Rocket with CHAMP system on board – demo image
Various electronic systems are of particular importance to armies and civilian infrastructure. Destroying or incapacitating them can make a decisive contribution to victory. In this regard, the leading countries of the world are developing a variety of electromagnetic weapons. In the United States, the most interesting results in this area were obtained by the CHAMP program, developed by order of the Air Force.
A joint project
Work under the CHAMP program (Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project) began at the end of the last decade and was carried out by several organizations. The lead role in the program is played by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) represented by the Directed Energy Directorate (DED).
It was planned to involve commercial enterprises as developers and manufacturers of specific products. So, almost immediately after the start, Boeing joined the program in the person of the Phantom Works division, which solved development problems. Later, there was a proposal to engage Lockheed Martin as a manufacturer of delivery vehicles for CHAMP products. One of the applications of the technology was worked out at Raytheon.
By now, the bulk of the work on the new EMP weapon has been completed. The necessary tests were carried out, and in May 2019 there were reports of the delivery of the first pre-production CHAMP systems to the Air Force as part of the modified aircraft missiles.
Goals and tasks
The goal of the CHAMP program was to study the possibilities, search for solutions and develop technologies for creating weapons capable of hitting enemy electronics using a powerful electromagnetic pulse. At the same time, the possibility of the complete implementation of the found concept and its bringing to operation in the army was not ruled out.
CHAMP or similar EMP weapons can be a convenient addition to existing electronic warfare systems. Electronic warfare systems are capable of temporarily disabling enemy systems, while EMP weapons simply destroy them. Within the framework of the program, it was planned to work out methods of optimal and flexible joint application of systems of two classes.
Within the framework of the CHAMP program, the search for technologies and technical solutions suitable for use in various fields was carried out. On their basis, an EMP system for aircraft missiles was developed, and then a project for a land complex with similar capabilities appeared.
One of the tasks of the program was to reduce the pulse power to the minimum required. This made it possible to reduce the requirements for the power supply of combat equipment, and in the presence of high-precision guidance systems, to dramatically reduce the collateral damage. Energy savings also allow you to hit multiple targets in one flight.
On October 22, 2012, Boeing announced the first successful tests of a CHAMP product as a missile weapon. The press release was accompanied by a short video demonstrating the basic principles of work and statements from the developers. It is noteworthy that the experimental rocket or CHAMP system was shown only in the form of computer graphics.
From the published data, it follows that the result of the program was a compact electronic unit suitable for mounting on aircraft missiles. It includes power supplies and a microwave generator with a directional antenna device. During the flight, CHAMP can aim the antenna at a given target and “hit” it with directional EMP.
Demonstration of the principle of operation of a rocket with CHAMP
The rocket flew over the range along the specified route. Several times at the specified points the CHAMP system generated an electromagnetic pulse of the required power and configuration. Various electrical and electronic devices were used as conditional targets. All of them were damaged by EMP, demonstrating the potential of the CHAMP product.
In June 2013, Raytheon tested its version of the CHAMP system, made in the form of a self-propelled ground complex. All devices were placed in a container on a standard vehicle chassis. An antenna device with a characteristic large mirror was installed on the roof of the container. With the help of communication and control facilities, the EMP-weapons complex was connected to an observation radar.
During the tests, unmanned aerial vehicles flew over the test site. The radar performed their detection and issued target designation to the CHAMP system. Its task was to destroy the UAV with a directed electromagnetic pulse. The complex worked in a fully automatic mode, although under the supervision of operators. He managed to successfully hit all targets, and it was not about temporary incapacitation – the electronics of the targets burned out.
The result of the CHAMP program was a set of technologies and technical solutions, on the basis of which new types of weapons can be created. So, for combat aviation, a special electronic unit has been developed, suitable for use with various carriers. Already in tests in 2012, it was used as a payload for an experimental rocket. Later this idea was developed.
By the middle of the last decade, AFRL and its allies had identified the main paths for the further development of aviation EMP weapons. It was proposed to install electronic units on certain air-launched missiles. The possibility of using air-to-surface missiles such as AGM-86 ALCM, AGM-158 JASSM, etc. was considered. Missiles of these types can be used by strategic and tactical aircraft.
Launch of an AGM-158B JASSM-ER rocket by an F-16 fighter. Similarly, CHAMP products will be used in the future.
In the spring of 2015, the US Air Force announced a new phase of the CHAMP program. Now it was planned to adapt the existing EMP weapon to be installed on the AGM-158B JASSM-ER missile. To carry out these works, the company “Lockheed-Martin” was involved in the program.
The JASSM-ER air-to-surface missile was chosen because of the optimal balance of flight performance and payload, as well as due to the presence of a modern efficient autopilot. Such a rocket is capable of passing along a rather long and difficult route and, in one flight, “cover” several targets. A variant of the CHAMP system for the AGM-158B is capable of delivering up to hundreds of pulses per flight, damaging the electronics.
In May 2019, an unexpected and curious message appeared in the American specialized media about the beginning of the deployment of a promising EMP weapon. It was alleged that Boeing Phantom Works, commissioned by AFRL DED, had manufactured and delivered at least 20 CHAMP payload missiles to the Air Force.
The type of missile equipped with an EMP system was not specified. It was reported that such missiles will be carried by long-range bombers B-52H. The rocket with CHAMP was called ready for operation. No technical or organizational details were provided.
According to the plans of previous years, the full-scale production and deployment of new missiles of the JASSM-ER type will begin only by the mid-twenties. Due to the correct choice of platforms for placing the CHAMP system, it is expected to ensure compatibility with both long-range and tactical aviation. This will be the desired outcome of the ongoing CHAMP program. EMP weapons will go into service and will become a flexible tool for solving specific tasks.
In the meantime, we are talking only about pre-production and, probably, military tests. Based on their results, the Air Force may update their requirements, which will lead to a redesign of the project. However, the updated weapons will be based on already known and mastered technologies created at the first stages of the CHAMP program. This allows the US Air Force to show some optimism and expect a combat-ready microwave weapon by the scheduled date.