Tag Archives: THOR

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.

THOR
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.

THOR’s Hammer

With small unmanned aircraft systems – frequently called drones, becoming more common every day, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, has developed a counter-swarm high power weapon that should cause those with nefarious intentions of using drones against United States forces at U.S. military installations at home or overseas to think twice about such actions.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tactical High Power Operational Responder developed for airbase defense (Courtesy photo/AFRL Directed Energy Directorate)

AFRL exhibited the technology, called the Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR), at the 2019 Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. and Virginia, September 16-18.

Although AFRL’s THOR is not a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder and lightning, it is a counter-swarm electromagnetic weapon that AFRL developed for airbase defense. The system provides non-kinetic defeat of multiple targets. It operates from ground power and uses energy to disable drones.

«THOR is essentially a high-powered electromagnetic source that we put together to specifically defeat drones», said Stephen Langdon, chief of the High-Powered Microwave Technologies Branch of AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate.

A demonstration system has been built and tested on military test ranges near Kirtland AFB where it has successfully engaged multiple targets. Further testing against a larger set of drone types in swarming configurations is being planned.

THOR stores completely in a 20-foot/6-meter transport container, which can easily be transported in a C-130 Hercules aircraft. The system can be set up within three hours and has a user interface designed to require very little user training. The technology, which cost roughly $15 million to develop, uses high power electromagnetics to counter electronic effect. When a target is identified, the silent weapon discharges with nearly instantaneous impact.

Rather than being used just as harmless hobby systems, drones can also be employed as weapons intended to cause harm at long standoff ranges. As they become more common and technically mature, it is important that there be a safe way to protect air bases against these threats.

With much of the necessary basic research previously completed at AFRL, THOR was rapidly developed and tested in 18 months.

Although there are other drone defensive systems available, including guns, nets and laser systems, THOR looks to extend the engagement range to effect and decrease the engagement time over these other deterrent devices.

Langdon said the THOR team hopes to transfer the technology to a System Program Office soon in order to get it into the hands of U.S. warfighters as soon as possible.