Ray gun shoots beam of high heat
The beam can reach targets more than 500 yards away.
MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AP) -- The military calls its new weapon an "active denial system," but that's an understatement. It's a ray gun that shoots a beam that makes people feel as if they are about to catch fire.
Apart from causing that terrifying sensation, the technology is supposed to be harmless -- a nonlethal way to get enemies to drop their weapons.
Military officials say it could save the lives of innocent civilians and service members in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The weapon is not expected to go into production until at least 2010, but all branches of the military have expressed interest in it, officials said.
During the first media demonstration of the weapon Wednesday, airmen fired beams from a large dish antenna mounted atop a humvee at people pretending to be rioters and acting out other scenarios that U.S. troops might encounter in war zones.
The device's two-man crew located their targets through powerful lenses and fired beams from more than 500 yards away. That is nearly 17 times the range of existing nonlethal weapons, such as rubber bullets.
Anyone hit by the beam immediately jumped out of its path because of the sudden blast of heat throughout the body. Though the 130-degree heat was not painful, it was intense enough to make the participants think their clothes were about to ignite.
"This is one of the key technologies for the future," said Marine Col. Kirk Hymes, director of the nonlethal weapons program at Quantico, Va., which helped develop the new weapon.
"Nonlethal weapons are important for the escalation of force, especially in the environments our forces are operating in."
The system uses electromagnetic millimeter waves, which can penetrate only 1/64th of an inch of skin, just enough to cause discomfort. By comparison, microwaves used in the common kitchen appliance penetrate several inches of flesh.
The millimeter waves cannot go through walls, but they can penetrate most clothing, officials said. They refused to comment on whether the waves can go through glass.
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