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It sounds a lot like science fiction.
July 12, 2005 5:25 AM   Subscribe

It sounds a lot like science fiction. It moves at the speed of light and it can penetrate walls. The U.S. military has firepower that uses electromagnetic energy to blind, stun or kill targets. Defense contractors are eager, but the weapons are not yet being deployed.
posted by dsquid (38 comments total)

 
Directed Energy and Particle Projection weapons were used in the first Gulf War. Their effects were impressive but the bulk of the devices at the time made them impractical to use full scale.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:41 AM on July 12, 2005


"When you're dealing with people whose full intent is to die, you can't give people a choice of whether to comply," said George Gibbs, a systems engineer for the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad Program who oversees directed-energy projects. "What I'm looking for is a way to shoot everybody, and they're all OK."

This is different from one of the slogans of Vietnam: Kill them all and let God sort them out.
posted by OmieWise at 5:50 AM on July 12, 2005


Interesting. It seems as though this would be the perfect opportunity to try this stuff out. Particularly the non-lethal equipment.
posted by dsquid at 5:51 AM on July 12, 2005


If there's one thing this world needs more of, it's weapons.
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 5:59 AM on July 12, 2005


Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam.Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam.Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam. Just keep telling yourself, like a directed beam of soothing balm.

BTW, a directed-energy blast from the past, but it was so long ago the links are dead.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:10 AM on July 12, 2005


If there's one thing this world needs more of, it's weapons

I suppose we could through creampuffs at them. Or kill them with kindness.
posted by dsquid at 6:31 AM on July 12, 2005


planetkyoto writes "Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam.Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam.Atleastwe'renotasbadasSaddam."

Um, these seem like weapons that can be used non-lethally, which does seem, at least to me, "not as bad as Saddam." These weapons seem scary because they're wierd, but also like they might be a kind of advance in not killing people.
posted by OmieWise at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2005


If there's one thing this world needs more of, it's weapons.

If I had to choose between a taser (or the directed energy equivalent) and getting shot, guess which way I'm gonna go each and every time?

The fact is, it's unfair to ask our soldiers to make daily decisions as to whether the person who appears suspicious is a real danger, and those situations far too frequently lead to somebody on either side of the gun dying. Getting this stuff out in the field at checkpoints in Baghdad - even though we shouldn't be there in the first place - seems like it would be a Good Thing(tm).
posted by Ryvar at 6:43 AM on July 12, 2005


... This sounds good for soldiers... but what happens when cops get their hands on this stuff (and they will)? I can see something like the "Active Denial System" being used too readily, or being directed at a crowd of people when only one or a few are the ones the cops need to "actively deny" Hey, it's nonlethal so we can just hit everybody with it. Perp at a traffic stop not cooperating? Actively deny his ass!!!!

These "nonlethal" devices torture and kill slowly rather than kill quickly. Come on, a weapon that microwaves the skin!?!?!? I'm just glad they don't have one at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo.
posted by krash2fast at 6:45 AM on July 12, 2005


Getting this stuff out in the field at checkpoints in Baghdad

It really does seem like ideal technology for checkpoint use, and for static locations like that the size of the equipment becomes less of an issue.
posted by dsquid at 6:54 AM on July 12, 2005


> The fact is, it's unfair to ask our soldiers to make daily
> decisions as to whether the person who appears suspicious
> is a real danger

The fact is, life is unfair, and so is war. They signed up to be soldiers; part of being a soldier is exercising good judgement about whose head to blow off/who to use your energy weapon against/who is a threat.
posted by spincycle at 7:11 AM on July 12, 2005


"Such a strike would be so precise that...the military could plausibly deny responsibility."

It just keeps getting better!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:12 AM on July 12, 2005


Not plausibly deny, actively deny!
posted by mystyk at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2005


If I had to choose between a taser (or the directed energy equivalent) and getting shot, guess which way I'm gonna go each and every time?

