E&T selects ten of the most bizarre weapons from the military's past, present and future.
1. Active Denial System
Dubbed 'the pain ray' by American troops, the Active Denial System focuses a beam of 3.2mm waves of electro magnetic radiation on a victim, heating moisture and fat molecules on the skin. Until now, this kind of weaponry only existed in the minds of science-fiction film directors. The temperature of the ray can reach up to 50°C, a similar feeling to intense exposure to an open furnace. The energy rays enter the skin at 1/64th inch, the thickness of a couple of pieces of paper, but despite the excruciating pain do not cause lasting damage. The Active Denial System has been in development for almost 20 years at a cost of over $60m. Although it seems like a nifty piece of kit to deter trouble makers, the Active Denial System does not come cheap: it will set you back a blistering $5m.
2. Incapacitating Flashlight or 'Vomit Torch'
When shone in a culprit's eyes, the Incapacitating Flashlight produces a disorientating effect, causing a feeling of intense nausea and, eventually, violent vomiting. The weapon is being developed for the Department of Homeland Security and is intended for the police or border-security agents. The flashing LEDs temporarily stun, continuously changing in colour and pulse frequency to distract their victim long enough for him or her to be handcuffed or disarmed. The effects of this weapon range from vertigo to projectile vomiting, but last for only a few minutes. Although described as non-lethal, the effect the incapacitating flashlight might have on the 50 million epilepsy sufferers worldwide is questionable, which could explain its lack of widespread commercial use. Another flaw is how easy it would be to escape: the intended victim would simply have to close his or her eyes and run the opposite way to render the weapon useless.
3. EATR 'Flesh-Eating Robot'
Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot created a moral uproar when its creators, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), launched it as a commercial military-robot prototype. Intended to provide weaponry and tactical support to soldiers, the robot was designed to self-refuel by foraging for and consuming biomass from the battlefield floor. Trials of the new technology were performed using woodchips, moss, grass clippings and chicken fat, allowing the robot to run for 100 miles on 70kg of biomass. However, the idea that the robot could potentially devour the bodies of dead soldiers gave the project particularly bad press, resulting in the nauseating moniker 'corpse-eating robot'. Project partners Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technologies later released a statement, assuring critics that EATR was strictly vegetarian.
4. Crowd control munition
Inspired by the previous 1960 Claymore design that used stainless-steel ball bearings, this single-use, fragmentation device is used to deter large groups of people by firing the balls directly at a crowd. These simple weapons produce the same effect as a scaled-up, homemade ball-bearing bomb made by Afghan terrorists. Operated by one troop using an eye-slit to aim, the stainless-steel balls fire forwards in a fan-shape killing anyone within a 200m radius. The original design also had a 5m area of fatality behind the weapon, meaning the operator had to quickly find shelter after deploying it. During the Falklands War, it is rumoured that these devices were turned to face those it was designed to defend. The original design has now been replaced with rubber balls to create a 'non-lethal' substitute used by the military on armed troops.
5. Foam gun
Deployed in small-scale circulation during the 1990s in Somalia, the foam gun is a non-lethal weapon that shoots sticky foam at a victim, glueing their limbs together to prevent escape. The concept was not widely popular, mostly because the foam was slow to fire and because if it was fired accidentally at the nose or mouth, the victim could suffocate and die. However, the foam gun is now regaining popularity in America. Materials research company Adherent Technologies has been awarded a contract by the US government to develop the gun for use in vehicle deployment, stopping an advance by clogging the wheels with the sticky foam. Other interested parties include the Department of Energy, who are considering using the substance in nuclear power facilities. The foam would shoot from specially adapted doors if opened without authorisation, preventing the intruder reaching secure areas within the facility.
6. Chilli bomb
Indian weaponry researchers are in the process of developing a military bomb made from the hottest chillies in India. The bhut jolokia, or 'ghost chilli', is recognised by Guinness World Records as the world's hottest spice. The bomb is a similar concept to tear gas and the now illegal pepper spray. Produced in a grenade format, when detonated the Chilli Bomb produces a non-lethal, choking gas intended to drive terrorists from their hideouts. The grenade is being developed in association with Defence Research and Development Organization and is still in the early development stages of production. Other uses being considered for the product are police crowd-control measures and self-defence sprays for women.
7. Bouncing bomb
Used in the Second World War, the concept of the bouncing bomb came from inventor Barnes Wallis while skimming marbles on the surface of his garden pond. The unconventional bomb was used to destroy Ruhr Dams and ships on the German defensive after traditional bombs were detonated by the German opposition before reaching target. The unconventional bombs were surprisingly accurate and could be aimed directly at a target, unlike some of the clumsier and less accurate plane artillery. The bouncing motion also allowed them to avoid German nets set up for the anticipated submarine torpedoes. The bombs were spherical or barrel-like in shape which, when dropped from a plane, produced a backspin effect that allowed them to skim across the surface of the sea before exploding on contact with the German defence line.
8. Sonic weapon
Sonic weapons are a non-lethal means used by the police in protest or counter-terrorist situations, sending high-power sound-waves strong enough to incapacitate a human being. Much like a teenage boy driving his parents from the family home with loud heavy-metal music, long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) are used to send a boom-like pulse directly to the eardrum. Although they do have the potential to cause permanent tissue damage, sonic weaponry is intended to irritate the eardrums rather than damage them. They have been used on ships to deter modern-day pirates in the Indian Ocean, and also by the police to deter large crowds during protest marches. The technology has been tested on Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who claimed that the pain produced by prolonged exposure to the sound waves was the worst form of torture they had ever experienced.
9. Dog bombs
Russia's contribution to the Second World War's most bizarre weaponry collection came in the form of Anti-Tank Dogs. Bombs were put in canvas rucksacks and strapped to the animals, which had been starved by their trainers previous to their deployment. During training, the dogs were taught to forage for food that was hidden under stationary tanks in the hope that they would continue to search for food under German tanks when on the battlefield. Various problems arose with these canine bombs: some were too scared to dive under moving tanks due to the loud explosions; some returned to blow up their masters, while others detonated while under Russian vehicles. Modern-day sensitivities probably dictate that the high-profile use of animals in such a way would be extraordinarily controversial.
10. Habbakuk iceberg air carrier
The idea of using a hollowed iceberg as an aircraft carrier was invented by scientist Geoffrey Pyke during a governmental weaponry innovation call in the Second World War. Project Habbakuk, which refers to a biblical verse, was the result of an idea to create a floating, unsinkable platform that would allow military aircraft to land out at sea. The project was endorsed by both Churchill and Mountbatten, and originally generated a lot of military interest from Combined Operations. The initial problem with the project was that the ice split easily so a substitute was created, mixing paper pulp and seawater to create a new concrete-strength substance named 'Pykecrete', after its creator. A model was mocked up in Canada spanning over 600m, while complex insulation equipment was developed to keep the structure frozen. Unfortunately, the design was never commercialised as mounting costs for the models' manufacture meant they would have cost the army £6m.