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Boeing zaps PCs using CHAMP missile microwave attacks

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Boeing has successfully conducted a test of a missile capable of blasting a building's electronics with an energy beam without harming the structure itself. The era of EMP weapons has arrived it seems.

The Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) is an air-launched device that uses a high-powered microwave pulse to disable electrical systems. On Oct. 16th the missile was tested at the Utah Test and Training Range and successfully toasted electrical systems in a two storey building.

"We hit every target we wanted to, we prosecuted every one. Today we made science fiction science fact," said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works. "When that computer went out, when we fired, it actually took out the cameras as well. We took out everything on that, it was fantastic."

Boeing announced the plans for CHAMP back in 2009, as part of the US Army's continuing quest for a weapon that can knock out electronics easily. You can do this with the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) produced by a nuclear explosion, but those tend to be somewhat messy as they produce rather too much "collateral damage."

Based on the video the company has released of an earlier test the weapons system, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, does look somewhat effective. The on-screen PCs are shut down, although there's no way of telling if they are fried or just powered down, and one system still appears to be functioning. Hardened military systems might prove a tougher challenge.

There's no word on how many attacks a single missile can make; Boeing's saying multiple targets can be hit on a single run but isn’t specifying just how many. Boeing said last week's hour-long test hit seven targets, but didn’t specify how many missiles were used.

There's also the question of whether this is a reusable weapon, and if not how it destroys itself once exhausted. Leaving technology like this littered across the landscape would be a gift for those seeking to develop anti-electronic weapons and looking for kit to reverse engineer. The Iranian military was very happy to apparently get a US drone this way, although they seem unable to get any more.

Finally, and most worryingly of all from the perspective of an IT manager who could be targeted, there's no word on the effect on human beings. The US already uses microwaves as a crowd control device but CHAMP's kind of attack should last fractions of a second, and this may be something that causes brief discomfort but no fatalities.

The US Air Force predicted it would have this kind of weaponry this year back in 2007, but we're still awaiting word of those EMP hand grenades that are apparently in circulation. ®

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