By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- There comes a time in many "Star Trek" episodes when the captain tells armed crewmen, "Set your phasers on stun." Don't you wish you could do that?
U.S. service members may be able to dial in the stopping power of their weapons if a promising technology at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee proves effective. Rusi Taleyarkhan leads the Oak Ridge team that's examining the technology for the Department of Energy. DoD's Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico, Va., is following the project.
The Oak Ridge project centers on high-energy cartridges that contain water and aluminum as propellants. Taleyarkhan and his crew demonstrated the technology using a modified shotgun. Taleyarkhan’s background is in fusion technology and the variable speed bullet was an outgrowth of his research. That’s why the Energy Department is in charge of the program.
The weapon works by electrically triggering the cartridge. The aluminum liquefies and vaporizes the water, generating the pressure that forces the round out the barrel. The projectile could be made of lead, steel or even a fluid.
Unlike gunpowder, researchers say, the vapor "pulse" is scaleable, meaning shooters can precisely vary the force they want. They could set their weapons to "stun," "disable" or "destroy." The weapon would have a laser rangefinder/aiming system to compute the force needed for the projectile to have the desired effect whether the target is point-blank or hundreds of yards away.
This would solve a problem law enforcement personnel and military peacekeepers have using today's rubber bullets. They're not effective at long ranges, but they can wound or kill at close ranges if they hit a person in the wrong place.
The Energy Department has been working on the concept for about four years, said project manager Carl Pocratsky. It has cost about $800,000. Researchers have known about the vapor explosion phenomena for years, but scientists have only recently developed an electrical firing mechanism small enough to fit on a shotgun. The fist-sized electrical pulse generator works with a 1.5-volt battery.
Pocratsky said a weapon should be ready for testing in about two years.
An artist's drawing of a shotgun with the "stun," "disable" or "destroy" selector.
An artist's drawing of the futuristic aluminum and water cartridge.