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Air Force Tests Electronics-Frying Missile

by John Reed on September 22, 2011

Imagine a weapon sailing over an enemy city or military target and effectively paralyzing all electronics in its wake while causing almost no physical damage? Sci-fi writers and military planners have dreamed of such things for years. The problem is, the electromagnetic pulse often associated with cooking electronic systems is usually generated by the detonation of a nuclear warhead — not exactly a low-collateral damage tool.

It’s no secret that the military has been working on weapons that can knock out enemy electronics without causing physical damage for a looong time. Now the Air Force is one step closer to making such devices a reality. Earlier this year the Air Force successfully test fired the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) for the first time.

CHAMP is basically a missile containing a microwave emitter that’s powerful enough to scramble electronic systems that it is aimed at. The ultimate goal of the program is to test the feasibility of installing the system — which would fire off microwave beams of various intensity at specific targets — on a larger vehicle. Or, as CHAMP-maker (ha!) Boeing dramatically says, this test “sets the stage for a new breed of nonlethal but highly effective weapon systems.”

Below is the announcement Boeing just released on the successful missile launch:

The Boeing Company and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) today announced that they successfully completed the missile’s first flight test earlier this year at the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base.

CHAMP is a nonlethal alternative to kinetic weapons that neutralizes electronic targets. It would allow the military to focus on these targets while minimizing or eliminating collateral damage.

The CHAMP missile pointed at a set of simulated targets, confirming that the missile could be controlled and timed while using a High-powered Microwave (HPM) system against multiple targets and locations. The software used was identical to the software required for a vehicle with a fully integrated HPM system on board.

“It was as close to the real thing as we could get for this test,” said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works. “This demonstration, which brings together the Air Force Research Laboratory’s directed energy technology and Boeing’s missile design, sets the stage for a new breed of nonlethal but highly effective weapon systems.”

The three-year, $38 million joint capability technology demonstration program includes ground and flight demonstrations that focus on technology integration risk reduction and military utility. More tests are scheduled for later this year.

Boeing received the contract in April 2009. As the prime contractor, Boeing provides the airborne platform and serves as the system integrator. Albuquerque, N.M.-based Ktech Corp. — the primary subcontractor — supplies the HPM source. Sandia National Laboratories provides the pulse power system under a separate contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory.

While CHAMP and other weapons like it sound pretty cool, I’ve got to say, they sound like they can replicate a lot of the key tennets of high-end cyber warfare — disrupting and disabling enemy electronics with little to no kinetic damage.

Here’s the Air Force’s RfP for CHAMP technology:

Champ Solicitation v8 4 Dec 2008 Published

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