Richard L. Garwin
Vice Chairman, Federation of American Scientists
Chairman, FAS Fund


IBM Fellow Emeritus
Thomas J. Watson Research Center
P.O. Box 218
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

(914) 945-2555

Adjunct Professor of Physics,
Columbia University;

Adjunct Research Fellow,
Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University)

April 7-10, 1994

American Assembly Book/Conference
on "US Intervention in the Post-Cold War World:
New Challenges and New Resources"

Arden House

Harriman, NY

Views of the author, not of his organizations


  A view on intervention
The concept of nonlethal weapons
  Physical degradation of equipment:
  Mobility inhibitors:
  Temporary incapacitation of personnel:
  Imposing costs on the population
  Information warfare:
  nonlethal "lethal" weapons:
  Wish or Reality?
  The question of relative effectiveness
    A lot of experience with one NLW---
  Effectiveness, countermeasures, and the decision to develop
  Unique characteristics for intervention?
  Maiming weapons
Policy Questions
  Dual-use Weapons
  Improved less-lethal military weapons
  Arms control to support national security
Recommendations for development


The changing environment for intervention is accompanied by changes in the world structure, and in the views of electorates, of policy leaders, and of those who might be involved in military intervention. Any logical and responsible approach to the creation and exercise of military capability must welcome the consideration of novel tools of military and strategic intelligence, assessment, weapons, logistics, or other potential contributor to getting the job done at lower cost for a given effectiveness or more effectively at the same cost. Planning for military capability in general and for intervention in particular differs from industry or commerce primarily in the definition of benefits and costs, and in the magnitude of the resources available for planning, development, acquisition, and evaluation.

This chapter on Nonlethal and Less Lethal Technology must therefore consider the nature of the benefits and costs affected by this set of technological options, their reality and readiness, and the degree to which special mechanisms might be needed to create and utilize these capabilities. Potential benefits include the possibility that nonlethal weapons will achieve military goals better than will lethal weapons, that the avoidance of enemy casualties would result in the avoidance of US casualties, or that death or injury to bystanders (or even to the opponent) is politically or morally unacceptable and that a nonlethal weapon is preferable or necessary even if less effective or much more costly than a lethal weapon for achieving the same military goals.

I conclude that there is there is substantial overlap between the applicability of nonlethal weapons (NLW) and of improved conventional lethal munitions, that NLW that would be effective per se would in general also be useful with lethal munitions to increase their effectiveness, and that exploration and development of NLW should be conducted by normal Defense Department procedures rather than in a special office. It is important to note that the utility of NLW in many cases is limited by the possibility of countermeasures and by their use against ourselves and our allies, with implications for caution and perhaps secrecy in deciding to develop and use such weapons, as is the case with some lethal weapons.


The reader should be aware of my views on intervention, which are cautious and to some extent principled. We should be ready to intervene as part of a UN response, to support our commitments to NATO or other collective, or to follow through on a security guarantee. I do not believe our military actions in Granada or Panama were justified by the long-runway airfield construction or the capture of General Noriega; I believe we should have been involved much earlier in Bosnia, given the magnitude of the destruction of material and societal values and the precedent of our non-intervention; and our experience in Somalia inspires both caution and the wish to have better tools for such activities. Some NLW were indeed used in these activities-- loud music (to what effect?) outside Noriega's headquarters-- and an analysis of proposed specific NLW programs should include an evaluation of their potential contribution in these specific instances, whether intervention was proper or not.

My personal experience includes chairing or being a member of various panels of the President's Science Advisory Committee, including Vietnam, military aircraft, naval warfare, strategic military, conventional weapons, and the like, as well as similar activity of the Defense Science Board and visits to the theaters of conflict during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In recent years I have helped with some development needs and opportunities of the Special Operations Command as well as some national law-enforcement activities. More than four decades of experience with what has worked and has not worked in the military and commercial world has instilled some caution but not totally destroyed optimism in improved mechanisms and capabilities. I am wary, however, of new technologies that only work if new mechanisms are used for their selection and development, and for their employment outside the military activities to which they are intended to contribute.


For the last few years a few visionaries have advocated the acquisition of nonlethal weapons. Prominent among these advocates are Janet E. Morris and Chris Morris, of the United States Global Strategy Council, and John H. Alexander of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. They argue that the United States needs and must develop and plan to use nonlethal weapons in order to be able to minimize US casualties, casualties among bystanders and neutrals, and even among the adversary of the occasion. They tend to emphasize measures that disable or degrade military or civil equipment, while not ruling out some that are intended to temporarily incapacitate individuals. The range of NLW concepts includes the following, roughly categorized, in which brief descriptions in quotations are taken from the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)'s "Operations Concept for Disabling Measures (Draft)" of September 1992. There are many more potentially effective NLW concepts, but these are among the most commonly cited.


SUPERCAUSTICS: 'Supercaustics can be millions of times more caustic than hydrofluoric acid. A round that delivers jellied superacids could destroy the optics of heavily armored vehicles, penetrate vision blocks or glass, or be employed to silently destroy key weapons systems or components.'

THE GRIME FROM HELL: A layer of paint weighing less than a gram per square meter can totally block light through a windshield, viewing window, or sensor lens; encountering very fine dust at the speed of a fast aircraft can micro-crater (sand blast) a windshield or exposed sensor window. In either case, a tiny surface layer destroys the utility of a weapon unless or until the surface can be cleaned or restored.