Yeah. Totally.

Seriously though, my concern isn't people getting tasered instead of being shot. It's people being tasered, or pain ray'd, or slippery-goo'd, instead of being warned, or restrained, or what not. If no one's KILLED by a weapon, and there are no long-lasting effects, hell, why not just zap people for being suspicious?

I'm not saying that's the point we're at yet, but when the perceived risk of using a weapon on an innocent drops, the chance it will be used on an innocent increases.
posted by verb at 7:33 AM on July 12, 2005


If there's one thing this world needs more of, it's nonlethal weapons.
posted by alumshubby at 7:35 AM on July 12, 2005


Imagine this technology falling into the hands of the French.
posted by brain_drain at 7:39 AM on July 12, 2005


"What I'm looking for is a way to shoot everybody, and they're all OK."

Ah yes, what better way to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people than shooting them with a beam that makes them feel like their whole body is burning whenever they come near an American checkpoint...

"The fact is, it's unfair to ask our soldiers to make daily decisions as to whether the person who appears suspicious is a real danger,"

That's a soldiers job, they signed on for a life or death kind of job. that like saying "It's unfair for air traffic controllers to make daily decisions in life or death matters." i'm all for supporting the troops, god knows it's not their fault that they are over there, but it's not like they have zero responsibility for there actions.
posted by afu at 7:50 AM on July 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


Getting this stuff out in the field at checkpoints in Baghdad

then again, getting this stuff into the field at the political rally, gay pride parade and polling places...
posted by quonsar at 7:58 AM on July 12, 2005


Let me clarify: rather than saying "more weapons = bad," we ought to first consider the alternatives. If the alternative to the proliferation of non-lethal weapons is soldiers shooting people who merely look extremely suspicious, and also dying from suicide bombers who only looked not-quite-suspicious-enough-to-kill . . . it seems like even a lot of temporary pain is a small price to pay for not dying. On both ends.

That said, I do agree about cops getting their hands on these weapons - these could spell the end of meaningful protest because you know that they'd use it on the 'filthy rabble' at the slightest provocation. Unlike soldiers at checkpoints their lives are not, for the most part, on the line.
posted by Ryvar at 8:02 AM on July 12, 2005


Why not just outfit everyone with an electric shock collar at birth? That way, when anyone gets too rowdy or excited, you can just zap the living hell out of them until they calm down.

This bothers me even more, though. There's no collar required.
posted by 4easypayments at 8:05 AM on July 12, 2005


What q said. I've seen instances of cops pepperspraying people vindictively or punitively. Nonlethal is good. No consequences for the wielder is bad. Scope for a broader application of indiscriminate force or coercion against civilians is very, very bad.

Still given a choice between weapons that can be set not to kill and voting machines that can be set not to count, I'd vote for the former.

Oh, wait.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:15 AM on July 12, 2005


Exactly, Ryvar. And you unthinking reactionists saying this is somehow the beginning of a brave new totalitarian world, chill out. They've been researching this for years and years, it will come to be used in a few places because it's still bulky and difficult to deploy. Did you see the huge satellite dish the ray comes out of? Well not satellite but.. anyhow, it's not going to be used by every power-tripping cop because a power-tripping cop isn't a Humvee. It's just a new weapon, and one that doesn't kill people. We should be applauding them for giving "our boys" something other than bullets to defend themselves with.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:57 AM on July 12, 2005


Exactly, Ryvar. And you unthinking reactionists saying this is somehow the beginning of a brave new totalitarian world, chill out. They've been researching this for years and years, it will come to be used in a few places because it's still bulky and difficult to deploy. Did you see the huge satellite dish the ray comes out of? Well not satellite but.. anyhow, it's not going to be used by every power-tripping cop because a power-tripping cop isn't a Humvee. It's just a new weapon, and one that doesn't kill people. We should be applauding them for giving "our boys" something other than bullets to defend themselves with.

uh. Yeah. Wake up champ. It wont be deployed to power tripping cops while it's the size of a a Humvee, but two years from now, once it's the size of a palm pilot, and in mass production at a hundreth the cost of the systems we have now, every cop and security goon in America will have one.

