Since its introduction in 1999, the Advanced Taser M26 has found its way onto the belts of thousands of officers in North America and around the world. It is one of the most popular less-lethal weapons in the history of law enforcement. But it’s far from perfect.
The M26 is effective, safe, and easy to use, but it’s really big and bulky and less than comfortable on a duty belt, especially on a duty belt already weighed down with pepper spray, an expandable baton, a couple of spare mags, handcuffs, and a radio.
Interestingly enough, the first people to admit that the M26 is too large are the engineers and design team at the weapon’s manufacturer, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International.
They have to admit it because they’ve been hearing about it from their customers. “We are a company that responds to what users ask for,” says Steve Tuttle, Taser’s director of government and law enforcement affairs.
Taser has responded to the complaints about the size of its flagship product with innovation and creativity. And by the time this magazine reaches your mailbox, the company plans to roll out the X26, a much smaller Taser that’s even more effective than its larger predecessor.
The difference between the M26 and the X26 is kind of like the difference between a 10-year-old video camcorder and the latest whizzbang digital camcorder sitting on the shelves at your local Circuit City. The X26 does essentially the same job as the M26, but it is a full 60 percent smaller and lighter, it’s more efficient, and it has many new features that weren’t even imagined when the M26 was in development.
Bigger Isn’t Better
Shrinking a Taser 60 percent and retaining its punch is no easy trick. The M26 is powered by the current from eight alkaline AA batteries. That’s a lot of weight, and it also explains why the gun’s handle is so long. But the eight AAs were a necessary evil because the M26’s circuitry requires that much juice to supply the 26 watts of power it uses to incapacitate targets.
Consequently, in order to reduce the size of the Taser, the engineers had to rethink the voltage requirements of the gun. After months of working the problem, they came up with a radical solution. They concluded that the best way to significantly reduce the power requirements of the Taser and thereby make the weapon substantially smaller was to change the way the Taser does its business.
The result is patent-pending technology that Taser says reduces the power requirement of the new X26 gun to one-fifth that of the M26. “It’s the equivalent of making a car get five times better gas mileage,” says Tuttle. “To an electrical engineer, that’s an enormous leap.”
Reducing the power requirements of the Taser is one thing; making it effective is another.
Both the M26 and the X26 incapacitate subjects by electro muscular disruption (EMD), an uncontrollable contraction of muscular tissue that’s been described as a full-body charley horse. Thousands of tests by Taser on SWAT officers, elite warriors, and martial artists have proven that EMD can stop even the most focused and fit subjects. People who’ve experienced both the M26 and the X26 say the new weapon actually put them down faster than the M26. That’s quite remarkable when you consider that the M26 is a 26-watt weapon while the X26 is powered by only 5 watts.
The secret to the X26’s efficiency is what Taser calls a “shaped pulse.” One of the reasons that the M26 needed 26 watts of power was that each of its 18 electrical pulses per second had to break through the resistance of the subject’s clothing and skin. In contrast, the X26 breaks that resistance once, uses a small part of its charge to maintain that opening, and pushes the rest of its energy through with little resistance for 19 pulses per second for the first two seconds and 15 pulses per second for the next three seconds. Taser says the result is a weapon that requires less energy but causes 5 percent more of the EMD effect on the target.
Tuttle explains the difference between the effect of the X26 and the M26 in terms of door-breaching techniques. “One of the best analogies is that the M26 is like a battering ram. To enter the ‘door’ (the resistance of skin and clothing), it comes in hard, it punches hard, and it knocks the door down with its 18 pulses per second,” explains Tuttle. “The shaped pulse of the X26 doesn’t knock the door down, it brings the key. It opens the door and keeps it open for each free flow of electrons.”
The effect of the X26’s shaped pulse is even more debilitating than Taser’s previous models, but the company says it remains perfectly safe. As with the M26, the X26 has been extensively tested on animals, and the studies have shown that the incapacitation is temporary with no permanent effects on the subject.
The new X26 Taser comes with an exoskeleton-style retention holster designed specifically for the weapon.
Because the X26 Taser uses less energy than the M26, the engineers were able to power it with a smaller battery and consequently make the weapon itself smaller.
Unlike the M26, which could be powered by ordinary AA batteries, the X26 requires a proprietary lithium battery pack that’s sold only by Taser. The company admits that the off-the-shelf convenience of the AA system may be preferred by some customers, but argues that there are many advantages to the X26’s proprietary energy cell that outweigh the convenience afforded by AA batteries.
Critically, the proprietary battery pack, which Taser calls a “digital power magazine” is much smaller and lighter than eight AAs. But beyond that, the X26’s battery pack has a longer life. In the weapon, the new energy cell lasts for a minimum of 300 5-second firings. On the shelf, it will stay charged for 10 years.
“The ability to have a lot more activations outweighs any disadvantage to having to buy the batteries from Taser,” says Sgt. Steve Hadley of the Glendale (Ariz.) Police Department. Hadley should know. Not only is he a Taser master instructor, he has also deployed the M26 10 times in the field.
In addition to less bulk and longer life, the new batteries eliminate one of the major causes of Taser failure in the field. You can’t put the batteries in the wrong way.
“I can’t tell you how many times we get back a failed M26 and we inspect it and we find out that the user installed one battery upside down out of the eight,” says Tuttle. “But you can’t do that with the new digital power magazine. It’s like a pistol magazine, it goes in one way only.”