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[infowar.de] SDUT 09.12.02: Military Continues Research Into Use Of Nonlethal Weaponry
San Diego Union-Tribune
December 9, 2002
Military Continues Research Into Use Of Nonlethal Weaponry
By Otto Kreisher, Copley News Service
WASHINGTON During a search for illegal weapons, U.S. troops on peacekeeping
duties in Kosovo encountered a large and hostile crowd. When the mob began
throwing rocks that injured some soldiers, the troops were forced to employ
their weapons in self-defense.
But instead of a deadly fusillade from their rifles, the troops used
nonlethal devices that dispersed the crowd without serious injuries and
allowed the mission to proceed.
That episode, Marine Col. David Karcher said, illustrates why there is a
growing need for nonlethal weapons in the military's arsenal.
"They provide a commander more choices, something between a bullhorn and a
bullet," said Karcher, director of a small multiservice organization that
develops nonlethal technology for military use.
With a growing number of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions and the
greater prospects for operations in urban areas, where fighters mingle with
noncombatants, "the need is becoming clearer and clearer," said Karcher,
head of the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Directorate at Quantico, Va., Marine
The equipment the organization tests ranges from low-tech devices such as
shotguns firing beanbags to exotic directed-energy gadgets that cause a
While acknowledging that such tools may be preferable to conventional
military weapons in many cases, some human rights activists worry that the
devices may be more harmful than the "nonlethal" label suggests or may be
used by the military in domestic situations.
"Nonlethal is a misnomer," said Kerry Boyd of the Arms Control Association,
who noted that the military prefers the term "less-than-lethal."
Even so, "in my view, there are some positives. There are some situations
in which it would be nice for the military or the police to have
less-than-lethal weapons," Boyd said.
"But I have concerns, particularly when you get to the issues of
calmatives," she said, referring to the type of chemical the Russians used
to end a hostage situation in a Moscow theater.
More than 100 hostages died of the effects of the supposedly nonlethal gas.
Karcher said his organization is not conducting any research on such
agents. But Boyd said there were experiments in the past and noted that the
National Research Council mentioned calmatives in a Nov. 4 report that
urged accelerated efforts on nonlethal weapons.
Dan Koslofsky, an aide at the Center for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation, viewed nonlethal weapons "more with optimism than
concern. Their focus is for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions," which
the arms-control community support, he said.
"The real concern among the civil libertarian community is that they would
be used in domestic situations," Koslofsky added.
Although the nonlethal directorate's focus has been on "operations other
than war," such as peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, its fact sheet
notes the weapons "are useful across the range of military operations."
A U.S. law says the nonlethal weapons are "explicitly designed and
primarily employed to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing
fatalities or permanent injury to intended targets and collateral damage to
property and the environment."
The fact sheet, however, says the weapons "are not required to have zero
probability of producing fatalities or permanent injuries but are designed
and employed in a manner that significantly reduces those probabilities"
compared to usual military weapons.
Every device the office explores is evaluated first for its compliance with
U.S. law and international treaties, such as the chemical weapons ban or
the Geneva conventions on war.
They then are tested rigorously to determine their potential harmful
effects, first on animals and later on humans.
"Some nonlethal weapons can have unintended effects. We try to find that
and minimize it," said Air Force Lt. Col Mark Wrobl, the chief health
The military currently provides its units with a variety of nonlethal
devices. Most of it is basic law-enforcement equipment such as face masks,
plastic shields and shin guards to protect against projectiles, riot
batons, battery-powered bullhorns and high-intensity lights, plastic
handcuffs, various dispensers for pepper gas an improved form of tear gas
and several weapons that fire small beanbags or rubber pellets.
It also has more elaborate tools, including a portable device that deploys
a strong net-like barrier that stops a vehicle and wraps around the doors
so the occupants cannot get away.
But all of the current devices are effective at relatively short ranges.
Much of the research now is focused on equipment that can work at greater
distances, Karcher and his deputies said.
One such project is the Active Denial System, a vehicle-mounted directed
energy transmitter that creates painful heat on the skin but has no
Other long-range projects involve lasers that could stop a vehicle or a
vessel or create a dazzling light without damaging a person's eyes.
Karcher said his office also is monitoring tests by the Navy and the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency involving free-electron lasers.
Although the Navy sees the device as a potential weapon against missiles
and small vessels, Karcher said it might be possible to lower the energy
levels to make the free-electron laser a nonlethal tool.
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