I don't think it's the reactionists that aren't thinking on this one.

posted by stenseng at 9:27 AM on July 12, 2005


BlackLeotardFront, while looking at the purty pictures you might read the article as well: The next step is to shrink it so it could be wielded by troops and used in civilian locales like airplane cabins or building entrances. This in reference to a different weapon, granted, but one with similar applications.

It's not the act of the "unthinking" to look at a new development in light of past practices and anticipate outcomes. It's "unthinking" to refuse to, to always accept authority rather than look upon them as humans with purposes which may not be your purposes and tools which you don't have. We won't stop these things and in the end they may do much more good than harm. But to tacitly accept that there is no harm in them without consideration is not the act of a "thinking" person.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:40 AM on July 12, 2005


Directed Energy and Particle Projection weapons were used in the first Gulf War. Their effects were impressive but the bulk of the devices at the time made them impractical to use full scale.

Are you sure? I'm pretty sure this is an urban legend:

Interestingly, Schwartau did much to embed the myth of the emp weapon in the mainstream imagination with his 1994 book "Information Warfare." Schwartau wrote of secret U.S. missiles used against Iraq in the Gulf War to short circuit communications through bursts of microwaves. It was an interesting mistake based on a more prosaic reality .... the Navy used a few Tomahawks containing spools of carbon filament... deployed across Iraq's power lines, causing black-outs by short circuit around Baghdad.

The same devices were used in 2003. The CBU-94.

See also reports of the Stingray electronic counter-measures system being "deployed, but never used". But that's really just a sophisticated communications jammer.

once it's the size of a palm pilot, and in mass production at a hundreth the cost of the systems we have now, every cop and security goon in America will have one

That may be true, but we're discussing military applications here. There are huge differences. For the military, the choices they now have are:

* kill
* use strong language Yes, Hicks.
* be killed

That's not a very discriminate spectrum of force, and ever since Mogadishu, the Pentagon has been keen to have better options for what is now all too clearly an era of widespread Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) and Military Operations Other Than War (OOTW).

Imagine if a certain checkpoint on the road to the Baghdad Airport had been equipped with a DEW device when a certain Italian hostage was sped through. The military really doesn't want these things to go down that way, but they're always going to decide in favor of force protection.

For police, stun guns are not so much a replacement for guns, although they certainly do offer that option, as they are replacement for tools which have always been in the police arsenal: the chokehold, and the billy club (the "Chicago special", otherwise known as the Rodney Kingerator). Both of these have been known to kill (especially when the billy club is used as a chokehold tool), so "non-lethal" is only a relative measure. The key difference for cops is that it offers them a method of subduing a suspect without risking injury ... to themselves. I think it is this aspect which unnerves people the most, because it appears there is no price for using a non-lethal-spectrum weapon, unlike the case before. Nevertheless the increasing use of tasers is already creating pushback including legislative oversight and restrictions on their use in many departments. If cops have DEWpilots, the pushback will undoubtedly be even greater. The reason pushback is successful is the different legal environment for civilian law enforcement. Municipalities and individual cops are subject to civil lawsuits for misuse.

The legal environment for soldiers, for better or worse, is that they will not be sanctioned except for intentional, knowing killing of civilians and others hors de combat. (This is even true in the international war crimes court.)
posted by dhartung at 10:00 AM on July 12, 2005


Yes, Hicks

[pedant mode=GIANT DORK] Hudson, sir. He's Hicks.

