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Journalist Gets Blasted By the Pentagon's Pain Ray — Twice 357

dsinc writes "Wired's Spencer Ackerman voluntarily subjected himself to what the U.S. military calls the Active Denial System, an energy weapon commonly known as the 'Pain Ray' that turns electricity into millimeter wave radio frequency and blasts targets with heat. He describes it thus: 'When the signal goes out over radio to shoot me, there’s no warning — no flash, no smell, no sound, no round. Suddenly my chest and neck feel like they’ve been exposed to a blast furnace, with a sting thrown in for good measure. I’m getting blasted with 12 joules of energy per square centimeter, in a fairly concentrated blast diameter. I last maybe two seconds of curiosity before my body takes the controls and yanks me out of the way of the beam.'" The device has been tested now on over 11,000 people, with only two serious injuries to show for it. However, the device has limitations: rainy weather decreases its effectiveness, and its "boot-up" time is 16 hours, making it useless for breaking up unexpected, impromptu mobs.
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Journalist Gets Blasted By the Pentagon's Pain Ray — Twice

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:50PM (#39328611)

    Boots faster than windows...

  • 16 hours? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Haven ( 34895 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:50PM (#39328633) Homepage Journal

    What electrical components take 16 hours to boot up?

    What mechanical operation requires 16 hours of prep?

    Any insight? I read the article, and it had very little in the way of information.

    • by Myopic ( 18616 ) *

      I don't know for sure, but I assumed capacitors (special capacitors, obviously). Maybe an EE can comment.

      • (special capacitors, obviously)

        Like, a flux capacitor?

      • Batteries. A capacitor bank would be used for a pulsed device, but this device seems to be continuous wave. So we are probably talking batteries + inverter + high voltage transformer. Ultimately what you want for a device like this is a high voltage DC current. So after the transformer the AC is probably converted back to DC again before powering the CW gyrotron. Actually the device could use short duty cycle pulses, but in that case the capacitor charge time would probably be measured in milliseconds or na

    • Re:16 hours? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:54PM (#39328705) Homepage Journal

      Getting that much energy stored up and ready for use at 12 joules per square centimeter might be the reason, especially when you take efficiency losses into account.

      • by Skapare ( 16644 )

        That does not bode well for its endurance over the next 16 hours.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        that would then be reload time, not boot up time.

        but you're missing the point. of course the first model is slow to setup. that's how you _really_ gouge the money out of gov...

    • Re:16 hours? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:56PM (#39328737)

      I could be completely wrong here but I think it is because you need to create a superconductive state and it takes 16 hours to get cold enough. That's the only thing I can think of.

    • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:57PM (#39328757)

      Everybody knows that you can't get that perfect warmth without tubes.

    • Re:16 hours? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dogbertius ( 1333565 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:00PM (#39328797)
      The capacitor banks in certain analysis instruments (ie: high precision impedance analyzers) take at least two hours before they are ready to take measurements. The primary reason is that they have to build up the power slowly to avoid stressing the components. Also, they don't want to introduce too much ripple or overshoot, so the charging circuit is effectively overdamped, and has virtually no ripple when fully charged.

      Why something that just pumps out such large amounts of juice needs that long a startup cycle though, I have no idea. My best guess is limitations on the components themselves. Maybe the energy storage elements suffer from charging too quickly, or maybe it has to store plenty of energy in advance to maintain a full-power beam over extended periods of time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by josmith42 ( 1443813 )

      I read the article...

      You must be new here.

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:01PM (#39328825)
      Takes that long for the ritualistic sacrifices and dark prayers to Satan to be chanted.

      Not really integral to the function, the design team was just really goth.
    • by Goaway ( 82658 )

      Supracooled components. I've used a gamma-ray spectrometer that took about a day to get running for this reason.

      Not sure why this one would have any of those. Maybe it uses a superconductor?

    • Re:16 hours? (Score:5, Informative)

      by mindcandy ( 1252124 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:13PM (#39329073)
      This is CW Microwave at 95ghz so I'd imagine it takes that long for everything to charge and come into spec frequency-wise, since all of the waveguides and antenna would be very sensitive to SWR if the frequency drifts too badly .. probably to the point of destruction at 100kw PEP.
      • Re:16 hours? (Score:5, Informative)

        by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @03:30PM (#39330307)

        This is CW Microwave at 95ghz so I'd imagine it takes that long for everything to charge and come into spec frequency-wise, since all of the waveguides and antenna would be very sensitive to SWR if the frequency drifts too badly .. probably to the point of destruction at 100kw PEP.

