In context: On the twenty-first century battlefield, drones play a crucial role. Smaller ones can perform reconnaissance, while larger ones can engage the enemy with ordinance. The US military realizes this is a two-way street and has been working on countermeasures to combat enemy drones.
On Friday, the US Air Force unveiled its newest anti-drone weapon called THOR, which is short for Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder. The system was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
THOR only took 18 months to develop for around $15 million — a relatively low cost for a high-tech military application. It can be stored and transported in a shipping container and can be deployed in just a couple of hours. It is meant to be used for base defense.
The system uses quick bursts of high-powered microwaves to disrupt drone systems such as those used to autopilot or assist the controller. Since the microwave beam projects out much the way a flashlight beam does, THOR can be used to take out a swarm of drones all at once.
“It operates like a flashlight,” THOR program manager Amber Anderson told Task & Purpose. “It spreads out when the operator hits the button, and anything within that cone will be taken down. It engages in the blink of an eye.”
Microwaves are not the only directed energy system the Air Force has at its disposal. It also demonstrated a high-power laser that can target a single drone and destroy it with enough thermal energy to melt a hole through it.
THOR is suitable for relatively short ranges, but according to Air Force Magazine, the USAF is working on another system it calls CHIMERA (Counter-Electronic High-Power Microwave Extended-Range Air Base Air Defense) that is capable of targeting multiple drones at mid to long range. CHIMERA is projected to be finished enough for field testing by fiscal year 2020.