NON-NUCLEAR ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE: Almost always using high explosive as an energy storage means and generating pulses to destroy or disable power system, electronic circuitry, communications and computer systems.

HIGH-POWER MICROWAVE: Again using energy stored in high explosive or in high-power pulses from conventional sources, to destroy or damage electronics, explode ammunition, or to disable vehicles with electronic ignition or controls.

SHORT-CIRCUITING POWER DISTRIBUTION OR SWITCHING SYSTEMS: It is widely reported that certain hit-to-kill weapons (the Tomahawk and air-launched cruise missiles) instead carried carbon fiber nonlethal weapons, the purpose of which was to float through the air onto high-tension wires and to short out the electrical grid in a non-destructive but disabling fashion.


ANTITRACTION TECHNOLOGY (OR "SLICKUM"): 'Using airborne delivery systems or human agents, we can spread or spray Teflon-type, environmentally neutral, lubricants on railroad tracks, grades, ramps, runways, even stairs and equipment, potentially denying their use for a substantial period, because such lubricants are costly and time-consuming to remove.'

ROACH MOTELS (OR "STICKUM"): 'Polymer adhesives, delivered by air or selectively on the ground, can 'glue' equipment in place and keep it from operating.'

JACKS: Simple tubes welded into the form of the "jacks" of our childhood, a few inches in size provide a nonlethal weapon that has been used since the Second World War to puncture tires and to deny roadways or runways for a time to vehicles.

FOAM, STICKY OR HARD: To immobilize people or to render them less effective. Imagine trying to conduct your normal business in a world covered with raspberry jam.

COMBUSTION ALTERATION: 'Internal combustion engines can be disrupted through special chemical compounds. These chemical compounds would temporarily contaminate fuel or change its viscosity to degrade engine function.' The military has long sought a gas or dust or fog that when ingested by internal combustion engines would terminate the combustion reaction (stop the flame propagation in the cylinder or burner).


LASER WEAPONS: 'Resembling conventional rifles, low energy laser rifles with power packs can flash-blind people and disable optical and infrared systems used for target acquisition, tracking, night vision and range finding.'

FLASH-BANG GRENADES OR MINES: Widely used in hostage rescue, these distract and dismay people in close proximity (particularly inside or at night), allowing them to be overcome or killed.

IRRITANTS: "Tear gas" such as CS-2 smoke used in riot control repels or temporarily disables people. Tiny darts loaded with irritant can be fired at individuals with similar effect.

ANESTHETICS: "Gas" could be used to put people to sleep, as used by railway compartment robbers, or tiny darts loaded with an appropriate anesthetic (fentanyl, for instance) with a wide safety margin could do this more selectively.

INFRASOUND: 'Very low frequency sound generators could be tuned to incapacitate humans, causing disorientation, nausea, vomiting, or bowel spasms. The effect ceases as soon as the generator is turned off, with no lingering physical or environmental damage.'


WINDOW BREAKING VIA SONIC BOOM: Not totally a NLW for people on the streets below high-rise buildings, this could be accomplished by low-altitude supersonic flight.


COMPUTER VIRUS TECHNOLOGY: 'This technology focuses on computer systems which control fire support systems, data transmission, fire control systems, avionics, etc. It involves the covert intrusion of a computer virus, logic bomb, or worm which may remain hidden until the system is used or meets specific parameters.'

JAMMING communications; or disabling or disrupting communications and other equipment by the use of electromagnetic pulse effects.


LAND MINES: Are they "nonlethal weapons"? An effective minefield prevents passage, and it can be argued that land mines put the initiative of injury on the other side. According to long-held rules of war, such minefields should be marked, and they should be mapped to aid in their sanitization when they are no longer needed. Land mines can thus be classed with other effective weapons, lethal or non-lethal, the effects of which are readily countered at a substantial reduction in one's effectiveness or at substantial increase in one's vulnerability.


While not exhaustive, the preceding list includes most of the concepts commonly advocated. Stickum or Slickum might be very thin layers of material suitable for applying to very large areas, while a similar mass of disabling foam could cover only a much smaller area either to entangle individuals or to block motion. Foam, slickum, and some additional means are in use in the "Safe Secure Transport" vans used by the Department of Energy to carry nuclear weapons within the US.


Some of these "weapons" would require unusual cooperation on the part of the adversary: fuel systems are not normally accessible to chemicals sprayed on their exterior; electromagnetic pulse generators against electronics work much better if actually connected to the wires of a computer network or power system. In some cases, additional design effort of the delivery system can compensate for the absence of cooperation, but this must be included in the design and evaluation of the system. For instance, if an agent that converts fuel into jelly requires a delivery system that punches holes in fuel storage tanks, injects the agent, and then plugs the hole, it needs to be compared in effectiveness with a simpler system that explodes or ignites the fuel either immediately or with some desired delay.


