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AFRL division chief presents abilities of high-powered microwave weapons

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

An Air Force Research Laboratory scientist took part in TEDxABQ on Sept. 17 to discuss the use of nonlethal weapons in combat.

Mary Lou Robinson, the division chief of High Power Electromagnetics, spoke about "The Power of High-Powered Microwaves: Winning the Battles and Minimizing Harm," and presented the nonlethal ways that microwaves can be used in combat.

"Just because someone puts on a uniform doesn't mean they lose the morals, values and ethics we as a society have instilled in them. They have American values, and they are interested in nonlethal ways to engage in combat," Robinson said.

Using systems such as the Active Denial System and the Counter-electronics High Powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP, American forces are potentially able to eliminate threats from crowds, or harmful electronics, while saving civilian lives.

Robinson has been coached on delivering TEDx-style presentations via a program created by AFRL Senior Development Planner Sue Atwood.

“It is a great opportunity for connection between AFRL and the TEDx community,” Robinson said.

Leading up to TEDxABQ, Robinson was on 770 KKOB talk radio on Sept. 3 and then on 2 KASA Fox on Sept. 13.

Nonlethal weapons used on the battlefield can disburse enemy combatants, as well as limit the enemy’s use of technology.

In the 770 KKOB podcast, Robinson was asked if her goal is to fight a nonlethal war.

“What I want is for troops to have a nonlethal option in combat to limit collateral damage, and I don’t think anyone in our organization believes kinetic weapons will ever be replaced,” she said.

Kinetic weapons fire projectiles.

Robinson studies the electromagnetic spectrum in the areas of millimeter waves and microwaves that are not light waves. Research from these areas is used to create directed beams for use by the Air Force.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have deemed microwaves of low-average power to be non-harmful to people.

The difference between what a microwave oven generates — high average power — and low-average power counter-electronics microwaves is the time factor.

For a microwave oven, the high-average power over time has a greater effect on human tissue and can cause damage. A low average-power wave will not be sensed by human tissue, there is insufficient time.

The Active Denial technology concept was conceived by the “Human Effectiveness Directorate” of AFRL. It was interested in researching a signal that penetrates the skin to a depth of 1/64 of an inch, about the thickness of three sheets of paper. The hardware was developed here at Kirtland.

“The system feels like a blast of heat when you open the oven door,” Robinson said.

The uncomfortable sensation causes people to want to leave the area of the beam. As soon as they do, the heating sensation goes away with no lasting effects.

“The only effect from ADS is the possibility of a small blister,” she said.

The testing for ADS shows the chance for a blister is one in 10,000. The system has been tested on more than 13,000 people and only two have required medical attention.

“The ADS is safe and doesn’t cause any harm, but it will get your attention,” Robinson said.

One option to eliminate enemy command and control is the CHAMP system. It uses high-peak power microwaves.

The peak power lasts for less than half the time it takes to blink, but can disable or destroy electronic circuitry in that short time.

Robinson’s TEDxABQ focused on educating the audience about High Power Electromagnetics, to include aspects of why these technologies are not being used.