons, all drones will become scrap metal!

Breaking through High-Power Microwave Weapons: Boosted by Sterling Engines

According to the report from the South China Morning Post, a research group in China recently published a paper in the journal “High-Power Lasers,” breaking through a magnetically driven HPM weapon. They cleverly used reverse heat pump technology of sterling engines to solve the problem of “high energy consumption and large size” of the equipment and achieved a high-power microwave beam. This low-energy consumption, high-power, compact weapon has significant potential for weapon-level applications.

Two Problems with High-Power Microwaves: One is Superconductivity, the Other is Achieving Low Temperatures
“Microwave weapons” may sound fancy, but almost every household has one, that’s the microwave oven. Does it sound a bit confusing? Because the microwave oven has a magnetron, with power generally ranging from 600 to 1000 watts, and it is placed in the kitchen. However, who would have thought that microwave ovens could be used as weapons?

In fact, this is because the iron shell of the microwave oven acts like a Faraday cage, and even the glass of the front door has shielding mesh. Therefore, these high-power microwaves reflect inside the “oven” and act on the water molecules in the food to generate heat. The principle is not complicated:

When microwave radiation encounters food, it is absorbed by water molecules, fat molecules, and other polar molecules in the food. Especially water molecules, because of their polarity, make them more easily excited by microwaves. Under the action of the electric field generated by microwaves, water molecules begin to rotate. This rotation changes with the periodic change of the electric field direction, at a frequency of about 2.45 billion times per second. This rapid rotation causes intense friction between water molecules and generates a lot of heat!

Microwave ovens can be used to heat food, but they can also destroy electronic devices. However, the principle is different. It is mainly not the mode of heating water molecules, but the high voltage induced by high-power microwaves in the circuit, causing a large increase in current in the circuit. Insulation will be broken down, and semiconductor devices will directly fail. Electronic devices will thus malfunction. Of course, under normal circumstances, microwave ovens will not become weapons. But if the protection is bypassed and the magnetron is placed externally to emit electromagnetic waves, then it becomes a serious offense!

The principle of high-power microwave weapons is similar, but currently, there are generally two types of high-power microwave weapons. One type is electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons, which enhance the electromagnetic radiation (NEMP) generated by nuclear bomb explosions. The power is extremely high, and the destructive power is very strong. There are actual cases of this destructive power:

According to a report by the BBC on September 16, 2015, during the Cold War, the first British artificial satellite Ariel-1 was destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse impact of a 1.4-megaton hydrogen bomb explosion (Operation Starfish Prime, July 9, 1962) detonated by the United States 400 kilometers above the Pacific. The investigation report was submitted to British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s desk on September 10 of the same year but remained classified for 50 years until it was finally released more than a decade later.

Another type of EMP is generated by conventional explosives during the explosion through EMP structures. Because nuclear bombs are generally not used easily, but conventional EMP bombs do not have this concern. Therefore, the greatest threat currently is still conventional EMP bombs. Once detonated, the high-power electromagnetic waves generated will effectively destroy all electronic devices within the effective killing range that are not reinforced against EMP impacts, especially power facilities, communication facilities, and various electronic devices.

Apart from the EMP level, there are conventional high-power microwave weapons (HPM). These weapons have two types: interference and killing. Everyone knows about interference. For example, electronic jammers may appear in examination rooms and important confidential occasions, interfering with the normal operation of unauthorized electronic devices, with same-frequency or full-frequency interference, just like one person speaking with exactly the same voice but uttering meaningless words, making it impossible for listeners to hear clearly or emitting noise to drown out normal sounds.

The other type is killing. In addition to interference, high-power microwaves can also cause destruction. For example, high-power microwaves focused on drones can cause damage. Powerful electromagnetic waves cause physical damage to internal circuits (the impact of interference is only temporary; once withdrawn, communication will be restored). If the drone is physically damaged, it is equivalent to “brain death,” and the drone’s attitude control will immediately fail and crash.

For weapons, of course, microwave weapons with killing power are the most suitable! But here comes the problem: killing-type microwave weapons require higher power. The magnetic field of the conventional “magnetron” cannot generate enough microwave power. Stronger magnets must be used, and everyone thinks of using superconducting coils to generate magnetic fields.

Everyone has some understanding of superconductors, which need to be achieved at extremely low temperatures. At present, the problem is not so difficult to achieve superconductivity, after all, superconductors are used in many occasions, such as nuclear magnetic resonance, which uses low-temperature superconductors cooled by liquid helium. Chinese scientists used second-generation REBCO high-temperature superconductors on the superconducting magnet of this high-power microwave weapon, which can achieve zero resistance between absolute zero and 40 to 50 degrees Celsius above zero.

What’s even more remarkable is that the research group also used sterling engines outside the high-temperature superconductor coils to absorb the “heat” generated by the high-temperature superconductors, keeping them in a state of low-temperature superconductivity (above absolute zero 48°C). This coil generates a magnetic field strength of 4T, reducing power consumption by more than 80% compared to traditional high-power microwave structural designs.

In addition, the research group has integrated the entire structure onto trucks, which can be used while traveling, with almost no usage restrictions. However, currently, it can only work continuously for four hours at a time. This may not seem long, but for organizing defenses against drone attacks, this time is already long enough. Moreover, several trucks can work in rotation to maintain long-term electromagnetic suppression.

Must Thank US Sanctions: Otherwise, There Wouldn’t Be Such Semiconductors

The South China Morning Post specifically mentioned in its report that this breakthrough in high-temperature superconductors in China is also thanks to US sanctions! Because in 2017, the demand for such high-temperature superconductors was small, with only tens of kilometers produced each year, and the production cost was high. Due to competition, many Chinese companies did not believe that domestically produced high-temperature superconductors would perform better than imports. However, in 2018, US sanctions came. You couldn’t even buy the products if you wanted to. As a result, domestic orders flooded into Shanghai Superconductor.

