1997 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Statement by

Lieutenant General Robert L. Schweitzer
U.S. Army (Retired)

before the

Joint Economic Committee
United States Congress

June 17, 1997


Radio Frequency Weapons and the Infrastructure

      I have been asked to talk to the overall subject of your hearing from a somewhat different perspective. Initially, it was to be from the one of what technology transfer means to a soldier. That part would have been fairly simple to address. Field soldiers are too busy to think much, if at all, about such transfers. That is, until they run across them on a battlefield where U.S. technology or materiel is being used against them. That happened in World War II when the residue of simpler technologies in the form of scrap metal was employed against us in the Pacific. It happened in Vietnam when some of our weaponry was obtained by our adversary. It happened again in Desert Storm when we ran across containers of U.S. materiel in the hands of Saddam Hussein's soldiers, materiel which had been channeled through Jordan. Then the fleeting reaction is one of anger and "why?" But soldiers--placed as they are since the time of the Roman legions in the sand, mud, rain and snow to fight decisive battles--are really too busy to brood much about such things. They are, however, grateful when Congress acts ahead of time to bar technology transfers, not only the simple ones of which I speak but the more serious, albeit subtle ones, which can affect the outcome of battles and wars.

      Today there is a new class of radically new and important radio frequency weapons (RFW) which merits your attention as it emerges. And in this case, the horse is out of the barn. Transfers have occurred and are occurring. Equally true, however, is the fact that there are things that can be done to protect our nation, which is the underlying objective of today's hearing. Certainly one of these things is to recognize that export control documents, particularly the Militarily Critical Technologies List, needs to be reviewed to determine if radio frequency technologies should be considered in the same careful way we do nuclear technologies. I respectfully suggest that this is the case; stronger controls are needed. One example is Reltron tubes which went to a friendly nation, one who sells products widely--sometimes to nations who do not like us. These tubes, which can be small or large, generate intense radio frequency pulses and can be used as RF weapons.

      Before we go further I wish to state clearly for you and for the public record that I do not speak for the Department of Defense, for any military service or any government agency. I come before you only as one who has researched this area for the past year and is writing a White Paper on the subject, one which will be offered to DoD for their use and disposition.

      Some of you may know about radio frequency weapons, where they came from, what they can do and what the implications are.

      Although there are a number of groups and individuals concerned with this subject, I have found that somewhat paradoxically the word has not really gotten out in Washington itself. Despite the existence of a Presidential commission, an Infrastructure Protection Task Force, a Critical Infrastructure Working Group, an Information Warfare School at the National Defense University, and other working groups, to include divisions on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, as well as a few very dedicated and brilliant mid-level people in DoD, a general understanding is lacking. This is true not only of RFW, but of their immediate threat to our DoD and national infrastructure. Indeed the term "infrastructure" is so amorphous that it lacks impact if not meaning. One of our first tasks will be to define what is the military and economic infrastructure and what in it is susceptible and vulnerable to RF weapons.

      Some 90 to 100 references in 26 pages of the 70-page Quadrennial Defense Review speak to this new threat, but only to a discerning reader; the name for the class is not used. On the other hand, a recent search of the Internet found 2,400 to 2,800 references, while yet another, more thorough search found many tens of thousands of documents where the key words "radio frequency weapons" appear. Some very good people have written books and articles on the subject, the first revealing article known to me appeared in 1987 in the Atlantic Monthly, but for many reasons the knowledge is diffused. In the public sector the subject has yet to draw any real attention or concerted action.

      To help set the stage, recognize with experts like a former NSA Director that we are the most vulnerable nation on earth to electronic warfare. This thought is echoed by a former CIA Deputy Director, and a former Deputy Attorney General who forecast that we will have an electronic Pearl Harbor if we do not accept a wake up call. Our vulnerability arises from the fact that we are the most advanced nation electronically and the greatest user of electricity in the world.

      On the military side, as in the civilian sector, our current superiority is based on microelectronics. To prevail against us, an adversary must cripple, destroy or deny access to those same microelectronics. Can an adversary do so? Very likely, as this hearing will bring out. All of our military doctrine assumes extensive use of sophisticated electronics and communication systems to ensure information dominance and overwhelming battlefield success. As is the case with our civilian infrastructure and economy, our current dependence is large and will continue to grow. Because our battlefield success and the well being of our civilian economy--with which this committee is especially charged–-are so dependent upon the effectiveness of our microelectronic-based systems, we should fully understand any technology that might be used to defeat our systems. This is particularly true of the newly emerging threat of radio frequency weapons. And even more importantly, we must develop countermeasures before such weapons are used against us.

