The latest effort to produce a practical airborne high-powered microwave (HPM) weapon has reached the flight-test stage. Boeing announced that the counter-electronics, high-powered microwave, advanced-missile project (Champ) flew earlier this year from the Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.
The HPM system was not activated during the first flight, but the missile was pointed at multiple simulated targets and locations, confirming that it could be controlled and timed. According to Boeing Champ manager Keith Coleman, the test “sets the stage for a new breed of nonlethal but highly effective weapon systems.” More tests are scheduled for later this year.
Boeing is the system integrator for the Champ demonstration, a three-year, $38 million contract awarded by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Sandia National Laboratories provides the pulse power system, but the primary subcontractor is Albuquerque, N.M.-based Ktech, which is providing the HPM source. Raytheon recently acquired Ktech’s directed energy business.
When the Champ project was announced in May 2009, Boeing claimed it would be the first counter-electronics HPM aerial demonstrator. However, there have been many indications over the past 20 years of classified HPM airborne hardware test programs, both in the U.S. and Europe, where MBDA and Diehl have been working on the technology. There has been ongoing collaboration between UK and U.S. government scientists, and there have been reports of testing of an HPM payload on a UAV more than 10 years ago. China and Russia have been researching HPM for more than 20 years.
In addition to the usual size/weight/capability tradeoffs, the technology problems associated with airborne HPM payloads include how to provide the gigawatt power generation; how to focus and steer the beam; for what duration and at which frequency range should the beam be activated; and how close to the target the delivery system should fly.
Lockheed Martin has a separate contract from the U.S. Air Force to explore airborne HPM technology in the Non-Kinetic Counter Electronics Capability (NKCE) program.