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Army develops smaller nonlethal pain beam

Oct. 26, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Solid State - Active Denial Technology
Solid State - Active Denial Technology: The Solid State Active Denial Technology (SS-ADT) is a non-lethal weapon system which disrupts hostile activities and can deny personnel from remaining in specific areas, without causing permanent physical harm or collateral damage.
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ARDEC's prototype, the box-shaped device at left, is intended to improve the size, weight and power of an earlier Active Denial System, part of the Defense Department's Non-Lethal Weapons Program. (Army Armament Research, Development and Engineerin)

Researchers at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., are developing a pain beam weapon that could lead to “active denial” technology eventually deploying with soldiers to aid in nonlethal crowd control.

It is called Solid State Active Denial Technology, and it uses radio frequency millimeter waves at 95 GHz to create a brief but intolerable stinging sensation on a person’s skin. The beam is invisible and silent, and it penetrates glass and clothing.

The directed-energy weapon prototype from Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is the size and weight of a remote weapons station, according to Ed Robinson, the project officer at ARDEC. It looks like a mini-refrigerator in an artist’s rendering.

“It’s an intense heat sensation. It makes you want to get out of the way because you feel that intense heat,” said Robinson, who has been on the receiving end. “Once you step out of the beam or it is off, you no longer feel the beam. There are no residual effects.”

The gallium nitride solid-state source works by generating a line-of-sight energy beam that penetrates human skin to 1/64th of an inch, heating water molecules and agitating nerve endings, Robinson said.

Robinson stressed that the system is safe because it requires a soldier “in the loop.”

Its software regulates the amount of energy and allows it to fire only in several-second bursts, which he said is well below the threshold for permanent damage.

He said at ARDEC, they avoid calling it a “pain ray” and that it does not feel like being burned.

“We’re imparting enough energy [inside] the limits to where we do not burn someone,” he said. “That should never happen.”

The effort was intended to improve the size, weight, power and cooling consumption of an earlier gyrotron-based Active Denial System, which is part of the Defense Department’s Non-Lethal Weapons Program.

The Pentagon’s system, which is several tons heavier than ARDEC’s system, comes mounted on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.

Robinson compared ARDEC’s lighter system with the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station commonly found on Humvees and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. Though the solid state system is less powerful than the larger DoD system, it still works at “tactically relevant engagement ranges,” he said.

He said ARDEC’s system likely would not be fielded to soldiers until 2020. For now, ARDEC has been demonstrating a small-scale prototype within the Army to get positive feedback, with plans to go to a larger prototype next year.

“We’ve already had engagements with various customers, users and schoolhouses,” Robinson said. “They’ll be evaluating it to potentially incorporate it into the various platforms out there.”

The system could be used for cordon-and-search operations, convoy protection and detainee operations, according to Fareed Choudhury of ARDEC.

A burst from the pain beam will make a person move, which buys the operator time.

“You want to make sure you determine intent, the one thing commanders want to know as far as whether their adversary is a combatant or part of the civilian populace going about their business and not mean harm,” Choudhury said. “The more time you allow [soldiers], the more time they have to determine how to engage these [people] coming toward them.”

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