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Edited by Christian Lowe | Contact

An Electrifying Sentry

There’s just something so agro about a claymore mine.

Tamp it into the ground, set a trip wire or a command detonation chord and clack one off when the bad guys get too close. Nothing like a spray of 700 ball bearings backed by C-4 to ruin your pursuer’s day.

But in today’s counterinsurgency fight, the mighty claymore comes with a lethal certainty far more final than a “hearts and minds” fight can stomach.

We’ve heard a lot about the controversial “Taser” system used primarily by law enforcement and civilians uncomfortable with firearms.

But take a look at the company’s newest rig – one that harkens back to that B-movie Michael Crichton dud “Congo.”

TRAD.jpg

The TASER Remote Area Denial system uses an infrared camera triggering device that trips an electrifying jolt of “Do Not Enter” on those who tread where they shouldn’t.

TRAD is a revolutionary new concept in area denial, deploying TASER neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology to incapacitate intruders who violate areas secured with a TRAD system.

The true power of TASERNET can be realized when TRAD modules are installed in a networked security solution. Ideal for protecting high value facilities or operations such as checkpoints, command centers, depots, aircraft insertions, and spec ops, as well as fixed installations such as embassies, air fields, utility facilities, pipelines, etc., TASERNET provides the user the capabilities of visual observation and oversight coupled with the ability to engage and incapacitate targets remotely. A simple user interface allows the operator to see, track, and identify targets with specific target designators indicating whether each target is a “friend” or “foe.”

The TASERNET application displays visual information from TRAD imagers as well as oversight cameras integrated with a graphic representation of targets positions and designations. Once an engagement decision is made (either by the operator or the system depending on user selected settings), the TASERNET program selects the specific TRAD units best suited for engagement and transmits fire authorization. The TRAD unit will then arrest the targeted individuals by providing complete incapacitation. Commands can be issued to the targeted individuals over the TASERNET system and the triggered TRAD unit can be reengaged by the operator as needed to restrain the targeted individuals until response teams can take the targeted individuals into custody.

And you can check out the (pretty creepy) promotional video here…

(Hat tip to RC)

-- Christian

Pain Ray's Burning Questions

When controversial new military tools are being rolled out, perceptions often matter more than reality. Take the Active Denial System, the millimeter-wave pain ray developed by the Air Force. The weapon's effects are now pretty well understood by military researchers. But for the average person, it's been nearly impossible to sort through the range of claims and counter-claims surrounding the system. And these questions could come back to haunt the American government, if and when they ever deploy the system.

ads new.jpgI was powerfully reminded of this by the recent case of Raul Castells.

Raul Castells is a controversial social activist in Argentina. In 2004 he organised a march on McDonalds ; in March 2006 he opened a community kitchen providing free food for poor people in Puerto Madero, a swish redeveloped dock area. Located opposite the Hilton Hotel, it carried the slogan "We are fighting for an Argentina in which the dogs of the rich don't eat better than the children of the poor".

This behavior has angered some of his opponents in Argentina.

On December 12th, Castells was in a scuffle with the police which resulted in his being hospitalised with serious burns over 20% of his body.

“I was victim of a new Police weapon, a type of flame thrower,” said Castells (my translation). In fact, he was not sure if it was a flamethrower,a giant lighter or something else. Others claim that rubber bullets were fired at them after they went to help the burning man.

The police dispute the account given by Castells and his followers, saying that he was hit by a molotov cocktail thrown by one of his own supporters.

“The Buenosairean and Federal Police do not use flame throwers,” said a police spokesman, reasonably enough.

My first guess was that this was an accident, and that Castells had been hit with pepper spray which had been accidentally ignited. Such sprays use a flammable alcohol base; non-flammable alternatives have been rejected on grounds of safety, effectiveness and environmental damage. However, the police deny using pepper spray in the encounter.

This leaves two completely opposed versions of what happened. Who do you believe, the police or the protesters? While the days of the dirty war and critics of the government being 'disappeared' have long gone, the police are not universally trusted and officers have been convicted of extra-judicial executions of protesters as recently as 2002.

I’m not suggesting that the Argentine police are covertly field-testing an Active Denial system (though a portable version for police use was under development, and the Argentine police are quite innovative, being the first to adopt the electric cattle prod in the 1930’s ). But when the ADS is employed, people will turn up on CNN claiming to be victims, and showing off sunburn, leprosy, blisters and every other skin condition ever seen. Who will you believe? More importantly, who will the local population believe?

Dr Juergen Altmann suggests that prolonged exposure would likely produce high temperatures resulting in blistering over the entire exposed surface of the body. Clearly there is a risk, but re-radiation of heat outwards, and conduction of heat inwards will prevent the temperature from rising indefinitely. I have great respect for Dr Altmann’s technical knowledge in matters nonlethal, but the lack of this kind of injury during extensive testing leads me to suspect that the ADS is (relatively) safe.

Consider: if you step into warm sun from an air conditioned room, in a few seconds your skin temperature shoots up several degrees. This does not mean the solar heating will cause you to burst into flames if you remain for a few more minutes.

But who is really right? Until questions like this can be resolved, any deployment of Active Denial technology is going to be a political minefield.

-- David Hambling

Heat 'Em Up

Last week, the Defense Department showcased its "Active Denial System" or ADS At Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Officially this system is still in "extended user evaluation" phase of an ACTD (advanced concept technology demonstration). They aren't being produced in quantities to ship to Iraq, although I'm sure the troops there wouldn't mind having a few in Baghdad. This system uses millimeter wave energy to cause an uncomfortable hot sensation, designed to encourage people to a hasty retreat from the scene.

ADS.jpg

The ADS has gone thorough treaty and legal reviews to ensure the system is compliant with applicable arms control treaties and agreements, according to the release. It has also undergone three military utility assessments, where it was evaluated in a variety of operational scenarios ranging from checkpoint support to facility, perimeter and harbor security.

Most of DoD’s current non-lethal weapons, such as bean bag rounds, use “kinetic” energy, Hymes said. With these weapons, the size and mass of the target and the distance at which the weapon is used can change the effect of the weapon, perhaps making it more dangerous, he explained.

“The ADS, on the other hand, is a ‘muzzle-safe’ weapon, which means it is safe and effective at 50 feet and 500 meters,” Hymes said. “The range, safety, universal effect, and tremendous repel capability make the ADS a very versatile non-lethal weapon with a great deal of military utility.”

Other people are more skeptical. German physicist Juergen Altmann points out that non-lethal weapons (or as some prefer, "less-lethal") are not without the capability for lethal results.

"It only stays at 50 degrees Celsius if the beam is switched off at the correct time, let's say after 3.5 seconds," he says. "If you beam on for a further three or five seconds, then you get 60 and 70 and 80 degrees, and you get second- and third-degree burns on the whole part of the body that is exposed, because the beam is at least 3 meters wide, and probably a little wider. You get essentially half of the body exposed that is pointing toward the antenna. And then there is the potential for life-threatening conditions. Medical literature says that if you have somebody who has second- or third-degree burns on more than 20 percent of his body, then he has to be put into intensive care, because it's life-threatening."

Concerns such as these may be why DOD is getting some early press on the system. While the Department says that the system has cleared treaty and legal issues, there will always be the perception that military personnel don't use non-lethal weapons without causing some casualties. DefenseTech has covered the evolution of this system for some time, and captured this Marine officer's comment in response to a question: what if the bad guys try to deflect the beam?

"If they try and deflect beams then we will kill them because we know what their intentions are. "

OKAY! good to know that the non-lethal weapons are of some use, in at least identifying the bad guys to shoot. For the final word, let's go to the Colbert Report. On Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert talked about the ADS (it had been featured on Faux News). He commented, "This is the perfect weapon for the war on terror. What's better than an invisible beam to fight an abstract concept?"

-- Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

"Non-Lethal" Viruses to "Neutralize" Cities

The middle years of the Cold War were, in many ways, a Silver Age of bad weapons ideas -- from nuclear bazookas to one-man "aerocycles." But this has to be just about the worst I've heard yet: Developing "biological agents" -- including ones that can lead to "inflammation of the brain, coma and death" -- for "incapacitating" enemies on the battlefield or "neutralizing hostile cities." It's one of a number of head-scratching ideas University of Bradford researcher Neil Davison reveals in his new report, "The Early History of 'Non-Lethal' Weapons." (Two others: military-strength strobe lights and "odor warfare.")

tqo65642.jpgThe US military, for example, standardized viral agents Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) and Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) [whose symptoms range from "mild flu-like illness to...inflammation of the brain, coma and death," according to the CDC -- ed.] bacterial agent Brucella suis (brucellosis), and toxin agent staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), as incapacitating biological weapons...

The political advantages of these agents were that their foreseen limited “lethality”, (the aim was to develop agents with a 1-2% lethality), would enable greater freedom in the use of force. From a tactical perspective these agents might be used to cause large-scale incapacitation and thus overwhelm medical and logistical services. They may also be used in situations where there was a risk to civilian or friendly forces...

The relative ease of weaponizing and conducting human tests with [these] incapacitants... meant that they were standardized earlier and investigated more fully. [A] May 1970 paper... considered biological agents as potential “nonlethal” weapons for the military:

The biological agents, while having much of the versatility of chemicals, lack a rapid onset of effect. Their tactical incisiveness is severely limited so they are less applicable to the class of conflict discussed in this paper [limited and urban warfare]. They may, however, have a substantial application in capturing and neutralizing hostile cities at highly intense levels of limited warfare. (emphasis mine)

Thankfully, no one ever got the chance to try out this tactic. Biological weapons were banned under international law by the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

Pain Beam Not Easily Foiled

My recent pieces on the Active Denial System (ADS) or ‘pain beam’ sparks discussions here and elsewhere on the web. One of the most common challenges to the device is that the beam of short-wavelength microwaves could easily be blocked with tinfoil.

It’s not that easy.

