WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Drones have been around for decades, but new technologies have accelerated their development and adoption, and as they’re weaponsised we need new ways to take them down.
Recently a black hat hacker showed how they could weaponize satellites in space to microwave people on the ground, and the Chinese and Russians used microwave radiation to fry the atmosphere above Europe, and now the US Army, as part of a broad counter-unmanned aerial systems strategy, is pushing forward with the US Air Force (USAF) to develop a high-powered microwave weapon, and the last time I talked about microwave weapons was when hackers announced they’d figured out a way to hack satellite systems and cook people from space. Microwaved pop corn – fun, microwaved people – less so.
Now though as the technology finds a new military application, namely using microwaves to short out the electronics of drones in flight, which would cause them to crash – unless that is they’re fried by lasers first, which, thanks to nanotech they already have defenses against – researchers are now zeroing in on the benefit of the weapon’s broad firing arc that means it could take out many drones at once, defeating enemy drone hunter-killer swarms, like the ones proposed by the US Marines, and helping take out drones anywhere – from airports where drone operators bought several airports to a standstill, through to helping protect prisons.
See the tech in action
According to Defense News, the Army is teaming up with the USAF to develop a high-powered microwave weapon. The weapon is part of the service’s Indirect Fires Protection Capability (IFPC), a series of weapons designed to shoot down enemy artillery shells, rockets, cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. IPFC will also include a 150 kilowatt laser weapon.
Microwaves are an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation harnessed by mankind to make popcorn, yum, and defrost steaks, also yummy. But microwave radiation can also disrupt or destroy electronic equipment exposed to them, “cooking” internal circuits much in the same way a fork or other metal objects placed in a microwave oven will cause the oven’s electronics to melt down.
The Pentagon has researched high powered microwave weapons for years, but the threat of drone swarms may have presented it with the perfect threat. The military is preparing for the eventuality of facing swarms of suicide drones on the battlefield, each carrying an explosive payloads or prepared to make a suicide attack.
Current anti-drone weapons include jammers, shotguns, nets, and even birds, but many of these weapons are only effective against one or a small number of drones at once, and not the dozens or more drones envisioned in the worst drone swarm scenarios.
Enter a high powered microwave weapon. First, they can “fire” microwaves in arc defined by the radiating antenna, typically a “field of view” from several to tens of degrees. This allows the HPM to literally sweep the sky with microwave radiation, frying everything in its path. This would be much more effective against large numbers of drones than jammers or even kinetic weapons like machine guns.
High powered microwave weapons have other advantages too. Microwave radiation doesn’t care about rain and other inclement weather, it doesn’t rely on individual shots of ammunition, and as long as the electrical generator powering is powered on, it will continue to “fire.”
If friendly forces are jammed or the microwave targeting system is disabled, the microwave can simply be pointed in the anticipated direction of attack and fry anything that wanders into its antenna field of view. Finally, and most importantly, microwave weapons will fry anything that gets into range, and unlike jammers do not need to know the precise frequency a drone’s control system.
A joint Army/Air Force microwave weapon prototype should be operational by 2022, and if it works the Army plans to develop it further for fielding to air defense units.