No Longer Science Fiction: Less Than Lethal & Directed Energy Weapons
Military and security forces have been using less than lethal weapons for many years. Yet, except for specific chemical agents, most of these measures were based on "brute force", and required physical close encounters with the target which can rapidly escalate to lethal means. Involvement of military forces in peacekeeping, law enforcement, humanitarian assistance, and homeland security missions supports the demand for non lethal or less than lethal capabilities that offer maximum flexibility in the use of force. Non lethal systems provide commanders with weapons explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate personnel or materiel while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and collateral damage to property and the environment.
When properly used, non lethal weapons should result in no injuries, fatalities or after effects. When used in military applications, non-lethal weapons are useful in crowd control and riot situations, where hostile forces take cover in crowds, in operations in urban terrain, or anti-terrorist actions where minimize collateral damage, or in counter-terror activities, in hostages situations.
Non lethal technologies generally fall into four categories: chemicals, electrical devices, blunt impact munitions and directed energy. This article focuses on the military applications of anti-personnel non lethal weapons. Among such weapons are advanced incapacitating agents, electrical shock devices, laser, acoustic and high power microwave directed energy weapons.
Non Lethal Blunt Impact Weapons
Early generation of NLW consist of various types of low velocity blunt impact weapons, such as projectiles loaded with low-velocity / low impact ammunition such as "soft" bean-bag rounds, rubber balls, rubber or plastic coated pellets, "flash-bang" and "hybrid" kinetic/chemical munitions. Non lethal munitions for standard weapons, currently used as part of non-lethal capability set include the various rubber ball and "soft" impact munitions fired from the M-16 and M4. Munitions available for the M-203 40mm grenade launcher and smoke launchers such as LVOSS, including various area munitions and a new sponge grenade, various stun grenades and stingball grenades. Large caliber non lethal ammunition rely primarily on flash/bang version, such as the 120mm tank cartridge.
Most blunt impact munitions are designed to be employed with standard hand-held firearms, including standard shotguns, M-16/M4 assault rifles, M203 grenade launcher, ARWEN special munitions launcher etc. Frangible and non-lethal munitions are designed for submachine guns, (9mm). A different concept is the airburst non-lethal munitions developed for the XM-29 Objective Individual Weapon System. This "hybrid" projectile has an effective range of 250 meters. A different hybrid concept for NLW munitions is the ShockRound, which represent a hybrid between impact and electrical shock stun.
Most types of kinetic non lethal munitions are prevalently lethal and must be used with special care, within strict operational limitations. To reduce such risks, Range Variable Non-Lethal kinetic energy munitions are considered, to offer true Non-Lethal effect over their entire engagement range, from muzzle to a maximum range of 100 meters. The munitions could include advanced fuses and proximity sensors sensing target range and time their function. Such munitions could function as non-lethal since they will sense the range to target and decelerate their velocity just before impact, by increasing their surface area or applying other braking technology. Another new concept is the Variable Velocity Rifle System (VVRS) which can fire different types of projectiles at various velocities, for lethal and non-lethal applications.
Kinetic munitions are also designed to operate as mines or hand thrown grenades. A typical non lethal mine is the Modular Crowd Control Munition (MCCM) which can also be used for force protection and general security applications. Grenade type weapons are designed to fit into standard smoke launchers. Further into the future, non lethal systems could use the Vortex Ring Gun concept, which could be programmed to create concussions at stand-off range. Except for being a pure energy weapon, Vortex Ring systems could also deliver impact munitions, flash/bang or chemical agents over a range of 50 meters. Vortex ring weapons could be retrofitted into existing weapons such as the Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher.
Non-lethal Chemical Agents
Chemical compounds used for non-lethal applications include irritating and incapacitating agents, which can be dispersed as aerosol or gel. Such compounds include the pepper aerosol (also known as pepper spray or OC Oleoresin Capsicum) and various "tear gases" such as CS (ortho-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) or CN (chloroacetophenone) aerosols impact munitions. OC is considered to be more capable than other irritants, as it has a faster response and longer effect. Aerosols are dispersed from hand-held dispensers, launchable, hand thrown or rifle grenades. Aerial delivery of such weapons is also considered, deployed on helicopters or UAVs. Future aerial delivery of non lethal chemical weapons is considered for mortar bombs, artillery projectiles and barrage weapons (such as the Volcano mine delivery system). With such applications, less than lethal weapons could be deployed over extended ranges – a capability which is not available today. Such munitions will be contained in frangible cases, filled with incapacitating agents such as pepper spray.
