Defence Business: JP3011 - Graduated response – non-lethal weapons emerge from the shadows | ADM Feb 2009

Comments Comments

A specialist sector of the global defence industry is waiting for the Defence White Paper and the new Defence Capability Plan to set out the ADF's requirements for a new generation of non-lethal, or less-than-lethal weapons and capabilities.

Gregor Ferguson

Defence's ongoing interest in non-lethal weapons has been highlighted repeatedly in DSTO's annual call for Capability & Technology Demonstrator (CTD) project proposals.

DSTO has consistently solicited proposals relating to non-lethal weapons, though the ADF has not fielded an extensive armoury of such capabilities.

However, the new Defence Capability Plan (DCP) is expected to include Joint Project 3011, a new project designed, in Defence's words, to, "update the current non-lethal/less-than-lethal capabilities in the ADF inventory across all three services and make them more relevant to the threats faced now and in the future."

ADM understands this is an Australian initiative but Defence says, "As with many defence capabilities, we work closely with our coalition partners - particularly the US and UK - on everything from overarching doctrine, through potential concepts of use, to the technologies that might provide the necessary capabilities."

While the project works up to 1st Pass Approval, JP3011 lies firmly within the Capability Development Group, though the project office is working closely with the single service headquarters and DSTO, which is the technical and scientific advisor.

Initial capability definition documentation has been prepared, ADM was told, "but it is premature to discuss schedules at this stage as much will depend on the outcomes of the White Paper Review and the content of DCP 09-19."

At the Land Environment Working Group (LEWG) briefing at Land Warfare Conference 2008, the CDG's Deputy Director Close Combat, Colonel John Baird, stated that the planned in service date for the Phase 1 elements of JP3011 was 2015, but added that the budget hasn't been determined as yet, and there remain many policy issues to be resolved.

However, he said the potential scope of JP3011 embraces acoustic, kinetic, electrical, chemical, electromagnetic and mechanical weapons and capabilities.

DSTO has a small level of effort in non-lethal weapons technology covering a range of different technologies, confirmed DSTO.

The program assesses the performance of COTS/MOTS systems which are of possible immediate application as well as reviewing and conducting research into a range of Non Lethal Weapon technologies which show promising longer term potential.
No doubt the organisation would be involved in any testing, or possible refinement, of solutions put forward.


So what is a non-lethal weapon (NLW), and why does the ADF need such a capability?

Leadership in the development of NLWs currently resides in the USA, within the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program established in 1996 at Quantico, Virginia.

The JLNW Program web site ( states: "The purpose of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program is to provide warfighters a family of non-lethal weapon systems with a range of capabilities across the full spectrum of threats and crises.

"Non-lethal weapons are defined as ‘weapons, devices and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to immediately incapacitate targeted personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel and undesired damage to property in the target area or environment.

"Non-lethal weapons are intended to have reversible effects on personnel and materiel.' "

The need for NLWs is indisputable: they provide a graduated level of response to events such as violent demonstrations and the like where the use of lethal force would be disproportionate, inhumane and counter-productive.

Television footage of armed soldiers firing on demonstrators in South African townships or in Northern Ireland has entered the folklore of counter-insurgency.

The use of an NLW to break up unruly crowds can prevent damaging headlines and propaganda and enables Rules of Engagement to be framed which don't depend, in the last resort, on the use of lethal force.

Point security is another area where NLWs have an important role: the protection of check points, fixed facilities and ships at anchor or in docks.

There have been many tragic incidents in the Middle East alone, some of them involving the ADF, where troops have fired, quite legitimately, upon innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and behaving, or reacting, in precisely the wrong way.

And there have also been tragic incidents where determined suicide bombers have breached weak security barriers to cause mass casualties among coalition forces - the stimulus for much current research was the suicide truck bombing which killed over 200 US Marines in Beirut in 1983.

The need to provide force protection without the threat to local civilians of immediate lethal consequences to honest mistakes - to bridge the gap between ‘shout' and ‘shoot' - has driven much of the NLW R&D in recent years.

For most defence forces, including the ADF, NLWs have tended to consist of things like baton rounds - the so-called ‘rubber bullet' - CS gas, Tasers, stun grenades, caltrops to shred the tyres of suspect motor vehicles and dazzle sights - very bright laser projectors designed to dazzle and distract pilots or helmsmen of incoming aircraft and boats.

But the US is leading in the development of a new generation of NLWs delivering acoustic, optical and thermal effects.

Depending on the circumstances, each of these weapons types have an important role.

Levels of NLWs

The non-lethal effects sought by the JNLWP start at the ‘challenge and warn' level, and go right up to the futuristic ‘heat ray' or Active Denial System which is currently being developed by Raytheon.

‘Challenge and warn' is a vital capability: systems like the Acoustic Hailing Device (AHD), which is being developed by American Technology Corp, use directed acoustic energy to project a highly directional sound beam beyond an unspecified ‘small arms engagement range'; mounted on a ship, vehicle or watchtower, this allows approaching individuals or groups to be challenged and then warned verbally to keep clear well before they come close enough to threaten the ship or installation; if they persist the volume can be increased and a warning or deterrent tone projected to drive off unwanted approaches.

The aim is to provide the users with time to assess the intentions of those approaching the area.

