The Pentagon’s Counter-Electronics High-Power Advanced Microwave Project (CHAMP) has been one of the sci-fi like weapons programs that has the ability to change warfare as we know forever. Now it looks like the CHAMP has found an ideal delivery vehicle, the stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range.
The whole idea behind CHAMP is to be able to destroy an enemy’s command, control, communication and computing, surveillance and intelligence (C4SI) capabilities without doing any damage to the people or traditional infrastructure in and around it. In other words, it can eliminate a facility’s effectiveness by destroying the electronics within it alone, via a microwave pulse, without kinetically attacking the facility itself. Think of it as the mother of all less than lethal weapons.
The effects of a CHAMP are very similar to what would happen during an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by a high-altitude nuclear detonation or by a powerful solar storm, just on a much smaller, more focused scale. Unlike an EMP bomb, which are area weapons and indiscriminate as to who they target within their blast area, CHAMP is really an EMP assassin that comes in and surgically eliminates an enemy’s war enabling technology, barely leaving a fingerprint it was ever even there.
The technology has been around conceptually for many years and something like it was even rumored to have been deployed secretly before. For instance, there were reports that during the fall of Qaddafi, unmanned aircraft orbited over Libya’s most volatile weapons stockpiles and zapped vehicles engines and electronics that approached.
Regardless of if this technology already exists in any operational form or not, CHAMP is a heavier hitting capability that could very well save many lives while dealing the enemy a huge blow during the opening stages of major air campaigns. CHAMP, which is a Boeing and Air Force Research Laboratory project, was successfully tested in 2012 aboard a AGM-86 Conventional Air Launched Cruise Missile (CALCM). During the test, which occurred over a bombing and testing range in Utah, the CHAMP equipped CALCM flew over a two story building filled with computers and other powered technology and initiated a high-power, directed microwave burst above it as it passed by. The burst knocked out all the equipment inside. The test went on to zap six more targets successfully before the missile crashed itself in a pre-designated area. Other test flights are set to have followed, and even hardened targets were not completely immune to CHAMP’s zapping power.
CHAMP’s previous tests are said to have used a unit based on a powerful vacuum tube that used a magnetron that produces large directed pulses of microwave radiation. Newer systems will most likely be based on Active Electronically Scanned Arrays (AESAs) like those used in cutting-edge radar systems. These systems have a whole slew of advantages of their ‘analogue’ predecessors, one of which is miniaturization, beam focus and agility.
X-band AESA radar arrays are currently flying aboard F-15C and F/A-18E/F/G and F-22 fighters, and will be a centerpiece sensor aboard the F-35. They are also migrating to airborne surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as surface combatants. Details as to these platform’s ability to use their powerful radars for pinpoint “soft kill” attacks against electronics, especially those fitted onto sensitive enemy sensors and even incoming missiles, remains cloaked in classification but is clearly exists. As one contact of mine in the electronic warfare field puts, “everywhere there is an aperture (an antenna or radar array) there is a vulnerability.”