        Close not exactly. The highest freq amps I've worked on are just above Ku band and the highest power is a KW or so, so I'm about a factor of 4 low in freq (which in microwave work is practically in their backyard) and low by a factor of 100 in power (which is a big difference).

        Waveguide and antenna for microwave work are pretty much inherently broadband. Unless you're doing it wrong or weird darn near 2:1 is normal. Its not the antenna and waveguide. Combining networks are pretty precise ... wavelength at 100 ghz is what 3 mm or so, so you'd like to build them to a hundredth or better of that, or about 0.03 mm accuracy which isn't all that taxing for a machinist. The point being that its probably not realistic to build something that requires 12 sig figs of freq accuracy if you can't build anything to more than maybe 5 or 6 sig figs of wavelength accuracy even in theory.

        I can purchase off the shelf GPSDO with frequency accuracy better than 10e-11, even better than 10e-12 on a good day, also rubidium oscillators are not that bad. You can build one that takes "16 hours" or whatever to stabilize. Like I figured out above, you can't build an antenna that depends on 11 sig figs of freq stability (this is required for comm purposes, not required to just blast watts downrange to torture people).

        A normal person would engineer in a really good quartz crystal oscillator probably a TXCO which unlike the non-temperature stabilized dip oscilator in you PC that wanders 50 ppm or so, the txco is probably pretty stable to 0.1 or so ppm, or 10e-7, which is better than you can build your wavelength dependent components, so.. also it "boots up" in less than a second.

        The puzzler for me is at 100 GHZ you're gonna use WR8 or WR10 and those do not tolerate more than 10 KW or so before arcing over. High freq = small wavelength = small waveguide = short distance for arc to zap across. My guess is they're using an array of like 10x10 or 100 little 1 KW blasters. Some brave OWS protestor or Ron Paul supporter should walk in front of the beam and see if its got the beamwidth characteristics of an antenna a tenth the size.

        From having been in the Army reserves two decades ago I can guarantee that the army tech manual for my unisys strange btos minicomputer thingy for ammo accounting probably said it can be unpacked, hooked up, restored from backup, tested, blah blah in 16 hours, but in practice, in sane and normal weather and sane and normal conditions we could set up in like one hour or less including running comm cabling for the remote terminals and test suites and everything. But, yes, airdropped into Antarctica with new/untested/not-pre-setup gear and all noob staff doing it the first time "for real" outside of AIT I could see Fing around for 16 hours. I remember at AIT having to do this one inventory operation that was pretty tricky and they gave us 4 hours and I did it in about 45 minutes because I knew what I was doing, but some hopeless cases took darn near the whole 4 hours.

        • Re:16 hours? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @04:16PM (#39330879)

          The puzzler for me is at 100 GHZ you're gonna use WR8 or WR10 and those do not tolerate more than 10 KW or so before arcing over.

          You seem to be thinking solid state. Think tubes. I would imagine such a high power device would almost certainly use a gyrotron []. With a gyrotron they could output megawatts of power, even in long pulse or CW. I bet L3 Communications (their California Tube Laboratory) made them the gyrotron and maybe designed the whole system as well.

          • Re:16 hours? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @05:22PM (#39331763) Journal

            ADS is a Raytheon product []. They're already pretty good at high-energy microwave systems []. And the know a little about tubes, since that was their original product line [].

          • Re:16 hours? (Score:4, Informative)

            by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @05:58PM (#39332263)

            WR8 and WR10 are standard waveguide sizes not transistors. I guess you'd say its sort of the microwave RF equivalent of singlemode optical fiber.

            Like down around 10 GHz you use standard size WR90, etc.

            The waveguide wouldn't arc over if you increase the dimensions... however that increases the wavelength the waveguide operates at such that it would no longer be 100 GHz waveguide it would be 50 GHz waveguide or whatever.

            Waveguide is singlemode, obviously (?) over a bit less than a 2:1 wavelength range.

            You can theoretically run multimode, after all waveguide is high pass (hold a piece up in the air and look thru it...), but thats... considered kinda crazy. Crazy enough to work, maybe, if you spent enough money modeling it. Have to think about that. I bet someone is making a fat stack of cash off this crazy thing.

