Youâ€™re minding your own business â€“ albeit in a war torn country. You are on your way to work when you hear gunfire, so you naturally duck and try to find cover. Suddenly, youâ€™re hit with incredible searing pain. You stumble back, and suddenly the pain is gone. This is now the reality â€“ Raytheon (a US based defence company) has built a weapon that fills the gap between â€˜shout and shootâ€™.
Whilst this technology is pretty cutting edge, thereâ€™s been some discussion about it for some time. Silent Guardian (one of a range of products for non-leathal defence) projects a beam of microwave energy at a frequency of up to 94GHz up to a range of 250 metres. Testing shows that it can penetrate even tiny cracks in clothing/barriers to ensure that it hits the target.
Raytheon states there is no comparison between the defence products it manufactures and that of microwaves and their radiation â€“ and in fact to receive a burn one would have to be in the â€˜firing lineâ€™ for over 4 minutes â€“ a long time of agony by anyoneâ€™s estimation. The weapon works by stimulating the nerves in the first layer of skin of 0.4mm, even if youâ€™re right up to the source of the beam.
Andrew Rice â€“ a consultant in pain medicine at Chelsea Hospital in London â€“ told New Scientist last year that â€œeven 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 unknownâ€. Frankly this doesnâ€™t surprise me. Superheating the skin and subjecting someone to incredible pain would, Iâ€™m sure, leave a mark even if not physical.
This is just one of a range of Active Denial Systems which is currently under consideration by the US military, and no doubt there are many more (including lethal variants) which are Black Projects. These may well drain resources as money is poured in â€“ only for them to never be used. Others will be used, being tested possibly on unwilling applicants on â€˜homeâ€™ soil or abroad.
Looking at this from both angles, I do quite like the idea of non-lethal force to stop would be intruders for instance at nuclear installations or other sites. What I am extremely against the idea of is using such technology simply for crowd control or arbitrary non-democratic uses. Whilst Iâ€™ve obviously never felt the use of either this or the sonic weapons discussed in some journals, I do feel that surely this is better than simply shooting someone, or allowing them access to what would otherwise be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Finally, an argument against this technology is that the non-lethal tools â€“ or Active Denial Systems â€“ could be used against people in the form of torture. Iâ€™m sure this is the case, and of course anything is open to abuse. However, for as long as there has been human beings there have been those who like to inflict pain, or do so for information or other reasons. This would simply add to the available repertoire â€“ and given the size is hardly very subtle.
The cynic in me would automatically suggest this will be abused (not to mention that people will work a way around it), however it is certainly an interesting development. Remember, a lot of useful, helpful technology can come from research done in the field of weapons and other defence systems. Who knows what will come from this. However, I can safely say that I never want to be caught by one of these systems!