Captain Jay Delarosa, spokesman for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate told me:

"We have conducted extensive testing and have determined that most readily available materials are not effective as countermeasures against the ADS.“

Few people appreciate the reasons behind this, and even John Pike’s otherwise excellent GlobalSecurity site claims:

“Countermeasures against the weapon could be quite straightforward — for example covering up the body with thick clothes or carrying a metallic sheet — or even a trash can lid — as a shield or reflector.”

foil2.JPG

As described previously, the beam is at least two meters in diameter, and the smallest skin exposure is enough to cause intolerable pain. A red hot poker does not need to be in touch with much skin to make you pull away, and the ADS causes as much pain on your nerve endings. A shield will not work unless it covers your whole body and them some, because the ADS beam diffracts. According to an article in Aviation Week & Space Technology last July -

…actual tests show that the beams penetrate even minute openings or cracks, for example, and sometimes appear almost to wrap around corners to affect fingers and feet of those trying to hide behind or hold up protective devices.

"The radio frequency is hard to block," Booen says. "Some of the people tested against tried to hide by laying down behind some concrete traffic barriers and the beam went underneath [where there was uneven contact with the ground]."

What about that tinfoil? It will have to cover every square inch and any rips or tears will make it useless. Joints may be tricky; if you flex foil too many times holes start appearing. For vision you will need a metal mesh visor, like the kind they use on microwave oven doors. The problem is, the size of the mesh depends on the wavelength of the radiation - so short-wavelength ADS beam requires something much finer than normal microwave mesh. You also need to think about the effect on your breathing, body temperature and communication.

While it is theoretically possible to put together an anti-ADS armor suit, this is less of a spur-of-the-moment improvised undertaking and more of an elaborate workshop project taking some time and effort. (And by the same token, you could make yourself bullet-proof if you used quarter-inch steel plate instead of foil.)

Get your suit working and your problems are just beginning, as it will quickly identify you as a troublemaker rather than an innocent bystander. Separating ‘tourists from terrorists’ is one of the ADS’s main goals, and as Capt Delarosa says:

“If an individual makes extensive efforts to counter the effect of a non-lethal system, then they are likely showing hostile intent and an escalation of force may be warranted based on existing rules of engagement.”

The Marines will always ensure that non-lethals have lethal backup. Marine Corps Colonel Wade Hall is blunt about the use of ADS in a convoy protection scenario:

"If they try and deflect beams then we will kill them because we know what their intentions are"

There is another alternative. The Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP), which I described in New Scientist (subscribers only) is a non-lethal weapon which fires an extremely short laser pulse, producing a plasma flash-bang at the target. This could be deployed on the same platform as the ADS, using the same power source. “Many of the countermeasures that can be envisioned against the ADS” could be nullified by the PEP by “ablation of the defence” according to a Navy study on the effects of plasmas. Such a laser could chew through a layer of foil with a few pulses.

A PEP might also negate foil without having to blast it away. Ultra-short pulses have recently been demonstrated that can turn metals pitch black , so that the surface absorbs incoming radiation and reflective foil is made useless. This technology was developed at Rochester's High Intensity Femtosecond Laser Laboratory ; they are funded by (among others) DARPA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. We’ll be looking more at short pulse lasers in 2007.

There are many questions still remaining around the Active Denial System and its effects. But we may safely assume that in the many years of its development the Air Force has taken possible countermeasures into account.

UPDATE 5TH JAN Some interesting responses in the Comments section.

Leather is no protection; wet leather, like any other wet material, will absorb the beam and heat up. This may sound like a good idea, until you look at the numbers and realise that it only gives you a few seconds extra, then you have extremely hot water/steam in contact with your skin...foil is a better idea. The issues around damp/wet cloth, sweat etc were investigated a few years back in FWR-2002-0016-H Effects of skin and environmental conditions on sensations evoked by MMW covered this). There was some concern about one subject wearing a sweater developing nettle rash (urticaria) which is mentioned in F-BR-2006-0018-H Effects of exposure to 400-W 95-GHz Millimetre Wave Energy on Non-stationary Humans , but this did not happen again.

To clarify one concern, as I understand it running away would not make you a target for escalated force (like getting shot at); turning up in a tinfoil bodysuit might do.

And as for Nicholas Weaver's request "Could you get zapped by it and tell us first hand?" - er, no thanks. It sounds painful. There's a good firsthand account by Eric Adams in Popular Science here:

"About a half-second after 'One,' I felt a warm spot on my back. A millisecond later the heat intensified dramatically, as though someone were pressing an electric burner hard on my back. I expected to hear sizzling, to smell burning flesh. The pain exploded to the point where I was no longer actually thinking, and certainly wasn't in any sort of control of my reactions. With a shout of "Yeow!" I involuntarily sprang out of the way."

-- David Hambling

US Bioelectromagnetic Weapons Research

Could new weapons stun or paralyze with a beam of radio energy? I have discussed proposals for ‘bioelectromagnetic wepaonry’ in DefenceTech before, here and here, but for the first time details are emerging of Air Force-sponsored work in this field.
stun2.jpg

I have a piece in ther TechWatch section of this month’s Popular Mechanics magazine exploring a new nonlethal program. In addition to the well-known Active Denial System (ADS) -- which amounts to a mobile microwave oven -- basic research has started on something potentially far more effective and with much wider implications.

This report, entitled "Interdisciplinary research project to explore the potential for developing non- lethal weapons based on radiofrequency/microwave bioeffects" -- states their goal:

Our research is to lay the foundation for developing non-lethal stunning/immobilizing weaponry based on radiofrequency (RF)/
microwave(MW) radiation by identifying RF/MW parameters potentially capable of selectively altering exocytosis, the process underlying neurotransmitter release and hence nervous system functioning.

The ADS works purely by heating skin – a simple thermal effect. According to the Air Force, in health terms it's exactly the same effect you'd get from heating with radiator or hot water or standing by a fire, and it is this heating that produces the 'repel' effect on its targets. As far as we know, the ADS does not have any physical effects other than straightforward thermal ones. But the new project is concentrating on the ‘non-thermal’ effects created by longer-wavelength radiation, looking at how microwaves can affect the nerous system.

This area has already seen a lot of debate. Mobile phones and their transmitter towers use microwaves, and it is hotly contested whether the microwave radiation has any effect on the human body other than simple heating.

The researchers at the University of Nevada have concluded that non-thermal effects of RF do exist and may be harnessed. In an abstract here (on page 317)
– a study of Non-Thermal effects of RF Radiation on Exocytosis - states “The effects of RF exposure on catecholamine release that have been observed to date cannot be explained by an increase in temperature.”

And there’s more. Other work by the same team, is described here

It will also support a DEPSCoR- funded program that extends those studies to include microwave frequencies and to explore the effect of pulsed and CW RE/microwave exposure on skeletal muscle contractility

The suggestion is that a correctly tuned beam of microwaves (possibly pulsed or modulated) would be able to interefere with skeletal muscles. This might ultimately give a means of producing the same sort of non-lethal effects as a Taser -– but potentially from much greater range and over a wide area.

So far, the work has been entirely on ‘in vitro’ cell samples in the laboratory, and only modest alterations in cell function have been produced. This is a very long way from being able to actually influence a living creature. Any suggestion that this sort of weapon has already been fielded by the US should be treated with skepticism.

The researchers are keen to point out that there could be a variety of non-military applications too, such as new types of therapeutic tool for non-invasively treating conditions like chronic pain.

Everything is in very early stages in the US program. But, as I mentioned a while back, the Russians have been looking at this technology for years. Dr. Vitaly N. Makukhin of the Trymas Center in Moscow has published papers on "Electronic equipment for complex influence on biological objects" which he claims can produce effects including “disorder of the autonomic nervous system.” Few people have taken him seriously in the West before. Now that the same sort of effects are being confirmed in US labs, perhaps we will start taking more of an interest in what this type of weapon may be able to do.

Neil Davison of the Center for Conflict Resolution has already questioned "whether it is in any way acceptable to develop bioelectromagnetic weapons that could have an incapacitating and suppressing effect on people by manipulating their nervous system or their muscles"
As with Tasers and the ADS, the ethical issues around this one are liable to become the focus for some very lively debate.

-- David Hambling

Chemical Weapons? What Chemical Weapons?

I was clearing out my in-box when I noticed this note: “EDITORS ALERT: The American Forces Press Service recalls the article titled “DoD Officials Urge Use of Non-lethal Weapons in Terror War” by Jim Garamone, published Sept. 27, 2006. The article contains inaccurate information and should not be used.”

news3.jpgUsually, news services correct innacurate information. The Armed Forces Press Service didn’t do this, however, they just withdrew the entire article from their site. The great thing about the Internet, however, is that the article lives on through other websites. I’ve attached the full article below.

Among other interesting tidbits, the article quotes a senior Pentagon official noting that the Chemical Weapons Convention constrains military personnel from offensive use of riot-control agents (like tear gas). This follows up on earlier debate, described in this article from 2003 in the New York Times, on President Bush authorizing tear gas for “defensive operations” (something presumably not in violation with the convention).

The sticky issue is when you use riot control agents for “offensive operations” – and judging from this Armed Forces Press Service article, that’s the road they’re going down.

DoD Officials Urge Use of Non-lethal Weapons in Terror War
By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2006 – DoD officials today urged a change in policy that would allow U.S. servicemembers to use tear gas and other non-lethal weapons in the global war on terror. Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Otis G. Mannon, deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on readiness and management.

At issue is an Executive Order issued in 1975 that forbids American servicemembers’ “first use of riot control agents in war, except in defensive military modes to save lives.” The policy further states that all use of riot control agents in war “is prohibited unless such use has presidential approval in advance.”

An amendment in the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act — the Ensign Amendment after subcommittee chairman Nevada Sen. John Ensign — takes non-lethal weapons for riot control out of this prohibition.

Benkert said officials want “to assure that our men and women in uniform have the full range of options available to them to carry out their missions.”

Benkert stressed that the riot control agents he was talking about are not listed in a Chemical Weapons Convention schedule. He is referring to such non-lethal weapons as tear gas and pepper spray. He also said his testimony did not address other non-chemical, non-lethal weapons such as foams, water canons, beanbags or rubber bullets.

“It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their armed forces can use riot control agents only in defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agents using them effectively every day,” Benkert said. “The United States military must operate within the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Executive Order 11850, which constrain the ability of our armed forces to use riot control agents in offensive operations in wartime and obviously do not apply to our colleagues in law enforcement.”

Benkert and Mannon stressed that even when allowed to carry these weapons, DoD personnel go through exhaustive and comprehensive training on their use. He said they also receive training in the law of war and applicable Geneva Conventions implications. “The Department of Defense has issued regulations, doctrine and training materials providing guidance as to when riot control agents may be used,” he said.

Before U.S. military personnel may use riot control agents, they must have proper authorization. The president must approve any use in war in a defensive military mode to save lives.

“Under various circumstances, in light of the changing environment in which armed conflicts are taking place, in such a dynamic environment the peacekeeping, law enforcement and traditional battlefield roles of deployed units may be present at different times within the same theater of operations,” Benkert said. “The use of riot control agents will be evaluated based on the particular unit or mission involved and the particular facts and circumstances of the mission at the requested time.”

-- Sharon Weinberger (cross-posted at Imaginary Weapons)

UPDATE 4:35 PM: Noah here. In his tesitmony, Benkert noted that "It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their Armed Forces can use riot control agents in only defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agencies using them effectively every day." I'm one of those Americans. So I asked Edward Hammond, who heads up nonlethal-weapon-watching Sunshine Project for his thoughts. Check out his answers after the jump.


1) "Non-lethal" chemicals historically used by militaries to as
multipliers of lethal force, not to save lives. Examples: WW1,
Vietnam.

2) It's a "gas attack". Perception, justified or not, on the part of
the recipient that s/he has been attacked with chemical weapons. PR
liability and possibility of retaliation "in kind" thus resulting in
RCA [riot control agent] use prompting (or serving as the excuse for) use of CW [chemical weapons].

3) Escalation of violence. RCAs are pretty indiscriminate and, when
not used to help kill, are frequently used to impede people from
expressing their opinion, airing their grievances. I'm certainly not
a field commander in Iraq, but I cannot help but think that any sane
US officer dealing with civilian unrest in Baghdad or elsewhere would
not want to have CNN and Al Jazeera airing footage of US soldiers (or
Iraqi soldiers effectively under US command) lobbing gas at crowds of
Iraqis...

4) Much the same military hardware might have a far different
chemical payload. I submit that it's a good idea to keep militaries
as far away from (bio)chemical delivery devices as possible. If we
start back down this road...

5) The CIA listed an Iraqi facility experimenting with CS [2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, a riot control agent] bombs (see
item #1) on its list of Iraqi WMD sites prior to the invasion.
Hmmm... How is it that an Iraqi military CS bomb is WMD; but the US
says its military CS is exempt from the CWC? Is it that CS is legal
in US miltary hands but not others? I don't think so .... Help me
out here, Secretary Rumsfeld, why do we have two standards?

Pain Ray, R.I.P.?

For years, the Air Force Research Lab, along with the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate, has been working on a microwave-like pain ray, to keep potential rioters at bay. And for years, we've been hearing that this so-called "Active Denial System" -- which penetrates 1/64th of inch beneath the skin, activating pain receptors, and sparking serious burning feelings -- was just about ready to ship to Iraq.

ads_ir.JPGBut that prospect -- already growing more remote, because of concerns about speed and reliable tests -- just got downright distant. Because now, the Secretary of the Air Force wants to try out systems like the pain ray "on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield," the AP reports. And we all know: zapping home-growing protesters is not going to happen any time in the near future.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn't likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved.

Last year, as New Scientist noted, Active Denial System testers "banned glasses and contact lenses to prevent possible eye damage to the subjects, and in the second and third tests removed any metallic objects such as coins and keys to stop hot spots being created on the skin." But the real concern, at least in the military, was that the thing was too slow for use, not too dangerous. (After all, one of the primarily corwd control devices today is the decidedly-lethal M-16.) Several units in Iraq from requested the pain ray, ASAP. Pentagon poobahs majorly boosted the long-term budget for Active Denial and other "less-lethal" weapons. After 9300 test shots, for many, the only question was whether to use the system at sea, on land, or in the air.

So what happens to Active Denial now? My guess is that we're on our way to an old-fashioned, intra-service smackdown. Maybe the big wigs will even zap each other, in the process.

(Big ups: RC)

Kinder, Gentler Thermobarics

Thermobarics are known as some of the most ferocious weapons an army can have. But not all of 'em are about death and destruction.

Stun1.jpgThe U.S. Department of Justice, for example, is funding a thermobaric stun grenade. Known as the "Fuel Air Diversionary Device," it's more powerful -- but less dangerous -- than existing flash-bang devices. The munition doesn't produce any hazardous shrapnel, and the 'near field' blast isn't as intense as condensed explosive.

Developed by Sandia National Laboratories, the grenade expels a cloud of fine particles through vents with the aid of a gas generator. This fuel-air cloud then deflagrates -- rather than detonates. The explosion is at subsonic speed, so the overpressure is much less than the lethal thermobaric devices discussed previously. However, the project requirements specify "the overpressure energetic shock wave will be sufficient to knock down a man of average size and weight," so don’t think that it’s underpowered.

when the round bursts, flake aluminum is ejected and ignited to create a brilliant flash that is comparable to looking directly into the sun for 60 milliseconds but causes no permanent damage to a person’s vision. In addition, the flake aluminum poses no appreciable burning hazard. It cools to the ambient temperature within a fraction of a second. The acoustics, he said, reach a level of 170 decibels, but again, cause no permanent damage.

Maybe. 130 Dbs of sound is physically painful - 170 Db is even worse.

At least the thing isn't very likely to go off accidentally. The grenade's filler is not explosive per se, and can’t explode while it’s contained. What's more, sympathetic detonation is not a problem, and it can’t be set off by sparks, heat or impact. The well-known ability of thermobaric blast to 'flow' through apertures and around corners will enhance its effectiveness inside buildings.

While the grenade itself is an interesting step forward, we may see a lot more devices based on this technology. The makers say that by altering the variables "metallic fuels, organic fuels, blends, particle size and morphology, gas generator output, etc." – a wide variety of different outputs can be achieved. The device could be optimised for flash, or the blast can be of tailored strength and duration to maximise its effectiveness, depending on whether you want to dazzle, deafen or just knock them off their feet.

It is also significant that this is highly scalable. At a presentation the European less-lethal weapon conference last year, Mark C. Grubelich of Sandia included a comment about "devices demonstrated with 10’s of milligrams to 10’s of kilograms of fuel."

This suggests a number of novel devices. At the lower end you could have an explosive baton round that would produce a non-lethal blast on contact – this would get over the usual problem with kinetic rounds that they are either dangerous at point blank range or ineffective further out.
Twenty grams of flake aluminium produced a fireball two metres in diameter brighter than the sun, engulfing the target in a blinding, deafening but harmless explosion.

A hand-thrown device containing more fuel could fill a room or corridor, or perhaps (given the increased effectivenss of thermobarics indoors where there are walls and ceilings to reflect and amplify its power) neutralize a small building.

Or you could have a larger wide-area flash-bang bomb which could subdue a crowd, or at least give them some non-lethal "shock & awe." The stun effect should last long enough to move in and grab the hardcore violent members of the crowd while they are too stunned to resist.

A big part of the secret to tailored thermobarics is nanotechnology to produce very precisely graded particles, a topic explored in my book Weapons Grade. It can mean the difference between damaging buildings, demolishing them, simply killing the occupants -- or perhaps just simply stunning them.

-- David Hambling

Guard Gets Sonic Blasters, other "Non-Lethals"

It makes sense that the Pentagon "wants to equip select National Guard units with new non-lethal weapons." Troops along the Mexican border and in hurricane-prone regions could use something more than an M-16 to help keep crowds in line. But boy, are the tin hats gonna freak, when they find out that sonic blasters are part of the non-lethal toolkit.

lrad_patrol.JPG"This move stems from a key lesson -- that an exclusive reliance on lethal force is inappropriate -- learned by the Pentagon following last summer’s deployment of active-duty and National Guard forces to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," Inside Defense reports.

These equipment sets consist of items that many law-enforcement organizations currently use and represent a small slice of the Defense Department’s growing effort to make use of technologies that can be used to control crowds and thwart actions of individuals without applying lethal force...

The kits, according to the Pentagon official, include non-ballistic face shields; expandable riot batons; non-ballistic body shields; non-ballistic riot shin guards; plastic flexicuffs; Tasers and Taser cartridges; FN-303 launchers, which are paint guns; and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun for firing beanbags. It also includes riot baton training suits, riot strike pads, high-intensity white lights and containers to carry the full ensemble.

The $8.8 million request would also buy 47 Acoustic Hailing Devices, a collection of generators, amplifiers and speakers that concentrate and project sound waves -- both warning tones [often-painful warning tones - ed.] and voice commands -- to distances beyond the range of small-arms weapons.

Troops in Iraq have been dipping into the toolkits since '03. And the "hailers?" They've been used to keep the peace at the '04 political conventions, ward off Somali pirates, and shout out to Gulf Coasters after Katrina.

Double Cash for Less-Lethals

sticky.jpgGood news for makers and promoters of slime guns, sticky foam, and pain rays. Your days of being the Pentagon's equivalent of the kooky aunt, locked in the attic, may be coming to an end. It looks like Uncle Rummy wants you to start having supper with the family, after all.

The Donald "has directed the Defense Department to prepare a new investment plan that significantly increases spending on non-lethal weapons, laying the groundwork for their wider use," Inside Defense says.

Sources said the resulting investment plan, which covers fiscal years 2008 to 2013, could double spending on nonlethal technologies...

Last summer, the Defense Department issued its first Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support and directed U.S. forces to draw up plans to use non-lethal technologies in domestic missions, including those involving the protection of nuclear power plants and stopping suspicious ships in American waterways.

U.S. Northern Command, which oversees homeland defense in the continental United States and Alaska, and U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for the defense of Hawaii and U.S. protectorates in the Western Pacific, have incorporated non-lethal weapons into their operational planning documents and concepts of operation.

Arrrrr!!! Pain Ray Goes A-Sailin'

I know some of you have been worried. Sure, the American military is planning to roll out a microwave-like pain ray on land. And there's talk about making an airborne model of the so-called "Active Denial System," to control unruly crowds from above. But what if the evil-doers take to the seas? How will we roast them alive, then?

nonlethal-weaponry_nr.jpgNever fear. "The Active Denial System... may soon be used by the Coast Guard for port protection," Defense Tech pal Sharon Weinberger reports for Aviation Week.

Developed by the Air Force, Active Denial fires out milimeter waves -- a sort of cousin of microwaves, in the 95 GHz range. The invisible beams penetrate just a 64th of inch beneath the skin. But that's deep enough to trigger the pain receptors inside a person. Which makes folks want to run away, fast. Less-lethal weapon guru Sid Heal calls the ray the "Holy Grail of crowd control."

