Air Force Wants Cruise Missiles Capable of Beaming Directed Energy

(Photo courtesy Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate)(Photo courtesy Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate)

The Air Force calls it the Counter-Electronics Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP, intended to cripple enemy air defenses with directed-energy beams coming off a low-flying cruise missile.

While traditional counter-electronics warfare weapons such as the Navy’s EA-18G Growler, a version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, seek to jam enemy radar, the CHAMP is meant to destroy them. The Air Force talked up the program at the “Directed Energy to D.C. Exhibition” in the Pentagon courtyard Tuesday.

At Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, the Air Force Research Laboratory has taken a Boeing AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile and rigged it to have the motor feed a high-power microwave to pulse directed energy beams through an antenna to carry out a “functional kill of adversaries’ military electronic and communications systems.”

“It only works now off a B-52,” the bomber that currently carries the AGM-86 cruise missile, said Lt. Nicholas Quartermont of the Air Force Research Laboratory, but the service is also working on adapting the CHAMP system for weapons that can be launched by the F/A-18 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Boeing announced an initial successful test of CHAMP in 2012 and the Air Force plans to test a multi-shot, multi-target, steerable version of the system later this year.

In a press release after the 2012 test, Boeing said, “the CHAMP missile navigated a pre-programmed flight plan and emitted bursts of high-powered energy, effectively knocking out the target’s data and electronic subsystems.

“CHAMP allows for selective, high-frequency radio wave strikes against numerous targets during a single mission,” the release states.

The advantage of the system, according to the Air Force, is that “the precision targeting affects electronic targets while avoiding damage to structures or risk to lives.”

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Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.