The Army is buying microwave cannons to take down drones in mid-flight

The US Army has a new plan for microwaving drones out of the sky. In a public solicitation last Friday, the agency announced its intention to purchase an airborne high-powered microwave system from Lockheed Martin, which is intended for use against drones. The weapon, which would be mounted to an airplane, would disable fixed-wing or quadcopter drones with a beam of focused radiation.

Drone countermeasures are particularly relevant in the wake of an apparent assassination attempt against Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro that was carried out by a pair of hexacopter drones rigged with remote-triggered explosives. Public video collected by Bellingcat indicates the attack was carried out by drones similar to DJI’s Matrice 600. Each drone was equipped with a kilogram of C4 explosive, according to a statement by Venezuelan security forces. The Matrice 600’s maximum carrying capacity is 5.5 kilograms.

The Army’s new system comes on the heels of a similar microwave system that was developed by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force called the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator or “SHiELD.” Intended for use against incoming missiles, the project was the subject of a $26 million design award in November 2017.

“Unmanned aircraft system payloads under consideration include explosives, nets, entanglers/streamers, and high-powered-microwave sources,” the solicitation reads. Responses to the new proposal are due by August 18th.

In the Maduro case, Venezuelan security forces simply shot the drones out of the sky with rifles, causing the craft to either explode or plummet to the ground. Still, a number of more sophisticated and potentially safer countermeasures are available. Most drones can be neutralized with targeted radio jamming, which causes the craft to lose its connection with the pilot and hover to the ground. Other agencies have trained hawks to take down the drones in midflight, although the tactic remains controversial and has not been widely adopted. A recent study by Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone found 235 separate anti-drone systems either in use or in active development.