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Microwave gun to be used by US troops on Iraq rioters
Microwave weapons that cause pain without lasting injury are to be issued to American troops in Iraq for the first time as concern mounts over the growing number of civilians killed in fighting.
The non-lethal weapons, which use high-powered electromagnetic beams, will be fitted to vehicles already in Iraq, which will allow the system to be introduced as early as next year.
Using technology similar to that found in a conventional microwave oven, the beam rapidly heats water molecules in the skin to cause intolerable pain and a burning sensation. The invisible beam penetrates the skin to a depth of less than a millimetre. As soon as the target moves out of the beam's path, the pain disappears.
Because there are no after-effects, the United States Department of Defence believes that the weapons will be particularly useful in urban conflict. The beam could be used to scatter large crowds in which insurgents operate at close quarters to both troops and civilians.
"The skin gets extremely hot, and people can't stand the pain, so they have to move - and move in the way we want them to," said Col Wade Hall of the Office of Force Transformation, a body formed in November 2001 to promote rapid improvement across all of the American armed services.
Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, where the systems were developed, took part in testing the weapon and was subjected to the microwave beam which has a range of one kilometre. "It just feels like your skin is on fire," he said. "[But] when you get out of the path of the beam, or shut off the beam, everything goes back to normal. There's no residual pain."
A heated battle on a crowded Baghdad street last week that left 16 Iraqis dead, highlighted once again the pressing need to reduce the number of civilian casualties, and at the same time prevent further damage to relations between American troops and the Iraqi population. American commanders later admitted using seven helicopter-launched rockets and 30 high-calibre machine gun rounds in last Sunday's incident.
The armoured vehicles will be named Sheriffs once they have been modified to carry the microwave weapons, known as the Active Denial System (ADS). Col Hall said that US army and US marine corps units should receive four to six ADS equipped Sheriffs by September 2005.
The project was initiated only three months ago but US military chiefs intend to rush the Sheriffs into the front line, believing that they can be of immediate assistance.
In another development, the Sheriffs will be fitted with Gunslinger, a rapid-fire gun currently under development that will detect enemy snipers and automatically fire back at them.
If the Sheriffs prove successful, their use will be expanded in combat zones. They will also be deployed for security at ports and air force bases, and could take part in border patrols.
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