Power of THOR ready to down enemy drones

August 14, 2020  - By

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has developed a counter-swarm high-power weapon to deter enemy drones — THOR.

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

The THOR drone deterrent designed by the Air Force Research Laboratory. (Photo: AFRL)

The THOR drone deterrent designed by the Air Force Research Laboratory. (Photo: AFRL)

“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.

AFRL is located at  Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. A demonstration system has been built and tested on military test ranges near the base, where it has successfully engaged multiple targets. Further testing against a larger set of drone types in swarming configurations is being planned.

THOR stores in a 20-foot transport container, which can be transported in a C-130 aircraft. The system can be set up within three hours and has a user interface that requires little 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.

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 will most likely to extend the engagement range to effect and decrease the engagement time over the 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.

AFRL exhibited 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, Sept. 16-18.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.