Air Force Research Laboratory-deployed microwave weapon sends drones to their doom
Springfield News-Sun May 22, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — In the fight against enemy drones, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), anchored at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has a new weapon.
In a demonstration last month of its high-power microwave counter drone weapon, the Tactical High-power Operational Responder — or "THOR," as AFRL calls it — engaged a swarm of multiple targets at the Chestnut Test Site, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
"The THOR team flew numerous drones at the THOR system to simulate a real-world swarm attack," Adrian Lucero, THOR program manager at AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate, said in an AFRL account of the test. "THOR has never been tested against these types of drones before, but this did not stop the system from dropping the targets out of the sky with its non-kinetic, speed-of-light High-Power Microwave, or HPM pulses."
Capt. Eric Plummer, a test engineer with AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate, operated the THOR system, the lab said.
"THOR was exceptionally effective at disabling the swarm with its wide beam, high peak powers and fast-moving gimbal to track and disable the targets," Lucero said.
THOR has held promise for some time. In 2021, Popular Science magazine named the weapon to its "Best of What's New" in the security category.
In 2019, scientists and engineers, working in AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate in New Mexico were tasked with creating a technology that would provide additional layers of base defense against drones.
As the dangers from drone swarms evolve, leaders from across the Department of Defense are "working closely to ensure we are exploring different technologies like directed energy to support the needs of the warfighter in the future against such threats," AFRL has said.
"THOR was extremely efficient with a near continuous firing of the system during the swarm engagement," said Capt. Tylar Hanson, THOR deputy program manager. "It is an early demonstrator, and we are confident we can take this same technology and make it more effective to protect our personnel around the world."
"We couldn't have come this far without the perseverance and professionalism of the entire THOR team," said Ken Miller, AFRL's high power electromagnetics division chief. "Our scientists, Airmen and contractors worked early mornings and late nights to make this swarm demo … a great success. AFRL is committed to developing such advanced technologies to defend our service members on the front lines."
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