Updated May 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Army gets four drone zappers in rush to defend troops

A Ukrainian service member, wearing camouflage, is seen near a backlit drone as it drops ordnance in an open field.

A Ukrainian drone operator pilots an attack drone as a commander, left, looks on. Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

The U.S. Army has received four drone-frying prototype weapons from defense contractor Epirus, as part of a $66 million deal through a rapid acquisition effort to boost defenses against unmanned aerial systems.

Why it matters: The Pentagon is increasingly concerned about the threat posed by UAS, particularly after seeing their use in Ukraine and their proliferation in the Greater Middle East, where three U.S. troops were killed in January.

  • The Epirus system, dubbed Leonidas, pumps out powerful waves of energy that overwhelm electronics and send smaller aircraft plummeting to the ground.
  • The company's tech can be installed on manned and unmanned machinery, including on the back of a Stryker combat vehicle or on the belly of a drone.

Between the lines: The U.S. military has for decades sought practical directed-energy tools. Widespread adoption has yet to arrive.

  • The Pentagon is spending an average $1 billion annually on directed-energy development, according to a federal watchdog report.
  • More than 30 directed-energy initiatives are underway across the military right now. At least nine are tied to the Army.
  • Navy leaders lamented a lack of powerful lasers and microwaves in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, where Yemen-based Houthi rebels are harassing military and commercial vessels.

Zoom in: Epirus delivered its first Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High-Power Microwave prototype, or IFPC-HPM, in November 2023. Three more were handed over by March.

  • The Army's IFPC endeavor aims to shield sites from incoming drones, rockets, artillery, mortars and cruise missiles.
  • Soldier training and engineering assessments showed the viability of high-power microwave against drones and larger swarms, according to Andy Lowery, the chief executive at Epirus.

What's next: Data collected during the preliminary tests will shape funding and deployment decisions down the road.

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