The U.S. has microwave weapons that proponents believe could stop North Korea from launching missiles by frying their electronics.
The weapons were discussed at an August White House meeting related to North Korea, according to two U.S. officials with direct knowledge.
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The microwave weapons, known as CHAMPs, are fitted into an air-launched cruise missile and delivered from B-52 bombers. With a range of 700 miles, they can fly into enemy airspace at low altitude and emit sharp pulses of microwave energy to disable electronic systems.
"These high-powered microwave signals are very effective at disrupting and possibly disabling electronic circuits," said Mary Lou Robinson, who heads development of the weapons at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
Advocates say they could be used to stop North Korea from launching missiles by targeting the ground controls and the circuitry in the missiles themselves. The weapons are not currently operational.
How does a high-power microwave (HPM) weapon work?
"Think about when you put something in your microwave that has metal on it," said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. "You know how badly that goes? Imagine directing those microwaves at someone's electronics."
Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Armed Services Committee, began his career as an engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque.