Change of Plans

By Sebastian Sprenger / December 12, 2008 at 5:00 AM

A few months ago, Defense Department officials announced plans to manage two of the 2009 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration candidates under the competitive prototyping approach, we reported last month. The idea was to "showcase" the merits of this much-touted acquisition technique, officials wrote in a September report.

But plans change. According to Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Darryn James, DOD no longer wants to try competitive prototyping on the High-Power Microwave Advanced Munitions Project (CHAMP). James said he had no information about what led to the decision.

Simply put, the project seeks to build an air vehicle emitting microwaves so powerful that they fry electronic equipment on the ground below. Exactly what that vehicle would look like is unclear. A formal announcement to industry, first released in October, talks of a Counter-electronics High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project -- as opposed to the term "munitions" that appears as part of the effort's name in other places.

According to a set of Air Force briefing slides from October, posted online, officials envision the vehicle to be some sort of fixed-wing craft capable of hovering over cities. (Note the graphic on page 18, including the types of buildings used in the illustration.)

The project's secrecy exceeds that of many other military high-tech efforts. Industry officials seeking a slice of the $40 million CHAMP development contract must be able to obtain the same types of clearances required for personnel working on atomic weapons, according to DOD's October notice to industry.

Defense officials still plan to pursue the Joint Medical Distant Support and Evacuation (JMDSE)  JCTD candidate as a competitive-prototyping effort, James said.