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The Air Force has a new drone-killing microwave weapon named 'Thor'
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.
©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
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The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
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Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.