April 12, 2024

Iranian and Chinese Drones Are Overwhelming American Warships—But This High-Tech Weapon Could Help Them Fight Back

Journalist: David Hambling

On March 27, 2024, a U.S. warship in the Red Sea detected four radar tracks headed directly its way from Yemen. It fit the tell-tale pattern of drone attacks that Houthi rebels had been launching for months. Navy crews have fought off many such attacks since December and responded in the usual way: interceptor missiles roared into the sky from the ship’s deck, downing the attackers one by one at a safe distance. As usual, there was no damage to the ship and thankfully no casualties. But supplies of missiles are limited (and expensive) and the Houthis keep launching drones day after day—sometimes as many as 14 in one wave.

The attack highlights the asymmetric warfare threatening U.S. military dominance. While America leads the way in high-end, “exquisite” military hardware, powers like Iran and China are churning out large numbers of low-cost attack drones to overwhelm those weapons. America’s opponents know that missiles are effective, but they simply aren’t sustainable in the long run.

Paul Scharre, Ph.D., executive vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington, D.C.-brd defense think tank, has long warned that current weapons quickly become unaffordable against massed drones.

“Taking out a thousand-dollar drone with a million-dollar missile is not a cost-effective solution,” Scharre tells Popular Mechanics.

Such drones force warships to expend munitions, which could leave them open to attacks from larger anti-ship missiles. But not shooting down the drones is not an option.

"The goal of our potential opponents is to send over large numbers of cheap drones to deplete our kinetic arsenals,” Andrew Lowery, CEO of the Los Angeles, California-brd high-tech weapon maker, Epirus, tells Popular Mechanics.

That’s why his company developed an alternate approach: a nearly unstoppable microwave weapon.


“The promise of directed energy for counter-drone applications is that, in principle, it could have a deeper magazine with a lower cost-per-shot than missiles,” Scharre explains. “We need cost-effective defenses to counter cheap drones.”

Read the full story and more from Popular Mechanics.


  • Paul Scharre

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence...