Weapon Systems

Directed energy weapons provide new protection against evolving drone threat


Leonidas, a portable counter-electronics system, is capable of grounding a single UAV or a swarm of drones by using high-powered microwave energy.

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Leonidas, a directed energy counter-electronics weapon, provides crucial protection against UAVs. [Epirus]
Leonidas, a directed energy counter-electronics weapon, provides crucial protection against UAVs. [Epirus]

Leonidas, a directed energy counter-electronics weapon, provides crucial protection against the evolving threat from unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs).

About the size of a small folding trailer, Leonidas uses high-powered solid state microwave energy to disable electronics in devices, including in UAVs, by firing electromagnetic pulse beams thousands of times per second, according to New Atlas.

"Like similar systems, Leonidas defends against drones by firing blasts of microwave energy that disrupts or destroys the uncrewed aircraft's electronics, sending it crashing to the ground," New Atlas reports.

Leonidas is capable of targeting a single UAV among many with its precision digital beam forming capabilities -- directing microwave energy toward a specific target.

It is also capable of targeting an entire area at once, "dropping swarms of drones like so many flies, and creating a 'force field' no electronic device can pass through unharmed," New Atlas reports.

UAVs, also known as drones, can be used to penetrate enemy airspace, conduct surveillance, provide support for ground troops and even directly attack targets.

But UAVs can pose a threat from enemies on the battlefield as well -- especially as the technology evolves. US Army leadership considers small enemy drones and drone swarms to be a top threat to soldiers, reports Breaking Defense.

During Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia used about 500 drones to coordinate artillery missions, New Atlas reports.

UAVs can also prove deadly off the battlefield in airspace occupied by civilian aircraft.

Unprecedented size and portability

As part of the effort to counter the threat from UAVs, the US Army's Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) awarded Epirus a contract of more than $66 million to deliver several Leonidas prototype systems in 2023, the company says.

"Time and time again, we've seen that current air defense systems are ill-equipped to tackle the threat of autonomous drone swarms. This contract with the RCCTO brings new counter-swarm capability to the UAS [unmanned aerial systems] fight with our cost-effective, modular and upgradable Leonidas systems," said Epirus CEO Ken Bedingfield in January 2023.

Leonidas is capable of disabling electronics outside UAVs, and during a field demonstration in 2021, it disabled an outboard ship motor -- proving its possible maritime applications, reports Defense News.

Epirus has also teamed with General Dynamics Land Systems to integrate Leonidas on Stryker military ground vehicles to provide Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) capabilities.

While high-powered microwave technology has been in use for decades, the traditional systems are bulky and require a team to operate, according to Epirus.

Leonidas is designed to be easily maneuverable, upgradable and operated by just a few people, Epirus says.

Leonidas is based on software capable of differentiating between friend and foe, Defense One reports.

In addition to its ground-based system, Epirus has also developed the Leonidas Pod, which is capable of being mounted on heavy-lift drones in order to take out drone swarms.

The Leonidas Pod showcases "unprecedented size and portability," Epirus says.

Leonidas and the Leonidas Pod allow operators to maintain a durable microwave beam with less power and in a much smaller container than traditional systems need, Defense One reports.

"As the threat environment continues to evolve, so, too, will our capabilities, ensuring the US Army is equipped with effective countermeasures to near-term and over-the-horizon electronic threats for decades to come," Bedingfield said in the statement.

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