ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Navy and Air Force research laboratories are wrapping up a five-year joint effort to advance high-power microwave technology this summer with two months of testing in California.
The High-Powered Joint Electromagnetic Non-Kinetic Strike Weapon, known as HiJENKS, uses microwave technology to disable an adversary’s electronic systems. The Air Force Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research are conducting the capstone tests at Naval Air Station China Lake.
HiJENKS is the successor to the AFRL’s Counter-electronics High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, which completed testing a decade ago. Jeffry Heggemeier, chief of AFRL’s high-power electromagnetics division, told reporters during a June 24 visit to the lab’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico the program builds on CHAMP, taking advantage of new technology that allows for a smaller system equipped for a more rugged environment.
Heggemeier said the program hasn’t yet designated a platform for the weapon, but noted HiJENKS’ smaller footprint means it could be integrated on a wider range of carrier systems.
“We’ll start looking at more service-specific applications once we’ve done this test that demonstrates the technology,” he said.
AFRL is also making progress on a more advanced version of its Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR), which uses HPM technology to disable drone swarms that pose a threat to military bases. The next-generation platform is named Mjölnir as an homage to the mythical god Thor’s hammer. AFRL awarded Leidos a $26 million contract in February to develop the Mjölnir prototype and deliver it in early 2024.
Adrian Lucero, THOR and Mjölnir program manager, told reporters during the same June 24 briefing that counter-drone systems are becoming increasingly relevant as unmanned aerial vehicle technology advances.
“There are other effectors out there that are intended to go against drone systems like guns, nets and laser systems,” he said. “But what Thor brings to the table is it has a larger range to affect and it has a decreased engagement time.”
The THOR prototype returned last month from a year of operational testing overseas. While the system was in use, the program team was hard at work developing the Mjolnir upgrades to extend THOR’s range, increase its power by about 50% and improve its usability — recommendations from the Air Force Security Forces who were using it during the deployment.
“We learned a lot of lessons from it being overseas, just working in that operational environment, having Air Force Security Forces airmen pulling the trigger and breaking it,” Heggemeier said.
Lucero and Heggemeier wouldn’t disclose where THOR was deployed, but Lucero said the system proved 94% reliable during its operational assessment, demonstrating its ability “in the real world.”
Once the prototype arrived back in New Mexico, the team disassembled and inspected it and then reassembled it for baseline testing to ensure it’s working as designed. Lucero said the program is now testing the Mjölnir upgrades.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.