The opening rounds of the war against terrorist groups in Afghanistan
showcased the efficacy of highly lethal, precision-guided weapons.
In current and future wars, however, there also is an important
role for non-lethal systems.
In Afghanistan, the al Qaeda headquarters and core training facilities
could be isolated and attacked directly. Outside Afghanistan, meanwhile,
terrorist cells are based in cities around the world. Future phases
in the war, therefore, are likely to occur in densely populated
Conducting operations in which terrorists must be separated from
the general population will be problematic. This will be especially
true in cities in which the inhabitants do not have any sympathy
for the terrorists and are only innocent bystanders. In such situations,
the probability that terrorists will take hostages is quite high.
Whether the force engaging the terrorists is military, law enforcement,
or a combination of both, they will need non-lethal weapons to avoid
killing those innocent bystanders.
During the past two years, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate
at Quantico, Va., has been working to get non-lethal systems into
the hands of deployed troops.
Non-lethal weapons function in three realms: counter personnel,
counter materiel and counter capability. Counter personnel objectives
include controlling crowds, incapacitating individuals, denying
areas to personnel and clearing personnel from facilities, structures
or areas of operation. Counter material systems are used to deny
areas to vehicles, vessels or aircraft, and to disable or neutralize
vehicles, vessels, aircraft or equipment. Counter capability objectives
include disabling or neutralizing facilities and systems, and denying
use of weapons of mass destruction.
Non-lethal technologies cover a broad spectrum, including areas
related to the development of acoustics systems, chemicals (anti-traction,
dyes, markers, nausea, stench), communications systems, electromagnetic
and electrical systems, entanglement and other mechanical systems,
information technologies, optical devices, non-penetrating projectiles
and munitions, and many others.
Combinations of non-lethal and lethal weapons are possible. For
example, non-lethal weapons can work in conjunction with psychological,
information or electronic warfare.
Prior to the attacks of September 11, military forces were developing
and deploying non-lethal weapons. Given the operations in which
U.S. forces were engaged, the emphasis was in two areas—peace
support operations and force protection.
While there had been limited use of non-lethal weapons in earlier
operation in Somalia, Haiti and Panama, it was in the Balkans that
U.S. military forces had their best success.
When U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) became engaged in Bosnia, commanders
asked for an emergency procurement of non-lethal weapons. They acquired
many of the same capabilities used by police departments, developed
a theater training strategy (the first in the Army), and secured
training from the Marine Detachment at the U.S. Army Military Police
School. USAREUR trained approximately 60 soldiers and conducted
When the United States then became engaged in Kosovo, USAREUR again
requested non-lethal systems.
In April 2000, Task Force Falcon received a report of contraband
weapons in the small village of Sevce. Responding to the report,
a detachment discovered and seized both the weapons and alleged
violator. As they were leaving the scene, a crowd quickly formed
and blocked the exit route. Task Force Falcon sent reinforcements
armed with non-lethal weapons.
The situation deteriorated despite negotiation attempts. The team
on the ground was getting bombarded with rocks and large sticks.
Several soldiers were injured. The on-site commander decided that
use of non-lethal weapons was appropriate, since the crowd included
women and children, some being used as shields.
In February 2001, Task Force Falcon again faced a tense situation.
As they tried to remove an obstacle, a crowd quickly formed and
the soldiers were confronted by a rock-throwing mob. The rioters
wedged themselves between the main force and their vehicles, and
blocked any movement. As the situation escalated, the soldiers decided
to use non-lethal weapons. The crowd dissipated shortly thereafter.
The Navy also could benefit from the use of non-lethal weapons.
Sanctions enforcement in the Persian Gulf has highlighted the challenges
of intercepting and boarding suspect vessels in the midst of heavy
commercial traffic and unknown crew makeup. Non-lethal options offer
an alternative to conventional weapons.
Some senior officers such as Maj. Gen. John Barry, the Air Force
director of strategic planning, believe that non-lethal weapons
have a strategic role. As was seen in the war in Afghanistan, there
were instances when U.S. precision-guided bombs went astray and
accidentally killed friendly forces or civilians.
Non-lethal weapons that attack a country’s infrastructure
could prove valuable as a means to exert influence without fatalities.
