21 February 2007

This worries me ...

U.S. government contractor Raytheon, the world’s largest maker of missiles, has come up with a microwave, or “millimeter wave energy” pain weapon.

When pointed at you, the Silent Guardian Protection System makes you feel like you’re on fire, effectively focusing your concentration on getting the hell away from it.

The U.S. Department of Defense, which unveiled the weapon in late January during a demonstration at Moody AFB in Georgia, calls its version the “Active Denial System,” or ADS.

Ideally, the heat beam doesn’t actually burn you, it just makes you feel like you’re burning. The company claims the weapon causes no physical harm; the “burning” sensation ends the moment the operator refocuses the “ray” away from your body or you move out of its focus.

What the heat beam does is penetrate the skin to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, heating it to 130 degrees. Apparently, after a few seconds, the discomfort becomes “intolerable;” getting away from it is both instinctive and imperative.

The DoD hopes to use these weapons in Iraq, perhaps as soon as next year.

There is a good argument for crowd-control devices which don’t actually injure people, devices that can be focused on individuals rather than groups (unlike tear gas, which makes everyone in the immediate area gasp for air and cry). Other non-lethal weapons used for crowd control, like rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds, have sometimes gone terribly wrong, maiming and badly injuring people, even killing them. If you’re in a crowd of protesters, being injured or even killed just for standing there and shouting slogans might seem a bit over the top.

Non-lethal rounds fired from guns also have the drawback of requiring the shooter to be in fairly close proximity to the raging mob. The heat beam is effective up to 500 meters and can be used from a safe distance.

So a weapon that doesn’t actually harm anyone, but does make them rethink their argument very quickly – in fact, makes them run away as fast as they can go -- is hard to argue against. It sounds like a great idea.

And it would be, if the weapon was foolproof and never used, changed, or “improved” for darker or more deadly purposes.

Yeah, I believe that, too.

Mr. Wren and I had a propane-fueled, on-demand water heater installed here at the Wren’s Nest a few years back. The manual recommends that the temperature be set for no more than 125 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than adequate for our showers. Our dishwasher heats the already hot water up quite a lot more for sanitation purposes, so I’m happy. The reason the manual gives for limiting the temperature to 125 degrees, though, is that water hotter than that – say, 130 degrees – can scald human skin within a few seconds.

Now, imagine what might happen if the ADS heat beam was directed on a person who was sweating, or wet. The risk for people wearing contact lenses, eye glasses, carrying keys or coins, wearing clothing with metal zippers, buttons or belt buckles is also a concern. And what if you can’t run for some reason when the beam hits you? Does it just keep burning ... and burning ...?

Because the weapon shoots the microwave heat as a beam of light, it can bounce off buildings, water and even the ground. Tests showed that such phenomenon could conceivably double the intensity of the microwave heat. Wouldn't want to be in the way of that ricochet.

In one instance during testing, a volunteer victim was accidentally subjected to an intensified beam by the ADS operator, which caused second-degree burns. Seems the device was turned up too high.


The ADS prototype weighs, with its power source, around five tons. It’s cumbersome and, one expects, probably very expensive.

But so were computers, once upon a time. The first one I worked with in the early 80s took up the entire floor of a very large building; the computer I’m writing this post on is smaller than a school binder, and can do far more. My laptop is huge compared to a Blackberry. And I have a little ol’ one gigabyte thumb drive that’s – yes, the size of than my thumb and can store immense amounts of information. If I write posts for this blog until I’m 95, I’ll probably never fill it up.

Technology has grown so sophisticated that it doesn’t take long anymore to make things smaller, cheaper, better, with far more functions.

Apparently, DoD has come up with a smaller version already which can be mounted on a modified Humvee. Raytheon, thinking ahead, is working on an even smaller ADS, mounted on a tripod, which could be used by local police forces.

My overwrought imagination conjures visions straight out of Star Trek. That phaser that Capt. Kirk used could stun, injure or kill, depending on how threatened he felt at the moment. It could cut through metal, melt stone and even disintegrate things. Being nothing more than a concentrated ray of energized light, its range was immense. It was hand-sized, accurate and fit on his belt (even during his late chunky period), and it was instantly ready for any emergency.

Hold on to your hats. Raytheon is also working on a "personnel halting and stimulation response" device for commercial use. A “PHaSR.”


Madison Guy said...

Absolutely disgusting. Perhaps they can test drive it on "24," as a portable torture device. Which reminds me of Jane Mayer's recent piece (see link). Which reminds me that it's The New Yorker's birthday. Odd coincidence that Libby goes to the jury on the The New Yorker's anniversary -- and Auden's centennial. Founder Harold Ross must be turning over in his grave. (Auden would not have been surprised -- he understood betrayal.) Browsing in the Rossosphere: The Ross baby turns 82 today -- along with cover guy Eustace Tilley. The New Yorker has given us gritty journalism (Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer, most recently), as well as pretentious fluff. It has also spawned a host of related blogs. Here’s a look at a few, with topix ranging as far afield as haiku and chiasmus, with links.

Bint Alshamsa said...

This makes me nauseous just reading it. I have to wonder what the reprecussions might be for someone like me who not only wears glasses but has also had a hell of a lot of radiation treatments on my chest. Even clothing touching those areas can result in excruciatingly painful at times due to the nerve damage.

And what about people with pacemakers? Don't microwaves interrupt their functioning? And what about the fact that believing that you're on fire is enough to induce enough shock to cause a heart attack? This weapon would most definitely be lethal fhor a whole lot of people--people that couldn't be readily identified just by looking at them.

These people are evil. There's just no other word that can describe those who would create such a thing.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

It's sad that mankind's technology is so often pushed forward by inventing new and novel ways to kill each other. It's also ironic, when you think on it, as we're mortal to begin with. Leave a human being alone and he or she will perish naturally within a century. If we'd put as much thought into healing the human body - curing cancer, heart disease, etc. - we'd probably all have life expectancies of 200 years by now. Maybe we don't deserve it, though, if we're so unenlightened as to expend our energies in the way we do.