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Machine Age
Weapon of the Week
by George Smith
The Microwave Phaser
December 4 - 10, 2002


Medium rare: the mobile microwave
(illustration: http://www.de.afrl.af.mil/)

he Pentagon has always craved a phaser. Now it's turning to microwaving as a potential means of singeing the enemy.

The Department of Defense's bland name for this electronic heat ray is the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial (VMAD) system, a mouthful of jargon that yields few clues about the weapon's nature. Allegedly designed for an Orwellian task—"humanitarian missions"—the VMAD is a giant version of your microwave oven, without the safety box surrounding it. The generals want to move it around on a humvee.

Official propaganda on the device is that it makes one's skin only lightbulb hot, enough to force a person to run but not enough to cook him. Of course, there is no proof this can be achieved, because the results of tests on people are classified. It's safe, insist the inventors, the air force's Directed Energy Directorate in Albuquerque.

But anyone with first-hand experience broiling hot dogs and other non-robust meats in their tabletop microwave might be chary of such an assertion. Struck by the heat ray, "Sssss," went the eyeball.

What is the microwaver's target? It must be unarmed civilians, because as described, the VMAD wouldn't seem to offer much against terrorists or regular soldiers ready to fire back with conventional weapons. What is certain is that the Pentagon's microwave projects lack oversight and common sense. In one manic, grandiose claim, the Defense Department calls VMAD "the biggest breakthrough in weapons technology since the atomic bomb."

The lust for military microwaving has also been a sinkhole for tax dollars. While much of the work remains deep in the shadows, the Directed Energy Directorate (DED) does allow that $40 million went out the door for the VMAD over the last decade. An additional $15 million was awarded to ITT Industries for research on high-power microwaving applications in bombs and other types of ray guns.

Microwaving facilities pictured as part of the Directorate also look to have cost a small fortune. One 27,000-square-foot concrete monolith is worth $9 million, resulting in a "cost-effective and timely capability."

Vendors capitalizing on the VMAD include Raytheon, CPI (Communications and Power Industries), and Veridian Engineering—a tech firm menacingly cited for its part in researching "biological effects."

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