These include systems that block all forms of communications, inhibit
mobility and suppress target acquisition.
Following are three examples of new systems currently being developed
by the Joint Program Office:
Area Denial System—ADS is a millimeter wave system that produces
pain. Operating at 95 gigahertz, it produces very short waves that
do not penetrate the skin very deeply. In May, after extensive preliminary
testing, the developers received permission to conduct whole-body
human testing of the device. This technology would be used to disperse
unruly crowds. However, there still is much research to be done
in physiology and crowd psychology, such as whether the crowd has
the ability to exit the area unharmed. Given the level of pain evoked,
a sniper will not be able to take aimed shots when exposed to ADS.
Advanced Tactical Laser—One of the more ambitious non-lethal
weapons programs is the ATL. This project was proposed by Boeing
and is part of an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration. The
idea is for a chemical laser, using adaptive optics, to place a
4-inch spot at 20 kilometers. The laser could be installed on a
V-22 tilt-wing aircraft, CH-47 helicopter, or possibly a Humvee
truck. The shots would take place for up to 40 seconds, which is
the fuel limit of the chemical laser.
Pulsed Energy Projectile—This is a pulsed chemical deuterium
fluoride laser device that delivers a substantial shock to the target.
There are multiple effects from the PEP including a dramatic flash,
nearly deafening sound, and substantial kinetic impact. Col. George
Fenton, director of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, sometimes
refers to this as “phasers on stun.” (See related story).
Tests have indicated that the kinetic impact is well above that
of any beanbag round or plastic bullet. The bio-effects listed by
the developer, Mission Research Corporation, include: shrapnel-less
flash-bang, cutaneous peripheral afferent nerves (pain, susceptibility
to chemical agents, lesions), cutaneous peripheral efferent nerves
(temporary paralysis, choking, fibrillation), central nervous system
This weapon will be able to temporarily take out a sniper, or other
targeted individual, before they have time to duck. In order to
increase the rate of fire in the event multiple shots are required,
the contractor has proposed a Gatling gun-like system that rotates
after each shot, rather than expelling the gas and refilling the
chamber between firings.
Issues to Be Addressed
There are a number of issues related to non-lethal weapons that
need to be addressed. They involve effectiveness, casualty acceptability
limits and rules of engagement. The effects of bullets and explosives
are well known while those of non-lethal weapons are not. Therefore,
a concern facing commanders is to have high assurance that the new
weapons will perform to expected standards. Questions arise about
the effect of various types of non-lethal weapons on humans.
There is similar concern about measuring the effectiveness of antimateriel
non-lethal weapons. Debate abounds as to whether or not non-lethal
weapons can serve as a deterrent to further aggression. There is
a growing consensus that they should not be deployed without adequate
lethal capability. Also, non-lethal weapons should not have an adverse
impact on the environment. Long-term toxicity testing should be
accomplished before fielding.
It is important to establish clear rules of engagement. The pace
at which operational situations can change is accelerating. Therefore,
the authority to transition from non-lethal to lethal by necessity
will be pushed to lower and lower levels.
Non-lethal weapons are not a panacea. There are legitimate concerns
about their development and use. These include the likelihood of
producing unintended death or serious injury and their inappropriate
use by untrained personnel.
There are some complaints, however, that appear groundless. For
instance, one concern about rubber or wooden bullets has been that
they inflict pain, can cause bruising and, in rare instances, result
in death. All true. But the reality is that non-lethal weapons are
meant to be adjuncts to lethal weapons. They are not to be used
without provocation or proper authority. Therefore, if provocation
exists, and non-lethal weapons are not available, the perpetrator
is likely to be shot with a conventional pistol or rifle.
What are most needed by the Joint Non Lethal Weapons Directorate
are new and innovative technologies and concepts. New, shadowy and
mercurial adversaries are emerging. Identifying and locating them
is a difficult task. Often they are commingled with innocent civilians
thus presenting the problem of unwanted casualties.
The reality of these new conflicts is already beginning to take
place both in foreign lands and in U.S. cities. Non-lethal weapons
will be required.
John B. Alexander is chairman of the National Defense Industrial
Association Non-Lethal Defense Conference.