armi ad energia diretta: soluzione europea

October 2003

When mobile phones pose a threat...
Non-lethal weapons used against hidden threats

Dr. Herbert Scholles

What does a police officer's truncheon or pepper sprayer have in common with high-tech systems like medium-energy lasers (MEL) or high-power microwave (HPM) devices? This and related issues were addressed at a conference on non-lethal weapons (NLW) to which the Science Press Conference (Wissenschaftspressekonferenz e.V) recently invited journalists in Bonn.

"Non-lethal weapons allow police forces to react appropriately in difficult situations. Aggressors can be put out of action without having to use firearms or even endanger lives," explains Dr. Herbert Scholles, head of development at Rheinmetall W&M GmbH. "Fundamentally comparable to the use of truncheon or teargas, modern NLW concepts offer more extensive possibilities and actively help to protect persons."

HPM systems like those being developed by Rheinmetall W&M in cooperation with Diehl Munitionssysteme GmbH & Co. KG enable military and police forces to deactivate the electronic systems inside vehicles and consequently to stop them without actually endangering persons inside. Mobile HPM platforms will make many a police car chase superfluous in future.

For instance, the Plasma Taser (working title) being investigated at Rheinmetall W&M's center of competence for weapons and munitions in Unterlüß is said to immobilize aggressors at a distance of more than ten meters. A 40 mm grenade gun ejects a plasma cloud (e.g. carbon) that conducts pulsed electrical energy to the target – without actually physically harming the targeted person.

Moreover, for police or military operations to succeed, it is often necessary to interrupt the communications possibilities of criminals or hostile forces. To give an example: a kidnapper who has escaped into a building will often have access to live reports on police action through TV, radio or internet. Scholles: "High Power Microwave (HPM) is an effective instrument in such situations since it can destroy or permanently put out of action all electronic facilities in the target – without endangering life or limb of persons located there." It is already possible to deactivate all common electronic devices including mobile phones with HPM systems approximately the size of a small suitcase.

Booby traps hidden in buildings or by the roadside can be triggered by mobile phone, motion detector or timer. Mobile HPM sources can cripple such explosives by destroying the fuze electronics from a safe distance.

This technology is also of considerable interest to the armed forces as demonstrated by military scenarios in the Balkans and Afghanistan. Booby traps that are hidden in buildings or by the roadside and can be triggered by mobile phone, motion detectors or timers are, for instance, a threat to soldiers. In the words of Scholles: "By switching off the electronic fuze of such systems, HPM will in future be able to help save the lives of military forces."

Incidents where e.g. civilians sitting in a car fail to stop when requested to do so by soldiers and are attacked as suspected aggressors are common in crisis-ridden regions – all too often with a tragic outcome. HPM systems present an effective alternative at such military check-points or for object protection – crippling the entire electronics of modern vehicles at the press of a button. Even kidnappers in cars remain unharmed as dangerous car ramming scenarios or the use of firearms are not necessary.

Rheinmetall W&M GmbH is actively engaged in laser technologies that will provide new ways of cost-effective target combat with opto-electronic devices. Advanced military systems – from the guided missile to the complete battle tank – depend on visual systems and sensors. And this is exactly what makes them vulnerable: already today, a medium-energy laser (MEL) is capable of destroying or deactivating the target optics of a hostile tank over distances of several kilometers without endangering the crew. Development expert Scholles believes that such laser weapons offer very considerable potential: "We aim to bring the MEL technology for air defence and for the protection of stationary or mobile facilities to production maturity by the year 2012."