A powerful hand-held weapon being developed by the Pentagon could end up in police hands, says a report in a UK science journal.
The Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate has been developing the Thermal Laser System since 2005, with the purpose of developing a weapon that could disperse crowds or incapacitate individuals by causing them to experience burning sensations in their skin.
According to NewScientist magazine, the weapon has evolved into a rifle-mounted instrument, and there are plans for a hand-held model that could be used by police forces.
News of the possibility that police departments could obtain the burn weapon will likely concern civil-liberties advocates, who have been watching with alarm as the Taser conducted-energy weapon has gone into regular use in police forces across the United States.
As NewScientist notes, the weapon is still in the testing phase and kinks have yet to be worked out.
The Gizmag blog reported last week that "the infrared [rays] of the Thermal Laser System can be blocked by clothing – fine if you’re trying to subdue a group of nudists, but problematic otherwise."
[T]ests at the Air Force Research Laboratory's human effectiveness lab have established that the skin heating effect causes no permanent damage - suggesting it may have "military utility". The tests also highlighted areas in need of improvement before troops can use it, says lab manager Semih Kumru - though what those features are has not been revealed.
The proposed system is rifle mounted, with a sight above it and a visible low-power laser beam that the soldier uses to aim the invisible infrared laser. The solid-state laser system is battery-powered, and could become hand-held "in the near future"...
"I'd like to know why they want another advanced pain compliance weapon like this," says Steve Wright, non-lethal weapons analyst at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. "Persuading by pain rather than brain - through conversation - has led to push-button torture in the past. If it leaves no mark on the skin how will anyone prove it's been abused?"