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UTSI Will Help Solve Key Problem in New Microwave Weapon System

The University of Tennessee is preparing to help solve a major problem that has stymied development of a high-powered microwave non-lethal weapon that would shoot electromagnetic beams at human targets.

The U.S. House of Representatives on June 20 approved $2 million to speed up development of light-weight systems to sufficiently cool sustained operation of the airborne directed energy weapon (DEW).

The Air Force Research Laboratory is using a superconducting generator to develop a Megawatt Electric Power System (MEPS) that will provide high electrical power (five megawatts) required for the DEW system.

Almost half of the electrical power delivered to the system is converted into heat inside the weapon. This heat must be safely and efficiently removed so that the weapon can operate continuously.

UTSI is anxious to start work to solve this problem, according to Joel Muehlhauser, assistant UT vice president and dean of research at UTSI.

“Advanced heat transfer technologies have been demonstrated on a laboratory scale at the Space Institute that would be suitable for use in the MEPS,” added Muehlhauser.

“We look forward to collaborating with others in solving this problem of how to deal with the extreme heat,” Muehlhauser said. “We appreciate Congressman Lincoln Davis and his colleagues supporting this program.”

The House passed the defense appropriations bill including the MEPS appropriation by a vote of 398 to 19. The Senate will vote on its version later this year.

UTSI’s new research into carbon-based materials may help the Institute in solving the problem, the dean said..

“We could design pitch-based carbon fibers and foams to conduct heat in a far superior manner than the best metal conductors,” Muehlhauser said. “Since such products are much lighter in weight, this makes them highly attractive for flight, too.”

First use of the weapon likely would be in the Air Force’s Active Denial System that will involve C-130 aircraft. Planes could fire non-lethal microwave rays at enemy ground troops with the superconducting generator system being developed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This system has been in research for about 25 years.

The high-powered invisible electromagnetic rays would be directed at human targets, barely penetrating the skin (less than 1/64th of an inch), causing an almost immediate intolerable burning sensation.

The Air Force says that aside from paralyzing potential attackers or noncombatants as would a long-range stun gun, these weapons could disable the electronics of missiles and roadside bombs and even a vehicle in a high-speed chase.

Developers say that conventional generators with heavy copper coils are large and heavy and less efficient in producing power and less suitable for flight than the lightweight superconducting generators.