The Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program
“Non-lethals have a crucial role on today’s battlefield and will become increasingly more relevant on future battlefields. For many reasons, non-lethal weapons offer military forces advantages as complements to lethal systems, and in some cases, as replacements for the other systems. The smart warrior is the one who understands how to use a diverse arsenal of capabilities, and isn’t afraid to think beyond the traditional way of conducting military operations.”
– Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC Former CINC, CENTCOM
The challenges facing America’s military forces deployed around the world today are legion – and the number, complexity, and consequences of those challenges are increasing. Long gone are the days in which opposing armies, fleets, and squadrons squared off for a conventional battle. Now, unconventional and counterinsurgency warfare and military operations other than war dominate the world stage. And these operations – particularly the humanitarian and peacekeeping missions – carry with them enormous strategic consequences at every command level. As one brigade commander of U.S. forces in Bosnia observed in 1996, in addition to being a commander of troops in the field, his mission in Bosnia carried the additional burden of that of policymaker. He added, “And it’s not just me, not just colonels, it’s every private with a rifle.”
Today, an American force can find itself conducting a combat patrol, carrying out a humanitarian mission, and participating in a peacekeeping operation all in one week – with the process repeated the next week and throughout the unit’s deployment. While the men and women participating in all three types of missions essentially remain unchanged, the same cannot be said of the weapons involved and force required. A patrol using M16s and other lethal arms against a fortified guerrilla outpost or terrorist safe house is one thing, but when that same patrol encounters an angry mob armed with nothing more than rocks, rubble, and sticks, those same weapons are more a liability than an asset. Before 1996, non-lethal options were limited. As then-Lt. Col. Paul R. Capstick wrote in 2001, “Without non-lethal alternatives the commander basically has two options. He can do nothing and jeopardize the credibility and control essential in peace operations, or he may go too far and apply lethal force to situations that do not require, and in fact deplore such drastic steps.”
Actual planned military use of non-lethal weapons during a mission first occurred with Operation United Shield, the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping forces from Somalia in 1995. Then-Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), was tasked with the mission. During the planning stage, Zinni and his staff soon realized that at various points during the withdrawal they would be dealing “with hostile unarmed civilians such as rioters and looters.” Zinni’s staff began a search for non-lethal crowd control response weapons and equipment. His staff quickly discovered that the Department of Defense (DoD) had no non-lethal weapons inventory and that they would have to purchase “off the shelf” systems in the open market. They then faced three basic challenges: They needed the non-lethal systems quickly, they needed them in quantity, and the systems had to be simple enough to allow for crash training of personnel. To help facilitate the last point, wherever possible non-lethal munitions had to be found that were able to mate with the Marines’ existing weapon systems.
Despite its ad hoc inventory build-up beginning, the 1 MEF succeeded in stockpiling five types of non-lethal rounds for the 40 mm M203 grenade launcher, and three types of non-lethal rounds for 12-gauge shotguns, as well as pepper sprays, stinger and flash bang grenades, aqueous and sticky foams, and caltrops. The withdrawal concluded without a hitch, and the success of Operation United Shield spurred Zinni to push for the DoD to develop its own non-lethal weapons. His effort bore fruit on July 9, 1996, when the Department of Defense issued Directive 3000.3, Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons. In addition to defining and establishing department policy regarding non-lethal weapons, this directive also created the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) as the responsible authority.
The DoD defines non-lethal weapons as: “Weapons, devices and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate targeted personnel or material immediately, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel and undesired damage to property in the target area or environment. Non-lethal weapons are intended to have reversible effects on personnel or materiel.” New terminology was also instituted, substituting “counter” for “anti” – as in counter-personnel weapons identifying them as non-lethal, compared to anti-personnel weapons, the lethal version.
