The military develops an arsenal of nonlethal weapons

Sept. 8, 2009
The military expands its arsenal of nonlethal weapons, giving the armed services more options for dealing with hostile forces without hurting noncombatants.

Over the past 20 years, the U. S. military, as well NATO and UN troops, have had to defend a variety of locations, stop approaching vehicles, or disperse crowds without using deadly force or endangering themselves. But the weapons at their disposal have historically been designed to maim or kill. To give military leaders more options, especially when innocent bystanders might be involved, the U. S. Defense Dept. established the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) in 1996. Based at the Marine Corps Base Quantico and under the direction of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the program develops, evaluates, and deploys nonlethal devices.

Here are some of the weapons coming out of their laboratories and field testing.

Active Denial System

The ADS uses a focused beam of millimeter waves to stop an advancing crowd. The 95-GHz beam, which is roughly 3 ft in diameter, penetrates the skin to a depth of about 1/64th of an inch (the thickness of three sheets of paper), where it creates the sensation of heat. And a heavy overcoat provides zero protection. Within seconds, the heat becomes intolerable and targeted individuals forget about attacking and almost instinctively try to move out of the beam. And as soon as they are out of the beam, the sensation ceases.

ADS’s computer controls limit shot duration and keeps output power below 100 kW, making the beam safe but effective. (Shallow penetration and a short wavelength minimize the risk of permanent damage.) The weapons also include a display so the operator can see exactly where the beam is striking.

ADS has been studied since 2000, and safely, if painfully, tested on more than 3,500 military volunteers. And in over 11,000 exposures, the only injuries requiring medical attention were two blisters which healed without complications. The beam also will not ignite fuels.

Currently, the JNLWP is focusing on making the ADS smaller and lighter, as well as less expensive. To do this, they are developing a solid-state millimeter-wave source to replace the large vacuum tubes and gyrotron used today. The gyrotron, which is slightly more than 50% efficient, relies on pumps, fans, air conditioning, and refrigerators for cooling. Ancillary electronics consume up to 75 kW of electricity even when the beam is off. With the beam on, power requirements climb to 275 kW.

Researchers hope to replace the gyrotron with a chip that generates the same waves to shrink the equipment’s footprint and cost. The Program recently demonstrated a low-power 95-GHz chip and developers are working to boost its power.

Less lethal launcher
The FN-303, which might be the ultimate paint-ball gun, lets soldiers fire rounds that will hurt but not likely injure individuals. The .68 caliber rounds have a polystyrene body with stabilizing fins and a blunt, pebble-sized payload. The payload is made of nontoxic bismuth and breaks up on impact, reducing the risk of penetrating injuries. The bismuth “bullet,” which weighs 8.5 gm, is also hollow, letting it carry washable or permanent paint for marking individuals. In other words, the rounds leave a paint stain, much like a paint ball. So troops could identify those whom they had fired on by telltale paint marks. There are also pepper-spray rounds and inert, training rounds.

Projectiles are accurately propelled by compressed air for up to 100 m. A canister on the FN-303 is filled with air and pressurized to 3,000 psi, enough to fire about 100 shots. The launcher can hold up to 15 rounds in an easily replaceable magazine. The pressurized canister can be switched out as well.

The 29-in.-long launcher is made of a durable, polymer, letting it weigh in at about 5 lb. A flip-up iron sight and a laser “reddot” sight help soldiers hit their targets. The FN-303 is manufactured by FN Herstal, a Belgian firm.

Distributed Sound and Light Array

The DSLA currently under development consists mainly of two so-called sensory stimulators: a high-output phased acoustic array and a dual high-output coherent (laser) and noncoherent (white light) optical array.

The acoustic array, dubbed the Target High-Output Responder-162 (Thor), employs 16 horn-loaded compression drivers that create a beam of sound which can be electronically steered. Electronics also control beam width. For example, the beam can be highly focused to a small spot or distributed as a wide, “spread” pattern without physically moving the speakers. Thor is rated at 200 to 300 W, and puts out sound levels as high as 145 dB for voice commands and up to 150 dB for warning signals. Though it could transmit any sound, everything from polka to punk, it currently broadcasts just voice commands and warning signals.

The light array includes a green laser and four bright white xenon lamps. The four lamps include two spot lights, each with 12 million candlepower and a 1° divergence, and two enhanced search lights, each putting out 20 million candlepower with a 10° divergence. The four lamps surround the laser. Operators can adjust the laser’s irradiance from 69 to 32,700 µ W/cm2 at 200 m. The laser is kept to less than 1,000 µ W/cm2 when pointed at individuals, the ANSI safety standard for eye-safe exposure to laser.

The DSLA, which mounts on a Humvee, has two general purposes: hailing and warning, and crowd control. The bright lights and loudspeaker let soldiers warn away approaching cars or boats or command them to stop, and be confident the driver heard and saw the warnings.

For crowd control, the amps are turned up and the sound and light intensities climb high enough to “severely degrade” the ability of opposing forces to accurately throw or aim weapons, or communicate via phone. The laser, also called a disruptor, can switch between continuous and pulsating modes to work with the acoustic array and confuse and disorient foes or just clear crowds from an area. Although the range of the DSLA depends to some extent on the weather, it has been shown to work at ranges up to 2 km.

Operators of the DSLA, which can be carried by a Humvee, protect themselves by wearing ear protection and laser goggles, and staying clear of the front and projecting sides of the array. The laser is also electronically prevented from irradiating the operator’s control console and area. A camera provides images to the operator to let him know where the arrays are pointed.

Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device

Compared to the other nonlethal weapons, VLAD is relatively simple. It resembles a volleyball net with spikes on the edge. The spikes, made of carbon steel, can pierce most vehicle tires and attach themselves to the tires of any vehicle that drives over them. Then the net wraps around the front axle and tires, eventually bringing the vehicle to a stop. The net is made of Dyneema, a high-modulus, strong, lightweight polyethylene fiber.

VLAD can be strung across a road by hand or a remote deployment device (RDD). The RDD is a electric winch that, once activated, pulls the VLAD across the road in seconds. VLAD will drag a 2-ton vehicle traveling 60 mph to stop in 75 m with minimal damage to passengers and the vehicle. A larger, more-capable version, the Single Net Solution currently being developed, will stop a 10-ton vehicle.

Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Programs

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