Directed energy microwave weapons convert energy from a power source– a wall plug in a lab or the engine on a military car– into radiated electromagnetic energy and focus it on a target. Transforming 10% of that beam power into microwaves utilizing basic microwave tube technology that dates back to the 1940s produces 1 gigawatt of microwaves. For contrast, the output power of todays common microwave ovens is around a thousand watts– a million times smaller sized.
The development of this innovation led to a subset of the U.S.-Soviet arms race– a microwave power derby. These high-power microwave sources generate very high power levels, they tend to produce repeated short pulses.
This U.S. Air Force microwave weapon is designed to knock down drones by frying their electronic devices. Credit: AFRL Directed Energy Directorate
A few of the cases of the mystery disorder that has actually afflicted U.S. embassy personnel and CIA officers off and on given that 2016 in Cuba, China, Russia, and other nations most likely were triggered by pulsed electro-magnetic energy, according to a report by a panel of specialists convened by nationwide intelligence firms.
The reports findings resemble those of another report released by the National Academies in 2020. Because report, a committee of 19 specialists in medicine and other fields concluded that directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy is the “most plausible system” to discuss the illness, dubbed “Havana syndrome.”
Neither report is definitive, and their authors dont resolve who targeted the embassies or why they were targeted. But the innovation behind the believed weapons is well understood and dates back to the Cold War arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. High-power microwave weapons are generally created to disable electronic equipment. But as the Havana syndrome reports reveal, these pulses of energy can hurt people, also.
As an electrical and computer system engineer who designs and builds sources of high-power microwaves, I have invested decades studying the physics of these sources, consisting of work with the U.S. Department of Defense. Directed energy microwave weapons convert energy from a source of power– a wall plug in a lab or the engine on a military lorry– into radiated electro-magnetic energy and focus it on a target. The directed high-power microwaves damage equipment, especially electronics, without killing neighboring individuals.
Two great examples are Boeings Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), which is a high-power microwave source mounted in a missile, and Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR), which was recently developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to knock out swarms of drones.
A news report about the U.S. Air Forces high-power microwave anti-drone weapon THOR.
Cold War origins
These types of directed energy microwave devices came on the scene in the late 1960s in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Pulsed power generates short electrical pulses that have really high electrical power, meaning both high voltage– up to a couple of megavolts– and large electrical currents– 10s of kiloamps.
Plasma physicists at the time recognized that if you could produce, for instance, a 1-megavolt electron beam with 10-kiloamp current, the outcome would be a beam power of 10 billion watts, or gigawatts. Converting 10% of that beam power into microwaves utilizing standard microwave tube technology that goes back to the 1940s generates 1 gigawatt of microwaves. For contrast, the output power these dayss normal microwave ovens is around a thousand watts– a million times smaller.
This high-power microwave generator integrated in the Soviet Union continues to operate in Edl Schamiloglus lab at the University of New Mexico. Credit: Edl Schamiloglu, University of New Mexico, CC BY-ND
The development of this innovation caused a subset of the U.S.-Soviet arms race– a microwave power derby. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, I and other American scientists acquired access to Russian pulsed power accelerators, like the SINUS-6 that is still working in my laboratory. I had a rewarding years of cooperation with my Russian colleagues, which quickly ended following Vladimir Putins increase to power.
Today, research in high-power microwaves continues in the U.S. and Russia but has taken off in China. I have visited laboratories in Russia since 1991 and labs in China because 2006, and the financial investment being made by China overshadows activity in the U.S. and Russia. Lots of countries now have active high-power microwave research programs.
Lots of power, little heat
These high-power microwave sources produce very high power levels, they tend to create duplicated brief pulses. To put this in perspective, the average microwave oven in one 2nd produces 1 kilojoule, or thousand joules of energy.
This is why microwaves created by these high-power microwave weapons dont generate noticeable amounts of heat, not to mention cause people to take off like baked potatoes in microwave ovens.
High power is essential in these weapons because generating really high immediate power yields really high rapid electrical fields, which scale as the square root of the power. It is these high electrical fields that can disrupt electronics, which is why the Department of Defense is interested in these devices.
How it impacts people
The National Academies report links high-power microwaves to effects on individuals through the Frey impact. The human head serves as a receiving antenna for microwaves in the low ghz frequency variety. Pulses of microwaves in these frequencies can cause individuals to hear noises, which is one of the symptoms reported by the affected U.S. workers. Other signs Havana syndrome sufferers have actually reported consist of headaches, nausea, hearing loss, lightheadedness and cognitive concerns.
The report keeps in mind that electronic devices were not interrupted throughout the attacks, recommending that the power levels needed for the Frey impact are lower than would be needed for an attack on electronics. This would follow a high-power microwave weapon situated at some range from the targets. Power reduces considerably with distance through the inverted square law, which suggests among these gadgets might produce a power level at the target that would be too low to affect electronics but that might induce the Frey result.
The Russians and the Chinese certainly possess the capabilities of fielding high-power microwave sources like the ones that appear to have been used in Cuba and China. The truth of what in fact took place to U.S. workers in Cuba and China– and why– may stay a secret, but the innovation most likely included originates from book physics, and the military powers of the world continue to establish and release it
Composed by Edl Schamiloglu, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of New Mexico.
This post was very first released in The Conversation.
An earlier variation of this post was released on January 2, 2021.