To deliver flexible and effective non-lethal weapons, the JNLWP works with other government agencies, such as DARPA and the National Institute of Justice, private defense contractors, universities, and private research institutions and consultants. Since its creation, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program has designed, developed, and tested more than 80 weapons and systems. These systems can be broadly placed in three categories: counter-personnel, counter-material, and counter-capability. Counter-personnel systems seek to control crowds, incapacitate hostile individuals, deny access to an area, and clear unauthorized or hostile individuals or groups from facilities, structures, or areas of operation. Counter-material systems target vehicles, vessels, or aircraft with the goal of neutralizing them in a non-lethal fashion. Counter-capability non-lethal weapons seek to disable or neutralize command and control facilities and systems, and deny use of weapons of mass destruction by a hostile force.
While non-lethal weapons, regardless of type, are designed for tactical application, as a group, their impact is often strategic. Because counterinsurgency and military operations other than war occur in areas in which innocent civilians are forcefully commingled with terrorists and insurgents, non-lethal weapons give the commander on the field the capability of securing an area without incurring casualties among innocent civilians, thus avoiding the alienation of the local populace and its regional and national government.
What follows are some of the significant systems developed by JNLWP:
Active Denial System (ADS). Thanks to extensive media coverage, including a 60 Minutes television report in 2008, the vehicle-mounted ADS, sometimes
referred to as the “heat ray” or “pain ray,” is arguably the most widely known of the new generation of non-lethal weapon systems. ADS uses directed microwave beams that heat skin to uncomfortable levels, ultimately causing the individual to flee. The beams have an effective range of up to 500 meters (more than 1,600 feet). ADS vehicles were deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010, but as yet have not been used in the field.
Acoustic Hailing Devices (AHD). Sometimes also referred to as long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) after their manufacturer, LRAD Corporation, AHD systems use highly directional sound beams to project warning signals, intelligible voice commands, or high-pitched deterrent tones over extreme distances. AHD systems are presently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships. AHD devices can be mounted on a variety of platforms, including tripods at security checkpoints, convoy vehicles, ships, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). The naval variant, installed on both commercial vessels and warships, has been useful in interdicting suspected pirate attacks in such regions as the Horn of Africa.
A more recent LRAD variant incorporates laser dazzlers designed to disorient attackers.
Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Devices (VLAD). Also referred to by its brand name, X-Net, this is a spike-equipped net designed to quickly stop vehicles ranging from cars to trucks with a minimum of damage toboth vehicle and occupants. The VLAD is made of Dyneema, a high-modulus polyethylene fiber that is both light and strong. The netting is interwoven with high carbon steel spikes capable of piercing most tires and the netting configuration allows for kinetic energy absorption of the moving vehicle. When the vehicle runs over the VLAD, the netting wraps around the wheels and binds to the axle. At the same time the spikes puncture the tires, deflating them. Also under development is a foam-based version, the Foam Vehicle Arresting System.
Individual Serviceman Non-Lethal System (ISNLS). This is a system that is still evolving. Presently, it is built around the commercial-off-the-shelf FN 303 Less Lethal Launcher manufactured by FN Herstal. The FN 303 is a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired air gun capable of shooting five different types of non-lethal
projectiles up to a range of 100 meters (about 330 feet). The launcher weighs 2.3 kilograms (about 5 pounds) without a full magazine (2.7 kilograms/6 pounds with full magazine) and is made of a durable, lightweight polymer with a flip-up iron sight and an integrated Picatinny 1913 rail for mounting red dot sights (included with the launcher) or other accessories. Three versions of the projectiles have presently been approved for use by the U.S. Army. The FN 303 magazine contains 15 projectiles, and the compressed air canister is capable of firing 100 projectiles before recharging. The projectiles are uniformly 18 mm long, weigh 8.5 grams and contain a fin-stabilized polystyrene body capped by a non-toxic bismuth forward payload. The projectiles break up upon impact, delivering a blunt force designed to deter aggressors. Projectile variants are color coded to identify type, and include impact; impact and indelible paint; impact and washable paint; and impact with irritant.
