It’s not hard. It’s not as easy as, say, baking a cake, nor even as easy as assembling IKEA furniture, but it’s definitely closer to those than to making a nuclear bomb. No exotic materials are required, for example. You could find everything you need at the local hardware store.
There are three components: the emitter, the power source, and the antenna. The latter is hopefully self-explanatory. The emitter, called a vircator, is basically a magnetized metal vacuum tube with a wire mesh inside. Electrons from the power source cycle near the mesh, resonating at microwave frequencies.
The power source, called a flux compression generator, is more interesting. It’s a single-use device that destroys itself as it converts chemical energy to kinetic energy to electromagnetic energy. An explosive in a tube forces a magnet through a solenoid like a piston, creating a very short (~150 nanosecond), very powerful spike of current, which is converted by the vircator into a microwave burst.
The US military was testing bombs that do this over a decade ago. Such bombs do no physical damage (other than at the point of impact) but will fry computers, vehicles, and communication devices in the affected area.
Domestically, a malicious actor could take out a hospital or air traffic control tower or all the cars on a stretch of highway. In fact, if you used a standing power source — which would currently be quite bulky but which one day might be portable, as in the cover image by Tom McDowell — you could make a microwave beam weapon that could safely disable a fleeing vehicle. I expect police will use them to make car chases a thing of the past.
The point is, any reasonably intelligent person willing to learn a little electrical engineering could create widespread mayhem with a handful of homemade EMP weapons placed strategically around a major city. One day, I’m sure, there’ll be a YoutTube video.
And yes, this figures into my latest book, a sci-fi mystery that takes place in the middle of this century but which is very much about life in the future-now. Widespread micromanufacture (think 3D printing evolved) and home CRISPR kits put advanced technologies in the hands of ordinary people, who don’t always use it for good.
I’ve been calling it “rural punk” because it contains a number of recognizable cyberpunk elements, but unlike a typical entry in that genre, most of the story takes place in small towns, which, even in the future, will still make up the majority of the physical space of the world.
It also includes elements of the occult, a heavy dose of conspiracy theory, dinosaurs, clones, body modding, a sentient orbital nuclear platform, an endemic (rather than epidemic) zombie disease, and it opens with a murder that isn’t a murder.
For those interested in beta-reading, I will be sending it out this weekend. Just shoot me an email at: RickWayneAuthor@gmail.com.