Defense Media Network

Shout Them Down: 21st Century Acoustic Weapons

“So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat . . .”

—Joshua 6:20

Admittedly, today’s acoustic weapons don’t match the sonic power and punch of the trumpets and lungs of the Israelites standing before the walls of Jericho around 1400 b.c., but the twenty-first century versions more than compensate for that deficiency with their technological make-up and variety. Acoustic weapons are what the name suggests, devices that project sound waves designed to disperse or incapacitate. They range from systems that are little more than muscular loudspeakers (like the kind used to play loud rock music that drove Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican

embassy in Panama 1989 during Operation Just Cause) to sophisticated bone-rattling systems that truly can be called weapons. They go by a wide variety of names, including the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), the Acoustic Blaster, the Hyperspike, the Aversive Audible Acoustic Device (A3D), the Gayle Blaster, the Acoustic Cannon, the Sequential Arc Discharge Acoustic Generator, the Mosquito, and the Squawk Box. Acoustic weapons utilize one of two approaches: the high frequency spectrum that targets the ear, or the low frequency spectrum, called “infrasound,” that targets the body.

Ship’s Serviceman 1st Class Scott D. Amberger aims a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) at an incoming small craft off the starboard bridge wing of  USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) during a small boat attack drill. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Tucker M. Yates.

An example of a high frequency system is the LRAD, designed by American Technology Corporation (now LRAD Corporation). It was developed in response to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Though its primary function is as a communications device, it does have non-lethal weapon capability. In communications mode, it is able to issue messages that can be clearly heard and understood at ranges in excess of 500 meters. In weapons mode it delivers a series of ear-splitting beeps designed to drive away approaching individuals. Prolonged exposure can also result in visual impairment and hearing damage.

LRADs have been installed on a variety of civilian ships, including tankers and cruise ships, which cannot be equipped with conventional weapons. An LRAD was successfully used on Nov. 7, 2005 by a Seabourn Cruise Line luxury cruise ship against approaching Somali pirates. Several police forces also use LRADs. In 2009, Pittsburgh police used an LRAD to disperse a group of protesters during the G-20 Summit. It is currently deployed with units of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, and U.S. Navy at various locations in Iraq and at the port of Basra.

Infrasound non-lethal systems operate at frequencies below 20 KHz and are designed to cause mild or extreme discomfort to the body. The Russians have been working on infrasound systems since the early 1990s. They are capable of firing “acoustic bullets” at a variety of power levels. At its lowest setting, these “bullets” would cause mild discomfort. Increasing the power settings result in the targeted individual experiencing nausea, vomiting, and extreme abdominal pain, with the highest levels causing bone-rattling trauma.


DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...