For use in military operations, nonlethal weapons pose a conceptual problem, but perhaps the problem is that of the relation of military activities to limited political goals. One imagines that NLW are to be used to convey a military advantage; in fact, it would be ideal if the United States and its allies of the moment could use nonlethal weapons to terminate or win a conflict with no casualties on our side and preferably with no casualties on the other side (or, more importantly, among the bystanders). But if the other side is not hurting, why should it concede? Why should it not just wait out the period of incapacitation and resume whenever the pressure is off? One possibility is that NLW themselves cause serious pain or penalty, as in the case of the sonic boom or as would accompany switching off the public power or telephone system. Alternatively, effective nonlethal weapons might cause serious damage to equipment or people, either themselves or as an adjunct to lethal weapons, or they might be used in order to impose on the other side respect and fear for what may follow.

In the latter case, leverage would arise not from the NLW themselves, but from the improved effectiveness of the military operations that could follow-- perhaps because of the additional time made available for mobilizing our forces or the inflicting of damage or destruction during the time that the other side is held transfixed or whatever is imagined to be the result of the NLW. But a nonlethal capability to transfix the adversary so that he can be killed more readily may not merit the term "nonlethal weapon." "Pre-lethal weapon" has been suggested for this use.

What does one want to achieve from the use or threat of use of NLW against a sovereign state? The release of hostages; cessation of support for insurrection; the shortening of a planned runway; the extradition of a political leader; election of a leader with views more acceptable to the US; improvement in human rights; restoration or establishment of civic order; the non-use of lethal weapons against US forces intervening on the territory of the state? Each of the above seems to have been the goal of an actual or planned intervention by the US, but the link between coercion and result is not evident. Taking a less absolutist view, the result of an election in a quasi-democratic state would be influenced by our use of NLW, but would the change be favorable to our cause?

Interventions differ. In some cases one is fighting a dedicated force equipped with tanks, heavy artillery, mortars, and the like. If they are immobilized only imperfectly by NLW, their fire power will be reduced but not eliminated; and we will take casualties when our NLW inflict no casualties on them. If US freedom of action is constrained by a reluctance to cause or to view casualties among bystanders, but even more constrained by an imagined reluctance in the public and the Congress to accept casualties among our volunteer military force, our use of NLW might be primarily a more acceptable means of escalating to lethal conflict. If so, the CNN pictures of dead innocents will hardly be compensated by the reminder that the other side could have conceded but didn't when we were besieging them with NLW; after all, they could have conceded to the initial demands without any use of weapons at all.

A lot of experience with one NLW--- If NLW are more effective than lethal weapons, then they should be developed and used without special consideration. In this there is instructive historical experience.

For the last 40 years, US air forces have faced the question of enemy air defenses, either within the former Soviet Union or largely supplied by the Soviet Union. In many cases, the approach of choice was not to destroy the air defenses (although this may have been feasible) but to use deception and jamming in order to penetrate the defended air space. Techniques included simple jamming to provide "snow" on the radar displays or computer detection systems; deception to prevent accurate tracking of the aircraft by the enemy radars; and fuze jammers or deception systems, to detonate the fuzes on air defense missiles prematurely or to prevent them from detonating as they passed within lethal range of our aircraft.

This was a pretty sporty activity, which needed to be carried out every time our aircraft passed within range of opposing air defenses. Such an approach might have been necessary if we were protecting surveillance or reconnaissance vehicles operating in peacetime over denied territory, but it was also carried over to friendly air forces operating against air defenses during a hot war, such as Israeli activities in the war between Egypt and Israel.

The Israeli cause might have been better served by actual destruction of Egyptian radar by means of laser guided bombs or bombs guided by remote radio command, or by so-called anti-radiation missiles that would strike the radars either by homing on the radar transmission or by the use of the radar transmission to get a location within a few meters, against which the bomb or guided missile could be directed by accurate navigation. Instead, the NLW approach of jamming and deception was taken, probably to the detriment of the effectiveness of the Israeli Air Force.

The point in this case is not whether the NLW approach was in fact less or more effective than the LW approach; it is simply to show that there has been no prejudice against NLW when it was considered more effective. On the other side of the argument, however, is the dismay often expressed by commanders offered a means for disabling rather than destroying enemy targets-- "mission kill" rather than destruction. Raised against such a proposal is the argument that if there are no unambiguous external signals, then the same opposing tank might be marked for destruction again and again, even though its capability for accurate gunfire may have been destroyed.

Some of these problems are no longer so important in the modern era, in which it is finally accepted that one might have a "digital battlefield" in which information could be stored and keyed geographically. When a tank or something that might be a tank is seen at a particular location, the corresponding precise location is brought up from the digital battlefield database and shown there to be destroyed. If immobilized and nullified, it might even be incorporated onto the display as an appropriate symbol, thereby allowing a disabling weapon (if it is cheaper or more effective than an old fashioned destructive weapon) to be accepted more readily.


Of course, the ideal for the United States would be to have effective NLW which could not be countered and to which we were somehow inherently invulnerable. Logically, such might arise in the intervention context when it would not in full-scale war with a major power, if the weapon were so large or of such technology or so costly that it could not be afforded by the other side; because we assume the impossibility of countermeasures, it would need to be used in a region where there are no US or friendly or neutral forces, or civilians. An example might be the very fast electromagnetic pulse created by a nuclear explosion at an altitude of 100 km or more, which is harmless to people but may damage electrical power distribution systems. (In reality, its effect on individual military or electronic systems can readily be countered by modest shielding.)

