An advanced Chinese weapon has taken down an unmanned aircraft with a powerful electromagnetic pulse in the first known field test of the Beijing technology.
The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon was fired at the aircraft while it was flying 1,500 metres (4,920ft) above sea level before crashing down.
The experiment, conducted by Chinese defence contractor China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), is thought to be China’s first openly reported field test of an electromagnetic pulse weapon in the race to catch up with the US.
The EMP weapon used in the test operated within a narrow band, meaning the microwave beam it produced was designed to have a longer firing range.
However, researchers found that the drone’s flight control system had malfunctioned after the pulse weapon was fired.
According to a paper in the Chinese journal Electronic Information Warfare Technology, in this experiment the drone did not drop immediately but veered unexpectedly from side to side.
CETC engineer Wen Yunpeng and colleagues noted that a likely explanation for the drone’s behaviour is that ‘the flight control system malfunctioned, issuing an error control command.’
How EMP works
EMP, or electromagnetic pulse weapons use missiles equipped with an electromagnetic pulse cannon.
This uses a super-powerful microwave oven to generate a concentrated beam of energy.
The energy causes voltage surges in electronic equipment, rendering them useless before surge protectors have the chance to react.
The aim is to destroy an enemy’s command, control, communication and computing, surveillance and intelligence capabilities without hurting people or infrastructure.
The paper did not give details about the date and location of the experiment, or of distance between the EMP weapon and the target.
In 2019, the US demonstrated a prototype EMP weapon known as the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder, or Thor, that brought down 50 drones with one shot, showing that it is capable of defending a military base.
According to the researchers, the design of the Chinese EMP weapons are based on US ones, but with some cost-effective technical innovations.
Although the Chinese experiment only involved one aircraft, researchers claimed the weapon would have ‘a significant advantage against swarms of drones’.
EMPs can range in size from narrowly targeted cannons that could disable an aircraft to massive atmospheric nuclear blasts that could wipe out the entire nation’s electricity grid.