In the same vein, non-lethal optical distractors employ non-blinding lasers to dazzle a potential adversary, and especially the drivers of suspect vehicles.

Again, the intent is to provide an unambiguous warning and provide the target an opportunity to clarify its intent; at present this technology is still very much in the research stage.

The Pentagon has been developing 12-gauge and 40mm joint non-lethal warning munitions (JNLWMs) as a modern, non-lethal version of the old ‘shot across the bows'.

These high-technology ‘flash bangs' are designed to be fired towards an approaching suspect - an unidentified boat, vehicle, individual or group.

The round air bursts at a pre-set range of 100 metres, 200 metres or 300 metres to provide a bright flash, loud report and smoke.

Depending on the circumstances this can act as a warning, or can temporarily incapacitate threatening individuals.

The next level of engagement actually requires non-lethal physical force and the JNLWP is developing and evaluating a range of non-lethal or less-lethal projectiles and weapons.

It recently conducted a Foreign Comparative Test of the FN 303 Less Lethal Launcher, a shoulder-fired weapon powered by compressed air with a 15-round rotary magazine - imagine a cross between a paint ball gun and a Thomson submachine gun.

The rounds are fin-stabilised polystyrene with a bismuth forward payload; this inflicts blunt trauma but minimizes the risk of penetrating injuries, even when fired at close range.

A similar philosophy lies behind the 40mm Short Range Non-Lethal Munition (SRNLM) a ring airfoil blunt trauma round designed to be fired from the Mk19 and similar 40mm weapons.

However, these are typically fired at longer ranges in order to maintain a stand-off distance between the shooter and the threat.

The JNLWP has also developed a 40mm low velocity Airburst Non-Lethal Munition (ANLM), designed the XM1112, which the US Army expects to field during 2010.

At a pre-set range this stops in mid-flight to release a warning or incapacitating flash-bang. It can be used with Mk19 and M203 launchers.

A persistent challenge for sentries and security forces is stopping a vehicle without killing the occupants.

The JNLWP has been evaluating a Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device (VLAD), an open mesh blanket with barbed spikes which is stretched across a road.

When a vehicle runs across this the spikes puncture its tyres and the blanker wraps itself around the wheels, bringing it to a relatively gentle halt within about 50m.

This is very similar in concept to the Qinetiq X-Net vehicle arresting system whose bigger brother, TruX-net, is designed to stop vehicles of 10,000kg and greater.

These systems can be deployed in a matter of seconds - Qinetiq says 20 seconds or X-Net, and as little as three seconds if the X-tend rapid winch deployment system is used.

Over 1,000 X-Net systems are now in service, according to Qinetiq.

Heat Rays

One of the most interesting NLW currently under development is the Active Denial System (ADS), which has been developed since 2002 under a Pentagon Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program, and is now close to entering production.

This produces a highly focused beam of millimeter-wave energy, which rapidly inflicts an intolerable sensation of burning and induces an instantaneous and involuntary impulse to get away from the source.

The sensation dissipates quite quickly once the victim moves out of the ADS beam, and the beam penetrates the skin to a depth of only 1/64th of an inch.

Two versions of the ADS have been developed: System 1 is a containerized system mounted on a HUMVEE; this was tested on volunteers at three separate sites across the US in 2005-06, leading up to an Extended User Evaluation (EUE) in late-2007.

A more militarized version of the ADS, System 2, was also developed under the ACTD by Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona, and underwent a capabilities and limitations assessment in early-2008.

While designed to be non-lethal, it's acknowledged that prolonged exposure to the ADS beam could cause permanent injury (including sight damage) and even death.

The risk of these happening is limited by the design of the weapon itself (including limits to shot direction and beam power) and adherence to approved tactics and procedures.

"Research shows that there is only a 1/10th of 1 per cent chance of injury associated with exposure to Active Denial Systems," says the JNLWP, but there remain ethical concerns over the potential for deliberate mis-use of this type of technology, in particular to torture prisoners.

However, the potential for misuse extends to every type of weapon, both kinetic (including sticks and firearms) and chemical (pepper spray and the like), so the ADS isn't unique in this regard.

That said, the ADS has undergone close legal and medical scrutiny and is considered compliant with the International Laws of Armed Conflict; it also meets all treaty requirements affecting the fielding and use of US weapons.

There is also a European Work Group on Non-Lethal Weapons, founded in 1998 and based at the Frauenhofer Institute in Berghausen, Germany, with research under way into similar technologies and operational concepts across the UK and Europe.

The University of Bradford's Non-Lethal Weapons research Project ( is a particularly useful independent source of data as well as a clearing house for discussion of the ethical issues involved.

Interestingly, the ethics of employing old-fashioned lethal weapons such as firearms, bombs and missiles seem to attract a great deal less scrutiny.

It's the perceived threats and resulting operational concepts that must drive the ADF's choice of NLW equipment and technology, and to a significant extent these will be shaped by ethical considerations which must be addressed at a national government level.

One thing is clear, however, no democracy can afford for long the debilitating loss of credibility and public support resulting from the death or injury of non-combatants, or of civilian demonstrators.

There is a clear need for a graduated, non-lethal response to security threats in most areas where the ADF will operate, and there's no doubt there now exists a menu of capabilities from which ADF force planners can select those which make most sense.


comments powered by Disqus