- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
In a shopping channel-worthy video released late last month, an excited Lance Corporal Clayton Filipowicz sets off with a huge, goofy smile to "figure out what it takes to get toasted like a bagel," or, in other words, to test out the Pentagon’s Active Denial System. The non-lethal weapon shoots out a ray of energy that causes a sensation described in the past as "as walking into an open oven" or "being blasted by a furnace." The "denial" in Active Denial System means preventing targets from remaining in a specific area, and is primarily meant to be used to disperse potentially hostile crowds. As the pain ray penetrates your skin 1/64 of an inch, it forces you to immediately jump out of its way, giving it the power to shift entire crowds where desired.
Recalled in 2010 after being deployed in Afghanistan for several weeks, the controversial technology might just be making a cautious comeback.
Military experts say that the beam, the "Holy Grail of crowd control," has no long-term effects on the target’s health. Lance Corporal Filipowicz who tested the blast said that as soon you get out of the heat, you feel fine, normal. "I really like that about the system," he gushed in the video, which was posted to the Pentagon’s Armed with Science . It was as if speaking about a new model of a tanning bed.
Filipowicz is also a big fan of the small ("furreal, it is very, very cramped") ADS control room that he tours on his video. For him, the "coolest thing about this little getup is the Atari-like joystick that they use to operate the system." Giggling, he points out that he would be qualified to operate the system because he is "preeetty good at Call of Duty," a popular shooter game, and that he would have to ask whether you could play split-screen.
The Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is developing a smaller, more efficient version of the original beam-emitting device –The Solid State Active Denial Technology. According to The Army Times, this time around, they are being extra-careful with the way they frame the technology. A project officer said that they were avoiding calling it a "pain ray," he also emphasized that the blast does not feel like being burned.
Tested in the first half of the 2000s the technology was faulty from the outset. It guzzled enormous amounts of fuel and its potency was compromised by unfavorable weather conditions such as rain or dust. Though targets largely came out unscathed from the testing, one accident where an airman got severely burnt by the ADS revealed some of the technology’s crucial shortcomings.
But it was highly coveted by the Army as a crucial tool for dispersing crowds without using lethal force and was eventually deployed in Afghanistan in 2010. On the orders of General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the armed forces in Afghanistan, it was promptly shipped back to the U.S. after it became clear that an American weapon that "microwaves" crowds was perfect fodder for Taliban propaganda. Though it was never actually fired, reports would claim that Americans were giving Afghans cancer and making them sterile. If you really want to use medical terms, the U.S. military would probably describe it more as a "hot flash." That you can’t bear for more than five seconds.