Shock tactics

A vehicle-mounted stun weapon to ‘neutralise’ crowds or hostile troops is being developed by the US Marine Corps.

The weapon will be based on the electro-muscular disruption technology of US stun gun manufacturer Taser International. The firm’s hand-held guns fire darts that deliver a high-voltage current upon contact with targets, incapacitating them. They are being considered by the Home Office for police use.

The US military is interested because it has been developing less lethal technologies to fight in large cities in developing nations such as Iraq. Minimising non-combatant casualties is seen as essential.

Steve Tuttle, Taser International’s director of government affairs, said the weapon, which could be fired at groups of people, represented a quantum leap for Taser technology. ‘It could be hand held as well as vehicle mounted. It will have a substantially larger range and still incapacitate.’

Existing technology is known to work by interfering with and overriding the neuromuscular system. Muscle control is lost between the two points on the body where the darts come in contact.

Another similar less lethal weapon was reported to be in development in the US in 1999. At that early stage it was as big as a kitchen table and fired an ultraviolet laser over a range of 90m. That ionised the air around it, enabling a 25-milliamp charge to be carried to the target, as if it was travelling down a minute wire. The charge would also, like the Taser, disable by overriding muscle control.

A different technology, currently being developed by the US Air Force, is the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System. It uses a beam of electromagnetic radiation to deliver a scorching sensation to the skin at 640m. Testing was taking place last summer.

Meanwhile, phase one of development of the Marine Corps’ stun weapon began last November. It will end next month and will cost $130,000 (£84,000). The US Office of Naval Research, overseeing the work, was confident enough to approve funding for phase two months before it was due to start. Taser International has received the first $74,500 (£48,000) of the second phase’s total budget of $348,000 (£224,000). This second phase will be completed by spring 2004.

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