Air Force Set To Deploy Its Counter-Drone "Phaser" Microwave Weapon Overseas

The announcement comes as the threat that small unmanned suicide drones pose is front and center after unprecedented attacks in Saudi Arabia.


The U.S. Air Force says it will deploy a prototype of Raytheon's Phaserhigh-power microwavecounter-drone system for an operational evaluation within months. The service has been experimenting with a number ofanti-drone directed energy weapons, which also include lasers, in recent years as the threat of small unmanned aircrafthas grown。A Raytheon representative has said that arecent mass drone attackthat caused significant damage to oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabiahas highlighted these concerns“到第n次。”

五角大楼宣布该交易,价值近1630万美元its daily contracting announcementson Sept. 23, 2019. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is managing the program, which it says will include a year-long evaluation of Phaser at an unspecified location "OCONUS," or "outside the continental United States." Work under the contract is set to wrap up on Dec. 20, 2020, meaning that this field test is set to start in January at the very latest. AFRLhas previously tested Phaserat the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

"Experimentation includes, but is not limited to 12 months of in-field operation by Air Force personnel against unmanned aerial systems threats," the contracting notice explains. "In addition, experimentation includes but is not limited to operator training, in theater maintenance of systems while collecting availability (full mission capable, partial mission capable, non-mission capable), reliability, maintainability and supportability data, and system operation against real-world or simulated hostile vignettes without disrupting other necessary installation operations."

Phaser目前的形式is a containerized high-power microwave directed energy weapon. Raytheon says one of its goals is to eventually be able to scale down the system into more portable, flexible forms.


Raytheon's Phaser system.

Radars or electro-optical and infrared cameras help cue the system to its targets. It then projects a beam of microwave energy that aims to disrupt a drone's internal systems, causing it to fall out of the sky or possibly initiate a pre-programmed emergency procedure where it tries to lands or return to a point of origin.

Phaserhas the abilityto switch from "disrupt" to "destroy" mode, in which it can send a burst of microwave energy sufficiently powerful enough high to fry electronic components inside an unmanned aircraft. The exact effect could be dependant on the system's range to the target and level of component hardening within the drone.

Depending on the effective range of the system, it could potentially destroy various electronicson other aerial threats, including manned aircraft, helicopters, and missiles. Depending on how Phaser's turret is configured, it is possible that this beam could be aimed at targets on the ground, as well. The U.S. military has already been investigating the potential uses for high-power microwave weapons in ground roles, especially用于迫害保护目的, such asstopping threatening vehiclesbefore they reach a base.

It isn't exactly clear how wide an effective microwave beam the Phaser can fire, but it is known to have been designed to counter groups of drones simultaneously, giving it real anti-swarm potential. It's unlimited magazine also would help in repulsing sustained attacks from multiple groups of drones.

Phaser is one of three high-power microwave counter-drone systems that the Air Force is testing. BAE Systems, Leidos, and Verus Research worked under a separate AFRL contract to build the containerized Tactical High-Power Operational Responder design,or THOR。第三个系统被称为反电子大功率微波延伸范围的空气基础空防,or CHIMERA

THOR, which is supposed to engage targets at shorter ranges, “just simply wasn’t able to hit targets that mattered for mission," Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Will Roper told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tankin March 2019。"I have no doubt that eventually the program will be back, that they’ll have tackled their technology challenge, and they’ll be ready to take the next step."

Less is known about CHIMERA, which the Air Force says is focused on engaging threats at medium-to-long ranges. The serviceexpects to take deliveryof a prototype of this system some time in the 2020 Fiscal Year, which begins next month.

Phaser, which Raytheon has been working on in cooperation with various branches of the U.S. military since at least 2013, could offer a capable and more immediate option. The Massachusetts-based defense contractor says the system downed 33 drones, two and three at a time, during one previous U.S. Army exercise.

“该梁就像一座灯塔的探照灯,”雷斯龙的导弹系统业务的主要技术专家唐沙尔维文,said in 2018。"The fact that you can simultaneously track and immediately move to the next target to address not just a swarm, but multiple swarms, is a big advantage."

最后一点已成为越来越紧迫的问题。捍卫群众无人机袭击事件,只要在一起联网和经营一个自主群体的小型无人机的群,已经证明是非常困难的。就在这个月,18 suicide drones struckSaudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil processing facility, the largest of its kind in the world, causing significant damage. Saudi Arabian air defenses were completely ineffectual in responding the attack, whichthe government in Riyadh, as well as that ofthe United Statesothers, say was at least Iranian-sponsored, if Iranian operatives did not carry it out directly.

Saudi Arabia Ministry of Defense

Wreckage of what Saudi Arabia says are Iranian-made suicide drones, in the foreground, as well as Iranian-made land-attack cruise missiles, in the background, that the country recovered after attacks on its oil infrastructure earlier in September 2019.

"There are fairly recent incidents, for examplein Yemenwhere a very large drone with a high explosive payload killed about 40 people, at a prayer ground of all places. And that was on YouTube. It was a real eye-opener," Raytheon's SullivantoldPopular Mechanics。"What happened in Saudi over the weekend [of Sept. 14-15, 2019] was kind of that raised to the nth degree."

The potential threat that Iran's growing drone capabilities pose, even to larger militaries, such as that of the United States, was already on display earlier this year. In July 2019, U.S. Marines on board the U.S. Navy's黄蜂class amphibious assault ship USSBoxer拿下来两个伊朗数万的无人机eStrait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, using all-terrain vehicles on the ship's deckequipped withradio frequency jammers.

沙特阿拉伯的最新事件还强调了使用大量小型无人机的攻击障碍的障碍有多低,因此how great the threatactually is, something战区has called attention tomultiple timesin the past。Drone use among smaller state actors, as well as non-state groups, will only increase in the future, in general.

Last year, an AFRL representative notably said they had visited Afghanistan in 2017 andsaw insurgent dronesroutinely monitoring American activities with impunity. Afghanistan is a very likely location for the Air Force's upcoming 12-month test of Phaser. It is also possible that given recent events, that the service may decide to shift the location of the test to Saudi Arabia.

These same experiences in places such as Afghanistan,Iraq,Yemen, and most recently in Saudi Arabia,在其他国家之外,不断地强调低端点防御可能是对抗低和慢速无人机的唯一防御。这些威胁很困难,如果许多传统防空系统不可能检测和接触。

At the same time, close-in defenses that rely on conventional weapons, such as a rapid-firing gun, may also not have the magazine depth necessary to engage an entire swarm of unmanned aircraft. For instance, the U.S. Army has a trailer-mounted version of the U.S. Navy'sMK 15 Phalanx.封闭武器系统(CIWS)叫百长岁, which features a20mm Vulcan cannon, for defense against artillery shells and rockets and mortar bombs. It is now in the process ofupdating these systemsto be able to engage small unmanned aircraft, as well.

The U.S. Army is also upgradingits Stingershort-range surface-to-air missiles to be better able to engage low- and slow-flying unmanned aircraft. That service is also experimenting with the concept of countering swarms of small drones withits own swarmsof suicidal drones, as well, another concept战区has put forward for some time.

同样的现实也适用于海军设置。大多数美国海军船只都有蝴蝶人或RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile(RAM) to provide close-in protection. That service has already deployed laser-based directed energy weapons on ships in an experimental capacity as possible options for tackle the increasing drone threat and there are漏斗大功率微波系统in development, as well.