China’s new electromagnetic missile can cripple US and Indian economies by wiping out energy and communication systems

China is developing a hypersonic missile armed with a non-nuclear warhead. Its warhead is designed to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to target an opponent’s power grids and disrupt their power supply, causing massive economic losses.


This project, led by scientists at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, could be of concern to the United States. According to reports, this missile could fly at six times the speed of sound and travel about 3,000 kilometers in 25 minutes.

It is poignant that research into the electromagnetic effects of nuclear weapons on communication and electrical systems dates back to the 1950s. World military powers like the United States, Russia, China and North Korea have since done so. advancements in the research and development of EMP weapon systems and the addition to this new hypersonic technological race could give Beijing an edge over its big rival, the US.

How it works?

EMP explosions were initially associated with nuclear warheads. The simple premise behind this was the emission of a significant amount of radiation. Later developments such as the US Air Force (USAF) Advanced High Power Microwave Missile (CHAMP) project have challenged this notion.

CHAMP creates EMP explosions by harnessing a microwave generator. Chinese scientists seem to have developed this American concept by adding a chemical explosive warhead to generate an EMP explosion.

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According to SCMP, the chemical explosion would compress an electrically charged magnet known as a “flux compression generator,” which converts the energy of the shock into short but extremely powerful bursts of microwaves. The missile is expected to harness the intensity of heat which is a byproduct of hypersonic speed.

Concept of the American CHAMP missile.

This is to be used to generate electricity which in turn powers the generation of flux compression. This could cause the missile to generate a significant amount of electricity without the need for batteries.

These missiles would use super-capacitors with a power density 20 times that of batteries. In addition, these capacitors could be charged on the move by harnessing the energy of the heat generator for electricity, according to the SCMP report. Chinese researchers say this approach could potentially discharge a large chunk of energy in 10 seconds.

This is suitable for instant discharge to cause EMP damage. Chinese researchers said the missile would be shrouded in a cloud protecting it from radar. Air molecules are ionized by heat as the object moves through the air at hyperspeed. The result is a plasma screen growing on the surface.

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The hypersonic missile is expected to convert heat from the surroundings into electricity and use it to power several plasma generators located in various parts of the missile’s body.

Potential damage

According to EMP weapons expert Peter Vincent Pry, these weapons can only be used once. This type of NNEMP warhead is a “one-shot” weapon because it is explosive propelled, unlike the USAF FIELD which uses a microwave generator for its NNEMP warhead which can generate many EMP bursts, or project a continuous EMP field on the ground like missile cruises, Pry told Forbes.

Pry pointed out that NNEMP weapon technology has undergone changes in recent times due to the advent of more powerful generators. This can be achieved by lowering the size and weight profiles that can allow it to be delivered by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), hypersonic vehicles, and cruise missiles.

EMP threat
EMP Threat (Image for representational purposes only)

These weapons have evolved from their nuclear origins and evolved into the non-nuclear domain. The advent of non-nuclear EMP weapons makes it more practical compared to nuclear weapons, however, their lethality remains ambiguous.

United States opens hypersonic factory

Earlier this week, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin announced the opening of a 65,000 square foot production facility for hypersonic systems. This is done in close coordination with the United States Department of Defense (DOD). The facility is located in the state of Alabama.

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Hypersonic systems will be developed for both the US Army and Navy at this facility. The addition of this gigantic facility is likely to promote competition in the development of hypersonic missiles between the great powers. In particular between Washington and Beijing to gain supremacy in the Indo-Pacific.

Hypersonic-HAWC
The concept of a hypersonic air breathing weapon (HAWC). (Image: DARPA)

The EurAsian Times had reported that the United States was planning to add hypersonic weapons to its B-1B Lancer planes which are currently stationed at Dyess Air Force Base. This will essentially turn the B-1 into a “missile truck”.

It has been confirmed that the modified B-1 bomber will serve as a launch pad for accelerated glide vehicles as well as air-breathing missiles.

This hints at the potential use of the AGM-183A air-launched rapid response weapon and the Hypersonic Air Breathing Weapon (HAWC) concept, respectively. Boeing officials highlighted how the project will improve the existing B-1 fleet, keeping the B-1 mission active until the Air Force switches to the B-21 Raider.

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Until development of the B-21 is complete, the B-1 bomber will be upgraded and aligned with hypersonic missiles. This sustained development of hypersonic technology sees American and Chinese rivals clash in the “21st Century Cold War.”

In the midst of this hypersonic race between Washington and Beijing, it’s too early to predict who will have the advantage. However, China’s new EMP weapon could cause temporary damage to the United States on the economic front using so-called “gray area warfare” tactics.

It is worth remembering how suspected Chinese hackers caused a massive power outage in Mumbai, crippling India’s financial capital for several hours, in October last year.

About Annie Baxley

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