The mounting concerns that the U.S. Army has about the dangers posed to its personnel by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or ‘drones’) has led it to begin investment in the United States Air Forces’ (USAF) Tactical High Power Operational Responder system – known as THOR for short.
The Army is particularly concerned by the potential threat of “drone swarms”, which see a large number of UAVs – potentially in the hundreds or even thousands – being used to attack military facilities and overwhelming defenses through sheer mass. This is a capability that the Chinese military have already demonstrated publicly.
Developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), THOR uses a microwave beam that can knock out large numbers of drones at a time through burning out their electronics. Developed for the defense of USAF airbases, the system can operate from a wall plug and is a first of its kind system.
THOR stows completely in a 20-foot transport container and can easily be transported in a C-130, perfect for foreign deployments. The system can be set up within 3 hours and has a user interface that has been designed to require minimal user training. The overall cost to develop the technology was approximately $15 million dollars.
Though a static system, the THOR offers considerably more potential over other counter-UAV systems, such as guns, nets and laser systems, which are only capable of dealing with each drone individually. By being able to “sweep the skies”, the THOR offers the potential to counter the threat from drone swarms practically instantaneously. The U.S. Army hopes that following successful testing, it will begin deploying THOR to its bases from 2024.
However, concerns over the future potential of UAVs and drones against field forces continue. To this end the Department of Defense has set up a Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office to explore new technology such as THOR and its application. The Russian military has also recently announced that they are beginning development of a new anti-tank/UAV missile to replace existing weapons in the future.