February 27, 2001
12:03 PM   Subscribe

The Marine Corps is preparing to unveil perhaps the biggest breakthrough in weapons since the atomic bomb — a nonlethal weapon that fires directed energy at human targets. The Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System is designed to stop an individual in his tracks and make him turn and flee.
posted by tremendo (38 comments total)
Forgot to credit tbtf.

Not many details given in the press release, other that more will be revealed Monday on newsstands.

Are we still preparing for a big armed conflict? And, if this weapon is for real, will we resist the temptation to actually test it?
posted by tremendo at 12:07 PM on February 27, 2001

Why resist the temptation? Test it. If it makes people quit fighting without being gibbed, deafened, maimed, etc., fine. Personally, I'd rather be made to flee than, say, atomized.
posted by lileks at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2001

Active Denial System is designed to stop an individual in his tracks and make him turn and flee.

Most of my in-laws have this same power!
posted by Sal Amander at 12:26 PM on February 27, 2001

but what if you turn and flee, and there's someone over in that direction with the same weapon? ;)

unless this is a mind control device, there must be some intense pain involved.
posted by cfj at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2001

Or a wall of intense heat or loud piercing noise.
posted by Dreama at 12:42 PM on February 27, 2001

I imagine there will be brisk sales in countries such as Israel whree soldiere currently use rubber bullets and tear gas and live ammo against Palestinians. I wonder, though, how much damage it truly will do and for how long. This sort of thing might force groups such as Amnisty International to re-do their lists of what is "right" and "wrong" in conflicts. Could prove effective for prison riots or soccer matches, maaarches on Washington by Women for Whatever or even frat parties.
I wonder why the Mraines developed it. Are we expecting unruly Democrats to chant the old Pete Seeger union songs and march on Washington?
posted by Postroad at 12:43 PM on February 27, 2001

ah, i can only wonder how many hospitals could be built with the money spent on this.
posted by will at 12:47 PM on February 27, 2001

What kind of energy? Sonic?

I thought I once heard of a weapon sorta like this that can use certain frequencies of sound to cause people to either feel incredibly nauseous, or spontaneously evacuate their bowels.

Both of those things would definitely make *me* want to run the other way...

Coming soon to a protest near you, to be used on civilians. Betcha.
posted by beth at 12:49 PM on February 27, 2001

It's IT!
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2001

I just had a poke around the phrase 'Active Denial System'... it turns out they serve much the same use as an 'invisible dog fence'. Chow on this as the word from the horse's mouth. Stuff like pepper spray, focused E.M.P. s to knock out car engines... I don't think this is gonna prove to be as spectacular as the hype it's recieving. And, since the use is essentially non-aggressive, we're much more likely to see it used on citizens of the USA than on the 'Forces of Evil'.

I was picturing grand visions of some kinda phaser-tank... I think we're gonna end up with something closer to a rolling, whole-body joy buzzer.
posted by Perigee at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2001

Last time I heard a "biggest thing since ..." the hype didn't exactly pan out. Let's just hope the vehicle it is mounted on isn't this one.
posted by quirked at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2001

the brown noise! it makes the brown noise! of course!
posted by Hackworth at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2001

unless this is a mind control device, there must be some intense pain involved

Or some incredible stench.

If it makes people quit fighting ...

Well, if history teaches us anything, it is that a counter measure will appear in the short term, so the stakes keep escalating. But another truism is that "what can be done, will be done".
posted by tremendo at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2001

I'm afraid that a weapon like this is of little use in a real war. What it's going to be good for is so-called "peacekeeping" missions. It performs the same function as firehoses: crowd dispersal. Non-lethal weapons are ideal for use against civilians in dangerous situations to defuse them with minimum political side effects.

But in a real shooting war, no-one is going to mess with non-lethal weapons when attacking. Non-lethal weapons are at their best in defense (e.g. entrenchments and barbed wire, the first effective non-lethal weapons). The point of attack in war is not to take ground; the point is destruction of enemy forces at the lowest cost to your own. (This is straight out of Clausewitz, a man of towering intellect, whose book is read by every graduate of every military academy even though it was never finished.) Once you've destroyed your enemy's army, you can take all the ground you want. But if his army still exists, ground is meaningless.

Any weapon which lets the enemy live to fight another day is completely inappropriate in a full scale shooting war. You don't want to have to fight him five times, especially if he's using lethal weapons, because each time you'll suffer losses to your own troops.

