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Electronic Warfare Escalates In Middle East With Microwave Missiles


By Girish Linganna

Early on during its wildcat strike on Israel on October 7 last year, Hamas carried out coordinated drone attacks on Israeli watchtowers and security cameras designed to blindfold the Israel Defense Forces' surveillance of Gaza, making it easier for its armed assailants to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians in a daring raid.

Such ad hoc swarms of low-cost drones, says the Scientific American, have played a significant role in other battlegrounds in recent times, including the Ukraine-Russian conflict and Azerbaijan's strategy in the Nagorno-Karabakh faceoff in 2020. This heralds an era when machine learning will enable dozens of drones to fly all at one time in larger coordinated ‘swarms' and overwhelm traditional defences with impunity.

The US Defense Department is developing novel countermeasures against this threat, with the Pentagon pinning its hopes on an invisible form of directed energy: high-power microwaves (HPMs). In 2023, US Army Major-General Sean Gainey, the top official for counter-drone strategies at the Pentagon, had mentioned that the US Defense Department was focusing on advanced electronic warfare technologies, including microwave emitters and directed-energy lasers with significant investment being made in HPM systems.

For many years, the US has been working on perfecting microwave weapons that can target and disable enemy electronics. However, making these systems both powerful and small enough to be useful has been a tough challenge. Microwave weapons—consisting of an electromagnetic pulse cannon—are installed on cruise missiles and can be launched from B-52 bombers. A microwave weapon produces a focused energy beam that creates a voltage surge in electronics, effectively knocking them out. They are reportedly built to avoid harming civilians.

The Daily Mail, quoting a Sputnik report, said the US Air Force possesses missiles capable of disabling the electronic systems of Iran's nuclear sites using HPMs. These missiles, with a range of about 700 miles (1,126 kilometres), are designed to fly into enemy airspace at low altitudes and disable electronic devices using frequent bursts of HPM energy.

The report said the highly confidential CHAMP project, developed by Boeing's Phantom Works and commissioned by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, had been in place since its initial tests in 2012. These microwave weapons are said to be in use and operational at multiple sites worldwide. The source quoted Othana Zuch, a public affairs officer at the US Air Force Research Laboratory, who said CHAMP missiles started as a demonstration project and later evolved into the development of advanced high-power electromagnetic (HPEM) technologies.

Last year, Gainey, who leads the Army's office for countering unmanned aircraft, stated at a Centre for Strategic and International Studies meeting in Washington that the goal was to focus on directed energy, HPMs and low-cost interceptors. This think-tank is supported by donations from military contractors, according to the Sputnik report. A year earlier, Gainey mentioned that the US military was looking into using HPM to block groups of armed drones during battle.

The new report emerges as tensions in the Middle East intensify. According to NBC News citing officials, Israel launched an airstrike on Iran on Friday (April 19, 2024) in retaliation to Iran's missile and drone strike over the previous weekend (Saturday, April 13, 2024). During this attack, Israel deployed three air-launched ballistic missiles.

Following a ‘limited' counterattack on locations in Iran, explosions were noted close to Isfahan. Tasnim news agency reported that the nuclear sites in Isfahan province were unharmed. Three Iranian officials told New York Times that an Iranian Air Force base near Isfahan was the target. Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the drones downed over Isfahan caused no damage.

Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) have also been a key part of 's capabilities for some time, developed under highly secretive projects, such as the Kilo Ampere Linear Injector (KALI) and Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array (DURGA). It is reported that many of these systems are already active and a significant new addition is expected in 2024.

This advanced system is designed to destroy incoming missiles and projectiles during the final part of their flight, even from distances of up to about 25 kilometres. The specifics of other technical details remain unknown. DEWs produce powerful, focused beams that can interfere with, or fully scramble, the communications and control systems of a target, causing what is referred to as a ‘soft kill'. Alternatively, these beams can completely destroy the target in what is known as a ‘hard kill'.

In 2001, the Security Advisory Board supervised a highly classified demonstration attended by the nation's top military leaders, including the army, navy and air force chiefs. During this demonstration, a 100-kilowatt laser beam, emitted from equipment mounted on three trucks, was aimed at an 8”x8” steel-plated target on a moving jeep, designed to mimic the movement of a satellite. According to an ex-official, the target was instantly obliterated. This top-secret project was called ‘Tri-Netra'.

A laser, with about 100-kilowatt power, can neutralize unmanned aerial systems and artillery. Lasers of around 300 kilowatts are strong enough to destroy small boats, vehicles and cruise missiles. Meanwhile, one-megawatt lasers have the capacity to obliterate ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons.

(IPA Service)

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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