When a crowd starts throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, security forces — police or military — run out of good options. There is no safe, effective non-lethal weapon with sufficient range to accurately target troublemakers. A new weapon fired from a shotgun to temporarily incapacitate its target at a hundred meters changes all that.
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At long range, there are basically two options: rubber bullets and tear gas. Rubber bullets are only effective out to about fifty meters and, as recent events have shown, can injure or even kill. Tear gas has limited effectiveness; a determined individual can fight through the effects, and in any case the military are not generally allowed to use it.
Electroshock weapons like the ubiquitous TASER are far more effective. They overwhelm the peripheral nervous system and even the most violent suspect cannot resist — but only if their electrode darts make a good contact. And their range is limited by the need for wires, the latest Taser X7 having a range of 25 feet.
Self-contained electroshock projectiles which attach themselves to a target are nothing new — Jaycor’s Sticky Shocker was tested in 2000 — but the problem, as with rubber bullets, is making them safe. Long range and accuracy require a high muzzle velocity, but that means the projectile could cause serious impact injuries at closer range. The Sticky Shocker was considered too hazardous to field.
Harkind Dynamics LLC of Denver, Colorado, have developed a radical solution with JIFCO funding. It is a projectile fire from a 12-guage shotgun and known as SPECTER — ‘Small arms Pulsed Electronic Tetanization at Extended Range’. (Tetanization is a technical term for paralysis.) It leaves the muzzle at relatively high speed but slows down before impact with a parachute braking system to minimize risk of injury.
Aerodynamic surfaces spin the projectile in flight, making it accurate enough to hit a human-sized target at “100-plus meters” according to the developers, well beyond stone-throwing range.
As SPECTER approaches the target it emits a series of radar pings and senses the range from the radio reflections. This is not exactly new technology, being an adaptation of the proximity fuse developed for anti-aircraft shells in WWII. As it approaches, SPECTER deploys a parachute which halves its speed in three meters. A meter from the target, the projectile breaks into subcomponents, losing its aerodynamic shell and ejecting three tethered electrode darts forward.
The three darts are released at a distance to give the maximum chance of a good spread and multiple hits. TASER darts are barbed to ensure they remain embedded in clothing and do not pull free when the target falls over, but the barbs can get stuck in clothing and fail to penetrate far enough to make a good connection. SPECTER’s electrode prongs are inspired by porcupine quills, which are covered in scales so they penetrate easily but are difficult to dislodge.
The control system instantly senses which electrodes have made contact and routes current through the two best. It adjusts the electrical pulse depending on the electrical impedance, to the minimum necessary to bring the target down. According to the developers, SPECTER has a less extreme effect than other electroshock weapons and causes the target to ‘lose posture’ and fall over. Once on the ground, the projectile can administer further shocks if it senses movement, leaving the target helpless to flee, attack or resist being apprehended. Only a tiny amount of power is needed, so the projectile will work for as long as necessary; while a TASER will only affect you for five seconds, a previous JNLWD electroshock project aimed to disable subjects for three minutes and this might be repeated.
SPECTER is now in the second phase of development and will deliver a batch of 100 rounds to the US Marine Corps for testing. SPECTER can be fired from any standard 12-gauge, or from an M26 underbarrel shotgun attachment fitted to a rifle so there is no need to carry an additional weapon.
It will fill a crucial gap in the military ‘spectrum of force,’ providing an intermediate option between shooting and shouting. And it could change the balance of power in future riots. Any rioter throwing a rock or Molotov can be brought down – and kept down – instantly. Ringleaders can be singled out, immobilized and apprehended from long range.
In principle, SPECTER changes the tactical balance of crowd control operations, giving security forces the edge without having to use lethal weapons or dangerous rubber bullets. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be as effective and safe as intended. There is also the question of cost. The initial target price was less than $1,000 per projectile, which is cheap for the military but way too costly for police departments. How much are we willing to pay for effective, safe non-lethal options?