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U.S. Marine Corps seeks “Able Archer” Non-Lethal Capabilities

United States Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM), in conjunction with that service’s Product Manager for Non-Lethal Systems and Program Manager for Infantry Weapon Systems, is conducting market research “to identify potential sources that have developed counter personnel systems for design, development, fabrication, test, and modeling & simulation of a prototype Able Archer, Non-Lethal Weapons system.”

The Sept. 9, 2013 request for information (RFI) emphasizes a range of strict guidelines for the prototype system, including a clearly stated definition of “non-lethal weapons,” operator safety criteria, operational attributes in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material environments, and the need for legal and treaty compliance.

The announcement assigns two primary tasks to the system: Denying individuals access into or out of an area, and moving individuals through an area.

In defining non-lethal weapons, for example, the RFI specifies, “Weapons, devices and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate targeted personnel or materiel 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.”

From a legal standpoint, it adds that any prototype designs “Will be reviewed for treaty and other legal compliance by the Department of the Navy’s Naval Treaty Implementation Program. Any risks related to legal and/or treaty compliance will be noted for the alternatives considered.”

Non-Lethal Weapons

U.S. Marine Corps Combat Logistics Battalion 7 performed a non-lethal weapons training exercise March 21, 2013 in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Non-Lethal Weapons Program at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. The Active Denial System 2, an advanced non-lethal direct-fire support system that projects a man-sized beam of heat-emitting millimeter waves. It can effectively engage targets up to 1,000 meters. Any new Marine Corps non-lethal weapons system will have to meet legal and treaty requirements as well as having the capability to deny area access to individuals. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya

Building on that foundation, the announcement assigns two primary tasks to the system: Denying individuals access into or out of an area, and moving individuals through an area.

In the latter scenarios, it explains, “Military operations require the joint force to canalize or move individuals out of or through specified areas. The task reflects a number of different situations, such as the ability to move individuals on foot and canalize those driving vehicles and vessels from one location to another. It also includes the ability to move individuals out of buildings (i.e., clear the building) and other facilities. This task assumes the targeted individuals have the ability to move under their own power, are not physically challenged (e.g., crippled) and not restrained in some manner (e.g., hostage situations).”

Draft attributes for the system include:

  • Ability to “affect targets without causing permanent injury, death, or gross physical destruction;”
  • Not placing the operator at undue risk;
  • A minimum safe engagement range of 50 meters;
  • The capability to engage targets at ranges of 50 – 500 meters; and
  • The capability of traversing and engaging area targets to one or more individuals within a defined area.

The RFI requests responses from interested vendors in the form of white papers. The white papers will not only outline a company’s ability to meet the draft system but also include major scientific challenges, tradeoffs and potential countermeasures to any notional system.


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