Developing Non-Lethal Weapons: The Human Effects Characterization Process

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January 16, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: January 16 on

Armed only with lethal force, and facing vehicles that didn’t stop, U.S. warfighters manning a checkpoint in Iraq were left with a difficult choice—engagement with lethal force against an unknown entity or risk being attacked. Tragically, some drivers didn’t comprehend warnings.

To help resolve this dilemma, warfighters were equipped with non-lethal weapons, including a dazzling laser that got drivers’ attention and indicated a need to stop. Using these capabilities helped differentiate combatants and noncombatants and reduced checkpoint shootings.

Non-lethal weapons are needed where conflict and disasters occur within population centers. They fill the space between “shouting and shooting” and their use often has prevented the worsening of bad situations. Non-lethal weapons like blunt-impact rounds, pepper spray and others stopped and/or dispersed noncombatants who posed a threat to forces in Kosovo, Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan. They also helped determine the intentions of operators of small boats that were nearing U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels.

As these examples highlight, non-lethal weapons provide options to commanders on the escalation and de-escalation of force continuum, enhancing their capability sets in various environments. While the benefit of these options maybe seem self-evident, it may not be as obvious how the Department of Defense (DoD) defines a non-lethal weapon and procures systems which meet that definition.