One of the systems was scheduled for shipment to Eglin AFB, Fla., where it's set to undergo a military utility assessment (MUA) for overwater operations, according to Sue Payton, the deputy undersecretary of Defense for advanced systems and concepts.

"The Coast Guard is very interested in how this capability would work to stop and redirect a driver of a small boat away from a port or ship," says Payton, whose office has been involved in integrating the technology into a deployable weapon...

Since the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, the Navy has sought ways to ward off small boats that could pose threats to ports or ships. The Coast Guard, similarly, is also exploring threats from small vessels.

The testing at Eglin, scheduled for Apr. 11-20, will feature the Active Denial System mounted on a hybrid-electric Humvee and based at a dock, with five Coast Guard boats participating in the assessment. Payton says the testing will look at a variety of factors, such as the beam's impact through glass and windows...

Other adaptations of the technology are in the works as well, including a... version [that] will be packaged in a Conex shipping box so that the system can be mounted on larger vehicles, and not just Humvees. "You can go to a bigger capability on trucks," she notes.

UPDATE 12:41 PM: You know, if cruise ships are already using sonic blasters to ward off pirates, maybe its not so crazy for the Coasties to have a pain ray gun.

Sticky Foam Gets Serious

Sticky foam is the custard pie of the nonlethals world, often seen more as a practical joke than a weapon. In fact, it worked well enough at stopping people, but suffers from some critical disadvantages, as Noah pointed out a while back.

sticky.jpgOne of the big problems is that having slimed a rioter, you can’t arrest them or take them away. And if the sticky foam covers their mouth and nose, it can be anything but non-lethal.

After some initial enthusiasm for the idea during the Marine deployment to Somalia in 1995, the idea faded and has been in limbo ever since. Now sticky foam is back, defending nuclear weapon stockpiles, according to this report from Government Security.

The report explains that some facilities storing uranium and plutonium now boast steel doors with containers of hydrocarbon solution built into them. Breach the door, and the liquid comes foaming out under high pressure, expanding in bulk by a factor of forty and sealing the breach with an impassable obstacle.

The idea is that sticky foam will delay any attackers for long enough for the defenders to call in reinforcements. Experiments with explosives found it was impossible to break through the doors without the foam barrier deploying. Another test showed how a defender could release the foam by shooting it with an M-16. According to Ronald Timm, president of RETA Security:

“If you're on the high security side of a door and attackers are attempting to break through, you can use your weapon to shoot the door…The sticky foam will deploy, delay the attackers, and give you time to call for help.”

The doors are already installed at undisclosed sites. In the new role, the foam's drawbacks become advantages. Keeping attackers stuck in place for as long as possible is helpful…and there are unlikely to be protests if any of them tries to force a way through and comes to a sticky end.

-- David Hambling

Shocking Shotgun: Stuns Quail, Too?

Don't tell Dick Cheney; it'll only make him angrier. But Taser International has just wrapped up tests on a less-lethal shotgun. Even if you nail someone in the face with this thing, the chances of putting him or her is the ICU are pretty low.

cheney_hunt.jpgToday's standard-issue stun guns work fairly well. But because the Taser uses a pair of tethered darts to deliver its electric shock, range is limited to 7 meters or less. Only one person can be targeted at a time.

This new "Extended Range Electro-Muscular Projectile" works out to 30 meters, according to News.com. And unlike Cheney's birdshot, this ammo fits into a diesel 12-gauge, not a wimpy 28. But testers said it could be "powerful enough for crowd control."

It's one of a bunch of long-range stun guns that that researchers in America and in Europe are investigating, Defense Update observes.

A different concept is the Sticky Shocker, developed by Titan, with DARPA's support... Sticky Shocker clings to a human target inflicting an electrical stun. Effective at up to 10 meters, the projectile contains a battery which excites several short high voltage pulses (50KV) per second... Different method of wireless stun weapon application is "laser induced plasma" weapon [kinda like this one], which uses artificial lightning effects to stun and incapacitate a target. Initial applications of such technology include the StunStrike, which [is] currently maturing into [an] operational system.

A German arms-maker is working on a "plasma taser" that squirts out an aerosol spray at the target, creating a conductive channel for a shock current, David Hambling noted in New Scientist. Meanwhile, Texas-based Lynntech, Inc. is using a grant from HSARPA (DARPA's homeland security clone) to build a shock grenade. (Here's Hambling's take.) And Taser International is toying around with a less-lethal landmine, based on its original stun gun.

There's no word, yet, on what the weapon does to quail.

(Big ups: RC)

UPDATE 2:04 PM: "Eagle Eye Body Armor sent us a release today noting that "Hunting accidents can be prevented carrying special hunting body armor,'" Defense Industry Daily noes. "'The Eagle Eye hunter's jacket that allows free movement with light weight is specially designed for the protection of individuals during the hunt.'"

Pain Ray Headed to Iraq?

It's been talked about for years. But the Pentagon's microwave-like pain ray may finally be headed to Iraq, Inside the Army reports.

active_denial_system.jpgDeveloped by the Air Force, the so-called "Active Denial System" (ADS) fires out milimeter waves -- a sort of cousin of microwaves, in the 95 GHz range. The invisible beams penetrate just a 64th of inch beneath the skin. But that's deep enough to heat up the water inside a person. Which is enough to cause excruciating pain.

Seconds later, people have to run away. And that causes mobs to break up in a hurry. It's no wonder, then, why less-lethal weapon guru Charles "Sid" Heal calls the ray the "Holy Grail of crowd control."

Raytheon has been developing a Humvee-mountable ADS for the Pentagon over the last couple of years, as part of an ACTD, or "advanced concept technology demonstration."

By now, the system was supposed to be in the field. But there have been concerns that the ADS tests weren't sufficiently realistic. The Pentagon ordered additional trials. More than 2,370 ADS shots were fired during a pair of "military utility assessments" over the fall.

Now, the head of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force -- the unit in charge of getting gear to the troops in a hurry -- is saying: enough.

The system's "capabilities have, to date, been sufficiently demonstrated in the ACTD [advanced concept technology demonstration] to prove its value to the solider," Col. Robert Lovett notes in a memo, obtained by Inside the Army.

And the 18th Military Police Brigade has requested ADS "to help 'suppress' insurgent attacks and quell prison uprisings."

ADS' technical manager, Diana Loree, said the system "now meets all of the ACTD performance parameters," Inside the Army notes.

"Because the system is a hand-built, one-of-a-kind technology demonstrator, it does not meet conventional humvee curb weight requirements... However, the technology team worked closely with [Humvee manufacturer] AM General to ensure the safety of the system and its occupants."

There has also been talk, at least, of building an airborne model of ADS -- as well as putting together a Hummer with both pain rays and sonic blasters. Needless to say, neither project is as far along as the basic Active Denial System.

Sonic Booms Redux

Well, whadya know. No sooner do we start blabbing about sonic booms as less-lethal weapons than we find two related stories in the hubbub of the headlines.

124573main_JulyXpress-EC050124-24.jpgFirst, there's this Times of London article about "a luxury cruise ship" which was "attack[ed] by Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades yesterday as it rounded the Horn of Africa." Luckily, no one was hurt. The reason why:

The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship.

Yarrr! Next, Aviation Week tells us that two teams are about to present their designs for supersonic aircraft that don't boom quite as bad.

The main focus of boom reduction efforts is to shape the pressure wave along the length of the aircraft so it won't coalesce into the standard sharp N-wave by the time it hits the ground. Spreading pressure over the signature's length reduces the abrupt changes at the beginning and end of the signature, which are what humans hear...

[But] recent changes in NASA's priorities have set back [the sonic boom work]. The agency's plan was to build a second manned low-boom demonstrator aircraft, and it wanted to issue a request for proposals as early as last September. It would have been a follow-on to the successful Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration aircraft that flew about two years ago.

But barely two months into the July-awarded concept exploration contracts, Lisa Porter, NASA's new associate administrator for aeronautics, told the teams on Aug. 30 that there no longer was funding for a demonstrator. Team members are trying to devise cheaper alternatives for the next phase of research, but turmoil continues in the agency's aeronautics plans.

THERE'S MORE: The AP now has a story out on the sonic pirate-stopper. The author: a reporter out of Miami named John Pain.

(Big ups: Xeni, who's got more on sonic booms, too)

Israeli Jets in Gaza Soundclash

scream.jpgRegular Defense Tech readers know that sonic weapons are slowly starting to be used by the American and Israeli militaries to disperse crowds with defeaning noise. But here's a tactic in the sound war that I hadn't heard of before: Israeli jets, letting off sonic booms over the Gaza strip.

The removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip opened the way for the military to use air force jets to create dozens of sonic booms by breaking the sound barrier at low altitude, sending shockwaves across the territory...

Palestinians liken the sound to an earthquake or huge bomb. They describe the effect as being hit by a wall of air that is painful on the ears, sometimes causing nosebleeds and "leaving you shaking inside."

The Palestinian health ministry says the sonic booms have led to miscarriages and heart problems. The UN has demanded an end to the tactic, saying it causes panic attacks in children.

"Israel has long used sonic booms to rattle Palestinians in times of tension and violence," Ha'Aretz notes. "The booms can be mistaken for one of the frequent missile attacks aimed at militants or weapons factories."

Israeli kibutzniks living near Gaza are just as spooked by the booms as the Palestinians. “The children are scared because they don’t understand, but the adults are also afraid,” one tells Ynetnews. “We are trying to continue with the daily routine, but it is very unpleasant to live like this.”

The Guardian adds that the IDF "was forced to apologize after one of the sonic booms was unintentionally heard hundreds of kilometers inside Israel last week."

THERE'S MORE: "This has actually been a common tactic by the Israelis for a long while, mostly in the neighbouring country of Lebanon," one reader tells Xeni. "This includes mock divebombing runs, and sometimes even firing live ammo. There's also the danger of windows being blown out. And I must say, even if you're on the other end of a phone somewhere in another country, it still scares the shit out of you."

(Big ups: JQP)

Laser Rifle Dazzles?

Granted, the thing looks fake. And no, I can't find this supposed press release anywhere else on the web -- which is usually a bad sign.

dazzler_maybe.jpgBut... c'mon. How could I resist posting about this alleged Air Force super-duper laser dazzler, especially when it's called PHaSR? (That's short for "Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response," by the way.)

