Air Force Debuts Anti-Drone Technology

One measure unveiled for this year, another due in 2020

A drone recently flew a human kidney over the Las Vegas desert
Anoldent/Creative Commons

They may sound like they’ve stepped out of the pages of a superhero comic book, but THOR and CHIMERA are very real — and they may be fighting drones in combat situations in the future.

This month, the US Air Force debuted Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder, or THOR, a microwave system designed to, in the words of The Verge’s report on the system, “protect bases against swarms of drones.”

It’s one of two systems on the way to address hostile drones. THOR is designed for short-range targets. Another system for targets further away, Counter-Electronic High-Power Microwave Extended-Range Air Base Air Defense (CHIMERA), will be ready next year.

The Air Force’s initiatives tap into larger concerns that a military base might be vulnerable to an attack by a massive group of drones. The presence of drones around military bases has been a concern of the military for several years now. In 2017, the FAA restricted drone operations around military bases. And a report from earlier this year indicated that American bases in Japan had drones in their airspace 70 times over the course of 2018.

Whether actively hostile or used out of curiosity, drones in the wrong place can dramatically interfere with the operations of a large-scale facility: the delays of flights for several days around London’s Gatwick Airport last year are but one reminder of that.

Drones have a longer military tradition than one might first believe. As a 2018 interview with retired Navy captain John E. Jackson noted, unmanned vehicles used by the military are not a recent development — in fact, the idea dates back to World War I. But technology is constantly evolving — and sometimes the most innocuous things can take on a more ominous significance.

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