The Economist on Electromagnetic Weaponry

Allen L. Barker alb at datafilter.com
Tue Feb 11 08:23:02 EST 2003

Come fry with me
Jan 30th 2003 

Experimental electromagnetic weaponry may soon see combat use



Less technologically challenging than high-powered devices designed to knock out 
electronic systems are those designed to work against humans. These fall into the
same category of weaponry as schemes for slippery foam and powerful laser pointers 
to blind temporarily (or rather, to "impair visual efficiency"), being developed by
the American Marine Corp's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, in Quantico, 

Hot to trot

So-called "active denial" technology (which earns its moniker by actively herding 
people out of its path) works by using a beam of millimetre-length microwaves to
heat up a person's skin. The marines are planning to put a version of the weapon on 
to a jeep. Its range and properties are classified, but military newspapers say it
can heat a person's skin to 55°C (130°F) at distances of up to 750 metres. This has 
urban-warfare planners excited, as it would let American forces clear city blocks
in, say, Baghdad, without going door-to-door and risking American casualties.

At first glance, such devices as HPMs and the active denial system seem to be a 
good idea. They would allow well-equipped armies to conquer more quickly and
effectively, with less loss of life. But some observers are more cautious about the 
technology. Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch, an American advocacy group,
although noting that he has no problem with the idea of non-lethal weapons, says that 
too much secrecy still surrounds them. Weapons such as HPMs may have
unintended long-term health consequences, he says. And weapons such as the active 
denial system could cause severe trauma, or even death, if fired at close
range or held on a target for too long. Critics of non-lethal systems also worry 
that they might be used for repression of civilian populations.

David Fidler, a law professor at Indiana University, says that, because these weapons 
are most likely to be used on civilians, it is not clear that using them is legal
under the international rules governing armed conflict. He also notes that, if they 
are used in conjunction with conventional weapons, they could end up making war
more deadly, rather than less. And he adds that non-lethal weapons raise a new 
ethical conundrum: is it acceptable to shoot or bomb somebody if you have the
option only to disable them?

Odysseus's scheme ended a bloody war, though it did so bloodily. Electromagnetic 
weapons could avoid this. But the secrecy over them makes it hard to judge.

Mind Control: TT&P ==> http://www.datafilter.com/mc
Home page: http://www.datafilter.com/alb
Allen Barker

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net