The U.S. Air Force is conducting operational testing in Africa of the Tactical High-Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR) electromagnetic weapon to protect air bases by disabling drones or swarms of drones.
“We have recently deployed a test system to Africa for base defense,” Richard Joseph, the Air Force chief scientist, told the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Aerospace Nation forum on Dec. 17. “It has been tested extensively and works remarkably well. I was told by one of the S&T [science and technology] people at the Air Force Research Lab yesterday that eight years ago that was a 6.1 project, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which funds our basic research–eight years to its first operational use, and that can be done.”
On Dec. 16, Odell Reynolds, an engineer at AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M., received the Harold Brown Award from Joseph in recognition of Reynolds’ work on THOR.
A key to moving the development program along was the collaboration between researchers and operators without high-level intervention. “They just kept developing it until a year or two ago when it became apparent this thing was ready for prime time,” Joseph said. Once the program had demonstrated its value, THOR gained the advocacy of top Air Force officials, including service acquisition chief Will Roper and the head of Air Force Materiel Command, Gen. Arnold Bunch–a backing that led to THOR’s “test in a real setting,” Joseph said.
An AFRL team, including BAE Systems and Albuquerque-based Verus Research, developed THOR. Last month, Black Sage said that it had received an Air Force contract to provide a radar system for THOR to provide targeting data for the system.
Pre-deployment testing of THOR has been underway since last year (Defense Daily, March 21, 2019).
“I think what you will see as we go forward is more and more capability out of these systems,” Joseph said on Dec. 17. “Is this the answer? I don’t know, but it’s better than anything else we have right now, and I have watched it in action. It’s quite impressive.”