The M+G+R Foundation

Microwave Weapons

From Science Fiction to the Laboratory and...

On to the Battlefield

Originally published on May 5th, 2011


In 1998, the US Department of the Army revealed that research was underway to develop and deploy "nonlethal weapons" that could cause their targets to suffer burns of the skin or eyes, motion sickness, "voices in the head," artificially induced fever, and other disabling (and possibly crippling or deadly) effects.

This report, titled "Bioeffects of selected Nonlethal Weapons", was classified secret when it was written, but it was declassified and released in December 2006, under a Freedom of Information Act request (1a)(1b). It dispassionately lists the torments that such weapons could inflict:


Artificial induction of fever

Could be done with “an adaptation of technology which has been around for many years. ... The nonlethal application would embody a highly sophisticated microwave assembly that can be used to project microwaves in order to provide a controlled heating of persons. This controlled heating will raise the core temperature of the individuals to a predetermined level to mimic a high fever with the intent of gaining a psychological/capability edge on the enemy, while not inflicting deadly force. ... Every human is subject to the effects of heating; therefore it would have a predictability rating of 100%. The time to onset can be probably engineered to between 15 and 30 minutes ... The onset can be slow enough and/or of such frequency to be unrecognized by the person(s) being irradiated. ... Incapacitation time could be extended to almost any desired period consistent with safety. ... Assuming the heating is done carefully, reversal of elevated body temperature would begin as soon as the source of heat is removed.” (2)

“If the situation allows, and the source is sufficiently powerful, there is the possibility to use this technology in a lethal mode as well. Prolonged body temperature above 43° C is almost certain to result in permanent damage to the brain and death.” (3)

“The technologies needed ... are relatively well developed because of the known biophysical mechanism, the universal susceptibility of humans to the mechanism of heating, and because of a well developed technology base for the production of radiofrequency radiation. ... The very uncomfortable nature of a high body temperature may be useful in negotiations or possibly for controlling crowds. It would be equally useful on single persons or crowds. Evidence also indicates a disruption of working memory, thus disorientation may occur because of an inability to consolidate memory of the recent (minutes) past.” (3)

Producing sounds within the victim's head

“Microwave hearing is ... the sensations of buzzing, ticking, hissing, or knocking sounds that originate within or immediately behind the head. There is no sound propagating through the air like normal sound. This technology in its crudest form could be used to distract individuals; if refined, it could also be used to communicate with hostages or hostage takers directly.” (4)

This process has been known since the 1970s, and “humans have been subjected to this phenomenon for many years.” (5) The target hears sounds immediately upon exposure to the energy source, and the sounds stop when the exposure stops. The “characteristic sounds and intensities of those sounds depend on the characteristics of the RF energy as delivered. Because the frequency of the sound heard is dependent on the pulse characteristic of the RF energy, it seems possible that this technology could be developed to the point where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head.” (6)

This technology “may be useful to provide a disruptive condition to a person not aware of the technology. Not only might it be disruptive to the sense of hearing, it could be psychologically devastating if one suddenly heard ‘voices within one’s head.’” (6)

“Microwave energy can be applied at a distance, and the appropriate technology can be adapted from existing radar units. ... Signals can be transmitted long distances (hundreds of meters) using current technology.”

Disruption of neural control - convulsions and unconsciousness

The targets of such weapons would immediately “lose voluntary control of their body. This synchronization may be accompanied by a sudden loss of consciousness and intense muscle spasms.” (6) “The effectiveness of this concept has not been demonstrated” (7)  in the laboratory - as of 1998. “It seems reasonable that electromagnetic stimulation of neural synchrony might be tunable with regard to type and degree of bodily influence. ... It is anticipated that 100% of the population would be susceptible.” (8) Technologies “exist today sufficient to evaluate the disabling concept. ... Aiming devices are currently available, but a high degree of directionality at long distances will require development. ... The effective range could be hundreds of meters.” (9)

Nausea and vertigo

Those exposed to specific sound frequencies and volumes from acoustic energy weapons could immediately suffer nausea, vomiting, vertigo, visual disturbances, and disorientation. (10) “Induction of nystagmus [involuntary eye movements, which cause vertigo] and nausea will have varying effects on individuals. Effects may be sufficiently incapacitative to allow offensive advantage; the perception of sickness may make a subject susceptible to persuasion. It would be difficult to target single individuals at the present level of sound directing technology. This technology may be better suited for groups of people. ... Sound generating technology is well developed but not highly portable. Aiming devices are poorly developed.” (11)

Burns of the skin or eyes from laser weapons

“There are three basic damage mechanisms associated with exposure to laser radiation: chemical, thermal, and mechanical or acoustic-mechanical. ... The organs most susceptible to external laser radiation are the skin and eyes. ... the primary effect on the skin is thermal damage (burns). The severity varies from slight erythema or reddening to severe blistering or charring ... efforts to design rheostatically lethal laser weapons are on going.” (12) Eye damage can range from temporary flash-blinding to permanent blindness. (13)


In 2004, the Council on Foreign Relations recommended that the Pentagon increase its annual budget for "non-lethal" weapons by sevenfold, from $43 million in 2004 to $300 million. (14) This gave these new weapons an endorsement by the American establishment.

Keep in mind that the above quoted report reflected the "State of the Art" in 1998 - more than twenty years ago! It is hardly conceivable how much further advanced these weapons are today, and which other weapons have been developed since then.


(1a) Department of the Army, "Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons" (PDF file), February 17, 1998.
(1b) Complete transcript of the PDF file
(2) p. 6 of the PDF file
(3) p. 7
(4) p. 8
(5) p. 9
(6) p. 10
(7) p. 12
(8) p. 13
(9) p. 14
(10) pp. 14-16
(11) p. 17
(12) pp. 17-18
(13) p. 19
(14) Council on Foreign Relations, "Lack of Nonlethal Weapons Capabilities Hindering U.S. Efforts in Postwar Iraq; Experts Urge Department of Defense to Increase Spending Seven-Fold", press release, February 26, 2004 - original link (viewed 31-Mar-2011) - updated link (viewed 30-Aug-2021).

Published on May 5th, 2011

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