  • Wear Foil! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by owenferguson ( 521762 ) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (nosugrefnewo)> on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:52PM (#39328653)
    Would a foil suit help? Can we reflect it back at the source somehow?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:58PM (#39328773)

      I wear a foil hat all the time. It seems to disable the mind reading abilities of the satellites that the United States government uses.

      That's really the only thing you need to worry about. I'm thinking of having foil implanted on the inside of my skull for a more permanent solution. I just hope the person performing the surgery isn't a reptile. He or she or it might kill me on the operating table. You know how They are. They are always plotting against us, and they have been slithering around in the highest offices for so long...

    • You've got to protect all your exposed skin. Conductive fabric or foil should do quite nicely. (Has to be reflective, though; if it's just resistive/dissipative, then you're wrapped in flaming fabric.

    • If the cops are bringing-out the stun guns and pain givers, I'd rather just re-locate myself (and the protest) to a different location. Like maybe along an interstate highway and hold-up big signs. - "End the TSA"

    • Ever put tinfoil in the microwave? .. what happens at the edges. Unless you're 100% covered *and* grounded to a decent earth, you'll just gather and concentrate the energy.

      The standoff distance of this toy is still less than your average deer rifle .. which I suspect is what will happen if it ever finds use in any US city.
  • But, will it work on a grizzly bear or other forms of wildlife?

  • Cons:
    16 hour boot-up

    Zero to scream in six seconds

  • Uh, what (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:55PM (#39328715)

    Ok, I get that this baby is running on beta hardware. But 16 hours? Can anyone here venture a guess as to why? No matter how sllloooowww the CPUs, or how inefficient the code, 16 hours isn't plausible.

    So, it must refer to something the hardware is doing. Still, 16 hours? Thermodynamics is normally quicker than that for a machine that can fit on a truck. That's an awfully long time for it to be heating up or cooling down.

    Any RF engineers here know a reason for this? My best guess is that components of this device rely on superconductivity, and require very slow peltier coolers to bring the operating temperature down to the range of operation. I've seen radios sold on ebay that use superconductors for parts of the RF elements.

    • Or as stated elsewhere its just charging a big damn capacitor bank off a humvee alternator.

    • Well it's quite simple: they're focusing large amounts of energy at a person. Since the actual power source cannot dispense this much energy at once, it must be used to charge a capacitor bank - much like a camera flash.

      That said, they could probably optimize it to shoot a narrower beam, but hey: this is the military. They can't do anything right, that would be unpatriotic.

      • by Skapare ( 16644 )

        It's not THAT much power being radiated. A few thousand watts at most. 1 Joule = 1 Watt*second. 1 Joule per square centimeter. Any decent military generator can produce that. If they have to charge up capacitors, what concerns me there is how rapidly they will be drained out. They need the green model that will be endorsed by hippies everywhere.

    • Re:Uh, what (Score:4, Informative)

      by Goaway ( 82658 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:11PM (#39329031) Homepage

      That is a pretty common time for cooling down to liquid nitrogen or superconducting temperatures.

  • Corner reflector (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sqr(twg) ( 2126054 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:55PM (#39328719)

    If you ever go to a protest where you expect the government to use one of these on you, bring a buch of corner reflectors. []. They can be bought in boat stores, or made cheaply out of paper lined with aluminum foil, and they will send the "pain ray" right back at the operator.

    • by sideslash ( 1865434 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:01PM (#39328807)
      Good luck with that. If you are successful, you will be accused of doing horrible things to a law enforcement person, and will be locked away for a very, very long time. The prosecution will describe the effects of the heat ray in very different terms than the defense would, if the tables were turned and you were suing law enforcement for using it on you.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      This needs to be wide spread so the cops can enjoy what they dish out. Dont send it back, target the scumbags in riot gear on the ground around the truck.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      Considering that he's going to be in a Bradley that's RF shielded... It's not going to matter much unless they're making man-portable versions- and I suspect they'll have "armor" for the person wielding it, regardless of how bulky the stuff is.

    • Disco outfits [] and tinfoil hats back in style.

    • by srussia ( 884021 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:20PM (#39329189)
      The proper resistance mantra is:

      I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear... I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    • I believe reflectivity is frequency-dependent. A material that highly reflects light might barely reflect milimeter waves, and vice-versa. So you'd need to asses whether or not the boat-store versions would do the trick.

