In the hand of adversaries, swarms of unmanned aerial systems can conduct surveillance of military bases, destroy infrastructure and even attack warfighters. To counteract this threat and provide additional layers of base defense, the Air Force Research Lab has created the Tactical High-power Operational Responder.
Developed by AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, the counter-swarm electromagnetic weapon provides a “non-kinetic” defense to fend off multiple targets. Drone swarms have posed a challenge to both high-cost weapons systems and small arms, which have limited range and effectiveness against multiple small targets.
Once a target is identified, THOR uses high-power microwaves to cause a counter electronic effect, discharging in an instant with immediate impact. Using a focused beam of energy, THOR can disable multiple drones in a large target area at the same time, giving airbases a light-speed, low-cost-per-shot solution to fend off enemy drone forces.
The system was designed and built-in record time and is currently concluding an operational assessment, according to THOR program manager Adrian Lucero. The prototype has already been put through a number of challenges.
“Our recent field assessment had an almost 90% effectiveness by operators in the field, who had just been trained on the system,” THOR Deputy Program Manager Capt. James Wymer told AFRL News. “THOR is an early demonstrator and we are confident we can approach a 100% kill rate by refining the hardware and improving operator training.”
Personnel can be easily trained on the system, which stows in a 20-foot transport container and can be set up within three hours.
Leaders at the Department of Defense and AFRL have worked to bring high-power electromagnetic technologies such as THOR to base defense for some time. Recently, the technology was named “Best of What’s New” in the security category by Popular Science.
“Our scientists, Airmen, and contractors worked nights and weekends to make this all possible, and they’re still doing it every day,” AFRL’s High Power Electromagnetics Division lead Jeffry Heggemeier said. “The real reward will be when we see a THOR defending our service members on the front lines.”