U.S. Testing Pain Ray in Afghanistan (Updated)
By Noah Shachtman
Wired, June 19, 2010The U.S. mission in Afghanistan centers around swaying locals to its side. And there’s no better persuasion tool than an invisible pain ray that makes people feel like they’re on fire.
OK, OK. Maybe that isn’t precisely the logic being employed by those segments of the American military who would like to deploy the Active Denial System to Afghanistan. I’m sure they’re telling themselves that the generally non-lethal microwave weapon is a better, safer crowd control alternative than an M-16. But those ray-gun advocates better think long and hard about the Taliban’s propaganda bonanza when news leaks of the Americans zapping Afghans until they feel roasted alive.
Because, apparently, the Active Denial System is "in Afghanistan for testing."
An Air Force military officer and a civilian employee at the Air Force Research Laboratory are just two of the people telling Danger Room co-founder Sharon Weinberger that the vehicle-mounted "block 2″ version of the pain ray is in the warzone, but hasn’t been used in combat.
[Update: "We are currently not testing the Active Denial System in Afghanistan," Kelley Hughes, spokesperson for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, tells Danger Room.
So I ask her: Has it been tested previously? She hems and haws. "I'm not gonna get into operational," Hughes answers.
Hughes also disputes the assertion that Active Denial creates a burning feeling. "It's an intolerable heating sensation," she says. "Like opening up an oven door."]
For years, the military insisted that the Active Denial System — known as the "Holy Grail" of crowd control — was oh-so-close to battlefield deployment. But a host of technical issues hampered the ray gun: everything from overheating to poor performance in the rain. Safety concerns lingered; a test subject had to be airlifted to a burn center after being zapped by the weapon. (He eventually made a full recovery.) And then there were concerns about "the atmospherics" — how the locals might react — when they learned that the United States had turned a people-roaster on 'em. "Not politically tenable," the Defense Science Board concluded.
I pinged Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s staff about the use of Active Denial in Afghanistan. I’ll let you know if I hear anything back. But a few months ago, a source told me that a representative from the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate was in Afghanistan. Did that mean Active Denial was about to be put into action? Nope, the source said. "She’s just out getting some atmospherics on the use of non-lethals."