New Tools for New Jobs

By Lieutenant Colonel Kurt C. Reitinger, U.S. Army

His friend lifted his head, looked around and slowly responded, "Good news! Looks like we got about 100 meters farther than last year!"

Organizations do what is familiar, often even if it does not work. Trapped in old mind-sets, they can fail to evaluate old methods effectively or to consider fully new ways of doing business. Yet the world is changing, and organizations must adapt to remain effective.

In defense circles, there is extensive debate on military change. How will the United States prepare for future conflicts? What might those conflicts look like? One thing that is clear in this debate is that U.S. armed forces will continue to perform missions in the realm of operations other than war. Indeed, such operations generally are considered more likely than major regional conflicts, and numerous humanitarian operations since Operation Desert Storm underscore this point.

Operations other than war require a mind-set and training conditions unlike those for combat operations. And different tools may be needed as well. General John Galvin hinted about this need when he noted how a Latin American general described low-intensity conflict: "We don't even have the right equipment. Our soldiers' weapons are for long-range, open warfare, but a big part of the war is in the urban area. Bullets shot at a terrorist go through six houses and kill children." U.S. weapons, also designed for maximum combat power, may not be the right weapons for operations other than war.

General Wayne Downing of the U.S. Special Operations Command highlighted this shortcoming in a 1994 interview. "It is kind of incongruous to be someplace on a peacekeeping mission and kill people. You don't want to do that. You'd like to find ways that you can disperse a crowd and discourage people from violence without harming them."

Tools that may be valuable in this environment are nonlethal weapons. Some have been used for decades; others still are only grand ideas. As a group, they are difficult to define, and they are both praised and criticized because of their lack of lethality. Yet despite controversy, nonlethal means present expanded options that may change the conduct of operations other than war.

Nonlethal Technologies

The draft Department of Defense Policy Directive for Nonlethal Weapons defines nonlethal weapons as those "explicitly designed and employed so as to incapacitate personnel or equipment, while minimizing fatalities and undesired damage to property and the environment." Given these concepts, nonlethal weapons may be grouped into two broad categories:

  • Antipersonnel devices include infrasound, laser rifles, electromagnetic "stun guns," calmative agents, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and information strategies (including morphing).
  • Antiequipment weapons include traditional electronic warfare systems, computer viruses, nonnuclear electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), antitraction devices, and embrittlement fluids.

A brief look at two technologies gives a hint of nonlethal potential:

Nonnuclear EMP devices have been tested with mixed results at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The object is to burn out electric circuits in power-generation systems, communications systems, and computers with a localized and directed burst of electromagnetic energy. A 1993 test achieved the desired effects unintentionally when privately owned automobiles 300 meters from the test site were disabled. Testing included operation from modified air-launched cruise missiles. More recently, reports have surfaced that Russia has developed nonnuclear EMP weapons.

Computer viruses can be designed to create informational errors or to damage software systems. Research into their potential seems to be relegated to hackers, with "official" attention given only to reaction to attack. Given military forces' growing dependence on computer-based systems, viruses could become an effective means to disable enemy communications or air-defense systems. Such a capability would be valuable in early-entry operations and in many operations other than war.

These technologies and their potential applications show just a fraction of the capability nonlethal weapons may offer. Despite their potential, however, these technologies cannot be adopted carelessly. Nonlethal weapons and technologies can provide an expanded class of options for military use only with imaginative—yet sound—doctrinal and organizational forethought.

Doctrinal Innovation

Doctrinal innovation for the employment of nonlethal weapons is well under way. In chapter 5, "Military Operations Other Than War," Joint Publication 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations , applies the time-tested principles of war to noncombat operations—with appropriate modifications. An analysis of these principles shows how nonlethal technologies could combine with current doctrine to provide for more effective use of military power in these operations.

Objective . Joint Publication 3-0 states that objective is important in operations other than war because of the disparity of units and personnel that are likely to be involved. All groups must be working toward the same strategic aims.

Nonlethal weapons can contribute to this principle in operations other than war because the ultimate aim rarely is the destruction of the enemy force. Rather, most missions emphasize control of the belligerents and preservation of their personnel, though not as a force. Operation Provide Hope in Somalia, Hurricane Andrew relief in Florida, and riot control in Los Angeles are recent examples where nonlethal weapons would have been effective. In all cases, lethal weapons were the primary means to establish control, yet when a belligerent realized that their use was unlikely, lethal force became ineffective. Lieutenant General Anthony Zinni, who led the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Somalia, says of previous U.S. experiences: "Our adversaries found an operational niche in which they could be neither deterred nor controlled—and against which we were unwilling to apply lethal force." Nonlethal weapons enhance control because they may be used to incapacitate threatening personnel or their weapon systems.

Unity of Effort . Unity of command, when applied to operations other than war, emphasizes the importance of working with multiple governmental agencies to produce unity of effort. The military element must work with diplomatic, economic, and informational instruments of power.

Lethal weapons have a major shortcoming in this arena: Killing someone in pursuit of control works against other instruments of power. The injured party simply becomes more angry and less inclined to bow to diplomatic or economic coercion. For example, violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina escalated in April 1994, after NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serbs. Diplomatic and informational efforts became more difficult because of elevated tensions.

Nonlethal weapons, on the other hand, can provide options that demonstrate resolve without causing heightened tensions or increased violence, and without hindering diplomatic efforts. They thus contribute well to unity of effort.

Legitimacy . Joint Publication 3-0 notes that "committed forces must sustain the legitimacy of the operation" in operations other than war. U.S. troop presence must be recognized as legal and in the best interest of the local people.

