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Pentagon Unveils Non-Lethal Weapon

The Pentagon has unveiled a new "non-lethal" weapon it says will hurt adversaries with an energy beam without causing lasting harm.

The weapon could be used for riot control and peacekeeping missions when deadly force is not necessary, officials said.

It's called "active denial technology," and was developed by Air Force research laboratories in New Mexico and Texas in a multi-service program run by the Marine Corps.

"This revolutionary force-protection technology gives U.S. service members an alternative to using deadly force," said Marine Corps Col. George P. Fenton, director of the program at Quantico, Va.

The weapon is designed to stop people by firing a beam of electromagnetic energy that quickly heats up the surface of the victim's skin. Within seconds the person feels pain that officials said is similar to touching a hot light bulb.

"It's the kind of pain you would feel if you were being burned," said Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. "It's just not intense enough to cause any damage."

The Pentagon made a strong push to develop "non-lethal" weapons in the aftermath of a humanitarian mission in Somalia in 1992-93 that put soldiers in the line of fire in urban areas where civilians were present.

A prototype of the weapon will be tested on goats and humans at Kirtland in the next few months, Garcia said.

"When it penetrates in, it activates the pain sensors, and you feel a lot of pain," Garcia said. "But there's no damage. It truly is a non-lethal device."

The Marine Corps said $40 million was spent developing the weapon during the past decade. The weapon could be operational by 2009, officials said, but the Defense Department hasn't decided yet if it will build or deploy the weapon.

William Arkin, senior military adviser to Human Rights Watch, questioned whether a pain weapon could be safely used against civilians in combat situations.

"What about children in the crowd? What about pregnant women and the elderly?" he said.

"We have developed a non-lethal weapon which causes pain. What happens when someone continues to walk toward the source of the high-power microwave? What happens when panic ensues in a crowd as a result of high-power microwave? What happens when it's focused on someone's eye?" Arkin said.

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