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Date Posted: 13:20:00 04/10/05 Sun
Author: Jean
Subject: What do you all think of this?


Technology & Science

>> Home >> Technology & Science

New weapon could deliver jolt of pain from over kilometre away

05.03.05 1.00pm
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

The Pentagon is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a new "energy pulse" weapon that can deliver a jolt of excruciating pain from more than a kilometre away. Researchers have expressed outrage that work used to control pain is now being used to develop such a weapon.

The weapons being developed in Florida involve so-called Pulsed Energy Projectiles (PEPs), which fire a laser pulse that in turn generates a burst of expanding plasma when it hits something solid. It has the power to cause temporary paralysis and could literally knock a person off their feet.

But documents uncovered by the Sunshine Project, a biotechnology watchdog group, also reveal that the same technology could be used to kill a person. One document, a contract between the Office of Naval Research and the University of Florida in Gainesville where the research is being carried out , is headlined "Sensory consequences of electromagnetic pulses emitted by laser induced plasmas".

It says: "The full capability of these directed energy weapons systems are still being explored. At their current stage of development each system has clear lethal and non-lethal capacities...Our research will examine the feasibility of PEP as a new generation non lethal weapon." A 2003 review of non-lethal weapons by the US Naval Studies Board, which advises the Navy and Marine Corps, said PEPs produced "pain and temporary paralysis" in tests on animals. It is understood that this was achieved by producing an electromagnetic pulse produced by the expanding plasma which triggered impulses in nerve cells.

The new US$500,000 study looks to optimise this effect and discover how to generate a pulse which triggers pain neurons without damaging tissue. The contract adds: "Pain is a primary component of all non-lethal weapons. Pain can distract and deter individuals resulting in voluntary immobilisation or flight." A Marine Corps spokesman, Cpt Dan McSweeney, said last night that the primary aim of the research was not to develop a weapon capable of creating extreme pain but to provide military commanders with greater combat flexibility. He said given the increasingly complex situations US troops were operating in, such as Iraq where it was often difficult to distinguish insurgents from civilians, the non-lethal weapons could provide a "more humane" option. "There has been a lot in the press that this is about producing something that could be used for torture. I fully refute that," he said.

"Could any of these systems be used for torture? I cannot rule out that they could but in the same way that a glass of water or a combat boot or a pen could be. We are totally against the use of these systems for torture."

But researchers have expressed outrage that work originally done to help understand how to relieve pain was now being used to produce such a weapon.

"I am deeply concerned about the ethical aspects of this research," Andrew Rice, a consultant in pain medicine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, told the New Scientist magazine.

"Even if the use of temporary severe pain can be justified as a restraining measure, which I do not believe it can, the long-term physical and psychological effects are unknown."

John Wood of University College London, an expert in how the brain perceives pain, said the researchers involved in the Florida project should face censure.

"It could be used for torture. The [researchers] must be aware of this," he said. One of the researchers named in the contract, Martin Richardson, a laser expert, yesterday declined to comment, referring all questions to the Pentagon.


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