The Air Force has a new drone-killing microwave weapon named 'Thor'

Military Tech
THOR dropping the hammer in drones

U.S. military bases across the globe may soon have a New Mexico-made, high-powered microwave weapon at their disposal to instantaneously down swarms of enemy drones.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base unveiled the weapon Thursday morning in a live demonstration with local reporters, who watched the system effortlessly knock a hovering drone out of the sky with an invisible and inaudible electromagnetic wave.


The $15 million system, called the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder, or THOR, disabled the unmanned aerial vehicle in a flash, sending it spiraling to the ground the moment the electromagnetic ray hit it. Had more drones been flying within THOR's expansive scope, they also would have dropped in an instant, THOR program manager Amber Anderson said.

"It operates like a flashlight," Anderson said after the demonstration. "It spreads out when the operator hits the button, and anything within that cone will be taken down. It engages in the blink of an eye."

The AFRL built the machine on an expedited, 18-month timeline to get it into war fighters' hands as fast as possible, given the increasing military threat from drones, said Kelly Hammett, head of AFRL's Directed Energy Directorate in Albuquerque. The system is aimed at protecting military bases from multiple-drone attacks, which the Air Force has identified as its No. 1 priority for emerging "directed energy," or microwave and laser, defense systems.

That's because conventional defenses offer limited protection against swarms of incoming drones. Sharpshooters or military jets, for example, can't take out 50 drones at once, but THOR can.

"It's built to negate swarms of drones," Anderson said. "We want to drop many of them at one time without a single leaker getting through."

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base unveiled the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR) on June 20, 2019(KRQE screenshot)

AFRL spent $15 million to develop THOR, which could cost about $10 million to produce if the U.S. Department of Defense chooses to deploy it, Hammett said. It was built in cooperation with three companies, including global engineering firms BAE Systems and Leidos and the Albuquerque firm Verus Research. The project created 20 full-time jobs in Albuquerque outside the AFRL, Hammett said.

If THOR is adopted by the Defense Department, it could mean a lot more local jobs, because the system is likely to be manufactured here, at least partly.

"If the Air Force or Army decide to procure it, that would be big for Albuquerque," Hammett said. "It would establish a manufacturing and production base right here, representing hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more."

The AFRL has been developing mircowave and laser defense technology for years, including collaboration with Raytheon, which built its own anti-drone microwave system in recent years that it successfully tested against swarms of UAVs at Fort Sill, Okla., in December 2017, and at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico last fall.

Those tests, however, showed some limitations when integrating Raytheon's system with other military technologies and battlefield tactics and protocols, Hammett said. Raytheon has since invested more resources to further develop its system, which could still be deployed in the future by the military.

But AFRL chose to also build THOR to offer different operating capabilities and more options for the military to rapidly meet urgent defense needs, Hammett said.

It's designed for rapid deployment wherever needed, with the microwave antennae and foundation stored in a shipping container transported on a flatbed truck. The equipment is stored in parts for easy, snap-together assembly in just three hours.

"It takes two people to set it up and three to tear it down." Anderson said. "You can take it to the field, rapidly set it up and it's ready to fire. It's designed as a turnkey system."

A handheld remote control rotates the antennas in all directions as needed, providing 360-degree defense against drones. The firing mechanism and overall system control are operated from a laptop.

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©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(Task & Purpose photo illustration by Paul Szoldra)

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The 23-year-old sailor laid in bed trembling. At times, his body would shake violently as he sobbed. He had recently undergone a routine shoulder surgery on Dec. 12, 2017, and was hoping to recover.

Instead, Jordan couldn't do much of anything other than think about the pain. Simple tasks like showering, dressing himself, or going to the bathroom alone were out of the question, and the excruciating sensation in his shoulder made lying down to sleep feel like torture.

"Imagine being asleep," he called to tell his mother Suzi at one point, "but you can still feel the pain."

To help, military doctors gave Jordan oxycodone, a powerful semi-synthetic opiate they prescribed to dull the sensation in his shoulder. Navy medical records show that he went on to take more than 80 doses of the drug in the days following the surgery, dutifully following doctor's orders to the letter.

Instinctively, Jordan, a Navy corpsman who by day worked at the Twentynine Palms naval hospital where he was now a patient, knew something was wrong. The drugs seemed to have little effect. His parents advised him to seek outside medical advice, but base doctors insisted the drugs just needed more time to work.

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(Associated Press/Gregory Bull)

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Reuters) - President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday to receive the remains of two American soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week.

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T-38 Talon training aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Two airmen from Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, were killed on Thursday when two T-38 Talon training aircraft crashed during training mission, according to a message posted on the base's Facebook age.

The two airmen's names are being withheld pending next of kin notification.

A total of four airmen were onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident, base officials had previously announced.

The medical conditions for the other two people involved in the crash was not immediately known.

An investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the crash.

Emergency responders from Vance Air Force Base are at the crash scene to treat casualties and help with recovery efforts.

Read the entire message below:

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Two Vance Air Force Base Airmen were killed in an aircraft mishap at approximately 9:10 a.m. today.

At the time of the accident, the aircraft were performing a training mission.

Vance emergency response personnel are on scene to treat casualties and assist in recovery efforts.

Names of the deceased will be withheld pending next of kin notification.

A safety investigation team will investigate the incident.

Additional details will be provided as information becomes available. #VanceUpdates.

This is a breaking news story. It will be updated as more information is released.

Photos: 1st Cavalry Division

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