Magazine article National Defense

Damage Control: Defense Dept. Pursuing Next-Generation Nonlethal Weapons

Magazine article National Defense

Damage Control: Defense Dept. Pursuing Next-Generation Nonlethal Weapons

Article excerpt

U.S. troops currently operate an array of nonlethal weapons that are becoming essential tools in today's complex battlefield. But additional capabilities are needed.

The Defense Department recently completed an analysis of its nonlethal weapons requirements, and determined that the military services need improved technologies for missions such as denying access to hostile individuals; disabling enemies; stopping a vehicle, a vessel or an aircraft on the ground; diverting an aircraft in the air and denying access to a facility.

Deployed nonlethal weapons include blunt-impact munitions, optical warning and distraction devices, acoustic hailing devices, vehicle arresting systems, flash-bang grenades and munitions and short-range human electro-muscular incapacitation devices such as the Taser. However, most of these items operate at relatively short ranges and have some logistical limitations.

The Defense Department plans to focus research and development efforts during the next three to five years to help fill these gaps.

For the task of denying access to personnel, several directed-energy technologies are in development. Blunt-impact weapons, such as rubber bullets or bean-bag rounds, currently address this task, but these weapons are often limited to only 35 meters. Directed-energy technologies will be able to manage this task from much longer ranges, giving troops added time and space to determine someone's intent and decide on the best course of action.


U.S. forces face these situations every day in Iraq and Afghanistan at more than 2,900 military checkpoints. This is where escalation of force comes in. It is the process by which soldiers increase the level of force they apply to a threat until they have successfully neutralized it. Nonlethal weapons give them additional escalation-of-force tools that fill the gap between shouting and shooting.

One key directed-energy technology that is now in development is the active denial system (ADS). Two prototypes were built. The ADS 1 is a technology demonstrator and ADS 2 is now suitable for military operations. The ADS projects a focused beam of millimeter waves to induce an intolerable heating sensation on a target's skin, repelling the individual with minimal risk of injury. Although the ADS is not yet a formal program of record, the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is seeking to deploy the system soon. Meanwhile, development efforts are now focusing on producing these same effects with a system that is smaller, lighter and less costly.

Another directed-energy development is nonlethal thermal laser technology. Research is focusing on eye-safe, electrically efficient, infrared fiber lasers that create short-term discomfort to individuals at ranges beyond 100 meters.

In addition to active denial and thermal lasers, there are now improved hailing and warning systems. Research is showing that nonlethal weapons that employ both light and sound are often lower-cost alternatives to other more expensive directed-energy weapons. These weapons use lower-power directed energy to better notify the target to stop and/or to leave the area.

The "improved acoustic hailing device," which is based on commercial-off-the-shelf technology, can issue either voice commands or warning tones up to a range of 300 meters. Accurately delivering intelligible commands in the local language to a threatening individual can often compel that individual to stop. Another example is the laser distractor currently in use at military checkpoints. By pointing the device at a vehicle, service members can catch the driver's attention and warn him to stop.

The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is developing an acoustic and optical system called the distributed sound and light array. The DSLA issues high-output, focused sound plus a powerful green laser and intense, bright white lights. …

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