The Air Force Research Lab opens up around 11am eastern time. I hope to have an answer shortly after. But until then... Enjoy!

A laser technology being developed by Air Force Research Laboratory employees at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. will be the first man-portable, non-lethal deterrent weapon intended for protecting troops and controlling hostile crowds.

The weapon, developed by the laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate, employs a two-wavelength laser system and is the first of its kind as a hand-held, single-operator system for troop and perimeter defense. The laser light used in the weapon temporarily impairs aggressors by illuminating or "dazzling" individuals, removing their ability to see the laser source.

The first two prototypes of the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR, were built at Kirtland last month and delivered to the laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate at Brooks City Base, Texas, and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico, Va. for testing.

"The future is here with PHaSR," said program manager Capt. Thomas Wegner. Wegner is also the ScorpWorks flight commander within the Laser Division of the directorate. ScorpWorks is a unit of military scientists and engineers that develops laser system prototypes for AFRL, from beginning concept to product field testing.

The National Institute of Justice recently awarded ScorpWorks $250,000 to make an advanced prototype that will add an eye-safe laser range finder into PHaSR. Systems such as PHaSR have historically been too powerful at close ranges and ineffective but eye-safe at long ranges. The next prototype... is planned for completion in March 2006.

THERE'S MORE: "A task force charged with studying potential directed energy threats to U.S. military aircraft... has sent senior service leaders a plan to ensure next-generation planes protect pilots and crews from laser attacks," Inside Defense reports. There's not much detail, however, on what that paln entails, other than more laser-safe eyewear.

AND MORE: Confirmed.

Talkin' Tasers

The ironies started early. Here we were, in a museum devoted to things that kill -- from lances to revolvers to laser weapons of the "Western Space Alliance." But inside the cranberry-colored auditorium at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, we 120-or-so white guys gathered to talk about weapons that are specifically designed not to cause lasting harm.

taser_side_mirror.JPGMost of the presenters at Jane's 8th Annual Less-Lethal Weapons Conference -- and most of the audience -- were cops or soldiers or weapons salesmen or military-funded academics. So I figured the presentations would mostly sing the praises of these weapons. That's the way it would've worked back home, in the U.S.

But things were different here. Of the eleven speakers today, two were outwardly hostile. Five more expressed serious reservations about "less-lethals," generally -- and about specifically about Tasers, the highest profile of the weapons.

As the critiques piled up, however, I got increasingly nervous. Because I had been told it was my job to "stir things up" at the confab. So I had prepared a pretty tough analysis of the often ham-handed, often squirrelly way that Taser International markets its products and deals with the press. (Click here for the prepared text.)

So I gulped, and got on stage. Instantly, I was told by the moderator to make it quick, because things were running behind schedule. Gulp again. But I took the time to start with a beer joke. At least it would get the Canadians in the room laughing.

As I plowed through my talk , I could see the host getting more and more uncomfortable. See, Taser was one of the main sponsors of the conference. And I was at least the fifth or sixth guy peeing on the company's parade. About three-quarters of the way through the talk, the moderator cut me off. I guess it was getting late. Plus, the moderator wanted to assure the audience -- and the folks from Taser, standing in the back -- that my talk was "billed" as a speech on "press relations." It was a mistake to focus too much on one company, he added.

I got back on the mic, and emphasized that I wasn't trying to beat up on the company (well, not its products, anyway). Taser was just a case study. It's the less-lethal weapons-maker we all knew best in the States. And how it's perceived will reflect on other less-lethal firms -- and users -- for years to come. The audience clapped to that. And afterwards, a rep from Taser said he had enjoyed the talk. He'd fly in from London, he told me, to personally show me around the company's Arizona HQ.

Here's the talk...

The LLW Paradox. I'm here today to talk about how the public and the press sees LLWs. Specifically, I'm going to talk about the paradox behind LLW perceptions. We've got a class of weapons that has been specifically designed not to be killers – to give soldiers and police a more humane, safer way to handle conflicts. But, judging from the press accounts, you'd think those weapons were mass killers. Roll out a modern-day “daisy cutter,” designed to wipe out a neighborhood in a single stroke, and the media applauds. Test a stun gun that might shock a single suspect, and, all of a sudden, reporters start getting very antsy. Shoot someone with in the face with a .45, and there’s a teeny-tiny mention of it on page B29. Shoot someone with a rubber bullet, and it’s front page news.

The question is: why? Where does all this hostility come from? What's behind this less-lethal paradox? Let’s look at Taser International’s line of LLWs as a kind of case study. Because, with all the attention being paid to the company, Taser serves as a bell weather for the entire LL movement. I’ll get in to some larger, cultural issues in a moment. But in Taser International's case, specifically, I'd argue that how the company markets itself -- and deals with the press -- has made an already adversarial environment much, much worse.

Just about every newspaper, just about every television station has run a damaging story about Tasers. Maybe it's an allegation of Taser abuse; maybe it's someone dying after being stunned; maybe it's a lawsuit; maybe it's a new report about whether the stun guns are really safe. The end result is a tide of bad press for the company, with little attention paid to the lives that might be saved by the stun guns, or the conflicts that get more or less peacefully resolved.

The Selling of the Stun Gun. Back in 2001, Taser International marketed its weapons as "less lethal." But as the stun guns have gained in popularity – and the questions around their use have grown louder – the company has changed its tune. Tasers became completely "non-lethal," according to the company. In small print, the company says that "non-lethal" means the Pentagon definition: "weapons that are explicitly designed… to incapacitate." But most people don't read the small print. They assume non-lethal means "it doesn't kill." And Taser officials have helped that assumption along, by meeting any suggestion that Taser's weapons are anything but benign with an all-out assault.

For example, last October, Amnesty International came out with a report on Tasers that I thought was pretty balanced, given the source. It started out by "acknowledg[ing] the importance of developing… 'less than lethal' force options to decrease the risk of death or injury inherent in the use of firearms." That sounds like a sentence straight out of a Taser International press release. Then the Amnesty report went on to say that "while coroners have tended to attribute such deaths to other factors (such as drug intoxication), some medical experts question whether the Taser shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure in cases where persons are agitated, under the influence of drugs, or have underlying health problems such as heart disease."

"Some medical experts question whether the Taser shocks may exacerbate a risk of heart failure." Like I said, pretty mild.

But Taser International’s response was double-barreled: "Anyone living in the real world in which law enforcement officers worldwide have to make split-second life or death decisions knows that Amnesty International’s report and position is out of step with the needs of law enforcement concerning our proven life-saving technology… Furthermore, we are particularly disappointed by Amnesty International’s complete disregard for the health and safety of the men and women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day."

That is what we call in my business the "classic non-denial denial." There's no response to the substance of the matter. Only name calling. To reporters, this isn’t a convincing response. It’s an admission that the Amnesty report is largely accurate. It’s an invitation to dig deeper.

Besides, we all know that no weapon is 100% "non-lethal." Not even a fist. That’s why this conference is on “less-lethal weapons,” and not “non-lethals.” If that’s true, than why has Taser International clung so tightly to the “non-lethal” label. And is the company's insistence – angry insistence – on its lack of lethality helping its image in the media – or hurting it?

Another example: This past June, USA Today, embarrassingly, screwed up the number of amperes that the Taser guns put out. The paper made it sound like the weapons were 100 times stronger than an electric chair. The firm responded… by suing USA Today's parent company, Gannett, for "libel, false light invasion of privacy, injurious falsehood and tortious interference with business relations."

Now, this is a bad idea on any number of levels. Not only are libel cases all-but-impossible to win in the United States. But it also gives the impression that Taser's arguments can't stand on their merits… they have to turn to the courts instead. Worse still, Gannett owns the firm's hometown paper. So suddenly, it's got an adversary in its back yard. Again, is Taser International’s pugilistic attitude helping Taser… or hurting it?

The Coroner's Call. For years, Taser International officials boasted that their weapons had never been cited in an autopsy report. "No deaths have occurred as a direct result of the use of TASER technology products," the company said in April 2004. "We continue to be amazed by the premature, unfounded, speculation in the media concerning the unexpected, unforeseen deaths of criminal suspects while in police custody after use of TASER device. In every single case the medical examiner has attributed the direct cause of death in the autopsy reports to causes other than the TASER device."

On July 18, 2004, that changed. The company's hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, discovered that Taser International couldn't have known what coroners were saying, because the company hadn't even started keeping track of autopsy reports until April of that year. What’s more, the paper instantly claimed it had found eight cases where Tasers were found to be a contributing cause of death. Now, that number has grown to 18 deaths is which a Taser may have been a factor.

The company responded by citing numerous "independent" studies which it said proved the weapons were safe. But exactly how independent those studies were is a matter of debate. One was a January 2005 Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology report, which asserted that the Taser ''may be safely applied multiple times if needed." But that study could hardly be called independent – two of the report's four authors were Taser employees.

To make matters worse, on July 29th, a Cook County, Illinois medical examiner became the first to list the electro-shock weapon as a primary cause of death. Now, this was an unusual case. Ronald Hasse was shocked for 57 seconds, more than 10 times the usual amount, before he died. So the company could have said this was some kind of gross negligence or freakish oversight – an outlier, am exception that actually proves the rule. Instead, the company immediately hit back, challenging the coroner's conclusion.

The next month, two doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a shock from a Chicago Police Taser caused a 14-year-old to die from cardiac arrest. Again, the company immediately disputed this allegation, as it has done so many times before. It sent a memo out to law enforcement agencies that the doctors had it wrong.

But the Arizona Republic now counts 147 deaths somehow tied to Taser use. Obviously, there were extenuating circumstance in a large number of these cases – drugs, heart problems, what have you. And maybe the stun guns are completely blameless in each and every case. But there are only so many body bags an image can take. Denial, pushback, and lawsuits only go so far.

The Shadow of Abu Ghraib. Even if Taser had kept a much less militant tone all along, it would have still face a very skeptical press, however.

In most people's minds, torture and pain are intertwined. And so any weapon which is primarily designed to deliver pain is automatically going to be seen as a torture device. In that way, just about every LLW is going to begin with a cloud of suspicion overhead.

But Tasers have it worse than most. Electricity and electro-shock weapons have been used by governments around the world to torture their citizens and their captives. Amnesty International has documented electro-shock torture in 87 countries. Not just in the places you’d expect it, like Saudi Arabia or China. But in America, and Canada, and Spain.

