By David Hambling
THE Pentagon's enthusiasm for non-lethal crowd-control weapons appears to have stepped up a gear with its decision to develop a microwave pain-infliction system that can be fired from an aircraft.
The device is an extension of its controversial Active Denial System, which uses microwaves to heat the surface of the skin, creating a painful sensation without burning that strongly motivates the target to flee. The ADS was unveiled in 2001, but it has not been deployed owing to legal issues and safety fears.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) in Quantico, Virginia, has now called for it to be upgraded. The US air force, whose radar technology the ADS is based on, is increasing its annual funding of the system from $2 million to $10 million.
The transmitting antenna on the current system is 2 metres across, produces a single beam of similar width and is steered mechanically, making it cumbersome. At the heart of the new weapon will be a compact airborne antenna, which will be steered electronically and be capable of generating multiple beams, each of which can be aimed while on the move.
The new antenna will be steered electronically and is capable of generating multiple heat beams
The ADS has been dogged by controversy. Jürgen Altmann, a physicist at Dortmund University in Germany, showed that the microwave beams can cause serious burns at levels not far above those required to repel people. This was verified when a US airman was hospitalised with second-degree burns during testing in April 2007.
The airborne version will not make it any less contentious. "Independent of the mode of production, with this size of antenna the beam will show variations of intensity with distance - not just a simple decrease - up to about 500 metres," says Altmann. Shooting it on the move with any accuracy will be difficult, he adds.
Dave Law, head of the technology division of the JNLWD, says the new antenna will operate at the lowest possible effective power level and will have a sophisticated automated target-tracking system.
In a recent cost-benefit analysis, the US Government Accountability Office rated the ADS worst out of eight non-lethal weapons currently in development.
By David Hambling
February 6, 200
The Pentagon’s pain beam weapon could get tougher, smaller, more powerful, and more mobile under a series of new research and development projects. And that could pave the way for the so-called "Active Denial System" to finally be sent to war.
The Pentagon first unveiled ADS in 2001. But in spite of repeated calls to send the system to Iraq for crowd control, the weapon has been held up by a series of legal, political, and technical issues. However, recent contracts may show the way forward for ADS, which zaps the target with a painful, but mostly harmless, microwave blast. The idea is to start building 20 of the revamped systems, beginning in three years.
First off, the pain weapons are going to get tougher. The military is fit the system into an Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle that has become the infantry transport of choice overseas. System 1 of the ADS was mounted in a Hummer, System 2 is a containerized system that takes a sizable truck to haul it. Which sounds like a recipe for turning the beam weapon into a sitting duck. No wonder the military is calling for "studies for the integration of Directed Energy Non-lethal Active Denial Key Systems onto mine resistant armored personnel (MRAP) vehicles."
Secondly, get more sophisticated. The current system is gigantic, partly because of the requirement for supercooling — System 1 would not function in very hot weather. So a Broad Area Announcement last month calls for for "alternative design concepts" to reduce the volume and weight of each of the System’s four components: the power generation/storage/conditioning, thermal management, beam source and antenna.
We know a little more about what’s going on from the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Program’s newsletter. It mentions that compact solid state beam sources are being investigated that are much smaller than the existing monster Gyrotron. They’re also looking at a sheet beam Klystron, an advanced amplifier technology which could "increase system power by six-fold."
Last time the military tried to shrink the ADS to fit a smaller vehicle it was not a success;
they ended up with a beam which was only 400 watts (compared to about
100 kilowatts) and did not have the range and power needed. It was deleted from an experimental, nonlethal-weapons-packed vehicle program. On the other hand, the action-packed, game-show style field test of the low-power ADS looked amazing…but this time they will be aiming for better results.
All the previous Active Denial Systems have been built by Raytheon; the company even makes a commercial version, Silent Guardian. But this is a competitive contract, calling for at least two contractors and no favoritism.
Thirdly, it’s going to have a new name. The official documents have now started referring to the vehicle-mounted version of the pain ray as Mobile ADS, contracted to MADS. This is probably because other versions, such as the Portable ADS or PADS are in the pipeline. I always thought that "Active Denial" was a weak name, but calling it MADS may not be an improvement… cue a slew of bad insanity jokes. Perhaps Danger Room readers can suggest a better name, preferably based on an acronym?
PAIN RAY FRIES REPORTER