US Military Unveils Heat-ray Gun

Image of Humvee with ray gun attatched

The US military has given the first public display of what it says is a revolutionary heat-ray weapon to repel enemies or disperse hostile crowds.

Called the Active Denial System, it projects an invisible high energy beam that produces a sudden burning feeling, but is said to be harmless. Military officials believe the gun could be used as a non-lethal way of making enemies surrender their weapons.

Officials involved with the development of the ray gun, said there was wide-ranging military interest in the technology. Defense official Theodore Barna told Reuters news agency:

"This is a breakthrough technology that's going to give our forces a capability they don't now have. We expect the services to add it to their tool kit. And that could happen as early as 2010."

The prototype weapon - called Silent Guardian - was demonstrated at the Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. A beam was fired from a large rectangular dish mounted on a Humvee vehicle. The beam has a reach of up to 500m (550 yds), much further than existing non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets. It can penetrate clothes, suddenly heating up the skin of anyone in its path to 50C. But it penetrates the skin only to a tiny depth - enough to cause discomfort but no lasting harm, according to the military.

A Reuters journalist who volunteered to be shot with the beam described the sensation as similar to a blast from a very hot oven - too painful to bear without diving for cover.

Military officials said the weapon was one of the key technologies of the future. Col Hymes said:

It would mean that troops could take effective steps to move people along without resorting to measures such as rubber bullets - bridging the gap between 'shouting and shooting'.

A similar "non-lethal" weapon, Silent Guardian, is being developed by US company Raytheon.

How The Heat-ray Gun Works

diagram of Raygun on Humvee veichle showing how heatray gun works: 1) 360 degree operation. 2) Range in excess of 500m. 3) Focused invisible mm wave beam.
  • 360-degree operation for maximum effect
  • Antenna, linked to transmitter unit, can be mounted on vehicle
  • Automatic target tracking
  • Antenna sealed against dust and can withstand bullet fire
  • Invisible beam of millimetre-wave energy can travel over 500m
  • Heat energy up to 54C (130F) penetrates less than 0.5mm of skin
  • Manufacturers say this avoids injury, although long-term effects are not known

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