Pentagon Looks to Directed-Energy Weapons


Richard Moore

From: "Global Network" <•••@••.•••>
To: "Global Network" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2004 14:07:27 -0400

Pentagon Looks to Directed-Energy Weapons
Sun Aug 1
By Michael P. Regan, AP Business Writer

A few months from now, Peter Anthony Schlesinger hopes to zap a laser
beam at a couple of chickens or other animals in a cage a few dozen
yards away. If all goes as planned, the chickens will be frozen in
mid-cluck, their leg and wing muscles paralyzed by an electrical charge
created by the beam, even as their heart and lungs function normally. 

Among those most interested in the outcome will be officials at the
Pentagon, who helped fund Schlesinger's work and are looking at this
type of device to do a lot more than just zap the cluck out of a
chicken. Devices like these, known as directed-energy weapons, could be
used to fight wars in coming years.
"When you can do things at the speed of light, all sorts of new
capabilities are there," said Delores Etter, a former undersecretary of
defense for science and technology and an advocate of directed-energy

Directed energy could bring numerous advantages to the battlefield in
places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have had to deal
with hostile but unarmed crowds as well as dangerous insurgents.
Aside from paralyzing potential attackers or noncombatants like a
long-range stun gun, directed-energy weapons could fry the electronics
of missiles and roadside bombs, developers say, or even disable a
vehicle in a high-speed chase.

The most ambitious program is the Air Force's Airborne Laser, a plan to
mount a laser on a modified Boeing 747 and use it to shoot down

At the same Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, researchers
working with Raytheon Co. have developed a weapon called the Active
Denial System, which repels adversaries by heating the water molecules
in their skin with microwave energy. The pain is so great that people
flee immediately.

"It just feels like your skin is on fire," said Rich Garcia, a spokesman
for the laboratory who, as a test subject, has felt the Active Denial
System's heat. "When you get out of the path of the beam, or shut off
the beam, everything goes back to normal. There's no residual pain."

A Humvee-mounted Active Denial weapon is expected to be given to all
services by the end of this year for evaluation, with a decision about
deployment expected by the end of 2005.

But the idea of using directed energy against humans is creating debate
fueled by deaths allegedly caused by Taser stun guns and the alleged
abuse of Iraqi prisoners - which put the military's respect for human
rights under a microscope.

Some experts believe the use of directed energy will be limited by
international law and treaties.

"Although it seems like it would be more desirable to disable rather
than to kill them, the problem is there are all sorts of treaties in
place that limit how you can disable noncombatants," said Loren Thompson
of the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank. "It's kind of
perverse, but sometimes the backlog of old laws can get in the way of
being humane."

Military officials believe the intended uses of the Active Denial System
do not violate any international laws or treaties and do not cause any
permanent health problems.

"You can rest assured that with this system, when it finally is
deployed, we will be very, very clear about what the intended uses are
and what is clearly outside of bounds," said Marine Corps Capt. Daniel
McSweeney, spokesman for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. "It's
not intended to be used as a torture device. That goes against all the
design intentions and parameters."

Research into side effects of weaponized directed energy began in the
late 1990s at the Air Force's Brooks City-Base in San Antonio.
Researchers began by reviewing studies of radio-frequency energy
involved in military communications, radar and other technologies,
officials say.

Human testing of the Active Denial System began after researchers
concluded it could be used without permanent harm. More than 200
volunteers - including some in their 70s - from various military
branches and government agencies were zapped with the system, on average
about three times each.

The results showed no lingering health problems, officials say.

"This type of device doesn't penetrate very far," said Lt. Col. William
Roach, chief of the radio frequency branch of the Air Force Research

But the fact that studies on directed energy's human effects haven't
been released to the public has some outside the government worried.

Dominique Loye of the International Committee of the Red Cross has
pleaded for more disclosure of directed-energy research and independent
investigation into possible side effects.

Directed energy may cause "new types of injuries we're not aware of and
may not be capable of taking care of," Loye said. "The message we try to
put across is: `We understand some companies are investing money, so
maybe it will be worthwhile for you to start the investigation as early
as possible and not to invest millions and millions and then 10 years
down the line find out your weapon will be illegal.´"

The weapons' developers, on the other hand, pitch them for their
lifesaving potential.

The pinpoint accuracy of a laser could eliminate collateral damage
caused by missile explosions, the argument goes, and stun gun-like
weapons could save lives in hostage or bomb-threat situations. Directed
energy also has the potential to explode roadside bombs or mines from a

"You're dealing with the ability to pre-detonate the majority of
improvised explosives that are used right now," said Pete Bitar,
president of Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems, an Anderson, Ind.,
company that is developing a rifle-sized directed-energy gun for the

The device works by creating an electrical charge through a stream of
ionized gas, or plasma.

Bitar says it could be tuned to target the electronics of a vehicle or
explosive device, or tuned to temporarily paralyze voluntary muscles,
such as those that control arms and legs. The involuntary muscles, like
heart and lungs, operate at a different frequency.

So far, this and a handful of similar weapons are only in the prototype
stage. Production models, if approved by the military, would not be
ready for a few years.

The device being developed by Schlesinger's company, HSV Technologies
Inc. of San Diego, will operate similarly to Bitar's, except the
electrical charge will be created by an ultraviolet laser beam, rather
than plasma. He, too, says the device is designed for non-lethal
purposes only.

"Later on, as certain agencies or law enforcement gets involved in this,
and they see the need for lethality, I'm sure that can be developed
later," Schlesinger said. "It could induce cardiac arrest, for example.
But that is not our patent, and not our intent."

Still, that potential is sure to make opponents of directed energy

"It's encouraging that the U.S. is searching for more humane weapons,"
said the Lexington Institute's Thompson. "But it's very hard to convince
other countries that our goals are ethical."

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
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      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

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