A gun is a powerful tool for putting a hole in a person. That power made them a staple of armies centuries ago and keeps them on the hips of soldiers, law enforcement, and Gadsden-flag-wearing anybodies to this day. Among the problems of such a lethal tool is that, in the event someone wants to use force but doesn’t want to kill anybody, guns are a bad choice. A whole field of less-lethal weapons has sprung up, and one of the latest would use lasers and jets as a less-bloody alternative.
Ohio’s Battelle Memorial Institute has a small history with novel weapons. In October, they demonstrated an anti-drone rifle, which brought down flying machines by jamming their controls. Their latest, blandly patented as “Caseless projectile and launching system,” is a gun that fires a jet-powered, laser-guided large blunt bullet, a metal fist thrown at someone dozens of yards away.
Fired from a specially-made pistol, or attached to a rifle in place of a grenade launcher, the round will rely on a laser rangefinder (not yet developed) to make sure it hits its target at an appropriate velocity. If it does, it should have the concentrated pain of a sting without the concentrated death of a traditional bullet. Popular Mechanics describes how the gun, named Pogojet, works:
[Senior research scientist Jeffrey] Widder's challenge was to find a way of varying the muzzle velocity depending on the distance to the target so that the projectile always hits at the sweet spot of between 77 and 87 meters per second. His final design uses a small .50 caliber weapon firing a hard projectile that uses that gas venting strategy to hit the target at optimal speed. This variable speed makes the Pogojet safe at short range and effective at long range. Widder says it will be effective at a hundred meters, far further than any existing kinetic round.
Still, there are reasons to be skeptical. The round is .50 caliber, which is on the larger end of bullets, especially in machine guns. The gunmaker advertises that the precision lets shooters fire normally, instead of aiming for less-vital body parts as is standard with other less-lethal weapons. That places a lot of confidence in both the gun and the shooter, and does not necessarily favor the target of this weapon.
The patent makes it clear that, while a less-lethal weapon in name, this gun is at least as much about protecting the person firing it as it is about ensuring that anyone it hits doesn’t die. From the patent:
In general, the use of non-lethal ammunition in weapons that are otherwise used to fire lethal ammunition compromises the safety of the user by decreasing the readiness to respond with lethal force when necessary. Therefore, as can be seen from the above discussion, there is considered to be a need in the art for a non-lethal weapon that is compact and can achieve a high rate of fire without large logistical burdens, such as those associated with compressed gas guns which have gas bottles that need to be supplied and/or filled. In addition, there is a need for a weapon that is mechanically simpler, smaller and lighter than prior art compressed air or gas non-lethal weapons. Furthermore, there is a need in the art for a launcher which is small enough and light enough to mount under or to the side of the barrel of a known lethal weapon, such as an M16 rifle, without degrading the readiness or lethal performance of the rifle.
Read more at Popular Mechanics.