Friday, January 26, 2007

Active Denial System. A Military Metaphor

To perfectly complement the political ‘active denial system’ that Bush and the neocons have been using lo these many years, the US military this week publicly demonstrated its own high-tech hardware-based Active Denial System.
The military ADS focuses skin-penetrating millimeter waves that make a person up to five-hundred yards away feel like they are being cooked.
The whole idea is to disperse gatherings of people who might not like you without charging them down on horseback with drawn sabers or pelting them with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon, regular bullets or cluster-bombs.
The director of the ADS development program, Marine Colonel Kirk Hymes thinks that “non-lethal weapons are important for the escalation of force, especially in the environments our forces are operating in”.
Given that the Marines are mostly operating in Iraq and that the ADS won’t be deployed until 2010 (5 years later than originally promised), I can only assume the Colonel anticipates a re-run of the 2006 mid-term elections.
When news of the ADS first surfaced, various civil-rights groups expressed concern that it might be used domestically against peaceful demonstrators to quell political dissent—but of course that would require some kind of fascist sensibility of the government and administration to happen, wouldn’t it? And that’s not what the ADS system is for--says the military.
Instead it is intended to protect our troops from crowds of foreign civilians that may or may not be plotting against our soldiers to prevent them from accomplishing their mission without resorting to lethal means, which is where the real benefit lies--says the military.
After all, what civilian wouldn’t be grateful for being zapped with microwaves rather than being shot or blown up? What soldier wouldn’t be grateful for not having to shoot someone he or she is not certain isn’t actually a civilian? And what politician wouldn’t prefer that a soldier sent into a foreign country to liberate its citizens and establish democracy inflict only momentary pain and discomfort on liberated citizens from 500 yards rather than kill them all and sort everything out later, lest ‘freedom’ prove to be messier than anticipated?
To illustrate how this system would work let us imagine a scenario:
Real US troops have overthrown an evil dictator ‘Sodom’ in the imaginary country of Mesopotaminarnia.
Despite having been greeted with sweets and flowers, the old dictator’s minions plot to repel the noble US forces who have just established sweet, sweet democracy. So the die-hards exploit the new democratic principles they’ve been given and organize a protest march.
The participants proceed to the nearest contingent of the new democratic authority, the US Army, to present their demands and grievances.
The US Army, having been subjected to random attacks from an informal collection of ‘Sodomites’ and with limited communication between the soldiers and the civilians, will be obliged to assume that the protest is just a tactic of the insurgents and might have to resort to lethal response.
However, with the new ADS they could simply ‘zap’ the crowd before they got too close and thus preserve democracy and freedom without killing anyone in the process by persuading them not to assemble or petition authority through the scientific magic of focused millimeter waves!
Now let us imagine a real scenario for Colonel Kirk Hymes to ponder:
Several hundred clearly unfriendly locals converge and march towards a US military enclave in an urban area. The US military can’t tell the agitators from the ordinary civilians, but the threat to their authority is clear—the civilians are challenging US military authority. Rather than using deadly force to repel the perceived threat they employ the ADS and dissuade the mob from proceeding.
As an ADS unit is directed against the mob, it begins to disperse. But as the ADS is a Humvee with a 5-foot square vertical slab on top and requires “line of sight” deployment it’s pretty easy to spot. So whilst the $350,000(?) ADS is being concentrated on the mob an auxiliary in a nearby building or a car (that the ADS beam can’t penetrate and isn’t focused-on anyway) can destroy it with an $1,000 RPG or just disable it with a $15 clip of 7.62 mm AK-47 ammo fired at its beam-focusing array.
One Iraq-based soldier said his base was often approached by Iraqis that he suspected were actually reconnoitering in preparation for a future attack and that the ADS would be useful to prevent that sort of thing.
Well, soldier, if that guy approaching your base might be “the enemy” on a recce, why don’t you just fire an 18-cent warning shot instead of waiting 3 years until you can warn him away with a half-million dollar microwave? Or you could kill him, just to be on the safe side—it’s not like you’ll go to jail for it.
According to Global Security the ADS cost $40 million to develop and I can only assume the unit cost would fall somewhere in the $100,000 to $250,000 range (not including the Humvee and assuming KBR isn’t providing it).
Also ADS was commissioned to provide non-lethal troop protection against small-arms fire which is universally reckoned at 1000 yards—the ADS range is actually only half that. Oh, and it has to be a nice day to be effective too. One other thing; apparently the military hasn’t tested it against anyone using a dustbin lid as a shield .

