The U.S military is due to begin tests on a new weapon designed not to kill the enemy but frighten them into a state of retreat. The weapon is known as the Laser-Induced Plasma Effect (LIPE) or LIPE, and is currently being fine tuned by two U.S companies that have been awarded $1.5 million each to do so.

LIPE was invented by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWD), an organization that has been given the task of inventing options for checkpoint security and crowd control. The weapon “fires” a 130-decibel roar right into your face without you being able to identify where the sound originates from.

That noise comes from a manipulation of energy and matter which produces and fires extremely short bursts of directed high energy at a target – a person, an object or an area of space. The energy separates electrons and nuclei at the target to create a blue ball of plasma which is then hit with pulses of directed laser energy which manipulates the ball into creating a noise that appears to come from nowhere.

JNLWD technology chief David Law said “We’ve demonstrated it in the lab at very short ranges. But we haven’t been able to demonstrate it at even 100 meters. That’s the next step.”

That step will cost $3 million which will be shared by Physical Optics Corp, which will develop the lighting effects, and Tucson headquartered company GEOST, which will work on the sound aspect.

LIPE isn’t the first attempt by the U.S. military to use plasma matter. In 2002 ,JNLWD developed a program named the Pulsed Energy Projectile which the New Scientist magazine reported at the time as a sound effect to “literally knock rioters off their feet.” Then in 2004, the U.S. Navy trialed plasma’s properties as a missile deflector.

Both of these early plasma weapons required enormous power and weighed in excess of 500 pounds but over the years have been refined.

“What we do with these prototypes to date is power them off of just a regular car battery. They don’t take a lot of energy, but there is … very high peak power, which is what makes this thing work,” said Law.

“Current plasmas maybe achieve 90 to 100 decibels … we are trying to get to be around 130 or a little more. We’ve been working this in bits and pieces since 2009, but it really has been just over the past couple years that the laser technology has matured enough to be able to potentially get this kind of sound out.”

Law said the goal is to have LIPEs ready for full testing by May, 2016.

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