Dazzlers emit infrared or invisible light against various electronic sensors, and visible light against humans, when they are intended to cause no long-term damage to eyes. The emitters are usually lasers, making what is termed a laser dazzler. Most of the contemporary systems are man-portable, and operate in either the red (a laser diode) or green (a diode-pumped solid-state laser, DPSS) areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. The green laser is chosen for its unique ability to react with the human eye. The green laser is less harmful to human eyes.
Some searchlights are bright enough to cause permanent or temporary blindness, and they were used to dazzle the crews of bombers during World War II. Whirling Spray was a system of search lights fitted with rotating mirrors which was used to dazzle and confuse pilots attacking the Suez canal. This was developed into the Canal Defence Light, a small mobile tank mounted system intended for use in the Rhine crossings. However, the system was mainly used as conventional searchlights.
Handgun or rifle-mounted lights may also be used to temporarily blind an opponent and are sometimes marketed for that purpose. In both cases the primary purpose is to illuminate the target and their use to disorient is secondary.
The first reported use of laser dazzlers in combat was possibly by the British, during the Falklands War of 1982, when they were reputedly fitted to various Royal Navy warships to hinder low-level Argentinian air attacks.
At the end of Operation Desert Storm, F-15E crews observing the Iraqi military's massacre of Kurdish civilians at Chamchamal were forbidden from firing on the attackers, but instead used their lasers as a dazzler weapon. This ultimately proved ineffective in crashing any attack helicopters.
On 18 May 2006, the U.S. military announced it was using laser dazzlers mounted on M-4 rifles in troops in Iraq as a non-lethal way to stop drivers who fail to stop at checkpoints manned by American soldiers.
One defense against laser dazzlers are narrowband optical filters tuned to the frequency of the laser. To counter such defense, dazzlers can employ emitters using more than one wavelength, or tunable lasers with wider range of output. Another defense is photochromic materials able to become opaque under high light energy densities. Nonlinear optics techniques are being investigated: e.g. vanadium-doped zinc telluride (ZnTe:V) can be used to form electro-optic power limiters able to selectively block the intense dazzler beam without affecting weaker light from an observed scene.
Weapons designed to cause permanent blindness are banned by the 1995 United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. The dazzler is a non-lethal weapon intended to cause temporary blindness or disorientation and therefore falls outside this protocol.
Manufacturers and models
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- LE Systems, under the sponsorship of DARPA, developed a dazzler based on a DPSS laser, with green light output at 532 nm, essentially a higher-intensity version of a green laser pointer. The advantage of 532 nm wavelength lies in its ability to interact with human eyes in daylight and reduced light conditions.
- The Glare Mout and Glare LA-9/P, developed by B.E. Meyers, provide a non-lethal deterrent weapon which temporarily interferes with a subject's vision while causing no eye damage. Unlike simple laser pointers that are engineered to emit a tight beam, these lasers are designed to emit a slightly diverging green beam that is less of an eye hazard but retain the desired effect on the viewer. The diverging output also results in a larger spot at the intended target, making aiming the device at long distances, or at multiple subjects, much easier. The Glare Mout's effective range is 150m–2 km. The LA-9/P effective range is 300m–4 km, and it has a further safety feature that neutralizes the possibility of eye injury even at close ranges.
- The Dazer Laser GUARDIAN, Dazer Laser STEALTH and "Dazer Laser DEFENDER" by Laser Energetics, Inc. are different types of optical distraction laser systems which can temporarily visually impair, illuminate, target designate, warn and/or communicate visually with the intended target. The GUARDIAN incorporates a 250 mW, 532 nm green laser which utilizes Variable Range & Focus (VRF) Optics with an effective engagement range from 1–1000 meters and visible out to 2000 meters. The GUARDIAN is fully compliant with FDA 21 CFR 1040 Regulations. The DEFENDER incorporates a 450 mW, 532 nm green laser which utilizes VRF Optics with an effective engagement range from 1–2400 meters and visible out to 4000 meters. The STEALTH takes the functionality of a GUARDIAN's Optical Distractor, and combines it with an AN/PEQ-15 and also a Tactical LED Flashlight. Unlike other various optical distractors, systems, which use fixed focus divergence angles, all Dazer Lasers use VRF Optics to allow for engagements at ALL ranges, versus being limited to ranges from 10 meters (safety reasons) out to 500 meters (ineffective because beam is too large). All Dazer Laser systems can operate from −20 C to +55 C, are waterproof to 10+ meters for 60+ minutes (model dependent), and ruggedized in accordance with MIL STD-810G requirements.
- The Saber 203 dazzler or Saber 203 Grenade Shell Laser Intruder Countermeasure System, uses a 250 mW red laser diode, mounted in a hard plastic capsule in the shape of a standard 40 mm grenade, suitable for being loaded into a M203 grenade launcher. It has an effective range of 300 meters. It is controlled via a box snapped under the launcher, with the batteries and firing switch housed in this box. In emergency it can be quickly ejected and replaced with a grenade. It is similar to the LANL-developed optical munition, Project Perseus. The U.S. Marine Corps brought Saber 203 dazzlers to Somalia in January 1995 during Operation United Shield, but senior U.S. Department of Defense officials reportedly halted its experimental use in Somalia at the last minute for "humane reasons". According to the Air Force, the Saber 203 system is also usable for law enforcement purposes.
- The JD-3 laser dazzler is mounted on the Chinese Type 98 main battle tank. It is coupled with a laser radiation detector, and automatically aims for the enemy's illuminating laser designator, attempting to overwhelm its optical systems or blind the operator.
- The ZM-87 Portable Laser Disturber is a Chinese electro-optic countermeasure laser device. It can blind enemy troops at up to 2 to 3 km range and temporarily blind them at up to 10 km range. Note that this weapon is banned by the 1995 United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. See ZM-87 for more information.
- The Photonic Disruptor, classified as a threat assessment laser (TALI), was developed and manufactured by Wicked Lasers in cooperation with Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems. This tactical laser is equipped with a versatile focus-adjustable collimating lens to compensate for range and power intensity when used at close range to incapacitate an attacker, at a distance to safely identify threats. The Photonic Disruptor has been featured on Discovery Channel's "Future Weapons." It was also reportedly used by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society during their operations with the Ady Gil in the Southern Ocean against Japanese whaling.
- The Outfit DEC or Laser Dazzle Sight (LDS) is a British ship-based laser, used since the 1980s The veiling-glare laser works on ultraviolet and is designed to dazzle by causing fluorescence in the lens of the human eye. There are other such laser weapon systems in development.
- StunRay is a less-lethal optical incapacitation effector developed by Genesis Illumination Inc. It uses collimated incoherent (non-laser) broad spectrum visible and near infrared light from a short-arc lamp to safely and temporarily impair vision, disorient and incapacitate aggressors for 5 seconds to 3 minutes without causing physical harm. Full recover generally occurs in 10–20 minutes. The hand-held model is designed for a range of 10m to 100m. StunRay can be scaled up for ranges from 100m to 1000m for vehicle mounting, checkpoints, secure facilities, patrol boats, and ship protection.
- The PHaSR or Personnel halting and stimulation response rifle was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Three US Patents are held by Science & Engineering Associates (SEA) who is now QinetiQ North America. They are: 5,685,636 Eye Safe Laser Security Device; 6,007,218 Self-Contained Laser Illuminator Module; and 6,190,022 B1 Enhanced Non-Lethal Security Device.
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- Chris Matyszczyk (23 July 2010). "Police to experiment with blinding 'Dazer Laser'?". CNET.com. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
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