The Danger Room @Wired:
This is the recipe for peak absurdity in weapons design. One part bazooka round; one part suicidal drone; one part stun round. What the U.S. Army hopes will emerge from that mix is a warhead that can loiter in midair while it hunts a human target — but won’t kill him when it finds him.
That “Nonlethal Warhead for Miniature Organic Precision Munitions” is on the Army’s wish list for small business. And for good measure, its outline for the weapon relies on a different system, one that’s just barely getting off the ground. “This effort will require innovative research and advancements in non-lethal technologies which can be packaged within a very small volume and weight,” the Army concedes.
This latest nonlethal weapon is a modification of something called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS), something the Army explicitly compares to a “magic bullet.” That warhead “should be capable to acquire a man-size target at the system’s combat range, in less than 20 seconds, flying at an altitude of 100 meter[s] above ground,” according to the Army’s new solicitations for small business. “If conditions for attack are not met, LMAMS will be able to loiter over the target for up to 30 minutes.”
Under this modification, the L in LMAMS would be replaced by something very un-L. “The user has expressed a strong need for a non-lethal alternative warhead for these munitions,” the Army explains. What it doesn’t explain is exactly what kind of non-lethal weapon this should be. (Chances are it won’t be a heat ray, since the power generation necessary for one is probably beyond the scope of any warhead.) The Army encourages small businesses to think about “mechanical, such as rubber balls; acoustic; chemical; electrical; or dazzle.” (Um, chemical weapons?)
One problem: the LMAMS program is in its infancy. The highest-profile example example of one of its weapons is the Switchblade drone by AeroVironment — a teeny, tiny guided missile soldiers can direct on a laptop toward a target. Elite troops in Afghanistan are expected to get the first Switchblades — the first weapon of its kind — sometime later this year.
Give the Army this: the Switchblade does demonstrate that the technology necessary for creating loitering kamikaze weapons is more than theoretical — as, on a larger scale, does the new-model Tomahawk missile, which can change direction in midair. But non-lethal weapons tend to have more flash than bang. The Air Force gave up on plans for a dazzler gun in 2008, citing practicality concerns, and the design flaws in the millimeter-wave Active Denial System, a.k.a. the “Pain Ray,” have kept it stuck in development for 15 years.
To help incentivize small businesses to outperform those recent disappointments, the Army lists some of the “potential commercial applications” for the non-lethal, loitering bazooka round. And they’re in your backyard: “crowd control for local law enforcement; border protection for Homeland Security; or temporary incapacitation of non violent criminals for local SWAT teams and/or law enforcement.” So if this weapon turns out to be too absurd for the military, there’s always the local police station.
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