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Interview with Col. Tracy J. Tafolla, Director, Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate

From Force Protection to Force Application

As the executive agent for the Department of Defense (DoD) Non-Lethal Weapons Program, the commandant of the Marine Corps leads the effort to coordinate non-lethal weapons requirements across the armed services and other governmental agencies. The day-to-day management of that effort is conducted by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD), located at Quantico, Va.

Speaking to a recent industry “Joint Munitions” gathering in Seattle, Wash., Marine Corps Col. Tracy J. Tafolla, director of the JNLWD, provided an overview of the program, highlighted some emerging technologies, and identified possible future directions for U.S. non-lethal weapons.

Tafolla started with a brief historical background, noting that the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program emerged in 1996 when then-Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni returned from Somalia, where he was the commander of the covering force when the U.N. forces withdrew. Emphasizing that his forces had needed to establish separation from potential hostiles who they didn’t know, he conveyed that they had lacked some non-lethal capabilities and tool sets that might have been employed.

“Back then Congress listened and directed the Secretary of Defense to establish a joint program that was to be created either out of an existing OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] program or, in their opinion, should be assigned to a service chief,” Tafolla explained. “The outcome was that the commandant of the Marine Corps was assigned as the executive agent. Normally, that goes to a service secretary and then he or she can delegate that down. But in this case, the executive agent reports directly to OSD without a service secretary inserted between them.”

Tafolla described his organization as “a joint command activity,” adding, “We interact with all the services, as well as USSOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command] and the Coast Guard. Then we also have tie-ins to other federal agencies that we have been directed to maintain – like the Department of Justice; Department of State; Energy; and Homeland Security. They are all invited to what we do. We provide them information on any studies that we do. We release those to any folks who may ask for that. So we’ve got pretty good reach. We’re not perfect as far as sharing information, but we try to make sure we reach out to anybody who needs information about what we are working on or access to the technologies that we are developing.”

GLARE Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Laser

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Tory Martin (left), a rifleman with 3rd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, shines a GLARE Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) laser into the eyes of a rock-slinging role-player (right) during non-lethal weapons training in a simulated urban village on Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, Aug. 15, 2012. The training was part of a two-week test readiness review fielded by the Quantico, Va.-based Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate and the Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Experimentation Center. The DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program “trains operating forces on escalation of force options to minimize casualties and collateral damage,” said Kelley Hughes, a directorate spokesperson. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder

“Since the establishment of the [Non-Lethal Weapons] Program, we have really been ‘husbanded’ by the force-protection community,” he said. “But now we’re getting in line with force application, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re applying a force – it’s just not a lethal force – against an adversary, somebody that we don’t know, or individuals we know that are civilians – in the case of maybe a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief effort – where we don’t want to hurt them, but that may be desperate, and we are trying to make sure that we’ve got everything under control.”

Illustrating his points with a short news video of Marines fighting in Afghanistan, Tafolla emphasized issues like rules of engagement mandating the positive identification of potential targets.

“That’s very important,” he said. “We can not just go in and indiscriminately start laying suppressive fires.”

He then offered a video clip of a millimeter-wave directed energy technology that was demonstrated during a 2005 Military Utility Assessment at Fort Benning, Ga. In the scenario, the energy was directed against an individual who was sticking a weapon out of a building window.

“He flies right out of that window back into the room and you can tell that he does not want to engage or even come close to that window again,” Tafolla narrated. “He doesn’t know what it is. He couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t hear anything. He can’t smell anything. And all of a sudden 1/64 of an inch of his skin – that’s the depth of penetration that we get with this particular technology – starts heating up. And his natural reflex is just to bail out and to move to get away from it. In this particular case, we’ve got the ability, at least with the system that we have got right now – it’s not new technology but it’s still novel technology – to stand off at 1,000 meters. I look at it as a crew-served weapon. It’s not a lethal crew-served weapon. But it’s a crew-served weapon.”

Linking that technology back to the earlier news clip, he added, “Now think about employing these in your base of fires, to put it in its basic terms. I may not be able to engage with my machine guns or other weapon systems because of rules of engagement or the fact that I cannot positively identify my targets and whether or not those people out there are carrying a weapon, but I can provide suppressive fires and … allow my forces to maneuver under those suppressive fires.”

Another video clip showed how the capability could also be employed against uncertainties surrounding the approach of small watercraft.

“As complementary systems, we want to be able to segregate an individual or individuals or a target; we want to be able to isolate that target; then we want to be able to either incapacitate the target with non-lethal means or we want to be able to set that target up for a kill shot. And it’s all possible,” he said.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...