The Air Force is preparing to spend millions researching how unknown “bioeffects” happen when the human body is blasted by radiowaves and high-powered microwaves — which the Air Force hopes could lead to exotic new energy weapons.
Recently, the Air Force Bioeffects Division announced it’s exploring how radiation from non-lethal energy weapons can causes changes to the body at the molecular level. The Air Force is pretty broad about what kind of weapons it wants to test: “directed energy, riot control agents, broadband light, acoustic sounds, and blunt impact materials.” An award for a $49 million contract to conduct studies, laboratory tests and field experiments is expected in September, and tests in San Antonio are expected to last for seven years.
If those weapons are developed by another nation and used on Americans, the Air Force wants to know what kind of unusual health effects its troops might encounter. But there’s a flipside. The announcement notes that discovering new bioeffects on the human body could have “defensive or offensive” uses, and lead to the “development and deployment of future DE [directed energy] weapons.” Hmm.
The Air Force still has to do the research first. For that, it’ll carry out “proteomic, genomic, and metabolomic studies that identify critical biochemical or molecular changes following exposure to DE [directed energy weapons] prior to or during mission operations.” That could mean looking at how concentrated blasts of radio frequency waves and high-power microwaves manipulate our proteins, DNA and metabolites.
To be clear: The Air Force doesn’t want to kill you by messing with your DNA. These are explicitly tests for non-lethal weapons. The announcement notes that the tests may involve human subjects (and animals), and that it will “prohibit research that presents unacceptable hazards or otherwise fails to comply with DoD procedures.”
Most directed-energy weapons are also — in theory — supposed to leave you unharmed after you’ve run fleeing from them, possibly puking your guts out. If the Air Force wants to stop a stranger from approaching a base, a heat-ray or sound-blaster are useful “escalation of force options,” as the announcement sensitively describes it.
That’s somewhere on the scale between an audio warning and shooting the person. And these machines are not exactly new. Sound cannons like the Long-Range Acoustic Device use a combination of audio frequencies that are so loud and horrible it can make you vomit. Being blasted by a pain-ray like the Air Force’s Active Denial System — which uses millimeter waves to make you feel like you just stepped into an oven — will still hurt, but the idea is that you’ll survive. Turn it up to full power, though, and you could put someone in a hospital burn unit.
The weapons also pose something of a diplomatic problem. The Active Denial System was sent to Afghanistan — briefly — before it was recalled without ever being used, considering the propaganda value it would have given to the Taliban. But in the aftermath of the assault on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi and the killing of the U.S. ambassador there, the State Department touted non-lethal energy weapons as one potential defense against embassy attacks.
Though the Air Force building exotic weapons that mess with your biology in unknown ways probably wouldn’t help, diplomatically.