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Motherboard

"We Turned Science Fiction Into Reality": The Military's Drone-Mounted Microwave Guns

Good news for everybody out there who's been paralyzed by fear of a robot takeover in the not too distant future. You know that last resort weapon in _The Matrix_, the one that Keanu Reeves or whoever activates when those stingray-looking robots are...

by Adam Clark Estes
Oct 26 2012, 7:40pm

Good news for everybody out there who’s been paralyzed by fear of a robot takeover in the not too distant future. You know that last resort weapon in The Matrix, the one that Keanu Reeves or whoever activates when those stingray-looking robots are eating through the ship’s hull? And then the robots just fall down, their electronic guts fried and useless? Well, we built one. And strapped it to a drone.

With the help of the U.S. Air Force, Boeing successfully tested the world’s first microwave-beaming missile in the Utah desert. Codenamed CHAMP, for Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project, the weapon was carried to its target by an unmanned drone that fired it towards a building filled with computers. As it flew over the structure, it fired high-powered microwaves down on to it, handily zapping all of the electronics inside. It was considered a huge success. We theoretically knew that microwaves could wipe out electronics but nobody had ever built a directed missile to do it.

“Today we turned science fiction into science fact,” said CHAMP program manager Keith Coleman. “This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare. In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.” Which is great news for you peaceniks. Finally, the military’s scientists have put their heads together and come up with a non-lethal weapon that can actually do some damage. It might even be enough to save a life or two.

Funnily enough, the idea for this potentially sort of peaceful weapon arose out of nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War. The guys setting off the bombs noticed that the explosion created an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that damaged their equipment. A strong enough pulse, they figured, could knock out any electronic device. If such a capability could be developed, we could easily knock out the enemy’s communication and radar, leaving them deaf, blind and defenseless. Critics doubted that such technology could ever be weaponized, but $38 million in government-subsidized funding later, we’ve done just that. Of course, give defense contractors enough money and they can probably build anything. And if they couldn’t, they’d still take the money.

Image via Boeing