Monday, July 21, 2008

Toy rocket inspires variable-speed bullets

Toy rocket inspires variable-speed bullets - tech - 21 July 2008 - New Scientist Tech
A gun that fires variable speed bullets and which can be set to kill, wound or just inflict a bruise is being built by a US toy manufacturer. The weapon is based on technology used to propel toy rockets.

Lund and Company Invention, a toy design studio based near Chicago, makes toy rockets that are powered by burning hydrogen obtained by electrolysing water. Now the company is being funded by the US army to adapt the technology to fire bullets instead.

The US Army are interested in arming soldiers with weapons that can be switched between lethal and non-lethal modes. They asked Company Invention to make a rifle that can fire bullets at various speeds.

The new weapon, called the Variable Velocity Weapon System or VWS, lets the soldier to use the same rifle for crowd control and combat, by altering the muzzle velocity. It could be loaded with "rubber bullets" designed only to deliver blunt impacts on a person, full-speed lethal rounds or projectiles somewhere between the two.

Bruce Lund, the company's CEO, says the gun works by mixing a liquid or gaseous fuel with air in a combustion chamber behind the bullet. This determines the explosive capability of the propellant and consequently the velocity of the bullet as it leaves the gun. "Projectile velocity varies from non-lethal at 10 metres, to lethal at 100 metres or more, as desired," says Lund.

The company says that the weapon produces less heat and light than traditional guns. It can also be made lighter and could have a high power setting for long-range sniping.
Sounds pretty kewl, eh? And New Scientist Tech reports it with breathless enthusiasm ... until they get to the "fair and balanced" part where their house liberal manages to cast a shadow on the technological improvement with his non-sequitor "Jump The Shark" moment:
Steve Wright, a security expert at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK warns of the potential risk of variable lethality.

"In a high-stress, high-personal-risk zone, there will be a real temptation for soldiers to turn the tuneable lethality switch up to 'kill' mode so that all doubt is removed."

Well ... duh.

When you find yourself in 'indian country' (which may well be a domestic riot) and the goblins are over-running your position with blood in their eyes, if they're ignoring the obvious warning shots this may be God's way of telling you that you're no longer in a "non-lethal" situation.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It could turn out either way, depending on the situation. If you're at at Global Eight convocation, the National Guard may better be armed with different technology. But if you're at a roadblock in Baghdad, the ability to revert to Lethal Force when a truck-load of high explosives is refusing to stop may make the difference between a propaganda coup for Al-Queda and a laudible increase in body-count for the Good Guys. It's always situational, when you're on the defense.

New Scientist tends to present weapons technology in the context of a predictable format. First they highlight the innovations as if they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and then they throw in the kicker, which is that 'somebody may get hurt'.

"Pain-maximizing weapon could be abused"

"Safety testing of non-lethal weapons must be tightened"

"Pentagon reveals rejected chemical weapons"

"Taser-proof clothing creates new hazards"

But my favorite article is the one on "Password-Protected Bullets"

Here's an article on a microwave weapon in their 'weapons technology special report' folio:
Microwave Weapon Controls Crowds With Sound
A microwave projector bombards 'rioters' with microwaves, causing a burning sensation within 3 to 5 seconds which strongly encourages the mob to move out of the way of the projector.

N.S. suggests:
James Lin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois in Chicago says that MEDUSA is feasible in principle.

He has carried out his own work on the technique, and was even approached by the music industry about using microwave audio to enhance sound systems, he told New Scientist.

"But is it going to be possible at the power levels necessary?" he asks. Previous microwave audio tests involved very "quiet" sounds that were hard to hear, a high-power system would mean much more powerful – and potentially hazardous – shockwaves.

"I would worry about what other health effects it is having," says Lin. "You might see neural damage."
I don't know. Maybe it's only responsible to point out the potential dangerous side-effects of these purportedly 'non-lethal weapons'. Maybe the folks who are responsible for defending a nation's infrastructure aren't aware of the not-so-nonlethal possible effects of these new weapons.

On the other hand, maybe those folks figure that they've made an effort to provide warnings that this area is prohibited, as in Robo-Cop's warning: "Step away from the vehicle, or there will be trouble".

Sometimes bellowing out verbal warnings and reading the Riot Act through a bull-horn aren't enough to get the message across.

When defending an Iraqi police station, with a queue of potential recruits threatened by charging suicidal bombers, it may advantageous for the troops to have a certain lethality component in your non-lethal weapons.

If you're unconvinced, either way, read the articles ... and then read the comments.

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