Feeds

US special forces tool up with 'plasma blades'

Energy cutlasses cleave flesh with '66% less effort'

The next step in data security

America's top-secret elite commando forces have been field-testing a "plasma knife" - a handheld unit which generates a cutting "blade" of glowing ions.

Disappointingly for any wouldbe kimono-clad combat mystics out there, the handheld energy cutlass isn't intended for hand to hand combat and can't be used for parrying directed-energy-weapons fire. Rather, it's a surgical tool - intended to let combat medics cut into stricken buddies without worrying about bleeding, as the plasma blade seals off blood vessels as it slices through flesh.

Handheld plasma scalpels are already in use by normal hospital doctors, and manufacturers claim that they offer an ideal middle way between a normal steel blade and "electrosurgery" techniques. With steel you get too much bleeding: with an electric cutter, which cauterises as it goes, there's too much burning and scarring. One medical-equipment firm claims (pdf) that its plasma rigs reduce bleeding by 60 per cent compared to an ordinary knife, yet cause 75 per cent less "thermal damage" than an electrocutter. Better still, apparently one needs "66 per cent less force to cut tissue", and there is "little to no surgical smoke in the cut mode".

From the point of view of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM, the US forces' secretive supertroopers), there are some downsides to a normal plasma knife. While the unit itself is handily pen-sized, it has to be powered via cables from a bulky cart-mounted machine which requires a power socket. This isn't ideal for a surgeon operating in the snows of the Hindu Kush or the burning deserts of Helmand, far from friendly support.

Hence it seems that SOCOM has developed a "wearable, low-power" plasma cutter, presumably with a belt or harness mounted powerpack for use in the field. According to this government pdf, unearthed by the team at Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, "field evaluation" of the portable energy blade was completed at some point during the 2008 financial year. (So, worryingly, were "studies" into treating decompression sickness in divers by injecting refrigerator coolant into their veins.)

It would seem that American combat medics of the future, in addition to their spraycan wound-Polyfilla, ultrasonic blood-stifler cuffs and in-uniform drawstring tourniquets, may soon be deploying pocket lightsabres in the battle to bring their battle-stricken buddies back alive. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.