The Canadian military is spending more than $10 million on 500 laser dazzlers for troops in Afghanistan in what it calls an attempt to reduce civilian casualties.
The devices cause temporarily blindness and the army is hoping they can be used to ward off Afghans who drive or walk too closely to Canadian checkpoints or convoys. Troops -- worried about suicide bombers -- have killed or wounded civilians who ignored or didn't heed warnings to keep their distance.
The dazzlers, also called "laser-generated visual warning technology," could be in the hands of Canadian troops in Kandahar as early as next fall.
Project director Maj. Stephane Dufour says the devices are designed to protect both soldiers and Afghan civilians. He says being hit by a laser is like someone looking at the sun.
"It's fairly bright," Dufour explains. "It will not debilitate you so much that you will have an accident, but for sure you will know something is going on. If you keep coming, then the intent is determined that perhaps you are not a good guy." The devices will be mounted on troops' personal weapons.
If successful, the 500 initial dazzlers could be followed by an order for 250 more.
Demonstrations of the dazzlers were conducted in Ottawa in August 2007 and there have been various tests, with more planned for early next year.
But Anthony Salloum, program director of the Rideau Institute, an advocacy group that has raised concerns about the dazzlers, contends they are being put into the field without proper testing. That could mean Canada violating international treaties on the introduction of new weapons.
Salloum says Canada has also ratified a treaty that prevents the use of weapons that cause permanent blindness, all of which "begs the question about why the government is going full hog on purchasing 500 of these weapons when they haven't been fully tested."
An air force report on the dazzlers says injuries could range from "quite significant" to "virtually undetectable." The report says it will be important for soldiers to receive proper training so they do not use the dazzlers on people at too close range.