Lawmaker Says Air Force Delaying Electronic Warfare Missile

B-52 successfully tests alternative jet engine fuelA Florida lawmaker’s bid to push the Air Force to develop new electronic weapons failed on Tuesday when the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the effort was technically flawed.

Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Florida, said the Air Force “has been dragging its feet” on preparing the weapon for deployment and instead redirecting $10 million the service received in 2015.

“The Air Force has really been skating around this congressional intent a lot lately, and almost everyone has experienced frustration [with their] tactics,” Nugent said, citing the service’s determination to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt over the will of Congress.

Nugent hoped to remedy that by including an amendment in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act ordering the Air Force to direct $10 million to the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Missile Project.

The missile is considered non-lethal because it is designed to knock out electronics systems but not directly harm people or destroy structures.

The Air Force started developing the $40 million program in 2009. Service officials completed what was called a successful test in 2012 when the missile was flown on the wing of a B-52. The program is led by Boeing.

The amendment failed to get a vote, however, after HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, opposed it on technicalities, “not because I disagree with anything that [Nugent] said about the program itself,” Thornberry told the hearing.

Nugent first pitched using the CHAMP system on a cruise missile in June 2014, arguing the Air Force could have it ready for combat within 18 months.

He said the Air Force appears to be holding off developing the system for use until they can put it onto a reusable vehicle.

“The problem is, they can have the best of intentions in wanting something reusable, but they have nothing in design now and no idea of what it would be,” he told Military.com. “By the time they do the development and testing, and then get to procurement, it’ll be way down the road.”

Combatant commanders have asked for this capability, he said.

“And we’re saying use it, on short term put them on cruise missiles that we have that are sitting there in warehouses because we’ve removed the nuclear devices off them” he said.

Nugent told the committee the Air Force can place the system onto cruise missiles while developing a reusable vehicle.

— Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • LongJohn

    The first one that falls behind enemy lines will expose the capability to foreign exploitation. That may be why AF wants to ensure the tech comes home, so they can use it effectively for years to come.

    • blight_

      That assumes the tech comes home. We have plenty of experience with assets designed to return home not always making it home. You know…stealthy helicopter pieces being left behind…spyplanes getting shot down, UAVs coming down, aircraft getting shot down, spysat film packages getting lost in the sea…

    • Fatman

      Better to use a system that self-destructs than risk capture of a device that could wipe out everything from railguns to radios.

    • oblatt23

      This is old and rather ineffective technology. the only thing losing one would expose is its embarrassing ineffectiveness.

  • Taylor

    Why not just blow up the place rather than just disable the electronics? And, related to LongJohn’s comment, if the jamming missile doesn’t blow up it will fall into enemy hands when the first one is used. The military is for war situations, not non-lethal riot control or to send “messages” to enemy leaders as Lyndon Johnson did during Vietnam without much success.

  • Ah Nuts!

    Will someone elaborate what the purpose of this weapon is? To me it seems like there’s not any real use for the weapon that I can think of. I believe we are talking about a small tactical EMP. So its primary purpose would be to turn the lights out on a city block or something like that. I don’t remember ever hearing any issue with this out of Iraq. It wasn’t an issue to hit Iraqi infrastructure with guided munitions of one sort or another. So then the point would be to do what we can already do but with the option to do it safer for civilians I presume?

  • blight_

    If they’re talking a big game about a re-useable device, perhaps putting it on a manned aircraft is the way to go.

    The USAF lacks UAVs that could conceivably carry the payload and return home. The Navy’s UCLASS/J-UCAS platforms might be more useful, but it’s unlikely the AF would want to share.

    Instead, the AF will ****er around designing the missile/UAV that can carry the weapon (instead of reusing old ALCMs). I can see why the politico is angry. If you want to bring the weapon back, put it on a manned aircraft that can return…since that is the only returnable asset in the USAF inventory. If the ALCM is able to follow a flight path…it still can’t land. It could land, but will be heavily damaged and cost a pile to refurbish for service. At which point it is essentially single use…unless the ALCM’s are heavily modified with parachutes, landing gear or whatever the USAF as planned.