Next best might be a weapon to which countermeasures exist but which countermeasures we would attempt to keep to ourselves and our allies. In general, countermeasures need to be more widespread than the NLW themselves and ordinarily require more training as well; this makes it much more difficult to keep secret the existence and nature of an NLW that is readily countered. For instance, it is a lot more complicated to manage protective garb against chemical weapons (or even against tear gas) than to fire the shell or drop the bomb that delivers such agents. Of course, if we can arrange that our personnel and our equipment are not subject to our own NLW, we don't need countermeasures; but if we do need to provide them to our troops we will need also to train with them and with the actual or simulated NLW, in order to provide those who will be involved confidence that they can operate under those circumstances.

Finally, if we identify a NLW we choose not to develop or to deploy, what do we do about countermeasures to it, in case of its use against us? As simple example is a laser blinding weapon: we may choose to develop one at one wavelength and provide ourselves simple shielding glasses or filters to protect ourselves against our weapon, without significant reduction in visibility. But an adversary or a free-lance weapon manufacturer might choose a different wavelength, almost as effective or more effective under their constraints. Obviously if we needed to provide countermeasures against the opponent's use of our own weapon, we would need to provide it against their version; and we would need those countermeasures whether or not we deployed any such weapon. Evidently, intelligence on what is actually being manufactured and bought in the rest of the world is important for our own protection; as regards NLW and intervention, and as is true more generally, one should distinguish between what might be done and what is actually being provided.

The use of "stickum" provides an interesting example of countermeasures. If some such contact adhesive were sprayed on the pavement, it could very well inhibit foot traffic or even passage by certain vehicles. Bare feet would soon be bloody because of the removal of a layer of skin with each step. However, sand spread on the stickum-coated pavement would presumably stick (what else?) and provide a "sand paper" surface on which one could walk or drive. Before sand could be spread, attaching a pad of newspaper to the sole of each shoe would allow one step per page-- enough to cross a small region of stickum-covered pavement at high speed. This is an example of an easily countered NLW, but one that might be effective under specific circumstances, given surprise.

Similarly, there is an enormous spread between the vulnerability to EMP or electrical interference between a system that is designed with no thought to such interference and one which is carefully shielded. The shielding may cost very little if included in the design process or if specified at the beginning of development, and the difference may increase the energy requirement for the EMP generator by a millionfold, making such NLW ineffective. For instance, if computer networks use readily available optical fiber for interconnection, they become no more vulnerable than individual computers used in the network; and normal surge suppressors can do a good deal to mitigate the effects of EMP weapons.

Temporarily disabling open-wire electrical power distribution systems (and switch yards) by the use of munitions that dispense carbon fiber is much discussed, but no air defense system that is designed to have any capability against lethal attack (and that is what they are designed for) will do without independent power to each of the radars, missile launchers, direction centers, and the like. The same is true of all combat elements, but loss of grid power would cut production and retard transport, and probably inhibit the activities of much of government and the rest of society. The point is simply not to overstate the specific utility of this tool.

Steam locomotives came equipped with a "cow catcher"-- the grilled plow-like device in front, that prevented a number of derailments caused by cows or other large debris, although it still left the problem of smaller impediments like pigs. The cow catcher is a countermeasure to the cow, with its own counter-countermeasure-- the pig. Similarly, if one has a sure-fire material that plugs the air inlet to an internal combustion engine (like sand in a sandstorm), typically only a small modification to the filter system will impede this peculiarly effective NLW and allow it to be ignored.

It is important to note that it is not the opponent in warfare who needs to develop these countermeasures, but they will be available commercially from free-lance suppliers the world over, just as are Teflon-coated bullets for piercing body armor. If the weapon is kept secret, countermeasures may be avoided for some months after first use (and forever, in some regions), but secrecy imposes difficulty on training and dissemination of the technique.

It is often much easier to prescribe NLW against our own capabilities than against the typically simpler equipment that might be encountered in intervention. Anyone with spectacles entering a building in cold weather envies those who manage without glasses, and mechanically fired weapons are immune from electromagnetic pulse weapons in a way in which electrically operated ones are not. The high performance required of airborne equipment like helicopters implies large penalties from additional filters, shields against infrared emission, and the like, so that US helicopters in the Iran hostage rescue operation were disabled by a sand storm that a camel would have walked through.

In similar fashion, the US worried for years that Soviet aircraft with vacuum tube airborne electronics-- "avionics"-- would be immune to electomagnetic pulse from space nuclear explosions, while our aircraft with solid-state avionics would succumb. In the present context of NLW used in intervention, if material and not people are the sole targets, an adversary with only people and almost no material may well be immune to most of the NLW.


In discussing NLW for "intervention" we may ask whether such technologies need to be developed specifically for that purpose. This is an important question, because if NLW are effective and economical, they could be used in large-scale war either independently of lethal force or to enhance the use of lethal force; this would put the development of NLW into the mainstream of defense needs, rather than have it dependent on the perhaps lesser justification of support of intervention.

For instance, if trucks and tanks can be reliably disabled by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon, which will effectively flood large areas, why bother to hunt them out and to kill them? Furthermore, if they can be disabled in this way for a time, it would be extremely useful in preparation for finding and destroying the vehicles in the normal lethal manner. For instance, tear "gas"-- in Vietnam used by the United States as the volatile powder CS-2-- was used an an adjunct to lethal force to prevent combatants from hiding in bunkers or caves; if they came out to shooting, they were shot or burned in return, and if they came out not shooting, that was often the result in any case. Rather than nonlethal, such weapon use has been termed "pre-lethal."

