The development of a High Power Microwave (HPM) weapon for the destruction of enemy drones has recently been announced by American firm Raytheon, which will be deployed alongside the high energy laser HEL on behalf of the US Air Force and the US Army. The new weapon will be used operationally, either individually or in combination with HEL.
Although no further details have been disclosed by the company, the biggest advantage of the HPM system is its wide range, allowing multiple targets to be destroyed at the same time.
Drone attacks are on the rise in the world, and a recent case is the recent drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi oilfields – so procedures to deploy specialized weapons to counter them are accelerating. In this context, as the Popular Mechanics reports, the Pentagon has previously informed Congress of the purchase of a microwave weapon system designed to shoot down clusters of enemy drones with energy pulses. This market is aimed at developing the PHASER system overseas for a one-year evaluation – something that, as Popular Mechanics emphasizes, makes it the first direct-fired energy-efficient defensive weapon.
The U.S. Air Force spent $16.28 million for one prototype PHASER high power microwave system for a “field assessment for purposes of experimentation” in an unspecified location outside the U.S. The test is “expected to be completed by Dec. 20, 2020,” making the overseas deployment “against real-world or simulated hostile vignettes” imminent.
There are several directed energy weapons that the Air Force is buying to test their effectiveness in the field, and officials say some will be on the frontlines in tense areas of the globe where enemy drones are becoming a threat, includes North Korea, Africa, the Ukraine and—most recently—the Middle East.
“At the moment we have awarded multiple DE systems for use in our field assessment overseas and are working to support multiple bases and areas of responsibility,” says Michael Jirjis, who is lead on the PHASER experiment, told Popular Mechanics. “We can’t say which specific locations at this time.”
Officials at the Air Force and Raytheon, the system’s manufacturer, say the purchase has been underway for a while, but the timing of the announcement couldn’t make it more urgent. The recent swarm attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities has highlighted the risk and drawn a stern response from the Pentagon.
“This is not the reaction of just a few events but the realization of a growing need over the past few years,” says Jirjis.
This weapon system uses microwaves to dispose of Class 1 and Class 2 drones, which are under 25kg and fly at about 360-1000 meters and at speeds of 100-200 knots.
PHASER does not “burn” a drone, however, it causes operating problems or destroys their circuits, as it emits microwaves in a conical beam, striking its targets with a large amount of energy. The whole process takes a fraction of a second.