Thursday, July 28, 2005

Stunning success 

Yasin Hassan Omar, one of the four failed London suicide bombers, has been arrested in a police raid in Birmingham with the aid of a stun gun.

This is how it works: "The Taser uses compressed gas to fire twin needle-tipped darts into the suspect, from point blank range up to 21ft (6m), with wires to transmit a 50,000-volt shock which temporarily immobilises all the suspect's muscles while officers overpower him or her."

Could this be the solution to the dilemma posed by the "shoot-to-kill" policy and the tragedies like the recent subway killing of Jean Charles de Menezes? I don't know enough about the science of these things to be able to say whether firing an electrical charge into the body in order to disable poses any risk of setting off explosives a person might have strapped to their body. If it doesn't, and the suspect is not otherwise armed and shooting at you with a real gun (not to mention if he or she is within the 6 meter range), then stun guns might be a good option.

Coincidentally, Iraq is slowly becoming a testing ground for some non-lethal military technologies, particularly those designed to deal with suspected suicide car bombs:
- Nets that pop up remotely from the road and ensnare the wheels and suspensions of oncoming vehicles.

- Instant oil slicks that cause vehicles to skid and crash and pedestrians to fall down.

- Military paint-ball guns that coat windshields to blind drivers of oncoming cars. Some troops are trying small lasers to temporarily blind opponents in cars or on foot.

- Venom, a system of small mortar-like tubes that fire rounds that explode like fireworks at a range of up to 200 yards away. The pyrotechnics keep suspect vehicles or people away. Although the rounds are still in testing, the Marines have committed $14 million to buy 250 units.

The military hopes to develop guns that fire energy pulses that destroy ignitions or other critical components to cause a car or truck to stop. A prototype of such a system is probably five years off...
Mind you, the changes aren't happening quick enough for the soldiers on the ground: "[Col Ralph] Baker, who commanded a brigade of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, went on the Internet and ordered remote-controlled road spikes, which pop up and shred tires on command, because he was frustrated by the Pentagon's delay in supplying alternatives."

Meanwhile, while the science-fiction type ray guns are still some way away, some interesting prototypes are already being tested: "Radiation similar to some forms of radar fired by the Active Denial System (ADS) penetrates just below the skin's surface to cause an excruciating burning sensation until it is turned off. Extensive testing has shown no lasting damage, the military said."

No doubt some of my more blood-thirsty readers will say that "no lasting damage" is too good for the bastards - still, anything that can minimize civilian casualties is worth a try.


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