The point is that NLW would have a lot of use in plain old conventional warfare; the relative paucity of NLW at present might be result of the lack of effective NLW technology, or it might result from bureaucratic deficiencies.

But it might be that NLW are too costly either in themselves or in the required delivery capability to pay their way in conventional warfare, and they might still, logically, be extremely valuable in intervention, where the "CNN effect" puts a great premium on minimizing or eliminating casualties, particularly among non-combatants. Where else would this be useful? At least as great a premium is placed upon law enforcement operations, in which the culprits or suspects are often to be found among a much larger number of innocent people in an urban environment; this makes it unpopular to use large-scale lethal force against the suspects, as empirically demonstrated in the operation against the MOVE group in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the ratio of good bystanders to bad guys is usually far more in our favor in law enforcement, as exemplified by Waco, than in an intervention; so there is every interest in achieving the benefits for law enforcement claimed for NLW in warfare. Aside from flash-bang grenades, NLW for law enforcement are conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps this is due to a lack of national technical support for law enforcement, even for the FBI, or to bureaucratic incompetence.

To take a specific example, it would be useful to be able to monitor the walkie-talkies used by a group of miscreants, at a certain time to locally jam, reliably, their radio communication, and at the same time to provide a very high level of acoustic noise so that they could not communicate with one another verbally (except by shouting in the ear). Countermeasures are obvious, including ear plugs, alternate frequencies, and the like. Evidently, if a group prepares itself for conflict by acquiring appropriate weapons and concealment, it could readily stock earplugs if they made a difference, and if it were common knowledge that acoustic NLW were an important US asset.

Police in a highway chase should prefer to be able to disable the ignition system of the fleeing vehicle by means of a directed microwave burst, or to glue it to the road, and (ratio of good guys to bad guys) the police would have much more opportunity to use such a weapon (if it were practical) than would be available in a typical intervention. There is, of course, a problem of aggregating the market, so that each local police force does not need to develop its own NLW, but one would imagine that the equipment suppliers would have this in mind; and in any case there is a substantial FBI or DEA activity which could be a central resource for such things. And they would be valuable, just as in the case of intervention. Indeed, "flash-bang" NLW, widely used in hostage rescue operations, could be supplemented by instantaneously deployed obscurant smokes, lights, and screens.

In the wake of Waco, the Attorney General requested both CIA and the Defense Department to assist with an NLW capability. I judge this an important means to provide new tools for law enforcement, and at the same time to validate and improve NLW for intervention or for use in warfare.

Discussion Recently, I have talked a good deal with Russians and Chinese scientists and technologists, and I do believe that US programs to investigate or develop a given military technology have a profound impact on the decisions of our potential adversaries. Mimicry is a much more powerful force than logic, and what we do affects what others do. So I reject the view that if we don't develop something, others will if it is in their interest to do so. Sometimes they will, but often they won't.

On the other hand, we have often had our heads in the sand. For decades we fielded military helicopters and aircraft with no countermeasures against attack by hand-held homing infrared-guided missiles such as our own Red-eye or the Soviet SA-7. The fact that there was no conflict and we therefore didn't need such protection is hardly compelling; we didn't need the aircraft either.

Looking ahead to an era in which we will have possessed NLW for a long time, together with requisite countermeasures, as new generations of more effective or convenient NLW come into the inventory the old ones will become surplus. They will trickle down to allies and even to the world munitions market. Although some seem to believe that because we have 1980s nuclear weapons, we should not much care whether others have 1960s-era nuclear weapons, that is clearly not so, and the decision to field an NLW on our part must not commit "the fallacy of the last move," to which Herb York ascribed much of the responsibility for the US-USSR nuclear arms race. He cautions that one must not calculate the benefit of acquiring a capability on the basis that the US has it, and no one else does; that benefit is often positive, but the balance swings negative when both sides (or the world) has the new weapon.


Perhaps the simplest kind of nonlethal weapon is a pulsed laser that will cause blindness to the unaided eye that views a region containing the laser itself. Indeed, full protection against such lasers can be obtained simply by not opening the eye, and substantial protection by opening the eyes only very occasionally or with a limited field of view. Provisions to counter simple countermeasures would add complication, but the simpler laser blinding weapons would be effective against those who did not adopt the countermeasures.

Some advocate the use of maiming weapons even in preference to lethal weapons with arguments like, "killing a man removes a single individual from the battle; blinding a man removes at least two-- the casualty and the person who has to tend for him." The argument is doubly defective: if an otherwise functional person is sidelined, he will be eventually transported to a non-combat area, and then fed, educated to take care of himself, and the like. It will not take one attendant per blinded person. But since he is of no use as a combatant, why not leave him to be cared for by the US? In that case, if it really did take one person to care for this blind person, for each such casualty we inflicted on the other side we would sideline one of our own people.

It seems that the US would suffer from TV coverage of the maimed adversary, from our own casualties inflicted by laser blinding weapons, and (in the case of close conflict as is typical of intervention) by the burden of caring for the wounded of the other side. We can do something about this prospect.



