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MindNet Journal - Vol. 1, No. 63
V E R I C O M M / MindNet "Quid veritas est?"
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Editor: Mike Coyle
Assistant Editor: Rick Lawler
Research: Darrell Bross
NONLETHAL WEAPONS AND OPERATIONS
September 14, 1995
CRS Report for Congress
Congressional Research Service * The Library of Congress
Nonlethal Weapons and Operations: Potential Applications and
John M. Collins Senior Specialist in National Defense Office of
Nonlethal weapons and operations (NLW), whether employed for
offensive or defensive purposes, usually supplement rather than
replace lethal instruments.(1) They are designed to minimize
fatalities among belligerents and non-combatants as well as
unplanned damage to property during wars and so-called operations
other than war. One important purpose, which accommodates
policies of restraint with overwhelming power, is to expand
options, complicate enemy decision making, and thereby promote
greater freedom of action in the gap between relatively benign
pressures (diplomacy, economic sanctions, military posturing),
and deadly force. This brief report summarizes technological
progress, potential operations, and practical constraints, then
presents a series of questions that seem to merit better answers
before senior DoD officials and Congress determine which NLW
programs to support and which to defer or discard.(2)
NONLETHAL WEAPON TECHNOLOGIES
A few nonlethal weapons now are available for use by U.S.
Armed Forces or could be in short notice, but a rich variety of
innovated additions deliverable by manned aircraft, missiles,
remotely piloted vehicles, motor transports, ships, and/or
individuals is under development (see table).
Selected by Types and Characteristics
Categories Typical Types Primary Land Field
Targets(1) Mobile(2) Testing
Biological Biodegrading I, M Variable 1-4 yr
Chemical Irritants (CS;
Pepper Spray) P Yes Complete
Tranquilizers P Yes 1-4 yr
Adhesives M,P Variable 1-4 yr
("Slickums") M,P Variable 1-4 yr
(Fibers, Polymers) I Variable 1 yr
Combustion Modifiers I,M Yes 1-3 yr
ments/Caustics M Yes > 5 yr
Odiferous Agents P Yes 1-4 yr
Specialty Foam P Variable < 1 yr
Microwave I,M Variable 1-4 yr
magnetic Pulse M,I Variable 1-4 yr
Conductive Ribbons M,I Variable Complete
Energy Particle Beams M,I Variable 3-5 yr
Counter Mortar P,I,M Yes 1-4 yr
Barriers P Yes 1-4 yr
Acoustics High Intensity
Sound P Yes Complete
sound (VLF, VHF) P Yes < 1 yr
Stun Stun Guns; TASERS P Yes Complete;<1yr
Water Cannons P Yes Complete
Projectiles P Yes < 1 yr
Optical Low Energy Lasers M,P Yes < 1 yr
Strobe Lights P Yes < 1 yr
Holographs P Yes 1-4 yr
Directional & Omni-
directional Flares M,P Yes 2 yr
mational Computer Software
Corruption M,I Unnecessary Now
Voice Cloning P Unnecessary 2 yr
1. I = Infrastructure; M = Material; P = Personnel
2. Land Mobility varies with models. Weight volume, distance to
target, and enemy defenses are key considerations.
3. Feasible test dates may a bit optimistic. Availability
commonly depends on complexities and funding.
NOTE: This table was compiled from several sources. See Note 1,
plus "Disabling Technologies: A Critical Assessment,"
_International Defense Review_, July 1994, p. 33-39; Evancoe,
Paul, "Tomorrow's Weapons of Choice?," _Military Technology_,
June 1994, p. 68-71; "Draft Concept for Non-Lethal Capabilities
in Army Operations," _Inside the Army_, July 31, 1995, p. 18-19;
Kokoski, Richard, "Non- Lethal Weapons: A Case Study for New
Technology Developments," _SIPRI Yearbook 1994_, NY, Oxford
University Press, 1994, p. 373-378; Major Joseph W. Cook, III,
et. al., _Non-Lethal Weapons and Social Operations_, a Study
Conducted for HQ USAF/XOXI in association with the USAF Institute
for National Security Studies at the Air Force Academy, June 27,
1994, p. 6-13.
Nonlethal antipersonnel weapons such as malodorous substances,
nonpenetrating projectiles, stun guns, water cannons, and ear-
splitting noises need no explanation. High-powered microwaves can
melt electronic components; strobe lights may disorient
individuals; holograms may confuse them; aqueous foams can fill
enclosures and form barriers. Voice cloning makes it possible to
simulate radio broadcasts by enemy officials as a specialized
form of psychological operations. Embrittlements that break down
molecular bonding in metals, super caustics that attack many
otherwise immune materials, biodegrading bacteria that "eat"
products such as petroleum, and low energy lasers that blind
hostile sensors typify nonlethal weapons that primarily attack
inanimate targets. Multipurpose implements like "slickums" and
"stickums" could engage personnel and property. Each type, if and
when perfected, will possess unique strengths and weaknesses
compared with other lethal and nonlethal tools.
