One of the US Air Force’s most high-tech weapons is a tool that can’t hurt people — but it kills electronic devices.
The CHAMP (Counter-Electronics High-Powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project) is a Boeing-designed computer-frying device that emits a strong blast of targeted microwave energy that can take down enemy data centres and infrastructure without blowing anyone up.
The Air Force recently confirmed that CHAMP is an operational system, although it’s not yet able to be deployed in a remote-controlled missile. Congress recently pressured the Air Force to prepare the tech for battle, though it may blow its 2016 deadline.
CHAMP is accurate enough to target individual buildings, which means it can pinpoint specific systems to take down instead of wiping out everything in a general area. Unlike jammers, CHAMP will destroy or permanently damage electronics, which means it’s an incredibly potent weapon for screwing with enemy data centres.
Boeing successfully tested a missile carrying CHAMP back in 2012, knocking the power from every electric device in a two-storey building. For that test, it used a AGM-86 Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile, but the Air Force Research Laboratory recently nominated Lockheed Martin’s Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER) to carry the CHAMP weapons. A drone or aircraft could also carry the weapon, depending on the mission.
This is far from the first time the US military has experimented with electromagnetic pulses as weapons. Nuclear warheads also generate electronics-frying electromagnetic energy, but of course they also destroy a large geographic area and kill untold numbers of civilians. CHAMP is a step forward in electronic warfare because it’s so well-suited to minimising collateral damage.
Image of simulated electromagntic pulse via Boeing