The newest innovation of High-Powered Joint Electromagnetic Non-Kinetic Strike Weapon, or HiJENKS, is a gamechanger on the battlefield which employs microwave technology to shoot down an opponent’s electronic systems. The culminating experiments are being carried out at Naval Air Station China Lake by the Air Force’s Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research.

Two months of testing in California concludes a five-year cooperative effort by the US Navy and Air Force research laboratories to augment the country’s military high-power microwave technology.

The AFRL’s Counter-electronics High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, which underwent testing a decade ago, was replaced by HiJENKS. When reporters visited the lab’s Directed Energy Directorate on June 24 at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Jeffry Heggemeier, head of AFRL’s high-power electromagnetics division, said that the program builds on CHAMP by introducing modern technology that enables a smaller framework outfitted for a much more arduous environment.

According to Heggemeier, the head of AFRL’s high-power electromagnetics division remarked that the weapon has not yet been assigned a platform but highlighted that HiJENKS’s lower footprint appears to make it compatible with a greater variety of carrier systems.

Heggemeier said that after completing the test that will validate the technology, they would begin considering new applications that are particular to the service.

“We’ll start looking at more service-specific applications once we’ve done this test that demonstrates the technology,” Heggemeier expressed.

At sea aboard KNS Al-Dorrar (P 5509) Mar. 12, 2002 — An inert Sea Skua light anti-ship missile is placed on the deck of the Kuwaiti ship during a joint firing exercise conducted by the Kuwaiti Navy and coalition forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The British made Sea Skua missile is helicopter launched and weighs over 312 pounds, with an effective range of over nine nautical miles. (Source: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer Õs Mate 1st Class Kevin H. Tierney. (RELEASED) via Wikimedia Commons)

The Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR), which employs HPM technology to neutralize drone swarms that jeopardize military installations, is also moving ahead at AFRL.

The moniker Mjölnir, which refers to the hammer of the mythical god Thor, is assigned to the upcoming platform. Leidos received a $26 million contract from AFRL in February to create the Mjölnir prototype and execute it in the first quarter of 2024.

As remotely piloted aerial vehicle technology continues to evolve, Adrian Lucero, the program manager for THOR and Mjölnir, told reporters during the same conference that counter-drone systems are becoming more critical.

According to Albon, Lucero said that weapons like guns, nets, and laser systems are several alternative key regulators that can counteract drone systems.

“There are other effectors out there that are intended to go against drone systems like guns, nets, and laser systems,” he said.

Yet, Lucero argued that it has a broader area it can impact and a shorter engagement period.

“But what Thor brings to the table is it has a larger range to affect, and it has a decreased engagement time,” he added.

Last month, the THOR prototype came home after a year of functional assessment abroad. According to Albon’s report, the implementation team was constantly at work engineering the Mjolnir modifications and improvements to expand THOR’s reach and firepower by almost 50% and enhance the tech’s utility. These are the recommendations from the Air Force Security Forces, who have used it during the implementation.

Although Lucero and Heggemeier refused to specify where THOR was deployed, Lucero said that the system’s operational evaluation had shown it to be 94 percent “reliable.”

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On that note, Heggemeier articulated that being abroad while working in that operational environment and having Air Force Security Forces troops “pull the trigger” and “break it” taught them a wealth of knowledge.

“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,” he went on.

The Expert’s Take

Based on the analysis of Edl Schamiloglu, an electrical and computer engineer who designs and constructs references for high-power microwaves at the University of New Mexico, the energy from a power source, such as a wall plug in a laboratory or the motor of an armored vehicle, is transformed into radiated electromagnetic energy by directed energy microwave weapons and concentrated on a target. The focused high-power microwaves impair machinery, notably electronics, but don’t harm those individuals in the immediate vicinity.

“Two good examples are Boeing’s Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), which is a high-power microwave source mounted in a missile, and Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR), which was recently developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to knock out swarms of drones,” he said.

Tracing the Grassroots 

TM-76 Mace of the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron – Bitburg AB, West Germany. (Source: U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949-1969 The Pioneers by George Mindling and Robert Bolton, Lulu Press, 2008. United States Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

These directed energy microwave devices appeared in the US and Russia in the late 1960s. However, the advent of pulsed power in the 1960s made them possible, according to Schamiloglu.

Short electrical pulses with high power are manufactured by pulsed power, which can generate voltages up to a few megavolts and electrical current flow up to tens of kiloamps. That is approximately the same amount of current as a lightning bolt and has a higher voltage than the highest long-distance power transmission systems.

Schamiloglu has spent decades researching the “physics of these sources,” including work with the US Defense Department.