Tasers, for the most part, have not been directly involved. But the company has suffered from the association. In fact, sometimes, the American military has used the painful associations with electricity to their advantage.

None of us will ever forget those awful pictures from Abu Ghraib, the ones with prisoners wired up, to simulate electrical torture. But here’s a story which most people aren’t familiar with: During the early days of the Iraq war, the American military was having major difficulties at a prisoner-of-war camp holding "high-value detainees." Members of the 800th Military Police Brigade had to use lethal force several times to quell prisoner uprisings. Then, one of them had an idea: Saddam’s regime had routinely used electrical torture devices on dissidents. So maybe the former Baathists would be particularly scared of an electrical weapon, like the Taser. The military police were trained on the weapon. And “immediately after the training,” an Army report later noted, “one company commander… took the M-26 into the compound and held it aloft pulling the trigger. The 15 high voltage arcs per second were enough to intimidate the previously hostile prisoners and there has not been an assault against the guards since that time.”

"'Holy Shit!' was the response,” said one soldier who was there that day. “They moved away, they got it in line. It was a significant event for them."

The next year, four American soldiers were punished for "excessive use of force," And "in particular… the unauthorized use of Taser."

Hollywood has only reinforced the association between tasing and torturing. During one episode of the show "24," a suspected American turncoat is tased repeatedly in the neck during interrogation.

Stories of police using the weapons against toddlers and the wheelchair-bound have only reinforced the idea that the stun guns can be wielded with devilish intentions. Last November, Miami police used a Taser on a six-year old, to keep from cutting himself with a piece of glass. A South Tucson, Arizona police sergeant was put under investigation for tasing a handcuffed 9-year-old girl. One analysis of 2,690 Taser field uses, cited by Amnesty International, "shows 183 applications (7.4%) involving children aged 10 to 18."

A Denver Post report from May 4, 2004 found that 90 percent of the subjects tased by the police department there were unarmed. Most times, the weapon was used to "force people to obey orders, to shortcut physical confrontations and, in several cases, to avoid having to run after a suspect." More than two-thirds of those charged with a crime faced only a misdemeanor charge or a citation. In December, 2004, Miami police used a Taser to subdue a man in a wheelchair who threatened them with scissors. Four months later, local authorities Tasered “an Orlando man was handcuffed to a hospital bed for refusing to take a urine test that would confirm he had ingested cocaine."

Why are some members of law enforcement becoming so seemingly reckless with their Tasers? Obviously, sometimes – most of the time -- it's the result of poor decision-making, or just plain bad policing. But I’d argue that, in a larger sense, the restrictions on Taser use are loosening because many cops view them as absolutely, positively, 100 percent non-lethal – just like the company claims. In fact, a Taser may be viewed as the only absolutely, positively, 100 percent non-lethal item they’ve got in their arsenal. Yes, there’s been safety training from the company. But the message they’ve heard over and over again is that there are no repercussions to Taser use. What's the harm, then, is using one of the weapons – on anyone?

"The Taser originally was seen strictly as an alternative to deadly force," the Tampa Tribune notes. The company promotes this view over and over again on its website. But, over time, that view has changed – in Tampa, and around the world. Now, a Tampa officer "can use the Taser if the suspect is offering 'passive physical resistance.' The suspect does not have to pose a threat to anyone; he may be making an officer's job more difficult by staying put when he is asked to move or bracing his arms when officers are trying to handcuff him… The reasoning is: By refusing to move as ordered, a suspect is forcing a deputy to resort to force - grab a suspect, say, or chase him - and in an ensuing struggle, the deputy or suspect might be hurt. So the deputy shoots him with the Taser instead."

So in the space of a couple of years, tasing went from being the alternative to shooting someone, to the alternative to grabbing someone’s arm. That is just wrong. And, until it stops, Tasers are going to looks less and less like a humane tool for policing – and more and more like an easy, lazy way to torture. No wonder the company’s press is so bad.

Beyond the Stonewall. The point here isn’t to beat up on Taser. It’s to provide an example of how guys like me are seeing the company in particular, and LLWs as a whole. Consider it friendly advice. Tough love.

So how could Taser International – and, by extension, other LLW makers – start to repair the damage? Realism is a good start. Everybody knows that every weapon can kill. So stop feeding reporters and citizens fairy tales. Recently, the company has begun to back off the "non-lethal" claims; the description has vanished from recent press releases. That's a good start. Pushing further would be even better. Admit that the weapon, in the wrong hands, can be dangerous. Shine a light on those problems – and, in the process, educate the police and the public on how the weapons can be used safely. Cooperate fully in all investigations – don't hit back every time a coroner finds something distasteful. Find out how the company can help. Again, Taser has made some good progress here, with the new camera addition to its X26 model. But there’s more to be done.

Next, partner up with critics. Not sit with someone from Amnesty International on some panel. Really partner with them: take their advice, implement their proposals. They've had questions about whether independent studies are really independent? Fine, help *them* set up studies. They're worried about police misuse of Tasers? Fine, ask them what kind of training materials they'd like to see.

This is hard. No question about it. But nothing could go further to restoring Taser International's image than a seal of approval from the ACLU or Amnesty International.

It may require eating some crow. But it can't be worse than the beating Taser International is taking in the press today. And if it can turn its image around, all LLW users will benefit. And the promise of breaking the cycle of violence can finally begin to be fulfilled.

At the end of the talk, Taser International’s Steve Hynd got up to say that that these kinds of dialogues were already under way. By the way, he added, the company had offered both ACLU and Amnesty twice the chance to hand-pick researchers that Taser would then fund. The groups, he claimed, turned Taser down.

In the U.K., however, these kinds of partnerships already seem to be in placeas Tasers begin to be slowly rolled out here. Ian Arundale, from the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that consulting with “pressure groups” like Amnesty was a critical precursor to a more widely arming local cops with the weapons. “The more we build up arguments to satisfy these observers, the better.”

L.A. Cops' Super Sonic Blaster

Since the early part of last year, U.S. soldiers and marines have been experimenting with a series of sonic blasters in Iraq. The Long Range Acoustic Devices, or "LRADs," can broadcast messages hundreds of yards away -- or be ear-splittingly loud at close range. The New York Police Department also had the devices at the ready during the Republican National Convention, although it's unclear whether the LRADs were actually used or not.

LASD_sonic.jpgLast week, the L.A. Sheriff's Department tested out an acoustic transmitter that makes earlier models look like "childrens' toys" in comparison, LASD Commander Sid Heal, a world-renowned expert in non-lethal weaponry, tells Defense Tech.

On Thursday, August 4th, we put the magnetic acoustic device (I'm not sure it has a name yet, so this one will have to do for now) to the test on one of our ranges... Using a variety of sounds from human voice to music to sound effects (screams, shouts, gunfire, sirens, and the like), we succeeded in listening to the sounds from the transmitter located one statue mile in the distance!

Admittedly, this was a crude proof of concept test. But the device met and exceeded our expectations. There was nearly no distortion. In fact, at one statute mile, we clearly listened to a Frank Sinatra record and could understand the words, hear the intonations and pitch, and even the background music! Other sounds, especially those in the higher frequency ranges like sirens and screams, were easily detected even over the noise from the 5 Freeway a short distance away.

The edge of the energy path was clearly discernible and you could easily detect when you were standing in it and not, even at one mile. In fact, near the end of the test a wind gusting up to 20 knots blew across our line of sight and we had to adjust for the wind to remain in the energy path.

This device far exceeds anything I'm aware of. Others are childrens' toys compared with this thing. The developer tells us that there are other configurations they believe will allow it to take even more energy. They estimated we were using 15,000 watts, but with a different type of magnet they believe we they can easily exceed 100,000 watts without overheating.

Further, by rearranging the orientation of the magnetic speakers, they can increase or decrease the width of the lobe, as well as decrease the size, weight and power. The device we tested is "full range;" that is, it provided clear sound from about 50 Hz to about 20,000 Hz. But if we were going to use it just for human voice or a siren, or some other specific frequency range, they can also "tune it" to provide maximum effectiveness for a specific frequency range and reduce the size and power, while increasing the range.

We are currently scheduling a full-blown demonstration in September... We'll keep you in the loop and notify you of the particulars of the demo when we have them.

Sounds good, Sid. Uh, I think.

THERE'S MORE: "I saw LRADs in the Gulf," says Kevin, commenting at Ace of Spades HQ. "Basically, we hooked them to an iPod or similar mp3 player and sent out warnings in Arabic. Pretty slick. About the size of a stop sign, but only 6 inches. Definitely don't want to try hand-holding it though. One little sneeze and your buddy could be deaf."

Would You Like Some Pepper on That?

Now many of you may remember Gunny Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket" telling us that "God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see!" Well, not so much anymore, at least not at the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. This isn't real news - the Marine Corps has been the DOD Executive Agent for non-lethal weapons development since about 10 years ago. Currently, they run a "train-the-trainer" course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for all the military services. They're considering expanding the program to allow for hands-on training at Leonard Wood and to ensure they keep up with new technologies being fielded (right now, the hands-on training is done at the home stations). This is a good thing, and I'll tell you why.

Pepper.jpgThe Non-Lethal Chemical and Biochemical Weapons Research (NLCBWR) project under the Sunshine Project tracks incidents of improper or deliberate misuse of non-lethal weapons such as "pepper spray," by civilians as well as by military or law enforcement officers. Some of these instances include:

- A man dies as police subdue him with pepper spray in San Mateao, California

- Police use "excessive violence" and pepper spray to subdue a man at a traffic stop in South Carolina

- Policeman uses "excessive" amount of pepper spray on crowd in Vermont

- Family in drug raid in New Orleans accuses police of excessive force in use of pepper spray

Now the NLCBW project is clearly focused on watching for any improper use of pepper spray or other non-lethal weapons at these kind of events. Certainly there are cases where the police has properly used pepper spray to peacefully and successfully resolve individual and group conflicts. However, it illustrates the important point that, if the military intends on using these non-lethal technologies, it ought to ensure that its troops receive proper and frequent training on the use of these devices, if for no other reason, to stay focused on the intended outcome - few to no casualties and successful resolution of potential military-civil conflicts during peacekeeping (and other) operations.

