Information Warfare: The Dark Side of PHaSR


December 6, 2005: Military information is not always all that it appears to be. Take, as a good example, a recent U.S. Air Force press release announcing work on a new non-lethal weapon; the " Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response", or PHaSR. Cute. But there was more. Also released was a photo of a mockup of the PHaSR, something that looked remarkably like a rifle size science fiction weapon. Very cute. But a lot of important stuff was left out of this story. First of all, using lasers to blind people is nothing new. Before the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, it was believed that the Russians had developed, and deployed, their own version of PHaSR. But with one big difference, the Russian PHaSR blinded you permanently. This was a long known capability of lasers, and with all the laser range finders appearing in military equipment over two decades ago, many armies began equipping their troops with "laser safe" sun glasses. The current air force project appears to be more research into developing a laser that will only temporarily blind you. While that is theoretically possible, there's also the problem that no two pairs of eyes are the same, and, like most "non-lethal" (or, "non-permanently-blinding") weapons, there is always the risk of some people being permanently blinded, or incurring lesser, but still permanent, eye damage. This problem has caused much restraint in the use of non-lethal weapons. There's also the problem that the real bad guys can often overcome the effects of non-lethal weapons. In the case of PHaSR, laser-safe sun glasses would do the trick. In any event, the air force scored some good publicity for their research efforts via an effective bit of Information War.


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