ATC HyperSonic Sound as a Weapon

By Marshall SELLA New York Times March 23, 2003
5036 words, Late Edition - Final , Section 6 , Page 34 , Column 3 

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For the moment, though, HSS is unfinished business. As night must follow
day, there are Defense Department applications. Norris and A.T.C. have
been busy honing something called High Intensity Directed Acoustics
(HIDA, in house jargon). It is directional sound -- an offshoot of HSS --
but one that never, ever transmits Handel or waterfall sounds. Although
the technology thus far has been routinely referred to as a "nonlethal
weapon," the Pentagon now prefers to stress the friendlier-sounding
"hailing intruders" function.

In reality, HIDA is both warning and weapon. If used from a battleship,
it can ward off stray crafts at 500 yards with a pinpointed verbal
warning.  Should the offending vessel continue to within 200 yards, the
stern warnings are replaced by 120-decibel sounds that are as physically
disabling as shrapnel. Certain noises, projected at the right pitch, can
incapacitate even a stone-deaf terrorist; the bones in your head are
brutalized by a tone's full effect whether you're clutching the sides of
your skull in agony or not.

"Besides," Norris says, laughing darkly, "grabbing your ears is as good
as a pair of handcuffs."

Nimbly holding a big black plate, Norris stands with me in an A.T.C.
sound chamber. Since he's poised behind the weapon, he will hear no
sound once it's powered up: not a peep. "HIDA can instantaneously cause
loss of equilibrium, vomiting, migraines -- really, we can pretty much
pick our ailment," he says brightly. "We've delivered a couple dozen
units so far, but will have a lot more out by June. They're talking

(Last month, A.T.C. cut a five-year, multimillion-dollar licensing
agreement with General Dynamics, one of the giants of the military-
industrial complex.)

Norris prods his assistant to locate the baby noise on a laptop, then
aims the device at me. At first, the noise is dreadful -- just primally
wrong -- but not unbearable. I repeatedly tell Norris to crank it up
(trying to approximate battle-strength volume, without the nausea),
until the noise isn't so much a noise as an assault on my nervous
system. I nearly fall down and, for some reason, my eyes hurt. When
I bravely ask how high they'd turned the dial, Norris laughs
uproariously. "That was nothing!" he bellows.

"That was about 1 percent of what an enemy would get. One percent!"
Two hours later, I can still feel the ache in the back of my head.