The Chinese military years ago mulled the use of electromagnetic weapons against the United States and Taiwan, and could have built on that technology to have in its arsenal a working radiation weapon today, according to U.S. National Security Archive documents declassified and released on Thursday.
Chinese researchers subjected animals such as mice and monkeys to "powerful radiation sources" with a view to discovering the efficacy of such radiation weapons on humans, a declassified 2005 National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) document reveals. A high proportion of the animals died in the process.
Chinese communists have also been intent on acquiring the capability to knock out U.S. aircraft carriers and their escorts with sophisticated weaponry, and also being able to wipe out electronics in Taiwan as part of a potential attempt to invade the island, the NGIC paper says.
“China may consider (as an option) the employment of HEMP [high-altitude electromagnetic pulse] as a … weapon against the Taiwan electronic infrastructure or against a U.S. CVBG [aircraft carrier battle group],” the document noted.
The United States regularly sends aircraft carriers to Taiwan’s waters, sells weapons to Taiwan, and says it is committed to Taiwan’s defense.
A HEMP, essentially a nuclear explosion detonated hundreds of miles above the earth’s surface, can cripple military and communications infrastructure over a radius of several hundred or even more than a thousand miles.
A pulse that is burst at an atmospheric height of 300 miles would cover the entire contiguous United States, according to a 2008 Congressional Research Service threat assessment.
Along with electromagnetic pulses, China also experimented with high-power microwave (HPM) weapons, which produce brief but extremely powerful radiation with electromagnetic waves in the same range as microwave ovens and cell phones.
The Chinese military, in a potential conflict with the more powerful United States military over the “reunification” of Taiwan, considered the weapons “trump cards” that could be implemented with an element of surprise and might avert a nuclear response from America.
The paper outlines two possible ways that Chinese communist military commanders could use the HEMP, or the threat of one, in a “Taiwan Scenario.”
China could set off the HEMP against U.S. aircraft carriers after an initial strike against Taiwan, or could use the threat of atmospheric nuclear activity as a deterrence tool against U.S. carriers traveling to Taiwan.
Moreover, the Chinese reportedly tested the effects of HPM and EMP radiation on an assemblage of animals, including “mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, and monkeys” and recorded the radiation’s effects on their organs, intending to extrapolate the data to humans.
“The real purpose of the Chinese medical experiments is to learn the potential human effects of exposure to powerful EMP and HPM radiation,” the report from the NGIC, a unit of the U.S. army, said.
The newly disclosed documents are “additional confirmation from an American government source that China is working on EMP weapons,” Richard Fisher, China military expert and director of the Asian Security & Democracy Project, said in an interview.
Since the early-to-mid-2000s, China has revealed that it has in its possession a nuclear-powered neutron bomb, fueling fears that it has upgraded its radiation weapon technologies, Fisher says.
“Neutron bombs were … designed to kill people and preserve property [and] China is quite capable of producing both nuclear propelled and non-nuclear propelled [nuclear bombs],” he said.
Intelligence sources speculate that Chinese non-explosive cluster munitions warheads could have the capability to “carry an EMP warhead to fry the electronics on the targets and not kill any of the crew, at least not immediately,” Fisher said.
“My estimate is that China has refined and improved its EMP weapons since then.”
With reporting by Matthew Robertson