The beam apparently takes 1-2 seconds to have its complete effect (supposedly without residual harm), and the pain disappears immediately when out of the beam (assuming the military isn’t lying about this).
I’ve found nothing yet on the focus area of the beam which would indicate how many individuals might be targeted at one time, so how big and how spread-out would the hypothetical mob have to be before a single ADS unit would be overwhelmed by the “threat” and the troops have to resort to tear gas or ;ethal force?
The whole supposition of this system is that if an unarmed coordinated mob of a specific size approaches an armed group of soldiers along a direct and restricted path and in plain view then the soldiers can disperse them with the ADS instead of killing them.
As a general rule that kind of activity doesn’t take place in the middle of an internal shooting war, nor when a foreign military occupation serves as the ultimate authority over civic life—because who the hell is going to march in the streets en-masse when just going shopping can get you killed, and who is going to protest en-masse against armed foreign soldiers without the support of an effective civil-rights infrastructure to protect them?
The only circumstance in which ADS can be optimally employed is when civilians engage in urban organized public protest where and when they can have the confidence and the right to do so granted by civil authority, without the potential of significant bodily harm.
Though ADS may well have been sincerely developed as a combat weapon, it is essentially useless in that regard. As a civilian control weapon it holds much more promise.
When you spend tens of millions of dollars on something you thought was a neat idea only to find out it is crap (which if you’d actually thought about it you would have realized long ago), the choice is either to abandon your efforts or re-apply them and that’s much easier to do when the money spent wasn’t your own and the people who approved of your idea are as stupid as you are. Ergo instead of acknowledging your idiotic and wasteful mistake you simply move the goalposts, re-task the project and thereby negate your incompetence. Rinse and repeat.
A public majority has finally challenged the conceptual and civil 'active denial system' of Bush and the Republicans but the system remains and continues to be deployed.
By the same token the physical, military Active Denial System also remains and is intended to be deployed.
Both systems are useless to the public and to the military. Dismantling the political 'active denial system' will take years, but dismantling the ADS need only take days.
All the research conducted could conceivably be redirected to medical and industrial applications that might provide social benefits, given some careful consideration and critical informed imagination.
But that’s never been the hallmark of Bush’s administration, nor the military that has been once again but perhaps more significantly than ever suborned to political rather than military objectives.
The military Active Denial System is a perfect physical complement to the philosophical and “intellectual” political and cynically pragmatic 'active denial system' of the entrenched Republican Party and its current titular chief, President Bush.
Both systems depend on denial of practical reality and sound reason to exist and flourish; the political system succeeded for a time precisely because of denial but though it has finally been proven to be a failure it has yet to be fully excised.
The military Active Denial System is also literally built around denial as I think I’ve already illustrated and it too can be disproved but without ever having to be applied in the real world.
It cannot serve its stated military purpose and its only other possible function is to serve a political purpose—to suppress organized political dissent by the very people who have paid for the system with their tax dollars and will pay a much heavier price should the ADS be allowed to flourish.
As it did with the politicians in the mid term elections the public can and should employ its own active denial system and stop further development and deployment of the ADS--not because of its ironic symbolism but becuase it is an insiduous device and a complete waste of money.


eshever said...

I won't argue with your conclusions (though there could be ways to modify the ADS for military and security purposes; I'm sure there are people working on it). However, a couple of your points could be debated. I seem to see rather frequent reports of people gathering and/or marching in the streets of other countries even when there are armed forces present. It appears to happen despite the fact that civil rights can't be guaranteed and in places where government corruption is at its worst.

It makes you wonder if there would have been a French Revolution if the Old Regime had had the ADS.

It's unfortunately true that the current administration has bent the military to serve political purposes. In my estimation, many people in the military have spent a long time recovering from the political mistakes of Vietnam. I would still draw a distinction between the civil and military roles of the Pentagon. I don't think the two sides are in agreement about things.

5th Estate said...

eshever...thanks for commenting
"...frequent reports of people gathering and/or marching in the streets of other countries even when there are armed forces present"

that's true and exactly to the point in that I wrote foreign soldiers. not just "soldiers" . i.e one's own national army.

ADS isn't an "area" denial system. it is a crowd dispersal system to be used on civilians. It does avoid killing people or hurting people, which is nice, but as I say it has to be visible to be used and a well-aimed shot could take it out.
Thus it is most effective against unarmed civilians--its not a very good military weapon precisely because it DOESN'T kill anyone.
Unarmed civilians have faced off against armed military forces before under the reasonable expectation that they won't get shot because of the rule of civil law. Of course it only takes one idiot on either side to screw that up--a rock thrown and/or a nervous trigger finger.
ADS has been developed not to "protect" troops--they have armor and guns--but to control civilians. That is not supposed to be the function of any military--civilian control is a police function and police are supposed to serve under civil, not military rules.
The ADS is a tactical reaction to expected civilian reaction to policies--ergo it is a ultimately a political weapon.

I'm no utopian; some demonstrations aren't the result of genuine and reasoneded grievances but manufactured confrontations where violence can be easily and anonymously encouraged and exploited.
But on the whole it is policy that determines the the frequency and nature of public demonstrations, and polular appeal that determines their scale and strength and thus their threat to the political status quo. (No one has marched on Washington to insist that the government come clean in UFO's as far as I know.)