Any idea that war can become humane should be dispensed with right now.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2001

Hmmm...a man of "towering intellect" who never finished his book and came up with the idea that the point of war is to kill more of them than they kill of yours...fantastic. We need more brainiacs like that guy...but I guess it's best to keep your books simple when you're writing for a military audience...
posted by ritualdevice at 1:08 PM on February 27, 2001

I'm afraid that a weapon like this is of little use in a real war

Certainly not against missiles flying from the other side of the planet or from submarines in some abyss. But it could really be of use against ground troops.

You are very right, if you don't kill them you'll have to fight them again. But I bet your enemy will be a lot easier to kill if you first impair them with a mobile (maybe even remote-controlled) weapon that has a low cost in terms of lives for you.
posted by tremendo at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2001

ritualdevice: Have you ever read Clausewitz? I'm guessing not.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:11 PM on February 27, 2001

Could it be this that I found here? This thing is more of an immobilizer than a scarer-offer, but same vein...

I imagine the real uses of this are for conflicts in urban locations, whether with soldiers or civilians. Imagine what a few minutes of flight by the street fighters in Mogadishu.

But I bet it's more frequently deployed on the cranky citizens of 1st world countries.
posted by daver at 1:43 PM on February 27, 2001

Make that "... few minutes of flight... could have done. ;-)
posted by daver at 1:46 PM on February 27, 2001

if this generates so much interest, image everyone--if you will--all the stuff that isn't declassified. Wonder how easy it would be to shield yourself from pure energy. Shall I don my suit of negative energy to repel the hi energy forces? My instructor said on the first day of class that she was "a feminist and hi energy," maybe she discoverred this weapon first?
posted by greyscale at 2:20 PM on February 27, 2001

it's ''compressed al gore sex noise''

posted by blackholebrain at 2:31 PM on February 27, 2001

“The point of attack in war is not to take ground; the point is destruction of enemy forces at the lowest cost to your own.”

Sun Tzu wouldn’t have agreed with you.

“Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this. To capture the enemy’s army is better than to destory it; to take intact a battalion, a company or a five-man squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy; Next best is to disrupt his alliances: The next best is to attack his army. The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative.”
posted by gleemax at 2:45 PM on February 27, 2001

By the way, I don’t mean to say that losing more troops than your enemy is a Good Thing. ;)
posted by gleemax at 2:46 PM on February 27, 2001

Glee, Sun Tzu wrote 2500 years ago. Times have changed a bit. In any case, destroying your enemy's army doesn't necessarily imply destruction of his state.

Clausewitz did his analysis a lot more recently (about 1830) and his view of things is far more modern. Sun Tzu still has things to say to us (which is pretty remarkable considering how long ago he lived) but some of what he has to say is outdated or even incorrect.

No-one is perfectly correct, not even Clausewitz. I honor Sun Tzu for how amazingly good his work was, but I don't take everything he wrote as gospel.

RitualDevice, I have to side with Sonofsamiam here: your caricature of Clausewitz' work shows ignorance, not cleverness. Clausewitz' work was subtle and powerful and important beyond my meager ability to convey.

The fact that his book is intensively studied even though unfinished is because what he did write was so profound. (Also, the book is about 80% complete.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:55 PM on February 27, 2001

Once you've destroyed your enemy's army, you can take all the ground you want. But if his army still exists, ground is meaningless.

Coincidentally, this is the philosophy the US followed in the Vietnam War. Last time I checked, we lost that one.

posted by rklawler at 3:48 PM on February 27, 2001

Awww, man, I can't believe I'm doing this.
Maybe it was developed by Ernest Scribbler?
Looks something like this?
Wenn ist das Nunstruck git und Slotermeyer? Ja! ... Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput.
I gotta go cancel my Public Television now....
posted by mimi at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2001

It failed in Vietnam because that was a different kind of war. The nature of modern war is completely different to anything Clausewitz and Sun Tzu wrote about -- though great in their own right, they generally don't apply anymore.

weapons of mass destruction
massive propaganda campaigns
guerilla wars
faceless point and shoot technology
the information war
etc etc

posted by mkn at 10:36 PM on February 27, 2001

I'm sorry, but from my study of Clausewitz I think his principles still apply, in as much as what he primarily discusses is the influence of politics on war and vice versa.

