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New non-lethal energy weapon heats skin

Monday, 26 February 2001 21:14 (ET)

New non-lethal energy weapon heats skin
By KELLY HEARN, UPI Technology Writer
 WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The Marine Corps is developing a non-lethal
weapon that uses electromagnetic energy to heat but not permanently burn
human skin. The weapon could help soldiers counter terrorism threats,
control unruly crowds and defend airfields and ships.
 Experts confirmed it was the first time the military had designed a
so-called "directed energy weapon" for use against human targets.
 The weapon concentrates energy into a beam of micro-millimeter waves that
penetrate clothes to rapidly heat moisture particles in the outermost layer
of flesh without going deep enough to damage organs. The device reportedly
causes no permanent damage to the body or to electronic devices such as
 Dubbed the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System, the weapon was revealed
in a story published first in the Marine Corps Times Monday.
 Officials at the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate in Quantico, Va.
reportedly planned to show the classified system to top generals in April.
But Monday's story scuttled those plans and sent officials scrambling to
contain a possible public relations fiasco.
 A Marine spokesmen would not comment on the system, saying only that
subject specialists would be available for interviews later this week.
 Though detailed information about the weapon's design remain classified,
the story stated that the weapon would heat a target's skin to approximately
130 degrees Fahrenheit in about two seconds. Humans start to feel pain at
113 degrees. The report went on to say that soldiers could fire the weapon
from distances exceeding 750 meters (2,250 feet) from their target -- a
range that would allow them to remain outside the reach of most small arms
fire. The weapon could be mounted atop a military vehicle or on an aircraft.
 Defense experts told United Press International the Marines especially
have sought new ways to non-lethally confront large, hostile crowds.  Among
other things, the Department of Defense has looked to lasers, teargas and
rubber bullets for less-than-lethal impact. But these have either proven
ineffective or have attracted consternation from human rights groups.
 "Unlike the other three branches, the Marines often are in situations
where there are lots of innocent bystanders, where they have to control an
unruly mob," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a non-profit
policy research firm in Alexandria, Va. "Tear gas and rubber bullets just
have not been effective, so they've want something more lethal than those
and less lethal than an M16. Whether they have found that here remains to be
 "One of the fears is that there will be a misapplication of this kind of
technology, particularly in terms of civilian use," said Chris Hellman, a
senior analyst for the Center for Defense Information, a Washington
D.C.-based independent research group that monitors military planning and
policy. "Clearly we've seen military combat weaponry migrate to the civil
sector. Just walk past any Swat Team and you see what is basically an army
unit," he told UPI.
 The article quoted an official saying that human subjects had been exposed
to the beams more than 6,000 times under laboratory conditions. Furthermore,
military researchers had completed a study, which has not been released, on
the long-term health effects of exposure.
 "This puts a non-lethal arrow in quiver of commanders," said Ron Madrid,
former Marine and an expert on non-lethal weaponry at the University of
Pennsylvania. "It provides decision makers with options. You can guarantee
that the Marines were excruciatingly detailed in building in technological
limiters to keep the system from having a lethal effect,"
 Retired Major General William L. Nash, the former commanding general of
the 1st Armored Division, told UPI the device will inevitably create a race
to build counter weapons. "The good news is the weapon is non-lethal but the
bad news is that for every weapon there is bound to be a counter weapon," he
said. "I can imagine someone trying to develop a polymer based shield
against this, for example."
 The Defense Department spent nearly $40 million over 10 years to develop
the technology, said the Marine Corps Times report.  The Air Force
co-sponsored the project, the story said, doing much of the research and
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.