Army's secret 'people zapper' plans
Antony Barnett, public affairs editor
[The Observer - Sunday November 3, 2002]:
Britain has been involved in secret talks with the United States over the development of so-called non-lethal weapons, including lasers that blind the enemy and microwave systems that cook the skin of human targets.
The Observer has established that British and US military leaders met at the Ministry of Defence HQ in London to discuss the operational benefits of such technology when used as a 'persuasive tool' against people from enemy regimes.
Documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act detail talks about battlefield uses of the weapons and whether they could be used to back up economic sanctions against target countries. The weapons include lasers that can blind and stun an enemy and cut through metal to disable vehicles.
Another weapon discussed was a system that uses microwave beams to heat the water in human skin in the same way as a microwave oven cooks a meal. The third category of weapons was the use of gases similar to those deployed to end the terrorist siege in a Moscow theatre, which killed more than 100 hostages.
The disclosures prompted demands last night from opposition politicians for a full statement on Britain's involvement in developing such weapons. Opposition MPs and campaigners believe the fact that the military is considering developing and using these weapons in war or as a tool to threaten other states breaches a number of international arms and humanitarian treaties.
Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, called on the Government to 'come clean' on Britain's involvement and will demand Foreign Secretary Jack Straw gives details.
'These reports have serious implications,' Campbell said. 'If Britain and American are together seeking to exploit loopholes in existing international arms convention, our credibility will be severely undermined. Suggestions that we use such weapons as part of any sanctions programme is a level of policy which must be discussed on the House of Commons.'
British personnel at the secret meeting with the US military included Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham and Dr Martin Hubbard, who heads the non-lethal weapons research programme at Porton Down, Wiltshire. US officers included Major General Bice, deputy commander of the US Marines in Europe, and Brigadier-General Richard Zilmer, deputy director of US operations at European Command Headquarters.
The documents reveal the full scope of the new weapons programmes that the US military is developing. The first was high-power microwave technology that cooks an enemy's skin. Its military name is the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System (V-Mads), but it has already been nicknamed the People Zapper. It works by harnessing electromagnetic power to fire an invisible pulse of energy at light speed towards a target. The beam causes the water molecules under the skin to vibrate violently, producing heat and discomfort. Scientists believe the system could heat a person's skin to about 130 degrees in two seconds.
The US delegation admits there might be problems with legal claims by victims.
The documents reveal that both the British and US military believe laser beams have a 'number of potential applications and desirable attributes as a non-lethal weapon'. They are impressed that laser guns can be 'tunable' either to stun or kill. Although laser weapons that permanently blind are banned under international law, the documents show officials are studying low-energy lasers that blind temporarily and others that produce a stunning effect.
The classified document, which is an 'assessment report' of a meeting that took place on 30 November 2000, admits the term 'non-lethal' was inaccurate.'