By dual-use in this context I mean weapons that are used in riot control and against criminals on the domestic scene and thus might be perfected and practiced and would evidently be available for use in warfare.

In general, there are many non-weapon technologies that are used this way, ranging from clothing to vehicles to information technology, and there is no reason not to use in warfare those items that are used in this way domestically.

The statement has implications for the development of weapons, since there is a dual benefit to be obtained, both for law enforcement and for military use. Thus there should be coordination and in many cases dual funding so that each of the sponsoring organizations (and this includes not only the federal government but states for law enforcement) would feel that it has stake in the technology. In this category would be found acoustic weapons, anesthetic darts, less-lethal bullets, tear gas, among others.

If the technology is such that it is not seriously compromised by use, development and employment in law enforcement is highly desirable, providing the opportunity for incremental improvement that has brought such an evolution in consumer goods.

nonlethal weapons need not be perfectly effective to be valuable. Just as an epidemic can be quenched or prevented without curing or vaccinating each individual, it is only necessary that the product of the probability of encounter and the probability of transfer of the agent be reduced to be less than unity for an epidemic to be impossible to start, or to die out once it has started. Similarly in human behavior-- a curfew cannot reasonably expected to keep everyone off the streets at night, but it may sufficiently reduce the numbers that social interactions that might lead to riot no longer do so. Inhibiting mobility by a nonlethal agent may mimic a curfew in this regard.


By this I do not necessarily mean weapons that are not lethal at all, but those which have greatly suppressed collateral damage potential. This could involve not only increased accuracy and the corresponding lower explosive yield but also the provision to dispose of the weapon without exploding it. One could incorporate a good-guidance signal, so that the weapon does not explode or probably even continue to strike its target unless there is a continued assurance that it has been properly guided.

Among the nonlethal or less-lethal weapons that are closest to field use are darts the size of common steel phonograph needles, equipped with tiny tail fins and bearing a load of systemic anesthetic such as fentanyl, which has a particularly large ratio between lethal dose and effective dose.


Laser blinding weapons are relatively low technology, and will proliferate by manufacture and sale by industry the world over if they are regarded as effective. This was apparent by the time the laser was demonstrated in 1960, and the Military Aircraft Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee soon thereafter raised the policy question of an arms control initiative, with the proposal that the United States government take the lead in an international convention to ban the use of battlefield lasers that would blind participants. Unfortunately, this proposal was not adopted, and it is reported that the United States government stood aside from international efforts to this end.

But there is certainly a policy question that should be addressed as soon as possible, preferably in the Clinton Administration, as to the trade-off between the loss of international and domestic support for the armed forces on the one hand, and an increase in effectiveness that would result from US use of battlefield blinding or other maiming weapons.

It is unrealistic to believe that a ban on laser blinding weapons would actually eliminate them worldwide, but if banned, blinding lasers would be made in much smaller numbers by outcast operations; it would be much easier to keep track of them by normal intelligence means than if they were legitimate articles of commerce..

I do believe that we are extremely vulnerable to such weapons and that it would be highly undesirable for the United States to legitimize them by their possession by our military or by our use of laser blinding weapons. I believe that we have a lot to gain by an initiative to ban them, perhaps coupled with a unilateral declaration that we will not use them first. In recent weeks, the International Committee for the Red Cross has announced an initiative to ban laser blinding weapons; I believe that such a move would serve the security interests of the US, and we ought to. consider arms control in conjunction with other weapons as well.


The defense against some weapons (lethal or nonlethal) is so simple that their effectiveness would be lost if they were once used or if information about them leaked to begin with-- for instance, as a result of the training of US troops with countermeasures to these weapons. This fragile effectiveness is not an absolute argument against the acquisition of such weapons, but rather a caution that their value is limited largely to the utility of their first use.

Two conclusions follow-- first, that secrecy may be relatively more important for some NLW programs that for more conventional weapons, and, second, that weapons that are more robust and somewhat less effective may be preferable.


One problem in adapting technologies to the military purpose is the very long time scale of military planning, in which (ideally!) the evolution of doctrine is supposed to call forth technology, organization, and tactics, all carefully worked out in experimental units, which would then result in a major development and procurement program and the outfitting of the entire force. This "arsenal" approach has been demonstrated empirically on the commercial scene in the United States and the world over to be inadequate in the 1990s, in that central direction can not compete with the freedom to fail and the rewards of success in an open technical and changing marketplace. Although military confrontation is not so cruel and definite an arbiter as is commercial competition, since a 10% or 20% increase in overall cost compared with benefit is scarcely discernible on the military stage, there is a lesson here and not just for nonlethal weapons applied to intervention.

What is responsible for the demise of the once-proud system of military arsenals and development?

The information technologies have been evolving more rapidly on the commercial side than in the military, particularly in those areas driven by individual choice and experience-- for instance in personal computers and cellular communications. As a result, the technical leadership of the Department of Defense now properly emphasizes COTS-- Commercial, Off The Shelf-- technology, in the expectation of better value and function in any year than would be available in specially developed military items. Of course, there are strictly military innovations, prominent among which are Stealth technology, some aspects of camouflage, and certain implementations of information and microcircuitry in hit-to-kill weapons, for which we can't depend on the consumer market.

