Electronic Weapons: March 29, 2005

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The U.S. Department of Defenses new microwave ray, crowd control system (ADS, for Active Denial System) has been delayed, again. ADS broadcasts microwaves at a frequency that makes people feel like their skin is on fire. Tests have shown that no one can stand it for more than a few seconds, before desperately seeking to get away from the area. But after eleven years, and over $50 million, ADS has been found to have weight problems (if operated from a hummer). This appears easy enough to solve, compared to the potential legal problems. You see, non-lethal weapons (as things like ADS are called) are not one hundred percent non-lethal. But people love to call them non-lethal, because such devices are intended to deal with violent individuals by using less lethal force. A classic example of how this works is the Taser. A gun like device that fires two small barbs into an individual, and then zaps the victim with a non-lethal jolt of electricity, the Taser has been popular with police, who can more easily subdue violent, and often armed, individuals. Before Taser, the cops had a choice between dangerous (for everyone) hand-to-hand combat, or just firing their weapons and killing the guy. While the Taser has been a great success, for every thousand or so times you use it, the victim will die (either from a fall, another medical condition, use of drugs or whatever). This has been fodder for the media, and put Taser users, and non-lethal-weapons developers, on the defensive. So the Department of Defense has to go through more human testing to get a better idea of what kind of accidental deaths the ADS could cause. The most common would be from falls, or getting trampled, as victims fled the ADS microwave ray. While the potential ADS users know, from combat experience, that ADS would cause far fewer fatalities than existing methods (firepower), they also know that any fatalities from ADS use would generate bad press. That could be a career ending event. When you have one dead body, you cant use the fact that you dont have ten, or a hundred, as a defense.

The war on terror has made ADS more acceptable, as it could be used to guard sensitive targets. This would include targets thought vulnerable to suicide bomber attack. ADS can be effective several hundred meters away, more than enough range to stop suspected suicide bombers who have ignored all other warnings. Navy ships in ports vulnerable to terrorist activity could also use ADS. However, each ADS system costs about four million dollars, so they wont be passed out like riot shields and tear gas grenades. Last year, it was thought that ADS could enter service this year, but now it looks like the additional testing and lawyer-proofing will delay that another year or two. However, if the right emergency arose, ADS could be flown out right away.

 


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