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The Military Science

50 Years of Research and Still No Microwave Weapons 154

Posted by samzenpus
from the feeling-hot-hot-hot dept.
DevotedSkeptic writes in with a story about the lack of usable microwave technology to come from 50 years of military research. "For some Pentagon officials, the demonstration in October 2007 must have seemed like a dream come true — an opportunity to blast reporters with a beam of energy that causes searing pain. The event in Quantico, Virginia, was to be a rare public showing for the US Air Force's Active Denial System: a prototype non-lethal crowd-control weapon that emits a beam of microwaves at 95 gigahertz. Radiation at that frequency penetrates less than half a millimetre into the skin, so the beam was supposed to deliver an intense burning sensation to anyone in its path, forcing them to move away, but without, in theory, causing permanent damage. However, the day of the test was cold and rainy. The water droplets in the air did what moisture always does: they absorbed the microwaves. And when some of the reporters volunteered to expose themselves to the attenuated beam, they found that on such a raw day, the warmth was very pleasant. The story is much the same in other areas of HPM weapons development, which began as an East–West technology race nearly 50 years ago. In the United States, where spending on electromagnetic weapons is down from cold-war levels, but remains at some US$47 million per year, progress is elusive. 'There's lots of smoke and mirrors,' says Peter Zimmerman, an emeritus nuclear physicist at King's College London and former chief scientist of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in Washington DC. Although future research may yield scientific progress, he adds, 'I cannot see they will build a useful, deployable weapon.'"
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50 Years of Research and Still No Microwave Weapons

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:03PM (#41356425)
    I say we have enough weapons already, how about drooling over something that doesn't kill or maim for a change?
    • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:13PM (#41356495)
      RTFA. This is a tool to stop an assailant without doing permanent damage.
      • by sjames (1099) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:38PM (#41356697) Homepage

        More likely it is a tool to disperse protesters without those incriminating head cracking videos.

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          More likely it is a tool to disperse protesters without those incriminating head cracking videos.

          This.

          It's exactly the sort of thing a government shouldn't have.

    • Maim or kill? Or even crowd control? Clearly these are failures of the imagination. I'm thinking about truly innovative applications, such as "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

  • No new weapons? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:04PM (#41356427)

    What a tragedy.

    • Re:No new weapons? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by schnell (163007) <meNO@SPAMschnell.net> on Monday September 17, 2012 @01:16AM (#41359145) Homepage

      No new weapons? What a tragedy.

      I prefer living in a country that wastes money trying to find non-lethal weapons that don't work out vs. countries that take the cost-effective, pragmatic approach of "f**k em, bullets are nice and cheap."

      There are plenty of reasons to criticize the US Department of Defense, no question. But the fact that they are spending money on non-lethal weapons means they at least care about a future war where not everyone has to get killed. Or even if you want to indulge your most Reynolds-wrapped tinfoil-clad conspiracy theories, a future where US domestic political protestors don't meet the same fate as those in the Prague Spring, Tienanmen Square or Syria.

      • by zarlino (985890)

        they at least care about a future war where not everyone has to get killed.

        And what about working towards not having a future war at all?

      • by Phrogman (80473)

        The problem is that a government facing protesters and equipped with a non-lethal weapon that leaves no visible marks faces less of a barrier towards using it than one where the media can get juicy pictures of the government abusing its citizens. This thing going would be worse for free speech in the long run, and let's face it free speech is already under attack as it is.

      • by ogdenk (712300)

        Or even if you want to indulge your most Reynolds-wrapped tinfoil-clad conspiracy theories, a future where US domestic political protestors don't meet the same fate as those in the Prague Spring, Tienanmen Square or Syria.

        Just because you aren't killed outright in front of TV cameras doesn't mean something horrible won't happen to you or your family in the dead of night. Or that you won't get "indefinitely detained" in the name of national security in a secret prison outside of US borders and tortured later. Welcome to New Rome.

        The Chinese didn't kill the protestor who yelled at the guy in the tank before they drove on to Tienanmen Square outright either. But do you honestly think he's doing ok now?

