USAF releases video showing how its directed energy weapon can take out a swarm of drones

News


Ryan Boetel

Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

A swarm of sinister drones was flying to a remote military base with bad intentions — until THOR silently swatted the devices to the ground.

The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday released a video animation of the directed energy weapon designed at Kirtland Air Force Base. The Tactical High-power Operational Responder, or THOR, was built to protect military bases from enemy drone attacks. The system, which can shoot high-powered microwaves at unmanned aircraft to disrupt their electronics, was unveiled to members of the news media in June 2019 at Kirtland.

Amber Anderson, the project manager, said the video was created as a way to better explain the technology to the public. She said one of the reasons for the campaign is to inform the public about what the country is doing to prepare as drones become more commonplace in the skies.

“I think drones impact everyday life. You don’t want drones flying over you and spying on you because your neighbor got a new toy,” Anderson said. “I think it’s important to know what the country is doing to try to protect people from those.”

THOR looks like a shipping container with a satellite dish on the top. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate, which is based at KAFB, spent $15 million to create the system prototype with some assistance from engineering firms BAE Systems and Leidos and from the Albuquerque firm Verus Research.

The weapon can shoot an electromagnetic cone — Anderson likened it to a shotgun blast of energy — that can cause a fleet of drones to fall to earth.

The system can be shipped in a C-130 transport aircraft and reconstructed by two people in a few hours, according to the Air Force.

Anderson said the prototype has traveled to classified military sites overseas to be tested in different environments.

“We’ve received quite a bit of feedback on things we need to do better the second time,” she said.

Anderson said that during those tests, extraordinarily high temperatures and a massive swarm of beetles both caused problems for the THOR.

“We’re taking those nuggets and feedback and then we’ll build another system, which the Army will use for field testing,” she said.

After watching a THOR demonstration at Kirtland early this year, Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood said the Army plans to invest in the system in partnership with the AFRL, with the goal of having enough THOR systems for a platoon to field test the weapon in 2024.

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