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Non-lethal weapons to gain relevancy in future conflicts. (Commentary).

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 urban areas.

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.

Balkans Experience

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 leader orientations.

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.

Strategic Thinking

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 resting, the developers received permission to conduct whole-body human resting 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 NonLethal 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 (disorientation).

This weapon will be able to temporarily rake 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.
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Author:Alexander, John B.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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