- General Dynamics and Epirus Inc. are working together to develop a high-powered microwave beam weapon.
- The weapon will be able to blast microwave radiation across a wide arc, mowing down drone swarms.
- The weapon will also be able to burn out the engines of vehicles and even boats, and how it will affect people is unknown.
Two U.S.-based defense contractors are working on what could be the most promising solution to the problem of drone swarms yet. The two, General Dynamics and Epirus, Inc., are teaming up to place a high powered microwave cannon on an armored vehicle used by the U.S. Army. The result could be a weapon capable of tackling drone swarms and disabling vehicles on land and at sea, but the big question is how it would affect human beings.
One of the most dangerous new threats to U.S. troops is the threat of drone attacks. In 2016, an ISIS drone killed two Kurdish fighters and injured two French special forces operators. In response, the U.S. military quickly deployed handheld DroneDefender counter-drone weapons to U.S. troops in the Middle East and at home began plotting how to counter this new threat.
✈︎ Don't miss our best-in-class military news. Join our squadron.
All of this began a brand new arms race, as two sides, drone and counter-drone, have raced to outdo each other, using new technology to exploit gaps in the opponent’s capabilities. The counter-drone side deploys jammers, and in response the drone side deploys self-navigating robots. The counter-drone side deploys machine guns, shotguns, and lasers, and the drone side moves to network-enabled swarms designed to overwhelm human defenders. For now, drones have the upper hand.
That could change with the introduction of high powered microwave weapons, like those General Dynamics and Epirus are working together on. The two defense contractors are cooperating to build a new Short Range Air Defense weapon system, one they hope the Army could adopt for area drone defense.
The new system involves equipping a General Dynamics Stryker 8x8 wheeled infantry armored vehicle with an Leonidas high-powered microwave system. Leonidas can fire shotgun-like pulses of electromagnetic energy, shorting out the electronics of any drone in the pulse’s path. Leonidas, radiating out from the spatula-like antenna like the birdshot from a shotgun, has the potential to take out multiple drones with a single broadside. Flying drones would tumble to the ground, while ground drones would grind to a halt.
The U.S. Air Force has developed two microwave drone weapons, the Tactical High Powered Reponder, or THOR, and PHASER, to protect air bases from drone swarms. PHASER has been deployed overseas but there’s no word yet if it has actually seen combat.
As the Pentagon begins to develop and field high powered microwave weapons, one unresolved question is how these microwaves affect living things. Powerful bursts of the right kind of electromagnetic radiation can cripple or kill, or just cause enough pain to make someone go away. The U.S. military fielded the Active Denial System, a microwave radiation-based crowd control system designed to ward off rioters with bursts of pain, in 2012. Here's a video from the Marine Corps Reserves showing ADS in action:
Although human beings are not the targets of this new weapon, its use against crewed ground vehicles and boats could expose the people aboard them to microwave energy. Then again, as long as the system doesn’t inflict serious injuries, it’s probably safer to the people aboard to disable a vehicle’s engine with microwave radiation than it is with a 30-millimeter automatic cannon.