The Once Elusive “Microwave Moment” is Here to Stay – Thanks to Epirus

Epirus News
JUN 21 2022
Andy Lowery | Chief Product Officer, Epirus

Andy Lowery | Chief Executive Officer, Epirus

At a U.S. government testing site in the Nevada desert, six Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, or drones) quietly fly out in the distance, unseen by the naked human eye. As the group of drones inch closer, a surface-to-air defense system fires an incredibly powerful, yet silent high-power microwave (HPM) pulsed waveform towards the targets. Almost instantly, all six of the drones drop out of the sky and are rendered useless.  

The above scene may, to many, sound like something straight off the screen from your favorite Star Trek film. Quite the contrary. What’s detailed above played out in real time in 2021 at a customer demonstration hosted by Los Angeles-based technology company Epirus, when I served as Chief Product Officer. At Epirus, we introduced three iterations of our counter-electronics system, Leonidas, in under two years. Our newest system was unveiled with resounding success at a recent Department of Defense (DoD) HPM counter-UAS industry technology demonstration – another validation of our market leading counter-electronics capabilities.

The History of High-Power Microwave: High-Power, Low Results:  

Contrary to popular belief, high-power microwave is not a novel technology. Its origins date back to the early 1960s, when U.S. and Soviet technologists brought their respective HPM capabilities to fruition. This birth of militarized HPM naturally gave rise to a new sub-set of the U.S.-Soviet arms race and the first leg of the global sprint to electromagnetic spectrum superiority that glares on today.

High-power microwave was once a technology that held significant promise and was heralded by many throughout the military as the next best thing – a panacea for addressing emerging threats. The U.S. Air Force, the primary funder of U.S. HPM programs from the 1960s to 1990s, had hoped at the outset of microwave waveform research to create a weapon system capable of disabling enemy electronics – a weapon system that could “turn the lights out” on your enemy.

Over the past half-century-plus, this vision for operational, deployment-ready HPM technology has continuously fallen short as legacy HPM systems remain plagued by significant size and heat constraints. Despite notable advances in the field, even leading engineers of the time proved unable to overcome HPM’s most significant technical hurdle: balancing the high-power output needed to disable electronic threats with the ability to prevent the system from overheating.

This decades-old thermal capacity issue (mixed in with a slew of other factors) led many DoD decisionmakers to share Sharon Weinberger’s assessment in her 2012 Nature article titled “High-Power Microwave Weapons Start to Look Like Dead-End" that “despite 50 years of research on high-power microwaves, the U.S. military [is unlikely to] produce a usable weapon.”

Enter Epirus SmartPower – A New Era of High-Power Microwave Prowess:  

Meet Leonidas. A smaller, smarter, safer HPM system.

Fast forward to 2021 and Epirus’ introduction of Leonidas, the world’s first solid-state, software-defined HPM system for counter-electronics effects. On the heels of yet another technology validation by key U.S. government officials, Epirus has achieved the herculean task of bringing HPM capabilities with unprecedented effectiveness to life. And we continue to prove that our revolutionary solid-state, software-defined approach to HPM is a viable solution for countering hostile drones and other electronic threats.

In our quest to deliver an HPM system dramatically smaller than legacy systems without compromising power output nor effectiveness, we realized a new paradigm of power consumption was needed to achieve our end goal. Put simply, the traditional, “analog” HPM systems had to be digitized. And so Epirus SmartPower – the nucleus of our innovation – was born.  

Epirus’ expanded capability in the areas of thermal capacity, size and mobility – key areas that hamstring legacy HPM systems – is the result of three unique factors, all enabled by the SmartPower technology platform:  

  1. Under the hood of Leonidas lies an array of Gallium-Nitride-based Line Replaceable Amplifier Modules (LRAMs) that feature unique power management, control and amplification characteristics. This LRAM architecture enables unprecedented design flexibility and offers reliability, maintainability and supportability advantages over alternative HPM approaches. With this design flexibility, we’re able to rapidly introduce new form factors to meet the constantly evolving mission needs of our customers. Not only has Epirus introduced three Leonidas systems – each better than the last – we've also introduced a second, more modular, compact and portable HPM system that can advance directly to the threat environment, Leonidas Pod.
  2. Each LRAM is centered around Epirus’ SmartPower technology platform, a proprietary combination of hardware, software and intelligent services, to deliver unprecedented outcomes in power management – increasing efficiency and maximizing output. Using SmartPower, we’re able to achieve the high-power output needed to generate an HPM pulse, all while ensuring the system does not overheat. SmartPower has allowed us to revolutionize the Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) factor, as well – Leonidas can fit in the backup of a pickup truck whereas other HPM technologies can be the size of a shipping container.
  3. Finally, Leonidas’ software-defined ability enables its highly sophisticated, adaptable and incredibly precise waveforms. Because the system is software-defined, we’re able to precisely tune our waveforms – widening or narrowing the HPM pulse to prosecute a single target in tight, crowded spaces or sanitize an entire volume of terrain. Operationally, this means Leonidas can prosecute an enemy drone in close proximity to a friendly asset and mitigate large swarms of drones – all with the same system. Because Leonidas is software-defined, the system is continuously getting smarter as it’s exposed to new target data. Our team is able to rapidly deploy software updates, which means Leonidas can be continuously enhanced and its waveforms optimized to achieve positive effects against new targets at longer range.

With these three core components of Epirus’ approach to HPM, we are unlocking counter-electronics capabilities that so many before us wrote off as “wishful thinking.” Leonidas’ sophisticated, agile HPM waveforms are science fiction turned science fact and, in many ways, exactly what the early DoD proponents of HPM envisioned.  

The revitalization of HPM as an effective and enduring counter-electronics solution is no longer a question, but a reality that could come to define military overmatch and technological dominance in the years and decades to come.

Thanks in large part to the innovation of Epirus, it’s certain that the once elusive “microwave moment” – a new dawn in which scalable, deployable HPM technology is realized – is finally here to stay.  

And with the promise of Epirus, this is just the beginning.