Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that’.—Martin Luther King-1. The time has come to seriously contemplate the above words of Martin Luther King Jr. With increasing population pressures, dwindling natural resources and economies countries are trying to garner more and more resources sometimes even by unfair means. China stands out as an example by its hegemonic attitude, arrogance, misuse of its economic and military power, and throwing to wind various well-established international regulations. China’s aggression against India, its unfair play in the South China Sea would prove the point.
To maintain its military prowess China has been consistently developing many new weapons. China’s so-called development of Microwave Weapons is one of the worrying developments for the world in general and India in particular.
This article will try to analyze the concept of Microwave weapons, their potency, and ramifications, their probable impact in India, and some measures to mitigate the risks.
Microwave Weapons: Concept and Functions
Microwave weapons are defined as a type of direct energy weapons, which aim at highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target. They generally use a focussed beam of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation to heat up the matter with an aim to burn the target or damage the human target’s skin, causing pain and discomfort.
Conceptually 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.
A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems. According to a report, China had first put on display its microwave weapon called ‘Poly WB-1’, at an air show in 2014. The United States has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon called the ‘Active Denial System’.
The microwave weapons are dangerous and concerns have been raised on whether they can damage the eyes, or have a carcinogenic impact in the long term. It is not clear yet how China intends to use such a weapon, and whether it can kill or cause lasting damage to human targets.
Does China possess Microwave Weapons?
The world (especially the USA) has been watching the development of microwave weapons by China mainly because of its unpredictable temperament. It has been reported that China has been consistently progressing with the development of missiles and electronic weapons that could target satellites in low and high orbits.
It has been observed that China already has operational ground-based missiles that can hit satellites in low-Earth orbit and is keen on developing additional anti-satellite ‘ASAT’ weapons capable of destroying satellites up to geosynchronous Earth orbit.
It needs to be noted that China has not publicly acknowledged the existence of any new anti-satellite weapons programs, post its confirmation of using an ASAT missile to destroy a weather satellite in 2007. However, China has been suspected of steadily advancing in this area. It has been estimated that the counter space capabilities developed by China include kinetic-kill missiles, ground-based lasers, orbiting space robots, and space surveillance to monitor objects across the globe and in space. Electronic weapons — such as satellite jammers, cyber capabilities, and directed-energy weapons — also are part of China’s arsenal of counter-space systems. The directed energy weapons also have the potential of use against humans.
A study of China’s military strategy has revealed that China would not be averse to using directed energy weapons for damaging ‘imaging, communications navigation, and early warning satellites’ to ‘blind and deafen its adversaries’ (Erwin, 2020-3).
Microwave Weapons Efficacy and Effects
A study to understand the efficacy and effects of the microwave weapons would in essence be a study of energy—how it propagates to, interacts with, and is redistributed within a target. It is thus important to understand under what conditions sufficient energy would get accumulated within a target to damage it to the desired extent. In order to achieve damage, energy must be concentrated both in space and time. An understanding of the following basic fundamentals would suffice for purpose of this article:-
The necessary concentration of energy in space (fluence) for a hard target kill is expected to be in the order of 10,000 Joules per square centimeter. This fluence will serve as an upper bound, since many targets of interest (human beings/vehicles etc.) may be damaged at lower fluencies.
It may be noted that to achieve desired damage energy of 10,000 Joules per square centimeter needs to be concentrated in time so that it doesn’t flow and gets redistributed within the target. Energy deposition is manifested in a temperature rise which is proportional to the mass and heat capacity of the region over which the energy is absorbed. The redistribution and loss of energy occur through three primary mechanisms: thermal conduction, convection, and radiation. When the time scale for weapon-target interaction is such that these mechanisms can come into play, the fluence necessary for damage begins to increase in proportion.
By definition directed energy weapons are those which direct the energy, at the target. However, no weapon fully meets this ideal. All are characterized by some level of beam divergence, which spreads the energy out as it propagates, and jitter, in which multiple shots do not follow exactly the same path.
Lastly various energy loss mechanisms (absorption, scatter, etc.), due to atmospheric elements. These elements cause some fraction of the energy directed at a target to be lost in propagation to it. This is an important factor that affects the proportion of actual damage caused to a target.
Having appreciated some fundamentals of Microwave weapons let us now focus on China –India puzzle.
Analysis of Indo-China Capabilities and Implications
We have already explored and accepted the feasibility of China holding at least some ‘microwave weapons’. This section deals with various aspects of the use of those by China against India.
Use of Microwave Weapons by China
A report in a UK newspaper, The Times, had stated that the Chinese military had used microwave weapons against Indian soldiers to force a retreat during the border standoff in eastern Ladakh. The British daily had cited a Beijing-based professor a source of information, with little corroboration or acknowledgment from any authoritative sources.
As per the UK daily report cited by DNA India (DNAWebdesk, 2020-5):-
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at the Beijing-based Renmin University, had claimed that Chinese troops turned two strategic hilltops ‘into a microwave oven’, forcing Indian soldiers to retreat. These positions were “retaken” by Chinese soldiers without an exchange of fire, the professor added.
The Times offered no details about how Jin might have had access to this information, which, if true, would represent a major change in engagement between Indian and Chinese soldiers. Interestingly, the report was rejected by India.
Though the report was rejected by India, it is important for India to err on the positive side and develop a counter for China’s microwave weapons.
