This might make your skin boil. Literally. The Pentagon has a
new weapon that uses a 95-gigahertz microwave beam to rapidly heat
skin and cause an unbearable burning sensation that will send
rioters fleeing from its path within five seconds.
The perk of the Active Denial System (ADS) is that it won’t
cause physical damage. That is, if rioters make sure to empty their
pockets before they take to the streets. New
Scientist (July 23, 2005) reports that during tests of the
device in 2003 and 2004 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque,
New Mexico, volunteers were told to remove eyeglasses and contact
lenses, and they were checked for coins, keys, and metal objects
that could create dangerous ‘hot spots’ when the beam came in
contact with them.
The ADS gadget is part of a ‘nonlethal’ arsenal the Department
of Defense has been developing. The biological weapons watchdog
group the Sunshine Project, with the help of the Freedom of
Information Act, has been working to expose the project.
Other big guns in the Pentagon’s new weapons lineup include
Pulsed Energy Projectiles (PEPs). The idea is to create a kind of
invisible punch by emitting a laser pulse from over a mile away.
Like the ADS, the device is supposed to trigger unbearable pain but
leave no trace.
All of this has some human rights advocates worried about the
weapons’ potential as torture tools, while others question the
claim that specific devices won’t cause lasting damage. ‘Even if
the use of temporary severe pain can be justified as a restraining
measure, which I do not believe it can, the long-term physical and
psychological effects are unknown,’ Andrew Rice, a pain medicine
consultant at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, told
New Scientist (March 2, 2005).
These concerns notwithstanding, the Pentagon hopes to be using
PEPs by 2007 and is moving ahead with plans to deploy ADS atop
vehicles in Iraq by next year.