Counter-unmanned aerial system
Air Force Research Lab, US Air Force
US Air Force, US Army
The Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR) is a counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) capable of disabling aerial drone swarms electromagnetically. It has been developed by the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) of the US Air Force (USAF). The AFRL is primarily engaged in the development and integration of aerospace warfighting technologies.
THOR is a high-energy microwave laser directed-energy weapon intended for the defence of airbases. The technology was developed with an investment of $15m.
AFRL announced in July 2021 that it will soon release a request for proposal for the development of the follow-on system to THOR.
THOR development details
The AFRL’s Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) Office successfully conducted laser and high-power microwave testing events at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2018 and at the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) held at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 2019.
THOR was demonstrated at the 2019 Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference held at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center along the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland. It was developed and tested within 18 months.
The AFRL announced a 12-month overseas field assessment of the high-energy laser weapon system in April 2020. The field assessment aims to test directed energy as a capability against drones. The project is led by the SDPE Office.
THOR is undergoing risk reduction and system characterisation trials at the Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico ahead of its planned overseas deployment.
The US Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) signed up for the THOR programme in February 2021. The RCCTO will work together with the USAF for the programme during and after the deployment of the system as it seeks to develop a prototype Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC)-High Power Microwave system for the US Army.
Design and features
The THOR is a low-cost per shot speed-of-light solution that can be completely housed in a standard 20ft container. It can be air transported in a C-130 military transport aircraft. The system can be set up completely by two people in three hours. It provides a user interface that reduces the need for user training.
The counter-swarm electromagnetic system can be deployed to safeguard airbases from drones and other aerial threats.
The THOR provides a non-kinetic effect to bring down multiple targets. It operates from a wall plug on the ground and uses a focused beam of energy to defeat drones. The anti-drone solution uses high-power electromagnetic effect to disable the electronics in UAS systems. It can bring about a near-instantaneous effect by launching the silent weapon in less than a second, upon identification of the target.
The THOR demonstrator system uses bursts of intense radio waves for instantly defeating small UAS swarms. The system output provides greater engagement range and reduced engagement time when compared to bullets or nets.
It uses high-powered microwaves instead of high-energy lasers as they provide the capability to kill swarms of drones instead of killing one at a time.
Follow-on systems of THOR
The AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate is planning to develop a higher power version of the THOR C-UAS, which will be called Mjolnir, named after the hammer of the mythical Norse god Thor.