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The Pentagon has been working on a new form of nonlethal force that could be used in Iraq starting next year. The weapon is called the Active Denial System. And it can temporarily stun a person for more than 500 yards away.
The Defense Department recently showed off this new energy gun firing it at several volunteers, including NPR's defense correspondent, Guy Raz.
GUY RAZ: After you hear this story, you may never listen to the radio in the same way. Because whether you're in your car or at home or jogging or whatever, there are thousands of radio waves floating through your body. And if you took all those radio waves and you shove them into an antenna and then aim that antenna at someone, you have a very powerful weapon, which is exactly what scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory figured out about 10 years ago.
Stephanie Miller, who works on the project, says they were looking at how radio waves affect the human body.
Ms. STEPHANIE MILLER (Research Physiologist, Air Force Research Laboratory): And notice that there was this biological response that we might be able to exploit in a positive manner.
RAZ: Miller's colleague, Dr. Gordon Hengst, a physicist at the lab, explains how it works.
Dr. GORDON HENGST (Physicist, Air Force Research Laboratory): When you look at the electromagnetic spectrum, you get everything from light, which is what you see, to radio waves and TV waves and things like that. This follows in the high-end of the radio waves in 95 gigahertz.
RAZ: So this is basically a high-powered radio wave?
Dr. HENGST: Absolutely. That's all it is, 100-megawatt - 100-kilowatt transmitter of radio waves.
Ms. MILLER: As it's absorbed by your body, the energy causes the water molecules in your skin to vibrate and that causes heating, and it's that heating that your nerves feel and make you want to run the other way.
RAZ: So the scientists fashioned a large antenna that looks like a satellite dish and mounted it onto a Humvee to show how it could work. Last week, Marines in Quantico, Virginia invited people out to take it for a test drive. An Air Force lawyer was on hand with a fistful of release forms.
Ms. MILLER: If you want the beam to stop targeting you before the end of its time period, put your hands in the air, move out of the orange-colored box…
RAZ: Okay. I'm about to get zapped by this thing. I'm about 500 yards away from it, and let's see what it feels like. Oh. That's hot. It feels a little bit like opening an oven that's been roasting a turkey, but a very, very, very hot oven. It's a blast of really intense heat. And your natural reaction is to just move out of the way.
The beam is so focused it can target an individual in a crowd of hundreds, even thousands. The Pentagon says military commanders in Iraq have already asked for it, but there's some more testing to do. They say it shouldn't take too long though and could, in theory, get to Iraq before the end of next year.
Guy Raz, NPR News.
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