USAF launches competition for new HPM bomber

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The US Air Force has launched a competition for a new aircraft demonstrator equipped with a high-powered microwave weapon that can take at least several shots at electronic targets.

Bids for the counter-electronics HPM advanced missile project (CHAMP) are due on 15 January. The $40 million contract is expected to be awarded in March, launching a 36-month demonstration project.

Little is known about the USAF's classified HPM capabilities, but the solicitation documents make it clear that CHAMP is aimed at addressing an important gap.

"Based on the limitations of current options, a multi-shot and multi-target aerial platform that targets electronic systems may play a key role in future conflicts," states the USAF's statement of objectives for CHAMP, dated 1 December.

The USAF also suggests that current HPM weapons are limited by power and range.

"Due to the directional nature of existing HPM technologies, positional accuracy is a key to ensuring that the HPM beam hits the target," the USAF statement says.

CHAMP has been set up as a proof-of-principle demonstration. If the project is successful, the USAF could transfer the HPM payload to an unmanned aerial system already in the inventory - mostly likely the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper.

The USAF also would consider the option of converting the aerial demonstrator chosen for CHAMP into a military vehicle. The chosen contractor must deliver five demonstrator vehicles for CHAMP.

The proposed aerial platform must demonstrate a range of capabilities. It must have enough range to be viable militarily and enough power to attack multiple targets.

"This would increase the probability of effect and make the aerial platform a more desirable military option," the USAF statement says.

Previous USAF briefings have shown a plan to introduce a new HPM weapon into its arsenal by 2012, which aligns with the CHAMP schedule.

The USAF also had previously shown interest in modifying a 2,000lb-class Boeing joint direct attack munition (JDAM) with a wingkit and an HPM warhead for CHAMP. However, the requirements calling for a recoverable aerial demonstrator equipped with an HPM payload appear to preclude this option.