-- Armchair Generalist

Israeli's Sonic Blaster

scream.jpgRats. I meant to blog about Israel's new sonic weapon a week ago, when it first appeared in the local press. Now Drudge, of all people, has beaten me to the punch. Grrrr.

Israel is considering using an unusual new weapon against Jewish settlers who resist this summer's Gaza Strip evacuation - a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leaves targets reeling with dizziness and nausea.

Security forces could employ the weapon to overcome resistance without resorting to force, their paramount aim. But experts warn that the effects of prolonged exposure are unknown.

The army employed the new device, which it dubbed "The Scream," at a recent violent demonstration by Palestinians and Jewish sympathizers against Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

Protesters covered their ears and grabbed their heads, overcome by dizziness and nausea, after the vehicle-mounted device began sending out bursts of audible, but not loud, sound at intervals of about 10 seconds. An Associated Press photographer at the scene said that even after he covered his ears, he continued to hear the sound ringing in his head.

A military official said the device emits a special frequency that targets the inner ear. Exposure for several minutes at close range could cause auditory damage, but the noise is too intolerable for people to remain in the area for that long.

THERE'S MORE: As Tamir notes in the comments, Defense Update has a bit more on the blaster.

STUN GUN STUDY SUSPECT

The makers of Taser electrical weapons have always maintained that their stun guns are 100% safe. The families of the 100 or so people who've died since 1999 after getting shocked tend to have a different point of view. So the Justice Department decided to fund an academic study, to finally figure out whether the Tasers were really "non-lethal" or not.

gi_taser.jpgBut the report's authors seem to have already made up their minds. One of the key advisers on the half-million dollar effort has been moonlighting as a paid consultant for the stun gun manufacturer, USA Today reveals. And the professor leading the study wrote, before his research got underway, that "Tasers do not kill."

Robert Stratbucker, a physician from Omaha, is among four paid advisers to a two-year study that is being launched by John Webster, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Webster's application to the Justice Department for a research grant last fall cited Stratbucker as an adviser, but it did not mention that Stratbucker... has worked with Taser as the Arizona company has touted its stun guns... Taser, whose Web site lists Stratbucker as the company's medical director [he even has a taser.com e-mail address -- ed.] , has cited his research in promoting its stun guns...

Stratbucker's presence is "a potential conflict of interest," said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a think tank here that researches law enforcement issues and wants federal money to do its own stun-gun study. "We wouldn't do it."


THERE'S MORE
: Slate's today touted the Stratbucker connection as a USA Today "scoop." But Taser's hometown paper, the Arizona Republic, was on the doctor's case back in January.

G.I. JAILERS' STUN GUNS

Now that Lyddie England has copped a plea, the issue of how American troops treat their prisoners is back on page one, at least for a day.

gi_taser.jpgSo maybe it's appropriate to revist an issue Defense Tech first examined almost 18 months ago: U.S. soldiers' use of Taser electrical weapons to put down unruly prisoners in Iraq.

Since then, there have been momentary glances at how G.I.s policing Iraqi jails are using their stun guns and other non-lethal arms. But a new report from the UK's University of Bradford gives the most complete picture I've seen yet on how U.S. troops are employing these weapons. Click here to read an excerpt.

A military police Master Sergeant recently returned from Camp Bucca, now the main prison camp operated by the US military in Iraq, gave a presentation on the types of non-lethal weapons used there. He described a riot which occurred at Camp Bucca in January 2005, during which time prisoners had used slingshots to hurl rocks at troops. After the use of nonlethal weapons had failed to bring the situation under control, troops opened fire with lethal weapons killing four prisoners.

The speaker said that non-lethal weapons are used in various situations including as a ‘punishment tool’ if prisoners do not comply with the rules of the camp. The camp itself consists of a series of large compounds, each guarded by two 30-foot towers and a perimeter. Prisoners are housed in a series of 25 x 30 foot tents, each holding 25-30 people. The size of each compound and the height of the guard towers means that range is the main limiting factor to the utility of NLWs [non-lethal weapons] from the point of view of the military police. Weapons used at the camp include the 12-gauge shotgun with non-lethal munitions, OC [pepper spray] canisters, M203 grenade launcher with various munitions, X26 Taser, [and the non-lethal mine] Modular Crowd Control Munition…

Both small OC canisters and large OC ‘foggers’ were used, OC being described as effective during the transfer and escort of prisoners. OC sprayers were also used for area denial to keep prisoners away from the perimeter fence, but effectiveness was dependent on the weather. If sprayed at a large crowd it was only be effective against the people at the front. Reportedly a ‘water truck’ with hose was also used to spray prisoners and was deployed when temperatures got below freezing. The Modular Crowd Control Munition (MCCM), a variant of the claymore land mine but filled with rubber balls, was also used for perimeter security, although it could not be permanently deployed because the heat would melt the rubber balls inside. Wardens improvised by mounting the MCCM on the front of humvee vehicles from which they could be fired at groups of prisoners.

Apparently the X26 Taser was used to ‘maintain compliance during close detainee operations’ including escorting prisoners. Reportedly it was not as effective in winter because the barbs could not penetrate the additional clothing worn by prisoners. (Taser Inc. subsequently developed a longer barb version of the cartridge that overcame this problem)…

The speaker summarised that non-lethal weapons had been effective at ‘conditioning a response’, but that it was important from their point of view for the guards to use multiple weapons and rounds so that prisoners could not predict what was being used and employ countermeasures. The M203 grenade launcher had been most effective due to its long range and effectiveness at ‘keeping people down’ for a significant amount of time. However, it appears that the M203 launcher was not available to military police during the riot (described above) when they resorted to lethal force. Apparently the policy with non-lethal munitions is to fire a point (individual) round first before using an area round to avoid affecting surrounding prisoners.

THERE'S MORE: New Scientist takes a look at three next-gen non-lethal weapons programs funded by the Justice Department -- including "the first man-portable heat compliance weapon of its kind."

AND MORE: "A man suspected of assaulting a police officer died Tuesday after being shocked multiple times with Taser stun guns during a struggle with police," according to the AP.

AND MORE: The Globe and Mail is reporting that "A man who died in police custody after being shot three times by a taser didn't die from the device, Ontario's deputy chief coroner told an inquest yesterday."

AND MORE: Either way, it's probably a good thing police aren't using this 110,000 Volt Taser Cannon! (via Gizmodo)

PENTAGON: MORE RAY GUNS, PLEASE

v-ads.jpgThe Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is the tiny Pentagon agency that's pushing weapons like the microwave-like pain ray and a slippery goo to make angry mobs lose their footing. Now, the JNLWD is on the lookout for new, far-out projects to fund. And the Directorate's $57.6 million shopping list is heavy on the ray guns:

* Emerging Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) that have non-lethal applications -- specifically counter-personnel, counter-material, and counter-capability missions (examples include novel HPM [high power microwaves], RFR [radiofrequency radiation], laser, and laser induced plasma sources).

* Human effects of non-lethal directed energy exposures, to include physiological and behavioral responses (examples include HPM, pulsed and continuous radiofrequency radiation RFR, laser radiation, and laser induced plasma stimuli).

* Advanced Materials that either provide or enhance non-lethal capabilities (examples include advanced anti-traction materials; engine suffocates, electrical and mechanical foulers, malodorants, thermobarics, NL [non-lethal] nanoparticles; rigid foams/materials, morphing materials, and NL payload delivery systems or payloads for long range remote engagement; and other NL reactants).

* Human effects relating percussive and continuous sounds, incoherent light sources, and overpressures that alone or in combination would provide operational capabilities while minimizing adverse health effects (examples include exposure-response relationships resulting in glare and flashblindess, or behavioral responses resulting from aversive sounds.) Also includes establishing either safety thresholds or probability relationship for adverse health effects for these stimuli.

* Development of long-range acoustic and ocular technologies and devices that support operational requirements while minimizing adverse health consequences.

* Development of long-range, extended duration, wireless electro-muscular incapacitation technologies or devices (include characterization of human effect and safety issues, miniaturization and advanced technology issues, and precision targeting). (via The Sunshine Project)

PAIN RAY GOING AIRBORNE

active_denial_ground.jpgIt was only a matter of time, I guess. First, the Air Force builds a real-life, microwave-like pain ray. Then, it gets a company to strap that real-life, microwave-like pain ray to the back of a jet.

For years, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been working on a millimeter-wave beam that penetrates a 64th of an inch beneath the skin. That causes the water molecules there to bubble. And that hurts like hell; people tend to run -- fast -- in the other direction. Small wonder, then, that non-lethal weapons experts call this "Active Denial System" the "holy grail of crowd control."

Active Denial been tested on people a bunch of times. A Humvee-mounted prototype is about to start undergoing trials. And now, Active Denial is going airborne.

AFRL handed Palo Alto's Communications & Power Industries a four year, $7 million contract, according to the Hilltop Times -- the in-house paper of Hill Air Force Base.

Dr. Diana Loree, the project officer for Active Denial, said four AFRL directorates are involved in developing this airborne capability: directed energy here; propulsion and vehicles at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; and human effectiveness at Brooks City-Base, Texas.

Experts from directed energy, as the lead directorate, focuses on the systems engineering and radiating system development, she said. Propulsion directorate experts focus on the airborne power generation and conditioning required for the radiating system. Vehicles directorate scientists and engineers put their efforts toward Active Denial's thermal management and aircraft integration issues while human effectiveness experts focus on biological effects research.

TASERS IN THE SKIES

taser_side_mirror_small.JPGBullets have a nasty habit of depressurizing an airplane's cabin. Firing bullets in an enclosed space is rarely a good idea. So I guess it was only a matter of time before someone decided to arm airline security guards with tasers instead.

Tasers are the stun guns that incapacitate their targets with 50,000-volt shocks, turning muscles into jelly. They've been used 45,000 times by police in the last five years. And although the weapons have been fingered in dozens of deaths, there's been no conclusive proof that the tasers were to blame.

In a press release Monday, stun gun maker Taser International announced that, for the first time, "the Transportation Security Administration of the United States Department of Homeland Security has approved a major international airline's application for the onboard use of TASER brand conducted energy weapons by specially trained personnel on flights to/from the United States."

THERE'S MORE: Meanwhile, "Oakland police, facing lawsuits over tactics used last year against anti-war demonstrators, have agreed to stop using wooden or rubber bullets, Taser stun guns, pepper spray and motorcycles to break up crowds," says WTVU (via the Sunshine Project).

