United States Aviation tests new counter-drone systems that use either direct energy or microwaves to eliminate unmanned drones that pose a threat to troops and bases overseas.
The service announced this month that it was testing an improved laser system, known as High Energy Laser Weapon System 2, or H2, through a series of experiments that began last summer in Kirtland Air Force BaseNew Mexico.
H2, manufactured by Raytheon Technologies, is a modified version of the company’s High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon and is capable of defeat tens of unmanned aerial system targets with increased accuracy over its predecessor, a press release said.
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The HEL system was first tested in 2019 and deployed in early 2020, according to Raytheon officials.
“[The H2] experience has many notable U.S. Air Force firsts, including the full training and operation of the system by Security Forces Airmen, the first directed energy [counter-Unmanned Aerial System or c-UAS] and the first integration with a base,” said Lt. Col. Jared Rupp, director of the Directed Energy Combined Test Force, or DE-CTF, in version.
“The first phase proved that H2 was capable of integrating with radar and an in-service command and control system, and it completed the kill chain by shooting down UAS at operationally relevant ranges” , Rupp said.
H2 was then “successfully deployed and integrated overseas”, he said, without revealing the location.
Four systems were tested in 2020, three of which have been deployed, according to the release.
The service will then test “three versions of the [HEL] and two different high-powered microwave systems” in the coming weeks, he added.
The news follows the United States Army announcement Wednesday that it will partner with the Air Force on its High Powered Tactical Operational Responder, or THOR, which can disable a drone’s electronics at certain ranges. During its development phaseTHOR was called the High Power Microwave Tactical Operational Responder.
While high-energy lasers can kill one target at a time, high-power microwaves “can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are looking for a combination of both technologies for our rapid prototyping effort of the indirect fire protection capability,” the Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of hypersonics, led energy space and rapid acquisition for the military, in a separate statement.
“The output of the system is powerful bursts of radio waves, which provide a greater range of engagement than bullets or nets, and its effects are quiet and instantaneous,” added Amber Anderson, THOR Program Manager.
THOR, developed by the Air Force Research Lab and hosted in Kirtland, looks like a standard Conex box with a satellite dish attached.
The Pentagon has been on a quest for years to give base defenders and security forces troops better tools to easily deter obtained unmanned systems, which may be aimed at disrupting base operations or spy on planes.
As an interim solution, the Army – which was tasked with overseeing the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office – last year authorized seven defensive countermeasures on 40 proposed systems “to detect, access and primarily engage with enemy drones”, according to the service.
The systems fall into three categories: fixed and semi-fixed systems, mounted mobile systems and disassembled portable systems, which range from highly sophisticated technologies to basic zappers or radio jammers, the military said at the time. .
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