Air Force Tests Electronics-Frying Missile

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


    Interesting concept. I wonder how the conops for this works. Would they be timed to arrive just before a B2 bombing mission to improve the success of that mission? I’m worried it’s a $1mill solution to disable a $50,000 truck….

  • chaos0xomega

    Can someone explain to me why the system is being built as a one time use missile and not a reusable vehicle like a UAV or hell, even a manned aircraft? Seems kinda… expensive to do it this way

    • Jayson

      Good point unless it’s unidirectional and would cook a manned aircraft and the electronics of a UAV and a missile goes faster. Fast is good.

    • Ben

      Maybe not. Cruise missiles are smaller and cheaper than dedicated aircraft, and the possibility of intercept/detection is much less. They’re also more versatile since you can equip them on most all of our existing aircraft, meaning they’d be quicker and easier to distribute.

    • David

      Bigger manned craft certainly has more electrical power avaliable, too.

    • Vstress

      If you create a system that fits into a missile, it can also be created for an aircraft if that is the idea.

      The idea however that you would mount it on the UAV is slightly flawed in that you are flying this aircraft into a fairly certain “death zone” with a MASSIVE warning beacon to the enemy of where your location is if it doesn’t destroy their system.

      Considering that to get this far in you are likely to want to mount this on a stealth platform it is likely you want to keep this stealthy.

      I imagine this missile will only activate once it senses a certain strength of radar signal. It will be passive till it becomes “destructive” as it will otherwise most radar systems will shut off to protect against HARM missiles.

      As with any weapons system it is likely to not be 100% effective. Hey, even a 50% rate is good considering that it will remove a huge part of the fighting power of the enemy.

      Striking an enemy with radar systems infers that this is not an easy enemy. Let’s not make tactical choices based on cost now, when it is worse for the future.

    • Awg

      did you really miss the 4 or so times they mention this being a testbed and the plan was to integrate it to a “larger vehicle”? I assume they tested it on a missile because it had a decent chance of frying it’s OWN electronics, thus causing a failure of the flight control system, and a crash… wouldn’t you rather not have a pilot’s life on the line?

    • Bill

      Not to mention, it very well may be inexpensive to shield valuable electronics from the high energy microwaves.

  • Musson1

    Don’t accidentally switch it on in the hanger.

  • dddd

    I am curious to see how it maintains its effectiveness while loitering. How does it direct the waves? Too bad we don’t get a picture of the missile.

  • Lance

    Sounds good, may be cheap enough to survive budget cuts.

  • Angelina


    • Belesari

      Could you please elaborate upon your disagreement of the program and why you dont like it?

      I believe it might be better to just consentrate on EW for our fleets of manned aircraft and on decoys but it is a interesting idea.

    • Andrew M

      As opposed to regular cruise missiles that kill people instead? Missing the logic here.

    • traindodger

      As we speak, China is developing a program to produce surface-to-air missile site decoys to fool our AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. AGM-88 missiles are designed to lock onto and destroy the radar equipment of anti-aircraft guns, fixed surface-to-air missile sites and TELAR units, neutralizing the threat posed to our aircraft.

      If you intersperse dozens of decoys between actual SAM sites, the anti-radiation missiles won’t know which sites to lock onto; the real ones, or the fake ones. Therefore, the threat to the aircraft launching the missile - as well as other friendly aircraft in the same airspace - remains. If China is able to develop this sort of technology, then the likelihood that rogue states and terrorist networks may also be able to acquire something similar is very high.

      Enter the microwave-armed cruise missile, which can quickly overfly enemy air defense networks and disable the radar systems of decoy and real SAM site alike, paving the way for our other aircraft to start their runs and neutralize the sites for good. It has other uses as well, such as disabling enemy communications devices. Cell phones, GPS, handheld electronics, radios… all are susceptible to a weapon system of this type.

    • nick

      Dear miss, please move out of the US. And stay out of Defense Tech, you Cyber Sucubus!

  • Tim

    What’s amazing is how it manages not to… cook itself… before sizzling up the enemy’s systems. Too bad it isn’t recoverable. One would assume a mini warhead to perform a self-destruct sequence at the end.

