In response to civil unrest in August that threw the U.K. into chaos, police forces there plan to trial a laser weapon that would cast a ten-foot wall of light that briefly blinds those caught in its path at a distance of 1,600 feet.
Conceived by a Royal Marine Commando as a way to combat Somali pirates, it is hoped to be an effective alternative to cumbersome and imprecise water cannons or limited range tasers and CS gas in urban settings. With smaller pockets of unrest or looting spread out across a city, it is believed the laser weapon is not only more portable but can deliver more precision in arresting protest.
Paul Kerr, managing director of Scottish-based Photonic Security Systems, which produces the laser weapon, sums up the simplicity behind the idea: "The system would give police an intimidating visual deterrent. If you can't look at something, you can't attack it."
There are some concerns. One U.K. citizen has taken to the web pointing out the U.K. is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons that defines blindness as when your vision is worse than 20/200. In other words, you can't see past the largest letter on the eye chart using both eyes. That could be significant damage, allowable under law, should the weapon unintentionally permanently impair a person's vision.
Reports indicate there will be further tests to determine if there are any long-term risks, outside of the temporary blindness.
The weapon is to be trialed by a British police unit, though which one is not being disclosed. Following the trial and further health assessment, the U.K. government will then decide if the weapon will be adopted by the police forces. Presumably cost will also be a consideration, as the laser weapon is priced at $40,000.
If greenlit, it will not be the first time lasers and weapons have been used to disorient. Pilots have reported temporary blindness from laser pointers, and laser weapons like the SMU 100 they have been deployed in combat in Afganistan.