by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Weaponized sound is not new to police and military commanders, as this research paper from the journal Science and Global Security points out. There are good examples of weaponized sound going back many centuries, though they’re generally considered to be “non-lethal weapons.” Not harmless, but not deadly. And they’ve being used against protesters in the U.S., as shown in the photo from Ferguson, Missouri, shown above.
Eric Niiler, writing for History.com, provides a good historical summary of the subject, and includes a photo of a long range acoustic device, or sound cannon, deployed by police during a Trump rally in 2017 in Anaheim, California to deter potential mob action. But we’re much more likely to read about tear gas and pepper spray and water cannons and rubber bullets than this kind of high tech gear.
The article also reaches all the way back to the Israelites blaring trumpets at the walls of Jericho.
Do sonic weapons get used often? Yes. Niiler writes about recent appearances with which we’re all familiar:
Police units used LRAD devices at an Occupy Wall Street rally in 2011 and in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. They are currently deployed on naval ships to deter smaller boats from approaching. More than 20 countries are now using the LRAD. Israeli Defense Forces have used it to break up Palestinian protests, Japanese whaling ships have repelled environmental groups and several cruise ships have used it to fight off pirates in places like the Horn of Africa or Indian Ocean. Most recently, mysterious attacks on the US Embassy in Cuba appeared to be sonic in nature though no publicly available reports have disclosed understanding of what actually happened there.
And where there is weaponized sound, there are health concerns. This 2017 post by James Hamblin in The Atlantic is a very interesting overview on the health aspects of sonic weapons.
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.