AND MORE: Wrong, wrong, wrong. "Despite the widespread belief advanced by Hollywood movies [and certain websites] that gunfire erupting inside a plane could depressurize the cabin and doom all aboard," the Chicago Tribune reported in 2002, "officials said it's a myth and that the air marshals use standard law-enforcement ammunition. 'So long as you don't strike any hydraulic lines or hit the pilots, you're OK,' air marshal instructor Steven Mosley said."

(Thanks to Defense Tech reader JF for the catch.)

AND MORE: Over in the new Defense Tech forums, I've learned that I may be right, after all.

"You are correct about the 'Explosive Decompression' as a result of a round exiting an aircraft. The great show Myth Busters, on Discovery, actually did an experiment with a old fuselage," reader Mike B notes. "They over pressurized fuselage to create the pressure differential that an aircraft would experience at altitude. After remotly firing many rounds through the windows, no 'Explosive Decompression.'"

ISRAEL'S GIANT STINK BOMB

"The ever-ingenious inventors at Israel's weapons research and development directorate have created a schoolboy's dream," the Independent delcares, "the ultimate stink bomb, with a disgusting smell that lingers in its victim's clothing for up to five years."

The foul-smelling liquid squirted by angry or frightened skunks at their victims was analysed by Israeli defence scientists and a synthetic version created for use in a weapon they call the "skunk bomb". Fired with great care, and from a respectable range, it is designed to force civilian protesters to disperse.

Cops in places like L.A. and South Carolina are using a similarly stank-ass spray to keep crackheads out of abandoned buildings.

THERE'S MORE: "If used by military forces, it would be a violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, to which Israel is a contrating party," notes Defense Tech reader JMW.

"All weapons delivering gasses or liquids, or anything analogous to a gas or a liquid, are forbidden. Whether the gas or liquid is harmful or not is not relevant. Such a weapon could be used by police forces unconnected with military forces."

BRING THE PAIN

edge2.jpgCan we have our pain ray now, please?

Yesterday, Iraqi insurgents got a big wish fulfilled, when an American military helicopter firing into a crowd of civilians, killing a dozen or more.

Some say the Iraqis, who were looting an abandoned Bradley Fighting Vehicle, fired on the copter first. Some say otherwise. It doesn't matter, really; either way, the U.S. winds up looking more brutal – and less legitimate -- in Iraq eyes.

But what choice did the American gunner have? When U.S. soldiers are faced with a hostile crowd, they only have, broadly speaking, two options for breaking it up: the bullhorn or the machine gun. Words or bullets. Deadly force, or no force at all.

What's need instead is a weapon that falls somewhere in between. That shoots to hurt, not to kill. That drives away looters, without driving up casualty counts.

A microwave-like pain ray, let's say.

Fortunately, such a weapon is already deep into development. It's called the Active Denial System, or ADS. And, by firing electro-magnetic waves that penetrate just a 64th of inch beneath the skin, ADS creates a burning sensation that tends to make people run the other way, fast.

A Humvee-mounted ADS prototype is expected to be ready by the end of the year, with budget decisions made in 2005.

But, whether ADS is accepted or not, attitudes about non-lethal weapons have to change. Right now, the Pentagon's division devoted to such weapons gets about $44 million a year – out of a $400 billion budget. That's to support the development of new weapons, and not build up stockpiles of existing ones, like stun grenades and rubber-ball-packed claymores.

These weapons often stay in warehouses, rather than get used in the field, however. As a combat zone grows increasingly hostile, commanders often become reluctant to use the weapons. It's like bringing a knife to a gun fight, they argue.

But that kind of attitude can play right into the hands of insurgents, generating the kind of ugly reports we are all reading today. Sometimes, in the middle of a gun fight, a knife is exactly what's needed.

THERE'S MORE: "You seem to assume that weapons such as the microwave device you describe will be used only for the purposes intended, and that their effects will generally be less harmful than more directly lethal devices," writes World Without Secrets author Richard Hunter.

But what happens if the people faced with such a weapon can't just run away? What happens if they're trapped in a crowd, and the crowd can't move? How much pain must that crowd endure? How long can any member of the crowd be exposed to that weapon before his or her skin -- or their eyes -- simply cook off?

What happens if the devices are used deliberately in a manner designed to cause maximum harm -- say, by training the device on prisoners trapped in prison cells until they literally go mad with pain?

What happens if the system operator turns up the power? A little bit works well, why not try a lot?

What happens if the scientists didn't test the devices thoroughly, and they turn out to render anyone touched by them blind, or impotent, or sterile?

I need a lot of convincing before I believe that weapons designed expressly to cause pain are humane.

Fair points, all. A system like Active Denial certainly would have the potential for abuse. But at least there would be the possibility of using the weapon non-lethally -- a possibility which doesn't really exist today with an M-16.

AND MORE: "Killing is in our intentions, not our weapons," says Defense Tech reader JMW. When faced with an adversary, "the individual soldier has to decide whether to kill or to take a prisoner. This has nothing to do with armament." Aim a pistol at the knees, and it's just about as non-lethal as a pain ray.

There are NO "nonlethal" weapons when in the hands of military personnel. Weapons which disable or confuse enemy troops are those used to prepare subsequent removal of threats by lethal force. This was the classical use of poison gas during WWI and in the Iran-Iraq War. When nonlethal arms are available, one prevents enemy weapon use nonlethally, and then applies the lethal force. Of course, whatever the weaponry, if capture is feasible, it will be carried out; it doesn't matter whether nonlethal alternatives are available -- and they load down our combatants with ineffective equipment.

This differs from police use, where the objective is law enforcement, not killing, threat removal, or capture of facilities (we hope).

AND MORE: "Whatever happened to good old-fashioned tear gas?" asks Defense Tech reader RR. A few rounds of tear gas into a crowd does a great job of changing the crowd's priorities. Safe, cheap, and effective."

CORONER: TASERS DIDN'T KILL

They're still not sure why 31 year-old Frederick Jerome Williams died in police custody. But it wasn't the five shocks to the chest from a Taser stun gun, the Gwinnett, Georgia County medical examiner's office has concluded.

Williams is one of five people in Georgia and 26 people nationally in the last nine months "to die after being shocked by Tasers," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. That's as many as have died in the previous four and a half years.

"Those numbers got the attention of Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, both of which questioned the safety and ethics of Taser use," the paper says.

"The gun's manufacturer, Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., says autopsy results have shown that no deaths have been directly caused by a Taser."

Recently, the company landed four major orderss from metropolitan police departments -- including those of San Jose and Knoxville -- totalling over $1 million.

DEATHS DOG STUN GUN MAKER

taser_side_mirror.JPGFor executives as Taser International, this should be the best day, ever. The company just signed a $1.8 million deal with the Pentagon – the largest in Taser's history.

But the stun-gun maker can't shake allegations that their supposedly "non-lethal" weapons have killed more than a few of their targets.

"In the past nine months, five people in Georgia, including three in metro Atlanta, have died after being shocked with Tasers by law enforcement officers. Nationally, 26 people who were shocked with Tasers while in custody died during that period — as many as had died in the previous 4 1/2 years the guns had been in use," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes.

"Las Vegas police will re-evaluate Taser gun training after a coroner's jury blamed the death of a handcuffed man on repeated shocks with the stun gun," KRNV-TV adds.

No death has ever been successfully pinned on the Taser in court, the company asserts. According to the AJC, "Tom Smith, president and co-founder of Taser International, says the guns have been used safely by law enforcement officers in the field more than 45,000 times since 1999 and used safely more than 100,000 times including demonstration firings. The increase in the number of deaths of people shocked by Tasers simply reflects the increased use of the weapons, the company says."

American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been turning more and more to the electric shock weapons, to control crowds and keep prisoners in line. An Army report, released last year, said the Tasers worked particularly well in Iraq, because Saddam had tortured so many with electricity.

NEXT-GEN STUN GUNS TARGET CROWDS

xtremeads.jpgThe problem with today's stun guns is that you can unload a can of electrical whoop-ass only on one person at a time. But that's starting to change, New Scientist says.

Militaries and their contractors are getting closer to putting the hurt on a whole bunch of people at once, according to the magazine, with "weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them."

Currently, stun guns like the Taser "work only at close quarters," and only effect one person at a time, the magazine notes. That's because the Taser uses a pair of darts, tethered to a wire, to deliver its electric shock. Range is limited to less than 25 feet.

If they work as planned -- a big if -- "the new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances," by ditching the wires.

A weapon under development by Rheinmetall, based in Düsseldorf, Germany, creates a conducting channel by using a small explosive charge to squirt a stream of tiny conductive fibres through the air at the victim.

Meanwhile, Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), based in Anderson, Indiana, will be one of the first companies to market another type of wireless weapon. Instead of using fibres, the $9000 Close Quarters Shock Rifle projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems and stop vehicles.

"We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep," claims XADS president Peter Bitar.

The gun has been designed for the US Marine Corps to use for crowd control and security purposes and is due out next year. It is based on early, unwieldy technology and has a range of only 3 metres, but an operator can debilitate multiple targets by sweeping it across them for "as long as there is an input power source," says Bitar.

XADS is also planning a more advanced weapon which it hopes will have a range of 100 metres or more. Instead of firing ionised gas, it will probably use a powerful laser to ionise the air itself.

THERE'S MORE: Slashdot is suspicious of XADS -- "So, this company has a free-hosting website and and a free-email address for their 'president,' and the photo looks like cardboard tubes wrapped with green camouflage tape. Hmmmm."

AND MORE: The company does have a small business contract with the Navy for a "Personnel Neuromuscular Disruptor Incapacitation System" -- awarded November '02.

AND MORE: Defense Review interviews XADS' president here.

SONIC WEAPON IN IRAQ

"U.S. soldiers in Iraq have new gear for dispersing hostile crowds and warding off potential enemy combatants," the Associated Press reports. "It blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam. "

The equipment, called a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is a so-called "non-lethal weapon" developed after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships.

The devices have been used on some U.S. ships since last summer as part of a suite of protection measures.

Now, the Army and Marines have added this auditory barrage dispenser to their arms ensembles... Some of the Iraq-bound devices will be used by members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, both recently deployed to the western province of Al Anbar, a largely barren, predominantly Sunni Muslim area.