U.S. Air Force researchers are refining a first-of- its-kind airborne system that targets electronics. They seek to reduce its size and weight while also designing the technology for integration with a wide array of unmanned platforms and ensuring
it doesn’t perform a metaphorical suicide via electrocution.
At the same time, the service is conducting
a study to establish a forward path for the
high-powered microwave pulse weapon
and deliver it to warfighters.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project
(CHAMP) would deliver microwaves from an aircraft or missile, effectively walloping a target’s data and electronic subsystems. The radio frequency emission has a focused beam that
can be accurately pointed at a specific building.
The nonkinetic and nonlethal system is capable of defeating electronics while minimizing collateral damage. It can
deliver a functional kill to many targets without destroying
buildings or taking lives. The CHAMP weapon will provide
the warfighter with the first aerial, high-powered microwave
pulse counterelectronics capability that could lead the way
to a new breed of nonlethal but highly effective weapons,
according to AFRL officials.
“One of the big advantages would be taking out an inte-
grated air defense system temporarily, where you could
blind them for the amount of time you might need to do
an ingress without actually having to do kinetic damage to
these sites,” explains Greg Zacharias, Air Force chief scien-
tist. “You could also go after command and control systems
and anything that is dependent on the bits and bytes of
The effects can range from causing glitches to forcing a
reboot to permanently damaging a system. In principle,
those results can be preprogrammed. “You can tune the
effects on target based on the performance of the system
and how far away you can engage with it. Right now, it’s not
100 percent predictable at a given energy level what effect
you will have. We’re working on the predictive capabilities.
We have some, but there’s still work to go there,” says Kelly
Hammett, chief engineer of the AFRL’s Directed Energy
The system made headlines in 2012 when Boeing
announced a successful flight over the Utah Test and Training Range. A video released by Boeing shows an earlier test
in which CHAMP caused a number of computers—and the
cameras filming the test—to lose power. The system allows for
selective high-frequency radio wave strikes against numerous
targets during a single mission.
Now, the Air Force is trying to decide the best way to field
the CHAMP capability. “What we’re actually working on is an
analytical study to inform us and the rest of the community
about what the most appropriate platform might be,” Hammett
adds. “The end of this fiscal year is the targeted date.”
For the original flight test, Boeing and the AFRL modi-
fied a conventional air-launched cruise missile, but their
BY GEORGE I.
For Future Fights
Researchers try to determine the
path for a system designed to
knock out electronics.