Dig an Air Pocket

Response to Reader on Plasmoid Weapons

Moscow TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI, Aug 19 No 8, 95 pp 2-3
by Yuriy Medvedev

"Dear Editor! In issue No 5, 1995, the article 'Hyperboloid Is Not Yet a Sensation' said that even with the aid of super-powerful lasers with nuclear pumping it is virtually unrealistic to create an effective weapon that can hit enemy aircraft and missiles. "However, there have appeared articles about the development of plasmoids, which are feasible, under the direction of the chief designer of the Scientific Research Institute of Radio Instrument Building, R. Avramenko. Who is right? It is also reported that Russia is proposing to the United States to conduct an experiment under the name 'Trust' for testing a global anti-missile defense system using plasmoids. Does that mean we already have finished units?" V. Bukov (City of Tolyatti)

Let us begin with the fact that the article published in TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI explained that destruction of a target by burning through its skin with a super-powerful laser is ineffective.

The principle is different in the system that is proposed to be used in the "Trust" experiment. But we will discuss that a bit later. First, we would remind you that the journal wrote about R.F. Avramenko's theoretical developments in issue No 12, 1993. At their basis was the concept that the universe is a sea of electrons. Which is what also caused, in his opinion, many phenomena. Say, penetration of ball lightning through an obstacle, movement of a UFO without air resistance... Based on this concept, he developed a method making it possible to hit enemy objects from the ground.

"Low-powered phased arrays [FAR] are well known in radar today," says Remiliy Fedorovich [Avramenko]. "It consists of several hundred individual generators, and by shifting the phases of the generator emissions relative to one another, it is possible to change the direction and focussing of the beams almost instantly."

[Avramenko] So, phased arrays can be used to create at an altitude of 50 km a spot of powerful (about 10 MW) microwave or laser radiation 1 meter in diameter. I emphasize, the energy is focused not on the target, but under the wing of the aircraft or ahead of the missile. In this area, the strength of the electromagnetic field increases and an electrical discharge takes place. As a result, a very rapid heating of the air occurs, and its density drops sharply. The emerging "air pockets" and non- uniform air flows break the wing, swirls around the object, and it breaks up.

[TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI] To what temperature must the air be heated? What kind of a power source is required?

[Avramenko] A temperature of 1000 degrees C is sufficient to decrease the air density to a third. Consequently, the power of the unit is about 1 GW. This is quite sufficient to destroy the target in a fraction of a second.

[TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI] But it flies at an enormous speed of 1-2 km/second and at 7 km/second in the stratosphere. That means a cord of air many kilometers long will have to heat up. Is this realistic?

[Avramenko] Everything depends on how much energy you expend. At an altitude of 50 km, the air density is 10- 6/cm3. It takes 106Joules to heat up a volume of 109 cm3 or 1,000 grams to 1000 degrees C. Taking losses into account, the power must be 109 or 1 GW. But in principle, heating up the air is not the best solution to the problem. There is a more perfected method. Having selected the operating mode of the phased array, one can generate nonequilibrium plasma at a given place--like in daylight lamps. It does not heat up the air, but ionizes in such a way that the drag of a flying object in it decreases sharply. We observed this phenomenon repeatedly in experiments conducted in wind tunnels at the Central Institute of Aerodynamics [TsAGI] and the GosNIIAS [expansion not given]. They created a plasmoid in front of a bullet, blasted it with a flow of air, and the drag decreased 40 percent (see photograph [not reproduced]). Such a plasmoid will also be generated by a phased array in front of a missile and under an aircraft's wing. Then various parts of the target sort of end up in different environments, which results in its very rapid breakup.

[TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI] Will it be possible to guide a beam to an object? After all, the enemy uses dummy targets for camouflage and deception...

[Avramenko] The plasmoid will destroy all of them-- false and real--by the method of exhaustion. And in fractions of a second!

[TEKHNIKA I MOLODEZHI] Are there already systems operating on this principle?

[Avramenko] Back in 1974, we created a 20-MW unit, which focused its continuous microwave radiation at a distance of 10 meters. All modes of operation were simulated on it. So it is high time to switch to a wide- scale experiment--we also propose conducting it jointly with the United States. This requires $300 million.