U.S. Armed Forces have as yet put few sophisticated nonlethal
weapons to practical tests. Marines, for example, deployed with a
small assortment during the February withdrawal of U.N.
peacekeepers from Somalia, but use was limited to a little sticky
foam. Nearly all NLW, however, hypothetically may be applied
under conditions short of armed combat and to deter, defend
against, or defeat military aggression of any kind, sometimes
independently, but most often as ancillaries to other arms
(lethal means might often constitute essential "insurance
Operations Other Than War
NLW would be politically attractive during humanitarian
operations and are potentially valuable in other situations short
of war, because they avoid military bloodletting that could
strengthen enemy resolve and precipitate domestic/international
censure. The U.S. Government might enhance economic sanctions by
conducting nonlethal blockades or clandestinely employing
computer viruses to cripple the offenders' financial system.
Psychological operations specialists able to "capture" enemy
radio and television frequencies would posses a powerful lever
with which to influence public perceptions and attitudes during
Peacekeepers might profitably employ acoustic "barricades" to
help keep hotheads apart during crises. Peace enforcers would
welcome nonlethal weapons to disperse or otherwise control crowds
and deny them access to sensitive areas such as embassies,
arsenals, power plants, and telecommunications centers. Lasers
that temporarily dazzle, but do not permanently blind, could
discretely disable snipers who use noncombatants as human
shields. Nonlethal weapons also could simplify the evacuation of
U.S. citizens and close associates from unfriendly soil.
Counterterrorists might apply adhesives, antitraction
substances, and combustion inhibitors to isolate hostage rescue
sites, then tranquilize captors without jeopardizing captives.
Special operations to neutralize enemy nuclear, biological and
chemical warfare facilities could benefit from high-powered
microwaves to suppress enemy defenses; super caustics and metal
embrittlements could disable nuclear reactors, other processors,
and finished weapons; compact particle beams in the hands of
special operations forces could irradiate and neutralize nuclear,
chemical, and biological munitions; aqueous foams could fill
storage rooms thereafter.
Large-scale combat operations offer opportunities to employ
nonlethal weapons independently or as complements of lethal
power. Strategically significant warfare against enemy
officials, their supporters, and infrastructure theoretically is
feasible on a grand scale. High tech sabotage might insert
biodegrading bacteria into petroleum storage tanks and use
high-powered microwaves to disable fuses in ammunition depots.
Adhesives or superlubricants liberally applied on seaports, air
base runways, highway intersections, steep railway grades, key
bridges, and other bottlenecks could impede enemy military
traffic or bring it to a standstill. Missiles and aircraft might
deposit conductive ribbons (fine carbon fibers) on power grids to
short-circuit switches and transformers, as they did during
Operation Desert Storm.
Nonlethal weapons also could be tactically advantageous.
Counterinsurgents, whose main aim is to win hearts and minds,
could minimize collateral damage and noncombatant casualties if
armed with incapacitants. Foes in custody rather than body bags
could furnish valuable intelligence as a bonus. Various nonlethal
implements could favorably influence urban combat by blocking
avenues of approach and escape, channel enemy formations into
ambushes, flush out strong points while preserving sites of great
cultural value, and simplified reconstruction problems after
armed conflict ceases.
Practical factors constrain NLW applications. Weapon
characteristics (size, weight, range, rates of fire,
maintainability), legal limitations, ethics, rules of engagement,
public opinion, arms control, and costs all impose limits.
Whether technologically complex nonlethal weapons will work as
advertised awaits conclusive tests, some of which have not yet
been devised. U.S. officials remain uncertain concerning the
incidence of inadvertent fatalities (calmatives may render
bystanders comatose; omnidirectional flares may blind friendly
forces; infrasound can cause concussions if the setting is too
strong). Neither is it clear whether all allegedly reversible
effects indeed are. No one is sure how often U.S. Armed Forces
must reapply "slickums" to particular surfaces or what solvents
would best remove adhesives that stick. Experiments to ascertain
how fast embrittling agents will weaken metal are permissible,
but test on people are limited to stringent controls. The likely
influence of tranquilizers on factious crowds thus will remain
speculative until using units accumulate practical experience.
Some theoretically valuable nonlethal devices may prove
difficult to deliver on targets. Strategic petroleum reserves
stored in huge, widely separated tanks, some of which hold more
than one million barrels apiece, are not readily accessible to
infiltrators armed with flagons containing biodegrading microbes.
Huge energy requirements frustrate attempts to develop
man-portable EMP and microwave weapons. Metal embrittlements in
many instances might have to be applied by brush-wielding humans
in harm's way. Battle damage assessments may demand creative
techniques (how, for example, can stun gunners and pulse weapon
operators verify whether human targets that bear no visible scars
are incapacitate or playing possum?).
