Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Nonlethal' Weapons, James Bond Style Technology Allows Military, Police to Harmlessly Subdue Agressors

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Nonlethal' Weapons, James Bond Style Technology Allows Military, Police to Harmlessly Subdue Agressors

Article excerpt

FROM the dirt paths of Mogadishu to the wide boulevards of Los Angeles, peacekeeping has grown complicated. Incidents like the Rodney King beating and the deaths of unarmed civilians in Somalia - both played out in full view of television cameras - have prompted American soldiers and police to search for creative ways to subdue aggressors.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed in March, the departments of Justice and Defense have joined in an effort to develop a new class of "less than lethal" or "nonlethal" weapons. The effort, approved by Congress in July, will receive between $20 million and $37 million next year for development of the most promising projects.

Some of these technologies sound like contraptions James Bond might pull from his haversack. Take, for instance, sticky foam. This system, developed by the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., is being adapted for use in prisons. "As often as 80 times a month in some prisons, an inmate will refuse to be handcuffed to be moved from his cell," says Tom Goolsby, project engineer at Sandia. "Eventually, officers have to go in. They suit up in body armor, with shields and batons, and physically subdue the individual. In the process, people get injured."

Mr. Goolsby explains that with sticky foam, one shooter with a 20-lb. gun fueled by pressurized nitrogen can "glue that inmate to floor or the cell wall" without injuring him or her.

Another defensive technology under consideration is "Lifeguard," a bullet-detection system developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in California. According to Thomas Karr, the program's director, Lifeguard uses an infrared censor to detect the firing of a gun and traces the path of the bullet back to its source. Mounted on a building or a vehicle, he says, Lifeguard uses a camera with a telephoto lens to click a photograph of the shooter within half a second and sends it, via fax, to military or police headquarters.

"Traditionally, snipers had all the advantages on the battlefield," Karr says. "With Lifeguard, the gunner immediately reveals himself."

AT the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, engineers are working on a barrier strip containing hollow needles that, when armed and placed in front of a fleeing vehicle, deflates tires slowly, reducing the likelihood of accidents and prolonged high-speed chases.

In response to the number of police officers killed each year with their own revolvers by assailants, another Idaho team aims to develop a handgun that can only be fired by its owner.

"All this makes so much common sense, I can't believe we haven't done it already," says US Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Research and Development for the House Armed Services Committee. …

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