ILLUSTRATION: JOHN MACNEILL SOURCE: CARLO KOPP
E-Bomb Anatomy: This hypothetical e-bomb design shows how gigawatts of power are generated to supply the device that produces the high-power microwaves. The bomb's destructiveness depends on the microwave source and target's vulnerability to electromagnetic attack, among other things, but a 10-GW, 5-GHz HPM device would have a "lethal" footprint 400 to 500 meters across.
On Friday, Boeing announced a $38 million contract to create a nonlethal, high power microwave (HPM) "airborne demonstrator" for the Air Force Research Laboratory's acronym-ready Counter-electronics High power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP).
An HPM bomb creates an electromagnetic pulse capable of disabling electronics, vehicles, guided missiles, and communications but leaves people and structures unharmed. These weapons have been pursued for decades, but the main obstacle has been portability: The HPM devices are simply too big and too unwieldy, and it's been tough to make them smaller than about 3.5 meters long because of the complex equipment inside that converts stored electrical energy into microwaves. Recently, however, researchers have found new ways to get the devices small enough to mount on an unmanned aerial vehicle or a Humvee.
But the Air Force isn't the only one looking for HPM goodness.
On April 15, precursors to future HPM e-bombs were tested at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The tests mark the first time such a device has been shrunk to dimensions that could make it portable enough to fit in a missile or carried in a Humvee or UAV.
The USAF's December 1 statement of objectives for CHAMP implies that the final goal will be either a cannon that can be mounted on a jet or a UAV, or missiles, based on references to "a multi-shot and multi-target aerial platform that targets electronic systems."
That's interesting because the other problem, besides size, is the fact that there is no such thing as a "multi-shot" HPM device. That's because the source for the high power microwaves is usually an explosive like C4. That means the whole thing blows up. Not exactly "recoverable."
But the device that makes the microwaves can also be driven by a nonexplosive power generator that doesn't blow up the whole kit and kaboodle. (Again, however, adding size) The ultimate goal for HPM researchers is to create a portable directed energy weapon--a microwave cannon. According to Flight Global,
the USAF also had previously shown interest in modifying a 2,000lb-class Boeing joint direct attack munition (JDAM) with a wingkit and an HPM warhead for CHAMP. However, the requirements calling for a recoverable aerial demonstrator equipped with an HPM payload appear to preclude this option.
But apparently Boeing has solved the problem some way, if that $38 million is any indication.
Boeing will create the test aerial vehicle that carries the HPM weapon. The high power microwave source will be supplied by Ktech Corp., a "specialty products" manufacturer (translation: defense contractor) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sandia National Laboratories will provide the pulse power system.
Now it's just a horse race to see whether the Air Force or the Army will be the first to roll out an HPM system.