SOURCE: THE WEEK
As India and China remain engaged in attempts to disengage forces from Ladakh, a prominent British newspaper has reported Beijing may have used a new weapon against the Indian Army. The Times reported on Tuesday that a professor in Beijing had claimed China had used microwave weapons to force Indian forces to retreat from “two strategic hilltops”.
The Times report was based on comments by Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, during a lecture. Jin claimed the use of microwave weapons enabled the People’s Liberation Army to seize territory without violating the agreement with India that barred use of firearms.
“We didn’t publicise it because we solved the problem beautifully… They [India] didn’t publicise it either because they lost so miserably,” Jin was quoted as saying by The Times.
“In 15 minutes, those occupying the hilltops all began to vomit. They couldn’t stand up, so they fled. This was how we retook the ground,” The Times quoted Jin as saying. The Times reported “The microwave attack was said to have taken place on August 29.” Jin claimed the People’s Liberation Army was furious that the Indian Army seized control of two hilltops on that day and ordered they be taken back without use of guns.
What are microwave weapons?
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation that are ubiquitous in their use in cooking and in radars. In 2018, The New York Times explained, “They’re seen as harmless in such everyday uses as microwaving foods. But their diminutive size also enables tight focusing, as when dish antennas turn disorganised rays into concentrated beams. The dimensions of the human head, scientists say, make it a fairly good antenna for picking up microwave signals.”
New Scientist reported in 2008 that microwaves can heat body tissues, “causing a shockwave inside the skull that can be detected by the ears. A series of pulses can be transmitted to produce recognisable sounds”. Such a weapon could cause discomfort or incapacitate a person.
From 2016 to 2018, more than three dozen US diplomats and their relatives in China and Cuba fell ill after apparently being targeted by microwave weapons. The New York Times reported in 2018 that the diplomats targeted had experienced, “perception of loud noises, including ringing, buzzing and grinding”.
The Times noted that the purported use of microwave weapons by China against the Indian Army may be the first deployment of such weapons against military forces.
Research into microwave weapons has been going on for decades. An attractive feature of such weapons is that they are considered non-lethal, that is, unlikely to cause serious injury or death.
China’s development of microwave weapons
In 2017, Popular Science reported China was working on microwave weapons that can, effectively, disable missiles or other equipment using electronics.
Such weapons would bombard a target with “energy pulses between 300 and 300,000 megahertz. This amount of directed energy interferes with and overloads electronic circuits, causing them to shut down,” Popular Science reported.
Such a microwave weapon could be mounted on drones or cruise missiles to disable an enemy’s radars, communications and surface-to-air missile systems.
In February 2019, Chinese state media reported that the country was working on a “non-lethal” microwave weapon that “can cause the pain nerve under the skin to ache in a bid to effectively halt the objective’s violent actions and disperse targets”. The weapon was touted as a solution for police and the coast guard.
China’s development of microwave weapons is in tune with its pursuit of ‘asymmetric’ military capabilities, which aim to counter the technological superiority of rivals like the US and Japan. The US has accused China of firing lasers at its aircraft operating in the South China Sea.