US military invests in energy beam weapons to take down drones

The prototype THOR system is designed to demolish drone swarms.

The US military has invested in a prototype energy beam weapon designed to zap drones in the sky. 

This week, the US Air Force said the prototype, dubbed the Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR), is a "directed energy" weapon that could use both lasers and microwaves to take out unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drone swarms. 

THOR, perhaps named in deference to the Norse god of thunder, is being developed to fire at multiple targets at the same time with what the military calls "rapid results." 

The weapon needs to be housed in a shipping container that is 20-foot-long, but this means it can also be transported, moved via cargo plane, and could be installed at different military bases. 

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US Air Force / John Cochran

THOR has been developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, located at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

According to the Associated Press, $15 million has been spent designing the weapon together with Verus Research, BAE Systems, and Leidos.

On February 11, Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood watched a demonstration of THOR's capabilities at the airbase. The army official said that a combination of high-energy lasers and microwave technologies are being developed by the arm and research lab, in the hopes of being able to take on both individual targets and swarms effectively. 

Drones and UAVs may pose a risk to military bases and operational infrastructure. While THOR undergoes risk tests and refinement, the military's researchers are also considering the applications of high-power radio bursts that could engage "many targets at once" at long distances. 

"THOR, and other DE systems, provide non-kinetic defeat of multiple targets at once," Thurgood commented. "Keeping our soldiers safe is our number one priority, and we need to employ effective defensive weapons systems to stay ahead of the changing threats presented by our adversaries."

The US military intends to conduct field testing by 2024 and potential deployment by 2026.

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