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Sweeping stun guns to target crowds

by ... Friday, Jun. 18, 2004 at 10:08 AM

Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe.



http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99996014



Sweeping stun guns to target crowds

19:00 16 June 04

Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition.

Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like

beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and

police forces in the US and Europe.

At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only

at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many

people at once and operate over far greater distances.

But human rights groups are appalled by the fact that no independent safety

tests have been carried out, and by their potential for indiscriminate use.



Taser success rates by distance

The weapons are designed to address the perceived shortcomings of the Taser,

the electric-shock gun already used by 4000 police departments in the US and

undergoing trials with some police forces in the UK.

It hits the victim with two darts that trail current-carrying wires, which

limit its range to a maximum of seven metres (see graphic). As a single

shot, short-range weapon, the Taser is of little use in crowd control. And

Tasers have no effect on vehicles.



Ionised gas



These limitations are beginning to be overcome. Engineers working for the US

Department of Defense's research division, DARPA, and defence companies in

Europe have been working out how to create an electrically conductive path

between a gun and a target without using wires.

A weapon under development by Rheinmetall, based in Dorf, Germany, creates a

conducting channel by using a small explosive charge to squirt a stream of

tiny conductive fibres through the air at the victim (New Scientist print

edition, 24 May 2003).

Meanwhile, Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), based in Anderson,

Indiana, will be one of the first companies to market another type of

wireless weapon. Instead of using fibres, the 00 Close Quarters Shock

Rifle projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a

conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems

and stop vehicles.

"We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at

one or many targets in a single sweep," claims XADS president Peter Bitar.



Solid-state lasers



The gun has been designed for the US Marine Corps to use for crowd control

and security purposes and is due out in 2005. It is based on early, unwieldy

technology and has a range of only three metres, but an operator can

debilitate multiple targets by sweeping it across them for "as long as there

is an input power source," says Bitar.

XADS is also planning a more advanced weapon which it hopes will have a

range of 100 metres or more. Instead of firing ionised gas, it will probably

use a powerful laser to ionise the air itself. The idea has been around for

decades, says LaVerne Schlie, a laser expert at the US Air Force Research

Lab in Kirtland, New Mexico. It has only become practical with advances in

high-power solid-state lasers.

"Before, it took a laser about the size of two trucks," says Schlie. "Now we

can do it with something that fits on a tabletop."

The laser pulse must be very intense, but can be brief. So the makers of the

weapons plan to use a UV laser to fire a 5-joule pulse lasting just 0.4

picoseconds - equating to a momentary power of more than 10 million

megawatts.

This intense pulse - which is said not to harm the eyes - ionises the air,

producing long, thread-like filaments of glowing plasma that can be

sustained by repeating the pulse every few milliseconds. This plasma channel

is then used to deliver a shock to the victims similar to a Taser's

50,000-volt, 26-watt shock.



Instrument of torture



HSV Technologies of San Diego, California is also working on stun and

vehicle-stopping shock weapons with ranges of over 100 metres. And another

company, Ionatron of Tuscon, Arizona, is due to supply a prototype wireless

vehicle-mounted weapon to the US Department of Defense by the end of 2004.

But the advent of wireless stun weapons has horrified human rights groups.

Robin Coupland of the Red Cross says they risk becoming a new instrument of

torture. And Brian Wood of Amnesty International says the long-range stun

guns could "inflict pain and other suffering on innocent bystanders".

And there are safety concerns. Of the 30,000 times US police officers have

fired Tasers, in 40 instances people stunned by them later died. The deaths

have been attributed to factors such as overdoses of drugs and alcohol, or

fighting with officers, rather than the electric shock.

In a statement, Taser International chief Rick Smith said: "In every single

case the medical examiner has attributed the direct cause of death to causes

other than the Taser." Amnesty is not convinced, however, and wants an

independent study of the effects of all existing and emerging electric-shock

weapons.



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Good work, free market! Anti-thug life Friday, Jun. 18, 2004 at 10:45 PM

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