Home / Technology / Electronics & EW / Revolutionizing Warfare: The Rise of High-Power Electromagnetic Weapons

Revolutionizing Warfare: The Rise of High-Power Electromagnetic Weapons


The evolution of warfare has reached new heights with the development and deployment of high-power electromagnetic weapons (HPEMs). These cutting-edge technologies, including high-powered microwave (HPM) systems and directed energy weapons, offer nations unprecedented capabilities to conduct speed-of-light, all-weather attacks on a wide range of enemy assets. In this article, we explore the emergence of HPEMs, their applications in modern warfare, and the strategic implications for military operations worldwide.

DEWs and HPEMs:

Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) are an umbrella term covering systems that emits highly focused energy / atomic or subatomic particles and transfers that energy to incapacitate, damage, disable or destroy enemy equipment, facilities and/or personnel. The energy can come in various forms: Electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency, microwave, lasers and masers, Particles with mass, in particle-beam weapons and Sound, in sonic weapons.

A high-powered microwave weapon (HPM) is type of Directed Energy Weapon (DEW)  for employing radio frequency energy against a variety of targets. They are principally counterelectronic weapons and could be used to destroy any enemy electronic systems, including radars, computer systems and communications infrastructures. Electromagnetic weapons can destroy, intercept or jam approaching enemy missiles, drones, rockets or aircraft at much lesser cost than firing an interceptor missile which can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

HPM systems offer military commanders the options of: Speed-of-light, all weather attack of enemy electronic systems, Area coverage of multiple targets with minimal prior information on threats characteristics, Surgical strike (damage, disrupt, degrade) at selected levels of combat, Minimum collateral damage in politically sensitive environments, Simplified pointing and tracking and eep magazines (meaning long operating time without replenishment) and low operating costs.

HPEMs encompass a diverse range of systems that emit highly focused energy or atomic particles to incapacitate, damage, or destroy enemy equipment, facilities, and personnel. From electromagnetic radiation to sound-based weaponry, HPEMs utilize advanced technology to target and neutralize enemy drones, radars, communication systems, and electronic devices with unparalleled precision.

HPM systems can be Narrowband or Ultra Wideband type, depending on the bandwidth of the transmitted waveform. Many systems, like those based on commercial radar systems are narrow band or have transmitted bandwidths of 1% or less. Narrow band systems can couple to systems very efficiently if the frequency is close to a system resonance. Extremely short pulse systems are known as ultra-wideband systems. UWB systems have instantaneous bandwidths, by some definitions, greater than 100%. Because of the large spread in bandwidth the energy in a given bandwidth (e.g., that covered by a system resonance) is small.

EMP weapons are of the ultra wideband type that generate high power narrow pulse fields, with pulse widths narrower than 100 ps,which may be repetitively pulsed up to 1 million pulses per second. The frequency content in these weapons is typically up to 3 Ghz. US, Russia and China among countries   developing high power electromagnetic weapons.

Global Developments in HPEMs:

Countries like the United States, Russia, and China are at the forefront of HPEM research and development, actively exploring innovative applications and testing prototype systems. These Countries  are actively testing high-power directed energy weapons to counter a range of threats, from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to adversary radar and communication systems.

Notably, during significant conflicts like the 1991 Gulf War and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the United States employed electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and microwave weapons to disrupt electronic command systems and communications infrastructure, showcasing the strategic advantage of such technologies.

The U.S. Air Force continues to advance its capabilities in this arena, with plans to deploy a prototype of Raytheon’s Phaser high-power microwave counter-drone system for operational evaluation. This initiative underscores the military’s ongoing investment in directed energy solutions to address evolving threats.

Similarly, the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), led by the Air Force Research Laboratory, demonstrates the commitment to developing air-launched directed-energy weapons capable of incapacitating electronic systems.

The development of these advanced weapons systems is not confined to the United States alone. Russia has announced plans to equip its sixth-generation combat drones with microwave weapons, emphasizing the global interest in leveraging directed energy for military applications. Furthermore, Chinese researchers have made significant strides in this field, with projects like the high-power microwave anti-missile system winning prestigious awards, signaling China’s growing prominence in directed energy research and development. As nations continue to invest in these technologies, the landscape of modern warfare is undergoing a profound transformation, with directed energy weapons poised to play a pivotal role in future conflicts.

