It appears that some of our clever friends and neighbors at the local military/industrial complex have been busy designing millimeter-wave radio frequency weapons.  Last year the DoD announced the development of a new form of weapon billed as non-lethal to fill the “gap between shoot and shout”.  The device consists of a powerful rf source and what must be a fairly narrow beamwidth antenna for illuminating unruly people.  The website includes video clips of test subjects and their descriptions of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of this radiation weapon. 

I refer to it as a radiation weapon because that is precisely what it is.  Millimeter wave radiation is directed at a person or a crowd and in short order the recipients in the beam feel their skin temperature rise to discomfort. Whether it truly raises skin temperature or the sensation is an artifact of surface electrical currents in the skin is unclear. The fact is that it can cause instantaneous discomfort and anxiety about burning to a crisp.  Obviously, the purpose is to discourage aggressive behaviour in individuals or of crowds and do so in a non-lethal manner. 

So, really, what is wrong with this?  In a sense it is like a shock collar on a dog.  An occasional burst of juice causes the unruly dog to suspend the offensive behaviour.  The dog learns the lesson and is not physically harmed by it. 

I’ll admit to being quite uncomfortable with this “technology”.  The potential for abuse and exploitation is staggering.  If a short burst of rf energy will cause people to scatter or desist their behaviours, what will a long exposure do?  And, just what happens to someone on prolonged exposure?

What is the difference between negative reinforcement and torture?  Is it the difference between a 5 second exposure and 60 seconds?  And, when will a tin-pot dictator acquire this capability now that we have proudly trotted ours out?  Whereas ours will have controls for non-lethal operation, would a terror group or arms merchant bother to have safety protocols to guard against overexposure? Maybe a stripped down version absent interlocks will be the weapon of choice among African dictatorships.

How long will it take for civilian units to come on stream? What US city will be the first to acquire one of these things for crowd control and when?  LA?  DC?  NYC?? 2015? 2020?  Pretty soon every SWAT commander will be clamoring for one “just in case”.  Whose march on the Capital Mall in DC will trigger the first use of such a device on civilians? 

Can the energy be reflected back to the source or in some other direction?  Is a metal trash can lid or aluminized mylar blanket an effective countermeasure?  Maybe we’ll see rock throwing 12 year olds in Gaza with a stone in one hand and a trash can lid in the other after its inevitable introduction in the middle east.

Microwave/millimeter technology is ubiquitous.  No nuclear materials. No ammunition.  Just a powerful rf source and an antenna. No doubt arms merchants are already lining up buyers for this weapon of mass agony.

What a lamentable development for mankind.  Our ability and willingness to commit violence from a distance is one of our greatest downfalls.