  • Given the weird operational profile, I can see this being used for psy-op. Flashing people with pain from afar, seemingly for no reason. Is that too MK-ULTRA to think about?
  • Less Effective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @01:57PM (#39328749) Homepage

    Sounds less effective, most costly, and more dangerous then tear gas.

    • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:06PM (#39328915) Homepage

      It is the American way (tm).

    • This is much, much more effective than tear gas: the pain ray has a several thousand-foot range and nearly instantaneous effects, plus you can't negate the effects with a (fairly) simple gas mask. Also, tear gas is pretty dangerous stuff which can cause lasting damage, and anyone who uses it risks getting caught by it themselves (a fundamental problem with all chemical weapons).

    • Just be glad they don't use .22 rounds.

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      And considering the first thing that probably pops into the public's mind when they see anything involving "rays" is "cancer" .. it's not even more politically safe.

      I can see the headlines... "police irradiating protestors!!!".

      Someone put it best.. the most effective (both in cost and effectiveness) tool they ever had was the shock baton... but the PR was so bad there's no way they could use it. The stuff with the high PR is ineffective. This thing seems to be the worst of both worlds!

    • Sounds less effective, most costly, and more dangerous then tear gas.

      Tear gas is generally the wrong instrument anyway, because you not only tear gas the mob, but also the entire neighborhood. WTO riots in Seattle for example. They used tear gas on 20-40 people (if you took out the photographers and journalists, another 20-40 people) in the street on Capitol Hill. An hour later they had hundreds screaming angry people in the street and outside the Police Station who were upset about getting tear gassed while sitting in their own homes. Then there were the businesses that we

  • Wrap yourself in tinfoil and it's completely neutered. Make clothing out of cloth that is conductive and you can make long underwear that will protect 90% of your body, slap on a baklava of the same with gloves and flip them the bird while they get out the mace cannon.

  • It is unlikely that the military will use non-lethal weapons on a large scale anytime soon. The reason is pretty simple: such weapons kill fewer people but often make for worse PR. A few years ago they were looking at lasers that could temporarily blind people although there would be permanent damage in many cases. That didn't get adopted because having dead people in the long-run is less PR damage than having horrifically crippled people.
    • by Surt ( 22457 )

      But in the long long run, crippled people destroy your opponent's economy. That's why the chinese poison our children's toys with lead.

    • It's against the Hague convention to intentionally cripple/blind people.

    • by pz ( 113803 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:31PM (#39329409) Journal

      There was an instance of non-lethal weapon abuse by a Boston policeman who shot a Red Sox reveler [] with a projectile that's supposed to only cause the sensation of burning, like pouring hot sauce on the skin. It's like a targeted remote pepper spray. Problem is, the policeman hit this poor woman in the eye. She died as a result of the injury.

      The words "non-lethal weapon" should more accurately be written as "not-usually-lethal weapon". A weapon designed to hurt enough to seriously distract everyone it is used against cannot be non-lethal in all cases, given the wide range of physiologies found in humans, and the wide ranges of unanticipated potential uses. While one might argue whether the officer in question above should have aimed at this student's head (if the weapons are so inaccurate that they cannot be controlled well enough to avoid hitting someone in the head, or if the officer was inadequately trained or prepared to do so, then that is another matter entirely), because he did hit her in the head that must therefore be an anticipated use. Thus this particular paintball-like weapon, and by extension, all non-lethal weapons, must be considered less lethal, but certainly not non-lethal.

  • Torture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sideslash ( 1865434 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:06PM (#39328921)
    Why is it OK in public spaces for law enforcement and the military to use extreme pain from heat rays and Tasers (TM) to force people to do what they want, yet it's not OK in a private cell to force somebody through pain to share information? We can torture people without leaving permanent physical injury, just like with the heat ray. So do we as a society really have moral qualms about torturing people because of the pain, or is it purely a pragmatic decision based on the low signal to noise ratio of intelligence from tortured prisoners?
    • Because cruel and unusual punishment applies to those being detained. This is not punishment
      • OK, so what if you re-classified the torture as a compliance enforcement mechanism rather than as a punishment? Would that make it OK, just like in the crowd control situation? Clearly it's very desirable for detainees to comply with our demand that they give us information about criminals and terrorists. (Playing devil's advocate, but hopefully making a point.)
    • I believe the argument is that rioters have the option of just walking away and those being arrested have the option of just complying. (Ignoring, of course, when cops taser people unnecessarily.)

