After decades of layoffs, microwave weapons are increasingly viewed as a serious military threat. This prompts the Department of Defense to equip US soldiers with detectors for a so-called “growing threat on the battlefield”.
The weapons, some of which cause fire, have already been considered for use on US soil. In June, a federal police officer requested a truck-sized microwave heater to disperse protests against Black Lives Matter. The Trump administration considered using the same device against asylum seekers in 2018.
Now the Department of Defense wants to equip US soldiers with microwave weapon detectors. This was specified in a December 9th contract inquiry for “a low-cost, lightweight, portable, small-sized, high-frequency weapon exposure detector” that specified high-frequency microwaves obtained from the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Program.
The Department of Defense’s interest in the discovery of microwave weapons stems from the fact that Israel, China and Russia are reportedly inventing their own versions of an active denial system that the US developed two decades ago. The USA is developing the technology further: an Air Force research laboratory is launching an “electromagnetic counter-swarm weapon” called THOR to fry drones in flight. A prototype Navy microwave weapon mounted on a standard weapon mount was unveiled in 2018. The need to disable drones became more real with the autumn war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which the former won with drone fleets that decimated its defenses.
Then, in December, a new report suggested that these weapons could cause neurological injuries. The criticized report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine suggested the guns were the “most plausible” explanation for enigmatic neurological injuries observed in at least 15 diplomatic staff and their families in Cuba in 2016 and 2017.
“Without known patterns of [radiofrequency] Injuries to guide the diagnosis will be difficult to distinguish [microwave] Injuries from other common sources of illness and injuries such as heat stroke, ”said the Defense Agency’s microwave weapon detection program inquiry, which will be completed in about two weeks. “This ambiguous symptomology is exacerbated by the transient nature of the RF energy. Without a sensor, it is possible that there is no remaining evidence of an RF attack. “
The Department of Defense declined to comment on the detector contract. However, experts contacted by BuzzFeed News suggested that the burgeoning military interest in microwave weapons could be due to the advent of drone-zapping weapons and the NASEM report. The technology, they added, is remarkable as a new battlefield enterprise in the 21st century.
“I suppose while the US has never used these weapons in a theater of war, there is a fear that other actors are doing the same,” Andrew Wood of the Australian Center for Bio-Effects Electromagnetic Research said via email. They can be easily hidden behind fabric screens, he added, so U.S. service members who have burning sensations, for example, may need a detector to see if someone else is pointing a microwave weapon at them.
The contract’s requirement for a portable sensor that fits in a rifle magazine pouch and can be clipped to a vest also suggests concerns about accidental exposure of military testing facility staff to microwaves, said environmental epidemiologist Marloes Eeftens of the Swiss Institute for Tropical and Public Affairs Health BuzzFeed News via email.
Despite the stinging sensation one might feel when in the beam of a “heat-ray-like” weapon, Eeftens warned that it would be difficult to determine if a concentrated microwave field was to blame. “You will come out with no grades, so it is difficult to objectively determine if and how much someone has actually been exposed,” she said.
There are detectors for types of radio frequency waves other than the microwaves described in the Department of Defense contract inquiry, Paul Elliot of Magnetic Sciences Inc. of Acton, Mass., Told BuzzFeed News. They are usually intended for people who work with electronics.
“The things we sell are the size of bricks, or at least half a brick,” he said. “You wouldn’t wear one.”
While high temperature inducing microwaves, such as those found in ovens, can cook food and cause burns, the question of whether neurological health effects can be caused by less powerful microwaves has long had no evidence and has been the subject of conspiracy theories observed today about 5G phones.
U.S. Air Force experiments in the 1970s set limits on human exposure to microwaves while studying electromagnetic pulses observed in nuclear explosions. These standards have been largely adopted since then, but a 2018 NATO technical report labeled these limits as scientifically unjustified as they were not backed up by experiments that showed violations. A report by French researchers last year that low-powered pulsed microwaves were linked to cancer and behavioral changes in rats re-raised the question of the health implications, particularly with systems like THOR now being used in the field against drones To be considered.
“I don’t expect any major safety problems for humans in the rays, but on the other hand, the amount of research into bio-effects from such pulses is limited,” said Ken Foster, bio-engineer of the University of Pennsylvania. “If the military wants to use these weapons, they should do good safety studies.”