View Full Version : Will Non-Lethal Weapons Work?

08-08-04, 07:47 AM

Guest Column: Will Non-Lethal Weapons Work?

By Michael S. Woodson

Will “non-lethal weapons” be effective against insurgents and guerillas in future urban warfare?

That’s a question a multi-service military research lab is trying to answer as the United States continues to struggle with bloody insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. military ingenuity may have some limited answers to these problems. As early as August 1998, The Marine Corps News reported that non-lethal weapons research and development had been going on since 1996 at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va. The article’s title, “New Weapons Provide Alternative for Marines Dealing with Non-combatants,” sums up the program’s purpose.

The military newspaper’s reporter, Sgt. Jason J. Bortz, discussed the possible use of twelve-gauge shotgun shells with bean bags inside of them rather than lead pellets; epoxy mixtures that seal doors in minutes; and 40mm foam rubber-tipped rounds fired from the M203 grenade launcher that are capable of stunning or knocking men down.

However, these devices and others are riot control tools after an insurgency has been stopped – not effective tools to use against fighters who are still planting roadside bombs.

Considering the armed resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan today, the more relevant weapon Bortz cited was what he called a “directed energy weapon” that uses low frequency sound waves that can knock a person out without causing permanent injury.

“Another directed energy weapon is being considered for future use, Marine Corps officials recently confirmed. According to Marine Capt. Daniel McSweeney, a public affairs liaison to the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNWD), the command is planning to produce a Humvee-mounted version of a directed energy weapon that uses microwave technology.”

Known as the “Active Denial System (ADS) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD),” the weapon is designed to halt people without causing them permanent injuries or death.

“It inflicts a sensation of heat, which disappears when the weapon is disengaged or when the person moves out of the trajectory of the millimeter wave,” said McSweeney, who added that ADS would motivate people to drop what they’re doing and flee the area after being struck by the beam.

The ADS design avoids permanent damage to people, and researchers are developing technical and tactical controls to insure this, McSweeney added.

As proposed, ADS will outrange small arms fire, making it ideal for urban and ground assault, but it has not been used in combat yet. It is about to undergo a “Military Utility Assessment” by the researchers.

According to Captain McSweeney, all who would deploy with the ADS are trained in rules of engagement, tactics and techniques for use at the fighting unit level.

The life-saving potential of ADS appears high if used against insurgents or terrorists using residential structures and civilians for cover and camouflage. When the Chechnyan rebels took hostages at the Russian theater, the Russians tried using fentanyl, a sleep agent, but got the dosages wrong, killing 50 terrorists and 120 hostages. Could ADS have done better?

At one time in the 1990s, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak envisioned what he termed the “three-block war” in future urban combat. In that scenario, active firefights, security checkpoints and humanitarian aid could all occur within several blocks in the same city at the same time.

ADS might be a tempting tool to enable Krulak’s vision. It might have even helped in the bloody street fighting in Mogadishu 11 years ago.

However, the tentative design of ADS also raises serious questions about its potential misuse. If proven effective, ADS and other non-lethal weapons may make warfare seem less risky, and therefore may tempt politicians to expand U.S. military operations worldwide for political control rather than for national defense. Another danger with ADS would come if it were abused in domestic police situations.

Another important question is how would terrorists respond to ADS? What if enemies captured an ADS device and figured out how to bypass its “safety” controls? Outside of small-arms range, would they be able to remotely assassinate everyone at an international political meeting? Could they weaken a structure, hit a nuclear facility, blow up a gas reserve or set free noxious chemicals with it? And what of proliferation? There may be a need for a 007-like self-destruct feature in case an ADS were captured.

Finally, there is the question of unintended effects of ADS wave weapons on friendly forces. Capt. McSweeney relayed the following statement about ongoing human-effects studies on ADS:

“The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program has an extensive process to determine the human effects of non-lethal weapons. The Human Effects Center of Excellence at Brooks City Base in San Antonio, Texas, serves as a central repository of human-effects data and source of expertise to assist program managers in the development of non-lethal weapons. An independent and redundant review process is used throughout the development cycle. This includes the Human Effects Review Board, which consists of representatives from each Service’s Surgeon General’s office and the Medical Officer of the Marine Corps. The Human Effects Advisory Panel, a non-governmental, blue-ribbon panel of experts, also conducts independent reviews of non-lethal weapons.”

