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U.S. troops find new uses for non-lethal weaponry.

As the war on terrorism grinds on, U.S. military forces and civilian organizations are finding more and more uses for weapons that don't kill.

Marines guarding the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, for example, are equipped with non-lethal rounds for their 12 gauge shotguns to drive away unarmed rioters.

U.S. troops overseeing al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are training to use stingball grenades to put down a prison rebellion.

The Air Line Pilots Association International has called for the installation of stun guns as standard equipment in airline cockpits to thwart would-be hijackers with minimal risk to passengers.

The stun gun is only one of many non-lethal technologies that could be used against terrorists on airliners, Marine Col. George P. Fenton told National Defense magazine in a wide-ranging interview. Fenton is director of the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, which is headquartered at the Marine Base at Quantico, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C.

Some technologies, "predominantly available off the shelf," could be made available in the near term, Fenton said. These include pepper spray, slippery foam and entanglement nets. Other concepts might take longer-three years or more-he said.

For example, a pilot-activated passenger-immobilization system could be developed to incapacitate everybody in the passenger compartment, Fenton said. However, such a system has some risks associated with it, he warned.

For one thing, Fenton said, "chemical incapacitants or immobilizers are not instantaneous." They could take 60 seconds or so to work, and during that time, a terrorist or group of terrorists might be able to do considerable damage.

Also, the infirm--babies, elderly or seriously ill--could be injured permanently or even killed. The policy and legal implications of these risks need further study, Fenton said.

Confusion Abounds

There is, in general, a good deal of confusion about non-lethal weapons, Fenton noted. "People don't understand what they are," he said. "If I had my way, I'd change the name."

It is important to realize that non-lethal weapons can be hazardous to your health, Fenton said. Any weapon that uses force to make you change your behavior--as non-lethal systems do--can injure, even kill you, unintentionally, he warned. "I can hurt you with water."

The Defense Department, he explained, defines non-lethal weapons as those "explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities and permanent injury to personnel and undesired damage to property and the environment."

Since ancient times, military forces always have had some non-lethal capabilities, such as use of billy clubs, rifle butts and--in recent decades--tear gas. But all too often, military options in crowd control turned quickly to live fire, Fenton said.

The Pentagon's interest in non-lethal weapons increased sharply in 1995, when U.S. forces helped United Nations troops withdraw from Somalia. Their orders were to do this with a minimum of military and civilian casualties. But they had few non-lethal weapons at the time.

Once, in Mogadishu, "a car blew through a UN checkpoint, ignoring all signals to stop," Fenton said. "The guards opened fire, killing all of the occupants. When they opened the car door, they found a Somali family--father, mother and children."

To minimize such incidents, Marine reservists, who also happened to be Los Angeles police officers, suggested that U.S. military forces try using of the kinds of non-lethal technologies employed for years by domestic law enforcement agencies.

Then-Marine Lt. Gen, Anthony Zinni, who was charged with protecting the withdrawal, sought--and received--a quick response to acquire and deploy such technology in Mogadishu, but it received little use.

The following year, however, Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan, then commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., charged that "existing weapons development, procurement, training and equipping policies have not kept pace with the emerging needs for non- and less-lethal weapons."

In the CNN era, an individual's decision to use or not to use deadly force is no longer merely a tactical decision, but strategic one, Sheehan said, because "the implications of the decision will be immediately broadcast to every capital in the world."

In July 1996, the Defense Department established a Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate to develop and employ such weapons throughout the armed services. The Marine commandant was named executive agent for the program, responsible for stimulating and coordinating non-lethal weapons requirements for all services. It is an important assignment, said the current commandant, Gen. James L. Jones.

"Today, world events mandate a need to project non-lethal force across all levels of war to enable our warfighters and leaders to deal effectively with a host of traditional, as well as non-traditional threats," Jones said.

The Focal Point

The directorate has an annual budget of about $25 million and a staff of 21 drawn from the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Marines, Fenton said. "This is the focal point for non-lethal weapons for the entire Department of Defense," he pointed out.

The directorate is responsible for non-lethal concept exploration and program development for all U.S. armed services. The Marines' Non-Lethal Individual Weapons Instructors Course, now located at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., reaches more than 300 students per year from all the services and several allied nations.

The school is designed to "train the trainer" - produce instructors who will return to their home units and conduct basic user-level training. The school's graduates also often serve as non-lethal operations advisors to commanders. Training includes communications skills, crowd dynamics, unarmed self-defense, riot-control tactics and non-lethal munitions deployment.