      Before going further, let me explain what these weapons are, where the Russian work has gone since 1949 and the applications of these weapons. If you are interested--as I believe you will be--you may wish to bring before you successive panels of our own leading scientists and experts. I have talked to many of them, heard them make presentations at conferences, and read their articles and books. I will be pleased to provide your staff with names of those who could provide this or other committees with a better understanding. I am also willing to assist in any way that might be helpful.

      First of all, an RF weapon is one that uses intense pulses of RF energy to destroy ("burnout") or degrade ("upset") the electronics in a target. These weapons can be employed on a narrow beam over a long distance to a point target. They are also able to cover broad targets. They are categorized as high power microwave (HPM) weapons and ultra wide band (UWB) weapons.

      The phrase non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse is sometimes used, because these weapons, which are indeed non-nuclear, project the same type of pulse we first learned of in conjunction with nuclear weapons. As a practical matter, a piece of electronic gear on the ground, in a vehicle, ship or plane does not really care whether it is hit by a nuclear magnetic pulse or a non-nuclear one. The effect is the same. It burns out the electronics. The same is true of the computers in this Senate office building, in industry, or on Wall Street.

      There is another way these weapons can be delivered to a target, military or civilian. Here the term RF munitions, or RFM is used. Yet these too are properly called RF weapons. These small munitions contain high explosives that produce radio frequency energy as their primary kill mechanism. In the hands of the skilled Russian scientists, these munitions come as hand grenades, mortar rounds, or large artillery shells or missiles. Generally, they produce a short but very intense pulse. While not yet fully understood and with some uncertainties argued as to their capabilities, many scientists are convinced the weapons actually exist. Without making any claims as to what they can do, I offer the following list from open source FSU literature of some nine smaller RF munitions or weapons:

      Some of these weapons are said by the Russians to be now available as a hand grenade, a briefcase-like object, a mortar or artillery round.

      Applications or potential targets (like those of the larger High Power Microwave weapons) would include all military computers, circuit boards, or chips, of any description, and include the following key components of our military and national infrastructure. They would have equal impact on civilian targets with the advantage less power would be required. Recall that the term "infrastructure" lacks clear meaning, but would include things like:

      This list of potentially vulnerable targets could and should be extended to include airplanes, ships, vehicles and the like. Of interest is the fact that we are doubly vulnerable because we are, and will remain, in an era of dual use of military and civilian systems. For example, 90% of our military communications now passes over public networks. If an electromagnetic pulse takes out the telephone systems, we are in deep double trouble because our military and non-military nets are virtually inseparable. It is almost equally impossible to distinguish between the U.S. national telecommunications network and the global one. What this means is that it is finally becoming possible to do what Sun Tzu wrote about 2000 years ago: to conquer an enemy without fighting. The paradigm of war may well be changing. If you can take out the civilian economic infrastructure of a nation, then that nation in addition to not being able to function internally cannot deploy its military by air or sea, or supply them with any real effectiveness--if at all.

      Since 1949, the intense interest of the former Soviet Union in developing these weapons appears to have resulted from their recognition that they could not match the capability of Western electronics, and their belief that RFW have the potential to be effective against our sophisticated electronics. It is far less clear to me and to others why they are willing to transfer and proliferate the RF technologies they have developed so carefully and so well, but that they are clearly doing so. Should you wish, a future hearing by this or another committee could go into more detail.

      President Yeltsin proposed to President Clinton a joint program for a "plasmoid defense" against ICBM's. While it is unclear to many scientists what President Yeltsin meant, such a defense, if attainable, might presumably set up a shield which would ionize the atmosphere and cause missiles to fail. Official Russian journals and publications show keen interest and provide many details about these weapons. A great amount of information is flowing continuously from three former Soviet Republics on their past and current programs.

      We do know that the reduction in military spending by the FSU and many Western nations is prompting the defense industries of many countries to offer advanced weaponry to foreign customers to further their own research, development and industrial capabilities. This trend is almost certain to grow over the next 10 years.

      From unclassified sources, we know that Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, China, Australia and France are well ahead in this field, while Germany, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan and Israel are emerging and have ample details of the Russian work and of the proceedings of more than 20 years of international conferences. Without going into any classified matters one may reasonably infer that the pariah nations have similar interests and some certainly have the financial resources to develop or procure RF weapons.

      Russian and FSU information on RFW has been moving across borders for many years. International conferences beginning in 1949 have been a principal source of technology transfer. Scientists here and abroad have long exchanged papers, letters and, with increasing frequency, telephone calls.

      Understanding the number, frequency and long standing nature of these conferences, you can perhaps better appreciate why I earlier said that the horse is out of the barn. Of interest, too, is the role of the United States in these conferences. Indisputably, the U.S. is the scientific powerhouse of the world. We have initiated and hosted a number of these conferences, funded many of them to a significant degree, and played a prominent role at all. While we gain some information, our scientists will readily acknowledge the net advantage is always to other attendees.

