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Active Denial System

Active Denial System (ADS)
Humvee with ADS mounted
Place of origin United States
Service history
Wars War in Afghanistan
Production history
Manufacturer Raytheon[1]
Variants ADS II
Silent Guardian

The Active Denial System (ADS) is a non-lethal, directed-energy weapon developed by the U.S. military,[2] designed for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control. [3] Informally, the weapon is also called the heat ray[4] since it works by heating the surface of targets, such as the skin of targeted human subjects. Raytheon is currently marketing a reduced-range version of this technology.[5] The ADS was deployed in 2010 with the United States military in the Afghanistan War, but was withdrawn without seeing combat.[6] On August 20, 2010, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department announced its intent to use this technology on prisoners in the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles, stating its intent to use it in "operational evaluation" in situations such as breaking up prisoner fights.[7] The ADS is currently only a vehicle-mounted weapon, though U.S. Marines and police are both working on portable versions.[8] ADS was developed under the sponsorship of the DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program with the Air Force Research Laboratory as the lead agency.[9][10] There are reports that Russia[11] and China are developing their own versions of the Active Denial System.[12]


  • Effects 1
    • Possible long-term effects 1.1
  • History 2
    • Development 2.1
    • Contracts 2.2
    • Demonstration 2.3
    • Afghanistan deployment 2.4
    • Problems 2.5
    • Active Denial System II 2.6
  • Concepts for use 3
  • Controversy 4
  • Silent Guardian 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The ADS works by firing a high-powered beam of 95 GHz waves at a target, which corresponds to a wavelength of 3.2 mm.[13] The ADS millimeter wave energy works on a similar principle as a microwave oven, exciting the water and fat molecules in the skin, and instantly heating them via dielectric heating. One significant difference is that a microwave oven uses the much lower frequency (and longer wavelength) of 2.45 GHz. The short millimeter waves used in ADS only penetrate the top layers of skin, with most of the energy being absorbed within 0.4 mm (1/64"),[14] whereas microwaves will penetrate into human tissue about 17 mm (0.67").[15]

The ADSʼs repel effect in humans occurs at slightly higher than 44 °C (111 °F), though first-degree burns occur at about 51 °C (124 °F), and second-degree burns occur at about 58 °C (136 °F).[16] In testing, pea-sized blisters have been observed in less than 0.1% of ADS exposures, indicating that second degree surface burns have been caused by the device.[16] The radiation burns caused are similar to microwave burns, but only on the skin surface due to the decreased penetration of shorter millimeter waves. The surface temperature of a target will continue to rise so long as the beam is applied, at a rate dictated by the target's material and distance from the transmitter, along with the beam's frequency and power level set by the operator. Most human test subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none could endure more than 5 seconds.[17]

A spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory described his experience as a test subject for the system:

"For the first millisecond, it just felt like the skin was warming up. Then it got warmer and warmer and you felt like it was on fire.... As soon as you're away from that beam your skin returns to normal and there is no pain."

Like all focused energy, the beam will irradiate all matter in the targeted area, including everything beyond/behind it that is not shielded, with no possible discrimination between individuals, objects or materials. Anyone incapable of leaving the target area (e.g., physically handicapped, infants, incapacitated, trapped, etc.) would continue to receive radiation until the operator turned off the beam. Reflective materials such as aluminium cooking foil should reflect this radiation and could be used to make clothing that would be protective against this radiation.[18]

Many human tests have been performed[19] on over 700 volunteers and including over 10,000 exposures by ADS.[17] A Penn State Human Effects Advisory Panel (HEAP) concluded that ADS is a non-lethal weapon that has a high probability of effectiveness with a low probability of injury:[16]

  • no significant effects for wearers of contact lenses or other eyewear (including night vision goggles)
  • normal skin applications, such as cosmetics, have little effect on ADSʼs interaction with skin
  • no age-related differences in response to ADS exposures
  • no effect on the male reproduction system
  • the limit of damage was the occurrence of pea-sized blisters in less than 0.1% of the exposures (6 of 10,000 exposures).[17]

In April 2007, one airman in an ADS test was overdosed and received second-degree burns on both legs, and was treated in a hospital for two days.[18][20] There was also one laboratory accident in 1999 that resulted in a small second-degree burn.[17]

