US Air Force to test anti-drone microwave weapon in Africa

2020-12-21 18:05:03
US Air Force to test anti-drone microwave weapon in Africa

The US Air Force is testing its prototype drone-killing microwave in Africa called the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), says Richard Joseph, the Air Force’s chief scientist.

Given how Iran and its regional allies have used drone swarms, this would seem to be a good place to test without risking escalation, or Iran developing countermeasures.

“We have recently deployed a test system to Africa for base defense … based on a microwave system. And the purpose is to be able to disrupt and destroy the performance of drones or swarms of drones,” he told the Mitchell Institute today. “It’s been tested extensively, works remarkably well. … I’ve watched it in action and it’s really quite impressive.”

He demurred on providing details about when THOR might be ready for operational deployment, but did note that technology development is ongoing and that in the end the service may choose a different weapon system. That said, Joseph said THOR was “better than anything else” the service has right now, and noted that “the capabilities that can be incorporated in system are increasing day by day.”

The Air Force back in August was readying THOR for overseas field experiments, with Army warfighters in particular keen to get their hands on directed-energy weapons designed to counter small unmanned aerial systems (C-sUAS). THOR uses high-powered microwaves to fry drones’ electronics, shooting swarms out of the sky at short ranges. If anti-drone lasers are like sniper rifles, microwave weapons are like shotguns full of birdshot.

THOR was designed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and it uses a radar that AFRL bought from Idaho-based startup Black Sage last month.

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