"It makes you wonder if there would have been a French Revolution if the Old Regime had had the ADS."

Or the Russian revolution for that matter. And I'd argue it wouldn't have made a differnece, both revolutions would have ocurred regartdless because of policy ( and besides both revolutions were a result of NOT having at least a modicum of civil rights, they weren't facilitated by the possession of same).

But besides the high-minded humanistic anti-establishment tone I seem to have stamped my post with, at the very least the ADS isn't much of a solution to anything, it is expensive and yet the military still wants to deploy it? I'd cancel it for that alone.

But that said the effort that went into it needn't be discarded as well. Just as lasers were early on imagined to be potential death- rays but ended up being beneficially applied in construction, medicine and to annoy people, the focused millimeter waves of the ADS could result in more practical and useful application ( or indeed better adapted to a military need just like laser sights and laser guidance).

teaghan's mom said...

Aren't we all so glad that Chimpy McFuckturd spent billions upon billions of dollars to wage a war of misdirected revenge and childish impetuous impunity instead of funneling that money into health care, education and support of the families he and his Guilty Old Perverts claim to serve and support?

5th Estate said...

teaghan's mom....


And by that I mean no!

InternetJunkie said...

Right now, the U.S. Army is refusing to use a system already in operation by the Israeli Army to defend against RPGs. Instead of going with the "Trophy" system developed by a company out of Israel, the U.S. is sticking with a plan to build it's own system. The awarded contractor, Raytheon, won't have an operational device before 2010 and will cost over $70 billion - if it ever gets it off the ground.

(Source: Christian Science Monitor (

So why should we be surprised that the U.S. Military is building a system to control angry mobs but won't be available until 2010? We can pretty much conclude that this Administration has absolutely no intention of leaving the Middle East and has given the Military Industrial Complex the keys to the Treasury.

betmo said...

guess that explains why the military is giving police stations all over the country 'used humvees' and other 'used military equipment.' saw it in the news last week and complained about where my tax money was really going. now, i know.

5th Estate said...

betmo... i owe you a visit btw. and glad to see you!
Re your comment I'd be
inclined to call that a stretch--after all Iraq is bankrupting US social infrastructure and every municipality os holding a swap-meet or scavenging as a result.
But on the other hand our perspective of what is rational, reasonable and possible has taken a huge beating over six years.
You seem to be suggesting a conspiracy which I'd suggest would require a level of competence that this admin sorely lacks in many areas--but on the other hand this admin does have long term palns and is always willing to exploit a circumstance so you might indeed be not that far off the mark and possibly right on the mark.

What a terrible pass it is that we have come to.

Elderta said...

hey! i've been a bit crazed, thanks for reaching out. just now sitting down after a few days. it feels good.

Carl said...

Why does that Hummer have faux parquet flooring on end on its roof?

Louis R said...

While I can agree that the unit is not an end all be all for crowd control. Keep in mind it is not unlike a taser being used as a non lethal deterrent. If there is gun or RPG fire being used to take it out, that changes the rules of engagement completely. these units would not be sitting undefended. I think giving the military more non-lethal options is a good thing. If the circumstances are not good to use this weapon then the standbys of water cannon and rubber bullets are available. There are defenses against those as well. As part of a non-lethal arsenal, I think it is a good piece of equipment. I think it could be used successfully as part of the border patrol of our southern border. Zap them until they turn around.

5th Estate said...


wow, this just goes to show how permanent blogs can be--a new comment months later!
I think you missed some of the essential points--it is a docused beam. It is best used in a restrictive space where avoidance is difficult--hardly suitable for border patrol.
WHere it MIGHT be very effective is on a ship to ward off boat-bound pirates (who are contained in a boat) but then there's a sonic device for that already and besides guns are a lot cheaper.

But really, why not build a wall on the border--or just lay a minefield instead? ANd while we're at it, lets not let any foreigners in at our airports, ever. Illegal immigration solved, WASP supremacy saved! Jobs mowing lawns and serving fast-food and picking vegetables and fruit preserved for all citizens whose jobs have been stolen by immigrants!

jen said...

Nikola Tesla is a no name in our society because of the incredibly power of the technology he was developing. Yes he's the true inventor of the radio and AC power, yes even on his death bed Edison admitted that Tesla's technology was superior to his own. Your TV remote control..Tesla, please look him up if you have never heard his name..anyways this supposed non-lethal weapon is only surfacing to familiarize the public with this new type of technology. Associating it with being non-lethal, will aid the government as they try to get us to believe that they wouldn't think about turning up the dial. This is peanuts to what this type of technology can do if it were used as a weapon, and it is foolish to think they would not try and use it as one.