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Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System (V-MADS)

Active Denial Technology is a breakthrough non-lethal technology that uses millimeter-wave electromagnetic energy to stop, deter and turn back an advancing adversary from relatively long range. It is expected to save countless lives by providing a way to stop individuals without causing injury, before a deadly confrontation develops.

Photograph of the demonstration hardware

The technology was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. Approximately $40 million has been spent on this technology over the past ten years.

This non-lethal technology was developed in response to Department of Defense needs for field commanders to have options short of the use of deadly force. Non-lethal technologies can be used for protection of Defense resources, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions and other situations in which the use of lethal force is undesirable. The system is intended to protect military personnel against small-arms fire, which is generally taken to mean a range of 1,000 meters. The system is described as having a range of 700 yards.

Countermeasures against the weapon could be quite straightforward for example covering up the body with thick clothes or carrying a metallic sheet or even a trash can lid as a shield or reflector. Also unclear is how the active-denial technology would work in rainy, foggy or sea-spray conditions where the beam's energy could be absorbed by water in the atmosphere.

Active Denial Technology uses a transmitter to send a narrow beam of 95-GHz millimeter waves towards an identified subject. Traveling at the speed of light, the energy reaches the subject and penetrates less than 1/64 of an inch into the skin, quickly heating up the skin's surface. The 95-GHz energy penetrates 1/64 inch into the skin and produces an intense burning sensation that stops when the transmitter is switched off or when the individual moves out of the beam. Within seconds, an individual feels an intense heating sensation that stops when the transmitter is shut off or when the individual moves out of the beam. According to reports, a 2-second burst from the system can heat the skin to a temperature of 130 F. At 50 C, the pain reflex makes people pull away automatically in less than a second. Someone would have to stay in the beam for 250 seconds before it burnt the skin,

Despite the sensation, the technology does not cause injury because of the low energy levels used. It exploits a natural defense mechanism that helps to protect the human body from damage. The heat-induced sensation caused by this technology, is nearly identical to the sensation experienced by briefly touching an ordinary light bulb that has been left on for a while. Unlike a light bulb, however, active denial technology will not cause rapid burning, because of the shallow penetration of the beam and the low levels of energy used. The transmitter needs only to be on for a few seconds to cause the sensation.

Air Force scientists helped set the present skin safety threshold of 10 milliwatts per square centimetre in the early 1990s, when little data was available. That limit covers exposure to steady fields for several minutes to an hour - but heating a layer of skin 0.3 mm thick to 50 C in just one second requires much higher power and may pose risks to the cornea, which is more sensitive than skin. A study published last year in the journal Health Physics showed that exposure to 2 watts per square centimeter for three seconds could damage the corneas of rhesus monkeys.


Humans and animals are being used in the test program. All testing is being conducted with strict observance of the procedures, laws and regulations governing animal and human experimentation. The tests have been reviewed and approved by a formal Institutional Review Board with oversight from the Air Force Surgeon General's Office. The testing is being conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate.

Military and civilian employees have volunteered for these tests. Prior to participating in the program, all volunteers are fully informed of the purpose and nature of the tests and of any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts expected from the research. Other than minor skin tenderness due to repeated exposure to the beam, there are no lasting effects. An institutional review board has determined that the risk level is minimal. No pay is received for participation, and volunteers may withdraw at any time with no negative personal or professional ramifications. Many of the project scientists are volunteers for the study. These tests, which are being conducted at Kirtland Air Force Base south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, employ more realistic military field conditions, following several years of successful and safe laboratory testing. These field tests are the first to expose an entire test subject to the energy beam.

These tests demonstrate the technology, gather additional data on effects in realistic conditions, and allow the military benefits to be assessed.

Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, a leading newsletter on non-ionizing radiation, calls VMADS a "significant development" in directed energy weapons. However, he says that possible injuries, particularly to the eye, could lead to stopping further development and actual deployment of the device-as the Pentagon did in the mid-1990s when it was trying to develop blinding lasers. "The real question is whether it will go the way of the lasers," Slesin says. Like laser, exposure to the microwave beam could cause eye damage. "People will get out of the beam, but [injury to the eyes] depends on how much exposure they get," Slesin says. Slesin also notes that "the only people who are doing health research on the effects of electromagnetic radiation are the people who are developing this weapon-the Air Force Lab. . . . They're the only people who have any money in the United States to do research on the health effects, and they're in firm control of the [safety] standard-setting process. . . . That's a clear conflict."

  • FY 2002 Implementation Document (ID) signed establishing management oversight and overall program structure to place ADS on one hybrid electric HMMWV. Concept of operation meeting conducted by Operational manager. Transition meeting conducted by transition manager to define requirements for full system development. ADS effects testing ongoing with frontal exposures of human subjects at full weapons parameters scheduled.

  • FY 2002 continued: ADS source optimization started and possible integration of high-temperature superconducting coils investigated.

  • FY 2003 - Concept of operation, transition strategy development, and effects testing continuing. System integration (battle management system, HMMWV, and beam director) started. Field demonstration in 4th quarter.

  • FY 2004 - Concept of operations finalized. Source optimization, effects testing, system integration continuing. Field Test in 3rd quarter. Military Utility Assessment (MUA) begun.

  • FY 2005 - Effects testing and MUA finalized. Final optimization of Battle Management System and HMMWV completed. Residual handed over to transition manager.

  • Operational System

    Officials have begun examining appropriate platforms on which to deploy the technology. Currently, planning is underway for a vehicle-mounted version. Future versions might also be used onboard planes and ships. The vehicle-mounted version will be designed to be packaged on a vehicle such as a High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, more commonly referred to as a Humvee). Power would be provided by a turbo-alternator and battery system. Researches say they have made technological break through on power supplies to run such weapons even when mounted on vehicles or aircraft.

    This technology and its proposed use in an operational system have been given a preliminary weapons legal review as required by Department of Defense Directive 3000.3 "Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons," and the United States' treaty - obligations. This preliminary review found that further research, development, and testing of this technology is permissible. As required by law, a final, comprehensive legal review will be completed prior to entering the acquisition cycle.

    Organizations involved

    Two primary organizations are executing this program: the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia, and the Air Force Research Laboratory, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The Air Force Research Laboratory is developing the technology with funding from both the Air Force and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

    From the Air Force Research Laboratory, two directorates are involved: the Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, and the Human Effectiveness Directorate at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. The former works technology development and testing; the latter is in charge of biological effects research.

    There are three primary contractors: Raytheon AET in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is the systems integrator, CPI (Communications and Power Industries) in Palo Alto, California, is the source developer, and Veridian Engineering in San Antonio, Texas, is performing biological effects research.

    Other organizations and agencies that are involved in the this project include the Air Force Force Protection Battlelab at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; the Marine Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia; the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Florida; and the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

    The Air Force's Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, will manage acquisition of the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System based on this technology.

    The Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System concept

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