The targets were buildings packed with humming computers. A missile streaked overhead and, at preset coordinates, it fired concentrated beams of energy. Computers short-circuited, the lights flickered out and even cameras monitoring the rooms shut off. The missile had turned off all the power in the targeted buildings.
This first successful test of the three-year, $40-million Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) at a Utah test range on Oct. 16 marked a big step forward for technology that has been in development for more than four decades.
The potential of CHAMP and other so-called Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons is enormous, in theory. They could allow an army to bloodlessly disable select portions of an enemy’s military capabilities, potentially winning a fight without a lethal shot being fired.
But CHAMP itself, a collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory, defense giants Boeing and Raytheon plus Ktech, a small company Raytheon acquired last year, does not necessarily herald “a new era in modern-day warfare,” as Keith Coleman, the CHAMP program manager at Boeing Phantom Works, claimed in a press release. Boeing declined to comment for this story.
Experts disagree on the Boeing-Raytheon technology’s capabilities and readiness, and the vulnerability of military targets to its effects. “It’s an interesting program,” Norman Friedman, a respected military author and analyst, tells AOL Defense. But CHAMP “could be PR over reality,” he adds. A truly revolutionary EMP weapon might require more work.