Airborne Directed Energy Technology Maturing in the U.S.

04/10/2014 03:02

Source: Strat Risks

 

The U.S. Air Force is ready to “weaponize” and quickly field directed-energy technology, following two recent successful high-power microwave (HPM) demonstration programs. Progress is also being made with solid-state high-energy lasers (HELs). Directed Energy was one of three “game-changing” technologies discussed by Maj Gen Tom Masiello, the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), at the recent Air Force Association (AFA) Conference in Washington, D.C. The others were hypersonics and autonomy.

Masiello showed video from flight tests of the Boeing counter-electronics, high-powered microwave, advanced-missile project (Champ) on the Utah test range. He revealed that the Champ platform is a modified Boeing AGM-86 air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), launched from a B-52. It first flew in 2011, but Boeing revealed little detail of the project then. Flights evidently continued through Fiscal Year 2013, when the modified ALCM was successfully flown against two target sets: an unhardened office building and a hardened chemical/biological weapons (CBW) facility. “The computers in the office building went blank, and an electrical generator was disabled on the first pass,” Masiello reported. The HPM weapon “would also have destroyed whatever batch of CBW was being manufactured in the [hardened] facility,” he added.

A single HPM weapon could provide low-collateral damage of multiple targets, Masiello noted. It was an alternative to the kinetic means of defeating an emitting/electronic target, he added. The next step would be to design, develop and test a multi-shot, multi-target HPM cruise missile. “Two independent teams have [validated] that the technology is ready to weaponize,” Masiello noted. This is an apparent reference to the separate contract awarded to Lockheed Martin to explore airborne HPM technology in the Non-Kinetic Counter Electronics Capability (NKCE) program.

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