The weapons are new, but politics remains the same.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:47 PM on February 27, 2001

Sun Tzu applies to everything.
posted by redleaf at 10:48 PM on February 27, 2001

Sun Tzu applies to everything.

Sure. Even web application development.
posted by webmutant at 12:14 AM on February 28, 2001

The US's strategy in Vietnam is an argument in favor of Clausewitz, not against. The enemy was able to attack all US and South Vietnamese forces; the US concentrated on holding territory (through programs such as "Strategic Hamlets" and other things) and gave a free retreat to enemy ground forces once they'd passed the DMZ. (US bombing campaigns in North Vietnam almost never had enemy forces as their target; they were attacking logistical targets almost exclusively.)
posted by MattD at 5:48 AM on February 28, 2001

For the US, Vietnam was a war of attrition. The plan was to hunt down Charlie and kill as many VietCong and North Vietnamese as was humanly possible. There was no coherent plan for holding territory. Sure, we tried to "take" territory, but that was only to disperse enemy bases and kill soldiers and keep them from organizing. As soon as the battle was over, the choppers would come, pick the remains of the American troops up, and leave. This is why we ended up taking the same hills over and over and over again. And this is also why we lost the war.

If we had fought a territorial, or frontal war, and started at the itty bitty bottom tip of South Vietnam and marched our way up to the very northern tip, it would have been an entirely different war, and one we probably could have walked away from in less than three years.
posted by rklawler at 6:44 AM on February 28, 2001

Guerrilla war, at least, predates Clausewitz. The term itself comes from the Napoleonic wars is Spain.
posted by rodii at 7:25 AM on February 28, 2001

RKLawler, I'm afraid that a territorial war would have been impossible. Part of the politics of Viet Nam was that the US couldn't really fight outside that country. The NVietNamese had no such qualms. Eventually there was a "secret" war in Cambodia, but even then it didn't work.

Therefore, a sweeping front such as you describe wouldn't have had a secure left flank. The cleared area could have been reinfiltrated.

But more to the point, it wouldn't have made any difference. Such tactics have a chance of succeeding against a regular uniformed enemy, but not against a guerrilla action. When you bypass a village, how do you know which civilians are innocent and which are guerrillas who aren't carrying their weapons right now? How do you find weapons which have been buried? The idea of using metal detectors on every square meter of a country larger than California is out of the question, and there's no other way to find weapons caches -- even if new ones weren't being smuggled in via the insecure flank. (Anyway, metal detectors only find metal within a meter or so of the surface; what if it's a lot deeper than that, which was very common?)

The actual fact is that the only real way for the US to win would have been saturation bombing of NVietNam cities, and that was politically impossible.

Which is straight out of Clausewitz; his main point is that the politics of a war strongly influence its outcome by governing what each side is capable of doing. There were any of ten different ways that the US could have won the VietNam war quickly but none of them were politically possible. (Nuking every North VietNamese city greater than 100,000 in population would have done it, for instance.) The means which were politically possible simply couldn't win.

And that's because the US wasn't fighting for a win; it was fighting for a stalemate. The US never intended to defeat North VietNam, only to convince North VietNam to not try to win in South VietNam. And the failure of that, too, is completely explicable under Clausewitz, because if the only way to succeed is to cause your enemy to give up, then as long as he doesn't give up the war will continue. You have no way of forcing an end to the war even over the best efforts of your opponent.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:45 AM on February 28, 2001

All your Sun Tzu are belong to us...if I read the article correctly, the new device is not meant for soldiers fighting soldiers but rather "unruly" citizens, such as Palestians and their intifada, New Orleans party types, WTO protesters, summer race rioters, soccer fans run amok etc. For guys in uniform: use real bullets and shoot to kill.
ps: does the CIA know about Sun Tzu? Is it legal to stock his books in our libraries?
posted by Postroad at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2001

By the way, the reason Sun Tzu argued against attacking cities is because city fighting traditionally has lead to huge casualties on both sides. Of course, Sun Tzu didn't have hand grenades or saturation bombing. But it remains the case that city fighting is more dangerous for foot soldiers than anything else they do except to try to live through bombardment.

In that sense Sun Tzu was right.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:40 AM on February 28, 2001

Witness Stalingrad. Even hand grenades and saturation bombing weren't much help there.
posted by rodii at 2:51 PM on February 28, 2001

By The Way: Technical details for the geek in you.
posted by evad at 11:03 PM on March 1, 2001

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