Will Saddam Fall Victim to the Elusive E-bomb?

ByABC News via via logo

Feb. 18, 2003 -- If war is declared against Iraq, American cruise missiles could deliver electronic explosions in the form of e-bombs.

If e-bombs are released in Iraq — and work as advertised — Saddam Hussein would quickly become the electronic equivalent of deaf, dumb and blind. His phones would go dead, his lights would go out and he would be electronically cut off from the rest of the world.

"Virtually any solid state device is going to go, whether it's a cell phone or a $6 million computer," ABCNEWS military analyst Anthony Cordesman said.

Dark, Silent and Defenseless

E-bombs can fire millions of watts of energy in microwaves that are able to knock out electronic equipment and the weapons that rely on them. They can target and destroy computers, radios, telephones, and almost anything that uses transistors, circuits, and wiring.

E-bombs knock out electrical equipment by rapidly creating and transmitting a huge burst of electrical energy into the atmosphere. That sudden explosion of energy results in an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.

The circuits and wiring in electrical devices act like antennas and pick up the invisible EMP wave as it moves through the air. The affected electronics will either become temporarily disabled or completely overloaded and destroyed by the excess energy.

It is believed that Saddam's underground command-and-control stations would be near the top of the E-bomb target list. Iraq's newly-built fiber-optic communications network would also experience the destruction of such an attack, and links between Saddam and his commanders would be short circuited.

Another advantage in using E-bombs during battle is that they don't completely destroy buildings, homes or kill innocent people as traditional bombs do.

Back in 1999, David Schriner, a former civilian electrical engineer for the U.S. Navy, set up a controlled E-bomb demonstration for ABCNEWS' 20/20.

With a device that pumped out an energy burst of a million watts, Schriner crashed two computers in seconds. Schriner then used his device to give a car an electronic nervous breakdown. Schriner said any vehicle with a computer-controlled engine can be vulnerable to the energy burst provided by an E-bomb.

Is America Safe from E-bomb Warfare?

Schriner's makeshift device is just an example of the serious damage an E-bomb would cause. However, those in the know would be able to protect their equipment from the bomb's devastating effects, said Schriner.

Sensitive electronic circuits, for example, can be encased in Faraday cages — metal structures that intercept and redirect excessive EMP energy into the ground like a lightning rod.

Cordesman said Iraq's newly developed systems would be devastated by E-bombs if launched by the U.S. military.

"Iraq's air defenses can be blind and — equally important — the dictatorship will not be able to function with anything like its normal efficiency," Cordesman said.

The possibility that an E-bomb could be used in the U.S. has been considered by U.S. officials. President Bush announced that Richard Clarke would be looking into such possibilities in his new position as Cyberspace Security Adviser, a position the Bush administration created less than a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

E-bombs are still largely experimental and untested in battle. Their specific capabilities are classified and the Air Force hasn't revealed whether or not it will be available for an Iraq war.

When asked about the possibility of the U.S. military launching E-bombs in an invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld avoided the subject, saying only "You never know."

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