Have We Surpassed Science Fiction Yet?
According to a solicitation posted last Friday, the US Army has announced plans to develop and support a number of high-powered microwave cannons for use against unmanned aircraft.
It will make the purchase from security company Lockheed Martin, creator of the microwave weapon. The weapon is designed to be attached to a fixed-wing aircraft or mounted on a ground vehicle, and delivers focused streams of radiation capable of disrupting and disabling unmanned drone aircraft.
The Air Force has also received weapon systems by this security company in the past, including the award-winning Self-project High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD). This system is credited by a 2017 design award to be a huge step forward in laser technology, an award which won Lockheed Martin $26 Million. SHiELD is a laser defense system designed to locate and melt incoming missiles before they contact their intended targets.
Since this system is designed to counter Air-To-Air Missiles and can be mounted on airborne vehicles, it has a number of advantages when compared to traditional ground-based laser defenses. For example, the head of a tracker Air-To-Air Missile is generally fragile, and a laser will have an easier time melting that than melting a whole missile, as well as an easier time melting an Air-To-Air missile than an Air-To-Ground missile.
This new initiative to develop defensive countermeasures against drones may be in part due to a recent attack on a Venezuelan president that was carried out by a drone. According to an article by The Verge, the attempt was made during the president’s live speech on August 4th, 2018, and was unsuccessful.
According to the article, the owners of the drones were a movement known as the ‘National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts’, who later stated that their two sniper drones were shot down by Venezuelan snipers before they could fire on the president. However, this still caused the drones to crash and explode among a scattered crowd, and the US Military may be investing in this technology to seek out a safer and more efficient way to strike down drone attacks.
However, the truth of this event remains uncertain. A team of Venezuelan firefighters, who were also present, claim that the “bang” heard on video footage was from a gas explosion that occurred nearby. And only a single “bang” can be heard in the video, but seven members of the Venezuelan military were injured on the scene.
These microwave beams are far from the only method currently in use to counter drone technology. A study from Bard College, titled “Center For The Study Of The Drone“, has discovered over 250 ways of disabling and countering attack drones that have either been completed or are currently in development. One of the simplest and most intuitive ways is using focused signal jammers to disconnect drones from their operators, and one of the most unorthodox methods uses trained eagles to seek out and pick off attack drones mid-flight.
However, drones may soon develop their systems to a point where signal jamming becomes impractical or ineffective, and using eagles to counter drones is not a widely accepted tactic for a variety of reasons.