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U.S. Military Heat Ray Weapon Unveiled

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The military is packing a lot more heat.

As in, an ultra-sci-fi sizzler dubbed the Active Denial System, known in comic book parlance as a heat ray.

The military claims the device, mounted on a vehicle as far as a kilometre away, rains non-lethal electromagnetic waves at misbehaving crowds. The payload is apparently so unbearably intense -- the equivalent of standing in front of an open furnace -- crowds reverse course in a hurry.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the military is particularly proud of its latest crowd-busting cannon.

"You're not gonna see it, you're not gonna hear it, you're not gonna smell it: you're gonna feel it," Marine Col. Tracy Taffola told reporters during the system's public unveiling at a U.S. Marines base near Washington, D.C.

But is it safe? According to the military, the heat ray, or ADS, is its "safest non-lethal" option -- essentially a strong suggestion to its target to run away immediately.

The military has a name for that too: 'The goodbye effect'.

Officials say they tested the heat ray on thousands of presumably willing targets, resulting in only two injuries.

According to The Week, the weapon has been in development for 15 years. And it has seen some real-world action -- a stint in Afghanistan in 2010 that was quickly scuttled when General Stanley McChyrstal cited concerns the Taliban might use it as a "propaganda opportunity".

Marine Colonel Tafolla, however, says the heat ray is ready for action. And there's a lot of that to be had -- "perimeter security, crowd control, entry control points. You name it."

And yes, a handy miniature heat ray is coming soon.

The full-sized version, however, appears to be geared more towards the military with its 100,000-watt beam heating anything in its path. As CBS News reports, video gamers should feel comfortable with the system, thanks to its inclusion of a joystick for zeroing in on a target.

The high-energy torrent has been calibrated at a frequency that's penetrates up to 1/64th of an inch into the skin, promoting staggering, but temporary discomfort.

As DailyTech reports, the trigger only activates the system for three seconds -- even if most triggers were made to be pulled repeatedly.

"I think it’s applicable wherever you want an alternative to lethal force," program manager Brian Long told the UK's Daily Mail.

And what if that frequency is changed to, perhaps, something more invasive? Could the device be used to burn crowds en masse?

Well, weapons expert Dr. Jürgen Altmann seems to think so. In a 2008 report he suggested a person standing in the centre of a crowd could bear the brunt of the blast.

"As a consequence, the ADS provides the technical possibility to produce burns of second and third degree. Because the beam of diameter 2 m and above is wider than human size, such burns would occur over considerable parts of the body, up to 50% of its surface. Second- and third-degree burns covering more than 20% of the body surface are potentially life-threatening – due to toxic tissue-decay products and increased sensitivity to infection – and require intensive care in a specialized unit. Without a technical device that reliably prevents re-triggering on the same target subject, the ADS has a potential to produce permanent injury or death."

The military, on that front, has remained mum.

Similarly, the military didn't discuss the possibility that overheating an already heated crowd could have the opposite effect -- and incite mass panic.

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