Whenever we throw a frozen burrito in the microwave, we often talk about “nuking” it.
Now, U.S. officials hope that a weaponized version of the same technology could help “nuke” nukes — particularly of the North Korean variety.
According to NBC News, the United States currently has microwave weapons in its arsenal that potentially can scramble any North Korean nuclear missile without even having to physically intercept it, something that could render Kim Jong Un’s latest ICBMs useless.
High level U.S. officials confirmed to NBC that the weapons were discussed during an August meeting at the White House.
“The microwave weapons, known as CHAMPs, are fitted into an air-launched cruise missile and delivered from B-52 bombers,” NBC reported, using the acronym for the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project.
“With a range of 700 miles, they can fly into enemy airspace at low altitude and emit sharp pulses of microwave energy to disable electronic systems.”
Democrat Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico put it more succinctly: “Think about when you put something in your microwave that has metal on it,” he said. “You know how badly that goes? Imagine directing those microwaves at someone’s electronics.”
Well, at least Ted Stevens’ famous quote “the internet … is a series of tubes” now has some competition in the senatorial techsplaining department. Surprisingly, Heinrich was actually an engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque at one point. Insert your own Democrat joke here.
However, Mary Lou Robinson — head of development of the weapons at the Air Force Research Laboratory — has a more detailed explanation.
“These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits,” Robinson said.
And exploiting that power is a big deal for any military.
“Command and control centers are filled with electronic infrastructure which is highly vulnerable to high-powered microwaves,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former head of Air Force intelligence, told NBC.
Part of the problem has been getting the relatively large microwave weapons into a size small enough to be deployed. Now, they’ve basically gotten to the point where they’re a microwave oven strapped to a cruise missile.
And, in a test involving “representative WMD production equipment” designed to mimic North Korea’s military, it did surprisingly well.
“It was as close to the real thing as we could get,” said Keith Coleman, CHAMP program manager for Boeing.
“It absolutely did exactly what we thought it was going to do,” Robinson said. “We had several different target classes in those facilities, and we predicted with almost 100 percent accuracy … which systems were going to be affected, which systems failed, and how.”
The best part about this is that the missile the CHAMPs system is supposed to defend against — the vaunted Hwasong-15 — apparently doesn’t even work yet. Just ask the crew of Cathay Pacific Flight 893.
However, if the North Koreans do get it to finally work — well, it still might not do too much good, all thanks to the humble microwave (in a very non-humble form).