The Active Denial System is a new nonlethal weapons platform that uses a focused beam of millimeter waves to produce an intolerable heating sensation on human skin, repelling
the individual without causing injury. Program officials believe
the system could be effective for quelling or dispersing potentially hostile crowds from up to 500 meters away.
lethal ways to accomplish that task. According to her,
the directorate has been facilitating the fielding of
“optical incapacitators,” which cause a momentary
inability to see, an effect similar to oncoming headlights at night, but more powerful.
One such product line being used by the Marine
Corps is called Green Beam, comprising green-light
pointers and dazzlers.
“It gives them an option to escalate the force, plus it
saves innocent lives and protects the troops. Without it,
they’re giving hand signals and shouting,” said Bruce
Westcoat, vice president for business development at
B.E. Meyers, makers of Green Beam. “We’re giving them
an ability to reach out to 500 yards or so.”
Other nonlethal weapons that have been used by
American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan include the
Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device, which is basically a
barbed netting that can be placed on the road and will
ensnare any car that attempts to drive over it. Another
item, the Long Range Acoustic Device, which was originally deployed on ships, emits extremely loud blasts of
sound that are painful to the human ear. Other tools for
stopping cars include road spikes, which puncture tires
and render the vehicle less mobile.
The Marine Corps has fielded dozens of Nonlethal
Weapons Capability Sets, basically a varied toolbox of
road spikes, batons, handcuffs, high-intensity lights
and pepper spray, among others. Each set is designed
to equip a rifle company or platoon.
For stopping people, the nonlethal arsenal includes
rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, tear gas, paintballs,
bean bags and others, but many of these have a significant drawback: they can indeed be lethal. Rubber bullets
caused a stir in the United States in 2004 when a young
woman was killed by police firing them into a crowd celebrating the Boston Red Sox’s World Series win.
Another issue is that some nonlethals are more
effective on some people, while not on others.
“Your physical fitness health influences how effective that capability is against you,” said LeVine. “So if
you get hit with a bean-bag round, you may be fine. If
I get hit with a bean-bag round, I may drop down and
be hurt. So there’s not any universal effect, if you will,
on these current technologies.”
That is also one of the advantages of the Active
Denial System, LeVine said.
“All the research has shown, and the tests have
backed it up, that the millimeter wave provides a universal effect. That is, if you get hit with it and I get hit with
it, we’re going to both react in about the same manner.”
LeVine said the services are very interested in the
possibility of a hand-held version of ADS, but added
there was still a lot of research needed to be done to
make that a reality.
She said some possible future nonlethals may include
high-power microwaves for stopping vehicles or some
other kind of directed-energy solution for shutting down
engines. The directorate is also interested in air-bursting
nonlethal munitions, which would project nonlethal
munitions at much greater range — say 300-400 meters.
Lasers, she said, continue to be an area of emphasis.
“Nonlethals play a big role in every commander’s
mind,” said Roper. “He’s always looking for an option
to firing a round into the hood of a car. He always
wants an option to using lethal force.”
Roper added that the point of nonlethals increasingly will be to warn people or disperse people from further distances, saying that often when you’re only 25
meters away, you don’t have time to go through the
escalation of force offered by nonlethals.
“At that point, our engagement scenarios call for
lethal force,” he said. ■