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US Army to demonstrate UAV-mounted strobe searchlight for non-lethal crowd control

The US Army is planning to demonstrate the use of an intensely powerful strobe floodlight system mounted on a UAV as a non-lethal crowd-control system.

The project will see a Peak Beam Systems “Maxa Beam” 7.5 million candlepower searchlight adapted to operate as a strobe capable of inducing physical effects such as short term paralysis on individual humans.

The Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) plans to award contracts to Edgemont, Pennsylvania-based Peak Systems for the modified searchlight in late March for demonstration within twelve months.

US government acquisition records released 9 February say: “The sole-source contract will incorporate, design and fabricate a light-based immobilisation system / deterrent device and integrate it with an unmanned aerial system (UAS). This will also include any necessary medical research on frequency and amplitude modulation of high-intensity light that will cause immobilization to those within the beam.

“The system is 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 has confirmed that it is examining long-term options for a project to adapt Raytheon’s microwave-based Active Denial System (ADS) to a UAV, again for use in crowd control and battlefield shaping roles.

However the launch of any specific initiative remains dependent upon maturation of 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 right now 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 which emits radio frequency energy at 95 GHz. The bulk of that energy is absorbed within the first 0.39mm (1/64th in) of the human skin, creating an intense burning sensation in the nerve endings.

Vehicle-mounted versions are currently undergoing extended evaluation testing with the USAF’s 820th Security Forces Group at Moody Air Force Base.

Pierce told the conference that existing ADS demonstrators are “a little bit too large for a UAV but we are very interested in that because we would like to have the ability to effect a killing on the battlefield but you don’t always have to kill somebody to have that happen”.

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