India’s Stand on Use of Microwave Weapons by China
The UK report citing claims made by Canrong were categorized as untrue by the Indian government, which dismissed the report. The Government of India through its Press Information Bureau stated that “Some international news portals have published misleading headlines and reported baseless claims related to India-China border stand-off in Ladakh,”
In another report ( De, 2020-6) it was stated that the Indian Army had rejected as “baseless and fake” a report in the British daily newspaper ‘The Times’, which had quoted a Chinese professor to claim that the Chinese army had used “microwave weapons” to drive Indian soldiers away from their positions in eastern Ladakh.
India and Microwave weapons
As seen earlier, India had denied reports related to the use of microwave weapons by China against its troops in the Ladakh region. However, lately, Indian has been increasingly wary of China’s intentions and has found it prudent to be prepared for the worst from China.
India has thus initiated measures to develop its own microwave weapons as an effective counter. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had, in Sep 2020, announced its plans to develop directed energy weapons (DEWs) using high-energy lasers and microwaves. According to media reports, India has developed a national plan with short, medium, and long-term goals to develop a series of DEW variants with up to 100 kilowatts of power. This is being planned in a collaborative model, to eventually partner with and benefit from the domestic private sector. While India is still in the early stages of developing this technology and nowhere near possessing an operational capability, advances in such technologies will have implications for both national and regional security.
The Indian government sees the development of DEWs as particularly important in the context of India’s worsening security environment, especially in reference to China. The continuing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh (though easing now) is indicative of the challenges China poses to India. Indian Government is cognisant of Beijing’s growing military power, including in space, cyber, and electronic warfare domains can inflict significant damage on its adversaries, including India (Rajagopalan, 2020-7).
India’s assumption that China has been developing DEW technologies and strategy to develop its own DEWs as a response seems to be the most appropriate action at this juncture.
Conclusions and Suggestions
The global geopolitical relationships seem to be on the boil in various parts of the world. The arms race seems to be keeping pace with the deteriorating situation. The Microwave weapons joining the arsenal is certainly not a welcome development but realities cannot be ignored.
It is almost certain that China has developed an arsenal of various Direct Energy Weapons (DEWs) and would not be averse in using them against its adversaries, including India. India thus needs to develop effective counters and have its own DEWs to protect the national interests.
Following suggestions are made:-
India should undertake a thorough analysis of China’s capabilities in this field and determine its own vulnerabilities and be prepared for any eventualities.
India may consider the development of various types of DEWs to be prepared to counter China in all aspects.
India may take an initiative to bring other countries (especially those in ASEAN and BIMSTEC alliances), that are likely to suffer from China’s DEWs, together and offer them all support.
India must take the modernization of its armed forces very seriously. It’s understood that this would demand considerable resources. But India needs to find adequate resources as national security cannot be calculated in terms of money.
Finally, it would important to note that we are currently in a grey zone as far as China’s actual capabilities as a factual detailed study need to be undertaken by appropriate agencies/think tanks so as to develop as realistic counters as possible.
(Commodore SL Deshmukh, NM (Retd), has served the Indian Navy for 32 years and Member, C3S. An alumnus of the prestigious Defence Services Staff College Wellington, he has served on-board aircraft carriers and is specialized in fighter aircraft and ASW helicopters. He held many operational and administrative appointments including Principal Director at Naval HQ, Commodore Superintendent at Naval Aircraft Yard, Director, Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology, and Project Director of a major Naval Aviation Project. Post-retirement he was with Tata Group for 5 years and is currently working with SUN Group‘s Aerospace & Defence vertical as Senior Vice President. The views expressed are personal)
Martin Luther King Jr, Retrieved from: (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/martin_luther_king_jr_101472), accessed on 11 Feb 2021
Civils daily, 19 Non 2020, Civilsdaily, China’s Use of ‘ Microwave Weapons’ Retrieved from: https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/chinas-use-of-microwave-weapons/#:~:text=Microwave%20weapons%20are%20supposed%20to,skin%2C%20causing%20pain%20and%20discomfort Accessed on 10 Feb 2021
Erwin Sandra, 01 September 2020, Pentagon DoD report, China amassing arsenal of anti-satellite weaponshttps://spacenews.com/pentagon-report-china-amassing-arsenal-of-anti-satellite weapons/#:~:text=Pentagon%20report%3A%20China%20amassing%20arsenal%20of%20anti%2Dsatellite%20weapons,-by%20Sandra%20Erwin&text=WASHINGTON%20%E2%80%94%20China%20is%20progressing%20with,1. Accessed on: 10 Feb 2021
Nielsen Philip E,ND, HSDL, EFFECTS OF DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS, Retrieved from: https://www.hsdl.org , Accesed on 10 Feb 2021
DNA Staff Team, 18 Nov 2020, DNA, Fact Check: Did China use microwave weapons against India in Ladakh? Know the truth, Retrieved From:https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-fact-check-did-china-use-microwave-weapons-against-india-in-ladakh-know-the-truth-2857085, Accessed on : 10 Feb 2021
De Abhishek, 26 Nov 2020, Indian Express, Explained: India has dismissed as ‘fake’ a report about China’s use of ‘microwave weapons’. What are these? Retrieved From: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/microwave-weapons-india-china-7056441/ Accessed on 09-10 Feb
Rajagopalan Rajeshwari Pillai, 24 Sep 2020, Diplomat/Asia Defence, What Are India’s Plans for Directed Energy Weapons? Retrieved from: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/what-are-indias-plans-for-directed-energy-weapons/#:~:text=India’s%20Defense%20Research%20and%20Development,as%20critical%20in%20future%20warfare. Accessed on: 09-10 Feb 2021