Scenarios that envisage a mix of lethal and nonlethal weapons
could overload ground troops unless separate NLW units are
formed. Logistical burdens and costs would increase in any case.
Deployability prospects depend in large part on funds that might
otherwise purchase, operate, and maintain traditional
Policy limitations affect the choice of nonlethal weapons as
much as (perhaps more than) technological constraints and costs.
_Department of Defense Instruction 5000.2: Defense Management
Policies and Procedures_ specifies that U.S. weapons and
munitions must undergo legal reviews during development,
procurement, and deployment to ensure compliance with laws of war
and moral/ethical obligations. No other nations save the United
Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany seem to have similar
The mention of biological and chemical warfare weapons raises
red flags among arms control specialists and on Capitol Hill. Law
enforcement units may use riot control agents against U.S.
citizens, whereas _Executive Order 11850_ of April 10, 1075
forbids first use, "in war except in defensive military modes to
save lives such as:...situations in which civilians are used to
mask or screen attacks...or to protect convoys from civil
disturbances, terrorists and paramilitary organizations..." The
benign use of biodegrading bacteria to clean up oil spills is
permissible, but actions to contaminate enemy petroleum reserves
might not be if narrow interpretations of the Biological Weapons
Convention prevail. Dr. Matthew Meselson, Professor of
Biochemistry at Harvard University, represents many who believe
it would be unwise for nonlethal weapons to blur the line between
use and non use of chemicals by U.S. Armed Forces, regardless of
purposes. An independent task force sponsored by the Council of
Foreign Relations, however, expressed a different opinion: "It
would, of course, be a tragic irony if nations used lethal means
against noncombatants because nonlethal means were banned by
Computer viruses could infect enemy software in "peacetime"
and in war. Plausible denial might prevent retaliation in kind
but, if that ploy failed, the United States, being an information
intensive society, could well be vulnerable to ruinous
counterattacks. U.S. policymakers accordingly should proceed
cautiously lest they inadvertently open Pandora's Box.
Some nonlethal weapon proponents tend to harbor excessive
expectations. Some opponents tend to reject NLW for emotional
reasons. Positions that objectively compare nonlethal options
with lethal alternatives probably occupy some as yet undefined
middle ground. Solutions to unsolved problems consequently should
precede decision to develop, acquire, and deploy particular
systems. The following questions might prove useful:
* Which nonlethal weapons appear most attractive to
commanders in chief of U.S. combatant commands?
* What would be the best mix of lethal and nonlethal weapons
in DoD's arsenal?
* Should special units be formed within each Service to
employ some or all nonlethal weapons? What role should U.S.
Special Operations Command play?
* What rules of engagement should determine the choice between
lethal and nonlethal weapons in emergencies?
* Would strong U.S. reliance on nonlethal weapons strengthen
or weaken deterrence? How would U.S. allies view this trend?
* How would NLW alter strategic and tactical intelligence
* Would nonlethal weapons impose unreasonable logistic
* Which biodegrading and chemical non-lethal weapons are
permissible given arms control conventions to which the
United States is party?
* Should research, development, and acquisition activities as
well as oversight be centralized under on authority? If so,
* Could the Department of Justice (DoJ) defray a larger share
of DoD's nonlethal weapons costs? Would DoJ be willing?
* What size stockpiles of expendable munitions, such as
adhesives, antitractions, and specialty foams, would be
required at what costs?
* To what extent could costs be confined by modifying lethal
weapon systems to handle nonlethal munitions as well?
Hostile nations, non-state adversaries, and criminal
organizations may acquire nonlethal weapons regardless of U.S.
restraint. Prudent countermeasures consequently seem advisable
whether DoD embraces selected systems or abstains.
1. Various overviews include Morris, Janet and Chris,
_Nonlethality: A Global Strategy_, Revised Ed., West Hyannisport,
MA, 1994, 11 p; Swett, Charles F., _Strategic Assessment:
Non-Lethal Weapons_, Washington, draft report, Office of
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Special Operations and
Low-Intensity Conflict), November 9, 1993, 20 p; Colonel John L.
Barry, et al, _Nonlethal Military Means: New Leverage for a New
Era_, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School
of Government, 1994, 86 p; _Non-Lethal Technologies: Military
Options and Implications_, NY, Council of Foreign Relations,
1995, 16 p; Gray, Jan M., _Uses of Nonlethal Force in Army
Operations_, a White Paper (draft), Fort Monroe, VA, U.S. Army
Training and Doctrine Command, July 17, 1995, 43 p; _Policy
Study: Non-Lethal Technologies_, Washington, JAYCOR, September
19, 1994, 28 p; Colonel Frederick M. Lorenz, "Less-Lethal Force
in Operation United Shield," _Marine Corps Gazette_, September
1995, p. 69-76.
2. Some definitions of nonlethal weapons exclude
parapsychological operations, deception, electronic warfare, and
information warfare. This document concentrates on new
CRS Reports are prepared for Members and committees of Congress.
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