(actually it was Frost, IIRC) [/pedant]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:08 AM on July 12, 2005


"It sounds a lot like science fiction"
No, it sounds like another thing we can waste money on instead of health and education.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:26 AM on July 12, 2005


Maud'dib!
posted by Smedleyman at 10:33 AM on July 12, 2005


Applause to all of you that have so amazingly determined that someday in the future, someone will abuse the use of these new weapons. Genius! Pure frickin' genius. I guess, based on this insight, we should just axe the whole progr'm. There's a guy that works down the hall from me that abuses the commode almost every morning.

Everything is a slippery slope to you people... everything is a disaster waiting to happen. Is your life that nightmarish? Go kiss your daughter or son, read them a book, take them for a walk and a talk... and maybe, when little Johnny grows up to be a cop (against your every wish), just in time for the deployment of these new hand-held weapons, he'll be that much more adjusted and likely to keep everything in perspective. Good people and good training is what's it's all about. You just worry about the first part.
posted by Necker at 10:48 AM on July 12, 2005


These EM weapons can be defeated by my simple tinfoil suit.
posted by neuron at 10:59 AM on July 12, 2005


We should be applauding them for giving "our boys" something other than bullets to defend themselves with.

I'm going to say something that may read as counter-intuitive, but bear with me. No, it shouldn't be applauded. The drastic results of bullets are good, because it puts significant moral, emotional, and psychological weight on actually using them. Yes, the weapons are "non-lethal" in the doses shown, that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, and the indiscriminate use of them that will inevitably occur is worse than indiscriminate use of bullets.

That's the counter-intuitive bit. Sure, you're saying "what? of course it's worse, bullets kill people! these dont!" But, let me explain further. When someone fires a bullet at someone and that victim is now dead, that victim's family and friends are going to be actively angry about it. In the case of non-lethal weapons, the damage to our community and society can be explained away with hand-waving, and consequently ignored. This is a far, far worse, much more dangerous result for society as a whole. It is the insidious nature of these weapons that will lead to their increased use to control civil action. Bullets cannot be used to control civil action, because the bodies piling up can never be ignored.

Necker: Your ignorance of history is astounding.
posted by odinsdream at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2005



These EM weapons can be defeated by my simple tinfoil suit.


Post of the day!
posted by dsquid at 11:35 AM on July 12, 2005


Omiewise: This is different from one of the slogans of Vietnam: Kill them all and let God sort them out.

That saying is far, far older than Vietnam. The origin is actually from the Albigensian Crusade. In 1209 the Papal Legate, Arnaud-Amaury, was asked at the siege of Beziers how to tell the difference between the good Catholics and the heretical Cathars in the city. His (possibly apocryphal) reply was, "Kill them all, God will know his own." So the Papal army, being full of good Christians, slaughtered everyone in the city.

So about 950 years before Vietnam.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on July 12, 2005


sounds like this weapon is going to be used, if it ever becomes portable enough, whether it kills or not .its the American Way to sell to who ever has the money. imagine a space born version in orbit tuned to be transparent to the atmosphere. who needs nukes . you could blow up enemy ammo or fry the enemy population ,at will with out loss of a single solder. no radio active oil . wonderfull an't it .
posted by dythrambe at 12:25 PM on July 12, 2005


"What I'm looking for is a way to shoot everybody, and they're all OK."

Well, that's one thing we've got in common.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:34 PM on July 12, 2005


"Set your phasers to stun"
posted by Eekacat at 5:02 PM on July 12, 2005


Scary thought- what happens when the bad guys get this, use it on an American checkpoint and then proceed to shoot everyone there while they're writhing in agony?

Or do you seriously think that this technology won't spread and/or be captured at some later date?
posted by Hactar at 11:46 PM on July 12, 2005


odinsdream - I'm not disagreeing with anyone, necessarily. I agree that these kinds of weapons will be abused. The point is... "no shit". When haven't weapons, power, or control been abused at some point? But I don't see why that has anything to do with whether or not we should pursue these weapons as alternatives or replacements to what we already have.
posted by Necker at 2:04 PM on July 13, 2005


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