Closing the Zap Gap – Microwave Weapons Research Moves Forward

An artist’s impression of the HIJENKS microwave weapon launched from a USAF Northrop Grumman B-21A Raider strategic bomber.

US microwave weapon efforts are advancing via the HIJENKS programme which could yield a powerful weapon for use against hostile electronics.

Reports in early July revealed that US microwave weapons research is evolving with both the US Navy and US Air Force working on air-launched microwave weapons. The two services are collaborating on the High-Powered Joint Electromagnetic Non-Kinetic Strike Weapon (HIJENKS).

Microwave weapons harness focused and powerful beams of Radio Frequency (RF) energy. These are typically transmitted at frequencies of ten megahertz up to 100 gigahertz. The weapons transmit RF in much the same way as a radar or radio. The antenna gain of these weapons is particularly important as this defines how much RF energy can be transmitted in a specific direction towards a target. This ensures the beam is fine enough to precisely hit the antenna, or any other openings, of the targeted system.

The weapon’s gain and its power levels determine its Effective Radiated Power (ERP). ERP defines how powerful the RF energy directed into the targeted system will be. A paper by Henry ‘Trey’ Obering entitled Directed Energy Weapons Are Real . . . And Disruptive says ERP levels of up to 100 gigawatts are achievable. Alongside pulsed microwave weapons, continuous wave systems can be used typically generating between 50 and 100 kilowatts of power. The ERP will depend on the quantities of power the weapon can develop and the weapon’s antenna design which influences the gain. ERP is also influenced by the atmosphere. Frequencies above 30GHz can be affected by moisture and other obscurants. These can absorb some of the power reducing the jamming signal’s effectiveness.

As Jack McGonegal noted in his paper High Power Microwave Weapons: Disruptive Technologies for the Future pulsed and continuous wave microwave weapons support two distinct tasks. The latter is used against relatively low power electronic targets spread across a wide area. Pulsed microwave weapons are used against distinct and precise targets engaged with high power transmissions. For microwave weapons to be effective, the frequencies of the targeted systems must be known. As Mr. McGonegal notes, this is imperative as it affects the ERP the weapon will need to generate. It is also vital to achieving in-band matching when the transmitted jamming frequency and the receiving frequency of the target match. This ensures the ERP generates its most destructive effects.

Beyond CHAMP

Reports state that HIJENKS has undergone tests at China Lake airbase, California. HIJENKS is an outgrowth of the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s CHAMP initiative. The Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) concluded ten years ago. CHAMP was an air-launched weapon designed to disable hostile electronics through transmission of high-power microwaves. Boeing was CHAMP’s prime contractor. Tests of the weapon were made in October 2012 during which it successfully attacked seven different electronic systems housed in a single building. The CHAMPS payload was believed to have been installed in the airframe of a Boeing AGM-86 series air-launched cruise missile for the test.

Curiously, in May 2019, reports revealed that the USAF had procured 20 CHAMP missiles. These were earmarked for deployment by Boeing B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers. Whether such weapons have been used in combat is unknown. HIJENKS reportedly uses a smaller and more rugged high-powered microwave payload compared to CHAMP. This means it should be relatively easier to integrated on a wider variety of platforms beyond the B-52H. Armada contacted the US Navy and US Air Force regarding the HIJENKS programme, its progress to date and timelines. However, we received no information by the time this article was published.

by Dr. Thomas Withington