Tasers that elicit excruciating spasms in one person at a time? Foam pellets that send an entire crowd fleeing in agony? Pfft. So 2011. Where non-lethal weapons are concerned, the future’s all about sonic microwaves that can make swimmers puke mid-stroke, and aircraft with laser beams that can redirect an entire enemy plane mid-flight.
Or, at least, those are the deepest, darkest wishes of the Pentagon agency responsible for non-lethal weapons.
The military’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate’s “Non-Lethal Weapons Reference Book,” leaked online last week by PublicIntelligence.org, is a terrifying treasure trove that describes dozens of ways — some already in-use, others in development or still mere fantasy — for military and law enforcement officials to make you wish they were using the real bullets.
A total of 14 weapons, according to the reference book, are currently being fielded. Some of ‘em, you’ve heard of. Good old tasers, which the guide helpfully reminds us “can penetrate 2 inches of clothing” in order to “totally disable an individual,” and guns that shoot 600 rubber pellets filled with pepper spray to keep rowdy crowds — already used by law enforcement officials, sometimes with very lethal results — subdued.
Are We Prepared?
Have you ever made an electromagnetic weapon? To make one, what you need is simply a microwave oven. The magnetron in the oven, a simple electronic circuit and a small foldable antenna, would give the device a radiation level strong enough to up-set a number of electronic systems used in banking, security, military, medical and public service control operations. A more powerful weapon can be developed with a slightly expensive magnetron available in most of the super markets in former Soviet Union countries. This weapon, which can be mounted in a car, could generate enough power to destroy many electronics and also make control systems run mad, even when operated at a long distance. The USA and other NATO alliances have developed much more powerful weapons that can cause mass destruction without a single ‘bang’.
There are a number of ways a terrorist may use these electromagnetic weaponry to attack military and civil targets. A landing aircraft would typically be at a height of 100m at 2 km distance from the edge of the runway. For an example, in the case of an airport, with an adjacent road, free vehicular movement maybe well within this distance. An electromagnetic emitter fixed to the roof of an automobile can direct a strong dose of radiation towards the plane as it passes by, causing the internal electronic network to fibrillate resulting the collapse of the aircraft. The consequences maybe even severe if the intruder strike the control tower of the airport by electromagnetic means.
In the present context, an even graver scenario is the illumination of vulnerable positions at ground level with electromagnetic waves by a low flying light enemy air-craft. Such an air-craft may carry a sizable radiator and kill many electronics without arousing much alarm in the neighbourhood.
In 1967, the USS Forrestal was involved in one of the worst cases of electromagnetic interference ever documented. During a carrier landing, a military aircraft was exposed to the ship’s radar (electromagnetic radiation) and accidentally fired its munitions hitting a fully armed and fuelled aircraft on the deck. The explosions caused severe damage to the carrier and resulted in 134 deaths. These incidents were unintentional but the question is ‘why a similar incident cannot be carried out intentionally?’
When antilock braking systems (ABS) were first introduced, problems arose in Germany on the autobahn when brakes were self-applied as the autos passed a nearby radio transmitter. Not only the braking system but the engines and many other options of the modern automobiles are fully computer controlled, and vulnerable to electromagnetic attacks. A group of Swedish scientists conducted a test few years ago on how external electromagnetic sources can interfere with the automation system of vehicles. This group has reported that the engine of a Volvo Car in motion can be subjected to a dead standstill within a fraction of a second by directing an electromagnetic pulse emitted from a microwave generator installed a few hundreds metres away by the road side. Such a sudden stoppage in a highway may cause a terrible pileup of which the outcome is beyond imagination.
The medical care industry has also been affected by EMI. A heart attack victim in US died when the attached monitor and defibrillator shut down every time the radio transmitter was used in an ambulance.
At very close distance apparently harmless devices such as mobile phones, portable computers and radios may act as lethal electromagnetic emitters. These electronic devices emit a low power signal while they are in use. They may induce small voltages in the conductors in the close vicinity, which will traverse into critical systems. For an example when you use a cellular phone inside a plane the signals emitted by the transmitter of the phone may generate voltage pulses in the communication wires hidden inside the wall panel adjacent to the seat. These pulses may propagate into the electronics of the control panel.