The U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Nonlethal Weapons Program is creating a device that can jam the electrical systems of cars and other vehicles and cause them to stop in their tracks. JNLWD is creating this nonlethal device called a Radio Frequency Vessel Stopper as a means of preventing vehicular attacks, which have been used around the world, and in other security and defense situations. In the past few years, North America has seen vehicle attacks emerge in New York, Virginia and most recently, Toronto. The Radio Frequency Vessel Stopper functions without harming the vehicle or driver.
JNLWD demoed this invention in March 2018 at the Directed Energy to Washington, D.C. Expo, or DE2DC. According to JNLWD’s definition, the machine’s purpose is to:
[D]evelop stationary or mobile high-power microwave payload providing a long-range nonlethal capability for small vessel stopping, swarm defense and ship system disruption. The technology will stop the vessel's propulsion by electrical system malfunction.
Members of the program envision this vessel stopper being used in force protection, or to protect military bases and personnel around the globe, in port security operations, and in situations involving the pursuing, stopping and interdicting of vessels and vehicles.
The jamming function of this device forces a vehicle's engine control unit to restart repeatedly and stall, effectively “hold[ing] the car in place,” David Law, leader of JNLWD’s tech division, said, according to Defense One. He added that, “Anything that has electronics on it, these high-powered microwaves will affect. As long as the [radio] is on, it holds the vehicle stopped.”
The Radio Frequency Vessel Stopper sends out microwaves to accomplish its work, which are electromagnetic waves that are considered relatively short for radio waves. Their wavelengths fall in the range of 30 cm to 1 mm, with a frequency between one and 300 GHz.
The device currently exists in two forms: a smaller model with a 50-meter range and a larger model that reportedly has a range of a few hundred meters. The smaller version can fit into a truck and be used in mobile situations, like a pursuit. The larger version is intended to be stationary – it’s about three times bigger and possesses amplification tech. Both models utilize a dish to emit the necessary waves to stall vehicles. These stoppers use a gas-powered turbine that generates 300 kW of power and weighs about 400 pounds.
The Department of Defense JNLWD is housed at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Its overarching mission is to “stimulate and coordinate nonlethal weapons requirements of the U.S. Armed Services and allocate resources to help meet these requirements.”
At the March expo, JNLWD staff presented panel discussions, static displays and videos featuring the Radio Frequency Vessel Stopper, along with other tools and strategies in the nonlethal weapons portfolio, including Laser-Induced Plasma Effect and Solid-State Active Denial System. Demonstrations can be viewed in the video below.