    • blight_

      I’m surprised that nobody is commenting on the whole “cruise missile that can return home”. When do we get an ALCM that can detach its payload and return home? That would be nice.

  • Adman

    Does anyone know the range of the weapon? What altitudes it can reach and still be effective? In a make believe world, I think it would be awesome to see it attached to something along the lines of the SR-71 and be utilized in that fashion….of course my make believe world also has me dating Kate Upton.

  • Dfens

    “Combatant commanders have asked for this capability.” This seems to be the crux of the matter. What is it about the Air Force that the things combat commanders want has so little damn weight with them? They are way too busy sucking up to their defense contractor masters and way too lax when it comes to listening to the guys on the ground that they are supposed to be supporting.

  • oblatt23

    EMP weapons along with lasers and rail guns are the straws that people cling to as they see their military go down the drain.

  • Highguard

    So, I wonder if Thornberry would support his fellow republican if he was asking for the F-22 plant to re-open in Ft Worth?

    I liked blight_ and Dfens remarks above which are spot on.

    Oblatt and Ah Nuts!,
    Joint Combat forces need non-lethal capabilities to counter non-lethal threats rendered against the U.S. and to avoid escalation while still creating negative effects on high end adversaires that will need to consider results of their actions against us. Also, we need to be able to target non-state actors conducting clandestine operations inside sovereign nations we may not want to start a war with for a variety of reasons.

    BL: USAF has lost its way. For $10M measley bucks they could have made a statement for their primary mission “Fly, Fight and Win.” Gen Welsh, respectfully request you remove your commercial from TV. Nobody wants to be associated with double speak

  • John Scior

    You can make it so it will self destruct once it completes it jamming or disabling of electronics mission. The purpose would be for example to take out advance radars that might be able to track even the stealthiest bombers or fighters so that a subsequent wave can hit targets without being detected and having anti-aircraft measures being taken against them. somehow somewhere there is some competing military platform that is threatened by it. For example if you could knock out an enemy radar with a cruise missile tipped with radar jamming devices, then send in a wave of f-15s to strike any antiaircraft missiles and/ or military jets on the ground so that you eliminate any contention for air superiority,why would you need a 200 millon dollar stealth aircraft when say f-16s or a-10s could do the job much cheaper ??

  • FormerDirtDart
  • Highguard

    Scior and FormerDirt Dart,

    Thankyou. Both inputs awesome. UAVs are too slow to be survivable against modern IADS and you don’t want to use a stealthy UAV to emit high energy signals (duhh!). So, high subsonic ALCMs are the ideal platform. Hypothetically speaking, as you can see from the $10M mark, the components, very few of which are sensitive, are not hugely expensive (imagine big super microwave ovens on an airframes). Sensitive components could conceptually be protected with anti-spoofing devices (whether shot down or crashed). As for recovery, not needed. You simply fly the missile into the ocean or a mountain side in friendly or neutral territory after a 600 mile mission.

  • oblatt23

    Just another ineffective weapon that hasn’t much going for it other than a hungry contractor

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    If a given weapon is used in combat, it will eventually fall into enemy hands, just as various UAVs and the Tomahawk cruise missile have done. Making a weapon “self-destruct increases risk to the people handling and using the weapon. And while the AF would probably like to have this weapon available, none of our current antagonists, be it ISIS, al-Queda, the Shabab or the Army of God are so dependent on their electronics that this weapon would matter to them. It’s more likely that they wouldn’t notice if it went off. Finally, this may be yet another item for which the F-35 simply doesn’t leave money.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Whether we want to do that depends on how much intelligence we gather by letting them talk. I have no idea as to the risk/reward tradeoffs against current insurgent antagonists.

    You do make a nice point as to the tactical utility of the weapon.

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