A Starlink killer? China’s new device powers mini microwave cannon

The high-power microwave cannon reportedly fits on a truck and can be plugged straight into a regular power grid.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a laser zapping a satellite.
An artist's impression of a laser zapping a satellite.

3DSculptor / iStock 

Military scientists in China have reportedly developed a compact power source that can significantly reduce the size of a high-power microwave cannon capable of frying chips in drones and satellites, according to a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The device is allegedly capable of generating electricity of up to 10 gigawatts at a rate of 10 pulses per second. It can also be placed on the back of a truck and plugged straight into a regular power grid, making it highly mobile for battle scenarios.

A compact high-power microwave device

The researchers, led by Shu Ting of the College of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies at the National University of Defence Technology in Changsha, Hunan province, said their device is capable of fitting into a bookshelf. Typically such a device, including capacitors and a control system, is as big as a room.

What's more, the small power source should enable the microwave cannon to be mounted atop a truck or rooftop for a surprise attack on enemy targets flying overhead. It could also be plugged into a regular power grid, according to the scientists behind the project.

The researchers published a paper on their device in the Chinese-language High Power Laser and Particle Beams journal on March 16.

According to the SCMP report, China's military decided to accelerate the development of high-power microwave weapons following the highly-publicized use of SpaceX's Starlink satellites by Ukraine's military and Ukrainian civilians following Russia's invasion of the country.

Could China's new microwave device shut down a Starlink satellite?

The researchers behind the new device said similar devices currently used by the military currently generate microwaves in kilowatt or megawatt power. To damage or shut down an article, a microwave beam would have to reach a gigawatt of power or higher.

Though the new device is in the development phase, the researchers believe it can fire high-powered beams of 10 gigawatts or more.

According to the scientists' paper, their device is an electron accelerator with a novel internal design inspired by DNA. It accelerates electrons in two spiral tubes that resemble the double-helix structure of genetic material.

These spiral tubes were submerged in glycerine, providing excellent insulation that requires no maintenance on the battlefield. This design, they wrote, allows for the generation of ultra-high-power electron beams using a relatively small device.

The US and Russia have also demonstrated high-power microwave beam technology in recent years. The US Army's Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High-Power Microwave Program, for example, is developing a mobile device that can take down entire swarms of drones.

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