Possible long-term effects

Many possible long-term effects have been studied, with the conclusion that no long-term effects are likely at the exposure levels studied.[14] However, overexposures of either operators or targets may cause long-term damage including cancer. According to an official military assessment, "In the event of an overexposure to a power density sufficient to produce thermal injury, there is an extremely low probability that scars derived from such injury might later become cancerous. Proper wound management further decreases this probability, as well as the probability of hypertrophic scarring or keloid formation."[21]

  • Cancer: A mouse cancer study was performed at two energy levels and exposures with a 94 GHz transmitter: a single 10 second, 1 W/cm exposure; and repeated 10 second exposures over 2 week period at 333 mW/cm. At both energy levels, no increase in skin cancers were observed.[22] No studies of higher energy levels, or longer exposure times have been performed on millimeter wave systems.
  • Cornea damage: tests on non-human primate eyes have observed no short-term or long-term damage as the blink reflex protects the eye from damage within 0.25 seconds.[23]
  • Birth defects: millimeter waves only penetrate 0.4 mm (1/64") into the skin, making direct damage to the testes or ovaries impossible.
  • Blisters and scarring: pea-sized blistering due to second degree burns occurred in a very small minority (less than 0.1%) of tested exposures, which have a remote potential for scarring.

ADS operators would be exposed to more than the standard maximum permissible exposure (MPE) limits for RF energy, and military use requires an exception to these exposure limits.[24]



Two Active Denial Systems were developed under a Defense Department "Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration" Program (now known as Joint Concept Technology Demonstration Program) from 2002 to 2007. Unlike typical weapons development programs in the Defense Department, ACTDs/JCTDs are not focused on optimizing the technology; rather they are focused on rapidly assembling the technology in a configuration suitable for user evaluation.[25]


On September 22, 2004, Raytheon was granted an [26]

On October 4, 2004, the United States Department of Defense published the following contract information:

Communications and Power Industries (CPI), Palto Alto [sic], Calif., is being awarded a $6,377,762 costs-reimbursement, cost-plus fixed-price contract. The contractor shall design, build, test, and deliver a two to 2.5 megawatt, high efficiency, continuous wave (CW) 95 gigahertz millimeter wave source system. The contractor shall perform extensive modeling, simulation, experiments, and testing to the maximum capabilities of their facilities (which shall no less than one megawatt peak RF output) that will ascertain the final CW capabilities of the source. The contractor also shall provide input for the requirements for the government's test stand, which will serve as a full power facility in the future. At this time, $900,000 of the funds has been obliged. This work will be complete by January 2009. Negotiations were completed September 2004. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, is the contracting activity (FA9451-04-C-0298).[27]


The military has made the ADS available to the media for demonstrations on a number of occasions. A fully operational and mounted version of the system was demonstrated on January 24, 2007, at United States. A Reuters correspondent who volunteered to be shot with the beam during the demonstration described it as "similar to a blast from a very hot oven – too painful to bear without diving for cover."[28] An Associated Press reporter who volunteered to be engaged stated "They certainly convinced me that the system could help save the lives of innocent civilians and our young service members"[29] CBS News correspondent did an in-depth story on ADS in March 2008.[30] A demonstration was conducted for the media on March 9, 2012, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.[31][32]

Afghanistan deployment

On June 21, 2010, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the NATO forces commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, confirmed in an e-mail to Wired Magazine reporter Noah Shachtman that the ADS was deployed in Afghanistan. The spokesman added however that the system has not yet been used operationally.[28]

The ADS has been removed from service in Afghanistan as of July 25, 2010. A spokesperson for the United States Department of Defense said "The decision to recall the weapons back to the US was made by commanders on the ground in Afghanistan."[33]

A former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense noted that the recall of ADS from Afghanistan was an "opportunity missed" and "the non-lethality of the ADS system could prove useful in a counterinsurgency operation where avoidance of civilian casualties is essential to mission success."[34]


There have been speculations in open literature[35] for why the ADS has not been used in a theater of operations. Some of the 'claimed problems' expressed have included: (1) that a potential unreliability in certain environmental conditions, because precipitation (rain/snow/fog/mist) often commonly dissipates RF energy, which may moderate the ADS's sensation to "warm and comfortable"; (2) that ADS may only work successfully against exposed skin, implying that heavier clothing may reduce its effectiveness; (Video of ADS being used against people holding up a mattress with multiple layers of thick clothing have contradicted this); (3) that its tactical usefulness may potentially be limited in striking specific personnel hiding in crowds of civilians, because this 'hiding' situation has not been seen in all recent theaters of operation (was reportedly observed in Somalia and Iraq, but reportedly not in Afghanistan). What the actual performance of ADS is relative to these concerns is not presently known to be published in open literature.