The CHAMP Missile:

One of the most notable examples of HPEM technology is the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), developed by Boeing for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. CHAMP missiles, deployed from B-52 bombers, emit sharp pulses of microwave energy that can fry computer chips and disable electronic devices targeted by the missiles, rendering adversaries’ military capabilities virtually useless without causing collateral damage.

These high-powered microwaves, part of the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), were developed by Boeing’s Phantom Works for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Housed within air-launched cruise missiles and delivered from B-52 bombers, these missiles boast a range of 700 miles and emit sharp pulses of high-power microwave (HPM) energy, capable of frying computer chips and disabling electronic devices without causing collateral damage.

Mary Lou Robinson, the chief of the High Power Microwave Division at the Air Force Research Lab, has confirmed the operational readiness of these missiles, highlighting their strategic significance in neutralizing potential threats. Despite potential efforts by adversaries like North Korea or Iran to shield their electronic equipment, U.S. officials express confidence in CHAMP’s effectiveness. This project has been underway since the successful testing of a missile equipped with high-powered microwave energy in 2012, reflecting a long-standing commitment to advancing electromagnetic warfare capabilities.

One remarkable aspect of the HPM missile is its ability to penetrate underground bunkers and command centers without causing harm to individuals inside. This technology leverages connections to power cables, communication lines, and antennas, enabling it to disrupt and destroy electronics within any concealed military facility. With its precision targeting capabilities, CHAMP poses a significant threat to command and control centers, rendering a country’s military infrastructure inoperable. Moreover, its ability to incapacitate radar systems ensures that adversaries remain unaware of impending attacks, further enhancing its strategic value on the battlefield.

China’s advancements

Over the past six years, Huang Wenhua and his team at the Northwest Institute of Nuclear Technology in Xi’an have been diligently developing a compact yet potent microwave weapon. Recognized with China’s National Science and Technology Progress Award, this innovation is remarkable for its diminutive size, small enough to sit on a laboratory workbench, yet harboring immense potential for application in various military scenarios. Its compactness opens the door to portability, suggesting deployment possibilities on land vehicles and aircraft, amplifying its strategic value for battlefield operations.

In essence, this microwave weapon represents a paradigm shift in modern warfare tactics, offering a unique blend of convenience and formidable power. Its compact form belies its capability to wreak havoc on enemy electronics, presenting a versatile tool for military strategists. Whether integrated into a missile akin to the U.S. CHAMP electronic warfare missile or mounted on a drone, its deployment possibilities are extensive. Such a weapon holds the promise of infiltrating enemy defenses with stealth, incapacitating sophisticated systems such as surface-to-air and anti-ship missile batteries, disrupting radars, communications networks, and control systems, as well as immobilizing tank formations, thus reshaping the dynamics of electronic warfare on the battlefield.

Saab’s  future fast jet airborne electronic attack (AEA) capability

Saab, a leading aerospace company, has embarked on a forward-looking endeavor to shape the future of airborne electronic attack (AEA) capabilities for fast jet combat aircraft. This initiative stems from an extensive in-house study conducted in 2013, aimed at understanding the evolving air operating environment and identifying critical requirements for combat aircraft in the 2035–2040 timeframe. Among the key findings was the necessity for a robust AEA capability to enhance aircraft survivability and facilitate penetration through increasingly complex anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments.

Jonas Grönberg, Head of Product Management for Fighter EW at Saab, highlighted the shifting dynamics in modern warfare, emphasizing the diminishing efficacy of traditional low observability measures against emerging low-band early warning radars. In response, Saab advocates for a paradigm shift towards high-powered electronic attack strategies aimed at disrupting enemy situational awareness, targeting data, and data networks, thus neutralizing threats posed by advanced air defense systems.