  • mareo2

    Nonlethal missiles? Finally something that we can use in retaliatory strikes with some liberty without being accused of be baby killers. the only collateral damage I can imagine is people with artificial pacemakers.

    • crackedlenses

      We will be called baby killers regardless of what weapons or non-weapons we use…..

  • Guest

    All good, until the enemy makes the same thing.

    • Zepheris

      The potential enemies that can make one, we won’t need to use non lethal weapons on since if we have to fight them it would be a full scale war (and god save us if that happens).

      Those that are left to use this on, can’t exactly make one with their tech level.

  • Tri-ring

    The missile is like a land mower sent in to make passage for a manned vehicle following it so the manned vehicle can penetrate deep into enemy territory.
    It’s just another system to enhance potency of stealth technology since stealth is not as it use to be.
    The reason it is placed on a missile is because it’ll be prime target for any missiles homing in on radar emissions since microwave is radar waves.

  • Letsallbefriends

    How long does it take to do a lasagne? Angelina must know.

  • Nenad

    Reminds me on C&C Generals, similar weapon named microwave tank.

  • IsotecInc

    It scrambles electronic systems that it’s aimed at, but do these remain scrambled or are they “fried” only in the direct presence of the weapon. Definitely could be a huge step in non-lethal warfare.

    • Andy Howey

      My understanding is that if the antennae/receivers are surged with E/M energy, whether from an EMP, this HMP thing, ore even a tactical jammer like the TacJam the Army used to have, the circuitry will be fried — permanently. That will render the device completely useless, except as a paper-weight.

  • Musson1

    Big Deal! I heard Raytheon is working on a missile that not only fries the electronics in the AA Radar - It sterilizes the operators!

  • M Thomas

    With Iran deploying naval forces into the Atlantic with long range missile capabilities that may involve delivering EMPs over the US, get this technology to the Navy FAST.

    • Blight

      Iranian CBGs or SSBNs?

    • Andrew M

      I’ll think twice about leaving my computer on when Iran can buy these from old Russian examples in about 25-30 years

    • comatus

      NAVY? Sorry bub, this is an Air Force project. The Navy didn’t pay for this.
      That’s how Congress wants military budgeting and procurement to work.

  • blackavenger45

    Possibly make this gadget as a detachable pod that can be fitted on a cruise missle or a rocket or a UAV. No matter, I will have to be destroyed after use if it isnt on a UAV so it can be recovered. Next up a really big version that will fit in a 747 or a 380 so we can just fly around them and hose thier electronics for hours on end. The future knows no bounds.

    • AL-Bob

      There is already a similar acting POD for EA-18 Growlers …

  • asdf

    um, how come they don’t have that already, those EM missiles? it would be a great addition to the harpoons for example in a ship-to-ship fight… (in the cold war, obviously)

  • Richard

    There will be a run on tin foil…..mark my words :)

  • theboss

    System uses “waveguides” to direct the RF at a specific target. The RF develops Standing Waves of energy that convert directly to voltage. This happens for any piece of metal, effect varies depending on size and shape. Would be lethal in a hanger situation if you stepped in front of the beam. A waveguide is a hollow antenna that allows RF energy to travel down it’s length with low losses. Theory has been around awhile, developing a klystron that developed that level of power and survive for long (high power RF tubes are generally water cooled). It’s an interesting approach to defeating back scatter radar systems.

  • Dennis

    I like this weapon. You can put your enemy back into the stone age with out risking military lives. Give it a range of a balistic missle or Tomahawk cruise missle and your good to go. Flood the air with them to allow for some being shot down.
    Most often the fight is not with the people. It is often the problem of the countries leaders not getting along so they send their people to fight and kill each other while they sit back and live life and sip their beverage and watch it all on some TV screen in a secret room bellow their palace.
    At least with these weapons the people don’t get killed, but the problem after that is starvation. So hopefully they just use it over military targets.
    Better yet. Get the leaders together that don’t like each other and let them have a “Cage Match” instead of sending the people to fight for them.

  • indio007

    This will not work.
    Faraday cage.. DUH!
    Not to mention a trivial to manufacturer metamaterial that will reverse the pulse to the sender.

  • Globalkooler

    Give this technology to Isreal and they can deal with Iran’s Nuke Program & Missle Program and not kill a single person…………..