In this occasional series, the National Post tells you everything you need to know about a complicated issue. Today, Stephen Starr looks at technology that fires electronic-disabling microwaves — not warheads — and how it could change the face of war.
Q: Are there really microwave missiles?
A: Yes. A three-year, US$40-million project to launch Boeing Phantom Works’ Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) became reality in the Utah desert last October. The missile — launched from an aircraft before flying over its target — sends out electromagnetic pulses that are designed to disable any electronics in a wide area — destroying an enemy’s computers and communications without killing enemy soldiers or civilians. In the October test, the missile fired microwaves at a two-storey building causing all the electronics and computers inside to go dark. Even the cameras monitoring the test were knocked out.
Q: Wow. Is this new technology?
A: It’s been around for a while.The microwave pulse — similar to an electromagnetic pulse — can damage electrical equipment rather like what happens after a nuclear bomb explodes. Pulses were first detected in the 1940s, and even expected by scientists during nuclear detonation tests.
Q: What’s been the reaction to the test?
A: Boeing CHAMP program manager Keith Coleman was elated. “Today we made science fiction science fact,” he said. “This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare.” Norman Friedman, a defence analyst and former deputy director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute, said, “It’s a very attractive idea. It’s a non-lethal weapon that could be extremely effective.”
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