Perhaps you’ve had this experience with your car. A warning light goes on intermittently, or another system doesn’t seem to operate reliably. The car goes in to the mechanic, where it may or may not display any symptoms. Repeat as required. Eventually, the dreaded diagnosis is given: electrical issues. The problem may or may not be consequential. The fix will be uncertain. The experience will be maddening.
For a military pilot and their maintenance crew, electrical issues are inherently more serious – but no less maddening. Few of us can afford to pay a mechanic for 24 hours of work in order to diagnose an electrical fault, but militaries often do so. Now consider the long-term effects on wiring from the constant airframe vibrations produced by high-energy turbines, and the buffeting produced by travel at several hundred miles per hour. Especially in a machine that may be 30 years old or more, while still possessing some of its original wiring.
As military aircraft fleets continue to age, wiring diagnosis and product improvements will be critical. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is beginning to introduce production innovations involving self-diagnostic wiring, but what about existing aircraft without a full wiring refit? Enter a US NAVAIR project, and a product made by Eclypse International.
L-3 Services, Inc. in San Leandro, CA received a $7.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the design, development, integration and production of a form, fit and function, environmentally sealed, state-of-the-art Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Pulser and its associated control system. Work will be performed in San Leandro, CA, and is expected to be complete in August 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $1.25 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured under an electronic request for proposals, with 2 offers received by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD (N00421-08-C-0070).
EMP is a side-effect of intense radiation bursts, usually from a nuclear weapon. Its effect is to fry most semiconductor-based electronics within its effective range, which is to say most electronics these days. This gives EMP a potential offensive use via strategically placed nuclear airbursts. Rep Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] has led the charge on this issue in Congress, working to establish an EMP Commission that has reported on the USA’s general vulnerability to such attacks.
The military’s interest in this issue is narrower and more specific. Military systems are checked for their ability to survive specific EMP levels – but to do that, one needs to generate an EMP. Since the exact fate of any one device depends on its resistance, the power of the original pulse, and its distance from the source, testing EMPs from devices like L-3’s pulser can be much smaller – and much closer – than the real thing.