As can be seen, it is too soon to tell whether ADS and other non-lethal weapons will make urban warfare and military occupational duty less difficult for our soldiers and Marines. But the research and development efforts should continue, bearing in mind that the law of unintended consequences is operational both in the laboratory and on the battlefield.

Guest Contributor Michael S. Woodson is a writer and lawyer who lives in Colorado. He can be reached at wood1lawsuit@earthlink.net.



08-08-04, 09:30 AM
'Non'-Lethal, aka 'Less'-Lethal, weapons are ony as effective as the resolve of the attacker(s) facing it.

An angry mob spiked up by the 'cause', and the rest of the mob, might slow down to less-lethal methods, but only to the point that they knew their cause/actions were NOT endangering their own lives. Lay out a barrage of '00', and see how fast they disburse.

Less-Lethal has a definant place in EVERY arsenal, but MUST, repeat MUST, be able to be backed up with LETHAL force, immediatly !!

I want some bean bag 12 gauge for the house. If the sound of a 590 being cycled doesn't detere an intruder (strike 1), then maybe a bean bag at hallway distance (strike 2) will. If not, the next pump cycle puts '00' in the chamber, strike 3 and your OUT !!

08-08-04, 03:09 PM
Gotta agree with mrbsox. Also, when dealing with fanatics, who are ANXIOUS to martyr themselves all over you, what good would it do?

So, ok, you heat things up and they drop their weapons. now they are charging you bare fisted, and a firefight turns into hand-to hand combat, where our troops are almost CERAINLY outnumberd.

Ever here of the" failure to stop" drill? designed to use against people either with body armour or jacked up on drugs? Two shots to the chest, and when they"fail to stop" third round goes into the head. If all we are shooting is BEAN BAGS for christs sake, just gonna tick em off even more.

there is a timie and place for these types of weapons. NOT in a combat zone. for riots and police/ hostage situation, fine. Had someone handed ME a bean bag gun and told me to stand watch on the peremiter in enemy teritory, I'da probably fallen on my own bayonet( nice leg wound) or ran around naked singing show tunes to get out of the duty. Call me a coward if you want, but when they are out to kill me, I sure as HELL am not gonna try and save THEIR life. Plus, how accurate can a bean bag be at range?

Toby M
08-08-04, 03:55 PM
As a former Law Enforcement officer, I have seen my share of prisoners come into the jail after having been shot up to three times with bean bags, maced and bitten by a police dog. After being seen by Paramedics on scene and transported, they were a little more mellow but still dangerous. In most cases, the officer was justified in using lethal force but elected for less lethal methods instead. Like HardJedi said, all it does is tick them off a little more. Tazer (sp) works faster and better but none of these methods are effective against large crowds bent on destroying property or lives. Choices, choices, choices...

08-08-04, 10:57 PM
I do NOT agree with Mrbsox.

I want some bean bag 12 gauge for the house. If the sound of a 590 being cycled doesn't detere an intruder (strike 1), then maybe a bean bag at hallway distance (strike 2) will. If not, the next pump cycle puts '00' in the chamber, strike 3 and your OUT !!

Once he becomes an INTRUDER (inside my house) -God help him cause all bets are off. Forget strike 1 & 2. He's outa there.

08-08-04, 11:23 PM
amen, Greybeard.

08-09-04, 02:20 AM
Who cares? I say kill them all anyways (The Bad Guys)! Forget this non-lethal crap in a combat zone!

08-09-04, 09:17 AM

08-09-04, 12:56 PM
Here's my mind set...

I DON'T TRUST the legal system to judge right and wrong. We've all (I'm sure) read or heard stories of the homeowner being sued, or prosecuted, for the use of lethal force INSIDE his or her own home. I used to work with a man that was sued, and lost, because he beat up an intruder, didn't even shoot him.

With 'less lethal' as the first shot, I feel confidient being able to show I ATTEMPTED to deter a lethal confrontation, only using lethal force after the previous had failed.

Besides, what if it is friend or family that goes 'bump in the night' ??


08-09-04, 07:14 PM
Well being a retired chief of police i can tell you that Missouri has no self defense law and Kansas is the same. All reports are sent in to the district attorneys offices where he or she decides the...

08-09-04, 07:17 PM
my advise to anyone is too make sure you know what your state law is that pretains to lethal force inside your own residence.

08-09-04, 08:44 PM
Do what you want.
Better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.