The combination of Stealth, of intimate knowledge about the air defense system and the resulting defense suppression thus made possible, and the laser-guided bomb made an enormous impact in the war against Saddam Hussein. The combination was not developed as a system. For instance, the laser guided bomb was taken with little change from its use in Vietnam; in fact, some 40,000 LGB were used in that conflict, beginning in 1969, and only about 10,000 in the Gulf War. Of course, substantial improvement had been made in the interim, and the LGB used in Iraq were almost invariably targeted against a spot designated by laser from the same aircraft at high altitude. This precision delivery capability for various payloads, including lethal high-explosive, is both a competitor and a potential basis for nonlethal weapons; such precision is now available by appropriate use of the GPS navigation satellite system, with accuracy of a meter or less against fixed targets, and without the necessity of target designation during the strike.

The hit-to-kill weapons themselves may be regarded in a certain sense as nonlethal or less-than-lethal weapons, in that a single weapon may replace hundreds of weapons of similar explosive yield, achieving greater effectiveness and enormous reduction in collateral damage. Indeed, in the discussion of nonlethal weaponry, too little attention is paid to the competition-- improving the effectiveness and reducing the unwanted damage from lethal weapons, which would enable them to be used in an essentially nonlethal fashion. One example is the suggestion that a cruise missile or other precision delivery vehicle carry an electromagnetic pulse generator to within a few feet of a commercial TV or radio broadcast antenna, to disable the transmitter by the impulse powered by explosive in the missile. It has even been suggested that damage caused by the explosive itself would be a "bonus." But it would be much easier and more reliable to destroy the antenna itself with a small explosive charge, or with a cable or bar carried by the weapon, without the intermediary of the pulse generator.

As in any development activity, one needs to choose among potential candidates for development and and deployment. This should be done, as always, by analysis. There needs to be some incentive for individuals to propose systems, to analyze their potential, and then for the customer (or the venture capitalist) to choose the most effective or the most profitable. Too often, in every field ranging from nuclear power to propulsion to conventional weapons to laser weapons, a kind of Gresham's Law operates, so that systems for which exaggerated claims are made are likely to be supported to the exclusion of those that have real but modest merit.

The process is imperfect in the commercial world, in part because of the difficulty in capturing the benefit of innovation and the related lack of adequate effort devoted to analysis and choice. As regards the US military, the scale of overall procurement and operation is large enough to support the creation and use of a system of analysis, but massive political and bureaucratic influence impede the process. It is often stated that secrecy, in itself, prevents effective and objective choice, but in my experience the matter is more nuanced; some of the best programs I have seen have been highly secret, but large enough and with sufficient internal integrity that they were able to do the job of providing options and making choices without some of the impediments of our open system.

It is proposed that a nonlethal-weapon Directorate in the Pentagon is essential to the development and acquisition of nonlethal weapons, but I don't believe that it would be appropriate or useful. If one believes that the Department of Defense can make useful choices among lethal weapons, then it should also be able to make useful choices among NLW. If it can't do the first, then that should be fixed, because it is more important than a NLW initiative.

In fact, exploratory development and demonstration of the key elements of a technology is typically not very costly-- below $1 million in many cases. And there are fundamental limits that can be taken into account in interactive analysis between a would-be supplier and an informed potential customer. For instance, if one contemplates the use of the magnetic field of an electromagnetic wave to erase all computer floppy disks within an area of interest, this could be done readily only against those floppies that were not enclosed in even simple metal cases or storage boxes. And it is easy enough to figure the amount of energy that would need to be radiated in a pulse to erase floppies in a region say 1 km across and 1 km deep (actually, about 3000 megajoules. High explosive liberates about 4 megajoules per kilogram, of which it would be unreasonable to imagine more than about 25% becoming available in useful form-- so about 1 megajoule per kg into the magnetic field. So 3000 megajoules would require at least 3 tons of high explosive...) It is also simple enough to determine the size of the antenna that would need to be coupled to the explosive generator and pulse conditioner to radiate the signal, and all of this can be done before there is any expenditure on hardware or experiment. At the same time, the effectiveness and cost of countermeasures could be explored (without any necessity to have an experimental prototype NLW of this nature), and that could be done in a few days in a small lab.

Only when an NLW passes the early screening test should any significant expenditure (substantially more than $1 million) be committed to it. One could thus afford to do the exploratory development on hundreds of technologies, if one had a responsive development system that could continuously evaluate and choose among ongoing programs, rather than be fitted to the Procrustean bed of the annual budget and preparations therefor. My point is not to set a firm limit of $1 million below which any exploratory NLW can be conducted, but simply to indicate the scale of expenditure that can typically result in dropping a concept or preparing a substantiated proposal for a full development program.

When a lot of people in organizations make their living by development rather than by sale of hardware, "fly before buy" may protect against large purchases of things that don't work, but it does not necessarily do much to obtain things that do work in a timely and responsive manner. As a result of the astounding evolution of the information technologies ubiquitous in the personal computer and high performance (computer) workstation, the Global Positioning System (GPS navigation system), fiber-optic and radio communication at high data rate, and the elements of "virtual reality," it is now not only possible but widely accepted in the Department of Defense to use simulation and modelling in the exploration, evaluation and refinement of new weapon options. Such an approach contributed greatly to the evolution and perfection of the military capability used by the US to such good effect in the Gulf War; and simulation and modelling in turn received a big stimulus as a result.

