Created on June 1st, 2003

Source: Scientific American, February 18, 2003

Do Microwave Weapons Kill?

Although high-powered microwave weapons are designed to destroy the electronic equipment used by enemy command centers, their effect on humans in the vicinity is less clear. The U.S. military says HPM weapons are non-lethal, but that doesn't mean free from harm. The U.S Marines Corp. is currently developing a microwave-based weapon that inflicts a brief, intense burning sensation on the target's skin similar to touching a hot light bulb. Mounted on Humvee, the weapon is designed for crowd dispersal. The temperature settings are variable, however, and can be set as high as 130 degrees F. Given that temperature variability, it's possible that someone in the path of a HPM burst might be cooked like a meal readied by a microwave oven. Meanwhile, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have proposed building an electromagnetic pulse weapon that would disrupt a person's short term memory and cause him to lose control of involuntary body functions. So whereas a HPM weapon's lethality is uncertain, it's definitely going to hurt, leaving the victim incapacitated for a short period of time. --Frank Vizard