Raytheon’s acquisition of directed energy firm Ktech in 2011 is paying dividends following the US Defense Department’s award of a $4.8 million contract to repackage two conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM) as high-power microwave weapons.
Ktech produced the pulsing electronics kit that Boeing proved could knock out banks of computers in an October 2012 flight demonstration, overseen by the US Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL).
The award to Raytheon is the first significant movement on the so-called Counter-electronics High-power microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) since that 2012 demonstration.
The announcement is a blow to Boeing, which no longer leads the effort. Boeing, as the CALCM’s original manufacturer, will support Raytheon as a subcontractor, the company confirms. It could also offer up alternative missile or platform options to carry the payload, since CALCM is being removed from service because of its age and limited inventory.
In an interview with Flightglobal, Donald Sullivan and Peter Duselis of Raytheon Missile Systems Ktech explained that the counter-electronics system inside the refurbished conventional, subsonic AGM-86 air-launched missiles have been improved since the 2012 tests.
“There have been a number of components and subsystems within the payload that have had their performance parameters increased in terms of the output specifications of the system as well as its environmental capability,” says Sullivan, Ktech’s technical director. That translates to the latest version having improved operational effects and more stability across the missile’s flight envelope.
Raytheon “cannot confirm or deny” many aspects of the project, and directed specific questions to AFRL.
Laboratory officials have confirmed that the CHAMP system demonstrated in 2012 was capable of firing up to “100 shots per sortie” to fry military and commercial electronics in a very predictable way.
The US Air Force has been under pressure from Congress to make use of the technology and has even received extra funding to make a handful of missile available for operational use.
US Air Force/Boeing
The air force is moving slower than some wish, but it is pursuing integration with Lockheed Martin's extended-range AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and reusable unmanned aircraft – since CHAMP can keep pulsing as long it has enough power input.
Speaking to Flightglobal at the Air Warfare Symposium in Florida last month, Air Combat Command chief Gen Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle confirmed that the operational force wants the counter-electronics capability and that some units are being kept as “weapons to use in a contingency”.
“Our real goal is to take what we learnt in CHAMP and apply it to the next weapon,” he says. “We have kept some, it’s a very small number, so we have some capability with it now. Our intent is to move that to the next weapon, a more advanced weapon, and continue to modernise it.”
A Boeing B-52 launched CHAMP in the 2012 demonstration at the Utah Test and Training Range, however, it's employment from a Northrop Grumman B-2 in an animated promotional video.
“We’re looking forward to and expecting that high-powered microwaves will be an inherent part of third offset strategy along with other forms of directed energy,” says Sullivan.
Update: This story has been updated to note that Boeing will support Raytheon on the project.