U.S. heat ray too hot to handle

03 Aug

It’s been an extraordinarily hot summer here in Toronto (and much of Southern Ontario) this year, so much so that the well-worn cliche – “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” – has been getting a lot of play. Then again, it’s been hot all over the world so we can’t really complain too much.

Appropriately, the U.S. military is now debating using heat as a weapon. No, they’re not using satellites to alter the planet’s temperature (although that would be cool), they’re toying with new non-lethal weapons technology that uses heat waves to render enemies totally uncomfortable.

The Active Denial System, which looks like a big satellite dish that sits on the back of a truck, was officially rolled out in Afghanistan last month, but wasn’t used. The system uses “a focused invisible beam that causes an ‘intolerable heating sensation,’ but only penetrates the skin to the equivalent of three sheets of paper,” according to the BBC. Victims of the heat beam invariably back away and often end up screaming in pain, but their actual chance of injury is only 0.1%, the military says.

Here’s a CBS reporter demonstrating the effects of the beam:

The “pain ray” has been in development as a non-lethal weapon for years, but it’s evoked controversy every time it’s been close to roll-out. Critics have said it’s inhumane because it essentially tries to fry people. As Wired’s Danger Room put it, “ray-gun advocates better think long and hard about the Taliban’s propaganda bonanza when news leaks of the Americans zapping Afghans until they feel roasted alive.”

Not surprisingly, the U.S. military officially recalled the devices a few days ago without explanation. My guess: either the Pentagon realized that the public relations problems just weren’t worth the trouble, or the Taliban has developed portable swimming pools that negate the effects of the heat ray.

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Posted by on August 3, 2010 in afghanistan, u.s., war, weapons


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