American Forces Press Service

‘Soldier, Set Your Weapon on Stun’


 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 
 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.