– Invisible beam tops list of nonlethal weapons

Thursday, June 17th, 2004

This isn’t your father’s stun gun. From Invisible beam tops list of nonlethal weapons:

Test subjects can’t see the invisible beam from the Pentagon’s new, Star Trek-like weapon, but no one has withstood the pain it produces for more than three seconds.

People who volunteered to stand in front of the directed energy beam say they felt as if they were on fire. When they stepped aside, the pain disappeared instantly.

Sounds great. Really, what could go wrong?

Karcher and other military officials are trying to alleviate fears that the device might be misused to harm civilians or converted into a torture machine that leaves no marks.

At least it’s practical, right?

Eleven years in the making at a cost of more than $50 million, the Active Denial System is still years from deployment. It weighs about 4 tons and consists largely of a big dish and antenna that are mounted on a Humvee multipurpose vehicle.

Some facts:

Once an operator has aimed the antenna using a scope, the press of a button sends out a column of millimeter-wave, electromagnetic energy at the speed of light. Pentagon officials say that the weapon’s exact reach and its column size are classified, but that it can extend beyond the 550-meter effective range of bullets. Its intensity is the same at any distance.


When the beam hits an individual, it penetrates 1/64th of an inch beneath the skin and heats water molecules to 130 degrees in less than a second.

“It tricks the pain sensors into thinking they’re on fire,” said Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.

I foresee a few safety-switch “malfunctions”:

Susan Levine, the Pentagon’s project manager for the energy beam, said years of tests on humans and animals enabled researchers to establish a margin of safety. After several seconds, the device automatically shuts off to avoid burning its target, she said.

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