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Marines Fund Non-lethal Heat Ray

Reporters can be really dumb. There I was in front of Raytheon's booth at the Association of the US Army's conference with a little button under my thumb. I hit the button. My lower thoracic area got very hot, very fast. So I waited for the machine to recycle and hit the button again. This time the pain was more intense -- I wasn't screaming or anything -- and my skin felt like it was about to catch fire.

I didn't do this just to make you all chuckle. The idea was to see what the Marines will probably buy from Raytheon with $25 million buried deep in the summer supplemental spending bill. The Marines haven't signed the contract -- yet -- but negotiations are well under way for five nonlethal Silent Guardian systems . It looks as if the system will be used in Afghanistan to help protect high value assets as well as bases.

The system beams millimeter wave energy at the speed of light for more than 250 meters and penetrates the top layer of the skin. As soon as you move away from the beam the pain stops, although there is a nagging sensation of pain for few moments afterwards. The antenna covers a full 360 degrees and the beam can be used to sweep across a crowd or to target one person at a time. It's got safety cutoffs so it doesn't cause permanent damage, according to John Patterson, a Raytheon spokesman.

The Silent Guardian is one variant of Raytheon's Active Denial Systems, most of which provide area-wide protections against weapons such as missiles.

Non-lethals have been in development for a very long time. The first big burst of enthusiasm hit in the mid-1990s when the Pentagon created its first non-lethal office. Most of those technologies foundered -- such as sticky foam -- among concerns that non-lethals might hurt people, which always seemed ironic given that high velocity bullets and bombs are considered legal.

In addition to the Marines, the National Institute of Justice is investigating development of a much smaller version of Silent Guardian for police and other homeland security forces.

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