From the Editor. We would note that after the first articles in our press about plasmoid weapons, in the American press there appeared commentaries primarily by supporters of SDI. Naturally, they began to emphasize that Russia, having inherited the scientific and technical achievements of the USSR, is surpassing the United States considerably in many technologies using plasma. For example, the director of the European Thermonuclear Energy Fund (FEF), D. Tennenbaum, writes in the journal SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY that groups under the direction of L. Rudakov (Institute of Atomic Energy imeni Kurchatov), A. Rukhadze, and A.Ya. Vinogradov (IOFAN) have created powerful microwave pulse generators. Since the essence of Russia's initiative is not yet clear, D. Tennenbaum expresses several assumptions. In particular, he believes that the Russians will create a plasmoid from "primer" plasma with the aid of a powerful laser pulse, and then excite it with the additional energy of microwave beams.

It is not quite clear, in D. Tennenbaum's opinion, how to avoid large energy losses. Nevertheless, such possibilities exist, say, by the emission of tone-like pulses.

On the whole, Americans who support the SDI condemn the U.S. government for curtailing work under this program and enthusiastically support Russia's initiative proposing the "Trust" experiment. Which is not surprising, for this way they will be able to make up for lost time, and the very implementation of the project promises big money, for which various agencies in both countries are waging a desperate struggle.

We will try to talk in more detail in coming issues about the scientific and technical essence of plasma weapons and also cite opinions on them of the country's prominent experts.

"We can do it, but why?" believes A.A. Kuzmin, chief designer of missile attack and outer space monitoring systems of the Scientific Research Institute of Long-Range Radio Communications.

[Kuzmin] I have long been familiar with Avramenko's works. Back 15 years ago, his idea about hitting targets by using heating of the air with the aid of phased arrays was discussed at various conferences of the military industrial complex. Can it be implemented from a purely technical standpoint? No one denied this. Indeed, it is feasible for phased arrays to do this. But do we need this?

I remember how Vasiliy Grigoryevich Kisunko, chief of our antiballistic-missile defense [ABM], categorically spoke out against it. He maintained that implementation would require an enormous amount of energy. You see, the power of just one unit is a minimum of 1 GW. This is one power- generating unit of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. In addition, even today's phased arrays, performing purely informational tasks--warning about the appearance of the enemy--are very expensive and extremely complex to manufacture and operate. A sizable area is required for just one such unit--approximately 1 hectare. If we were to create an antenna for destroying targets, the complexity, the cost, as well as the size will all increase many times over. Let us say that the length of the antenna would be about 1 km! By the most modest estimates it would cost 1.5 trillion rubles [R].

What are such systems supposed to protect? And how are they better than conventional surface-to-air missile systems, which are considerably cheaper?

The mission of plasmoid weapons is to prevent a massive attack, when it must destroy many targets very quickly, in fractions of a second. And a phased array is capable of doing this--either by running abeam across them, or by creating several beams. According to the strategy of conducting combat operations that has been adopted throughout the world, it is advisable to subject enemy missile bases to a massive strike so he does not have time to take identical actions. That means, every missile base must be supplied the system being proposed by Avramenko. After all, its operating radius is limited. When specialists multiply 1 GW and R1.5 trillion by the number of bases, there is nothing left to discuss. We end up with fantastic figures.

What is more, there are other methods of protection. Let us imagine a hypothetical variant: the enemy is planning to execute an attack and has launched aircraft and missiles; they are on their way to the target. Here the early warning system activates. And we will have plenty of time to launch our offensive weapons before they are destroyed. That is to say, they will deliver a retaliatory strike. The enemy knows this perfectly well. In fact, today's strategy of deterrence is based on this. Consequently, we do not need to fence in the vegetable garden, that is, to create powerful antimissile belts. During the period of military operations, command posts will also be subjected to a strike by missiles--true, in a much smaller number. Systems already exists to protect them based on using antimissile missiles, which are just as effective as those hypothetical ABM complexes which Avramenko proposes. Incidentally, today's ABM complexes can be improved even more, which would require far less money than he is requesting. In short, destroying a target with the aid of heating up of the air in front of it does not make sense.

As far as the second method is concerned--using plasmoids to change drag--all is not so obvious here. The phenomenon has been known for 10 years now. Theoretical works describing it have been carried out at the Institute of Applied Mathematics imeni Keldysh and the Moscow State University, but so far there are not enough convincing experiment results confirming that drag is decreased 30-40 percent when plasma is created near the flying craft. In my opinion, the government should allocate funds-- and not all that much is needed--to bring research on changing drag in a plasma environment to the point of serious full-scale testing. But again, such units are not required for ABM defense. This is not timely. But in civil aviation it would indeed be a revolution. After all, the fuel savings would be enormous.