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Pentagon's latest weapon: a pain beam

March 2, 2001
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon on Thursday unveiled a new "non-lethal" weapon designed to drive off an adversary with an energy beam that inflicts pain without causing lasting harm.

The weapon could be used for riot control and peacekeeping missions when deadly force is not necessary, officials said.

The weapon, called "active denial technology," was developed by Air Force research laboratories in New Mexico and Texas as part of a multi-service program run by the Marine Corps.

"This revolutionary force-protection technology gives U.S. service members an alternative to using deadly force," said Marine Corps Col. George P. Fenton, director of the program at Quantico, Virginia.

The weapon is designed to stop people by firing millimeter-wave electromagnetic energy in a beam that quickly heats up the surface of the victim's skin. Within seconds the person feels pain that officials said is similar to touching a hot light bulb.

Like being burned
"It's the kind of pain you would feel if you were being burned," said Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. "It's just not intense enough to cause any damage."

The Pentagon has made a strong push to develop "non-lethal" weapons in the aftermath of a humanitarian mission in Somalia in 1992-93 that put soldiers in the line of fire in urban areas where civilians were present.

A prototype of the weapon will be tested on goats and humans at Kirtland in the next few months, Garcia said.

"When it penetrates in, it activates the pain sensors, and you feel a lot of pain," Garcia said. "But there's no damage. It truly is a non-lethal device."

The Marine Corps said $40 million was spent developing the weapon during the past decade.

The Marine Corps plans to mount the microwave weapon on top of Humvees, the Jeep-like vehicles used by both the Marines and the Army. Later it might be used on aircraft and ships, officials said.

The weapon could be fielded by 2009, officials said.

Concerns remain
William Arkin, senior military adviser to Human Rights Watch, questioned whether a pain weapon would be safe to use against civilians in combat situations.

"What about children in the crowd? What about pregnant women and the elderly?" he said.

"We have developed a nonlethal weapon which causes pain. What happens when someone continues to walk toward the source of the high-power microwave? What happens when panic ensues in a crowd as a result of high-power microwave? What happens when it's focused on someone's eye?" Arkin said.

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