Air Force Laboratory at Kirtland has introduced the drone defense system, name as THOR (Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder). During the demo process, the device knocks down a DJI drone from the sky with a strong electromagnetic pulse. THOR, which is being built at the cost of $15 million, deactivated the uncrewed aerial vehicle in a blink and sent it to spiraling ground.
In this blog, we will analyze how THOR will destroy drones without wielding a hammer?
Now Drones are not just a toy
Drones are no longer just being used as harmless hobby systems. These are being employed as weapons to strike targets at long standoff ranges. Drone technology has become very advanced and relatively cheap. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have shown that even non-state actors are within reach of this kind of capability.
A mass-drone strike on Russia’s most significant outposts in Syria was observed in January 2018. Though the attack’s damage was insignificant as per Russia, It displayed the potential of drones in warfare. On July 19, 2019, President Donald Trump announced that the Boxer had sunk an Iranian aircraft. According to him, the drone came within 1000 yards near the U.S. Navy ship and ignored multiple commands for landing.
On September 14, 2019, facilities of Saudi Arabia’s oil company Aramco located in the east of the country, also came under attack.
Targeted was the world’s largest oil refinery near Abqaiq, and a refinery near Khurais. The damage was sizeable. It has brought about a spike in global oil prices. A swarm of armed drones could cause considerable damage.
Technology for Anti-drone system
Currently, there are two ways to neutralize drones.
- Non Kinetic kill approach where the drone is not hit physically with a projectile. It can be electromagnetic weapons like THOR that damage electric circuits or disrupt the drone’s communication with the ground control station. It will be the cause of falling the drone from the sky.
- Kinetic kill approach where physical damage is done to the enemy drone. It can be done by intercepting the drone with missiles, automated gun systems, and lasers.
More challenges with autonomous drones
New age drones powered by A.I. are more self-reliant and don’t need continuous human control and hence are resistant to Electronic Warfare. Several new variants of drones can automatically return to the operator even if the communication is lost. THOR uses the first approach.
THOR is not a hammer-wielding God
THOR is not a hammer-wielding of the goddess, but it is a non-kinetic electromagnetic weapon developed by AFRL for protection against the swarm of drones. It operates like magic, and anything that comes within the range of the beam will be taken down instantly by the anti-drone system. It operates from ground control and disables drones using instantaneous high energy beams. It can damage drones instantaneously with a high energy beam from the ground station.
It sends out that high-power, short microwave pulse that disables the system electronics. THOR can be packed in a 20-foot tub and shipped conveniently on a C-130 aircraft. Reports say the device can be installed within three hours, and the U.I. (user interface) is designed to require relatively little user training. In further testing against a broader range of swarm-robot drones is expected.
The Air Force had begun testing THOR against limited range targets earlier 2020. Around the same time, another device, the CHIMERA, is designed to strike items around medium to long ranges. Drones can be taken out with traditional methods like rapid-firing guns, but since they are small and highly maneuverable, this can be difficult. THOR has some significant advantages. The speed enables it to hit their targets almost instantaneously.
Also, THOR does not need to carry weapons like conventional devices, and therefore it will be able to destroy a much higher range of threats limited only by the power supply of the vehicle. It is pretty significant as traditional air defense systems can run out of ammunition when encountering many incoming threats. They are silent and invisible, which makes them very much suitable for use in the urban landscape. It will also be much cheaper as only electricity will be required, and the cost as low as $1 per shot. It is very cost-effective compared to conventional weapons.
Drones will have a significant part to play in future combat, and the scenario is becoming a reality much faster than what we could imagine a decade earlier. The Military expects that the drone swarms will be a big threat for any country in the days ahead. Non-kinetic science is still relatively recent, and scientists and engineers are working round the clock to master it. Once it comes to using them for fighting usages, there are several obstacles. American Military’s tryst with this kind of weapon is not new.
Things have changed since then, and solid-state lasers are now being used instead of an unstable chemical laser. The SHiELD program is designing a guided laser energy device that will serve as a demonstrator for a self-defense device that will potentially enable aircraft to defend themselves from surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles.
As part of the system, a laser developed to shot down many air-launched missiles. But the U.S. military doesn’t put all the eggs in the same basket and pursues Kinetic solutions as well. And a small California based tech startup has announced that it has begun supplying “fast kill” anti-drone system to the U.S. military that is equipped to shoot down enemy drones. It is intended to destroy similarly sized hostile uncrewed aircraft by physically ramming them in the air. It’ll be a very fun moment to see how things are going to play out in the days ahead.
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