Pain Ray, R.I.P.?

For years, the Air Force Research Lab, along with the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate, has been working on a microwave-like pain ray, to keep potential rioters at bay. And for years, we've been hearing that this so-called "Active Denial System" -- which penetrates 1/64th of inch beneath the skin, activating pain receptors, and sparking serious burning feelings -- was just about ready to ship to Iraq.ads_ir.JPGBut that prospect -- already growing more remote, because of concerns about speed and reliable tests -- just got downright distant. Because now, the Secretary of the Air Force wants to try out systems like the pain ray "on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield," the AP reports. And we all know: zapping home-growing protesters is not going to happen any time in the near future.

Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne."If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn't likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved.
Last year, as New Scientist noted, Active Denial System testers "banned glasses and contact lenses to prevent possible eye damage to the subjects, and in the second and third tests removed any metallic objects such as coins and keys to stop hot spots being created on the skin." But the real concern, at least in the military, was that the thing was too slow for use, not too dangerous. (After all, one of the primarily corwd control devices today is the decidedly-lethal M-16.) Several units in Iraq from requested the pain ray, ASAP. Pentagon poobahs majorly boosted the long-term budget for Active Denial and other "less-lethal" weapons. After 9300 test shots, for many, the only question was whether to use the system at sea, on land, or in the air.So what happens to Active Denial now? My guess is that we're on our way to an old-fashioned, intra-service smackdown. Maybe the big wigs will even zap each other, in the process.(Big ups: RC)
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