China claims to have developed a compact power source that could drastically reduce the size of a high-power microwave weapon capable of downing Starlink satellites.
This device can produce up to 10 gigawatts of power, with a frequency of 10 pulses per second. The Chinese media report said that the high-intensity energy produced by this device could generate microwave beams that are potent enough to damage drones, airplanes, and even satellites.
The team responsible for developing the new device is led by Shu Ting, associated with the College of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, Hunan province.
Typically, an energy supply system capable of producing such a high power output is intricate, bulky, and occupies abundant space.
However, the report noted that the newly developed device, along with all the required components such as capacitors and a control system, can even be accommodated on a bookshelf due to its small size.
The device is valuable for military purposes since it enables mounting the microwave weapon on a truck or rooftop, facilitating unexpected attacks on enemy targets passing through the sky.
The report alleged that the power device could be connected continuously to a city power grid. Nevertheless, the team encountered some challenges while attempting to make this device operate efficiently.
According to Chinese scientists, generating high-power electricity in a small device can lead to catastrophic failure. In their preliminary experiments, the flow of electricity at an extremely high voltage resulted in short circuits that burned the hardened insulators.
According to the weapon’s designer, the electric pulses must be almost similar and maintain their full output even after several shots. These stringent constraints posed additional hurdles for several vital components, such as switches and insulating materials.
The device made by Shu’s team is an electron accelerator with a peculiar interior structure resembling DNA. The report added that the accelerator uses two spiral tubes structured like the double-helix of genetic material to accelerate electrons.
This distinctive design facilitated the production of ultra-high-power electron beams in a restricted space. Chinese scientists said glycerine, a cheap liquid chemical that offered excellent insulation and required no upkeep in the field, was used to submerge the spiral tubes.
They also claimed that short circuits disappeared after they figured out how to get rid of microscopic bubbles in the glycerine.
Why Is China Wary Of Starlink?
Following the effective use of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites against Russia in Ukraine, several experts noted that the Chinese military had accelerated the development of high-power microwave weapons.
But, destroying the Starlink network, which has already launched thousands of satellites into near-Earth orbit, using conventional anti-satellite missiles would be difficult from both a technical and financial standpoint.
However, microwave cannons are inexpensive weapons that block satellite communications or irreparably damage their electrical systems.
Ben Lewis, a defense Analyst focusing on PLA development and Taiwan security issues, told the EurAsian Times: “We’ve seen how effective Starlink has been to facilitate communication in Ukraine, and China is concerned about its potential utility for Taiwan, or US forces intervening in a Taiwan contingency scenario.”
“Having weapons with the ability to take Starlink out of play, and for Chinese media to mention Starlink in their report about it specifically, is indicative of how seriously they view Starlink,” he added.
But at the moment, the majority of the military’s equipment only produces microwaves with kilowatt or megawatt power levels.
The latest report, citing recent estimates from scientists in the People’s Liberation Army, suggests that to damage a satellite that is likely protected by shielding measures, the power of the microwave beam would need to be a gigawatt or higher.
China has lagged behind the US and Russia in the military’s use of high-power microwave technologies. US defense company Raytheon announced in 2018 that the company used a high-energy laser and a high-power microwave to take down 45 drones during an exercise.
Nevertheless, these weapons could be utilized efficiently as an anti-satellite weapon, potentially allowing China to attack Starlink satellites accurately.
Lewis mentioned that “Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons play an important role in modern conventional war, especially for China. The United States maintains a robust satellite array for reconnaissance and communications which help facilitate operations far from home.”
“To impede US operations against Chinese forces in, for example, a Taiwan contingency, China will seek to disable or destroy US satellites using ASAT weapons. This new system is another method China can use to accomplish that task, increasing the threat to US satellites, drones, and aircraft,” Lewis explained.
In other words, China’s significant progress in creating high-power microwave weapons indicates its strong desire to possess the ability to destroy enemy satellites in the event of a conflict.