Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Heat Is On -- Can You Feel It Burning?

The US military appears to growing less shy about discussing its various directed-energy weapon projects, from microwaves that temporarily burn the sky to "laser dazzlers" intended to warn intruders away from restricted areas. For a rundown on various programs described at a recent conference see "Directed-Energy Weapons Promising, Problematic."

Though officials seem well aware that such projects could have "public relations" issues -- can the laser burned out people eyes? would they be misused? etc. -- as well as legal ramifications, new "rules of engagement" requirements, and so on, the demand is apparently very high. The program manager for "Project Sheriff," for instance, said generals are asking for his program to be fielded ASAP. Project Sheriff is a experimental vehicle fitted with a whole range of directed-energy devices, including the active denial technology (which creates the "burning sensation" in people's skin); improvised explosive device (IED) jammers; and acoustic emitters, which can project speech or noises into the middle of a crowd from long distances.

Congress clearly support such projects. Among other things, the new defense authorization bill include $10 million for Project Sheriff. Given the tricky situation presented by missions like Operations Iraqi Freedom, development of new non-lethal or less-than-lethal weapons -- there is debate within the Pentagon on just what to call them, reportedly -- is certainly worth a shot...

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