Even before the microwave oven was invented as a by-product of military research into radars by Dr. Percy Spencer of the Raytheon Corporation, military researchers have focused significant effort into developing microwave weaponry. The ability of microwaves to cook food extends to non-lethal and lethal capabilities against human being’s skin or internal organs without having to worry about reloading ammunition. Current research in the field focuses on riot control effects and disruption of inbound missile seekers.
How Does Microwave Weaponry Work?
The two primary purposes of current microwave weapons are to encourage changes in behavior by human beings and to confuse or disrupt missile seeker electronics. Human being behavior can be changed through heating an individual or group of people’s skin through the heating of the water contained by the human body. This act causes significant pain in the individual or group of people targeted, that can be tailored to leave no lasting damage.
High-frequency microwaves can also be used as a defense mechanism against incoming missiles or projectiles that contain guidance systems. In this case, the microwaves are designed to confuse or destroy unshielded electronics with capabilities against various hardening techniques. Instead of continuing inbound to the intended target, the missile flies off-target and either self-destructs or hits an unintended structure.
Early Uses of Microwave Weaponry
There is a significant amount of rumors and even propaganda relating to WW II and Cold War era use of microwave-based weapons. One of the widest spread stories relating to the use of microwave weaponry in the Cold War involves the stories associated with the Soviets bombarding the U.S. Embassy in Moscow with microwaves but was kept secret from the embassy employees. An unconfirmed report stated that American Ambassador Stoessel contract a blood disease from the weapon and that Kissinger granted hazard pay to employees in the 1970s. The ability to use a disabling or even lethal weapon with plausible deniability has made microwave weapons the source of a number of conspiracy theories in intelligence stories since.
Now, there remains a significant amount of propaganda associated with secret weapons developed in WW II by the various Axis powers. One of the most widely published stories is of a secret Italian microwave-driven weapons which could fry the individuals inside of a tank or armored vehicle alive that was destroyed by the inventor after realizing the horror that could be caused by the weapon. Although this story remains unverified, the Italians did equip their battleships with radar systems to aid in locating enemy ships, aircraft, and navigate ahead of developments by the Allied powers. Although the Italians were successful in fielding this technology, it did not prove sufficient enough of an advantage to turn the tide of the naval portion of the war.
Current Military Employment of Microwave Weaponry
There continues to be significant research in the non-lethal weapons field using microwave technology. The Active Denial System uses a millimeter microwave source which is designed to heat the water contained in a human’s skin. The result is severe pain verging on incapacitating the subject. The Active Denial System is designed to aid in controlling personnel during riots, and is not intended to cause harm, though there is discussion on whether the system causes permanent damage to the eyes. The system is made to be employed in small to large packages including a bolt-on kit for a HUMVEE. At short range, the ADS can burn the human skin and test subjects state the effects of the weapon made their skin feel as through it was touching a frying pan.
Another system tailored to disrupt the guidance systems of MANPADS or other surface-to-air missiles is Vigilant Eagle (VE). It is a program made to help defend airports using high-frequency microwaves to disrupt the guidance system of the missile while using a grid of IR cameras to detect inbound threats to queue the weapon. When successful, the inbound missile is deflected away from the airport being defended.
The Future of Microwave Weaponry
Current military research in the field of microwave weaponry remains focused on anti-personnel and anti-missile projects. The public interest in creating more effective non-lethal weapons using the technology remains a priority in order to continue the modern military focus on reductions of the loss of civilian life during armed conflict. Whether countries decide to take this research to the lethal-level remains to be seen, however, microwave weapons are expected to be at the forefront of current and future military research and employment.