A year after the Soviet Union tested the world’s largest thermonuclear weapon known as the Tsar Bomba. The United States conducted its own thermonuclear test in the South Pacific codenamed “Starfish Prime.”

While its 1.4-megaton blast paled in comparison to the Tsar Bomba’s 50 megatons, it was the largest high-altitude nuclear test ever attempted.

The blast generated waves of charged particles traveling across the earth’s magnetic field. The microwave energy set off burglar alarms wiped out street lights and tripped powerline circuits in Honolulu more than 800 miles away from the blast.

The terrifying results unintentionally brought in a new era of weaponry. Non-kinetic weapons, which include high-powered microwaves or HPM’s can wreak havoc on an enemy’s weapons systems. For example, it can shut down operations within a millionth of a second and without hurting people.

Radio frequencies are all around us. The AM and FM signal beaming to your car sits in the kilohertz and megahertz frequency range. Your home’s Wi-Fi router typically will operate between the 2 and 5 gigahertz range.

J. Mark Delgrande is the chief technology officer of Verus Research in Albuquerque. High-powered microwave systems are a keystone of the work done in this facility which could have a variety of applications in the future. “Say, an adversary wanted to put a radio and communications tower on top of a hospital. Well, I can use a high-power microwave system to take out the communications center without putting a bomb through the hospital,” said Delgrande.

In the early days of HPM research, the power needed to generate such pulses required large, heavy equipment not ideal if that equipment was on an airplane. So the challenge for mechanical engineers like Lucas Ridgeway has been to make an emitter powerful enough to do the job, but small enough to take flight.

In 2012 Boeing announced a successful test of the counter-electronics high-powered microwave advanced missile project of “CHAMP.” The project was a collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Directed Energy Directorate, and Kirtland Air Force Base.

CHAMP was able to shut down several different targets before self-destructing, ensuring the technology wouldn’t fall into enemy hands in a theater of combat.

As with the development of nuclear weapons, if the US has the technology, it’s only a matter of time before other nations have an HPM program too.

While much of the current research is still under wraps, Delgrande says the real-world applications of HPMs aren’t limited to the military. Non-lethal deterrents could be used by law enforcement for crowd control and SWAT situations enforcing the technology’s ultimate goal… deesclating dangerous scenarios while saving lives.

HPMs are just part of the projects taking place at Verus Research. They are also working on applied nuclear research, system engineering and software development for clients across the country.