Not all chemical agents are delivered by aerosol. The sticky Pepper Gel is propelled out of the storage canister by compressed air, stick to the target on impact (when hitting the face, it will cause temporary blinding). Since the gel can be deployed at longer distances, it can neutralize assailants from a distance of 8 meters. The Pepper Gel formula has 10% pepper formulation (same as OC) suspended in gel, it is not flammable and will not ignite when affected by an electrical shock (from Taser weapon, for example).
Non Lethal Electrical Shock Weapons (Bio-Effect Weapons)
Electrical shock weapons are designed to cause Electro Muscular Disruption (EMD) which, when affecting an unprotected human completely overrides the central nervous system and directly control the skeletal muscles. Unlike bullet impact or chemical agents, that are most effective when hitting specific body organs (respiratory system, heart or head) EMD weapon is effective wherever direct contact is made with the subject's skin (even through few layers of clothing). Employed either as a direct contact of from stand-off distance, as a stun gun, the EMD effect causes an immediate uncontrollable contraction of the muscle tissue that result in physical debilitation regardless of pain tolerance or mental focus. Existing EMD weapons require physical contact with the target using hand held shockers or stun guns, such as the Taser, which uses compressed air cartridge to fire a pair of darts at the target. The darts are linked to wire conductors to deliver an electrical shock from the gun to the target.
Another stun weapon called Stinger uses a pyro charge to power four-dart system providing the Stinger with greater velocity, accuracy and greater effective range of close to 10 meters. The weapon uses four darts, rather than two, used on Taser to improve the probability of hit. Stinger is now offered with strap-on TruVu video gun camera accessory, which can record the entire engagement (audio and video) for evidence and debriefing. More advanced designs currently in development will have wireless capability and could engage a target at extended range.
Further research is directed into wireless electro-muscular incapacitation technologies, including systems such as Extended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) pursued by Taser and the US Navy. This wireless Taser is developed as a shoulder fired projectile is designed for effective range and characteristics comparable to blunt impact projectiles such as 40mm "bean bag" kinetic munitions. It is designed for use at distances of 30 meters and beyond.
A different concept is the Sticky Shocker, developed by Titan, with DARPA's support. This wireless shocker can be launched by M203 or M79 rifles, as well as 37mm non lethal launcher. Sticky Shocker clings to a human target inflicting an electrical stun. Effective at up to 10 meters, the projectile contains a battery which excites several short high voltage pulses (50KV) per second. Other developments of EMD munitions call for the miniaturization of stun cartridges, which enables them to fit into 40mm or 5.56mm ammunition. Different method of wireless stun weapon application is "laser induced plasma" weapon, which use artificial lightning effects to stun and incapacitate a target. Initial applications of such technology include the StunStrike and Portal Denial System which are currently maturing into operational systems.
"Sentinel" Taser Area Denial System (TADS) is a different application of the Taser Anti-Personal Munition (TAPM) EMD weapon, designed for perimeter protection, covering entryways, building interiors, corridors or rooms. Effective at a range of 8 - 15 meters, Sentinel is controlled via camera installed on remotely controlled pan-tilt platform, to enable surveillance and effective engagement of targets in day, or night, indoor or outdoor. It is equipped with 7 Taser dart cartridges, which can be fired in different directions. Once fired each Taser dart pair remains activated until manually turned off. Seven subjects, per magazine, can be kept incapacitated at once by the independent Taser circuits. The Sentinel covers an arc of 160 degrees 30 feet deep. Sentinel can be used as part of a lethal/non lethal dual force system.
Non Lethal Directed Energy Weapons
Anti-personnel non lethal directed energy weapons include lasers, high power electro-magnetic pulse and directional acoustic weapons. One of the systems currently in use is the SaberShot laser dazzler – this hand held or weapon mounted low-power device uses 250Mw of 532nm green-laser. When directed at the target, the laser's optics temporarily expand to generate a blinding light which penetrates smoke, fog at twice the range of white light. Modulation of such high intensity light cause disorientation, dazzle and blink reaction that reduces the target's activity. Such weapon could be used to disorient and degrade performance of potential threats, such as snipers, or RPG launchers.