Active Denial System II

In 2011, the ADS was redesigned to make it smaller, more reliable, and able to be used on the move. ADS II is being designed to operate from moving aircraft, as well as moving ground vehicles. The redesign does not address problems in different environmental conditions.[35]

The Air Force Special Operations Command is experimenting with mounting an ADS of the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship to target threatening crowds or individuals on the ground. This is to give the gunship a non-lethal option so the crew has more engagement options. Due to the shrinking numbers of the AC-130 fleet, the Air Force is aiming to have field a system within 5-10 years to have enough aircraft available when the system needs to be deployed.[36] The aircraft will apparently use the ADS II version.[37]

Concepts for use

ADS was developed as a non-lethal weapon. According to Department of Defense policy, non-lethal weapons “are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment".[38] ADS has applications for crowd control and perimeter defense, and filling "the gap between shouting and shooting." Other crowd control methods – including pepper spray, tear gas, water cannons, slippery foam and rubber bullets – carry implicit dangers of temporary or permanent injury or accidental death, and often leave residue or residual material. Combinations of acoustic and optical system platforms with ADS can be used to effectively communicate to, warn of escalation of force, introduce optical and auditory deterrents and step function the escalation of transmitted force from relatively benign to ultimately forced dispersal of a crowd, or to deny them from an area or access to an area. A group of people can theoretically be dispersed or induced to leave an area in a manner unlikely to damage personnel, non-involved civilians (no stray bullets), or to nearby buildings or the environment.

Non-lethal weapons are intended to provide options to U.S. troops, for example, “to stop suspicious vehicles without killing the drivers”.[39] Although the ADS millimeter wave frequency does not affect a car’s electronic components, it can be used to deter a driver in an approaching vehicle.[40] In a broader strategic context, non-lethal weapons such as ADS have the potential to offer 'precision, accuracy, and effective duration that can help save military and civilian lives, break the cycle of violence by offering a more graduated response, and even prevent violence from occurring if the opportunity for early or preclusionary engagement arises.”[41]

The Council on Foreign Relations noted that ”wider integration of existing types of nonlethal weapons (NLW) into the U.S. Army and Marine Corps could have helped to reduce the damage done by widespread looting and sabotage after the cessation of major conflict in Iraq”.[42]

In Afghanistan, the need to minimize civilian casualties has led to restrictive rules of engagement on the use of lethal force by US troops. A National Public Radio correspondent in Afghanistan “witnessed troops grappling with the dilemma of whether to shoot”.[43] Non-lethal weapons such as ADS provide an option for US forces in those situations.[31]


The effects of this radio frequency on humans have been studied by the military for years, and much, but not all of the research has been published openly in peer-reviewed journals.[44]

A news article criticized the sheer amount of time it is taking to field this system, citing the potential it had to avert a great deal of pain and suffering in volatile areas around the world.[45]

Although the effects are described as simply 'unpleasant', the device has the ‘Potential for Death’.[46]

While it is claimed not to cause burns under 'ordinary use',[47][48] it is also described as being similar to that of an incandescent light bulb being pressed against the skin,[13] which can cause severe burns in just a few seconds. The beam can be focused up to 700 meters away, and is said to penetrate thick clothing although not walls.[49] At 95 GHz, the frequency is much higher than the 2.45 GHz of a microwave oven. This frequency was chosen because it penetrates less than 1/64 of an inch (0.4 mm),[50] which – in most humans, except for eyelids and babies – avoids the second skin layer (the dermis) where critical structures are found such as nerve endings and blood vessels.

