Whenever we hear about viable options for stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the answer is always the same: There are none. Any military strike against that country would result in retaliation against South Korea, we are told.
But what has gone largely unnoticed in the media is that there are viable alternatives to waiting passively until North Korea has the capability of wiping out millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. The first is the U.S. Air Force’s development of missiles that zap electronics with high-power microwaves (HPM).
That capability, which is entirely different from cyberwarfare designed to confuse computers, has been advancing secretly ever since the Air Force successfully tested use of a missile equipped with HPM in 2012.
Called the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), the missile was built by Boeing’s Phantom Works for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at a cost of $38 million. The Boeing missile emits high power microwaves that fry computer chips so that no electronic devices targeted by the missile can operate.
On Oct. 16, 2012, the CHAMP missile flew over a two-story building on the Utah Test and Firing Range. The building in the west Utah desert was crammed with computers and security and surveillance systems. The microwaves took down the compound’s entire spectrum of electronic systems, including video cameras set up to film the test, without damaging anything else.
“We hit every target we wanted to,” Boeing’s CHAMP Program Manager Keith Colman said in a company press release. “Today we made science fiction into science fact.”
Until the announcement of the successful test, the project had been top secret. When it was announced, only a few trade publications ran the story, and since then, beyond a few mentions, the media have ignored the story. Instead, they have focused on how impossible it is to deal with the North Korea threat.
The beauty of the HPM missile is that its microwave beam can penetrate bunkers where facilities are hidden without harming humans inside. Even if a bunker is buried inside a mountain, HPM penetrates the facilities through its connections to power cables, communication lines and antennas. Thus, HPM can penetrate any underground military facility and fry its electronics.
While North Korea may attempt to shield its equipment, U.S. officials doubt that would be effective against CHAMP.
Most amazing of all, the missile renders inoperable any radar that might detect it as it flies to and from a target. Thus, a country cannot take out CHAMP before it strikes and has no way of knowing why its facilities have suddenly gone dead.
Besides underground bunkers, HPM can quickly disable fighter planes, tanks, ships and missile systems. And it can wipe out facilities for developing and testing nuclear weapons.
Unlike an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by detonating a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, because it is targeted, HPM leaves intact civilian facilities needed to sustain life. Unlike any other existing system like cyber-attacks, CHAMP permanently destroys electronic equipment.
America’s national laboratories operated by the Department of Energy have been working on these capabilities for decades. Equally impressive, one of those laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, has been developing robots the size of insects that could assassinate the North Korean leader with deadly toxins.
These robotic weapons using nanotechnology employed in surgical operations in hospitals are being developed secretly with funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
While President Ford banned assassinations with an executive order, that order was based on the assumption that other world leaders are rational and would refrain from trying to assassinate our president unless we tried to assassinate them. But we are dealing today with terrorist organizations and world leaders who are not rational and do not care if they are killed.
President Trump could reverse Ford’s obsolete executive order with the stroke of a pen. With robotlike weapons using nanotechnology, the CIA could wipe out Kim Jong-un without risking American lives.
They may sound like science fiction, but no doubt Mr. Trump has both HPM and robotic weapons in mind when he says he is contemplating “pretty severe things” to counter the North Korean threat.
While President Obama preached “strategic patience” in dealing with North Korea, Mr. Trump has made it clear he will not stand by while the North Korean leader threatens our survival.
• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents” (Crown Forum, 2015), and “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret War Against Terror” (St. Martin’s Press, 2003).