Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe.
At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances.
From a purely techno geek, SFnal perspective, the advent of actual, living, breathing plasma rifles is a very cool prospect. The ones most likely to come into service first, produced by XADS, have a limited range of only three meters, but will be used by the U.S. Marine Corps for close-range crowd control. If nothing else, this kind of Star Trek weaponry will have a distinct intimidation advantage:
Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), based in Anderson, Indiana, will be one of the first companies to market another type of wireless weapon. .... the $9000 Close Quarters Shock Rifle projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems and stop vehicles.
"We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep," claims XADS president Peter Bitar.
Not content with a wimpy three-meter range, however, XADS is upping the amperage--literally--by using a high-energy, solid-state laser to increase the range of said plasma rifles up to 100 meters. This makes it an effective, multi-purpose weapon, limited only by bulk (which will decrease) and cost (which has got to be obscenely expensive):
The laser pulse must be very intense, but can be brief. So the makers of the weapons plan to use a UV laser to fire a 5-joule pulse lasting just 0.4 picoseconds - equating to a momentary power of more than 10 million megawatts.
This intense pulse - which is said not to harm the eyes - ionises the air, producing long, thread-like filaments of glowing plasma that can be sustained by repeating the pulse every few milliseconds. This plasma channel is then used to deliver a shock to the victims similar to a Taser's 50,000-volt, 26-watt shock.
Of course, if you're building a miniature laser that powerful, why not just skip the whole plasma-shock middleman and just fry the target? Oh, right. Non-lethal weaponry. But surely I'm not the only one that has considered the fact that with energy weapons like this, the ability to adjust the intensity of the shock/discharge is not that great a leap. So within a few years of these entering production, troops will be able to adjust their weapons to "stun," "kill" or "take out that armored column."
The implications of this can be quite chilling, when viewed in an Orwellian sense. Non-lethal weapons systems generate far less public outcry than the development of new lethal systems. But for a totalitarian state, non-lethal systems are preferred. The unruly masses are easier to control and suppress (come on--streaming plasma beams that can affect multiple targets or rubber bullets? No contest). In violent confrontations between the military and “unarmed” civilian groups, there would be less outrage and outcry resulting from piles of corpses in the aftermath (think Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank). And soldiers (think Tiananmen Square here) would be less hesitant to put down an uprising if they knew they weren't really causing permanent harm to their fellow citizens. Such weapons perceived as "harmless" hold within them much potential for abuse, but for peacekeeping operations and specific circumstances, they could be vastly more effective than conventional weapons, and reduce the incidence of injury to innocent bystanders. I suspect these weapons will become very popular in short order to those who can afford them. This definitely bears watching.
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