US Army officials are piggybacking off US Air Force (USAF) development of the Tactical High-Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR) and hoping their investment will provide soldiers with a new weapon to down swarms of aerial drones.
The two services announced the army’s new financial contribution to the programme on 19 February and said the ground service wants to use THOR as part of an Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Power Microwave (IFPC-HPM) prototype system that it plans to field by fiscal year 2024.
“The army’s directed energy capabilities will need to provide a layered defence with multiple ways to defeat incoming threats,” wrote Lieutenant General Neil Thurgood, the head of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO). “High-energy lasers kill one target at a time and high-powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are pursuing a combination of both technologies for our IFPC rapid prototyping effort.”
The THOR prototype will undergo a series of risk reduction and system characterisation efforts by 2024 and then be the centrepiece of a soldier touchpoint to glean critical input from operational users.
Shown here is the USAF Research Laboratory’s THOR. The US Army is now investing in the programme. (US Air Force )
Designed the USAF Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, THOR is a directed-energy weapon that disables the electronics inside drones. The technology is housed in a 6 m (20 ft) shipping container that can be transported on military cargo planes and assembled by two people.
“The system output is powerful radio wave bursts, which offer a greater engagement range [compared to] bullets or nets and its effects are silent and instantaneous,” said THOR programme manager Amber Anderson.