Experts Believe US Embassies Were Hit With High-Power Microwaves – Here’s How the Weapons Work

USAF Microwave Weapon

This U.S. Air Force microwave weapon is designed to knock down drones by frying their electronics. Credit: AFRL Directed Energy Directorate

Some of the cases of the mystery ailment that has afflicted U.S. embassy staff and CIA officers off and on since 2016 in Cuba, China, Russia, and other countries most likely were caused by pulsed electromagnetic energy, according to a report by a panel of experts convened by national intelligence agencies.

The report’s findings are similar to those of another report released by the National Academies in 2020. In that report, a committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields concluded that directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy is the “most plausible mechanism” to explain the illness, dubbed “Havana syndrome.”

Neither report is definitive, and their authors don’t address who targeted the embassies or why they were targeted. But the technology behind the suspected 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 designed to disable electronic equipment. But as the Havana syndrome reports show, these pulses of energy can harm people, as well.

As an electrical and computer engineer who designs and builds sources of high-power microwaves, I have spent decades studying the physics of these sources, including work with the U.S. Department of Defense. Directed energy microwave weapons convert energy from a power source – a wall plug in a lab or the engine on a military vehicle – into radiated electromagnetic energy and focus it on a target. The directed high-power microwaves damage equipment, particularly electronics, without killing nearby people.

Two good examples are Boeing’s 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 Force’s 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. They were enabled by the development of pulsed power in the 1960s. Pulsed power generates short electrical pulses that have very high electrical power, meaning both high voltage – up to a few megavolts – and large electrical currents – tens of kiloamps. That’s more voltage than the highest-voltage long-distance power transmission lines, and about the amount of current in a lightning bolt.

Plasma physicists at the time realized that if you could generate, for example, a 1-megavolt electron beam with 10-kiloamp current, the result would be a beam power of 10 billion watts, or gigawatts. Converting 10% of that beam power into microwaves using standard microwave tube technology that dates back to the 1940s generates 1 gigawatt of microwaves. For comparison, the output power of today’s typical microwave ovens is around a thousand watts – a million times smaller.

High-Power Microwave Generator

This high-power microwave generator built in the Soviet Union continues to operate in Edl Schamiloglu’s lab at the University of New Mexico. Credit: Edl Schamiloglu, University of New Mexico, CC BY-ND

The development of this technology led to 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 gained access to Russian pulsed power accelerators, like the SINUS-6 that is still working in my lab. I had a fruitful decade of collaboration with my Russian colleagues, which swiftly ended following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.

Today, research in high-power microwaves continues in the U.S. and Russia but has exploded in China. I have visited labs in Russia since 1991 and labs in China since 2006, and the investment being made by China dwarfs activity in the U.S. and Russia. Dozens of countries now have active high-power microwave research programs.

Lots of power, little heat

Although these high-power microwave sources generate very high power levels, they tend to generate repeated short pulses. For example, the SINUS-6 in my lab produces an output pulse on the order of 10 nanoseconds, or billionths of a second. So even when generating 1 gigawatt of output power, a 10-nanosecond pulse has an energy content of only 10 joules. To put this in perspective, the average microwave oven in one second generates 1 kilojoule, or thousand joules of energy. It typically takes about 4 minutes to boil a cup of water, which corresponds to 240 kilojoules of energy.

This is why microwaves generated by these high-power microwave weapons don’t generate noticeable amounts of heat, let alone cause people to explode like baked potatoes in microwave ovens.

High power is important in these weapons because generating very high instantaneous power yields very high instantaneous electric fields, which scale as the square root of the power. It is these high electric fields that can disrupt electronics, which is why the Department of Defense is interested in these devices.

How it affects people

The National Academies report links high-power microwaves to impacts on people through the Frey effect. The human head acts as a receiving antenna for microwaves in the low gigahertz frequency range. Pulses of microwaves in these frequencies can cause people to hear sounds, which is one of the symptoms reported by the affected U.S. personnel. Other symptoms Havana syndrome sufferers have reported include headaches, nausea, hearing loss, lightheadedness and cognitive issues.

The report notes that electronic devices were not disrupted during the attacks, suggesting that the power levels needed for the Frey effect are lower than would be required for an attack on electronics. This would be consistent with a high-power microwave weapon located at some distance from the targets. Power decreases dramatically with distance through the inverse square law, which means one of these devices could produce a power level at the target that would be too low to affect electronics but that could induce the Frey effect.

