No longer a gleam in the Pentagon's eye, ray guns — or radiofrequency (RF) weapons, to be exact — officially have arrived. As troops are increasingly forced to serve as an ad hoc police force, nonlethal weapons have become a priority for the military. The Department of Defense is currently testing the Active Denial System (ADS), which fires pain-inducing beams of 95-GHz radio waves, for deployment on ground vehicles. This surface heating doesn't actually burn the target, but is painful enough to force a retreat. While the military continues to investigate the safety of RF-based weapons, defense contractor Raytheon has released Silent Guardian, a stripped-down version of the ADS, marketed to law enforcement and security providers as well as to the military. Using a joystick and a targeting screen, operators can induce pain from over 250 yards away, as opposed to more than 500 yards with the ADS. Unlike its longer-ranged counterpart, Silent Guardian is available now. As futuristic — and frightening — as the ADS "pain ray" sounds, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research is funding an even more ambitious use of RF energy. Researchers at the University of Nevada are investigating the feasibility of a method that would immobilize targets without causing pain. Rather than heating the subject's skin, this approach would use microwaves at 0.75 to 6 GHz to affect skeletal muscle contractions. This project is still in the beginning stages. The ADS, on the other hand, is already a painful reality.
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