Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Pentagon Goes High Tech

This past weekend on 60 Minutes, there was a story about a technological development that sounds like something out of a story by the late Arthur C. Clarke. It seems that the Pentagon has developed a ray gun as a non-lethal alternative to bullets and such:

It's a gun that doesn't look anything like a gun: it's that flat dish antenna which shoots out a 100,000-watt beam at the speed of light, hitting any thing in its path with an intense blast of heat.

An operator uses a joystick to zero in on a target. Visible only with an infrared camera, the gun, when fired emits a flash of white hot energy -- an electromagnetic beam made up of very high frequency radio waves.

* * *

He squeezes off a blast and the first shot hits like an invisible punch. The protestors regroup and he fires again, and again. Finally they’ve had enough. The ray gun drives them away with no harm done.

Officially called the 'Active Denial System,' it does penetrate the body, but just barely.

What happens when the beam hits a person?

'It's absorbed in the top layer, 1/64th of an inch, which is about three sheets of paper that you’d find in your printer,' Col. Hymes explains.

'And it’s hitting what inside that 1/64th of an inch?' Martin asks.

'Well, right within that 1/64th of an inch is where the nerve endings are,' Hymes says.

You have to feel the ray gun to believe it, and there's only one way to do that. Martin, who voluntarily became a target, described the sensation of being hit by the ray gun like scalding water.
This seems like a positive development. A damn near idea solution to the problem of crowd control in occupied territory. Non-lethal, no lasting injuries - what could possibly go wrong?

Well, two things, for now. For starters, the military doesn't really want to use it. They are, according to one ex-Marine who was in charge of developing non-lethal technologies, only concerned about "[h]ow many people we could kill and how fast we could do it." For another, there's the problem of lethality creep. Tasers were initially developed as non-lethal military devices, but they've become used so often and so poorly that they're killing people.

If all goes according to plan, the ray gun will make it to Iraq sometime this summer.

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