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From sci-fi to reality: The computer-blitzing drone that can cripple a nation’s electronics at the touch of a button

  • Aircraft  manufacturer Boeing have created a weapon that can knock out  computers
  • The missile is  thought to be able to penetrate bunkers and caves
  • Experts warn, in  the wrong hands, could bring Western cities to their knees

By  Ben Ellery

PUBLISHED: 17:01 EST, 1  December 2012 |  UPDATED: 17:01 EST, 1 December 2012

 

Down the years and across the universe, the  heroes of science-fiction classics from Dan Dare to Star Wars and The Matrix  have fought intergalactic battles with weapons that wipe out enemy electronics  at the touch of a button.

Now scientists have turned fantasy into  reality by developing a missile that targets buildings with microwaves that  disable computers but don’t harm people.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing successfully  tested the weapon on a one-hour flight during which  it knocked out the  computers of an entire military compound in the Utah desert.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has successfully tested a missile which knocked out an entire military compound in the Utah desert 

Pre-programmed filghtpath: Aircraft manufacturer Boeing  has successfully tested a missile which knocked out an entire military compound  in the Utah desert

It is thought the missile could   penetrate the bunkers and caves believed to be hiding Iran’s suspected nuclear  facilities. But experts have warned that, in the wrong hands, the technology  could be used to bring Western cities such as London to their knees.

During Boeing’s experiment, the missile flew  low over the Utah Test and Training Range, discharging  electromagnetic  pulses on to seven targets, permanently shutting down their electronics.

Boeing said that the test was so successful  even the camera recording it was disabled.

Codenamed the Counter-Electronics High Power  Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), it is the first time a missile with  electromagnetic pulse capability has been tested.

For security reasons, Boeing declined to release film of the test, but instead issued an artist’s impression of  it on  video. In the clip, a stealth aircraft deploys a missile that  emits radio waves  from its undercarriage which knock out the computer  systems inside the  buildings below.

The missile is launched from a stealth bomber and is thought to be able to penetrate the bunkers and caves believe to be hiding Iran's suspected nuclear facilities 

Stealth mission: The missile is launched from a stealth  bomber and is thought to be able to penetrate the bunkers and caves believe to  be hiding Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities

The company did release real film  showing a  row of computers that can be seen shutting down when the  electromagnetic pulse  is switched on.

Although the project is shrouded in secrecy,  experts believe the missile is  equipped with an electromagnetic pulse cannon.  This uses a  super-powerful microwave oven to generate a concentrated beam of  energy  which causes voltage surges in electronic equipment, rendering them  useless before surge protectors have the chance to react.

Keith Coleman, CHAMP programme manager for  Boeing’s  prototype arm Phantom  Works, said the technology marked ‘a new  era in modern warfare’.

Drones

He added: ‘In the near future, this  technology may be used to render an  enemy’s electronic and data  systems  useless even before the first  troops or aircraft arrive.

‘We hit every target we wanted and made  science fiction into science fact.  When the computers went out, it actually  took out the cameras as well.  It was fantastic.’

The project has cost £24 million and has been  developed on behalf of the US Air Force Research Laboratory following a request  from the Pentagon four years ago.

Lead test engineer Peter Finlay said: ‘We’re  not quite at the place where the Star Trek and Star Wars movies are but this is  definitely  an advancement in technology  able to give us an  opportunity to  do things we could not do before.’ James Dodd,  vice-president of Advanced Boeing Military Aircraft, said there was a real need  for  a weapon that could knock out a  target but not cause harm to  people and structures.

He said: ‘We know this has capabilities and  impact. We’re trying to see if we can get it implemented sooner rather than  later.’

However, experts fear that  the project  could create an arms race, with  countries scrambling to build their own  electromagnetic pulse weapons.

BeforeAfter

Wiped out: Boeing’s film shows computers before (left)  and after (right) the attack by the drone but experts have warned that, in the  wrong hands, the technology could be used to bring Western cities such as London  to their knees

Professor Trevor Taylor, Professorial Fellow  at the Royal United Services Institute, said the Western world would be much  more vulnerable to such an attack because of our increased reliance on  electronics. He added: ‘This is a challenging area in political and military  terms. Ideally there would have been an arms-control agreement to cover this  field, because once technology is actually developed, control becomes  harder.

‘The historical record shows  that  important technologies developed in one country are developed elsewhere within a  relatively short period – look what happened with regard to the USSR and   nuclear weapons.

‘Should the US be known to have developed  such a technology to the production stage, it would drive  others to try to  act similarly.

‘Western countries are more dependent on  electronics-based IT than others and would be vulnerable to extensive  disruption.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2241525/The-Boeing-blitzing-drone-cripple-nations-electronics.html#ixzz2DvsOzSuQ Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

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