Probably the quickest way for the United States to lose this credibility is to inflict casualties. Even in cases of self-defense, world support and U.S. public resolve can be swayed by the media, whose reports characterize deaths in operations other than war as unjustified.

Nonlethal weapons can minimize casualties and place U.S. forces on the moral high ground, strengthening world and U.S. public support for the operation. Accordingly, nonlethal weapons can be a significant factor in maintaining legitimacy in operations other than war.

Perseverance . Joint Publication 3-0 states that commanders must be ready for prolonged application of the military in support of strategic aims. It also notes that the desire to attain objectives quickly must be balanced with respect for long-term strategic goals.

Modern weapons are designed to delivery maximum firepower in minimum time, to produce a quick resolution through decisive action. Unfortunately, this speed and firepower work at cross-purposes to the long-term, complex nature typical of operations other than war. The use of lethal weapons can result in abrupt changes to situations, often to an escalation of violence and a deterioration of diplomatic efforts.

Nonlethal weapons, on the other hand, preserve the status quo by preventing a noncombat situation from escalating into combat, which gives diplomatic, economic, and information efforts time to work. Nonlethal weapons strengthen staying power.

Restraint . Restraint is a requirement in operations other than war because of the primacy of political considerations. The key ingredients are carefully defined restrictions for the use of force and disciplined soldiers.

Rules of engagement (ROEs) are needed because of the lethality of our modern weapon systems, but they can limit soldiers' response options severely. This presents a dilemma when belligerents continually push the envelope of acceptable behavior.

In addition, a soldier's nature and training involve aggressive response. In operations other than war, that aggressive nature can be detrimental. A 1994 newsletter from the Center for Army Lessons Learned, which gleaned lessons from interviews with soldiers returning from Somalia, noted that "some soldiers may not have the discipline to behave according to ROEs," which highlights the dichotomy between a soldier's nature and the expectations of operations other than war.

Nonlethal weapons could provide response options that enable soldiers to react aggressively without killing belligerents. They thus would have more freedom of action within the ambiguity and confusion of operations other than war. Nonlethal weapons loosen tactical restraints while preserving necessary political restraints.

Security . Joint Publication 3-0 notes that commanders must be aware that their forces are at risk in operations other than war, and that "they must be ready to counter activity that could bring harm to their units or jeopardize their mission." Excessively restrictive ROEs and an underestimation of potential security risks contribute to disaster. In the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, for example, weapon magazines taped over to prevent improper use could not be used in a timely fashion when appropriate use was called for.

The lethality of modern weapon systems forces soldiers to refrain from taking action in operations other than war. This temperance increases the security risk because it gives the belligerent factions the advantage of surprise.

Nonlethal weapons, conversely, would allow soldiers to retain the advantage of dictating action—to prevent potentially harmful activity before it develops. In short, nonlethal weapons help prevent violent situations while lethal weapons provide response to violent situations.

The doctrinal foundation for nonlethal weapons use has been laid. Even so, their potential advantages will not be realized unless matching operational concepts are adapted.

Organizational and Operational Adaptation

Similar to blitzkrieg tactics, where the tank complemented infantry, nonlethal weapons must be viewed as a supplement to lethal means—not a replacement for them. This perspective provides the foundation for organizational adaptations, with troops deployed to operations other than war equipped with both lethal and nonlethal weapons. Two organizational methods are available: a "modular approach" and a "supplemental issue" design.

In the modular concept, "nonlethal units" would be teamed with standard units. The specialty units, proficient in the use of a variety of nonlethal weapons designed for various surposes, would deploy along with "lethal" units to provide an additional capability. For example, a squad with stun guns might deploy with every platoon in a peacekeeping mission, to ensure safe passage of relief convoys or to protect such key sites as water points. Other examples could include teams attached to a joint task force headquarters: a "virus staff" of computer or electronic experts to plant destructive strains in a belligerent's systems; or a nonnuclear EMP platoon.

In the supplemental issue concept, nonlethal weapons would be issued to units preparing to deploy for an operation other than war. The level and mix should be based on the classic analysis of mission, enemy, terrain, time, and troops available. For example, a commander could retain infrasound devices at his headquarters or delegate their use to a lower level based on his estimation of the situation. No matter how the commander chooses to organize the available resources, the unit retains integrity and gains another set of tools to help accomplish its mission. Implicit in this concept is adequate training for personnel who would employ the weapons.

Specific cases where nonlethal weapons could be used include early entry operations and humanitarian relief. Such weapons could be employed to prep the entry site or to protect relief convoys and food distribution sites. They also could be effective at road sites in peacekeeping operations. In short, current operational concepts can be adapted to take advantage of nonlethal tools.

A Coming Revolution

Another reason to pursue nonlethal weapons is to enhance our ability to counter enemy use. Whether or not the United States pursues nonlethal means, future adversaries probably will. Research and development will provide insights about physical properties and employment methods that will lead to stronger defensive postures. The United States should not neglect this potential threat.

The potential synergistic effect of nonlethal weapons must be pursued, for it may represent a significant change—a revolution—in conducting operations other than war. As General Zinni notes: "With nonlethal weapons, we can address more situations effectively and have a better chance of controlling the escalation of violence in the complex environments we are most likely to encounter. Our actions thus will be more consistent with the basic humanitarian values embraced by our nation and expected by our citizens."

Colonel Reitinger is an instructor at the 533 Training Squadron at Colorado Springs.



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