The early methodology of testing, in which volunteers were asked to remove glasses, contact lenses and metallic objects that could cause hot spots, raised concerns as to whether the device would remain true to its purpose of non-lethal temporary incapacitation if used in the field where safety precautions would not be taken. However, these tests were early in the program and part of a thorough and methodical process to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the technology, which has now involved more than 600 volunteer subjects and some 10,200 exposures. As safety was demonstrated in each step of the process, restrictions were removed, and now, according to ADS proponents, there are no restrictions or precautions necessary for volunteers experiencing the effect.[51] Long-term exposure to the beam may cause more serious damage, especially to sensitive tissues, such as those of the eyes. Two people have received second degree burns after exposure to the device.[48][52] (The actual number of injuries, according to Ms. Stephanie Miller of AFRL/RDHR, is a total of eight – the two previously mentioned, and six others, who healed without medical intervention.)

In addition, some claim that subjects who have body piercings, jewelry, or tattoos are likely to suffer serious skin damage. Tattooed people can become ill due to high amounts of toxic substances released from heated/melted tattoo pigment. Human effects testing on the large-scale version of ADS included more than 11,000 exposures on over 700 volunteers. Both laboratory research and full-scale test results demonstrated that there is only a 0.1% chance of injury from a System 1 or System 2 exposure.[53]

Critics cite that, although the stated intent of the ADS is to be a non-lethal device designed to temporarily incapacitate, modifications or incorrect use by the operator could turn the ADS into a more damaging weapon that could violate international conventions on warfare (although at this time, ADS has gone through numerous treaty compliance reviews and legal reviews by AF/JAO, and in all cases complies with every treaty and law).[54]

Some have focused on the lower threshold of use which may lead those who use them (especially civilian police) to become "trigger-happy", especially in dealing with peaceful protesters. Others have focused on concerns that weapons whose operative principle is that of inflicting pain (though "non-lethal") might be useful for such purposes as torture, as they leave no evidence of use, but undoubtedly have the capacity to inflict horrific pain on a restrained subject. According to Wired Magazine, the Active Denial System has been rejected for fielding in Iraq due to Pentagon fears that it would be regarded as an instrument of torture.[55]

Silent Guardian

Defense contractor Raytheon has developed a smaller version of the ADS, the Silent Guardian. This stripped-down model is primarily marketed for use by law enforcement agencies, the military and other security providers. The system is operated and aimed with a joystick and aiming screen. The device can be used for targets over 250 m away.[13]

LA County jail is now installing the smaller-sized unit on the ceiling of their jail.[56]

Michael Hanlon – who volunteered to experience its effects – described it as "a bit like touching a red-hot wire, but there is no heat, only the sensation of heat." Raytheon says that pain ceases instantly upon removal of the ray; still, Hanlon reported that the finger he subjected "was tingling hours later."[57]

