Raytheon shipping microwave nonlethal weapon systems

Published 5 October 2006

Militaries and law enforcement units have been intrigued by non-lethal weapons — weapons occupying the territory between shoot and shout — for more than four decades, but with few exceptions (taser guns, stun grenades) these weapons have not been widely deployed; Raytheon hopes that its microwave-based Silent Guardian will prove to be the exception

For more than four decades now, militaries around the world have toyed with a category of weapons called non-lethal weapons. These weapons are aimed to defeat an enemy not but killing him but rather by the disorienting him or making him exceedingly uncomfortable. These systems rely on flashes, sounds, or malodors, but also on laser beams which blind enemy troops temporarily or electric shocks. Commentators and activists on the more liberal, dovish end of the political spectrum have generally opposed the employment of such weapons, claiming that they are instruments of torture, not of warfare. Regardless, Raythoen is showing what it calls a “less-than-lethal directed energy projection system,” trademarked Silent Guardian. The $10 million Silent Guardian weapon is a member of a family of the company’s directed-energy weapons. The family also includes the larger Vigilant Eagle System, a high-powered microwave antennae designed to offer a protecting envelope to airports, and the vehicle-mounted Active Denial System, which operates beyond small arms range.

Silent Guardian projects a beam of microwave energy at a frequency of 94 GHz up to a range of 250 meters. Raytheon says there is no comparison with radiation from a microwave oven, with a much higher frequency, and that it only penetrates the first skin layer, the epidermis, to a depth of 0.4 millimeters, regardless of how close the beam projector is to the target. There are debates going on about whether or not the damage these weapons do is permanent or temporary. Sandia Laboratories and the Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL) tested the Silent Guardian and concluded: “This technology is capable of rapidly heating a person’s skin to achieve a pain threshold that has been demonstrated by AFRL human subject testing to be very effective at repelling people, without burning the skin or causing other secondary effects.” The device, the report adds, “is an alternative to lethal force.”

The first customers for the stationary version of the system are likely to be nuclear power installations or other high-security facilities where lethal force is already authorized. Law enforcement and first responders will likely adopt the mobile version when it is developed. U.S. and British forces in Iraq have also shown interest in deploying non-lethal means of warfare.

-read more in Steve Wright’s and Charles Arthur’s the Guardian analysis

Nonlethal weapons

Acoustics weapons

* Acoustic beam. High power, very low frequency beam emitted from weaponry; likely to be a piston-driven or detonation-driven pulser