The Indian government on Tuesday night dismissed reports that the Chinese military had used microwave weapons against Indian soldiers during the border standoff in eastern Ladakh, forcing a retreat.

British daily The Times, among other publications, reported on Tuesday that a professor at the Renmin University in Beijing had claimed during a lecture 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, according to The Times.

The newspaper offered no corroboration for these claims.

Later on Tuesday, India’s Press Information Bureau refuted the report. “Some international news portals have published misleading headlines and reported baseless claims related to India-China border stand-off in Ladakh,” the Press Information Bureau said in a tweet. “This claims is fake, ADGPI [Additional Directorate General of Public Information] has clarified that no such incident has taken place. Beware of such misinformation.”

The standoff along the Line of Actual Control between India and China has been in a stalemate since May, when Chinese troops moved to take control of the territory that had been patrolled by Indian soldiers for decades. The initial scuffles led to a pitched battle – without firearms – in June that saw 20 Indian soldiers killed. Beijing, however, refused to release casualty numbers on its side. At least nine rounds of dialogue have taken place between the two countries since then but there has been no resolution.

The Times report quoted Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations, as saying that Chinese soldiers fired a microwave weapon from the foot of the hills and “turned the mountain top into a microwave oven”. Microwave weapons are equipped with high frequency electromagnetic pulses or beams that target and cause irritation and pain by heating up human tissue when focused.

The newspaper offered no details about how Jin might have access to this information, which, if true, would represent a major change in engagement between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

The professor added that the People’s Liberation Army had “beautifully seized” the ground without flouting the no-live-shot rule, which is part of the rules of engagement between the two countries. “We didn’t publicise it because we solved the problem beautifully,” Jin claimed, according to The Times. “They [India] didn’t publicise it, either, because they lost so miserably.”

After the microwave weapons were used against Indian troops, they began to vomit within 15 minutes, according to the professor. Being unable to stand up, the Indian soldiers soon escaped, after which Chinese forces “retook the ground”, Jin claimed.

The Chinese professor, in his lecture, said that India had sprung a surprise attack on August 29 by deploying a team of personnel of the Indo Tibetan Border Police on two critical hilltops on the south of the Pangong Tso Lake, The Times reported. Jin added that the Chinese western theatre command “was under huge pressure”, and wanted the positions back under their control without any shots being fired.

The professor said it would not have been possible for the Chinese soldiers to do so with combat at an altitude of 5,600 metres. “Then they came up with the clever idea to use microwave weapons,” Jin said, according to the British newspaper.

Microwave weapons

During the Cold War, the United States was concerned that Russia was attempting to convert microwave radiation into weapons of mind control. The US military has also attempted to develop such weapons that are able to beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads, according to a 2018 report in The New York Times. This weaponry aims to disable attackers and conduct psychological warfare.

Experts believe that these weapons may have caused the symptoms and ailments that hit over three dozen American diplomats and their families in Cuba and China in 2016 and 2018. The episodes had caused a diplomatic rupture between Washington and Havana.

In 2016, over 30 United States’ state department staff and their families had reported hearing high-pitched noises in their homes and hotel rooms near the embassy. These people soon suffered from nausea and mild brain damage, but authorities were unable to identify the cause behind it.

In 2018, American officials in China’s Guangzhou had reported strange symptoms akin to a concussion or a minor brain injury. However, links to the episode in Cuba could not be made.

The US has developed a Active Denial System, which it says is a “non-lethal weapons programme” that does not use a laser as its source of directed energy. The US Department of Defense Non-lethal Weapons Programme also said that the “ADS provides a quick and reversible skin surface heating sensation that does not penetrate into the target”.

India’s Defense Research and Development Organisation had announced in September that it was planned to develop directed energy weapons or DEWs that employ high-energy lasers and microwaves. The national programme is likely to comprise of short, medium and long-term goals, with an end goal of developing the weapon variants of up to 100kW, The Times of India reported in September, citing sources.