December 14, 2008

THOUGH AN AIR HORN WILL LIKELY SUFFICE:

Sonic Canon Gives Pirates an Earful: Pirates off the coast of Somalia last week tried to take a US cruise ship. But the attackers got more than they bargained for when the crew turned a newly developed sonic weapon on them that blasts earsplitting noise. (Marco Evers, 11/15/05, Der Spiegel)

Until now, it wasn't widely known that the US Defense Department was sharing the so-called Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) with commercial cruise ships. The weapon is essentially a small dish that beams hellishly loud noise that is deafening but not lethal. Weighing 20 kilograms and as big as a TV satellite dish, the device looks deceptively harmless. But once trained on its target, it blasts a tight beam of painful siren-like sound.

It's not known how the grinning pirates 160 kilometers off the coast of the Horn of Africa reacted as they suddenly were hit by the LRAD. But they were close, and the closer one is to the sonic cannon, the worse the effect is. It's possible they received permanent hearing damage, but at the very least they experienced an excruciating headache and ear pain to the point that they could no longer see or hear. They also quickly lost the desire to board the ship. Of course, even Captain Blackbeard would have quickly set sail when confronted with 150 decibels of pure noise. [...]

The LRAD was designed by a small San Diego, California firm called American Technology Corporation. The company has sold thousands of the acoustic cannon since 2003, including large orders to the US Armed Forces. Following the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 that killed 17 sailors, the Pentagon wanted a non-lethal weapon to defend its ships that wouldn't necessarily kill potential attackers.

Around 300 LRADs are in currently in use in Iraq. The US Army even uses the sonic cannons to clear houses acoustically. The dish can even be used as a super megaphone -- enabling soldiers to warn drivers over 300 meters ahead of checkpoints.

Recognizing the potential, police in New York and Boston have also purchased a few of the $30,000 devices. So too, of course, have American and British cruise lines. Besides the Seabourn Spirit, the world's largest cruise ship, the "Queen Mary 2", is able to give pirates an earful.


It's not like these guys are as serious a threat as the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2008 9:47 AM
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