Pentagon is really interested in coming up with a technique for taking out drones. Quite recently, it notified Congress about its purchase of a microwave weapon system – PHASER – that has been designed for the sake of taking out groups of enemy drones using pulses of energy.
The purchase has been made with the intent of deploying PHASER system overseas for an assessment that will last a year. This will make the PHASER system the very first directed energy defense weapon ever to be fielded.
The U.S. Air Force has spent a total of $16.28 million for a single prototype PHASER high power microwave system for a ‘field assessment for purposes of experimentation’ in an undisclosed location outside of the U.S. The test will be concluded by December 20, 2020. The U.S. Air Force is busy purchasing a variety of directed energy weapon systems that are slated to be used in areas where enemy drones are becoming a threat.
Michael Jirjis, lead on the PHASER experiment, said, ‘At the moment we have awarded multiple D.E. systems for use in our field assessment overseas and are working to support multiple bases and areas of responsibility. We can’t say which specific locations at this time.’ The efforts for purchase have been going on for quite some time now as per officials at the Air Force and Raytheon.
It was the recent swarm attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that have brought the risk to the limelight, thus managing to get a quick response from the Pentagon. Jirjis said, ‘This is not the reaction of just a few events but the realization of a growing need over the past few years.’ Don Sullivan who is the chief technologist for directed energy at Raytheon missile systems said, ‘It is a remarkable coincidence because this has been in the works between the Air Force and Raytheon essentially since an experiment at White Sands [Missile Range] late last year.’
Sullivan further said, ‘There are fairly recent incidents, for example in Yemen where 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. What happened in Saudi over the weekend was kind of that raised to the nth degree.’
The PHASER system relies on the use of the microwaves for disabling Class One and Class Two drones – the drones that weigh in at less than 25 pounds while flying at altitudes of 1,200 to 3,500 feet at speeds varying between 100 and 200 knots. PHASER is part of a bigger approach that is aimed at taking out unmanned aerial threats.
Sullivan said, ‘Up until very recently it’s been mostly a technology push rather than a user pull. There wasn’t sufficient user pull until the UAS, and in particular swarms of UAS, have reared their ugly heads as a real threat.’ PHASER is basically a high-powered microwave cannon that is capable of emitting radio frequencies in a conical beam. It basically destroys or disrupts the circuits of drones using a burst of excess energy.
Sullivan said, ‘It’s not a thermal effect, it’s an electric field effect that is basically imposed on the electronics to either upset or permanently damage them. And the effect is essentially instantaneous. If you could see the microwaves, it would look very much like a strobe light.’ Operators will have to make a positive identification before they are able to fire the weapon. The process begins with detection from radar and then a camera or another sensor. The PHASER antenna then relies on this collected data for aiming at the target drone.
A 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service said, ‘The U.S. military has a long and complicated history in developing directed energy weapons. Many past efforts have failed for a variety of reasons, and not all failures were attributed to scientific or technological challenges. At present, a number of U.S. military D.E. weapons-related programs are beginning to show promise, such as the Navy’s Laser Weapon System (LaWs), the first-ever Department of Defense laser weapon to be deployed and approved for operational use.’
Sullivan said, ‘We’re just incredibly satisfied. We have a real sense of success and accomplishment that our system will be the first of its kind to go overseas.’