The Pentagon's quest for nonlethal arms is amazing. But is it smart?
Direct contact As the military continues its search for nonlethal weapons, one device that works on contact has already hit the streets. It is called the "Pulse Wave Myotron." A sales video shows it in action. A big, thuggish-looking "criminal" approaches a well-dressed woman. As he tries to choke her, she touches him with a white device about the size of a pack of cigarettes. He falls to the floor in a fetal position, seemingly paralyzed but with eyes open, and he does not recover for minutes. "Contact with the Myotron," says the narrator, "feels like millions of tiny needles are sent racing through the body. This is a result of scrambling the signals from the motor cortex region of the brain," he says. "It is horrible," says William Gunby, CEO of the company that developed the Myotron. "It is no toy." The Myotron overrides voluntary--but not involuntary--muscle movements, so the victim's vital functions are maintained. Sales are targeted at women, but law enforcement officers and agencies--including the Arizona state police and bailiffs with the New York Supreme Court--have purchased the device, Gunby says. A special model built for law enforcement, called the Black Widow, is being tested by the FBI, he says. "I hope they don't order a lot soon," he adds. "The Russian government just ordered 100,000 of them, and I need to replenish my stock." The U.S. military also has shown interest in the Myotron. "About the time of the gulf war, I got calls from people in the military," recalls Gunby. "They asked me about bonding the Myotron's pulse wave to a laser beam so that everyone in the path of the laser would collapse." While it could not be done, Gunby says, he nonetheless was warned to keep quiet. "I was told that these calls were totally confidential," he says, "and that they would completely deny it if I ever mentioned it." Some say such secrecy is necessary in new-weapons development. But others think it is a mistake. "Because the programs are secret, the sponsorship is low level, and the technology is unconventional," says William Arkin of Human Rights Watch Arms Project, "the military has not done any of the things to determine if the money is being well spent or the programs are a good idea." It should not be long before the evidence is in.
[Illustrations] LASERS! Light beams affect mind and body Lasers emit a high-intensity light, which can force an individual to turn away or cause blinding. Those that result in permanent blinding have been banned by international treaty. But dazzling lasers might be used in hostage situations, prison riots, and special operations. Status: Prototypes exist Dazzling effects Lasers can force the pupil to close, or they can burn the light-sensitive retina or cornea depending on the intensity of the beam. Laser guns Lasers have been developed to be mounted on existing weapons, such as the M-16 rifle. [labels] Grenade-shell laser Clip-on targeting transmitter Cornea Pupil Lens Retina
ACOUSTIC WEAPONS! Arms for crowd control and invisible fencing Acoustic frequencies could be used to guard sensitive facilities, rescue hostages, clear paths for military convoys, disperse crowds, or target individuals. Status: Prototypes exist. [labels] Acoustic frequencies can penetrate buildings Acoustic "gun" mounted on humvee Sonic "speakers"