Saab’s vision for future AEA capability, encapsulated under the name AREXIS, encompasses a holistic approach combining innovative technologies and operational concepts. At the core of this concept is the development of a self-contained electronic attack (EA) pod designed for integration with twin-seat variants of existing platforms like the JAS 39 Gripen. This pod incorporates cutting-edge antenna technology and leverages Saab’s expertise in electronic warfare to deliver high-performance jamming capabilities.

Additionally, Saab proposes the deployment of miniature air-launched decoys equipped with advanced electronic warfare payloads to distract and deceive enemy air defense systems, enhancing the survivability of strike missions. Complementing these hardware advancements is the development of a sophisticated back-seat electronic warfare officer (EWO) station, integrating advanced sensor fusion and decision support techniques to optimize mission effectiveness and crew coordination. Saab’s comprehensive approach to future AEA capability underscores its commitment to staying at the forefront of electronic warfare innovation, ensuring the readiness and effectiveness of combat aircraft in tomorrow’s battlespace.

Air Force surveys industry for technologies in EMP electromagnetic weapons to counter unmanned aircraft

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL/RI) is conducting market research to explore the landscape of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) solutions aimed at countering various categories of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), including those used by the Department of Defense (DoD). They are seeking insights from industry experts to identify ground-based and aerial EMP systems capable of mitigating potential threats posed by unmanned aerial vehicles.

Both ground-based and aerial EMP solutions are under consideration, with a focus on versatility, reliability, and effectiveness in diverse operational environments. Ground station requirements, system autonomy, and engagement success rates are crucial parameters for evaluating the viability of each proposed solution.

To ensure effectiveness, any EMP solutions integrated into air vehicles must meet stringent airworthiness standards, including reliance on U.S. components and electronics and a proven track record of reliability. Industry respondents are requested to provide detailed technical data on their EMP solutions, including system architecture, operational capabilities, and logistical requirements. Both ground-based and aerial EMP solutions are being considered, with a focus on versatility, reliability, and effectiveness across diverse operational environments.

This initiative underscores the AFRL’s commitment to leveraging innovative technologies to bolster national defense capabilities against emerging threats in modern warfare.

Challenges and Ethical Considerations:

While the strategic advantages of HPEMs are undeniable, their use in warfare raises significant challenges and ethical considerations. Concerns about collateral damage, indiscriminate targeting, and the potential for escalation underscore the need for careful regulation and oversight in the deployment of HPEM weapons on the battlefield.

The Future of Warfare: As geopolitical tensions continue to evolve and adversaries seek tactical advantages, the development and integration of HPEMs into military arsenals represent a critical component of national defense strategies.

The emergence of EMP/high-powered microwave cruise missiles, exemplified by Boeing’s CHAMP developed for DARPA, signifies a pivotal advancement in military technology, poised to redefine the contours of 21st-century warfare. With the capacity to clandestinely breach enemy airspace and neutralize a spectrum of critical targets ranging from command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems to air defense installations and armored vehicles, these systems underscore the imperative of incorporating cutting-edge electronic warfare capabilities into military arsenals. As nations navigate an increasingly complex and technologically driven security landscape, the development and deployment of such advanced weaponry assume paramount importance in ensuring strategic superiority and operational effectiveness in future conflicts.

With ongoing advancements in technology and research, HPEMs are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of modern warfare, providing nations with the means to respond effectively to emerging threats and maintain strategic superiority on the battlefield.

Conclusion: The rise of high-power electromagnetic weapons marks a significant milestone in the history of warfare, offering nations unprecedented capabilities to conduct speed-of-light, all-weather attacks on enemy assets. While the strategic implications are vast, careful consideration of ethical concerns and regulatory frameworks is essential to ensure the responsible development and deployment of HPEMs in military operations worldwide. As nations continue to invest in research and innovation, the future of warfare will be shaped by the transformative potential of HPEMs, paving the way for new paradigms of conflict and defense in the 21st century.





References and Resources also include:

About Rajesh Uppal

Check Also

Loitering Munitions: Redefining Precision Strike Capabilities

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern warfare, the need for precision strike capabilities has become …

error: Content is protected !!