      • Re:Torture (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:29PM (#39329375)
        There's that. There's also the fact that these non-lethal weapons are intended to be used against someone who is being violent: in other words, they are a last resort to subdue someone out of control before they do serious harm to someone, whether that be another citizen (either protestor or bystander), a police officer, or even the person hurting themselves. The purpose in using a non-lethal weapon is that in doing this harm to them, you will prevent a much greater harm.

        Which, really, highlights how inappropriately all these non-lethal weapons and anti-riot instruments are used nowadays. They've gone from 'preventing imminent violence and harm' to 'making someone unstable easier to deal with' to 'a way to subdue someone, no different from handcuffing them really'. It's positively criminal and evil how thoughtlessly devices like tasers, rubber bullets, and mace are used nowadays by law enforcement. These things were designed as last resorts and are now being used routinely. If a person is being disruptive but there is no imminent threat of harm, then these tools should not be used. Even if the person has clearly broken a law and needs to be arrested, these tools should be avoided: the person should be subdued peacefully somehow (sometimes this means just waiting, letting them yell and whatnot, until they tire themselves out and can be safely arrested).
      • It's not very much of an argument. Detainees have the option of sharing information in order to avoid pain, assuming they are known to possess such information. (Note that I'm not arguing in favor of torture, just trying to probe why it's OK to publicly inflict pain on people.)
    • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

      Good point.

      If I got to be pragmatic about it, it's because torture generally doesn't produce good results. Torture someone for long enough and they'll admit to anything.

    • My guess is most people probably simply haven't though about it. []

      A highlight of this video is a datapoint from Australia, when pepper (OC spray) was introduced. Officers were specifically instructed that it was to be used only when the officer would have otherwise been required to use lethal force. The years before the OC spray was introduced, there were about 6 people shot to death by the police year. The two years after th

  • by JeanCroix ( 99825 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:10PM (#39328985) Journal
    Sixteen hours warmup might be far too long for use as crowd control, but it's plenty of time for use in interrogations.
    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      I have to wonder how long until some police department (I'm looking at you, Arizona or Florida) tortures a prisoner to death [] with one of these? They're already going gangbusters with pepper spray and tazers/stun guns. Theoretically this is military equipment, but police departments have a way of acquiring military hardware for their own uses. The 16 hour warmup time might not be a problem either if you can just leave it plugged in and ready to go 24/7 (assuming it isn't consuming liquid helium or somethi
  • Good 2012 Ted Talk on the "Moral Dangers of non-lethal weapons"
  • making it useless for breaking up unexpected, impromptu mobs

    So? Plan on having mobs. ;)

  • by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:23PM (#39329259)
    That's at least one major lawsuit per protest broken up. Good luck getting any major civilian police force to risk that. The only place this has any use would be a battlefield, where lawsuits are irrelevant.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Still better odds than rubber bullets and tear gas.
    • At the 2008 GOP presidential convention (St Paul), the police were insured against civil rights liabilities by a "host committee" funded by private interests. Think that one through.

      So, yes, police will "risk that" because they are insured against that risk, with someone else paying the premiums.

      Citation: []

  • That "16 hour" start-up time is probably bogus. It's not in the article. If it's real at all, it probably refers to how long it takes to drive the thing from some base to the target area. The military often figures response times like that - from when it's called for until it gets there and starts shooting.

    There's a smaller version, the Silent Guardian [], with only about 250m of range. This is about the size of a WWI tripod-mounted heavy machine gun.

    If this technology had been available in the 1960s,

  • ... you have to pay cash for uninsured medical bills.

    You might want to start saving up for that cataract operation. You've got about five years.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday March 12, 2012 @02:56PM (#39329815)

    The reporter said that the injuries that were sustained were 2nd degree burns because the people didn't get out the way quick enough.

    But what if you can't get out of the way? If you are trapped you could easily sustain 2nd or 3rd degree burns over quite a bit of your body - and that sort of thing is potentially lethal.

    This device is non-lethal in the sense that a bullet is non-lethal. I shoot someone in the hand they probably don't die. I shoot someone in the head and they will probably die.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly