Defense Media Network

Interview with Rear Adm. Massimo Annati, Marina Militare (Ret.), Chairman, European Working Group on Non-Lethal Weapons

Ask questions first, shoot later

Rear Adm. Massimo Annati is a retired officer of the Italian navy. He is currently chairman of the European Working Group on Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW).

He is a graduate of the Italian Naval Academy, which he attended from 1972 to 1976, and has degrees from Genoa State University, as well as an MBA from the Bocconi Postgraduate School in Milan. He attended the senior officer staff course at the Italian Naval War College. He served at sea from 1978 to 1983 on different units both of the Italian and U.S. navies (ITS Audace DDG 551; ITS Andrea Doria CLG 553; ITS Lupo FF 564; ITS Libeccio FF 572; USS Conyngham DDG 17; and USS Biddle CG 34). As a weapon systems engineer, he worked in the field of procurement of combat systems at different levels of responsibility, including the staff of the National Armament Director, Department of Policy of Armaments, International Cooperation; head of the International Matters at the Naval Armaments Directorate; and the director of a joint C4I agency. Since 1999, Annati has worked continuously in the field of non-lethal weapons. In March 2012, he became chairman of the European Working Group on NLW.

Annati retired from active duty on March 1, 2011, but continues to be a constant contributor to many defense publications. He has authored a number of books and studies on defense-related matters, is frequently involved in lectures and presentations to both military and civilian education centers, and regularly takes part in international symposia and conferences.

There are a lot of boats on the water, so how can warships protect themselves from potentially dangerous small boats and craft? How can maritime security personnel warn possible pirates they’re getting too close? How can the intent or hostility of an approaching vessel be determined before escalating levels of force? The common theme is the ability to utilize non-lethal systems as warnings and weapons. Rear Adm. Massimo Annati (Ret.) discusses NLW with Edward Lundquist.

LA9P Laser Dazzler

Chief Fire Controlman Kevin Barnett uses an LA9P laser dazzler to deter a simulated small boat attack aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) during Exercise Joint Warrior 2012. Joint Warrior serves as a certifying event for ships deploying with coalition forces in future operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Katerine Noll

Edward Lundquist: What constitutes “non-lethal weapons?”

Rear Adm. Massimo Annati: The perhaps best-known definition for NLW is the one adopted by NATO in 1999: “Non-lethal weapons are weapons which are explicitly designed and developed to incapacitate or repel personnel, with a low probability of fatality or permanent injury; or to disable equipment, with minimal undesired damage or impact on the environment.” This includes elements ranging from traditional low-tech equipment, like tear gas, rubber bullets, and caltrops, up to high-tech solutions like dazzling lasers and electromagnetic pulses to disable electronic components.

There are many other definitions of “non-lethal weapons.” Some organizations – such as the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.K., both military and law enforcement – prefer a term like “less lethal weapons” to underscore that fatal outcomes are anyway a possibility, though less possible than [with] traditional arms. The German [Ministry of Defense] went for “non-lethal means,” and the European Union’s Defense Agency selected “non-lethal capabilities,” to include not only weapons, but also other solutions, like barriers, and so on. There were (and still are) endless discussions on either to include in or exclude from the NLW family equipment for electronic warfare, psychological warfare, cyber warfare, or non-material-specific techniques, including the use of traditional (lethal)weapons in a non-lethal way, like firing an inert warning shot across the bow, or destroying an engine with a precise fire (either a sniper rifle or a laser beam) without killing or wounding the driver. These debates are really unlikely to ever come to a definite end.

Are they really weapons?

Most of the NLW are weapons, in the sense they are being designed and operated in order to cause effects [and/or] either against personnel or vehicle equipment. These outcomes can range from a mere attempt to influence the behavior up to a real disabling effect. Some other NLW, instead, are less conceived to be “weapons,” in the sense [that they] are not causing a direct effect on the intended target, like communication devices (acoustic or visual) used to issue orders and warnings and, therefore, likely to help in separating the “good guys” from the “bad guys”; finally, other NLW are passive in the sense they are barriers specifically designed to stop an individual, a vehicle, or a boat.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...