On 5 April 2023, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) put on a demonstration of their Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR) at the Chestnut Test Site, located at Kirtland Air Force Base.

During the demonstration, THOR’s high-power microwave counter drone weapon was tested in an engagement with a swarm of multiple targets.

The Department of Defence are working to address the evolving risks posed by drone swarms. They are actively exploring various technologies, including directed energy, to increase the capabilities to counter these threats in the future. AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate has been testing the THOR system for almost two years.

The ARFL developed a new counter-swarm electromagnetic weapon called THOR, winner of the ‘What’s New in Defence’ 2021 award. THOR is specifically designed to defend airbases and is expected to have a significant influence in the field of defence technology. The device is powered by a wall plug and is capable of utilising energy to render drones inoperable, providing non-kinetic defence of multiple targets.

The THOR system can be stowed entirely within a 20-foot transport container, allowing for ease of transportation via a C-130 aircraft. According to ARFL, the system can be set up and run within three hours, and the user interface has been specifically designed to require minimal training.

The total expenditure for the development of the technology has amounted to around $18m.

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According to Adrian Lucero, the programme manager of THOR at AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate, the THOR team conducted a series of drone flights to replicate a genuine swarm attack scenario. “THOR has never been tested against these types of drones before, but this did not stop the system from dropping the targets out of the sky with its non-kinetic, speed-of-light High-Power Microwave, or HPM pulses,” he said.

Lucero went on to say that THOR exhibited effectiveness in neutralising the swarm through its employment of a wide beam, high peak powers, and a fast-moving gimbal that tracked and disabled the targets.

The THOR deputy programme manager, Captain Tylar Hanson, commented that THOR was”extremely efficient” with its system firing almost continuously during the swarm engagement. “It is an early demonstrator, and we are confident we can take this same technology and make it more effective to protect our personnel around the world.”