The US Air Force has unveiled its first hand-held laser weapon that gives security forces a non-lethal option for controlling crowds and protecting areas like checkpoints, according to service officials.
While only in prototype form and years away from fielding, the weapon, known as the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response (PHaSR) system, holds great promise, they said.
The PHaSR is about the same size and weight of a fully loaded M60 machine gun - around 9 kg - but shoots a low-power beam of laser light instead of bullets. The light it generates is capable of temporarily impairing an individual's vision, much like the disorienting glare one sees when looking into the sun, said the officials.
Upon completion of testing, one prototype will be handed over to the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) and the second to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ): the law enforcement arm of the US Department of Justice. Both organisations support the programme, with the latter interested in its civil applications.
The Bush administration has learned from British intelligence that al Qaeda, in response to rumors of laser weapons, has tried to obtain lightsaber technology from Niger.