The future of military warfare might not be a bullet or a missile — it could be, quite simply, scaring the bejesus out of people.
The U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program is getting ready to test what they're calling the Laser Induced Plasma Effect, a weapon that would hit targets with a blue ball of plasma — the state of matter just a little more solid than gas — and create an extremely loud noise.
The idea here: Instead of riddling a target full of holes, soldiers could stun them with an explosive scream-like sound, sending them into a panic.
And since researchers recently discovered the huge impact a scream has on the human brain, it might be the most effective crowd control method yet.
There are still a few hangups. According to David Law, technology division chief at JNLWD, the weapons can't fire very far, or for very long. "We've demonstrated it in the lab at very short ranges," Law said, according to Defense One. "But we haven't been able to demonstrate it at even 100 meters. That's ... the next step."
Using plasma as a non-lethal weapon isn't new. In 2002, an early JNLWD program started working on what it called a Pulsed Energy Projectile, which would create an expanding ball of plasma and knock the target off their feet, causing a massive amount of pain in the process. It never came to fruition on its 2007 estimated launch date — likely because it weighed an impractical 500 pounds, according to Defense One.
In 2009, the JNLWD took another swing at the sound weapon idea, this time very close to the LIPE concept, although much quieter. Law compared the difference between 2009's sound levels and the LIPE concepts to the difference between a lawn mower and a fighter jet.
"Every [decibel] is a factor of 10 times the loudness," Law said, according to Defense One. "We've been working this in bits and pieces since 2009, but it really has been just over the past couple years that the laser technology has matured enough to be able to potentially get this kind of sound out."
Whether the third time is a charm or not won't be known until May 2016, potentially. But if it works, we could see a swing in how crowds, from advanced enemies of war to rioters in the street, are dealt with. And if screams and fighter jet sounds aren't effective, maybe they'll get truly sinister and load up the plasma blasts with the Black Eyed Peas.