U.S. startup builds high-tech drone killer
April 27, 2021 - With drones increasingly important in 21st century warfare, a U.S. startup has developed a portable and powerful microwave energy weapon that can disable enemy drones with pinpoint accuracy.
Founded in 2018, Los Angeles-based startup Epirus, says drones are fast becoming a staple of 21st-century warfare – with U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie going as far as to call them the most concerning tactical development since the rise of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
As well as of being of interest to major powers, the use of drones in warfare is seen as a cheap way for small insurgent groups to challenge larger powers on the battlefield. Drones can be equipped to be suicide devices, i.e. carrying an explosive device to a target and exploding (an avenue of warfare that China is reportedly interested in), or for use in surveillance by carrying cameras.
In recent times there have been several well publicised incidents where unwelcome drones have caused concern or cost companies millions of dollars.
Last month, it was revealed that in July 2019, six drones targeted U.S. Navy destroyers over several nights off the coast of California, flashing strobe lights, performing dangerous manoeuvres (at speeds in excess of 30km/h) and staying airborne for 90 minutes – a flight time greater than commercially available drones can accommodate.
In December 2018, unauthorised drones entered the airspace around London’s Gatwick Airport, forcing authorities to ground all aircraft for 36 hours – affecting 1,000 flights and costing the air industry an estimated $70 million.
In an attempt to tackle this growing problem, Epirus has created "Leonidas", a portable, High Power Microwave (HPM) energy weapon that can be used to disable a swarm of drones in a single blast or knock-out an individual drone with pinpoint accuracy.
Naturally, the fine details of how it works are confidential but the firm has revealed that it works by overloading the electronics on board a drone, causing it to instantly fall – a system known in military circles as a Counter Unmanned Aircraft System (C-UAS).
Epirus' method involves a solid-state, software-controlled HPM that can destroy electronic targets using beamforming (a technique that focuses a wireless signal towards a specific target) – allowing operators to disable enemy threats without damaging friendly technology close by.
Perhaps its most attractive attribute is its diminutive size. Current systems are very bulky, occupying shipping containers full of vacuum tubes and coolants. Leonidas, on the other hand, uses Gallium Nitride power amplifiers, meaning it can fit onto a small trailer and be towed by a car or mounted onto the deck of a ship. It can also power up and down in minutes rather than the hours required by vacuum-tube HPM systems.
Epirus has also developed the "Leonidas Pod", a compact HPM beam emitter that can be, somewhat ironically, carried by a drone itself – leading one to wonder if future warfare really is heading into the realms of science fiction, whereby computer-controlled adversaries do battle.