PHaSRs may soon make 'Trek' to battlefields
ARLINGTON, Va. — “Captain’s log, 2009: Police squad delivering the ambassador to his residence encountered heavy resistance from angry crowd. Troops ordered to set phasers on stun and fire at will.”
Are you a “Star Trek” fan scouring your memory for the name of the episode this comes from? Is it “Trouble with Tribbles?” “The Enemy Within?”
Well, take a break.
This isn’t dialogue from a 1960s-era script by “Star Trek” creator and science fiction guru Gene Roddenberry and his famous team of NASA and science advisers.
“Roddenberry’s vision of the future has caught up with us,” said Air Force Capt. Thomas Wegner.
Wegner is program manager for a new laser-based, nonlethal weapon designed to temporarily blind aggressors.
Wegner and his fellow engineers working in the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., are calling their 21-pound weapon the “Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response.”
PHaSR, for short.
The weapon “was specifically named as an homage to ‘Star Trek,’” Wegner, a self-professed “Trekkie,” told Stripes in a Thursday telephone interview.
“Star Trek” fans know phasers (for “PHAsed Energy Rectification”) as the weapon of choice for Capt. James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
But in Roddenberry’s universe, Starfleet personnel weren’t knocking assorted interplanetary scum off its feet using phasers until 2265, according to Memory Alpha, a Web-based “Star Trek” information site, www.memory-alpha.org.
The Kirtland engineers, however, are on the verge of the first two prototypes of their PHaSR for testing, Wegner said — the weapons will be delivered for assessment to the Air Force’s Human Effectiveness Directorate at Brooks City Base, Texas, and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico, Va., by the end of November.
The “Star Trek” phaser and Air Force PHaSER are based on the concept of lasers, but beyond that, fact doesn’t always follow fiction.
The “Star Trek” phaser discharged “nadion” particles and could be calibrated to deliver effects ranging from a light stun to “vaporizing humanoid organisms,” according to Memory Alpha. The Air Force PHaSR, however, “is just a light beam,” that “dazzles,” its target, Wegner said.
But while the battery-powered PHaSR does have two wavelengths to choose from, “it is truly a nonlethal weapon,” Wegner said.
The PHaSR effect “is like when you get up in the morning and turn on the lights and wince while your eyes adjust,” he said.
In addition to its size, which engineers hope to reduce as technology improves, the real weapon is also more difficult to use than the phasers Capt. Kirk and Co. simply pointed in the general direction of their prey.
“With the PHaSR, you have to be a good enough shot” to hit a target’s eyes in order for the blinding effect to take place, Wegner said — and it can only affect one individual at a time.
The precise effects of the PHaSR, such as range and recovery time for recipients of the beam, are classified, Wegner said.
But Matt Mullins, deputy branch chief of the laboratory’s Tactical Laser Systems Branch, said he has personally been “dazzled” by the PHaSR.
“Once the effects wear off, you’ll be right as rain,” Mullins said.