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What Is the Military's Heat-Ray Gun, or "Active Denial System"?


active denial system heat ray gun

The U.S. Army's "heat-ray gun," or "Active Denial System," projects a beam of energy that creates an intolerable heating sensation on the skin.

U.S. Army photo.
Question: What Is the Military's Heat-Ray Gun, or "Active Denial System"?
Answer: The "Active Denial System," or heat-ray gun, is a crowd-control device developed by U.S. military manufacturer Raytheon and deployed for the first time by the U.S. military in Afghanistan in June 2010. Raytheon says that as of July 2010, it had produced and delivered three Active Denial Systems to the U.S. Air Force. The ray-gun is a joystick-operated computerized system linked to a large antenna that can be mounted on a Humvee or other large vehicles. It directs a focused, invisible 100,000-watt beam of energy at the speed of light across a range of up to 250 meters, or 750 feet, at human beings, burning them intolerably until they get out of the beam's way. The heat ray penetrates the skin to a depth of about 1/64th of an inch. The effectiveness of the weapon is uncertain, as individuals may protect against the beam with any broad shield. The beam can be effective in dusty environments, in winds of up to 40 mph, and in extreme heat of up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit, while the device's antenna can sustain multiple bullet strikes and is protected from rain, salt fog or dust damage. Raytheon expects the technology to jump from the battlefield to civilian use. "Various commercial and military applications include law enforcement, checkpoint security, facility protection, force protection and peacekeeping missions," Raytheon's website says. "60 Minutes," the CBS news magazine, featured the heat-ray gun when it was in the testing stage in Georgia in 2008. "What makes this a weapon like no other," CBS reporter David Martin said, "is that it makes you instantly stop whatever you're doing, but the second you get out of the beam, the pain vanishes, and as long as it's been used properly, there's no harm to your body." Sue Payton, an assistant secretary of the Air Force in 2008 and the Pentagon official in charge of buying the ray-gun, had it tested on her. "I loved it. I started giggling. Well, I giggled after I got zapped. And you giggle because you realize that you're OK. And you realize that it had the effect that we want it to have," Payton said. "It could be used to read someone's mind, in effect, because you immediately know what someone's intention is. If they continue to come at you, then you're fairly sure they're not a tourist. They're probably a terrorist or an adversary who wants to do you harm." Payton is wrong, even based on her own Pentagon's testing of the ray-gun: when the Pentagon tested it against human subjects, the subjects were make-believe protesters carrying anti-war signs--the same sort of protesters who might be on American streets demonstrating over one issue or another. Under no definition would such protesters be considered "terrorists." Nor are protesters brandishing signs and chanting slogans aiming to "do you harm." But the ray-gun weapon would be used against them--and some might still want to continue protesting. What then? Similar situations might exist in Afghanistan, where the weapon has just been deployed. The system was never used in Iraq because it was found to be politically risky. In light of the Abu Ghraib prison-torture scandal, the ray-gun was seen as too closely evoking a form of torture. Curiously, those issues were set aside when the weapon was shipped to Afghanistan, signaling a distance from the Abu Ghraib scandal that the military will now more likely exploit.
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