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Raytheon is building a rigid, transportable, directed microwave energy aerial defense system for the US Navy and Air Force.

The system consists of two high-power microwave antennae designed to track and engage various airborne threats at the speed of light. The pair will also be transportable for quick and easy front-line deployment.

President of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Colin Whelan explained that non-kinetic defense systems are a key part of America’s national defense strategy. “The new iterations of Raytheon’s high-power microwave systems are cost-effective and reliable solutions that operate at the speed of light – enabling our warfighters to defend against faster and more maneuverable threats,” he added.

According to Interesting Engineering, Raytheon has been leading the utilization of high-power microwaves (HPM) for many years. Raytheon’s previous products include the CHIMERA (designed to attack airborne targets at longer distances), Phaser, and THOR (both designed to operate against targets at close range). The THOR and Phaser systems rely on vacuum tube technology to produce the necessary radiated power, and therefore are generally large and best suited for use in stationary locations. The revealed information regarding the new DEFEND antennae hints at a very different kind of system.

HPM weapons have several advantages over other types of kinetic and non-kinetic weapons- they offer a fast firing rate and deep magazines, and they can generate a range of effects on a target, from destroying or damaging sensitive electronic components to degrading their performance or forcing reboots and restarts.

An HPM system typically disrupts a target’s processors and other logic components using radio frequency and microwave energy, which is delivered through the target’s RF and microwave antennas or unshielded wiring and circuits that act as apertures. The system can use a wide antenna beam to simultaneously attack multiple targets, or a narrow antenna beam to focus energy on a single target.

The DEFEND project is expected to produce prototypes in 2024 and 2026.