November 18, 2009:
Sometimes, new military equipment finds success doing things it wasn't designed for. Such was the case with the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device). This is basically a focused beam of sound. Originally, it was designed to emit a very loud sound. Anyone whose head was touched by this beam, heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But most of those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain. Permanent hearing loss is possible if the beam is kept on a person for several seconds, but given the effect the sound usually has on people (they move, quickly), it is unlikely to happen. LRAD works.
Some U.S. Navy ships also carry it, but not just to repel attacking suicide bombers, or whatever. No, the system was sold to the navy for a much gentler application. LRAD can also broadcast speech for up to 300 meters. The navy planned to use LRAD to warn ships to get out of the way. This was needed in places like the crowded coastal waters of the northern Persian Gulf, where the navy patrols. Many small fishing and cargo boats ply these waters, and it's often hard to get the attention of the crews. With LRAD, you just aim it at a member of the crew, and have an interpreter "speak" to the sailor. It was noted that the guy on the receiving end was sometimes terrified, even after he realized it was that large American destroyer that was talking to him. This apparently gave the army guys some ideas, for there were soon rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads (sometimes claiming to be God). But last year, off Somalia, LRAD was used, cranked up to the pain setting, by a tanker crew to try and defeat a pirate attack. But the pirates simply took the pain, kept on coming, and got aboard the chemical tanker.
LRAD has been most popular as a communications device. During very loud demonstrations, or events of any sort, LRAD enables the police, or troops, to communicate to key people in the crowd, or simply in the way. While many of those receiving a clearly comprehensible message from a cop, or soldier, they can't see, are alarmed, they also tend to comply. Thus U.S. Army reserve units just bought over a hundred LRAD systems, and even the Chinese National Police have bought 25 LRADs. Thousands of LRADs have been sold to the military, police forces and security firms (who often use LRAD to protect ships from pirate attack.) The device looks like a very thin searchlight, and is moved around and aimed just like you would with a searchlight. It takes little training, and provides instant results. What began as a non-lethal weapon, ended up succeeding as a better way to get the word out.