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Prelims Capsule

Defence & Security

What is Havana Syndrome Mysterious disease caused brain injury in 130 US officials

What is Havana Syndrome Mysterious disease caused brain injury in 130 US officials


  • GS 3 || Security || Tackling Security Threats || Nuclear Weapons

Havana Syndrome

  • Over the past five years, an alarming number of American diplomats, troops, and intelligence officers have been suddenly stricken with a mysterious illness called Havana Syndrome.
  • Even more disturbing, reports have trickled out that the CIA and the Pentagon don’t believe this is a naturally occurring illness – it’s a deliberate act of aggression.

Details of the Report

  • According to a study published by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), guided microwave radiation is a possible cause of Havana syndrome.
  • The NAS studied four different theories to describe the symptoms, including Infection, chemicals, psychological factors, and microwave energy are all factors to consider.
  • Scientists spoke about psychological disease caused by the traumatic climate of international missions or brain disorders in diplomats who had fallen ill in previous attempts by different government agencies.

Microwave weapons

  • Microwave weapons are said to be a type of direct energy weapon that fires highly concentrated energy at a target in the form of acoustic, laser, or microwaves.

  • They aim at highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.
  • Developed by the US during the cold war era
  • They are a part of a group of weapons known as directed-energy weapons (DEWs), which were first developed by the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Advantages of these weapons

  • Such weapons can be used invisibly and with comparatively less collateral damage if used correctly.
  • The logistical problems of obtaining more ammunition are removed because all that is needed is a surplus of resources.
  • Depending on operational factors, less expensive to operate than conventional guns.
  • Some of the DEWs currently (or probably) in use are as follows
    • Active Denial System (ADS), a non-lethal directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military, for area denial, perimeter security, and crowd control.
    • ALKA, possibly the first Directed-energy weapon to be used in combat by the Turkish armed forces.
    • MEDUSA, a non-lethal microwave-based weapon.
  • Practical application a  big question
    • The research into DEW’s is a financially draining task
    • The practical applications of some DEW’s are questionable
    • Counter against such weapons is not hard to come by. For example, laser beams can be weakened by water vapor and dust.

How dangerous are these weapons?

  • People who have been subjected to have reported hearing a clicking or buzzing sound coming from within their heads.
  • The symptoms included nausea, severe headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, and hearing loss.
  • It has both short- and long-term consequences, and it does so without causing physical harm.

Microwave weapons across the globe

  • These weapons are believed to have been developed by several countries to attack both humans and electronic systems.
  • China first displayed its “microwave arm,” the Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014, according to a story.
  • British daily “The Times” reported that a Chinese professor had claimed that China used “microwave weapons” at two key hilltops at the border forcing Indian troops to retreat.
  • However, India has denied reports about the use of microwave weapons by Chinese forces.
  • United States“Active Denial System.”
    • The US deployed such a weapon in Afghanistan but withdrew it without ever using it against human targets.
    • When the Iraq War of 2003 broke out, electromagnetic weapons, including high-power microwaves, were used by the U.S. military to disrupt and destroy Iraqi electronic systems and may have been used for crowd control.
    • In the latter half of 2017, reports surfaced saying employees at the US embassy in Havana, Cuba, may have been targeted with a covert sonic weapon the previous year.
      • Cuba had denied any knowledge of the illnesses even though the US had accused it of carrying out “sonic attacks”, leading to an increase in tensions.
    • Subsequently, in 2018, staff at the US consulate in Guangzhou, China complained of a possible similar attack in 2017.
  • India
    • The DRDO had announced in September 2020, that the organization will be carrying out its research into the feasibility of Directed Energy Weapons.

Concerns raised

  • Although decades of research has been conducted on the practical applications of such weapons, they are still believed to be in the experimental stage although a few prototypes have been claimed by certain countries to be operational.
  • 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 whether these can kill or cause lasting damage to human targets.

Mains model question

  • The use of non-lethal weapons for violence and mob control is a contested issue. Can you suggest some alternatives to it apart from the use of water cannon and tear gas?