The U.S. Air Force introduced a new weapon earlier this month that can disable hundreds of drones simultaneously without making much noise.
The defensive weapon, called the Tactical High Power Operational Responder, or THOR, utilizes a burst of energy that disorients and disables the electronics inside drones within range.
Air Force officials said THOR will have multiple uses and can serve in a variety of roles and battlespaces.
“This unique system allows base defense forces to stop [unmanned aerial system] attacks at long range before they threaten critical infrastructure,” says the Air Force Research Lab in an animated video posted June 16.
In recent years, drones have become a regular part of warfare, first as observational tools but later adapted to carry small bombs and explosives. They are capable of hovering over targets for prolonged amounts of time, often undetected by ground forces and other units if they are not specifically scanning for them.
The ease of customization that makes them so attractive to hobbyists also appeals to bad actors using them for nefarious means,” the narrator of the Air Force video explained. “Unmanned aerial systems are currently being used to surveil operations, destroy the infrastructure, and attack personnel.”
“THOR has been built with future warfare in mind, to counter the threat of enemy drones or other aerial threats,” the tech site, Wonderful Engineering, reported Sunday.
The video notes that small arms ground fire has limited range and effectiveness against drones, while high-end defensive systems are not cost-effective. THOR, the Air Force argues, solves the problem of inefficiency and expense in defending against single drones or swarms of them.
“THOR uses a focused beam of energy to defeat drones in a large target area,” says the video. “It provides a non-kinetic defeat of multiple targets at the speed of light.”
The Air Force says the system portable enough to be transported in a C-130 aircraft, can be installed in about three hours, uses local power and can be set up by as few as two personnel.
The service branch also said that the system has been tested in real-world conditions and has successfully defeated multiple threats under various conditions using its instantaneous microwave beam.
The system can stop “attacks at long range before they threaten critical infrastructure,” the video concludes.
The first THOR prototype was introduced in New Mexico in 2019 at a cost of $15 million. Each subsequent system costs $10 million to manufacture.
While some bases have been defended by THOR even as it was under development, the objective, according to the Air Force, is to get platoons equipped with fully functional systems by 2024.
“It is still a work in progress. The most fascinating part of the mechanism is that it works by disabling the electronics of the drone, much taking down a person’s nervous system. Deadly, silent, and effective,” Wonderful Engineering reported further. “Specially designed to take down hordes of drones, THOR is set to be a game-changer once inducted in warzones.”
Adds THOR program manager Amber Anderson: “The system output is powerful radio wave bursts, which offer a greater engagement range than bullets or nets, and its effects are silent and instantaneous.”
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