Military's new ray gun fires harmless beam that makes targets feel as if they are on fire

Thursday, January 25, 2007
An unidentified airman looks over the military's Active Denial System, a non-lethal ray gun that was demonstrated Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The system shoots a beam of energy that makes people feel they are about to catch fire. Officials say it's safe and humane. It could be used in Iraq to protect the U.S. military from insurgents and to save the lives of innocent Iraqis. (AP Photo/Elliott Minor)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The military calls its new weapon an "active denial system," but that's an understatement. It's a ray gun that shoots a beam that makes people feel as if they are about to catch fire.

Apart from causing that terrifying sensation, the technology is supposed to be harmless -- a non-lethal way to get enemies to drop their weapons.

Military officials say it could save the lives of innocent civilians and service members in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The weapon is not expected to go into production until at least 2010, but all branches of the military have expressed interest in it, officials said.

During the first media demonstration of the weapon Wednesday, airmen fired beams from a large dish antenna mounted atop a Humvee at people pretending to be rioters and acting out other scenarios that U.S. troops might encounter in war zones.

Airmen pretending to be rioters scatter after being zapped by a new military ray gun during a demonstration at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. The millimeter beam from the Active Denial System makes people feel as if they are about to catch fire. Officials say the weapon could be a non-lethal way to increase the security of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and with its 500 meter range it is far superior to current non-lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets. (AP Photo/Elliott Minor)

The device's two-man crew located their targets through powerful lenses and fired beams from more than 500 yards away. That is nearly 17 times the range of existing nonlethal weapons, such as rubber bullets.

Anyone hit by the beam immediately jumped out of its path because of the sudden blast of heat throughout the body.

While the 130-degree heat was not painful, it was intense enough to make the participants think their clothes were about to ignite.

The system uses electromagnetic millimeter waves, which can penetrate only 1/64 of an inch of skin, just enough to cause discomfort. By comparison, microwaves used in the common kitchen appliance penetrate several inches of flesh.

Three airmen were role players in Wednesday's demonstration. They and 10 reporters who volunteered were shot with the beams. The beams easily penetrated various layers of winter clothing.

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