MK19 Non-Lethal Munition (MK19 NLM). Designed for use by the MK19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, it is a counter-personnel blunt-trauma non-lethal munition. The non-lethal payloads include rubber balls and plastic shot. The system uses the “Davis Projectile” concept, utilizing an explosive charge to launch the projectile and a proximity fuse to decelerate the projectile when it reaches its target. Tests have demonstrated an effective range of up to 1,500 meters (almost 5,000 feet) and a rate of fire of up to 275 rounds per minute.
Improved Flash Bang Grenades (IFBG). Designed to support missions such as hostage rescue, room-clearing, and other operations in complex urban terrain, the purpose of the IFBG is to provide a longer duration of temporary incapacitation, a higher level of safety to both users and non-combatants, and less harmful environmental effects than existing operational flash bang grenades. A key feature for this is the elimination of perchlorates in the pyrotechnic formulation. Perchlorates are a group of strong oxidizers that are commonly used in fireworks, solid rocket fuel, and other explosives.
Joint Non-Lethal Warning Munitions (JNLWM). A U.S. Navy-led program, this is the 21st century’s answer to the classic warning shot across the bow. JNLWMs are non-lethal 12-gauge and 40 mm cartridges capable of projecting clearly identifiable warning signals out to a distance of 300 meters (about 980 feet). The cartridges contain flash bang projectiles containing proximity fuses that trigger a three-stage pyrotechnic display that includes a bright flash of light, a loud report, and a burst of smoke. Cartridges are designed for pre-set distances of 100 meters, 200 meters, and 300 meters.
Airburst Non-Lethal Munitions (ANLM). This U.S. Army-led program is developing long-range non-lethal munitions capable of being fired by existing operational grenade launchers, while still being safe for non-lethal use at shorter ranges. It is intended for use in area denial and hostile crowd dispersal scenarios. The system uses a deceleration process that ejects a ballast material forward from the projectile, which pushes back on the projectile causing it to stop in mid-flight. The round is not intended to strike any target. Instead, a proximity fuse detonates the flash bang payload at a preset distance. Qualification testing is now focused on the low-velocity 40 mm XM1112 ANLM. Milestone C, the authorization for full production and fielding of the system, is scheduled for September 2011.
Boat Trap. The U. S. Coast Guard is the lead service in developing this counter-material system of aircraft-deployed, non-lethal, small vessel propeller entanglement and stopping netting. It was developed in response to
the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and is designed for use in harbor protection, piracy prevention, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. The present Boat Trap system is a ballistic net deployed from a helicopter in the path of small vessels traveling at speeds up to 40 knots. The net is opened by weights propelled from central charge blocks. As the speeding craft passes over the Boat Trap, the propellers become ensnared by the netting, causing the vessel to stop. New versions under development include Boat Traps that can be launched from ships or harbor installations.
Electro-Muscular Disruption (EMD) weapons. Popularly known as stun guns, the most famous of these is the taser. Basically, an EMD fires a wire-connected dart containing two electrodes that, when they strike a target, deliver a series of electric shocks over a 5-second cycle. Each shock lasts just a few microseconds (a microsecond being 1 millionth of a second). A new generation and more powerful EMD presently undergoing tests is a taser that fires darts that deliver a series of ultra-short duration electric pulses measured in nanoseconds (a billionth of a second). Additional EMDs are the taser-like Stinger, the wireless Sticky Shocker, and the StunStrike, which uses powerful artificial light effects to incapacitate its target.
In addition to the hand-held EMD, tests are being conducted on a non-lethal land mine version called the Taser Anti-Personnel Munition (TAPM). Unlike conventional land mines that are designed to be camouflaged, the TAPM is a perimeter protection passive defense system designed to be seen. It is brightly colored and conspicuously located to serve as a visual warning to any intruder that they are entering restricted territory. If the intruder fails to heed the visual warning, motion sensors trigger one or several EMD cartridges in its housing.
Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL). The ATL is an air-to-ground, high-power (100-kilowatt class) chemical oxygen iodine precision-guided laser. It is designed to shoot a 10-centimeter wide (about 4 inches) high-energy beam capable of slicing through metal and neutralizing a target such as a vehicle’s engine block up to 14-and-a-half kilometers (about 9 miles) away. Its ultra-precision capability makes it particularly useful in densely populated urban environments, such as open air markets, and congested chokepoints that are typical targets of terrorists and insurgents. An air-to-air variant designed for missile defense is also under development.
Non-Lethal Optical Distractors (NLOD). Also known as a dazzling laser, the NLOD temporarily overwhelms the targeted person’s visual sense using directional light energy to provide an obvious non-verbal warning. The effect, roughly, is similar to what happens when a driver rounds a curve and is suddenly struck by sunlight glare hitting a windshield. One such laser dazzler is the SaberShot Photonic Disruptor, a low-power device using 250 Mw of 532 nm green-laser. It is available in three models: hand-held (about the size of a pistol), weapon-mounted, or as a grenade. The laser’s optics temporarily expand to generate a blinding light that can penetrate smoke or fog at twice the range of white light. It is particularly useful against drivers in approaching vehicles, snipers, or RPG operators. In contrast to the hand-held and weapon-mounted models, which are aimed, the grenade type of laser dazzler emits in rapid succession dazzling rays with 360-degree coverage, and is designed to be most effective in confined spaces such as corridors and hallways or small rooms.
Thermal Laser System (TLS). As its name suggests, this laser system is designed to create an uncomfortable burning sensation on intruders’ skin, forcing them to stop and turn away. Research is being conducted to develop small, compact lasers that can be integrated with ruggedized rifle systems.
Distributed Sound and Light Array (DSLA). This is a non-lethal acoustical and optical weapon under development that combines a distributed, high-output, phased acoustic array and a distributed, high-output, coherent (laser)/non-coherent (bright white light) optical array. The two-stage function would begin by attracting the intruder’s attention with a low-level light array followed up with hailing/warning instructions in the native language. If the intruder fails to heed the instructions, or retreat, the sound and light arrays increase in power and intensity. In both cases, this means higher pitched sounds and laser-disrupter light dazzlers designed to significantly degrade the target’s ability to function, or drive him away.
The sound array beam is emitted by a Target High-Output Responder-16S (THOR-16S) acoustic projector. It can be projected in either a highly focused narrow beam or in a wide, spread pattern. It has low-frequency acoustic capability that enables the sound energy to penetrate vehicles, vessels, and buildings even if there is significant high-frequency background noise.
The light array part of the system is composed of a green laser dazzler disruptor and two high-power search lights and high-power spotlights that project bright white light. At high intensity levels it can temporarily blind an individual or so obscure a vehicle’s windshield that the driver is incapable of seeing anything in front of him.
Radio-Frequency Vehicle Stopper (RFVS). This is another example of a counter-material system. Presently in the prototype stage and targeted for completion in 2013, its purpose is to use high-power radio-frequency energy to create electromagnetic interference fields that disrupt an approaching vehicle’s electronic systems, causing the engine to stop. Variants under development include stationary units that can be deployed at security checkpoints, and mobile, vehicle-mounted systems.
To make sure that these new systems are used properly, JNLWP has created the Inter-service Non-lethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course (INIWIC). This is a rigorous two-week course conducted at training facilities at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and by special mobile training teams. Upon graduation, in addition to having received training in the use of a variety of non-lethal weapons, the individual is also a certified instructor who is the expert for a unit commander on non-lethal tactics, techniques, and procedures. JNLWP conducts about 10 resident courses annually, certifying more than 400 instructors. JNLWP also conducts educational programs for senior military officers and government personnel at the service war colleges and other locations to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments.
Though great advances have been made in the development and use of non-lethal weapons, Col. Tracy J. Tafolla, USMC, director, Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, acknowledged that “much work is yet to be done.” He added, “Material solutions alone are not the answer. We must also improve our training of non-lethal weapons and devices during pre-deployment training escalation-of-force continuum scenarios. Well-equipped and -trained forces that can think through complex situations are the keys to success.”
This article was first published in Marine Corps Outlook: 2010-2011 Edition.