Air Force shops for high-power microwave technologies

The Air Force is surveying industry for high-power microwave (HPM) technologies that could be incorporated into unmanned aerial vehicles, bombs and cruise missiles, according to a request for information published on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site today.

The Defense Department is experimenting with HPM technologies for a number of applications. Targeted microwaves with sufficient power can disable or destroy electronic systems found in much of today’s military gear.

“High-power microwaves have a potential in command [and] control warfare, in suppressing enemy air defenses, and against tactical or unmanned aerial vehicles,” states a 2002 fact sheet on HPM research issued by the Air Force Research Laboratory. “The low collateral damage aspect of the technology makes high-power microwave weapons useful in a wide variety of missions where avoiding civilian casualties is a major concern.”

The Air Force is looking for technologies at various stages of maturity. The request for information dubs as “immediate capabilities” those technologies that could be used in weapon systems with little effort. Another category, called “near-term” capabilities, includes systems that could be weaponized within one year; “transitionable capabilities" are those requiring more time, according to the notice.

The military already is using HPM technology in a nonlethal weapon called Active Denial System. The weapon works by emitting a directed beam of millimeter wave energy toward people, causing an extremely painful burning sensation without physical injury.

According to the request for information, the industry survey effort is geared toward boosting the air services' counterelectronics capabilities — not harming people or damaging buildings.

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