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US military's non-lethal weapon plans revealed

Laser aircraft disruption, sonic scuba repeller, blinders, more

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Details of the US military’s wish-list for non-lethal devices have been published online and show some interesting new technologies, as well as some more familiar ones that are to be beefed up.

The non-lethal weapons (NLW) book was posted online by researchers at Public Intelligence, and covers both existing weapons currently in use by the US military such as tasers and pepper spray, with new tools that the Pentagon would like to add to their arsenal. Such weaponry is described in the materials as vital for conflict resolution without force, and for winning the "hearts and minds" of the local populace by not leaving chunks of their hearts and minds strewn everywhere.

“In past operations, the effective employment of NLW resolved escalation of force situations,” the document states. “Specifically, the NLW created the right 'direct effect' on the personnel/materiel targeted. The use of NLW has also generated positive 'psychological effects' on others in the area and helped to contribute to mission accomplishment.”

The Raytheon Active Denial System microwave gun, which heats up the skin of target without (it’s hoped) causing injury, should be upgraded to allow the beam to be used over much longer distances. Ideally the range needs to be such that the device isn’t in potshot distance from small arms fire, although the amount of power required to do this may be prohibitive. The military would also like the units to be smaller and multidirectional.

Also on the list is a Distributed Sound and Light Array (DSLA) which combines lasers, other lighting and acoustics to disable opponents. The system is designed to disorient people, but may cause retinal scarring and ear damage if used at close range.

Existing technologies are planned for upgrades, including a new form of flashbang grenade to be tested next year that will blind people for ten seconds and subject them to a bowel-watering 143 decibels, while remaining “environmentally safe”. A 40mm grenade-launched version of the munition is also in the cards, as is a grenade version of the standard taser that could increase the range of such devices to hundreds of feet.

Current shotgun-fired beanbag rounds are also to have their range improved and have dye markers attached so the recipient of the round can be identified later. Current laser blinding technology will also be beefed up – with a requested range of three kilometers - although the document does say that a pair of reflective goggles would put paid to this device.

Some of the more esoteric devices include the "Subsurface Non-Lethal Engagement-Impulse Swimmer Gun", which generates a directional, underwater pulsed sound wave that can be used against frogmen trying to sabotage shipping. The device will induce disorientation and nausea in swimmers within a 150m range.

Those weapons still at the conceptual stage include a pulse generator designed to bring down individuals by firing nanosecond electrical pulses at them until they lose muscle control. A similar system is also planned for stopping cars by overloading electrical circuits, and the Pentagon envisages an aircraft-mounted microwave generator that could be used to fry the electronics of shipping, either on the high seas or for landing craft making an assault.

However, the El Reg prize for the most ambitious NLW on the drawing board is the Laser Based Flow Modification system. This will be used against enemy aircraft to get rid of them without killing anyone, by firing lasers at the leading edge of an aircraft’s wing. This will alter the amount of lift generated by the wing and allow the aircraft to be turned away – or at least that’s the theory. We suspect it’d still cause the plane to crash, but for chutzpah it takes some beating. ®

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