“These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits”
The White House was briefed on the use of microwave weapons during a meeting earlier this year on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
According to NBC News, two U.S. officials with direct knowledge say the technology was mentioned during discussions last August.
Known as “CHAMP,” or Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, the weapon, nestled inside an air-launched cruise missile dropped from a B-52 bomber, is being touted by some as a way to disable North Korean missiles before they leave the launchpad.
Speaking with NBC News, Mary Lou Robinson, Chief of High Power Electromagnetics at Albuquerque’s Air Force Research Laboratory, says the weapon is designed to disrupt electronic components – such as those used in ground control systems and in missiles themselves.
“These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits,” Robinson said.
During its first test in October 2012 over training site in Utah, CHAMP was able to successfully disable electronic systems in numerous mock facilities.
Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing, said at the time that the test was “as close to the real thing as we could get.”
“It absolutely did exactly what we thought it was going to do,” Robinson said. “We had several different target classes in those facilities, and we predicted with almost 100 percent accuracy… which systems were going to be affected, which systems failed, and how.”
Subsequent tests and upgrades to the weapon’s power source has produced what the Air Force now calls “Super CHAMP,” NBC News adds.
Experts warn though that the weapon, which is designed to fly at low altitude into enemy airspace before emitting a series of microwave pulses, could spark a dangerous escalation given that CHAMP must fly within close range of its target.
Exactly how close remains classified.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have intensified following Pyongyang’s test Wednesday of its new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The nuclear-capable ICBM, believed to be capable of reaching any target on the U.S. mainland, reached an altitude of 4,475 km (2,780 miles) and traveled a distance of 950 km (590 miles) during its 53-minute flight.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry warned late last month that “the likelihood of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe today is actually greater than it was during the Cold War.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday also called for the families of U.S. military personnel to begin moving out of South Korea.