As North Korea continues to build up its missile program and arsenal, the U.S. and other nations allied against the growingly erratic regime are looking for a way to protect nations from North Korean missiles. The U.S. has a weapon called CHAMP (Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project) that could potentially stop North Korean missiles from launching, or force them to splash down harmlessly in the ocean after launch. The system is launched in a cruise missile from an aircraft and rather than having conventional explosives or nuclear payloads inside, it is fitted with high-powered microwave generators.
The idea is that the American cruise missile would fly in low over North Korean targets and activate the powerful bursts of microwaves that would cause electronics to shutdown. Sources who claim to be familiar with the weapons have stated that they were discussed at a White House meeting related to North Korea. CHAMP has a range of 700 miles and is launched from a B-52 bomber.
"These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits," said Mary Lou Robinson, who heads development of the weapons at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
As for how the weapon system works, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said, "Think about when you put something in your microwave that has metal on it. You know how badly that goes? Imagine directing those microwaves at someone's electronics."
The control centers of enemy targets are rife with electronics and the systems are highly vulnerable to high-powered microwaves. The U.S. Air Force and other government agencies have been working on weapons using these high-power microwaves for over twenty years. The weapon was tested back in October of 2012 in at the Utah Test and Training Range which covers 2,500 square miles. Buildings on the range were mocked up with electronics and the weapon worked exactly as intended.
Robinson indicated that the weapon "absolutely did exactly what we thought it was going to do. 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."
The only catch to the weapon is that CHAMP must be very close to its target, although just how close is classified. The Air Force has a cool new weapon, but it sounds as if the Navy might be giving up on its railgun; word is that the weapon system might be scrapped by 2019.