Microwave Weapon Could Fry North Korean Missile Controls

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North Korean Missile Controls

This post was originally published on NBC News.


By October 2012, according to Air Force documents, CHAMP was ready for an operational test. A B-52 bomber launched the missile over the Utah Test and Training Range, a 2,500-square-mile testing area larger than Delaware. Mocked-up buildings were rigged with communications and computer systems that simulated possible enemy capabilities.

Many of the targets, according to internal CHAMP budget documents obtained by NBC News, involved “representative WMD production equipment” found in Iran and North Korea.

“It was as close to the real thing as we could get,” Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing, said after the test.

“It absolutely did exactly what we thought it was going to do,” said Robinson. “We had several different target classes in those facilities, and we predicted with almost 100 percent accuracy … which systems were going to be affected, which systems failed, and how.”

The 2012 test, the only one so far declassified by the Pentagon, has been followed by additional tests and various experiments to advance the microwave technology. A new power source was incorporated, turning the microwave weapon into what the Air Force calls “Super CHAMP.”

According to a December 2016 Air Force Research Laboratory document, the low-flying missile is now “capable of flying into a contested area and disabling an adversary’s electronic systems.”

Robinson said “there is no doubt” in her mind that HPM weapons work.

Could a high-power microwave weapon actually be used against North Korea?

Deptula said he believed the U.S. could use an HPM to disable a ballistic missile on a North Korean launch pad, and that there are many advantages to using microwave weapons in a North Korean scenario.

They work in all weather, said Deptula, which helps in the Korean climate, and “they’re employed at the speed of light. You can’t get much faster than that in terms of achieving desired effects.”

The main operational constraint, Robinson said, is that the microwaves from the CHAMP emitter “aren’t very far-ranging.”

Image: A CHAMP missileEquipment at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Department of Defense

Robinson said that in order to disable a missile or launcher’s electronics, CHAMP would have to get “close” to the target. How close is classified, but “it’s not tens of feet,” said Robinson.

Sen. Heinrich said the challenges to using the weapon are “less technical and more mental. You spend years trying to perfect these things, and the tendency in the Pentagon is oftentimes to continue to try to perfect something. My tendency is to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got something that really works. Let’s take those things and put them into the hands of our men and women in uniform.'”

Deptula adds that one of the differences in using microwaves as opposed to explosives is assessing the effects — the destruction they wreak is not visible.

But Deptula said that “there are means to determine whether or not you’ve achieved your effects beyond the traditional battle damage assessment using photography.”

Speaking in February 2016, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle

said that a number of high-power microwave units were being kept as “weapons to use in a contingency.”

Robinson said that “it would take a little bit of time” to make the missiles operational. Two Air Force officials with knowledge of the current plans and capabilities say that CHAMP could be ready for use quickly, possibly within days.

The White House declined to comment.

This post was originally published on NBC News.