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 actually happened to U.S. personnel in Cuba and China – and why – might remain a mystery, but the technology most likely involved comes from textbook physics, and the military powers of the world continue to develop and deploy it

Written by Edl Schamiloglu, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of New Mexico.

This article was first published in The Conversation.The Conversation

An earlier version of this article was published on January 2, 2021.

7 Comments on "Experts Believe US Embassies Were Hit With High-Power Microwaves – Here’s How the Weapons Work"

  1. My God, what nonsense. This type of radio and microwaves (pulse waves) are used for radio transmissions. Most likely, the embassy employees misconfigured their spy equipment and harmed themselves.

    • You seem unaware of the phenomenon known as neuroweapons. Every major power on earth is aware of, and developing, these kinds of weapons. There are advanced electromagnetic and acoustic weapons and they can do frightening things. Check out Professor James Giordano’s talks on the future of neuro warfare to understand more about the frightening capabilities of directed energy weapons.

  2. And by the way, other sources wrote that the CIA stated that in more than 100 cases, no other power was involved in the electromagnetic attack of American embassies, after which the CIA refused to comment further. One article stated that the symptoms of this syndrome were felt in a separate room, and that in addition to microwaves, radio waves were involved.

    Given all this, two options arise here: a pulsed microwave signal is used in a microwave oven, and also, depending on the type of modulation, in communication, for example, in ultra-wideband.

  3. Since Havana Syndrome is seen as a serious national security issue, real testing on volunteers who have experienced it and on naïve volunteers (not informed of reported Havana Syndrome symptoms) would be warranted even though such possibly damaging testing would be unethical in ordinary research. It should not be a problem to devise a double-blind protocol and see if Dr. Schamiloglu’s devices can recreate the reported symptoms.

    The NAS report considered multiple possible causes for the reported symptoms, but the State Department, responding to the report, said that “each possible cause remains speculative”, so direct evidence for the microwave hypothesis would be important.

    The US government has made strong claims and accusations in this area that I think are not taken seriously by most scientists since they have not been accompanied by any clear evidence. Even the cricket hypothesis supporters showed that some recordings were due to real Cuban crickets.

  4. Interesting.

    Some thoughts for consideration.

    1. As a Generic Rule, the entire range of Spectrum of energy-matter can be classified with a range of low to high to very high energy levels spectrum. Such energy can be used as Particle-Waves or Wave-Particles for Various purpses on matter (both inanimate and inanimate, electronic or non-electronic devices, with life or lifeless etc.).

    2. This is applicable to the entire spectrum of “Particle-Wave-matter-energy Quadrant as represented in a Four Dimensional Space, which produces heat, or light or sound or any other form of magnetic-electromagnetic specturm characteristic thumbprints.

    All that is stated above is theoritical, and needs to be comprehensively proved using mathematics and also proved vide experiments.

    Views expressed are personal and not binding onanyne.

  5. Furher to the above coment here is another thought, All such Wave-Particle “Weapons” inimical to life can be blocked with appropriate shields, materials, regard;less of wavelength. Think Soundproof rooms , protection used oin hospitals against X Rays etc.

  6. Dr. Reinhard Munzert | February 13, 2022 at 6:50 am | Reply

    Great article!
    There are attacks against civilians in Germany and Europe since 2001. There are many simìlarities to the Havana Syndrome!

    We have a lot of Information and experience, also about prevention and detection of attacks. If you like, we can help.
     
    From  papers I posted on the internet already in 2002/2003:

    Targeting the Human with Directed Energy Weapons
    New arms threaten and destroy lives in strange ways. Directed energy weapons are among the high-tech arms of the century. They hurt and kill with electromagnetic power. Microwave weapons can be aimed at computers, electronical devices and persons. They have strong physical and psychological effects and can be used for military and terrorist activities. These weapons are also part of crimes (in Europe) that almost nobody knows except the victims and the offenders. Until now they make the perfect crime possible. No doubt, these weapons have a terrible future…

    MICROWAVE WEAPONS
    New Technology in Crime

    There is a new, effective weapon for criminals and terrorists. Law-breakers often misuse modern technology. Through the illegal usage of innovative high-tech weapons, people are not ”shot”, rather their living quarters are bathed in (high frequency) electromagnetic waves for a length of time…
    The effects of the MW beam on the victims include extreme weariness, headache, irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, painful testis, damaged nervous system and internal organs, burned skin and eye damage…”

    https://dokumen.tips/documents/targeting-the-human-with-directed-energy-weapons-reinhard-munzert-6-.html

    With best regards from Germany

    Dr. Reinhard Munzert

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