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Are Non-Lethal Laser Drones the New Stun Guns?

By Defense Systems Information Analysis Center

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With a less-lethal weapon, there is always the risk that it might be bested by more-lethal means. Escalation and immediate response needs can lead to a shoot-first mentality, with less harmful tools kept as an alternative. But if those less-lethal tools are put on a robot, the danger suddenly shifts. Why not send a drone with a stun gun after a person with unknown armament? Worst comes to worst, it’s just another disabled robot.

This is, perhaps, one of the reasons Russia’s Scientific and Production Association of Special Materials Corporation is looking to display a drone armed with both a stun gun and an incapacitating laser weapon at the Army 2019 expo in June. Detailed by Interfax, the lightweight vehicle will carry a laser meant to only induce temporary blindness, rather than deliberately cause any permanent damage. (This is the proverbial bright line for all laser and directed-energy weapons, which are permissible to cause permanent damage to sensors, weapons, and uncrewed vehicles, but which are bound by the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons to not cause permanent harm to human eyesight.)

“This drone is definitely intended for internal security where killing the perpetrator is not recommended or is not the final outcome,” said Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “We do know that Russian National Guard, for example, is interested in a range of technologies for crowd control and internal security — this newly established security agency has also been shopping for drones lately.”