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….

    • john moore

      “I’m worried it’s a $1mill solution to disable a $50,000 truck…. ”

      I feel that way about a lot of the ammo we expend especially evident in the Libya conflict.

      And why don’t we hand over the bill to the league of Arab nations I believe it was who first called for our intervention?

    • Will

      The 9K330 Tor SAM system in the picture costs a lot more than $50K. For that matter, the electronics in any modern tank, let alone a SAM system, is a big chunk of the total cost of the vehicle. Or imagine the radios & computers in the HQ located in the basement of an occupied apartment building getting zapped 2 minutes before the F-35s start dropping their loads.

    • Henok

      Think of it like this; The cost of pulling out a wisdom tooth is well worth the pain. Have u heard of RPG’s, and AK47 very cheep weapons but highly effective and their existence is a major disadvantage to us. Cost doesn’t matter.

  • 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?

      • chaos0xomega

        No, I didn’t miss it, but larger vehicle to me implies a larger missile, especially considering the project is called CAMP… if you can’t be bothered to look up the meaning: Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, the key takeaway is the word MISSILE. The implication throughout the article is that its a missile system.

    • 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.

    • Zepheris

      high power microwave produce the same massive voltage surge that emp produces on the affected target electronics, it doesn’t have to maintain it on the target… one burst and assuming it was powerful enough the voltage surge will damage and neutralize any unshielded electronic semiconductors, the only real difference here is that the HMP is targeted and directed in the same manner as how you direct microwaves in any existing microwave emitters.

    • Zepheris

      high power microwave in particular being a shorter wave based is very potent and destructive, and difficult to protect from.

      i am not even sure if it’s feasible to design faraday cage around most combat vehicles in use to protect against one.

      • Cthel

        Many combat vehicles already have a Faraday cage built into their design – the armour that makes up the exterior shell; Provided it doesn’t have any holes big enough to admit the microwaves generated by the system, then any electronics inside will be safe.

        The real vulnerabilities are the electronics connected to external antennae – communications, navigation, and especially radar systems. That’s why these systems are especially effective against air defence systems.

        • Zepheris

          good point, though considering that modern combat vehicle always have a suite of sensors outside (IR and others) it seems likely that at the very least any vehicle hit by it will be blind.

          • Cthel

            Agreed, although electro-optical sensors could be protected by enclosing them in armoured boxes (indeed, many such systems already are) and coating the exterior lens with a conductive layer; this will form a Faraday cage to protect the system.

            I suspect these weapons will push the development of really hardened communication systems, although all that’s really needed is a hardened transmitter/receiver circuit – this can be linked to unhardened encryption etc. gear by fiberoptic links.

    • steve

      Why not study the Electricity that is distributed, overhead, throughout the towms and cities? The emfs are pretty affective, on electrical appliances traveling underneath those transmission lines! The Electric Companies have been sayig for years they are harmless to the human being? (same guys sell bridges in the desert too).

  • 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.

      • Tri-ring

        Emitting a micro waves is not that difficult. You only need a power source, a magnetron that can be pulled out from a household microwave oven and a satellite dish hook them up together and you have a makeshift radar source. It may not be powerful nor anyway useful as a radar but it will fulfill it’s intended purpose as a decoy which doesn’t really require a rocket scientist to develop,

        • traindodger

          Yes, it may confuse the sensors to a limited degree, but making it look like an actual radar to an anti-radiation missile equipped with sophisticated electronic profiling systems is vastly more difficult. Plus, I was trying to put it in layman’s terms for someone who might not get the technical jargon.

    • 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.

      • nick

        Its not who makes em, its who buys them.

        • Zepheris

          if it comes to the point in which anyone can buy them then the playing field would level itself again but whoever develop it first naturally will have the advantage as they would know better how to improve it, AND how to defend themselves against it similar to the existing tech on the market where the ones who have developed the tech first have the edge over the following newcomers into the field.

      • traindodger

        Even though this weapon is technically non-lethal, it would still have great utility in a conventional high-intensity conflict. In fact, it would be especially useful under those circumstances, because the world’s superpowers make far greater use of sophisticated electronics than the small fry violent non-state actors do.

  • 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.

    • AL-Bob

      Interesting because if a RF homing missile fired at it flew through the beam, it too would be fried and fall from the sky…

  • 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.

  • 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.

      • TLAM Strike

        Could they install a fuse of some sort between the Antenna and the Machinery? Or does the weapon effect equipment directly?

        Does this effect older vacuum tube technology? I’ve heard that as the big downside of EMP weapons as they are not suppose to effect equipment that uses that (IE Soviet type equipment)

        • Zepheris

          vacuum tube is resistant, but the problem is that you can’t design the entire thing based on vacuum tube… so while the vacuum tube may survive, the rest of the circuitry won’t.

          and in cases like radar emitters, you can’t exactly shield the emitters since then the radar itself becomes blind.

          And putting a fuse between the antenna and the machinery does nothing if the machinery itself is not shielded by faraday cage as the wave will hit ANYTHING in the target that is not shielded by the cage.

  • 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…………..