NEW YORK – While it may seem more Ghostbusters than government, the U.S. Marines are hopeful they'll soon be able to use a new spray-on slime that slips up bad guys in their tracks.
The Mobility Denial System consists of a milky-white, non-hazardous anti-traction gel that is sprayed out over the desired area in 1/8-inch thickness to form an impenetrable barrier.
The military is always looking for new ways to handle situations without deadly force, Marine Corps Major Guillermo Canedo said, and this system is being developed to help with crowd control, riots, protesters, and guarding buildings and sensitive areas, such as embassies.
Scientists at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute were hired by the Marines to develop the anti-gravity goo. "The idea is to put it on surfaces like walkways, stairs, banisters, buildings...there’s no limit," said Ronald Mathis, principal engineer on the project.
Canedo said all of the field uses for the "slippery foam" haven't been developed yet as it is still in the design and test phase. "It's exciting when you can have another option and can make it available to commanders in the field," he said. "This will just be one more arrow in our quiver."
If the final product is approved, the Marines could be using MDS sometime in late 2003, and eventually other branches of the military and police departments may also stop crime with slime.
On Dec. 13 the product was tested at the research institute with successful results, stopping human and automobile traffic in its tracks.
Resembling a Laurel and Hardy episode more than a scientific experiment, volunteers sporting safety harnesses tried to cross a patch of lawn sprayed with the solution but ended up with their feet in the air. A van driver made the same attempt only to lose control, carving up the grass.
"It is so viscous, like oysters," said Bill Mallow, a chemist for the project. "You can't swish it out from underneath your feet, it props the vehicle or foot up off the surface, giving the effect of hydroplaning."
This banana peel effect is made possible by a substance that is 95 percent water. Mallow said the active ingredient (top-secret of course) is a polymer similar to the material that soft contact lenses are made from.
"We spent about a year screening all kinds of slippery materials before we identified this combination of polymers. It's a very snotty material, like a garden snail," Mallow said.
Environmentally friendly and ingestible, the gel remains effective for 6 to 12 hours, depending on weather conditions. Once dry it can be swept up, or doused with water to reactivate.
There are two methods to distribute the gel, Canedo explained: "A man-portable system carries about enough material to cover a 2,000 sq. foot area, and a vehicle mounted system would be put on a Humvee and using a water sprayer could cover an area of 100,00 sq. feet, or 2 football fields."
But will lubing losers who break the law inadvertently injure innocents unaware of what they are about to walk on? Not likely, Canedo said there would be additional alerts in place to keep civilians at bay, like troops on bullhorns, barricades and signs. Brighter colors can also be added to make the sprayed zone even more obvious, Mathis said.
While the hilarious image of raucous rioters flailing about in a pond of Elmer's Glue is easy to conjure, Mathis said it's only humorous until you've tested it. "People ask us if they can get some for their kids birthday parties," he said. "But this is not like a slip and slide.
"If you put one foot on it you're going to go down — and you're going down fast."