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The Active Denial System (ADS) is a non-lethal, directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military, designed for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control. Informally, the weapon is also called the heat ray since it works by heating the surface of targets, such as the skin of targeted human subjects. Raytheon is currently marketing a reduced-range version of this technology. The ADS was deployed in 2010 with the United States military in the Afghanistan War, but was withdrawn without seeing combat. On August 20, 2010 the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department announced its intent to use this technology on prisoners in the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles, stating its intent to use it in "operational evaluation" in situations such as breaking up prisoner fights. The ADS is currently only a vehicle-mounted weapon, though U.S. Marines and police are both working on portable versions. ADS was developed under the sponsorship of the DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program with the Air Force Research Laboratory as the lead agency.There are reports that Russia is developing its own version of the Active Denial System.
The ADS works by firing a high-powered beam of 95 GHz extremely high frequency waves at a target, which corresponds to a wavelength of 3.2 mm. The ADS millimeter wave energy works on a similar principle as a microwave oven, exciting the water and fat molecules in the skin, and instantly heating them via dielectric heating. One significant difference is that a microwave oven uses the much lower frequency (and longer wavelength) of 2.45 GHz. The short millimeter waves used in ADS only penetrate the top layers of skin, with most of the energy being absorbed within 0.4 mm (1/64"), whereas microwaves will penetrate into human tissue about 17mm (0.67").
The ADSʼs repel effect in humans occurs at slightly higher than 44°C (111°F), with first-degree burns occurring at about 51°C (124°F), and second-degree burns occurring at about 58°C (136°F). In testing, pea-sized blisters have been observed in less than 0.1% of ADS exposures, indicating that second degree surface burns have been caused by the device. The radiation burns caused are similar to microwave burns, but only on the skin surface due to the decreased penetration of shorter millimeter waves. The surface temperature of a target will continue to rise so long as the beam is applied, at a rate dictated by the target's material and distance from the transmitter, along with the beam's frequency and power level set by the operator. Most human test subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none could endure more than 5 seconds.
A spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory described his experience as a test subject for the system:
"For the first millisecond, it just felt like the skin was warming up. Then it got warmer and warmer and you felt like it was on fire.... As soon as you're away from that beam your skin returns to normal and there is no pain."
Like all focused energy, the beam will irradiate all matter in the targeted area, including everything beyond/behind it that is not shielded, with no possible discrimination between individuals, objects or materials. Anyone incapable of leaving the target area (eg, physically handicapped, infants, incapacitated, trapped, etc) would continue to receive radiation until the operator turned off the beam. Reflective materials such as aluminium cooking foil should reflect this radiation and could be used to make clothing that would be protective against this radiation.
Many human tests have been performed on over 700 volunteers and including over 10,000 exposures by ADS. A Penn State Human Effects Advisory Panel (HEAP) concluded that ADS is a non-lethal weapon that has a high probability of effectiveness with a low probability of injury
In April 2007, one airman in an ADS test was overdosed and received second-degree burns on both legs, and was treated in a hospital for two days. There was also one laboratory accident in 1999 that resulted in a small second-degree burn.
Many possible long-term effects have been studied, with the conclusion that no long-term effects are likely at the exposure levels studied. However, overexposures of either operators or targets may cause long-term damage including cancer. According to an official military assessment, "In the event of an overexposure to a power density sufficient to produce thermal injury, there is an extremely low probability that scars derived from such injury might later become cancerous. Proper wound management further decreases this probability, as well as the probability of hypertrophic scarring or keloid formation."
ADS operators would be exposed to more than the standard maximum permissible exposure (MPE) limits for RF energy, and military use requires an exception to these exposure limits.
Two Active Denial Systems were developed under a Defense Department "Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration" Program (now known as Joint Concept Technology Demonstration Program) from 2002 to 2007. Unlike typical weapons development programs in the Defense Department, ACTDs/JCTDs are not focused on optimizing the technology, rather they are focused on rapidly assembling the technology in a configuration suitable for user evaluation.
On October 4, 2004, the United States Department of Defense published the following contract information:
Communications and Power Industries (CPI), Palto Alto [sic], Calif., is being awarded a $6,377,762 costs-reimbursement, cost-plus fixed-price contract. The contractor shall design, build, test, and deliver a two to 2.5 megawatt, high efficiency, continuous wave (CW) 95 gigahertz millimeter wave source system. The contractor shall perform extensive modeling, simulation, experiments, and testing to the maximum capabilities of their facilities (which shall no less than one megawatt peak RF output) that will ascertain the final CW capabilities of the source. The contractor also shall provide input for the requirements for the government's test stand, which will serve as a full power facility in the future. At this time, $900,000 of the funds has been obliged. This work will be complete by January 2009. Negotiations were completed September 2004. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, is the contracting activity (FA9451-04-C-0298).
The military has made the ADS available to the media for demonstrations on a number of occasions. A fully operational and mounted version of the system was demonstrated on January 24, 2007, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, United States. A Reuters correspondent who volunteered to be shot with the beam during the demonstration described it as "similar to a blast from a very hot oven – too painful to bear without diving for cover." An Associated Press reporter who volunteered to be engaged stated "They certainly convinced me that the system could help save the lives of innocent civilians and our young service members" CBS News correspondent did an in-depth story on ADS in March 2008. A demonstration was conducted for the media on March 9, 2012 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
On June 21, 2010, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the NATO forces commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, confirmed in an e-mail to Wired Magazine reporter Noah Shachtman that the ADS was deployed in Afghanistan. The spokesman added however that the system has not yet been used operationally.
The ADS has been removed from service in Afghanistan as of July 25, 2010. A spokesperson for the United States Department of Defense said "The decision to recall the weapons back to the US was made by commanders on the ground in Afghanistan."
