WASHINGTON: The Air Force yesterday said that it is not yet testing its prototype drone-killing microwave, the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), abroad — retracting a statement made last week by Chief Scientist Richard Joseph. Instead, the service “has either deployed or will deploy a total of three” High Energy Laser Weapon Systems (HELWS) variants developed by Raytheon, an Air Force spokesman said, declining to reveal where they are being used.
“The THOR system is currently at Kirtland AFB after undergoing pre-deployment upgrades. We do, in fact, plan to deploy THOR in CY21 for operational field assessment but will not confirm deployment locations or theaters at this time,” the spokesperson told Breaking D in an email. “We, of course, work closely with the combatant commands to determine the best locations to deploy and assess these systems.”
Joseph told the Mitchell Institute last Thursday, “We have recently deployed a test system to Africa for base defense … based on a microwave system. And the purpose is to be able to disrupt and destroy the performance of drones or swarms of drones. … It’s been tested extensively, works remarkably well. … I’ve watched it in action, and it’s really quite impressive.” And when I asked him point-blank if this was THOR, he said: “Yes.”
While the Air Force spokesman has not said so publicly, the implication is that Joseph misspoke. And while it is, of course, quite easy for anyone to mix up the names of ongoing programs doing the same things, what the service now seems to be saying that it might or might not currently have drone-killing microwave weapons being field-tested abroad.
In April, the service announced that it intended to put both THOR and Raytheon’s PHASER High-Power Microwave System into overseas trials, alongside HELWS — which it said had already been “set up” for testing. The trials, managed by the Air Force Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) Office, were designed to last 12 months, the release said.
“We had previously planned to also deploy the PHASER system for operational assessment, but the current plan is for additional PHASER testing at Kirtland AFB,” the spokesperson clarified. “The Air Force had planned to deploy PHASER, but no longer intends to deploy the PHASER system for operational assessment. The current plan is to use PHASER as an R&D test asset at Kirtland, and we are working with Raytheon to complete an agreement to enable that.”