If you’ve caught an episode of COPS lately, then you’ve probably noticed that so-called less-lethal weapons have caught on with police departments across the country as a way to force unruly suspects into compliance. Tasers, which delivers an electrical current to the suspect via two dart-like electrodes, are often the weapon of choice. Now, the Pentagon wants to use beefed up Taser technology on the battlefield.
The puny little electrodes that the police weapons use just won’t do for the military. That’s why the U.S. Department of Defense has been developing a long-range electric shock device that fires from a 40-millimeter grenade launcher and can subdue an enemy from just under 200 feet away. The new Human Electro-Muscular Incapacitation (HEMI) projectile is being developed for the Pentagon by Taser International under a $2.5 million contract and should be ready for prototype testing some time after the new year [Popular Science]. HEMI’s range is three times longer than Taser International’s XREP shotgun-style projectile, which has generated controversy because of concerns that the projectile could be deadly in untrained hands.
Since most law enforcement squads don’t carry around grenade launchers, the HEMI projectile is only likely to see action on the battlefield. However, HEMI has still raised several concerns. For one, the impact force of the projectile remains a worry. “There is a known risk of severe injury from impact projectiles, either from blunt force at short ranges or from hitting a sensitive part of the body,” says security researcher Neil Davison, who has recently written a book on non-lethal weapons [New Scientist]. However, Defense Department engineers say the HEMI’s innovative nose design and reduced mass will deliver minimal force.
Incapacitation times are another concern. Since the projectiles are fired from 200 feet away, the target must remain incapacitated long enough to allow the shooter to reach him. The target’s incapacitation could last up to three minutes—presumably enough time for the user to cover the 200 feet separating him from his target, but also long enough to deliver a fatal dose of electric shock [Popular Science]. The Defense Department said the shock durations have not been determined, but can be tailored to meet a mission’s requirements.
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Image: USMC Image Archive