WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is set to begin development and integration of a high-power microwave capability to destroy small drone threats beginning in fiscal 2022, according to budget justification documents released with the financial request.
The service plans to spend more than $50 million in FY22 to develop technology to counter small drones and is working jointly across the services to establish an enduring architecture of solutions to address the threat.
The Defense Department established the Army-led Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Office, or JCO, almost two years ago, laying out a path for how it will develop a system to counter small UAS and establishing an interim group of systems to be used as a bridge to the enduring capability.
Specifically, the Army is budgeting $18.73 million in FY22 to develop, integrate and test new technologies that could lead to a solution that involves high-power microwaves, or HPM,, which could contribute to neutralizing both singular drone threats and entire swarms.
Already underway is an effort to integrate low-collateral effects interceptors into an enduring counter-sUAS system, but other defeat mechanisms will be developed and incorporated into the architecture.
The Army plans to conduct a development phase to establish a high-power microwave capability from FY22 through the second quarter of FY23, according to a timeline laid out in the documents.
Prototyping for an HPM Ground Increment I effort will run through FY22, and a system test will take place in the first quarter of FY23, followed by a prototype delivery in the third quarter of FY23.
The Army also plans to field an HPM capability to destroy drone swarms as part of its Indirect Fires Protection Capability system that will defend fixed sites against drones, cruise missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars. The service is developing it with the Air Force, which is in charge of the research and development work. The Army is supplying the funding to build prototypes.
The weapon known as THOR — or Tactical High Power Operational Responder — was demonstrated at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, in February this year. The Army plans to conduct field testing as early as FY24.
Regarding the low-collateral effects interceptor, the Army is set to begin integration and testing of a solution starting in the fourth quarter of FY21 and ending in the third quarter of FY22. Final integration will wrap up in the first quarter of FY23, and the capability will transition to production in the second quarter of FY23, according to budget documents.
Three vendors — Boeing-owned Aurora Flight Sciences, Elta North America and Xtend — demonstrated low-collateral effects capabilities at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, this year. The demonstration is the first in a series of events, likely to take place twice a year, where the joint force will examine solutions that fill current capability gaps and are ready to transition into the field.
The Pentagon is planning its next demonstration of possible counter-sUAS capabilities in September this year that will focus on hand-held options to destroy small drones.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.