        Sorry, I'd rather them

      • Before you get too high on non-lethal weapons, please consider the taser.  The problem with non-lethal weapons is that the users know this, and are thereupon much more likely to actually use them.  And obviously, they don't just use them when they really need them.

        Non-lethal to my mind equals "let's use physical force to control people more often".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    0 inches. [climatemps.com]

  • by rueger (210566) * on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:14PM (#41356507) Homepage
    Sigh, if only there were other ways to control peaceful pro... ah mobs of anarchists.

    Like pepper spray, water cannons, clubs, horses, dogs, sonic weapons, machine guns, truncheons, whips, tear gas.....

    $47 million. You could make a good start at buying an election with that kind of money.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Buy an election with $47m? Perhaps in Tonga, but as the comparison is research spend in the US...

      http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/campaign-finance

    • by godel_56 (1287256) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:34PM (#41356663)

      Sigh, if only there were other ways to control peaceful pro... ah mobs of anarchists. Like pepper spray, water cannons, clubs, horses, dogs, sonic weapons, machine guns, truncheons, whips, tear gas.....

      There are some excellent non-lethal possibilities that the authorities are not using, such as laser dazzlers. My favorite unused method is the foam generator. You cover the entire ravening mob in a layer of soapy foam about 3 meters thick, so they stumble around saying "where'd every body go?", and the cops pluck them out from the front end of the mob at their leisure. You can also include orange or green skin dyes or capsaicin in the foam if you're feeling nasty.

    • by memnock (466995)

      Not sure who decided to use the term "weapon" with "crowd-control" intentions, but doesn't the combination of the two words seem wrong? Merriam-Webster or whomever might define weapon definitely, but when I think of weapon, I think something intended to injure or kill. If you're attempting to control a crowd, especially of mostly non-violent protesters, injury or death is not the goal.

      Of course those in power get to decide the terms of the engagement and seem to think an excess of force is the most appropri

    • by Kinthelt (96845)

      The use of pepper spray and tear gas in a battle scenario are illegal under the chemical weapons convention. As for the rest of your examples (except machine guns), they have much too limited a range against an enemy with rifles. As for machine guns, those usually aren't considered non-lethal.

  • by C0R1D4N (970153) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:16PM (#41356515)
    If a company has an idea for a weapon they think will be super-awesomes why don't they spend the cash to R&D it and when/if it is successful they can start offering it out. Can we stop blowing cash on stupid crap that won't work like jet packs and laser rifles?
    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      Because then they might sell the weapon to somebody else.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Given the track record thus far, GOOD! I can think of no better advantage for U.S. forces.

    • by Animats (122034)

      If a company has an idea for a weapon they think will be super-awesomes why don't they spend the cash to R&D it and when/if it is successful they can start offering it out.

      It's been tried. See the F-20 [wikipedia.org].

      • by C0R1D4N (970153)
        Thanks. Reminds me of Macross2 =P

        Still, reading through it the idea still seems sound so long as the government doesnt go and sabotage the whole thing 10 years in.
    • If a company has an idea for a weapon they think will be super-awesomes why don't they spend the cash to R&D it

      Government regulation of weapons, for one.

  • So let's see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:17PM (#41356521)

    We have a very expensive crowd control weapon that likely could be rendered ineffective as long as enough of the protesters brought 99-cent spray bottles full of water along with them.

    Got it.

    • by The_Rook (136658)

      you can also effectively shield against microwaves with the wire mesh cut out from a screen door.

      • by sjames (1099) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:43PM (#41356743) Homepage

        With the right rectifier you might even be able to recharge your cellphone.

      • by macraig (621737)

        Except most of the "wire" in screening isn't actually wire anymore, it's stranded synthetics with a vinyl coating.

        • by jc42 (318812)

          Except most of the "wire" in screening isn't actually wire anymore, it's stranded synthetics with a vinyl coating.

