US to develop Mjolnir as follow-on to THOR ‘drone killer’ system

The US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Directed Energy Directorate is seeking partners to develop and build a new counter electronics weapon system – dubbed ‘Mjolnir’ – which will be used to further defend against the increasing threat of adversarial drone activities.

This new initiative was announced by the US Air Force (USAF) on August 2. The air arm states that Mjolnir will be an advanced high-power microwave weapon system, which will build on the success of the AFRL’s Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) technology demonstrator. Mjolnir will serve as a follow-on system to THOR, which is a directed energy weapon, designed to instantly disable the electronics of multiple unmanned targets – such as drone swarms – in fractions of a second and with rapid results.

Amber Anderson, THOR’s programme manager, said: “The new prototype will be called Mjolnir, after the mythical Norse god, Thor’s hammer. Because THOR was so successful, we wanted to keep the new system’s name in the THOR family.”

AFRL THOR drone killer system concept image [USAF]
An artist's digital rendering of the AFRL's Tactical High-Power Operational Responder (THOR) technology demonstrator, which is capable of disabling multiple sUAS in fractions of a second. Mjolnir - named after the mythical Norse god's famed hammer - will serve as a follow-on to THOR and will enter development later this year. USAF

The AFRL team working on this project are based at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, and are experts in high-power electromagnetic technology. To accomplish its objectives, the THOR demonstrator used bursts of intense radio waves to instantly disable small, unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The Mjolnir prototype will employ this same technology, but important advances in capability, reliability and manufacturing readiness will be incorporated into its design.

“After a successful two-year testing campaign, the AFRL team has learned a lot about the benefits of the technology and how it can be improved,” Anderson added.

The AFRL is working closely with cross-service partners in the Joint Counter sUAS Office and the US Army’s Rapid Capability and Critical Technologies Office. A request for proposal (RFP) will also be issued to industry via the US government’s website in a bid to attract companies that are interested in working with the AFRL in the development of the Mjolnir prototype.

Adrian Lucero, THOR’s deputy programme manager, said: “We are releasing an opportunity for businesses in the directed energy field, to help us build the follow-on system. AFRL’s goal is to create a blueprint for our partners so these systems can be economically produced in large quantities, and to grow a fledging industry that will become critically important as the US strives to maintain our electromagnetic spectrum superiority.

“As the danger from drone swarms evolves, all services are working closely to ensure emerging technologies – like Mjolnir – will be ready to support the needs of warfighters already engaged against these threats. The programme will begin this fall (autumn 2021), with a delivery of the prototype weapon in 2023,” he added.