China unveils directed-energy crowd-control weapon

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Janes.com

The China Poly Group Corporation used the recent Airshow China 2014 to reveal its WB-1 millimeter-wave beam-projecting non-lethal anti-riot system.

Similar to Raytheon’s Active Denial System (ADS), the Poly WB-1 projects the millimeter-wave beam to heat water molecules just below the skin, resulting in intense pain. Chinese reports note that it has an effective range of 80 m but with increased power its range can be increased to 1 km.

The United States revealed the ADS in 2007. While it was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, and military commanders repeatedly requested its use, the system has yet to be used in combat due to fears of fuelling enemy propaganda.

In 2012 Russian reports revealed that the 12th Central Military Research and Development Institute near Moscow was developing a similar weapon. In China one key centre of research for microwave weapons is the University of Electronic Science and Technology (UESTC) in Chengdu. In 2013 UESTC student Yang Yi completed a master’s thesis titled Gyrotron Electronic Gun Design and Research.

Reports out of Zhuhai indicate that Poly is developing the weapon for naval applications. With a potential 1 km range such a weapon could allow China to escalate its use of non-lethal confrontation to enforce its maritime claims in the East China and South China seas.

ANALYSIS

The US removed ADS from Afghanistan in 2010 without using it due to the potential propaganda risk it represented, writes James Hardy . Reports at the time noted operational issues with the system, such as the fact it took 16 hours to boot up. Wired quoted Diana Loree of the US Air Force Research Laboratory as saying that an alternative was to keep it “in ready mode” but that the potential fuel costs could be astronomical.

If its engineers do manage to integrate a workable version of the WB-1 onto naval or paramilitary ships, China may still find the negative publicity from using such a weapon against neighbouring countries outweighs its potential utility.