See also


  1. ^ "NATO NAVAL ARMAMENTS GROUP : Workshop on Counter Piracy Equipment and Technologies" (PDF). Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System (V-MADS)". Global Security. Archived from the original on March 5, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2008. 
  3. ^ "DVIDS - News - New Marine Corps non-lethal weapon heats things up". DVIDS. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  4. ^ Ray gun, sci-fi staple, meets reality. Boston Globe, September 24, 2004.
  5. ^ "Raytheon: Silent Guardian product brief". 2006. 
  6. ^ "US army heat-ray gun in Afghanistan". BBC News. July 15, 2010. 
  7. ^ "August 20, 2010 New Device Unveiled Intended to Stop or Lessen Inmate Assaults: Assault Intervention Device (AID)....". LA County Sheriff. August 20, 2010. 
  8. ^ "US police could get 'pain beam' weapons". Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  9. ^ [11]
  10. ^ "Non-Lethal Weapons Program". Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Why Russia Will Be the First to Use the Pain Ray". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ China's New Long-Range Weapon Causes Non-Lethal Pain From Afar -, 8 December 2014
  13. ^ a b c Hambling, David (December 2006). "Techwatch-Forecasting Pain". Popular Mechanics 183 (12): 32. ISSN 0032-4558. 
  14. ^ a b [12]
  15. ^ "Microwave and RF Product Applications". Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c [13]
  17. ^ a b c d "Wired News: Say Hello to the Goodbye Weapon". December 5, 2006. 
  18. ^ a b Millimetre Waves, Lasers, Acoustics for Non-Lethal Weapons? Physics Analyses and Inferences "Ordinary household aluminum foil of many m thickness covering all parts of the body exposed towards the antenna would provide protection; gaps where the radiation could enter would have to be avoided. To allow vision a very fine-grained mesh in front of the face would be needed (holes markedly smaller than the wavelength of 3.2 mm, that is not bigger than, say, 0.1 mm)."
  19. ^ [14]
  20. ^ Airman injured in heat-beam test, Army Times, April 5, 2007
  21. ^ Protocol # FWR 2003-03-31-H, Limited Military Utility Assessment of the Active Denial System (ADS)cached copy
  22. ^ Patrick A. Mason. "Lack of effect of 94 GHz radio frequency radiation exposure in an animal model of skin carcinogenesis". Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  23. ^ Chalfin, S., D’Andrea, J.A., Comeau, P.D., Belt, M.E., and Hatcher, D.J. "Millimeter wave absorption in the nonhuman primate eye at 35 GHz and 94 GHz". Health Physics, 83(1): 83–90, 2002.
  24. ^ [15]
  25. ^ [16]
  26. ^ "'"Active Denial System: A Nonlethal 'Counter-Personnel Energy Weapon. Why War?.com. September 22, 2004. Archived from the original on September 27, 2006. Retrieved August 15, 2006. 
  27. ^ "Contracts for October 4, 2004". U.S. Department of Defense. October 4, 2004. Retrieved August 15, 2006. 
  28. ^ a b "US military unveils heat-ray gun". BBC. January 25, 2007. Archived from the original on January 27, 2007. Retrieved January 25, 2007. 
  29. ^ "I got zapped by a ray gun". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  30. ^ "The Pentagon's Ray Gun". CBS News. 
  31. ^ a b "$120 million heat ray waiting for first action". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  32. ^ Reilly, Jill (March 11, 2012). "'"U.S. military unveil latest weapon ... a ray beam that makes the enemy feel 'quite hot. Daily Mail (London). 
  33. ^ "US withdraws 'pain ray' from Afghan war zone". London: Daily Mail. January 25, 2010. Archived from the original on July 27, 2010. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  34. ^ "An Opportunity Missed". Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  35. ^ a b Death Ray Turns Warm And Fuzzy –, October 3, 2012
  36. ^ US Special Forces pursuing AC-130-based ‘active denial system’ -, 29 July 2015
  37. ^ AC-130J Gets A Ray Gun -, 10 August 2015
  38. ^ "DoD Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW), and NLW Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  39. ^ Michael O'Hanlon. "Opinion: Troops need not shoot in Afghanistan - Michael O'Hanlon -". Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  40. ^ [17]
  41. ^ [18]
  42. ^ Graham T. Allison. "Nonlethal Weapons and Capabilities". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  43. ^ [19]
  44. ^ "Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program Website – ADS". Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  45. ^ Pentagon nixes ray gun weapon in Iraq. By Richard Lardner, Associated Press.
  46. ^ Hambling, David (October 10, 2008). "'"Army Orders Pain Ray Trucks; New Report Shows ‘Potential for Death. Wired. 
  47. ^ "Moody Airmen test new, nonlethal method of repelling enemy – Eric Schloeffel". January 25, 2007. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  48. ^ a b Shachtman, Noah (April 6, 2007). "Pain Ray Injures Airman | Danger Room from". Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  49. ^ Hooper, Duncan (January 25, 2007). "'"US unveils 'heat gun. The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  50. ^ Active Denial System Factsheet. Joint non-lethal weapons program, 2007.
  51. ^ Hearn, Kelly (August 19, 2005). "Rumsfeld's Ray Gun". AlterNet. Archived from the original on August 12, 2006. Retrieved August 15, 2006. 
  52. ^ "PADS – Cold Stress". Archived from the original on February 2, 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2008. 
  53. ^ [20]
  54. ^ Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate. Source Documentation found in numerous press releases and Media Demo Days.
  55. ^ Weinberger, Sharon (August 30, 2007). "No Pain Ray for Iraq". Wired. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  56. ^ "New "Laser" Weapon Debuts in LA County Jail". NBC Southern California. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  57. ^ "Run away the ray-gun is coming: We test US army's new secret weapon". The Daily Mail (London). September 18, 2007. 

External links

  • Video of ADS testing and effects by US Force TV
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