What is CHAMP, the high-powered microwave weapons project with which the United States intends to defend itself against North Korea’s nuclear missiles?

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The microwave missiles are designed to be launched from the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.

la base de la Fuerza Aérea de Kirtland, en Albuquerque

The research project is developed in the laboratory of the Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force)

On the outskirts of the city of Albuquerque, in the state of New Mexico, a team of experts from the United States Air Force develops an untraditional weapon that could have a strategic objective: to stop the nuclear missiles of North Korea.

It is not just any weapon, it is a type of electromagnetic weapon that is not harmful to human beings and bases its operation on the same technology as a microwave oven.

And, according to several experts on military issues consulted by BBC World, it could be a sui generis alternative to deactivate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons effectively and without causing great damage.

It is called Advanced Electromagnetic Interference High Power Microwave (CHAMP) Project and is, in essence, projectiles that emit very high frequency waves capable of “frying” electronic systems.

“Taking into account the state of technology in the modern world, where almost everything works through digital media, this type of missile emits very high frequency microwaves capable of interrupting or leaving electronic equipment inactive,” he explains to BBC World James Fisher, spokesman for the Kirtland base of the Air Force, in Albuquerque, where the project is based.

The base, which was one of the places of support for the Manhattan Project (the US investigation to develop the atomic bomb during World War II), now focuses its research on this new type of weapon based on the electromagnetic spectrum.

“The CHAMP is basically a cruise missile, but no cargo, which can be launched from the air by B-52 bombers, and which has a range of about 1,127 kilometers,” says Fisher.

But its utilities as armament transcend the potential launching of an atomic missile by North Korea.

Electromagnetic weapons
It is not the first time that the United States has experimented with electromagnetic waves.

Oriana Skylar, a specialist in security issues at Georgetown University (USA), explains to BBC Mundo that the Air Force has researched and used the potential of microwaves as weapons during the last two decades.

In fact, according to the expert, military equipment carrying out electromagnetic bombings were used in Afghanistan and Iraq with the objective of deactivating bombs and drones.

El Ejército de Estados Unidos utilizó armas de microondas para desactivar drones en las guerras de Afganistán e Irak.

   The United States Army used microwave weapons to defuse drones in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the fascination of the United States Army with microwaves seems to go back several decades.

A division of the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects, was commissioned in the 1960s to analyze the possible effects of microwaves on human behavior.

The “Moscow Signal”, the mysterious microwave bombing of the Soviet Union against the US embassy. that lasted more than two decades during the Cold War
“It all started with a microwave bombing by the government of the Soviet Union against the US embassy in Moscow,” explains Sharon Weinberger, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy and author of “The imaginaries of war: history untold DARPA, the Pentagon agency that changed the world. ”

Those events, which went down in history as “the signal of Moscow” were the basis for the study of these waves by the Air Force, which even irradiated monkeys to study the possible effects of these on humans.

But if those first tests with animals were a resounding failure, the development of armaments based on this technology has taken new strength in recent years.

Los monos fueron utilizados para medir el impacto de las radiaciones de microondas.

                                 The monkeys were used to measure the impact of microwave radiation.

And although microwave missiles launched from bombers have not yet been used in combat, trials conducted with these types of weapons have made the Pentagon “optimistic” of its results.

Although the specialists claim that several tests have been conducted to prove their operation, until now the Department of Defense has only declassified information about one: the first.

It took place in the desert of Utah, in 2012, just three years after the first investigations into this type of weapon were officially launched in the Air Force laboratory at the Kirtland base.

According to Fisher, in October of that year, a B-52 bomber launched a microwave missile over a test area in the desert, an area of ​​more than 4,000 square kilometers.

The Area Force previously arranged electrical equipment in buildings and simulated constructions, and almost all of the devices ceased to be operational after the bombing.

un bombardero B-52.

                                                     The missile was launched from a B-52 bomber.

“One of the positive sides of this type of armaments is that its objective is to damage electronic systems without directly affecting human beings,” says James Phillip Bleek, specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey. California.

The analyst explains that, although they are based on the same technology as a microwave oven, the difference between the two is that the radiation generated by this type of weapon is shorter in time and greater in intensity than that of a regular oven.

In the latter, the long-term high power has a harmful effect on human tissue, while the speed at which a bombardment with a missile of this type occurs is capable of “burning” an electronic circuit, but would not burn enough. skin.

In fact, according to data from the Kirtland base, the level of radiation emitted by the missile has been tested in more than 13,000 people and only two have required medical attention.

un horno de microondas.

                                      The principle is similar to the operation of a microwave oven.
But how could this weaponry be used to defuse North Korea’s nuclear missiles?
Microwaves against nuclear weapons
The spokesman for the Kirtland Air Force base says that the development of this type of weaponry was not thought of as a possible defensive solution against a nuclear attack by North Korea.

However, its use in this direction was discussed at the White House last August, according to two officials informed on condition of anonymity to the US television network NBC.

And, according to Bleek, one of the least discussed effects of electromagnetic pulses (a high intensity electromagnetic energy emission in a short period of time) is its ability to prevent nuclear detonations by rendering the missiles inoperative.

Las armas podrían servir para dejar inactivos los misiles nucleares.

The microwave weapons could serve to leave the nuclear missiles inactive. (Photo credit: Hulton Archive)
This electromagnetic pulse can even fry unshielded electronic circuits in a significantly larger area than would otherwise be affected by an atomic explosion, “explains the also researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.

The specialist indicates that weapons that use this type of radiation can damage any type of electronic devices without shielding, from cell phones to modern cars. Hence, “theoretically”, it could also make a nuclear missile stop working.

“I say theoretically because in practice military devices (or others) can protect themselves from the effects of these pulses with a kind of electromagnetic shields,” he explains.

However, he notes that they add weight, volume and cost to equipment or missiles.
What non-nuclear weapons does North Korea have and what damage they could cause?
What would a war with North Korea be like?
“Since nuclear weapons are designed to operate during a nuclear war, they are likely to be protected against the effects of electromagnetic pulses, as are the associated command and control systems,” he adds.

However, the specialist, who has worked as an advisor on defense issues for the Pentagon, believes that as much as possible, given the lack of experience that Pyongyang still has in the development of nuclear weapons, it still does not have electromagnetic protection for your missiles.

“It seems quite plausible that the missiles of North Korea and the support infrastructure to shoot them do not have these systems, which would make their rockets could be very sensitive to electromagnetic pulses and be ineffective,” he says.

However, he doubts that these weapons could be a “magical” solution for the “serious threats” of Kim Jong-un’s government.

El momento del despegue del misil Hwasong-15, en una imagen difundida por los medios estatales norcoreanos el 30 de noviembre de 2017.

           Many experts doubt the state of development of North Korea’s nuclear program.

If the United States launches cruise missiles into the territory of North Korea it would be considered a provocation, no matter whether it is an explosive charge or an electromagnetic pulse device, “he says.

And even consider that could trigger worse consequences, since the North Koreans would have no way to distinguish what could be the payloads carried by the missiles and react accordingly.

Similarly, it is still unknown, at least publicly, what impact it could have if a microwave weapon radiates a North Korean ballistic missile.

“Microwave weapons could play a strategic role in a military operation directed against Pyongyang, should that come to that, but they are far from being a definitive remedy as far as the nuclear threat from North Korea is concerned,” concludes Bleek.

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