– Pentagon Wants ‘Human Surrogate’ for Ray Gun Tests (Wired, May 8, 2013):
The Pentagon’s electromagnetic pain weapons are about to make a new friend. It’s an anthropomorphic test dummy that’s gonna get blasted by everything the Pentagon’s non-lethal weapons agency can throw at it.
In its latest round of small business research proposals, the Navy announced it’s seeking a sensor-outfitted “human surrogate” for use in an array of non-lethal weapon tests. That includes ”electromagnetic radiation in the L, S, and W-bands,” noted the request for proposal. Even further, there are plans to subject the luckless mannequin to everything from noise, blast pressure, electrical currents, thermal energy, and light from flashbang grenades.
Eventually, the goal is to “quickly collect data to understand injury potential by detecting, presumably via sensor systems, the effects of various non-lethal stimuli on different parts of the human body,” Alicia Owsiak, deputy chief of the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate Technology Division, tells Danger Room in a statement. The JNWLD, which manages the Pentagon’s non-lethal weapons program, is coordinating the tests. “Given that the risk of injury for a non-lethal stimuli is often influenced by hit location, the test target is envisioned to be a human surrogate with respect to internal and external anatomy.”
That means these dummy people will have dummy organs.
The agency didn’t comment on the specifics of how electromagnetic weapons like the military’s Active Denial System could be used against a dummy or how its organs could be designed to react. Kelly Hughes, a spokesperson for the directorate, tells Danger Room the surrogate will be “a common test target that can be used across the spectrum of non-lethal stimuli.” But the Pentagon has spent years testing electromagnetic weapons against people, although only for short (and painful) bursts that feel like stepping into an oven when you’re subjected to it — owing to the millimeter waves triggering the skin’s heat-sensitive nerve endings, or nocicepters.
The reason for all the testing is obvious: electromagnetic weapons are unsettling and the goal isn’t to inadvertently kill or seriously injure people. The Pentagon has envisioned the Active Denial System, for instance, as more of a riot control weapon of sorts, able to disperse an unruly mob with its bursts of pain. Being hit with its waves causes no apparent permanent or significant injury — the pain stops when you move away from its waves. But sustained exposure on maximum power can cause severe burns. A brief (and never-used) deployment to Afghanistan was cut short after it became a symbol for Taliban propaganda.
A sensor dummy is also just part of what the Pentagon is trying to do. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s human effects scientists at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, have spent years developing computer models for non-lethal weapon tests. A 2011 paper from the lab explained that human cadavers and “swine targets” were studied and used to “reconstruct various body tissues and organs.” (.pdf)
Preexisting medical literature likewise allowed the researchers to roughly determine the physiological limits of different kinds of impacts — or what point that an impact strains the body’s tissues to the point of breaking and causing injury.
The problem is that the current computer models not very precise. “Biological materials, such as skin, muscle, tissue, and bone have material properties that are difficult to approximate under the best circumstances,” noted the Air Force paper. Everything from a history of sprains and strains, sex and age can influence susceptibility to injury. According to Hughes, a sensored-up dummy could “feed” more data to the Air Force labs, and help the scientists build better models and more accurately determine the body’s breaking point.
It’s still unclear what the military will learn from subjecting a dummy with pain rays. Perhaps the directorate could come up with some artificial nociceptors, or study how long it takes until the surrogate’s skin to blister and burn. “Law enforcement is the primary user of non-lethal systems and would benefit the most from this deployment,” the proposal stated. It could also, the Pentagon believes, make for better crash test dummies. That’s right: a dummy that’s being used as a guinea pig for other dummies.
You wouldn’t want to be that dummy.