A former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense noted that the recall of ADS from Afghanistan was an "opportunity missed" and "the non-lethality of the ADS system could prove useful in a counterinsurgency operation where avoidance of civilian casualties is essential to mission success"
ADS was developed as a non-lethal weapon. According to Department of Defense policy, non-lethal weapons “are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment". ADS has applications for crowd control and perimeter defense, and filling "the gap between shouting and shooting." Other crowd control methods - including sound cannons Acoustic Hailing Device, tear gas, water cannons, slippery foam and rubber bullets - carry implicit dangers of temporal or permanent injury or accidental death, and often leave residue or residual materiel. Combinations of acoustic and optical system platforms with ADS can be used to effectively communicate to, warn of escalation of force, introduce optical and auditory deterrents and step function the escalation of transmitted force from relatively benign to ultimately forced dispersal of a crowd, or to deny them from an area or access to an area. A group of people can theoretically be dispersed or induced to leave an area in a manner unlikely to damage personnel, non-involved civilians (no stray bullets), or to nearby buildings or the environment.
Non-lethal weapons are intended to provide options to U.S. troops, for example, “to stop suspicious vehicles without killing the drivers”. Although the ADS millimeter wave frequency does not affect a car’s electronic components, it can be used to deter a driver in an approaching vehicle. In a broader strategic context, non-lethal weapons such as ADS have the potential to offer 'precision, accuracy, and effective duration that can help save military and civilian lives, break the cycle of violence by offering a more graduated response, and even prevent violence from occurring if the opportunity for early or preclusionary engagement arises.”
The Council on Foreign Relations noted that ”wider integration of existing types of nonlethal weapons (NLW) into the U.S. Army and Marine Corps could have helped to reduce the damage done by widespread looting and sabotage after the cessation of major conflict in Iraq”.
In Afghanistan, the need to minimize civilian casualties have led to restrictive rules of engagement on the use of lethal force by US troops. A National Public Radio correspondent in Afghanistan “witnessed troops grappling with the dilemma of whether to shoot”. Non-lethal weapons such as ADS provide an option for US forces in those situations.
|This section relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject, rather than references from independent authors and third-party publications. (March 2009)|
The effects of this radio frequency on humans have been studied by the military for years, and much, but not all of the research has been published openly in peer-reviewed journals.
A news article criticized the sheer amount of time it is taking to field this system, citing the potential it had to avert a great deal of pain and suffering in volatile areas around the world.
Although the effects are described as simply 'unpleasant', the device has the ‘Potential for Death’.
While it is claimed not to cause burns under 'ordinary use', it is also described as being similar to that of an incandescent light bulb being pressed against the skin, which can cause severe burns in just a few seconds. The beam can be focused up to 700 meters away, and is said to penetrate thick clothing although not walls. At 95 GHz, the frequency is much higher than the 2.45 GHz of a microwave oven. This frequency was chosen because it penetrates less than 1/64 of an inch (0.4 mm), which - in most humans, except for eyelids and babies - avoids the second skin layer (the dermis) where critical structures are found such as nerve endings and blood vessels.
The early methodology of testing, in which volunteers were asked to remove glasses, contact lenses and metallic objects that could cause hot spots, raised concerns as to whether the device would remain true to its purpose of non-lethal temporary incapacitation if used in the field where safety precautions would not be taken. However, these tests were early in the program and part of a thorough and methodical process to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the technology, which has now involved more than 600 volunteer subjects and some 10,200 exposures. As safety was demonstrated in each step of the process, restrictions were removed, and now, according to ADS proponents, there are no restrictions or precautions necessary for volunteers experiencing the effect. Long-term exposure to the beam may cause more serious damage, especially to sensitive tissues, such as those of the eyes. Two people have received second degree burns after exposure to the device. (The actual number of injuries, according to Dr. Stephanie Miller of AFRL/RDHR, is a total of eight—the two previously mentioned, and six others, who healed without medical intervention.)
In addition, some claim that subjects who have body piercings, jewelry, or tattoos are likely to suffer serious skin damage. Tattooed people can become ill due to high amounts of toxic substances released from heated/melted tattoo pigment. Human effects testing on the large-scale version of ADT included more than 11,000 exposures on over 700 volunteers. Both laboratory research and full-scale test results demonstrated that there is only a 0.1% chance of injury from a System 1 or System 2 exposure.
Critics cite that, although the stated intent of the ADS is to be a non-lethal device designed to temporarily incapacitate, modifications or incorrect use by the operator could turn the ADS into a more damaging weapon that could violate international conventions on warfare (although at this time, ADS has gone through numerous treaty compliance reviews and legal reviews by AF/JAO, and in all cases complies with every treaty and law).
Some have focused on the lower threshold of use which may lead those who use them (especially civilian police) to become "trigger-happy", especially in dealing with peaceful protesters. Others have focused on concerns that weapons whose operative principle is that of inflicting pain (though "non-lethal") might be useful for such purposes as torture, as they leave no evidence of use, but undoubtedly have the capacity to inflict horrific pain on a restrained subject. According to Wired Magazine, the Active Denial System has been rejected for fielding in Iraq due to Pentagon fears that it would be regarded as an instrument of torture.
Defense contractor Raytheon has developed a smaller version of the ADS, the Silent Guardian. This stripped-down model is primarily marketed for use by law enforcement agencies, the military and other security providers. The system is operated and aimed with a joystick and aiming screen. The device can be used for targets up to 550 m away.
LA County jail is now installing the smaller-sized unit on the ceiling of their jail.
Michael Hanlon—who volunteered to experience its effects—described it as "a bit like touching a red-hot wire, but there is no heat, only the sensation of heat." Raytheon says that pain ceases instantly upon removal of the ray; still, Hanlon reported that the finger he subjected "was tingling hours later."
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