US Air Force modifies cruise missiles to carry electromagnetic pulse generators — to destroy electronics from a distance
THE United States Air Force wants to fry your phone. And your computer. And your car. It’s investing millions into modifying missiles into weaponised microwave ovens.
It’s a flash of raw electromagnetic energy through the atmosphere that fuses delicate electronics into irreparable smoking scrap.
The problem has always been the nuclear bit: Using one to fry a phone network would have been overkill.
Not to mention a trigger for an almost inevitable ‘mutually assured destruction’ escalation.
So the US military has been seeking less lethal ways of sowing confusion among its enemies.
Enter flying microwave ovens.
The idea was tested as far back as 2012 when Boeing flew an EMP missile off a B-52.
It didn’t get the contract, though.
defence contractor Raytheon has just been handed $US4.8 million to attach a microwave generator to two conventional cruise missiles.
It’s going to be named CHAMP (Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project)
The idea is for the long-range cruise missile to weave its way over a predesignated flight path, blasting out up to 100 pulses of disabling electromagnetic energy.
It’s not much use against a modern army, though.
Everything from tanks to military-grade walkie-talkies are supposed to be ‘hardened’ against such an attack.
Where such a weapon would prove useful, however, is an arena such as Syria and Iraq.
Islamic State’s communications network relies upon modern digital technology, such as smart phones.
One of these cruise missiles flying back-and-forth over its self-declared capital of Raqqa, for example, could critically disable the jihadists’ command-and-control networks.
Raytheon’s Ktech nabs contract for counter-electronics missile
by James Drew
Raytheon’s acquisition of directed energy firm Ktech in 2011 is paying dividends following the US Defense Department’s award of a $4.8 million contract to repackage two conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM) as high-power microwave weapons.
Ktech produced the pulsing electronics kit that Boeing proved could knock out banks of computers in an October 2012 flight demonstration, overseen by the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL).
The award to Raytheon is the first significant movement on the so-called Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) since that 2012 demonstration.
The announcement is a blow to Boeing, which no longer leads the effort. Boeing, as the CALCM’s original manufacturer, will support Raytheon as a subcontractor, the company confirms. It could also offer up alternative missile or platform options to carry the payload, since CALCM is being removed from service because of its age and limited inventory.
In an interview with Flightglobal, Donald Sullivan and Peter Duselis of Raytheon Missile Systems Ktech explained that the counter-electronics system inside the refurbished conventional, subsonic AGM-86 air-launched missiles have been improved since the 2012 tests.
“There have been a number of components and subsystems within the payload that have had their performance parameters increased in terms of the output specifications of the system as well as its environmental capability,” says Sullivan, Ktech’s technical director. That translates to the latest version having improved operational effects and more stability across the missile’s flight envelope.
Raytheon “cannot confirm or deny” many aspects of the project, and directed specific questions to AFRL.
Laboratory officials have confirmed that the CHAMP system demonstrated in 2012 was capable of firing up to “100 shots per sortie” to fry military and commercial electronics in a very predictable way.
The US Air Force has been under pressure from Congress to make use of the technology and has even received extra funding to make a handful of missile available for operational use.
The air force is moving slower than some wish, but it is pursuing integration with Lockheed Martin’s extended-range AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and reusable unmanned aircraft – since CHAMP can keep pulsing as long it has enough power input.
Speaking to Flightglobal at the Air Warfare Symposium in Florida last month, Air Combat Command chief Gen Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle confirmed that the operational force wants the counter-electronics capability and that some units are being kept as “weapons to use in a contingency”.
“Our real goal is to take what we learnt in CHAMP and apply it to the next weapon,” he says. “We have kept some, it’s a very small number, so we have some capability with it now. Our intent is to move that to the next weapon, a more advanced weapon, and continue to modernise it.”
A Boeing B-52 launched CHAMP in the 2012 demonstration at the Utah Test and Training Range, however, it’s employment from a Northrop Grumman B-2 in an animated promotional video.
“We’re looking forward to and expecting that high-powered microwaves will be an inherent part of third offset strategy along with other forms of directed energy,” says Sullivan.
Your email address will not be published.