Resurgence of High Power Microwave Weapons

(Published 27 Jul 2016, CLAWS)


“It will fully suppress communications, navigation and target location, and the use of high-precision weapons….The system will be used against cruise missiles and will suppress satellite-based radio location systems. It will actually switch off enemy weapons.”

Vladimir Mikheyev, adviser to the Radio-Electronic Technologies Group (KRET), Russia.

Directed energy weapons (DEWs) emit energy in the desired direction and cause damage to the target by transferring energy and generating uneven heat stresses. The DEWs comprise two distinct types of weapons namely, the high-energy lasers (HELs), and the high power microwaves (HPMs). The US Air Force has been funding research and technical programs into development of High Power Microwave Weapons since the 1980’s. The frequencies for this region range from 1 x 106 hertz to 1 x 1011 hertz. It is expected that HPM weapons would; facilitate all-weather attack of enemy electronic systems at lightening speeds; cover multiple targets in a defined area; enable surgical strikes to deny, degrade, damage, and destroy targets; and cause reduced collateral causalities. HPM weapons have the capability to cause large-scale damage to the electronics of the target irrespective of its state of operation. Interestingly the inherent technology of the HPM allows the HPM to defend it obviating the need for a separate defensive system for its protection.

The HPMs could also be used for attacks on strategic assets like, military and defense industrial centers, rail yards, military and civil communications hubs, industrial facilities, logistic nodes, supply depots, equipment stockpiles, ammunition depots, fuel storages, troop carriers, and so on. Despite the inherent advantages the HPM weapons program has had to grapple with difficulties in designing compact high peak power HPM sources; compact high gain, ultra-wideband (UWB) antennas; and efficient, high power/ pulse power drivers.

In 2012, there were indications that the progress in to HPM weapons had not met desired success levels[1]. The Active Denial Weapon proto type of the US Air Force was not successful under all weather conditions. It also suffered from its unwieldy size, heavy energy consumption, and technical complexity therefore; it was not very battlefield friendly. Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) is another US Air Force and Boeing technology demonstrator that has not been successfully completed. It was for developing an air-launched directed-energy weapon capable of targeting electronic systems on attacking missiles. Based upon CHAMP technology, Raytheon had demonstrated an anti UAV, ground-based air defense high-powered microwave system in 2013. Other projects like Gypsy and MAXPOWER have also not been productionised until now.

In the field of HPMs Russia made two important announcements during the past year. In Jun 2015, Russia revealed its microwave cannon[2], which is supposed to disable drones and warheads at a distance of up to six miles. It is claimed that weapon is equipped with a high-power generator and reflector antenna, and is mounted on the chassis of BUK surface-to-air missile system. Further, when mounted on a suitable platform, the microwave cannon can also provide credible 360 degrees perimeter defense. It was claimed by Yuri Mayevsky, CEO of the weapon’s developer, Radio-Electronic Technologies Group (KRET) that the system can target the enemy’s deck-based, tactical, long-range, and strategic aircraft, electronics, and suppress foreign military satellite’s radio-electronic equipment[3]. The system could be fitted on multiple platforms. In July this year, the Russia announced that its sixth generation combat drones would be fitted with microwave weapons. It also claimed that microwave weapons are already available with Russia, which can hit targets tens of kilometers away[4] but the energy levels at which such weapons operate are unsafe for manned aircraft and therefore they will be positioned on combat drones likely to be operational by 2025.

The above Russian developments and their strategic impact appear to have breathed new life in to HPM weapons program of the US Air Force. Last year US Air Force and Boeing announced developing a High Power Microwave / Electromagnetic Pulse generator that can be fitted to a cruise missile for targeting installations below the missile as it flies[5]. In May this year, the US Air Force has asked the industry to supply the source and antenna for its High Pulse Electro Magnetics program, HPEM, vide notification BAA-RVKD-2014-0003[6]. The task includes the development of broadband high power amplifiers, tunable high power oscillators, and broadband antennas that can be used to develop empirical radio frequency (RF) effects over a broad range of frequencies, pulse lengths, pulse repetition frequencies, and power densities. One of the key areas of the HPEM project pertains to Electromagnetics (EM) Weapons Technology. This looks into developing HPEM technologies into pulsed-power weapons, investigating high-energy particle beams; and creating weak and strongly ionized plasmas using ultra short pulse lasers (USPL).

Counter-Directed Energy Weapons (CDEW). The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is funding basic research in to countering the threats that emanate from directed energy weapons systems, such as high-energy lasers or high-power microwaves. Its CDEW Program is aimed at defending and/or negating the effects of enemy’s high-energy lasers, high-power microwaves, and other directed energy weapons in the maritime domain[7]. Raytheon has been awarded $4.8 million[8] to continue the development of EW payload for CHAMP, as well as the Conventional Air-Launched Cruise Missile.

In India, it is understood that DRDO is collaborating with institutions in Kolkata to develop new age weapons that use microwaves and millimeter waves[9].












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