The U.S. Army is Looking at a New Microwave Defense Against Attacking Drones

It even has a cool name: THOR

quadcopter drill
This is only a drill, for now: Over the fictional town of Razish at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, 40 quadcopters fly in a swarm.

Last weekend’s attack on a Saudi oil processing facility points out the vulnerability of targets, both civilian and military, to drones—especially when confronted with several unmanned aerial vehicles attacking simultaneously in “swarms.”

Mindful of this ongoing threat to U.S. forces dispatched around the world, the Air Force Research Laboratory unveiled in June a new $15 million defense system—the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder, or THOR—at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where it used a microwave beam to knock a drone out of the sky.

Unlike conventional defenses, including sharpshooters, THOR can instantly disable multiple drones simultaneously. “It operates like a flashlight,” program manager Amber Anderson told reporters viewing the demonstration. “It spreads out when the operator hits the button, and anything within that cone will be taken down.” THOR’s antenna can swivel 360 degrees, as well as up and down, allowing it to defend against drones from any direction.

THOR was designed for rapid deployment: its components can be transported via cargo aircraft or on a flatbed truck to wherever it’s needed. Two people can then assemble it within three hours. The system is intended for short-range defense, but the Air Force is working on another system, called CHIMERA (Counter-Electronic High-Power Microwave Extended-Range Air Base Air Defense) that can target several drones at mid- to long-range.

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This article is a selection from the October/November issue of Air & Space magazine

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