THOR, built in ABQ, is headed for base-defense testing by 2024 - Albuquerque Journal

THOR, built in ABQ, is headed for base-defense testing by 2024

Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office leaders enter the portable control center of AFRL’s Tactical High Power Operational Responder to see the system’s drone-killing capabilities. (John Cochran/U.S. Air Force)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Army could be field-testing a new microwave weapon to protect military bases from swarms of incoming drones as soon as 2024, after an on-site demonstration of the system at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood watched the weapon in action Feb. 11 in a remote canyon on the 52,000-acre base. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland built the system – called the Tactical High Power Operational Responder, or THOR – to provide effective, immediate protection against multiple targets that simultaneously threaten military installations.

That’s a growing problem that requires new, modern tools to defend troops and infrastructure, prompting the Army to invest in emerging “directed energy” systems, including both microwave and laser weapons, said Thurgood, who heads Hypersonics, Directed Energy Space and Rapid Acquisition and oversees the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

Laser weapons, however, are effective only against single targets, whereas microwave systems like THOR offer defense against many threats at once.

“The Army’s directed energy capabilities will need to provide a layered defense with multiple ways to defeat incoming threats,” Thurgood said in a statement after watching THOR in operation. “High-energy lasers kill one target at a time, and high-powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are pursuing a combination of both technologies.”

After meeting with THOR developers at Kirtland, Thurgood said the Army intends to invest in the system in partnership with AFRL starting in fiscal year 2022, which begins in October, said Kelly Hammett, who heads AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate. The Army goal is to deploy THOR alongside laser defense and other systems for a platoon to test them directly in the field by FY 2024.

“They intend to procure enough systems for a platoon unit in 2024 to do experimentation with a mix of weapons,” Hammett told the Journal. “They will put microwave and lasers together in a single unit to assess how to deploy it all.”

Actual procurement of multiple systems for the battlefield likely won’t happen until 2026 at the earliest, because the goal now is to fully evaluate and further develop them into field-ready tools. But the testing that begins in 2024 will be directly imbedded in military operations.

“They’re not games,” Hammett said. “The weapons will be directly protecting soldiers at whatever scale is possible at that time.”

That marks a major milestone for the AFRL, and for the development of directed energy weapons in general. The AFRL has worked for decades to build laser defense systems in cooperation with private defense contractors like Boeing and Northrop Grumman. And it’s worked for many years as well on microwave systems with national and local companies, including Raytheon Technologies Corp., before that company closed its Albuquerque offices last year.

AFRL spent $15 million to build THOR in cooperation with global engineering firms BAE Systems and Leidos, and with the Albuquerque firm Verus Research. It first unveiled the weapon in a live media demonstration in June 2019, allowing local journalists to watch and photograph the system as it effortlessly knocked a hovering drone out of the sky with an invisible and inaudible electromagnetic wave. The microwave instantaneously disables drone electronics, sending the vehicles tumbling to the ground.

The system works like a flashlight; the wave spreads out to disable anything within its electromagnetic cone, THOR program manager Amber Anderson said at the 2019 demonstration.

“The system output is powerful radio bursts, which offer a greater engagement range than bullets or nets, and its effects are silent and instantaneous,” Anderson said in a statement following Thurgood’s Kirtland visit this month.

THOR’s microwave antennas and foundation are housed in a 20-foot shipping container that can be stowed in a military cargo plane and transported on a flatbed truck. It can be assembled in the field by just two people in three hours, according to AFRL.

The user interface is designed for minimal training. A handheld remote control rotates the antennas in all directions as needed, providing 360-degree defense against drones. The firing mechanism and overall system control are operated from a laptop.

With the Army and AFRL now set to collaborate on further testing and development, more contract opportunities will emerge for local and national companies, Hammett said. Requests for bids will be published as the next fiscal-year funding cycle approaches.

“We’ll make all the documents, specifications and designs that we sunk into the current generation of technology available to private companies to do the work,” Hammett said. “We want to be poised for rapid success, not start from scratch.”

When the military actually begins procuring and deploying THOR, it could provide huge opportunities for New Mexico companies to participate in manufacture and sale of the systems. But the state still needs to improve the local business environment to win those investments, Hammett said.

“On the positive side, New Mexico does have a lot of available land, resources, know-how and worker expertise, which offers ready access to what’s needed,” Hammett said. “That makes Albuquerque attractive, but landing those contracts is not a surety.”

Home » News » New Mexico News » THOR, built in ABQ, is headed for base-defense testing by 2024


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
ABQ event gives solar its day in the sun
ABQnews Seeker
National conference, Solar Fiesta, highlight progress ... National conference, Solar Fiesta, highlight progress and challenges to industry
2
Find the silver lining in Wall Street turmoil
ABQnews Seeker
The U.S. stock market is having ... The U.S. stock market is having a bad year. It may turn around before year-end, but ...
3
Inflation complicating tough-on-China arguments
ABQnews Seeker
When a country exports more to ... When a country exports more to other nations than it imports, that country is said to have a trade s ...
4
Texas begins patchwork of social media regulation
ABQnews Seeker
In the decades following the end ... In the decades following the end of the shooting part of the Civil War, midwestern farmers shipped t ...
5
UNM Anderson receives $3.2M gift as foundation dissolves
ABQnews Seeker
The University of New Mexico Anderson ... The University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management recently received a $3.2 million gift, the largest cash gift in the school's history, following ...
6
Target companies, then network to land your dream job
Business
Dear J.T. & Dale: I've been ... Dear J.T. & Dale: I've been unemployed for nearly two years. My last employer decided they didn't need a full-time help desk and laid ...
7
Tax basis is in question for now-former partner
ABQnews Seeker
Q: I have a partnership tax ... Q: I have a partnership tax depreciation question. The accountant for a partnership that I used to b ...
8
Cyberattacks pose major risk to businesses, US
ABQnews Seeker
According to the Internet Complaint Center ... According to the Internet Complaint Center of the FBI, cyberattacks are a big and growing business. ...
9
6 New Mexico firms finalists in Walmart pitch contest
ABQnews Seeker
Six entrepreneurs from New Mexico have ... Six entrepreneurs from New Mexico have joined the list of finalists in Walmart Inc.'s ninth annual open call event, joining nearly 1,200 small- to ...
10
Rio Rancho entrepreneur nabs cash prize in pitch contest
ABQnews Seeker
A Rio Rancho woman took home ... A Rio Rancho woman took home one of the top prizes in an international start-up competition for entrepreneurs 55 years old and older. Leslie ...