Thread: Will Army's ray gun see action?
08.30.07, 06:41 AM #1
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Will Army's ray gun see action?
Will Army's ray gun see action?
But officials refuse, concerned non-lethal effects could be seen as torture
Crowds gather, insurgents mingle with civilians. Troops open fire, and innocents die.
All the while, according to internal military correspondence obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. commanders were telling Washington that many civilian casualties could be avoided by using a new non-lethal weapon developed over the past decade.
Perched on a Humvee or a flatbed truck, the Active Denial System gives people hit by the invisible beam the sense that their skin is on fire. They move out of the way quickly and without injury.
The device would minimize what Natonski described as the "CNN Effect" — the instantaneous relay of images depicting U.S. troops as aggressors.
The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.
Reviews by military lawyers concluded it is a lawful weapon under current rules governing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Nov. 15 document prepared by Marine Corps officials in western Iraq.
Private organizations remain concerned, however, because documentation that supports the testing and legal reviews is classified. There's no way to independently verify the Pentagon's claims, said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch in Washington.
Another issue for the weapon is cost.
The Pentagon has spent $62 million developing and testing the system over the past decade, a scant amount compared to other high-profile, multibillion-dollar military programs.
Still, officials say the technology is too expensive, although they won't say what it costs to build. They cite engineering challenges as another obstacle, although one U.S. defense contractor says it has a model ready for production.
For now, there's no firm schedule for when the system might be made and delivered to troops.
Commanders in Iraq say the go-slow approach has had devastating consequences.
There's no way to calculate how many civilian deaths could have been avoided had the energy beam been available in Iraq. The bulk of the civilian casualties are due to sectarian warfare.
According to AP statistics, more than 27,400 Iraqi civilians have been killed and more than 31,000 wounded in war-related violence just since the new government took office in April 2005.
The Active Denial System is a directed-energy device, although it is not a laser or a microwave. It uses a large, dish-shaped antenna and a long, V-shaped arm to send an invisible beam of waves to a target as far away as 500 yards.
With the unit mounted on the back of a vehicle, U.S. troops can operate a safe distance from rocks, Molotov cocktails and small-arms fire.
The beam penetrates the skin slightly, just enough to cause intense pain. The beam goes through clothing as well as windows, but can be blocked by thicker materials, such as metal or concrete.
The system was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico. During more than 12 years of testing, only two injuries requiring medical attention have been reported; both were second-degree burns, according to the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate Web site.
Prototype units have been assembled by the military, the most promising being a larger model that sits on the back of a flatbed truck. This single unit, known as System 2, could be sent to Iraq as early as next year, according to Hymes of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.
Hymes' office, which nurtures promising technologies that can be used by the military branches, plans to spend $9 million over the next two years on the effort.
Money for additional systems isn't likely to be available until 2010, when an Air Force command in Massachusetts is expected to take control of the program, he said.
Recognizing the potential market, defense contractor Raytheon has invested its own money to build a version that the company calls "Silent Guardian." Although Hymes said the Raytheon product "is not ready yet," company representatives say it is.
Mike Booen, Raytheon's vice president for directed energy programs, said the company has produced one system that's immediately available.
"We have the capacity to build additional systems as needed," he said.
Raytheon has not sold any Silent Guardians to U.S. or foreign customers, and Booen would not discuss the product's price.
American commanders in Iraq already have asked to buy Raytheon's device.
A Dec. 1, 2006, urgent request signed by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Neller sought eight Silent Guardians.
Neller, then the deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, called the lack of such a non-lethal weapon a "chronic deficiency" that "will continue to harm" efforts to resolve showdowns with as little firepower as possible.
Other requests from officers in Iraq asked for the system as part of a broader weapons package on wheels, one that could shoot bullets as well as the non-lethal beam.
Such a versatile system would let troops deal with "increasingly complex operational environments where combatants are routinely intermixed with noncombatants," Army Brig. Gen. James Huggins said in an April 2005 memo to Pentagon officials.
Huggins, then chief of staff of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and now deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, wanted 14 vehicles for missions ranging from raids to convoy escorts.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq from its base in Tampa, Fla., backed the request, saying it was "critical to build upon our success in the counterinsurgency battle," according to its memo to the Pentagon.
The vehicles were not delivered, however. Robert Buhrkuhl, a senior Pentagon acquisition official, said during congressional testimony in January that combining the various fixtures on a single vehicle presented major technical challenges.
In an interview, Franz Gayl, who was Neller's science adviser until the unit returned in February, blamed an entrenched, "risk-averse" military acquisition system for moving too slowly.
Gayl calls the system a "disruptive innovation" — an unconventional piece of equipment that breaks new ground and therefore is viewed skeptically by the offices that buy combat gear.
If the energy-beam weapon had been fielded when U.S. forces invaded Iraq, "many innocent Iraqi lives would have been spared," Gayl said."Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” -- Gen. George S. Patton
08.30.07, 07:13 AM #2
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