Tag Archives: Air Force Research Laboratory

Thor’s hammer

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate is seeking partners to build a new counter electronics weapon system, to defend against the ever increasing threat of adversarial drone activity.

An artist’s rendering of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s THOR, a drone killer, capable of downing many adversarial drones in fractions of a second. A follow-on system named Mjolnir, the hammer belonging to the mythical Norse God, Thor will soon be under development at AFRL (Courtesy illustration)

Building upon the success of the Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) technology demonstrator, AFRL is building an advanced High-Power Microwave (HPM) weapon system to bring their newest technology to bear against the growing threat from unmanned aircraft.

«The new prototype will be called Mjolnir, after the mythical Norse god, Thor’s hammer», said Amber Anderson, THOR program manager. «Because THOR was so successful, we wanted to keep the new system’s name in the THOR family».

The AFRL team working from Kirtland Air Force Base are experts in High-Power Electromagnetics technology. The THOR demonstrator used bursts of intense radio waves to disable small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) instantly.

«After a successful 2-year testing campaign, the AFRL team has learned a lot about the benefits of the technology and how it can be improved», Anderson said.

The Mjolnir prototype will use the same technology, but will add important advances in capability, reliability, and manufacturing readiness.

«We are releasing an opportunity for businesses in the directed energy field, to help us build the follow-on system», said Adrian Lucero, THOR deputy program manager. «AFRL’s goal is to create a blueprint for our partners so these systems can be economically produced in large quantities, and to grow a fledgling industry that will become critically important as the U.S. strives to maintain our electromagnetic spectrum superiority».

AFRL is working closely with cross-service partners in the Joint Counter sUAS Office and the Army’s Rapid Capability and Critical Technologies Office.

«As the danger from drone swarms evolves, all services are working closely to ensure emerging technologies like Mjolnir, will be ready to support the needs of warfighters already engaged against these threats. The program will begin this fall with a delivery of the prototype weapon in 2023», said Lucero.

A request for proposal from companies interested in working with AFRL to develop this prototype will be posted on SAM.gov, an official site for companies seeking federal contract opportunities.

Counter-UAS program

As the use of unmanned aircraft systems rises across the world, researchers from around the Defense Department are testing new ways to counter the new threats they could present.

Defenders from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and a researcher from the Air Force Research Lab teamed up to bring a new program to Bagram Airfield (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sergeant Benjamin Gonsier)
Defenders from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and a researcher from the Air Force Research Lab teamed up to bring a new program to Bagram Airfield (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sergeant Benjamin Gonsier)

The 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron (ESFS) teamed up with a researcher from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to teach Airmen how to pilot drones and use them to train coalition forces on how to react to them on the battlefield.

«This is a brand-new program for the 455th AEW, where we are able to test our counter-UAS systems coming into BAF, in addition to running base-wide exercises», said 1st. Lieutenant Ryan Wilkerson, a researcher attached to the 455th ESFS.

Wilkerson, who is not a defender by trade, is deployed out of the AFRL, Rome Research Site, New York, and came to test the program at Bagram Airfield, where the challenge is present in real-world scenarios.

A few defenders assisted Wilkerson, serving as drone pilots and using their own down time to practice piloting and learn tactics the enemy may use.

«It’s exciting to be able to pilot these aircraft for a program no one has ever been a part of before», said Senior Airman Christopher Gallman, with the 455th ESFS joint defense operations center. «I can’t wait to see where it is going and to be able to help out the total force».

The drone pilots wear aviator sunglasses and have an aura of swagger around them, as they take pride in being at the forefront of tactical development.

«It’s fun and enjoyable, and knowing how beneficial it is to not only the base, but all of the force, makes flying the drone worth doing», Gallman said.

Training never ends, and while service members train to deploy, training still continues while deployed.

«This allows us to be better prepared», Wilkerson said. «The best way to train is to actually put something in the air and see how people react. We train how we fight, so this is the most efficient way to counter this growing concern amongst coalition partners».

Tactics used by the enemy are constantly evolving, which is why Airmen are constantly adapting to face threats head-on, ready to engage anything that comes their way.