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Ryan Robertson

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Air Force Research Lab unleashed THOR on drone swarm

May 22, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

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Drones, UAVs, UAS. Whatever you want to call them, they are now firmly entrenched in modern battle tactics. To counter the threat, the Air Force Research Lab is bringing a god to the battlefield.

The Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR) is a new air defense system. It uses high-power electromagnetic waves to bring down swarms of enemy drones. It was designed to protect air bases. The technology which gives THOR its power cost just $15 million to develop, a bargain by DOD standards.

Unlike the Norse god, this THOR comes in a 20-foot transport container. Two people can set it up in three hours, and it runs off wall-power, not lightning. THOR was designed to be used easily by most any operator and requires minimal training.

The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) successfully demonstrated the technology in early April at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The exercise involved simulating a drone swarm attack, where multiple craft are used in the offensive. The AFRL said THOR dropped the drones from the sky using its non-kinetic, high-power microwave pulses.

Details weren’t released about what kind of drones were used in the demonstration or how many, but THOR’s program manager said the weapon was effective against numerous targets the system had never seen before.

The U.S. Army is also invested in the THOR project. The electromagnetic air defense system is more effective against drones than small arms fire, and cheaper to operate than traditional systems that use missiles or rockets.

The AFRL said last year it’s developing a follow-on system to THOR, as well. The new system will use the same technology but add more advances in capability, reliability, and manufacturing readiness. The name of THOR’s follow-on project? Mjolnir, of course.

The THOR project is one of several weapons systems being developed to counter unmanned aerial systems. The U.S. is also working with Israeli defense contractor Rafael to develop its Iron Beam technology for U.S. customers.

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DRONES, UAVs, UAS. WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THEM, THEY ARE NOW FIRMLY ENTRENCHED IN MODERN BATTLE TACTICS. TO COUNTER THE THREAT, THE AIR FORCE RESEARCH LAB IS BRINGING A GOD TO THE BATTLEFIELD.

THIS IS THE TACTICAL HIGH-POWER OPERATIONAL RESPONDER, OR THOR. IT USES HIGH-POWER ELECTROMAGNETIC WAVES TO BRING DOWN SWARMS OF ENEMY DRONES. IT WAS DESIGNED TO PROTECT AIR BASES, AND THE TECHNOLOGY FOR THOR COST JUST $15 MILLION TO DEVELOP, A BARGAIN BY DOD STANDARDS.

UNLIKE THE NORSE GOD, THIS THOR COMES IN A 20-FOOT TRANSPORT CONTAINER. TWO PEOPLE CAN SET IT UP IN THREE HOURS, AND IT RUNS OFF WALL-POWER, NOT LIGHTNING. THOR WAS DESIGNED TO BE USED EASILY BY MOST ANY OPERATOR.

THE AFRL SUCCESSFULLY DEMONSTRATED THE TECHNOLOGY IN EARLY APRIL AT KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE IN NEW MEXICO. THE EXERCISE INVOLVED SIMULATING A DRONE SWARM ATTACK, WHERE MULTIPLE CRAFT ARE USED IN THE OFFENSIVE. THE AFRL SAYS THOR DROPPED THE DRONES FROM THE SKY USING ITS NON-KINETIC, SPEED-OF-LIGHT HIGH-POWER MICROWAVE PULSES.

DETAILS WEREN’T RELEASED ABOUT WHAT KIND OF DRONES WERE USED IN THE DEMONSTRATION OR HOW MANY, BUT THOR’S PROGRAM MANAGER SAID THE WEAPON WAS EFFECTIVE AGAINST NUMEROUS TARGETS THE SYSTEM HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE.

THE U-S ARMY IS ALSO INVESTED IN THE THOR PROJECT. THE ELECTROMAGNETIC AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM IS MORE EFFECTIVE AGAINST DRONES THAN SMALL ARMS FIRE, AND CHEAPER TO OPERATE THAN TRADITIONAL SYSTEMS THAT USE MISSILES OR ROCKETS.

THE AFRL SAID LAST YEAR IT’S DEVELOPING A FOLLOW-ON SYSTEM TO THOR, AS WELL. THE NEW SYSTEM WILL USE THE SAME TECHNOLOGY BUT ADD MORE ADVANCES IN CAPABILITY, RELIABILITY AND MANUFACTURING READINESS. THE NAME OF THOR’S FOLLOW-ON PROJECT? MJOLNIR OF COURSE.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SOME OF THE WEAPONS DESIGNED TO COUNTER UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM, WHERE YOU’LL ALWAYS FIND THE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACTS.