December 23, 2008: The U.S. Air Force doesn't say much about its work on high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons. But recently the air force asked defense firms to bid on a contract to build CHAMP (Counter-Electronics HPM Advanced Missile Project). The air force wants a missile (or a pod for aircraft) that can give off several burst of HPM (that will damage or destroy any electronic gear within a certain range), and thus take out several targets. This CHAMP contract will pay $40 million to the winning bid, and allow 36 months to come up with a weapon that works. If that is accomplished, the CHAMP system would be in service within 4-5 years.
Meanwhile, quietly, and without much fanfare, the U.S. Air Force has been equipping some of its fighters with electronic ray type weapons. Not quite the death ray of science fiction fame, but an electronic ray type weapon none the less. In this case, the weapon uses the high-powered microwave (HPM) effects found in Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar technology. These radars have been around a long time, popular mainly for their ability deal with lots of targets simultaneously. But AESA is also able to focus a concentrated beam of radio energy that could scramble electronic components of a distant target. Sort of like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons.
The air force won't, for obvious reasons, discuss the exact kill range of the of the various models of AESA radars on American warplanes (the F-15, F-35 and F-22 have them). However, it is known that range in this case is an elastic thing. Depending on how well the target electronics are hardened against EMP, more electrical power will be required to do damage. Moreover, the electrical power of the various AESA radars in service varies as well. The air force has said that the larger AESA radar it plans to install on its E-10 radar aircraft would be able to zap cruise missile guidance systems up to 180 kilometers away. The E-10 AESA is several times larger than the one in the F-35 (the largest in use now), so make your own estimates. Smaller versions of this technology would arm the CHAMP system.