An artist's rendering of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tactical High-power Operational Responder, or THOR. THOR is a portable counter-UAS system, capable of destroying swarms of drones at long range at the speed of light. (Air Force Research Laboratory courtesy graphic)

Yes, they can be killed, and yes, it can be done.

The US and Israel have conducted recent anti-drone tests, which are aimed at defending critical infrastructure such as runways, equipment and buildings housing troops from deadly kamikaze-style swarm attacks.

The US Air Force plans to thwart such a potential threat with its new counter-drone Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR), while Israel is testing an airborne high-powered laser weapon.

Unlike a laser, which can disable only one drone at a time, THOR has been engineered to kill them in groups or swarms with powerful microwaves that disrupt their electronics, Military.com reported.

The Air Force Research Lab, which is spearheading the project, has already used THOR in a real-world test that took out hundreds of drones, the service said.

A target is identified, the silent weapon discharges in less than a second, and the impact is instantaneous, the service claims in a video narration (see below).

The system, which looks like a standard Conex box with a satellite dish, is housed at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 20-foot container can also be transported anywhere via a C-130 Hercules, the report said.

Two personnel can set the system up in under three hours, the service said, adding that it is less expensive to use than a surface-to-air weapon.

“The system output is powerful radio wave bursts, which offer a greater engagement range than bullets or nets, and its effects are silent and instantaneous,” said Amber Anderson, THOR program manager.

“Drones represent an emerging threat to US military bases, personnel and infrastructure, and it is THOR’s mission to keep them safe, at close range and from a distance.”

Defense against small drones has become a growing priority for the Pentagon in recent years, especially as they are easy to obtain.

Some bases have already invested in defenses against small unmanned aircraft.

And for the past several years, combat units overseas have been equipped with drone-disabling systems such as Dedrone’s DroneDefender, a shoulder-fired weapon that disables them with radio waves, the report said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced that it successfully intercepted multiple drones during a test of an airborne high-power laser weapon, The War Zone reported.

The demonstrated system is being hailed as “a strategic change in the air defense capabilities of the State of Israel” and could potentially add a vital capability to Israel’s multi-layered integrated air defense system.

While the new high-power laser has been tested against UAVs, statements made by officials involved with the demonstration show that the system is also intended to defend against rocket attacks, the report said.

The demonstration was carried out by the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) “Yanat” missile test unit, Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), and Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems.

A press release states that multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were intercepted and destroyed above a test range using the new airborne laser system.

Footage shared online shows the system deployed on a Cessna 208 Caravan behind a windowed panel on the left side of the aircraft’s rear fuselage, the report said.

Airborne laser systems offer advantages over ground-based laser systems due to the fact aircraft can be rapidly moved between locations.

An airborne counter-drone system also will be less impacted by atmospheric distortion than its ground-based counterparts. Laser directed energy weapons, in general, have limitations, such as being highly susceptible to atmospheric conditions, clouds, and smoke.

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the demonstration of the new system is “significant both in terms of cost-effectiveness and defense capabilities” and “will add a new layer of protection at greater ranges and in facing a variety of threats — securing the State of Israel while saving the costs of interception.” 

Sources: Military.com, The War Zone, US Air Force