          Yeah, we just discovered this in the window screens that were installed in an enclosed porch that we had built recently. One day we had a window open, with the screen keeping the bugs out, and we left the porch for a while with some food sitting on a small table. When we went back to the porch, we saw a squirrel dashing back through the gash it had torn in the "screen" to get at the food.

          Now we have a new project, of finding a real screen that will keep those cute little critters out the way we thought

          • Go to the hardware store, find the rolls of screen material. Pinch the corner of the material.

            If it stays pinched, it's "metal." If it doesn't stay pinched, it's the other stuff.

            I'm not sure it's worth it, though. The metal screens are harder to install - they pinch and fray way more easily - and I'm not convinced you'd get much benefit from it. They tear pretty easily, too - they're really fine wires, after all. I don't think the squirrel would have had too much trouble.

            • by AJWM (19027)

              To defeat the squirrels, just reinforce the layer of bug screen (whether fiber or metal) with a layer of chicken wire. Then reinforce that with a layer of chain-link fencing if you're worried about the zombie apocalypse.

    • by number11 (129686) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @07:29PM (#41357109)

      We have a very expensive crowd control weapon that likely could be rendered ineffective as long as enough of the protesters brought 99-cent spray bottles full of water along with them.

      But it's the very first weapon that a tinfoil hat is actually documented to protect against.

      The spray bottles are good. But arty foil-backed protest signs that just happen to be shaped like corner reflectors would be fun for the people in the front.

      • But it's the very first weapon that a tinfoil hat is actually documented to protect against.

        You might want to try tinfoil underwear too.

    • Well, at least they can still be used in airports, then.
  • Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nospam007 (722110) * on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:18PM (#41356537)

    The anti-terror guys have warned us for years that a microwave cannon could be built with parts ordered from the web, capable of frying a plane's electronics when it tries to land.

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-196971883.html [highbeam.com]

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1166499/Terrorists-bring-jumbo-jet-using-microwave-cannon-built-internet.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    So I guess Mythbusters didn't get an authorization to test that either.

  • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:28PM (#41356607)

    You can't way they have no microwave weapons. They have an inefficient crowd control device. We don't know what they have in the lethal range. Probably because they chose not to show it. What's to stop them 'taking the safety' off and cranking out a much higher power version?

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:29PM (#41356621)

    Until very recently no one could get microwave lasers at room temperature. How ever that is no longer the case, I don't remember the specific article but it was posted either here on Slashdot or Reddit.

    Some lab had been working on it, with some old papers from the Japanese. Basically it was done with specially doped ruby emitters if I remember correct.

    Now that we have at least the general knowledge of one method to create microwave laser emitters at room temperate I expect to see progress on this in the next five to ten years. Though I myself much prefer the nonmilitary uses of microwave lasers, such as communication and wireless power emission.

  • The bastards have enough weapons, nothing good can come from giving them more.

  • ...cause it sounds like we're just going to have to slow-roast him the old-fashioned way.
  • by Anarchduke (1551707) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:41PM (#41356719)
    Put him in The Comfy Chair!!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The way to use a microwave to control a crowd is to threaten to turn it it on with a kitten inside of it.

  • Some smart weapon systems have the same limitations when it comes to rain or cloud cover. Also they tend to use water cannons for crowd control which would act as a defensive system for the crowds. Microwave weapons are expensive, have limited range and focus and it's difficult to avoid injuries and death while maintaining effectiveness. I'd think audio weapons would be just as effective without the limitations and potential for serious injuries. Yes it's easy to protect against most of them but we are talk
  • I thought that Hot Pockets were classed as microwave WMDs.

  • by PPH (736903)

    For some Pentagon officials, the demonstration in October 2007 must have seemed like a dream come true - an opportunity to blast reporters with a beam of energy that causes searing pain.

  • by taxman_10m (41083) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @07:18PM (#41357041)

    So what happens if you get it in the eye?

