Two common types of linear accelerator technologies used for development of particle weapons include RF linear accelerators (RF LINACS) and induction linear accelerators (induction LINACS). Although linear accelerators are capable of accelerating particles to energy levels high enough for use as a weapon, their current-carrying ability is severely limited. As a consequence, these are not suitable for building accelerators for endoatmospheric particle beam weapons. RF LINAC can be a suitable candidate for building accelerators for exoatmospheric particle beam weapons as space weapons don’t call for very high beam power.
Both RF LINAC and induction LINAC use successively high voltages across a series of accelerating segments. Induction LINAC differs from RF LINAC in the mechanism used for generating the electric voltages within the segments of the two types of LINACS. Compared to the RF LINAC, the induction LINAC produces a more stable beam at high beam currents. The induction LINAC is therefore a more likely candidate for an endoatmospheric beam weapon.
Development of power source for an endoatmospheric particle beam weapon is a big technological challenge. The power supply is required to supply high energy over short time periods, which translates into very-high-pulsed power levels. Advanced pulsed power technology is therefore required to develop power supply for a particle beam weapon.
A pulsed-power device comprises three main parts: the prime power source that provides the required electrical energy over the full operating time of the weapon, energy-storage device needed for intermediate storage of the electrical energy as it is generated, and the pulse-forming network that generates power bursts or pulses of desired magnitude and time duration. Each of these three areas presents a major technological challenge.
The prime power source of a particle beam weapon is required to deliver power levels in the range of mega-watts to giga-watts, and at the same time be as lightweight and compact as possible. Also, in many applications, the prime power source needs to be mobile. Though a conventional power station could provide the needed power levels, it would be neither small nor lightweight, and would definitely not meet the mobility requirement. Some of the potential candidates for building the prime power source include advanced technology batteries, turbo-generators and advanced magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) generators using superconducting circuitry.
A typical energy-storage method involves charging a bank of capacitors, or spinning a huge mechanical flywheel, or simply storing the energy in the form of a high-energy explosive that is released in a contained explosion. There are a number of other energy-storage and release mechanisms, each having its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The preferred mechanism depends upon the particle accelerator and also whether the beam weapon is endoatmospheric or exoatmospheric.
The pulse-forming network is used to shape the power pulse. In the case of an endoatmospheric particle beam weapon, one shot would have a burst of very-short-duration pulses with burst frequency in the range of kHz. The prime power source may deliver power for a series of bursts of pulsed power followed by the beam weapon going to quiescent state while the energy storage device gets recharged for another series of bursts of pulsed power.
Target tracking and beam pointing
Unlike some other areas of particle beam weapon development such as the generation of high-energy particle beam, which need to address certain basic issues of science and technology, target acquisition and tracking and beam-pointing technologies required for a particle beam weapon are not unique to this class of directed-energy weapons. In this respect, particle beam weapon programme has immensely benefitted from high-energy laser weapon programme.
Notwithstanding commonality of technologies between the particle beam weapons and high-energy laser weapons, there do remain some tracking and pointing problems that need to be solved. Many of these arise out of propagation of charged-particle beam through the atmosphere and neutral-particle beam through space.
Other than the high-energy particle beam source and target-tracking and beam-pointing technologies, third important element determining the success of a particle beam weapon is the propagation of the charged-particle beam through atmosphere in the case of endoatmospheric weapons and neutral-particle beam through space in the case of exoatmospheric weapons. The particle beam must have an extremely precise path of propagation as it traverses the required distance to the target.