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US Air Force outlines combat raygun safety

Exposure to death ray may cause death

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Just because the US Air Force wants to arm itself with deadly combat rayguns doesn't mean it's about to skimp on safety. No sir.

With great power (say, a weapons grade 100 kilowatt blaster cannon) comes great responsibility (a 32-page safety manual).

A recently published Air Force Instruction paper has established a safety program for Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs), also affectionately known as death rays.

Rest assured compliance is mandatory.

"DEW systems create unique hazards that are different from conventional and nuclear weapons," the paper informs. "Potential DEW systems covered by this instruction include, but are not limited to, high-energy lasers, weaponized microwave and millimeter wave beams, explosive-driven electromagnetic pulse devices, acoustic weapons, laser induced plasma channel systems, non-lethal directed energy devices, and atomic-scale and subatomic particle beam weapons."

Variety is the very spice of life, a fellow once said.

The Air Force instructions will implement a safety program for DEW devices, including raygun safety certification and proper field use guidelines for when a system finally is operational.

Among the considerations is identifying a DEW device's hazardous effects. This includes "potential hazards due to tissue or material heating" and possible "exposure to burning materials." There's also effects on the user to ponder: "Scattered or sidelobe energy, radiofrequency energy interference, ionizing radiation, and potential fratricide," for instance.

Another key point is finding out what happens when Airman Butterfingers gets at the controls. The Air Force wishes to know effects due to troublesome "beam drifting" and "failure to achieve pointing accuracy."

Death ray controls are also important. The Air Force directs that DEWs include adjustable power levels as appropriate to the mission. After all, nothing is more embarrassing than leaving your phaser on kill. It also wisely instructs that there should be some way to "terminate the beam at the end of its useful path."

On the administrative side, death rays should include sufficient documentation including training manuals and operating checklists. To the greatest extent possible, hazards and hazardous effects should also be identified on the system, the instruction states.

"Install visual or audible beam-warning devices independent of DEW system in areas where personnel may be exposed to radiation in excess to the Maximum Permissible Exposure, when it will not compromise the mission."

There will be times, however, when due to critical operational need, Air Force personnel will be intentionally exposed to a DEW, the instruction states. The unit must ensure these exposures are done in accordance with established limits. Additionally, commanders must ensure risks are appropriately weighed against their operational requirements. Appropriate police exemptions must have been obtained, and these exposures will become a part of the individual's occupational exposure record.

A copy of the Instructions is available here. Hat tip to Secrecy News for first spotting the publication. ®

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