The Right Repellant
Nonlethals increasingly are used to warn or repel crowds and vehicles
By MATT HILBURN, Associate Editor
Matching Weapons and Tasks
Last January, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., the
military demonstrated one of the latest
advancements in nonlethal technology, the
Active Denial System (ADS), which uses a focused
beam of millimeter waves to produce an intolerable
heating sensation on human skin, repelling the individual without causing injury.
During demonstrations with media representatives,
ADS caused people to quickly flee from the firing line,
and it is expected it would have the same effect on
potentially hostile crowds from up to 500 meters away.
ADS, which is only in the Advanced Concept
Technology Demonstration stage of development, “is
expected to help fill the gap between the ‘shout’ or
‘shoot’ alternatives faced by our troops,” according to
the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD),
which leads the Defense Department in the identification, evaluation, recommendation and development of
nonlethals to enable their employment across the
range of military operations. The directorate’s executive agent is the U.S. Marine Corps.
The potential offered by nonlethals is increasingly
being recognized. The Navy is seeking an increase in
funding for joint nonlethal weapons technology develop-
ment from $1.4 million in fiscal year
2007 to $10.9 million in fiscal year
2008, according to Navy budget documents released in early February.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ 2004 report, “Nonlethal Weapons and Capabilities,” emphasized
that nonlethal weapons “could substantially improve the United States’
ability to achieve its goals across the
full spectrum of modern war” and
called for an increased commitment
to their development.
The interest in nonlethals has
definitely grown over the past 10
years, said Susan LeVine, the principal deputy at JNLWD.
“The complex battlefield out there that our troops
are faced with makes me believe that interest in nonlethal weapons will continue to grow in the future.”
She added that there is a need from all the services
for capabilities that stop vehicles or vessels or incapacitate personnel without destroying or killing them.
Nonlethal weapons are particularly useful at security checkpoints, LeVine said. In addition to protecting
the troops manning the checkpoints, nonlethals, especially signaling devices, make them safer for civilians
who will be increasingly aware that they are approaching a checkpoint and need to stop or slow down.
“Right now they’re using flags, they’re using smoke,
all kinds of different things to warn a vehicle that’s
approaching a checkpoint or an entry control point to
determine that vehicle’s intent,” said Maj. Gregory
Roper, team leader at the Nonlethal Force Protection
Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command. “So
they’re trying to figure out [nonlethal] ways to warn
that vehicle way out that they’re approaching the convoy or approaching a military checkpoint.”
LeVine agreed that vehicle stopping is very important and that JNLWD has had a lot of calls about non-
Some in the military favor nonlethal weapons to stop vehicles or
incapacitate personnel without maiming or killing them.
■ But individuals respond differently to most nonlethals. Firing
rubber bullets, Boston police killed a young woman celebrating
after a ball game.
■ Today’s complex battlefields foretell of a growing interest in
■ Two promising technologies: millimeter waves and “optical incapacitators.”