Non-Lethal Weapon: DOD seeks to use lasers to create shouting will-o-the-wisp

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Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Development Program (JNLWD) is closing in on a directed energy weapon that can literally tell people to go away—creating sound waves with laser pulses that can annoy, frighten, or otherwise send the message to people approaching a military unit that getting closer is not a good idea.

The Non-Lethal Laser-Induced Plasma Effect (NL-LIPE) system can be used to manipulate air molecules, creating a ball of plasma that oscillates to create sound waves with a stream of femtosecond-long laser bursts. A first laser creates the plasma ball, and a second then oscillates the plasma ball to create the sound. As Defense One's Patrick Tucker reports, the current Laser-Induced Plasma Effect implementation can only manage an indistinguishable mumble—though it can create a wide variety of very distinguishable sounds, as demonstrated in the video below.

A video of the Laser-Induced Plasma Effect in action.

David Law, JNLWD's Technology Division chief, believes that, within the next three years, the system will be able to create intelligible speech from a glowing ball of plasma hovering in the air at a distance. "We're this close to getting it to speak to us," Law told Tucker. "I need three or four more kilohertz."

While it can't talk clearly yet, NL-LIPE can create the equivalent of a stun grenade (or "flashbang"), and it could be combined with other non-lethal laser applications. NL-LIPE could also be used to scorch or burn clothing, as shown in this DOD video.

More demonstrations of NL-LIPE in action.
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NL-LIPE is just one of a variety of non-lethal systems the military is researching to provide soldiers with "area denial" tools beyond the deadly kind. Other non-lethal weapons in development include the Active Denial System, a long-range millimeter-wave directed-energy weapon that "creates a heating sensation," as JNLWD puts it, to keep crowds at a distance without causing injury. And the Marine Corps is acquiring a "hail and warning" device called the Ocular Interrupter System—a green laser system combined with a range-finder that can be aimed at someone up to 500 meters.

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