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The Future is Now: "Pain Ray" Weapon in Afghanistan

— Filed under: Breaking News, Politics & Government, Science & Technology
An operational version of the Active Denial Sy...

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The United States is considering testing a new microwave weapon in Afghanistan, a "pain ray" which causes unbearable pain akin to being burned. The military denies that any decision has been made to commence testing the Active Denial System, but admits that the weapon is in Afghanistan and is being discussed for potential use.

According to the Air Force, the Active Denial System has been heavily tested. However, one test subject had to be airlifted to a burn center for treatment, and questions remain as to whether the weapon can be used safely.

The Active Denial System, from a presentation ...

Image via Wikipedia

This new weapon also raises many ethical dilemmas. Does this amount to torture of enemy combatants? Human rights advocates will certainly have something to say. The Geneva Conventionshowever don't specifically cover weapons, and other conventions which do address weapons mainly cover the chemical and biological kinds. This is new ground, and the use of high technology to inflict pain raises the specter of misuse.

Or is it possible that this is a positive development, a movement away from lethal force and toward deterrence? Could it be used to reduce unnecessary deaths in warzones around the world? Jeremy White at the Huffington Post suggests that it should be used to secure the United States' border with Mexico.

What's your opinion on this new weapon? Curse or boon? Seize the skull and post a comment below.

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Fred's picture

ADS Comment

The idea about using it on the border would not be feasible. There are only a couple in existence. They are quite expensive. Having a weapon, even non-lethal, that is on all the time and firing randomly without a human operator is a really bad idea. The Border Patrol has been talking to the company that developed the system about getting a less expensive version for use at high traffic areas.

As to your early point: believe it or not, the DOD doesn't just come up with bright ideas, spend money and buy new weapons. ADS has been in development for more than a decade, and has been extensively tested on volunteer subjects. Extensive time and money has been spent on independent scientific research into the potential long term effects of the weapon. Legal and treaty reviews have been conducted to ensure that we would not be violting an laws or treaties by using ADS.

Is it torture? Weeelll, I can much more cheaply and easily toture you with a bucket of water and a towel. Or a table lamp and a functioning wall socket. Could it be misused? Sure, as can many things. Remember the intent though. This is not intended to be used against known enemy combatants. If I know someone is an enemy, I am legally and morally justified just killing him with a 75 cent bullet. The ADS is to defferentiate between people who are caught up in a bad situation, and those who would cause us harm. Or those who are confused, and don't understand other warnings. Intense, but immediately reversible pain will cause the innocent to run away. We then don't need to shoot them. If the reaction is to take cover, shield himself, continue to advance in spite of the pain, well, we have now determined hostile intent, and can take additional steps, to include killing the hostile individual. Finally, the device can be used in crowd control situations where the mob is somewhat hostile, but lethal force is inappropriate. Thrown rocks from an angry mob can injure or kill our troops, but we don't want to shoot rock throwers. This device is the perfect solution to get the mob to move back or disperse, without causing any permanent damamge.

Final point. In spite of the nitwits that post on Wired and Danger Room, it isn't a microwave weapon. It is millimeter wave, which doesn't penetrate tissue like a microwave. That is why it works so well. It just excites the water molecules under the skin, giving the impression of heat. It could cause permanent damage, as demonstrated by the injured airman, but that was because the operator set the beam and too high a power for too short a range. This is also why it won't cause eye damage. The very thin layer of skin in your eyelid is enough to completely block the beam, so it will not even touch the eye.

Winston Smith's picture


Good comment - you're obviously very knowledgeable on this subject.

You mentioned that if used appropriately, the ADS wouldn't cause any permanent damage. The airman was injured because of operator error. Isn't that precisely the danger? That people would accidentally set the beam too high (the Wired article linked above indicated that most operators were undertrained), or more ominously, that there would be intentional misuse?

stacy's picture

no thanks

NO COMMENT. (Already mentioned by other signers.) Glad this new weapon is getting publicity through your network.

