US is developing HiJENKS electromagnetic warhead for the US Air Force and Navy

US is attempting to develop a new weapon capable of delivering an electromagnetic pulse to adversary electronic systems. US Air Force and Navy are developing revolutionary ammunition dubbed HiJENKS. To date, it has achieved field testing and could be deployed atop a missile-shaped conventional missile carrier.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The United States is attempting to develop a new weapon capable of delivering an electromagnetic pulse to adversary electronic systems. The scientific institutions of the Air Force and Navy are developing revolutionary ammunition dubbed HiJENKS. To date, it has achieved field testing. In the future, it is envisaged that it will be deployed atop a missile-shaped conventional missile carrier.

Counter-electronics munition

The US Air Force collaborated with private companies at the beginning of the previous decade to develop and test the potential CHAMP (Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project) ammunition. It was able to generate an intense electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that might damage enemy equipment across a wide area. The device was tested on an AGM-86 ALCM cruise missile.

Due to the inadequacies of the CHAMP project, the project managers decided to develop a new comparable weapon. In 2017, the Air Force and Navy initiated the High Power Collaborative Electromagnetic Non-Kinetic Attack (HiJENKS) joint project for a “single high-energy electromagnetic strike system.”

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) were tasked with developing these weapons. In addition, it was intended to attract private subcontractors. The project would take about five years for research and development. The first experiments were planned for the beginning of the 2020s.

During the development of the new HiJENKS project, the Pentagon abandoned the older endeavour. Based on its predicted characteristics, the CHAMP product should have been inferior to the HiJENKS. In 2019, the Air Force also deactivated the obsolete ALCM missile, and the earlier EMP weapon lost its carrier.

HiJENKS seems to be the sole American project in its category now. Similar efforts have been proposed and evaluated, but none have been implemented as of yet. AFRL and ONR are focused on the “high-energy electromagnetic system.”

First success

American publications cited Air Force and organisation executives highlighting the most recent achievements of the HiJENKS project in July. According to sources, a prototype has been field-tested successfully. Moreover, these activities are nearing completion, and a new project phase should start soon.

At the testing site located at China Lake in California, EMP weapons were evaluated. Multiple test detonations were planned to get the necessary data which took around two months to complete. The programme’s specifics and the testing results have not been made public.

It is believed that continual testing is crucial for the overall success of the HiJENKS initiative. If the predicted combat characteristics of the new EMP weapon are validated, the development will continue. Their efforts will create full-fledged weapons suitable for air and naval forces. If not, they will be compelled to either continue development or allocate resources to other projects.

Technical features

The HiJENKS project’s designers have already released some technical details. In addition, basic information, such as design features or technical specs, has not been disclosed. Additionally, some of the provided information enables us to estimate the values of specific parameters.

The HiJENKS product is generally a specialised warhead capable of generating a powerful electromagnetic pulse. According to data on prior American efforts, this project employs an explosive magnetic generator. In this instance, HiJENKS is an explosive device with added components that generate EMP.

Unknown are the primary features of such weapons. The mass and power of the primary charge remain unclear. Additionally, the strength of the produced pulse is unknown. It was merely stated that the HiJENKS product should not be inferior to the preceding CHAMP in terms of key characteristics. 

Allegedly, one of the objectives of the HiJENKS project was to minimise the size and weight of the EMP charge compared to the prior design. CHAMP was designed for installation on the ALCM rocket, whose payload, depending on the variant, reached 1,360 kg. The casing for the warhead had a diameter of 630 mm.

AGM-86 ALCM cruise missile, carrier of  CHAMP, predecessor to  HiJENKS
AGM-86 ALCM cruise missile. Image: USAF

All of this information enables one to visualise the maximum feasible size and weight of the new HiJENKS warhead. In addition, it must be taken into consideration that current cruise missiles and other possible carriers of such loads have stricter criteria for the payload. For instance, the AGM-158 JASSM missile has a body section of 450×550 mm and a maximum payload of 450 kg. Consequently, it would struggle to raise the CHAMP in the air.

Notably, the question of a delivery vehicle for the new HiJENKS fee has not yet been settled. The exact size and weight of these weapons will be determined by the Air Force and Navy’s testing and refinement efforts. An appropriate carrier or carrier will be chosen based on this information. Despite its restricted size and payload, it is feasible that the JASSM cruise missile or its extended-range counterpart JASSM-ER will assume this duty.

The EMP variant of the AGM-158 missile is compatible with a variety of carrier aircraft. It will be used by many kinds of tactical and strategic aircraft in the Air Force, including the F-16 or F-35, the B-2, and the B-52. The only Navy aircraft capable of carrying such missiles will be the carrier-based F/A-18E/F fighter bomber.

Intended Role

According to the findings of the HiJENKS project, the United States Air Force and Navy want to acquire an entirely new weapon. With its assistance, it will be able to solve unique issues and strike a variety of distinct objectives in a particular manner. It may be used for incapacitation of large-scale systems.

It is suggested to equip a JASSM (-ER) missile with EMP ammo. Consequently, the HiJENKS product will have all of the benefits of such a weapon. It will be able to use any significant US combat aircraft. This will result in a broad fighting radius and a high possibility of penetrating hostile air defences.

When detonated, the HiJENKS warhead must generate a powerful EMP and target adversary electronic equipment. Initially, the creators had the electronics of military vehicles, communications and command equipment etc. in mind. Moreover, energy infrastructure and general communications networks must be impacted by this effect. In this instance, temporary or permanent incapacitation will occur within a given radius of the explosion site.

It is claimed that such a weapon might, with a single stroke, render an opponent in a specific region without radio equipment, communication, detecting capabilities, and with severe limits on the use of weaponry. Simultaneously, the enemy’s fighting efficiency should plummet, which will drastically ease the task of the allies and lower their dangers.

Nonetheless, there are also negative aspects. Consequently, it is highlighted that EMP weapons, such as HiJENKS, are indiscriminate and may strike both military and civilian targets. Moreover, it presents a significant threat to non-military sites owing to the absence of EMP protection systems. All of these factors indicate that an electromagnetic strike might cause significant collateral damage. It poses a danger to civilian energy and communications, industry, and medical institutions, among other things.

Futuristic weapon

Thus, the United States continues to work on the issue of electromagnetic pulse-based weapons and has already tested the second example of this kind. In the future, the inspections will conclude, and the results will determine the project’s future.

It is uncertain how the present events will unfold. However, their mere possession offers the Pentagon cause for hope. The availability of the warhead for testing demonstrates that sufficient progress has been made on the project. And this implies that the Air Force and the Navy may already sort out rearmament difficulties and develop plans. It will be determined in the future if their execution is feasible.


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