Electronic Weapons: Blinded By The Bright Green Light

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June 5, 2012: Police in Italy have been unable, after 18 months, to catch whoever is using a laser pointer to distract (usually) or blind (potentially) pilots landing and taking off at the Aviano military airbase. This is a major NATO facility and there have been ten of these laser incidents since January, 2011. Such incidents have occurred at airports all over the world, and the perpetrators are usually caught quickly, or scared off, if they try to blind pilots more than once. In the United States the incidence of these laser attacks at airports has been increasing sharply, from 1,527 in 2009, to 2,836 in 2010, and 3,592 last year.

There is some fear that the Aviano laser incidents are part of some terrorist plot because you could, in theory, cause enough distraction or blindness to cause a crash during a landing. That's a long shot but those are the kind of odds terrorists have learned to accept.

Commercial eye safe green laser pointers, used at briefings and such, have a range of about two kilometers and cost about $70. These lasers are not completely harmless. If you get long enough exposure these lasers can cause temporary or permanent blindness. For example, eye safe green lasers have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005, to force drivers to stop at check points. While no civilians have had their eyes injured by these devices, at least two soldiers lost sight in one eye and over fifty others have suffered temporary blindness. These incidents took place when troops were horsing around with the devices, or simply being careless, and lased another soldier at close range.

In Iraq and Afghanistan some green lasers were mounted in a weather proof, articulated enclosure which enabled troops to operate the laser remotely, to flash the laser light at oncoming drivers, to get them to stop at checkpoints or other locations.

Anyone getting hit in the eye with these lasers will be disoriented for up to 15 minutes. When the marines began using the device they bought a model that lowered the power when the target was too close. A laser becomes less powerful the farther away you are from it. This is one reason why troop injuries were more severe, as the victims are a lot closer to the laser. Civilians usually get hit when they are a hundred meters or more away. The navy has issued these devices to ships, to keep suspicious boats away.

 

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