Students learn to discriminate between "tourists and terrorists," Fenton said. "Suppose you're on guard on a U.S. warship in a foreign harbor, and a motorboat comes speeding toward you," he proposed. "You only have minutes-maybe seconds-to decide what to do. It would be nice to have an option that would stop the motorboat without killing a potentially innocent driver. That's what non-lethal weapons are all about."

It is also important to remember that non-lethal weapons are not intended to replace lethal weapons, but to provide another option when killing may not be the right choice, Fenton stressed. "We always have our lethal weapons ready," he said. "Non-lethals are a complement, a force multiplier."

The directorate tries to keep the needs of the combat soldier in mind, Fenton said. "I'm not an acquisition bubba," he said. "I'm an infantryman. I know what it's like to be shot at."

The directorate researches technologies that show promise in crowd control, incapacitating individuals, clearing areas or facilities, and disabling vehicles, Fenton said.

Currently in production, he explained, are 66 mm vehicle-launched non-lethal grenades, 40 mm non-lethal crowd-dispersal cartridges, and portable net barriers to stop vehicles at roadblocks.

Still in development is an "anti-traction material," a slippery foam that is sprayed on the ground or floor, making it impossible for vehicles or personnel to move. (related story p. 28)

"I love this piece of gear," Fenton said. Once you step on this foam, you cannot stand up. Cars' wheels will spin. You just can't get any traction. And what's nice about this is that it's environmentally safe."

Another interesting weapon, Fenton said, is called a pulsed-energy projectile. "It's the closest thing we have right now to the phasers on the television series 'Star Trek,"' he said. "Remember how Capt. Kirk was always saying 'set your phasers on stun?' The projectile works like that."

The projectile's charge-like that of a phaser-can be adjusted to produce a light shock, to stun or to kill, Fenton explained. "The good news is that it works," he said. "The bad news is that, right now, it weighs 500 pounds."

Nevertheless, Fenton said that he is confident that the device is "less than 10 years away from fielding." At first, it is likely to be placed aboard ground vehicles, such as Humvees or light armored vehicles. Eventually, it may be installed on AC-130 gunships.

Another weapon envisioned eventually for special operations AC-130s is the advanced tactical laser, said Fenton. "This is an ultra precise weapon," he said. "You could take out a column of armor without hurting the refugees along the roadside."

The ATL produces a four-inch spot of energy with a welding-torch effect with a range of up to 20 kilometers, Fenton said. It could be used on a number of aircraft, he said, adding: "I'd love to see this on an Osprey." Development work on the ATL starts in fiscal year 2003, Fenton noted.

The Joint Forces Command is sponsoring an active-denial system, which uses directed energy to repel belligerents without hurting them, Fenton said. "It's like touching a hot light bulb," he explained. "If you were hit with something like that what would you do? You'd get the hell our of there." The actual range of such a system is classified, Fenton said, "but it's in excess of 500 to 700 meters."

The directorate also is investigating the use of malodorous substances in crowd control, Fenton said. "We're looking at things that smell bad- the odors of such things as feral matter, rotting flesh, natural gas or fermented cabbage," he explained. "We think that smells like that will do a lot to help break up riots." The research, he said, is still in the early stages.

Not all of the technologies examined by the directorate work out, Fenton admitted. For the last several years, for example, researchers have experimented with a material called rigid foam, which could be sprayed around the edges of doorways and windows. The idea was that the foam would harden, sealing the openings shut. "We found, however, that the foam didn't work as well as nail guns," he said.

Also, because the directorate is joint, projects are nor pursued unless two or more branches express interest in paying for them, Fenton said.

"The Air Force had a flashlight device that they were interested in, but they couldn't get any other service to support them," he said. "So I said, 'OK, Air Force, you're on your own.' If they want it, they'll have to pay for it themselves."

RELATED ARTICLE: Already Deployed to Field

Since 1996, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate has fielded:

* Ballistic and non-ballistic body, face and shin shields.

* Riot batons.

* Portable bullhorns.

* High-intensity search lights.

* Disposable hand and ankle cuffs.

* Stun grenades.

* 12 gauge shotgun shells filled with rubber pellets.

* Flash-bang munitions.

* Pepper spray.
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Article Details
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Previous Article:Breakthroughs sought in Chem-Bio sensors.
Next Article:Stopping intruders can be a sticky mess: Joint non-lethal program office funds development of Mobility Denial System.

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