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Less-lethal

An Electrifying Sentry

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Theres 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 pursuers day.

But in todays counterinsurgency fight, the mighty claymore comes with a lethal certainty far more final than a hearts and minds fight can stomach.

Weve heard a lot about the controversial Taser system used primarily by law enforcement and civilians uncomfortable with firearms.

But take a look at the companys 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 shouldnt.

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

Monday, February 5th, 2007

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.
Im 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 1930s ). 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 Altmanns 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

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

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 DoDs 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

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

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

Friday, December 29th, 2006

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.
Its 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 Pikes 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 ADSs 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. Well 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

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

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 months 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 theres 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?

Friday, September 29th, 2006

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 didnt 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. Ive 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, thats the road theyre 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 Committees 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.

(more…)

Pain Ray, R.I.P.?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

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

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

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 dont think that its 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 persons 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 cant explode while its contained. What’s more, sympathetic detonation is not a problem, and it cant 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 10s of milligrams to 10s 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”

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

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 summers 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 Departments 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.