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The US Air Force has been testing a prototype of its new counter-drone microwave weapon “in a real-world setting” in Africa, in a move perceived as a major step forward for the service’s directed energy efforts.

Microwave weapons, like laser and particle beam weapons, are directed-energy weapons that attack their targets with focused energy.

The Air Force is testing its prototype drone-killing microwave, the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), “in a real-world setting” in Africa, says Richard Joseph, the Air Force’s chief scientist. Given how Iran and its proxies have used drone swarms, this would seem to be a good place to test without risking escalation.

“We have recently deployed a test system to Africa for base defense … based on a microwave system. And the purpose is to be able to disrupt and destroy the performance of drones or swarms of drones,” he was cited by “It’s been tested extensively, works remarkably well. … I’ve watched it in action and it’s really quite impressive.”

He noted that technology development is ongoing and that in the end the service may choose a different weapon system. That said, Joseph said THOR was “better than anything else” the service has right now, and noted that “the capabilities that can be incorporated in the system are increasing day by day.”

THOR uses high-powered microwaves to fry drones’ electronics, shooting swarms out of the sky at short ranges. It was designed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and it uses a radar that AFRL bought from Black Sage. 

Enabling “logistics under attack,” including figuring out how to protect bases, is one of the Air Force’s top-four priorities for the future. The Air Force’s Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) Office, which leads service field experiments including the THOR testing, announced in April that it also was going to deploy Raytheon’s High Energy Laser (HELWS) and High Power Microwave (PHASER) prototypes for overseas testing. 

Finally, AFRL also is working on the Counter-Electronic High-Power Microwave Extended-Range Air Base Air Defense (CHIMERA), designed to defeat targets at medium to long ranges.

While the Army is also interested in microwave weapons for base defense, its leadership has decided to let the Air Force take the lead in developing microwave weapons that might be used by both services, and is focusing its own research and development funding on using lasers to kill drones.