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Military testing future additions to nonlethal-weapons arsenal

The arsenal of nonlethal weapons is growing, but it’s far from adequate for U.S. forces being called for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, said Col. Dave Karcher, commander of the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate.

“Today, [the weapons are] low-tech and close in. … In the future, it has to be long-range and more effective,” said Karcher, whose directorate is based in Quantico, Va. “We want to provide the commander with space and time to bring clarity to the decision-making process.”

Here’s a glimpse at what the future holds.

Active denial

Much of the directorate’s attention is focused on the Active-Denial System, which looks much like a satellite television dish mounted on a Humvee. The system would direct bursts of a 95 gigahertz electromagnetic wave that would send searing pain though a person’s body.

“It’s like touching a hot light bulb,” Karcher said.

The penetrating waves cause intolerable, yet temporary, pain to the surface of the skin and subside once the person moves out of the beam, said Susan LeVine, deputy director for technology at the directorate.

“I’ve been in the beam and the only thing you can think about is moving out of the beam,” she said.

Raining pain

The Objective Individual Combat Weapon XM29 is a rifle that would shoot a 20 mm nonlethal round that would burst over a precise target and deliver a nonlethal payload, an agent to be determined.

However, some of the payloads under consideration include markers, anti-traction agents, malodorants, and blunt injury materials.

“It’s the Army’s rifle of the future and we’re developing a nonlethal round for it,” LeVine said. “The object is for the round to go downrange and deliver a nonlethal payload over the target.”

And while the technology has proven successful, it likely won’t be fielded until 2009.

Mortarmorphosis

Scientists are studying how to make a mortar casing nonlethal, either by using materials that would cause it to fragment and diminish collateral damage or hitching it to a parachute, LeVine said.

“We’re taking the existing mortar system and making a nonlethal munition for it. But it’s very early on,” she said.

The munitions could deliver payloads ranging from rubber balls to inhibit traction, to riot control agents or slippery material.

Slip-slidin’ away

Some of the programs aren’t new concepts, but mere improvements on ideas that already exist.

The Mobility Denial Systems, anti-traction material impedes people or materiel from movement.

“Mainly, what we’re trying to do now is make them deployable from further distances,” LeVine said.

Variations of the systems would be loaded into backpacks or mounted onto vehicles to deliver polymer-based materials like foam or a gooey, slippery substance that will reduce or eliminate traction on any kind of surface, from grass to concrete and dirt, she said.

The Marine Corps Systems Command is the lead agency looking to buy such products, which could be fielded in 2005 or 2006, she said.

Sticky Shocker

The “Sticky Shocker” is being developed with funding from the Departments of Justice and Defense.

The idea was developed to bridge the gap between kinetic rounds (e.g., rubber bullets, beanbags) and devices designed for use at close-in range, such as stun guns.

Sticky Shocker can extend the range of electrical stun technology out to 10 yards, perhaps further. The projectile contains a battery pack and associated electronics that will impart a short burst of high-voltage pulses. The pulse characteristics are similar to those of commercial stun guns.

The pulses are not lethal but will disable a human temporarily, with full recovery from impact within a few minutes.


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