Other laser-guided directed-energy weapons work like "artificial lightning" to disable human targets or electronic circuits. Laser Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) technology was developed by Ionatron to channel electrical energy through the air at the target. The interaction of the air and laser light at specific wavelength, causes light to break into filaments, which form a plasma channel that conducts the energy like a virtual wire. This technology can be adjusted for non-lethal or lethal use. LIPC operate at line of sight, allowing propagation of electrical pulses to be directed at a specific target. LPIC based weapon could, in theory, be fired around corners if mirrors were used.
Directed microwave energy is also utilized for non lethal weapon system applications. Raytheon's Active denial System (ADS) is a non lethal, counter-personnel directed energy non-lethal weapon which can be used to protect fixed positions or from mobile as well as airborne platforms, against human targets at distances beyond the effective range of small arms. A similar system is currently at an initial development phase at applied physics lab of the the Israeli Technion.
Directed Acoustic Weapons
In the past, acoustic non lethal weapons were primarily used as "flash bang" weapons. When blasted over a crowd or in a room, they created a loud noise and bright flash incapacitated people exposed to the effect for a few seconds. Flash bang charges are used on forced entry and counter-terror operations, when hostages are involved. As they indiscriminately hit every human exposed to the effect, operation of "flash-bang" requires precise timing and procedures to maximize effect on hostiles and eliminate potential damage to friendly forces.
Currently, acoustics are far more advanced than mere noise. Following the impressive technology advancement in solid state electronics, advanced acoustic systems are becoming operational. In 2004 American soldiers in Iraq were equipped with a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) used for land based and naval applications. LARD works like a highly directional, high power megaphone, able to blast sounds (such as crowd-dispersal instructions in Arabic) in a narrow beam and with great clarity at a deafening 150 decibels (50 times the human threshold of pain). LRAD can also create deafening noises which can incapacitate people within 300 meters by "firing" short bursts of intense acoustic energy.
A different acoustic weapon is the vehicle mounted Acoustic Blaster, developed by PRIMEX Physics International. This weapon can be used for area denial, and against selected groups in crowds, mobs and rioters or in a hostile situation. The weapon can be operated by a single person. So far the system was developed as a prototype consisting of an array of four combustion detonation driven devices fired simultaneously or independently. The detonation creates an acoustic pressure of up to 165dB at a distance of 15 meters. The resulting acoustic pressure waveform can be optimized for acoustic-physiological coupling to targets for antipersonnel applications. The US Air Force Research Laboratory (ARL) is also working on a Sequential Arc Discharge Acoustic Generator (SADAG) which produces high-intensity impulsive sound waves generated by electrical means.
A different acoustic weapon is the high power acoustic phased array of 36 horns which can focus the acoustic output at the target. The high power noise created within the target can incapacitate humans from a standoff range. The system can be mounted on a tactical vehicle, and radiate a narrow, high power steerable acoustic beam, disorientating humans. Both horizontal and vertical beams can be formed simultaneously to create a point effect within buildings.
A different application is the shockwave weapon, employing the Vortex Ring Gun system. Generating high power shockwave propagating at supersonic speed, Vortex ring Guns can generate high pressures which inflict considerable damage to a target, or carry a payload of kinetic or chemical agents over a distance beyond 20 meters.
Non Lethal Weapons Programs in the US
Among the programs currently under development at the USMC Non Lethal Weapons Program are multi-sensory devices aimed to disable individuals within structures, a taser to incapacitate a single individual and mobility denial system that deploys slippery foam to impede the movement of foot and vehicular traffic. The US Navy is also developing non-lethal capabilities. One of the systems is designed to protect a ship perimeter and deny small crafts from closing in to a dangerous distance from the protected ship. The US Air Force is developing UAV non lethal weapon deployment applications, exploring with a mini flyaway weapon kit designed for the Raven mini UAV. These UAVs are commonly used for base security and force protection applications.
Another system developed by the Air Force is the high power microwave Active denial System. Special Forces are also potential users of non lethal systems. These weapons are developed as part of the standard Special Forces arsenal as they should not limit the capabilities of the combatants and not impair their ability to fight a modern and lethal force. Current lethal weapons are operated under restrictive rules of engagement which significantly inhibit the ability of Special Operations forces to respond to threatening situations during low intensity conflicts and operations other than war. Furthermore, standard (lethal) weapons currently used by combatants and Special Forces are easy to detect when fired. In contrast, some non lethal and disabling weapons are stealthy and ultra-fast. They also provide the ability to repel crowds without permanent, disabling injuries or fatalities, significantly reducing the threat of further violence and potential casualties among friendly and innocent bystanders.