Too often in the past, effort and time was expended on development and demonstration of technical achievement of a novel technology, without asking in a disciplined fashion the utility and value of the technology to the consumer if the technology worked as claimed. In many cases it was apparent that even if the development succeeded technically, the approach was "dominated" in the economic sense by an existing capability or by an alternative-- meaning that another approach was cheaper or did the set of jobs better. Adding to the difficulty of analysis is the fact that different approaches are applicable to somewhat different sets of circumstances or scenarios, and proponents of one approach are likely to choose that one circumstance in which their horse has unique or superior performance, to the exclusion of other more likely or more important circumstances.

With the advent of useful simulation and modelling of some actual force engagements has come the recognition of the greater value of those approaches that lend themselves to modelling. The change is somewhat subtle-- for decades the utility of training has been recognized, but the nature of combat was such that training and evaluation was difficult and unrealistic. Rather than optimize hoped-for combat effectiveness without the ability to train for combat or to document its effectiveness, it is worthwhile to settle for combat organizations and methods that can be analyzed and for which one can train realistically. Rather than "train the way you fight" (which may be difficult and dangerous), "fight the way you train" offers more assured performance and puts a premium on those approaches that do lend themselves to simulation and training in a realistic and economical fashion. Hence the emphasis on "video game" war. This emphasis on analysis, modelling, and training more readily accommodates new ways of achieving old effects-- destroyed tanks, silenced radars, etc.-- than it does new effects themselves. How and with what sign new effects (as from nonlethal weapons) influence military and political goals is a important question; I regret not having addressed it in this discussion.

As for effective and timely development mechanisms, the contrast with the past is striking. A task force on Advanced Tactical Fighter Aircraft that I chaired for the Defense Department in 1968 recommended a modular approach with competition (and flight test) of mix-and-match airframes, engines, and avionics. This was to satisfy both Air Force and Navy needs for new fighters, while providing at every step the virtues of competition and the assurance of multiple potential sources of supply; it was the right solution a quarter century ago. In the 1990s, incremental development and choice of subsystems already proven in commercial activity can largely replace such special purpose programs-- COTS replacing "fly before buy." It is this new system of incremental development on the one hand, and system configuration from available elements by reliance on simulation and modelling that should be used to evaluate, choose, and train for the combined use of nonlethal and more conventional weapons.


We have discussed a number of concepts for nonlethal weapons, ranging from those that are aimed like a rifle against specific antagonists (darts, laser blinding weapons, STICKUM) to those that affect a whole region or society. The first type has less hazard to bystanders and in most cases causes less permanent damage and is expected to be more politically acceptable to the United States and world populace. Those with broader effects have much in common with a blockade or other sanctions, typically affecting the populace as a whole.

The potential for use of nonlethal weapons does not resolve the question of legitimacy of interference in the activities of another state, but it reduces its poignancy. Of course, legitimacy is conferred by the exercise of a security guarantee, by action within a coalition, or in support of U.N. activities. But legitimacy is hardly questioned in law enforcement activities, and that should be expected to be a fruitful application and proving ground for nonlethal weapons that might be used in conflict.

There is much merit in robust nonlethal weapons so that they may be incrementally improved by use in riot control or law enforcement or interventions, without losing effectiveness. Indeed, a truly robust NLW would gain in effectiveness because of its deterrent value.

Like lethal weapons, NLW can have tactical or strategic effects. On the tactical plane they can reduce or eliminate effective opposition to a U.S. deployment, while on the strategic plane they can influence the decision or the ability of a society, a community, or its leaders to conduct terrorism, to mount an invasion, or to pay its bills. The strategic use has much in common with sanctions or blockade, and effectiveness of an NLW needs to be measured on both of these scales.

Highly effective NLW can be a problem to the rest of the world as well as to the United States; carbon fiber weapons launched by mortars or other means can repeatedly short out power systems, and this can be not just a strategic response by those under attack at the moment but a terrorist or even nihilist tool. If NLW are used by the U.S. or the forces of "good" in the world, they will be perfected and sold by arms merchants worldwide, and if effective will cause a problem for the U.S. in interventions, unless we have appropriate countermeasures.

So perhaps even more than in the case of lethal weapons, there will be a measure, countermeasure, counter-countermeasure race.

Strictly nonlethal compulsion might be delivered from afar-- something the U.S. or its allies might be willing to do, while not willing to use lethal force. In this case, response on the ground against U.S. forces is precluded if there are none there, but response against hostage communities is possible, and also strategic response, with lethal or nonlethal terrorism. Perhaps such use of NLW primarily adds a conveniently accessible rung on the lethal escalation ladder.

The same caution applies to the use of NLW on the ground. If the conflict is worth the candle, the other side will respond with lethal weapons and we will not long remain only with NLW.

I recommend that development of nonlethal weapons be done in the same way as with lethal weapons, navigation systems, and other military technological R&D and procurement. There is a similar necessity for secrecy in many cases, but public discussion can focus on some specific or surrogate technologies-- Slickum, Stickum, irritant or anesthetic darts.

Finally, like some lethal weapons, some nonlethal weapons appear not to be in the net U.S. interest, and for these we ought to consider the possibility of arms control. In particular, I believe that it would aid U.S. security to push for a binding international treaty banning laser blinding weapons.

Views of the author, not of his organizations