60 Minutes: Pentagon's raygun demonstrated on mock protesters
The Pentagon has been developing a raygun which can harmlessly repel enemies by causing a burning sensation in the top layer of the skin. However, according to CBS's 60 Minutes, the military is unwilling to actually trust this weapon enough to deploy it in Iraq.
"We are now stepping into the Buck Rogers scenario," explained Colonel Kirk Hymes, who is in charge of testing the "Active Denial System" at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
Hymes demonstrated the weapon by staging what CBS somewhat oddly called "a scenario soldiers might encounter in Iraq" -- a handful of military volunteers, dressed as civilian protesters, who carried signs saying "peace not war" and threw objects at a small group of soldiers. A series of raygun blasts from half a mile away disrupted their chants and finally sent them running.
Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisiton Sue Payton calls the Active Denial System a "huge game-changer" which "would save huge numbers of lives." She told CBS, "It could be used to read someone's mind, in effect. ... If they continue to come at you, then you're fairly sure ... they're probably a terrorist or an adversary who wants to do you harm."
The Active Denial System was developed in secret for ten years before being unveiled by the Pentagon in 2001. As of 2004, it was being described as ready for use in Iraq within the next 12 months. This has still not occurred, and according to Secretary Payton, use of the weapon in Iraq is now "not politically tenable" because after Abu Ghraib "you don't ever, ever, ever want a system like this to be thought of as a torture weapon."
However, the failure to deploy the weapon as planned has raised suspicions that the real intention is to use it for domestic crowd control.
In 2006, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne was quoted as saying that the device should be used first on Americans, because "if we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation. ... If I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."
Raytheon, which developed the system for the Pentagon, is currently selling a more limited-range civilian version of the system, under the name "Silent Guardian," which it promotes as being suitable for "law enforcement, checkpoint security, facility protection, force protection and peacekeeping missions."
Commander Charles "Sid" Heal of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, who advised Raytheon in developing the raygun, told CBS that the real reason the system has not been deployed in Iraq is "cowardice." Heal, a former Marine, took a variety of non-lethal weapons to Somalia in 1995 and was dismayed to find that his superiors felt their supposedly humanitarian mission was better accomplished by killing. He would love to have the Pentagon's raygun available for such purposes as controlling prison riots.
The Pentagon is spending just $13.1 million on the raygun this year. Secretary Payton agrees this is "absolutely peanuts ... chump change," but she explained to CBS that with only a $475 billion annual budget, "we don't have enough money to do things that are the here and now." The raygun is seen as unproven because it has never been deployed in the field, and it has not been deployed in the field because it is unproven.
"Lethal weapons have an easier time getting into our system," acknowledges Colonel Hymes.
This video is from CBS's 60 Minutes, broadcast June 1, 2008.