The U.S. mission in Afghanistan centers around swaying locals to its
side. And there's no better persuasion tool than an invisible pain ray
that makes people feel like they're on fire.
OK, OK. Maybe that isn't precisely the logic being employed
by those segments of the American military who would like to deploy the Active
Denial System to Afghanistan. I'm sure they're telling themselves
that the generally non-lethal microwave weapon is a better, safer crowd
control alternative than an M-16. But those ray-gun advocates better
think long and hard about the Taliban's propaganda bonanza when news
leaks of the Americans zapping Afghans until
they feel roasted alive.
Because, apparently, the Active Denial System is "in
Afghanistan for testing."
An Air Force military officer and a civilian employee at the Air
Force Research Laboratory are just two of the people telling Danger Room
Weinberger that the vehicle-mounted "block 2″ version of the pain
ray is in the warzone, but hasn't been used in combat.
[Update: "We are currently not testing the Active
Denial System in Afghanistan," Kelley Hughes, spokesperson for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate,
tells Danger Room.
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So I ask her: Has it been tested previously? She hems and haws. "I'm
not gonna get into operational," Hughes answers.
Hughes also disputes the assertion that Active Denial creates a
burning feeling. "It's an intolerable heating sensation," she says.
"Like opening up an oven door."]
For years, the military insisted that
the Active Denial System - known as the "Holy
Grail" of crowd control - was oh-so-close to battlefield deployment.
But a host of technical
issues hampered the ray gun: everything from overheating
to poor performance in the rain. Safety concerns lingered; a test
subject had to be airlifted to a burn center after being zapped by the
weapon. (He eventually made a full recovery.) And then there were
concerns about "the atmospherics" - how the
locals might react - when they learned that the United States had
turned a people-roaster on ‘em. "Not
politically tenable," the Defense Science Board concluded.
I pinged Gen. Stanley McChrystal's staff about the use of Active
Denial in Afghanistan. I'll let you know if I hear anything back. But a
few months ago, a source told me that a representative from the Joint
Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate was in Afghanistan. Did that mean Active
Denial was about to be put into action? Nope, the source said. "She's
just out getting some atmospherics on the use of non-lethals."