DOD Demonstrates Nonlethal, Directed-energy Prototypes

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2012 — A state-of-the-art mil­lime­ter-wave sys­tem devel­oped by the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Direc­torate gives warfight­ers some­thing more per­sua­sive than shout­ing but less harm­ful than shoot­ing when deal­ing with poten­tial­ly hos­tile crowds, Defense Depart­ment experts said dur­ing a recent demon­stra­tion.

“Active denial” tech­nol­o­gy gives warfight­ers some­thing more per­sua­sive than shout­ing but less harm­ful than shoot­ing when deal­ing with poten­tial­ly hos­tile crowds. DOD photo

At a train­ing area on Marine Corps Base Quan­ti­co in north­ern Vir­ginia, mem­bers of the media gath­ered March 9 to watch two pro­to­type active-denial sys­tems — one built onto a heavy expand­ed-mobil­i­ty tac­ti­cal truck, the oth­er onto a Humvee — deliv­er a man-sized heat beam to offi­cials and experts, then to ser­vice mem­bers pre­tend­ing to be angry pro­tes­tors, then to fear­less vol­un­teers. The beam, from the same mil­lime­ter-wave tech­nol­o­gy used in air­port body scan­ners, pen­e­trates only 1/64th of an inch into a person’s skin and cornea, heat­ing water mol­e­cules in the tis­sue and gen­er­at­ing an instinc­tive and irre­sistible urge to run from the effect. 

“For our forces out there oper­at­ing in uncer­tain sit­u­a­tions, what it gives them is deci­sion time — time to decide if there’s a real threat with­out using lethal means,” said Marine Corps Col. Tra­cy Tafol­la, direc­tor of the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Directorate. 

“You’re not going to hear it, you’re not going to smell it, you’re going to feel it, and that pro­vides us with some advan­tages we can use,” he said. 

Stephanie Miller, chief of the radio fre­quen­cy bio­ef­fects branch for the Air Force Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry, said the fre­quen­cy used in the active denial sys­tem is 95 gigahertz. 

“Our lab has stud­ied … how much ener­gy it takes to pro­duce the repel response of run­ning away from the beam, how much ener­gy to pro­duce a blink response, which pro­tects the eye, and then on the flip side of that, how much ener­gy would it take to pro­duce some form of injury, whether that’s eye irri­ta­tion or a skin blis­ter,” she said. “We under­stand what the safe­ty mar­gins are, and in fact, these sys­tems have been designed so that you can’t put enough ener­gy on the sur­face of the eye in the time it takes a per­son to blink to cause dam­age to the eye.” 

Miller’s group also worked with sci­en­tists at the M.D. Ander­son Can­cer Cen­ter to make sure the beam does­n’t ini­ti­ate skin can­cer or make an exist­ing can­cer worse. And effects from the beam are tem­po­rary, she said. 

“If you open a hot oven and you get a blast of heat, your skin may feel a lit­tle tingly, a lit­tle ten­der,” Miller said, explain­ing that’s how the beam makes peo­ple feel for 10 to 15 minutes. 

The tech­nol­o­gy may be state-of-the-art, but it’s not new. Tafol­la said that it’s near­ly 18 years old, and Diana Loree, assis­tant chief sci­en­tist for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s direct­ed-ener­gy direc­torate at Kirt­land Air Force Base, N.M., explained how it works. 

Each truck car­ries all the elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tors and ther­mal sys­tems the trans­mit­ters need, oper­a­tor sta­tion includ­ed, inde­pen­dent of any grid, Loree said, call­ing it “a very sim­ple piece of equipment.” 

From the equip­ment built onto the truck, a high-pow­ered vac­u­um called a gyro­tron turns elec­tric­i­ty into radio fre­quen­cy waves and heat, and water sys­tems in the equip­ment absorb this excess heat. 

“So the elec­tro­mag­net­ic wave is cre­at­ed by that gyro­tron and then is fed through a series of mir­rors that illu­mi­nate a reflec­tor anten­na — it’s bounc­ing there and get­ting shape and then bounc­ing off a main aper­ture and com­ing down­range,” Loree said. 

The beam goes in the direc­tion that the oper­a­tor is point­ing, she said, adding that the oper­a­tors have a sim­ple set of con­trols. “They have sev­er­al day/night cam­eras that look through the mid­dle of the invis­i­ble beam so they know what they’re tar­get­ing,” she said, “and there’s a sim­ple touch-screen operation.” 

The trans­mit­ter, Loree said, is 100 times the pow­er of a stan­dard microwave oven. “I can’t pop a bag of pop­corn with that 100-times-the-pow­er trans­mit­ter, because the radio fre­quen­cy is not pen­e­trat­ing deep enough to inter­nal­ly heat the material.” 

Susan LeVine, prin­ci­pal deputy for pol­i­cy and strat­e­gy in the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Direc­torate, said the non­lethal weapons pro­gram is a joint operation. 

“Our office is head­ed by a Marine Corps colonel, but he is in a joint bil­let and with­in our office we have all the ser­vices rep­re­sent­ed,” she said. “As part of being the exec­u­tive agent for non­lethal weapons, we have a research and devel­op­ment bud­get and we use that fund­ing to spon­sor research all across the Defense Depart­ment, across all the ser­vices. One of the pro­grams that we’ve been fund­ing is the active denial sys­tem, which has been led by the Air Force Research Laboratory.” 

Mil­i­tary util­i­ty assess­ments have been con­duct­ed at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., for entry con­trol point sce­nar­ios; Fort Ben­ning, Ga., for more urban sce­nar­ios; and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., fir­ing from the beach on per­son­nel on a Coast Guard ves­sel to show mar­itime applications. 

The objec­tive of joint con­cept tech­nol­o­gy demon­stra­tions, which devel­oped the active denial pro­to­types, “is to rapid­ly take promis­ing tech­nol­o­gy and assem­ble it in a con­fig­u­ra­tion” so that it can be used and eval­u­at­ed, she said. 

The “trig­ger point” for the tech­nol­o­gy to be used, LeVine said, involves ser­vice require­ments and a ser­vice deci­sion to fur­ther devel­op it and field it. 

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to make the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to the ser­vices if they want to exper­i­ment and try it out,” she said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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