We Have a New Weapon

And it’s a doozy. In the tradition of giving cute names to terrifying weapons (eg, Fat Man and Little Boy, Bubble Girl, Busy Lobster, etc.), this one is called CHAMP.

Remember the neutron bomb as the ultimate symbol of man’s depravity, because it killed people with a powerful blast of radiation, but left buildings standing? (And even a neutron bomb would do real damage in its initial blast radius.) Well, CHAMP is a kinder, gentler missile: it’s designed to just take out your iPod. And your TV. And your computer. And all you surveillance equipment and countmeasures. (And maybe your pacemaker or life-support system, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.)

CHAMP stands for Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, and it’s the product of Boeing’s Phantom Works. CHAMP does a flyby of targets, taking out electronics as it goes. You can check out the video from Boeing, but its first test was a rousing success:

CHAMP flew over the Utah Test and Training Range last Tuesday, discharging a burst of High Power Microwaves onto the test site and brought down the compound’s entire spectrum of electronic systems, apparently without producing any other damage at all. Even the camera recording the test was shut down.

Struggling to contain his enthusiasm, Boeing’s Keith Coleman says, “We hit every target we wanted to. Today we made science fiction into science fact.”

Is this a good thing? You bet. And also a bit scary. With America’s dependence on electronic warfare, we have a great deal to lose from a weapon like this getting out. And they always get out, eventually. Better shielding and countermeasures will no doubt be developed to blunt its effectiveness, but that kind of thing takes time and money.

All our great toys and tech may one day be brought down, and Einstein’s prophecy will come true: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

UPDATE: As Frank Weathers points out, bayonets and horses will be unaffected.

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  • Thomas Collins

    Hmmm . . .
    Putting on my evil super-villain mask it would be fun to knock out enough servers to disable FB, Twitter, etc, ad nauseum and watch the country go thru withdrawal. Next, affluent ZIP codes with high density of Prius registrations. Let’s see what “greens” really think of living without tech.

    In reality all we have done is demonstrate, at great cost to ourselves, that this weapon will work. Others will soon duplicate it.

  • Doragoon

    Cute trick, and great against things like radar and radios (which can’t be shielded), but hardly an apocalyptic super weapon. Microwaves are pretty easy to stop, or else you’d be cooking yourself every time you used the microwave oven. But it is a good reminder to keep your backup files in a metal box.

  • jenne

    Would a Faraday shield help? For Comm sake you can protect your ham radio and generator. Or is this more than just an emp?

  • victor

    ARGH!! It’s supposed to be “GOLDENEYE” not “CHAMP”!

    But can’t you accomplish the same thing by detonating a simple/dirty nuclear bomb at a high altitude over a city? I think that’s a thing, right? Anyway, it won’t be so bad: I won’t need to toast my Pop-Tarts as they’ll come out of the cupboard already warm with this thing flying overhead.

  • Dennis Mahon

    Adrian Crenshaw (aka Irongeek) gave a talk about EMP’s at this year’s Hack3rcon: http://www.irongeek.com/i.php?page=videos/hack3rcon3/11-emp-yeah-you-know-me-adrian-crenshaw It’s long, but very informative.

  • bob

    “With America’s dependence on electronic warfare, we have a great deal to lose from a weapon like this getting out. And they always get out, eventually.”
    The above statement suggests that “weapons like this” exist only because America invents them. Not so. America may have been the first to invent the atom bomb, but the Russians were not far behind. Science is global, and I assure you that China and others are working on the exact same technology as “CHAMP.” They will get there eventually, and would have notwithstanding anything we do.

  • Darren

    I think it is more along the lines that, America, historically being on the forward edge of tech, and historically investing a very large amount of money on these weapons systems, typically gets them _first_, but our period of exclusivity is short. A couple of years and other first world countries have them, a decade or two and the second tier military powers, then Joe Blow terrorist with a RadioShack catalog.

    Given the high upfront costs, it is not inevitable that these systems would be developed without a major player like the U.S. or China pushing the tech. But, after the heavy lifting has already been done, the ease of replication makes containment exceedingly difficult. This is one reason I have always maintained the development of weaponized drones to be a horribly short-sighted decision on the part of the U.S.

    So, we gain the capability to assassinate targets with a politically expedient method, now, five years later Iran is starting to fly the same tech into Israel… Yeah, good call there. Should have stuck with Marines, thank you very much.