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An anti-pipeline protester holds a bottle of water near police officers in riot gear during ongoing demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. (Photo: Wes Enzinna/MotherJones)

For Next Weapon in Anti-Protest Arsenal, US Military Building Plasma Gun Capable of Vaporizing Human Flesh

At its highest setting, the new laser weapon would painfully vaporize the outer layer of skin from 100 meters away. Also, this so-called "non-lethal" weapon can kill people.

Jon Queally

From wood batons to stun batons to water cannons to sound cannons to. . .  frickin' plasma lasers that can "vaporize" your skin?

Recent reporting out of the Pentagon reveals that the U.S. military is working on perfecting what they called a Scalable Compact Ultra-short Pulse Laser System (SCUPLS)—or plasma gun, for short—intended for mounting on a truck or a tank.

Billed as the military's latest "crowd control" technology, what this has typically meant is a new "non-lethal" weapon designed for use by militaries or police forces against unruly demonstrators or those standing against powerful state actors or corporate forces.

According to U.S. government documents, the aim of the ongoing project is to develop "a lightweight and energy efficient next-generation Ultra-Short Pulse Laser (USPL) system that can produce sustainable and controllable plasma at range capable of inducing a full spectrum of scalable non-lethal effects." As a so-called "scalable" weapon, it will be able to shoot not only piercing sounds, but also "burn off" or "vaporize" human skin, and ultimately could be used to kill its target.

As the Daily Mail recently explained, the weapon will be able to "produce a range of effects":

  • At the lowest setting, the weapon can produce speech, and it will be able to warn people up to 3,200 feet (1,000m) away by delivering voice messages.   
  • When it gets closer, the weapon will  deliver a 'Flash-bang effect' by sending an 'acoustic blast of ~ 165+ dB at minimum distance of 100 meters'.
  • It will also be able to send a 'Flash blind effects (6-8 million candela)' momentarily blinding people at minimum distance of 100 meters 
  • The highest setting of the current model will let loose 'Full scalable thermal ablative effects' through common natural clothing (i.e., fabric, denim, leather, etc.) at minimum distance of 100 meters. This would painfully vaporize the outer layer of skin – rather than burning it will be turned into gas.

Vaporizing skin? Yes, that's precisely what "scalable thermal ablative effects" means.

Ultimately, as the government's program plan lays out, the weapon would "have direct application to many other U.S. Government agencies as well as civilian law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Justice, the Secret Service, and Customs and Border Protection also desire this full spectrum of effects capability. The ability to non-lethally interdict a threatening person or persons has utility in many security and crowd control applications to include several municipal applications."

Of course, what this often means is using such a weapon—as has long been true with other "crowd control" technologies—in order to intimidate or put down public protest or organized demonstrations that are seen as threatening to powerful interests.


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