    • by Inda (580031)
      Do not look at microwave with remaining eye?
    • by phriedom (561200)
      I've wondered about that since I first heard about this kind of weapon. I wear hard contact lenses, and I vividly remember a safety film we watched in junior-high before they let us weld anything. The film explained that looking at the flash from an arc welder can vaporize the liquid between the lens and your eye and cause the lens to adhere to your eye. Then when you try to take your contacts out, you pull off the front of your eye. So I wonder, have they deemed these micowave crowd-dispersal weapons a
  • If you are not familiar with microwave weapons associated with Covert Harassment of political dissidents then try searching for "Targeted Individuals" on YouTube of search for "Electronic Harassment" on youtube or Google and get ready to step into a real twilight zone. You could also check out these sites: http://www.mindjustice.com/ [mindjustice.com] http://www.areyoutargeted.com/ [areyoutargeted.com]
  • You don't make your second billion developing a weapon that works the first time, sillies.
  • Well there's your problem right there! Try it someplace less smokey.

  • by Shaman (1148)

    .... that the public knows of!

  • At 1,500W a 2.4GHz microwave driven by a high capacitance array, steered into place with say a dish antenna will fry electronics. I mean fry! It's just about the right wavelength to do so. Of course anyone standing in the way will get that section within the beam cooked almost immediately but that's just a collateral problem.
    • by vlm (69642)

      At 1,500W a 2.4GHz microwave driven by a high capacitance array, steered into place with say a dish antenna will fry electronics. I mean fry! It's just about the right wavelength to do so. Of course anyone standing in the way will get that section within the beam cooked almost immediately but that's just a collateral problem.

      Talk to a EE first. I think you want high directionality, high gain. Capacitance isn't going to help you. Also, although this is /., on a regular basis I submit myself to a radiation flux right around 1.5 kilowatts per sq meter and barely sweat (well, as long as its below 80 degrees or so). Its called "sunlight". Not a military codeword, but genuine plain ole fashioned "sunlight". So if you want to "cook immediately" you need to focus to far, far smaller than 3 feet on a side. When you calculate the

  • Progress in laser weapons has been slow, but steady. Each generation of laser weapon has more power in a smaller package. Shooting down small rockets and artillery shells has been demonstrated, but the laser system takes three semitrailers. Another two generations of that and it will be useful.

    • by dkf (304284)

      Shooting down small rockets and artillery shells has been demonstrated, but the laser system takes three semitrailers.

      So, somewhat practical for mounting on a warship at the moment, but not on anything much smaller?

  • I'm fairly certain that microwaves can be used as a weapon. There are many documented cases of people unplugging microwaves and throwing them at other people, be it a domestic dispute or even to stop a robbery.
  • [Zap]
    Fry: Ow! My sperm!
    Bender: Wow! Neat! Mind if I try that again?
    [Zap]
    Fry: Huh, didn't hurt that time.
  • by ledow (319597)

    If you want to make beam / ray weapons take a physics course first.

    I can push a plane at hundreds of miles per hour through the air quite "easily" and put some destructive force on the end of it. Hell, you can do similar with a model plane if you really want to test the concept. This is what bullets, missiles and grenades rely on to work, and it's successful.

    But to make a beam or ray that has an effect over that same flying-distance of any of the above, I have to overcome the inverse-square law and line-o

    • by vlm (69642)

      I have to overcome the inverse-square law and line-of-sight

      And if you insist on microwaves you have some serious optical focusing problems. Good luck.

      Look at the ratio of wavelength between blue from a DVD burner and a 2.4 GHz microwave oven. That's the ratio in size for your optics to get an equivalent focus.

  • But I think it was "hell Mary" attempt by the contracted to get the military or police to buy one. The device requires a significant size truck mountable antenna. I think in real life the enemy could knock it out before it was deployed. There were rumors the Denver police were going to have one for the 2008 Democratic Convention, but they never materialized.
  • I hope the GPLv4 will finally reveal that the G isn't recursive at all!

    The G stands for Good Public License, and it will prohibit use of our software in weapons, weapon installations and military applications.

    Go Richard Stallman, make me proud!

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