Maximum pain: new US weapon
- Maximum pain is aim of new US weapon
05 March 2005
THE US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a
bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for
use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain
researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been
used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be
used for torture.
"I am deeply concerned about the ethical aspects of this research,"
says Andrew Rice, a consultant in pain medicine at Chelsea and
Westminster Hospital in London. "Even if the use of temporary severe
pain can be justified as a restraining measure, which I do not
believe it can, the long-term physical and psychological effects are
The research came to light in documents unearthed by the Sunshine
Project, an organisation based in Texas and in Hamburg, Germany,
that exposes biological weapons research. The papers were released
under the US's Freedom of Information Act.
One document, a research contract between the Office of Naval
Research and the University of Florida in Gainsville, is
entitled "Sensory consequences of electromagnetic pulses emitted by
laser induced plasmas". It concerns so-called Pulsed Energy
Projectiles (PEPs), which fire a laser pulse that generates a
burst of expanding plasma when it hits something solid, like a
person (New Scientist, 12 October 2002, p 42). The weapon, destined
for use in 2007, could literally knock rioters off their feet.
According to a 2003 review of non-lethal weapons by the US Naval
Studies Board, which advises the navy and marine corps, PEPs
produced "pain and temporary paralysis" in tests on animals. This
appears to be the result of an electromagnetic pulse produced by the
expanding plasma which triggers impulses in nerve cells. The new
study, which runs until July and will be carried out with
researchers at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, aims to
optimise this effect. The idea is to work out how to generate a
pulse which triggers pain neurons without damaging tissue.
The contract, heavily censored before release, asks researchers to
look for "optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor
activation" - in other words, cause the maximum pain possible.
Studies on cells grown in the lab will identify how much pain can be
inflicted on someone before causing injury or death.
New Scientist contacted two researchers working on the project.
Martin Richardson, a laser expert at the University of Central
Florida, refused to comment.
Brian Cooper, an expert in dental pain at the University of Florida,
distanced himself from the work, saying "I don't have anything
interesting to convey.
I was just providing some background for the group." His name
appears on a public list of the university's research projects next
to the $500,000-plus grant.
John Wood of University College London, an expert in how the brain
perceives pain, says the researchers involved in the project should
face censure. "It could be used for torture," he says, "the
[researchers] must be aware of this."
Amanda Williams, a clinical psychologist at University College
London, fears that victims risk long-term harm. "Persistent pain can
result from a range of supposedly non-destructive stimuli which
nevertheless change the functioning of the nervous system," she
says. She is concerned that studies of cultured cells will fall
short of demonstrating a safe level for a plasma burst. "They cannot
tell us about the pain and psychological consequences of such a
When things are investigated, knowledge is extended. When knowledge
is extended, the will becomes sincere. When the will is sincere, the
mind is correct. When the mind is correct, the self is cultivated.
WORLD VIEW NEWS SERVICE
To subscribe to this group, send an email to:
NEWS ARCHIVE IS OPEN TO PUBLIC VIEW