The concept of non-lethal weapons has been in development for over 10 years now, with a few weapons on the market today. Most popular is the Taser, which is having a mixed reception.
The Taser is made by Taser International who state their corporate goal is to save lives, and that they do save lives every day. The Taser is a gun, of sorts, that does the following:
Time to Complete Incapacitation: 0.25 seconds.
Range: 15-35 feet for law enforcement and military, 15 feet only commercial.
Method of Incapacitation: Electro-physical, involuntary contraction of skeletal muscle tissue. Overrides the motor nervous system, blocking command & control of the human body. Existing stun systems stimulate sensory neurons and can be over-ridden by a focused individual. The TASER EMD devices directly stimulate motor nerve and muscle tissue, causing incapacitation regardless of mental focus, training, size, or drug induced dementia.
Long term injuries: None.
Short term injuries: Minor skin irritation and possible skin puncture.
The Taser's intent is typical of the non-lethal devices. The Taser fires a "probe" that's connected by a wire back to the gun. The gun injects electrical signals into the target person, and as said above overrides their nervous system causing incapacitation. The overall intent of these non-lethal weapons is to find a way to incapacitate people without causing death.
I suppose that when the alternative methods for incapacitating people then anything else might be thought rosy. Hence the use of "water cannon's" at times. It's under this kind of promise that the Taser is being sold, and has been adopted by police departments and military.
However, the Taser has been implicated in several deaths in the U.S.
Which makes one wonder about these devices and the method they work. Is it truly safe to override the nervous system?
Rumsfeld's Ray Gun (By Kelly Hearn, AlterNet. Posted August 19, 2005)
The article goes over research into the Active Denial System (ADS) being designed by the Raytheon Corporation for the U.S. Defense department. 10 years in development is is ready for field use by the Military.
The Active Denial System is a Pentagon-funded, $51 million crowd control device that rides atop a Humvee, looks like a TV dish, and shoots energy waves 1/64 of an inch deep into human skin. It dispenses brief but intolerable bursts of pain, sending bad guys fleeing but supposedly leaving no lasting damage. (During a Pentagon press briefing in 2001, this reporter felt a zap from an ADS prototype on his fingertip and can attest to the brief but fleeting sensation that a hot light bulb was pressing against the skin). ADS works outside the range of small arms fire.
One thing not directly stated by the article, but it's clearly the Military intent, is to use the war in Iraq as a testing ground for new weapons. In this case they've finished development, and conveniently there's a war going on where they can readily test this weapon and see how well it works. Apparently the American people don't care today about collateral damage (a.k.a. accidental deaths of innocent bystanders) so they probably won't care if a supposedly non-lethal weapon causes unintended damage due to an incompletely debugged design.
Details of US microwave-weapon tests revealed (22 July 2005, NewScientist.com news service, David Hambling)
This article in New Scientist gives an analysis of a DoD report on ADS. The system is described as firing a 95 GHz microwave beam at the targets, supposedly heating skin and causing no physical damage. Hmm... they're intending to microwave their opponents. Well, as we know, microwave ovens act strangely when there is metal inside the oven, so the following shouldn't be surprising:
The experimenters banned glasses and contact lenses to prevent possible eye damage to the subjects, and in the second and third tests removed any metallic objects such as coins and keys to stop hot spots being created on the skin. They also checked the volunteers' clothes for certain seams, buttons and zips which might also cause hot spots.
If in testing they have to be so careful, how can they arrange that it can be used safely in crowd control? They're not going to be able to get the crowd to shed any metallic items so the crowd can be safely zapped. Instead they'll zap away, and then what?
And what about effects other than heat? e.g. Does the microwave beam cause cancer? What about eye damage or cataracts?
The military claims it's perfectly safe and that the fears are overblown. But there's no honest unbiased research on the effects, because all the researchers working on this work for the Pentagon's weapon development program. Hence, they're being paid to say whatever the Pentagon wants them to say.
The research is being conducted under the U.S. Air Force Directed Energy Directorate: http://www.de.afrl.af.mil/ with other research under the Human Effectiveness Directorate: http://www.he.afrl.af.mil/
High power microwave fact sheet: http://www.de.afrl.af.mil/Factsheets/HPM.swf
Much of the information in the AlterNet article comes from The Sunshine Project: http://www.sunshine-project.org/
More Cash for Human Ray Gun Tests (Defense Tech) This article has a picture of the test vehicle.