THOR anti-drone weapon has successful demonstration in Africa

By Sara Sirota / December 17, 2020 at 12:36 PM

(Editor's Note: Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek sent the following statement to Inside Defense on Dec. 20: "The Air Force Research Laboratory's Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR) is not currently deployed outside the United States. THOR is scheduled for an operational field assessment in FY21/FY22, but for operational security reasons, deployment locations or timing of deployed operational utility evaluations for our directed energy systems will not be release."

Air Force spokesman Derek Kaufman confirmed in a separate email to Inside Defense that Air Force Chief Scientist Richard Joseph's comments stating THOR has been tested extensively and works well are accurate.

Asked if the Air Force has experimented with another directed energy weapon in Africa, Stefanek said, "We have deployed both laser and high powered microwave systems for operational utility evaluation in deployed environments. We are not identifying specific systems or theaters.")

The Air Force Research Laboratory has demonstrated the Tactical High-Power Operational Responder directed-energy weapon's ability to defend bases from airborne threats during a recent test deployment to Africa, according to the service's chief scientist.

“It is based on a microwave system and the purpose is to be able to disrupt and destroy the performance of drones or swarms of drones and . . . it’s been tested extensively. It works remarkably well,” Richard Joseph said during a Mitchell Institute event today.

THOR is one of several directed energy weapons the Air Force has experimented with for base defense amid heightened concern about the risks posed by small drones, and it’s not the first to undergo testing in Africa.

Inside Defense reported earlier this year AFRL and the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center successfully thwarted small drones with an unidentified prototype in a classified location within U.S. Africa Command’s area of responsibility.

That weapon may have been Raytheon’s Phaser high-powered microwave or High-Energy Laser Weapon System, which the service ordered for overseas experimentation late last year. Joseph didn’t mention their performance or testing statuses.

He noted while the technologies the Air Force can incorporate in THOR are increasing every day, it’s possible the service could select a more capable weapon that emerges to deploy operationally.

“It never stops, and I think what you will see as we go forward is more and more capability on these systems,” Joseph said. “Is this the answer? I don’t know, but it’s better than . . . anything else that we have right now, and I have watched it in action and it’s really quite impressive.”