AtomicFreak's picture

I'm fine with it.

If I had to go to war - and I was in the military for 8 years - I would rather be facing weapons that caused a few minutes of excruciating pain but went away after the battle than something that could literally take my head clean off or otherwise end my life or permanently injure me. I would also rather be pointing those same weapons at human beings instead of guns if possible, knowing that I could win while causing less permanent damage.

Yes it could be accidentally or intentionally misused, but so could just about any technology. Many internet worms and viruses were written for other purposes and either got out of control due to an error or were altered for malicious purposes. There are ways to kill someone with a taser, or even many household non-weapon items. I don't think people should decide to adopt or not adopt new tech based solely on how it could be potentially misused, just keep those other uses in mind so you have a plan to counter it just in case.

Anonymous's picture



Anonymous2's picture


If it's a microwave emitter does that mean it can be used through walls? Also it's high frequency so doesn't that mean it could be used from space? I think the scary thing about it is that there's nothing else like it at the moment, so whatever decision is made about it now is one that's going to stick. How long do you think it'll be before they're hand held devices being used to police us all back home? Also, from what I can gather the affect is only momentary and not physically damaging, which suggests that there will be no evidence of it's use (or misuse) at any point after the attack, so what's to stop the soldiers being totally indiscriminate?. That said, it's a good PR move on the USA's part. Hopefully I won't have to read or hear about any "real" suffering for much longer.

timedesign's picture

Karl Rove

Karl Rove is King of the Gypsies, true or false?

AtomicFreak's picture

An afterthought

I have to wonder if this type of non-lethal weapon could actually lengthen wars. After all, wars usually don't end until there is either no one left on one side to continue fighting or the cost in casualties simply becomes too high to bear. If deaths were minimal, the wars could drag out for even more time than normal, since I think it's evident that world leaders would never agree to a gentleman's agreement (for lack of a better term) to submit when they have lost X amount of battles. We could detain the temporarily incapacitated enemy after each battle, but it seems people can't be trusted to guard them in a civil fashion. Definitely food for thought on this one.

Fred's picture

I'm not sure ya'all are quite getting it

Winston: Operator error is always a concern. This device has experienced one serious, but not permanent case of causing injury in over 10,000 test subjects. Consider the number of accidental deaths we have caused through warning shot at checkpoints in our current theaters of operation. It is all a matter of scale, and the extent of the consequences.

Atomic Freak: Again, it isn't going to be used on obviously hostile subjects. They get to meet their diety of choice via live fire. What we can do is scatter the crowds of people the hostiles are using as human shields so we don't accidentally shoot one of the innocents. Non-lethal weapons are only there to differerentiate between threat and non-threat actors and will never be used without lethal back up. So your concerns about lengthening wars are probably unfounded.

Anonymous 2: Not sure you actually read what I wrote. It is not a microwave, although it is sometimes characterized this way by the uninformed, or the hysterical media. Since it is a millimeter wave, and can't penetrate past the first few layers of skin (equal to a couple sheets of paper, I forget the precise measurement) it isn't going through walls. And the power levels to use it are inadequate to create the effect from space, so you won't have to worry about people being zapped from on high.

As one of you pointed out, as did I earlier, potential misuse is always there. This is a huge system, so you aren't going to see people taken into a back room and heated up. The reason it is huge is because of technological limitations. You won't see handheld versions of this for decades, if ever.

Kuncen's picture

Pain ray now used in jail

This device has been installed in a Los Angeles jail.  It's called the Assault Intervention Device, but it's essentially the same thing, and built by Raytheon.

Military weapons of war being used on their own citizens - what do you think of that?


Winston Smith's picture

ACLU: Pain ray is torture

The American Civil Liberties Union has come out with strong condemnation of the use of this 'pain ray' in a Los Angeles jail, saying that it amounts to torture:

DaveR's picture

Prison riot

I just saw this article about a prison riot. After tear gas and rubber bullets didn't stop it, the guards had to start firing live rounds. I think the pain ray could have been useful here...