Air Force Research Lab tests high power electromagnetic EW & cyber weapons

High-power electromagnetic systems could pave the way for non-lethal, non-kinetic weapons in future military operations.

Air Force officials at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. are working with microwave experts from companies including Raytheon and Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct experiments with high power electromagnetic (HPEM) technology. The work offers the potential to enhance missile defense and electronic warfare capabilities. 

“AFRL will innovate the technology for future warfighter needs,” said Erin Pettyjohn, Deputy Division Chief of the High Power Electromagnetics Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate.

 “AFRL is pursuing the research, development, application and design of high power microwave systems for non-lethal, non-kinetic weapons.  This will build upon our successes of MAXPOWER, a counter IED system demo, Active Denial System, a counter-personnel (non-lethal) demo system, CHAMP, an airborne counter electronics demo weapon, as well as future capabilities, such as counter-UAS.  AFRL partners with a variety of industry companies for the production of HPM systems,” said Ms. Pettyjohn.

The experiments being conducted explore how features of HPEM—such as carrier frequency, pulse repetition frequency, and incident power density—can determine the ideal ratio for electronic warfare operations. This ideal ratio would maximize the amount of electromagnetic energy that makes it from the HPEM system to the enemy target, according to Raytheon.  

HPEM EW would change the future of military operations because “[it] is designed to affect only electronics while also being safe to humans.  It will provide a capability to enable low collateral damage, as it will not physically destroy infrastructure nor affect personnel health,” shared Ms. Pettyjohn.

Potential future HPEM capabilities could include disrupting computers, aircrafts, or electric grids.

Some of the challenges that developers could run into with this project “may include the technical challenges to developing sources that will meet the specified mission sets, systems engineering and technical challenges for integrating sources into payloads, and systems engineering challenges for integrating those payloads into size-constrained systems,” shared Ms. Pettyjohn.

According to DOD, these experiments will include how HPEM can be used for cyber or EW applications, conduct, experiments, and demonstrate concepts. Researchers at the Air Force are anticipating this HPEM technology will enhance field experiments such as Black Dart and Vigilant Hammer when integrated with existing cyber and electronic warfare systems.  

As for the future of EW in the Air Force, Ms. Pettyjohn said “I anticipate that science and engineering specific jobs will continue to be needed to innovate, sustain, and operate high power microwave systems successfully for the military.  In particular, physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering will continue to be sought after to support these technologies.

This project is in support of High Power Electromagnetics Cyber Electronic Warfare Applications program. 

Work on this project is being conducted at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and is expected to be completed by August 2020.

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