In less than two years, Shanghai Superconductor’s annual output reached a capacity of 400 kilometers. With increased income, increased research and development investment, the performance of this material has been brought to the world’s leading level. Another benefit is that mass production has reduced costs. Many scientific research facilities or infrastructure, such as large superconducting power transmission lines, high-speed railways, and devices capable of generating the strongest magnetic fields on Earth, have all used this material. It is worth noting that some national laboratories and commercial fusion companies in the United States have also abandoned domestic suppliers and instead chosen China’s new superconducting wires because this material is cheaper and performs better.

Isn’t it ironic? US sanctions against China have actually helped Chinese high-tech companies break through bottlenecks, reduce costs, increase income, and invest a higher proportion of funds in research and development. This model has also led to breakthroughs in the semiconductor field. According to publicly available reports, China’s 5-nanometer process has entered mass production, although it still lags behind the world’s leading 2-3 nanometer process, it is currently sufficient and can solve problems.

US “Replicator” Drones Suffered a Setback: Becoming Scrap Metal

On August 28, 2023, Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense, presented the “Replicator” plan at the New Defense Industry Association (NDIA) Emerging Technology Conference in Washington. The plan aimed to deploy several thousand autonomous attack cruise missiles within two years to respond to challenges from China. For China’s rise in the Western Pacific, this is currently the best containment method:

The first is that China’s core advantage lies in quantity;

The second is that the disposable autonomous system is the correct innovative form;

Ukraine has already proven the superiority of autonomous cruise missiles on the battlefield. Kathleen stated that the United States will counter the size of the People’s Liberation Army with its own size, but ours will make it more difficult for China to plan for and respond to, difficult to hit, and difficult to defeat.

The “Replicator” plan integrates consumer-grade drone technology and mass-produces cheap yet highly intelligent ammunition. The advantage in quantity will make it difficult for the opponent to resist. In the early days, the US military responded to global challenges with a “lean and precise” strategy. However, with China’s rise, its powerful industrial production capacity has made it difficult for the US military to resist. The “Replicator” plan is the best choice for dealing with China’s rise.

The US military is interested not only in the “Replicator” drone program but also in the massive unmanned underwater and surface vessels’ autonomous operating system program. As early as the beginning of 2023, the US Department of Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) proposed a comprehensive access plan for drone control, aiming to coordinate attacks with a set of systems that integrate unmanned underwater and surface vessels with aerial drones and land-based unmanned vehicles to maximize system potential.

Recently, the US Department of Defense Innovation Unit also issued tender documents for the “Mass-Produced, Low-Cost Maritime Expedition (PRIME) Small Unmanned Surface Vehicle (sUSV) and Cooperative Interception Capability,” proposing the performance requirements for these unmanned equipment:

Endurance range of 500 to 1000 nautical miles;

Can carry a payload of 1000 pounds (453 kilograms);

Can loiter in hot spots for several days or hibernate for longer periods;

At the end of the attack phase, sailing speed can reach over 35 knots (64 kilometers per hour);

Can autonomously identify commercial cargo ships and targets, and can attack without central intervention (communication interruption).

These equipment are aimed at China. The US military has set up a future intervention plan for the Taiwan Strait crisis, dispatching surface vessels or aircraft carriers or aerial patrol aircraft in hot spots just before the crisis erupts, deploying a large number of unmanned combat units, and sleeping or cruising slowly in the waters. When the crisis erupts, they will be activated to autonomously search for targets and attack.

It must be said that this strategy is indeed ruthless, because the most frightening aspect of swarm drone attacks is that they will saturate the interception channels of the attacked party. This is the so-called saturation attack. Even if the interception probability is 100%, there will still be a large number of drones breaking through the defense line and attacking destroyers and aircraft carriers inside, although these attacks will not sink the ships, they may damage radar and communication antennas, making surface ships lose combat capability and become targets for other attack weapons such as off-zone strikes or anti-ship missiles.

Anti-Drone: High-Power Microwave Weapons are the First Choice

Some netizens have stated that the best way to kill drones is with lasers, just one by one. However, when hundreds of drones come attacking, even killing them with lasers will be overwhelming! After all, killing also takes time, 1-2 seconds per drone, so 100 drones will take 3 minutes to deal with, and within these 3 minutes, drones can fly tens of kilometers, making it highly likely to break through.

But high-power microwave weapons do not have this problem because high-power microwaves are area-effect weapons, sweeping over a large area. It’s a bit like a multi-barrel Gatling gun or machine gun, but microwave weapons cover a larger area than what Gatling can reach. When a large group of drones attacks, as long as the high-power microwave weapon sweeps, drones in transit will be subjected to brain-death-like strikes, falling or crashing one after another. This is indeed the best weapon for future anti-drone warfare.

Finally, the author would like to add a few words. China is now capable of both offense and defense against drones. The high-power microwave weapons mentioned earlier are for defensive purposes. Previously, China also broke through the defense of the attacking side, that is, the defense of drones themselves against high-power microwave weapons. The principle is as follows:

The protected equipment will generate a low-temperature plasma “protective field” around itself. When attacked by enemy high-energy microwave weapons, under the powerful energy impact, this “plasma protective field” will not only not be dissipated by the impact but will become stronger due to the injection of instant high energy, allowing aircraft and other equipment using high-precision electronic devices to continue to operate safely within this “plasma protective field.”

So the question is, let’s try using China’s spear (high-power microwave weapons) to attack China’s shield (plasma protective field), and see which one is stronger? I believe everyone should not shy away from this challenge. It may not be long before a new paper is published, and then we can interpret it again. (Xing Chen)

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