What Is a Sonic Attack
If you haven’t heard, there has been a lot of talk about sonic attacks lately, given the recent suspected attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Several diplomats have experienced an unusual illness that seem to have no cause or reason. For some, their symptoms were so severe that they had to return back to the U.S.
Do Sonic Weapons Exist?
While on paper the idea of a sonic attack may sound credible and frightening, in reality they are far less plausible than one might think. According to James Jauchem, a retired scientist who studied the effects of acoustic energy for the Air Force Research Laboratory, there’s a lot of overhype in terms of the possible effects (of infrasound waves).. it would be difficult to come up with any way to produce a weapon of that kind.” Although there has been testing in the past for such a weapon, nothing has come together that would give a sense that it would be operational or effective.
If They Did Exist, How Would It Work?
The real world version of a “sonic weapon” would be referred to as an acoustic device. When weaponized, these devices attempt to overload the inner ear with loud, intrusive sound causing the hair cells that allow for auditory processing to die, triggering substantial pain and possible permanent hearing damage. Typical symptoms from using acoustic devices are nausea, severe and sudden hearing damage, balance issues, brain injury, and disorientation.
American diplomats reported that they did not hear any sound, meaning that whatever weapon was used did not operate within the normal hearing range. Although currently no known weapons contain effective inaudible capabilities, this hypothetical category of weapon would be referred to as either infrasonic (too low frequency to be audible) or ultrasonic (too high frequency to be audible). Though there have been claims of these frequency levels causing damage, the results are inconclusive.
What Are Some Examples of Acoustic Devices?
- Stun Grenades (also known as “Flashbang Grenades”- This device is commonly used to neutralize a target as part of crowd control or war. They are designed to produce a bright flash of light accompanied by an extremely loud “bang” which provides a non-lethal manner of disorienting an attacker.
- Acoustic Harassment Devices (AHDs)- These were designed on the premise of deterring humans and animals alike from a certain area. There are a variety of forms that this category comes in, such as:
- The Mosquito- An electronic device used commercially to deter loitering, vandalism, and violence by young people specifically. It emits a frequency that is too high to be heard by most adults, lending to its use as a “teenager repellant”.
- The Scream- Popularized by the Israeli army, this device has been used to break up protest groups by emitting a focused beam of sound in a particular direction that is far too painful to withstand.
- Acoustic Hailing Devices- A form of loudspeaker that concentrates sound and outputs it over longer distances than a megaphone without losing clarity. These can either be directional or omnidirectional, with the latter creating a full 360 degree display of sound. The most common form is known as LRADs or MRADs (Long-/Medium-Range Acoustic Devices). Using a high-energy acoustic beam (also known as extremely loud sound), these devices are used to transmit sound over long- or medium-range distances. Its uses range from mass communication and crowd control to defending commercial cruise liners.
Should I Be Worried?
Although the premise of a sonic attack sounds like a James Bond horror story come to life, the likelihood of one taking place is almost non-existent. As our audiologist on staff, Dr. Sperino, Au.D., states, “it is highly unlikely that infra- or ultrasonic sounds could cause any real damage to a person”. While investigators continue to search for the causes of these U.S. diplomats peculiar symptoms, you can rest easy knowing that these kind of attacks do not deserve great attention.