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Interestingly, Futureweapons recently rolled out the first appearance on entertainment TV of the Air Force's Active Denial System (ADS), the heat ray-shooting directed energy weapon said to be in great need for non-lethal application in Iraq. Travelling to Moody AFB in Georgia, host Machowicz was put through the usual strapped-down chicken test in which he consented to be shot while standing still.

Since Machowicz was determined, in his words, to be no "pussy", the ADS was much less than impressive, causing him only to grunt and step out of the way. The usual crowd of volunteer soldiers, acting as a crowd instructed only to go sideways or backwards and forbidden to actually attack the machine, as one presumes would happen in real life, was zapped.

Vendors and supervisors were on hand to advise that the ADS was perfectly humanitarian and friendly to life, absolutely not capable of burning your eye because the blink reflex saves one.

The pushers of the ADS are now perfectly aware of its horrendous public relations footprint, one that seriously impedes its progress into the armoury. This has resulted in a small public relations push aimed at giving it a makeover as something life-saving, an impression which would now seem to be out of reach of the US military for perpetuity.

An AP story widely circulated last month tried to drum up support for the ADS in Iraq by airing a few requests for it from generals in Iraq, unanswered because of the entrenched belief the weapon would be viewed as a machine of torture.

A soldier at the US Space Command was said to have insisted, rather laughably, that: "I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial System had been there."

If accurate, this would seem to have entailed putting it into the hands of trusty Blackwater USA, the firm's employees being the ones who were infamously ambushed and lynched.

Associated Press attempted to push the ADS by implying Raytheon, its assembler, was contemplating offering a civilian version to the market and foreign buyers if something wasn't done. The Futureweapons segment on the ADS, in departing from its usual script of crushing retaliatory firepower for the elimination of all presumed bad guys, took time out to help, not particularly persuasively. ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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