ARLINGTON, Va. — A new sheriff is coming to town.

The Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation is designing a combined lethal and nonlethal weapons system to be fielded to Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq by summer, 2005, in an experiment called “Project Sheriff.”

The concept is to retrofit ground vehicles already in the services’ inventories with an array of new lethal and nonlethal systems, giving troops working in urban terrain more options, especially when deciding how to deal with potential noncombatants or civilians being used as shields, said program director and transformation strategist Col. Wade Hall, a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps.

Like a sheriff, Hall says.

“He’s not there to cause destruction. He’s there to keep the peace, but has the option to go to destruction status if he needs it,” Hall said.

The Pentagon hopes to launch the system in Iraq in June or July, equipping four to six Army and Marine Corps vehicles with a combination of off-the-shelf technology and systems being developed.

Vehicles under consideration include the Army’s new Stryker armored personnel carrier or the Armored Security Vehicle, or ASV, and the Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicle, or LAV, already proven to work well in cities, said Hall.

A goal of the Office of Force Transformation is to cut through the years and years it used to take the department to introduce a new system, he said, while assuring that the technology employed is well-studied and the office is not sacrificing safety for the sake of speed.

Designers see the systems being used for missions such as armed reconnaissance, raids, crowd control, security patrol and vehicle checkpoints.

While no decisions have been made on which systems will be used, managers have narrowed the field to a few for consideration, Hall said.

Among them is Raytheon Company’s nonlethal Active Denial System, a counter-personnel directed energy weapon that projects a speed-of-light millimeter wave of energy that makes skin feel like it’s on fire.

According to studies done by the Air Force Research Laboratory, which developed the technology in a joint effort with the Marine Corps and Raytheon, the invisible beam penetrates the skin to a depth of less than 1/64 of an inch and produces heat that within seconds becomes intolerable, said lab spokeswoman Eva Hendren.

The sensation stops when the individual moves out of the beam. The beam does not cause injury because its penetration is so shallow, Hendren said.

Vehicles also could be equipped with high-powered lights to aid in searches, and an acoustics system such as the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, a high-powered bullhorn of sorts that emits an ear-piercing noise.

Marines in Iraq already are using the LRAD system. No decision on LRAD has been made, but the office has no alternative if it is not picked, Hall said. Critics of the LRAD system have said the ear-piercing noise could cause permanent damage and deafness. He said the military still is conducting studies.

The lethal portion of the projects includes a mounted rapid-fire gun that will be able to carry a diversity of medium- and small-caliber machine guns at a high rate of fire. The system under consideration is called Gunslinger and is under development at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va.

An Active Protection System would place an array of sensors that could deploy decoys and detect chemical or biological agents.

While the Pentagon is taking the lead in developing Project Sheriff, other agencies interested in the experiment’s progress include the Justice, Energy, and State departments and the FBI, Hall said.

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