      Put another way, from a narrow technology transfer standpoint we have thus far lost more than we gained. However, even prior to the Internet no one could control the flow of ideas, especially among scientists. They like to talk especially about what they have achieved, and how they solve theoretical and practical problems. For decades our scientists have found their Russian counterparts to be brilliant, dedicated and creative. Personal relations are important and some have developed, but they are exceptional. For the most part the Russians have been ambiguous about their great work and often are mistrustful of Americans. We should move to change that by closer and warmer contacts as well as by efforts to enter into joint ventures--with all the travails that accompany such efforts. The Russians are intensely interested in our comments and some professional appreciation by their scientific peers of their decades of work on the offensive use of RF weapons. In my humble opinion they would prefer to work with our own distinguished scientists rather than others, but will sell their technology and products to others. I believe there is a real potential for joint ventures which could serve to constrain to some degree the proliferation of these weapons, especially to those who would do us harm.

      To return to the earlier point about the need for better controls of technology transfer, consider these two counterpoints which illustrate the problem:

      It would also appear that there are other proliferation and transfer concerns of interest to this committee, simply because there is so much accurate how-to-do information in the open literature and on the Internet. Several countries have RFW programs and Russia says it has sold some technologies to these countries. At least one of these countries has acknowledged such a transfer. The crux of the difficulty in controlling these transfers is best illustrated by the fact that High Power Microwave weapons look like ordinary radars. With a dish or horn antenna, and a van with a power source, an RFW would look like a new, used or renovated radar. Used ones are offered for sale today in military surplus and commercial catalogs. Other catalogs offer for sale the components to put together lower power, but also very low cost items, that once assembled could be used effectively against the infrastructure.

      Users of the new weapons can be criminals, individuals or organized gangs of narco or domestic terrorists--or a determined, organized, well-funded foreign adversary, either a group or nation who hates us.

      The Russians, as noted, led with this work starting in 1949 with theory. By 1961, they were doing research, as documented in their numerous unclassified scientific articles. Experiments began in the seventies and proceeded to testing as described in their publications. Many of these weapons appeared in written descriptions, some photographs and diagrams in the nineties. Strategy, doctrine, tactics and techniques are all laid out in rather clear form. Please note all of this is unclassified information.

      There is a legitimate question about the intelligence aspect of all of this. Our intelligence community largely proceeds on the operating principle followed in the Cold War: A threat is not validated until it is fielded. Well and good; hard evidence is essential.

      But the question may fairly be asked: does that principle serve us well in the present day? Suppose we were to take a Russian or FSU-designed weapon, fabricate it in the U.S. and test it here. If the results were to meet the standards of performance and capabilities now claimed by the Russians, would we then have a validated threat? The answer to the capabilities may be forthcoming this month because at an unclassified level one of our national labs is doing just that. Another lab has purchased cheap, off the shelf components and will test its lower power device this month. Their engineers and I believe it will indeed work against infrastructure and light military targets.

      There is a great deal of other corroborating evidence which at least argues for the existence--which is still disputed in some quarters--of these weapons: one minor one is an International Institute for the Prevention of Offensive RF Weapons, located in Philadelphia. Why such an institute if there are no such things? Evidence as to the capabilities of the weapons may be found in such recent statements as China's declared intention to purchase three RF weapons derived from the Russian technology. Another is the series of reliably reported discussions within the IRA of their intention to seek RF weapons for use against the London financial system in lieu of bombs and explosives. Consider, too, the recent statement by Sweden they have used these devices in experiments to stop cars at 100 yards, as well as their reported claim that RF weapons have been used against their financial institutions. A similar but much disputed statement has been reported by the London Times concerning British financial and banking institutions. The Los Angeles Police Department had done some successful work with vehicles in the interests of public safety and to halt fleeing suspects. Advantages of the larger high power microwave RF weapons include:

The RFM offer many of the same advantages, offset only by the sound of the explosion that detonates them and produces the rise in pulse energy.

Unless we choose to be, we are not without courses of action. Some of these could be explored at a future hearing. Some preliminary thoughts are offered today:

We need to go at this problem with a step-by-step sensible approach. No budget buster is proposed. Even if Congress had ready funds, a grandiose national solution is not the way to go.

We can start by scoping the problem and then by applying some of the same low-cost components that are now used in the ever expanding information technologies. Examples are surge-like protectors, plasma limiters, diodes, and metal covers. Parallel or redundant systems are another technique.

We are good at managing risks. We should no longer hesitate to reduce the impact of the threat, or to give our intelligence community the guidance to open up (some would say revise) their approach to this problem. Clearly the United States Congress will play a key role in whatever we do, or choose not to do, and our top leadership should focus on the longer term. But we should begin now in a sensible, modest way.

Three things we want to keep foremost in mind: