US Army to test UAVs armed with ultra-bright strobe to work as crowd control weapon

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US Army system designed to induce temporary paralysis

The US Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) plans to demonstrate the use of a 7.5 million candlepower (7.3 million candela) strobe floodlight system mounted on board an unmanned air vehicle as a non-lethal crowd-control system.

The project will see a Peak Beam Systems Maxa Beam searchlight adapted to operate as a strobe capable of inducing physical effects, such as short-term paralysis, in humans.

AATD plans to award contacts to the Edgemont, Pennsylvania-based Peak Systems for the modified searchlight in March, with demonstrations within 12 months.

US government acquisition records released on 9 February say the sole source contract calls for Peak Systems to "design and fabricate a light-based immobilisation system/deterrent device and integrate it with an unmanned aerial system. This will include any necessary medical research on frequency and amplitude modulation of high-intensity light that will cause immobilisation to all those within the beam."

The system uses a xenon-based searchlight that "can be pulsed with a unique modulation [strobe] effect that results in immobilisation to those within the beam. This effort will transition the lamp from a handheld/vehicle mounted system to an airborne platform."

In parallel, the US Air Force UAV Battlelab is studying a project to adapt Raytheon's microwave-based Active Denial System (ADS) to a UAV, also for use in crowd control and battlefield shaping roles. However, this is dependent upon maturing existing ADS development efforts by Raytheon and the USAF Research Laboratory's Directed Energy (AFRL DE) Battlelab, says UAV Battlelab director Greg Pierce.

Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's (AUVSI) annual US government programmes update conference earlier this month, Pierce said: "We don't have any initiatives on this, because to be an initiative it has to have reached technology readiness level 5. But we are looking at directed-energy capabilities. We are looking at high-power microwave capabilities. We are looking at what I like to call the 'annoyance ray', which came out of AFRL DE."

Existing USAF ADS demonstrator efforts have focused on a vehicle-mounted system that emits radio frequency energy at 95GHz. The bulk of that energy is absorbed within the first 0.39mm (0.016in) of the human skin, creating an intense burning sensation.

Vehicle-mounted versions are undergoing evaluation at Moody AFB in Georgia.