Sci-fi beam weapons become reality in new nonlethal technology
03/02/01 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The near future may see
U.S. military units employing beam weapons on the battlefield.
Although this may seem like science fiction, the Air Force and
Marine Corps took a big step toward making this science fact March
1, when they announced a breakthrough technology designed to project
an energy beam that drives away adversaries without injuring them.
This emerging and revolutionary force-protection technology gives
servicemembers an alternative to using deadly force, said Marine
Corps Col. George P. Fenton, director of the Joint Non-Lethal
Weapons Program, Quantico, Va.
Two Air Force Research Laboratory teams led the technology development.
One team was the laboratory's directed energy directorate at Kirtland
Air Force Base, N.M., and the other was from the human effectiveness
directorate at Brooks AFB, Texas.
The development was done in response to Department of Defense
needs for alternative options to the more traditional weapons
that can cause serious injury or death, Fenton said.
"A weapon like this could be particularly useful when adversaries
are mixed with innocent (people)," he said.
The Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System technology uses millimeter-wave
electromagnetic energy to stop, deter, and turn back advancing
adversaries from a relatively long range.
While the exact range of the beam is classified, Fenton said
the goal is to employ the nonlethal weapon against adversaries
before servicemembers can come under small arms fire.
To accomplish this, the transmitter sends a narrow beam of energy
to the target and penetrates less than 1/64th of an inch into
the skin, quickly heating up only the skin's surface.
When the beam is focused on a subject, within a few seconds they
feel pain that only stops when the transmitter is shut off or
when the subject moves out of the beam, according to Dr. Kirk
E. Hackett, of the directed energy directorate at the Air Force
Research Lab, Kirtland AFB.
The technology exploits a natural defense mechanism -- pain --
that has evolved to protect the human body from damage.
According to Fenton, the heat-induced pain produced by the energy
beam is similar to the experience of briefly touching an ordinary
light bulb that has been left on for a while.
Pain from the heat makes a person remove their finger from the
light bulb before a burn can happen, he explained. Similarly,
exposures from this nonlethal weapon technology cause a repellent
effect but not physical damage to the body.
"We've done a lot of research on this technology and have shown
there are no harmful health effects," said Dr. Michael Murphy,
head of the Biological Effects Research Team at Brooks AFB. "There
isn't any injury because of the low energy levels that are used.
The beam only needs to be on for a few seconds to achieve its
"There is more physical damage to skin from exposure to visible
light, such as sitting on a sunny beach, than from the energy
that this technology exploits," Hackett said.
All testing is being conducted with strict observance of the
procedures, laws and regulations governing animal and human experimentation,
The tests have been reviewed and approved by the Air Force Surgeon
General's Office and are conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory's
human effectiveness directorate.
Current testing is being conducted under field conditions at
Although additional testing is expected to continue into this
summer, officials have begun examining the technology for use
on a vehicle-mounted version. Future versions might also be used
onboard planes and ships, Fenton said.
The project is being funded under the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons
Program and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Approximately
$40 million has been spent on this technology over the past decade.
The program was established in 1997 under the U.S. Marine Corps
to recommend, develop and field less-than-lethal weapons for U.S.
The two Air Force Research Laboratory directorates leading this
project conduct research into a variety of directed energy technologies
Source U.S. Air Force ONLINE NEWS