Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First Century Warfareby John B. Alexander, Thomas Dunne Books, Tom Clancy (Foreword by)
The nature of warfare has changed! Like it or not, terrorism has established a firm foothold worldwide. Economics and environmental issues are inextricably entwined on a global basis and tied directly to national regional security. Although traditional threats remain, new, shadowy, and mercurial adversaries are emerging, and identifying and locating them is
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The nature of warfare has changed! Like it or not, terrorism has established a firm foothold worldwide. Economics and environmental issues are inextricably entwined on a global basis and tied directly to national regional security. Although traditional threats remain, new, shadowy, and mercurial adversaries are emerging, and identifying and locating them is difficult. Future War, based on the hard-learned lessons of Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, Panama, and many other trouble spots, provides part of the solution.
Non-lethal weapons are a pragmatic application of force, not a peace movement. Ranging from old rubber bullets and tear gas to exotic advanced systems that can paralyze a country, they are essential for the preservation of peace and stability. Future War explains exactly how non-lethal electromagnetic and pulsed-power weapons, the laser and tazer, chemical systems, computer viruses, ultrasound and infrasound, and even biological entities will be used to stop enemies. These are the weapons of the future.
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It was late September 1996, and the autumn sun warmed the gently rolling hills of the Italian countryside as about 150 representatives of NATO countries met to discuss non-lethal weapons. San Piero a Grado, an Italian Navy research and development center located just north of Pisa, hosted the meeting—the first of its kind—and I had been invited to open the session on technology. My message was simple: The technology necessary for non-lethal weapons either exists or could be developed in a relatively short time. The real issue was for military officers to set requirements and state the capabilities they needed. NATO soldiers who had been engaged in peace-support operations in Bosnia and other countries were now providing the real-world context for those requirements.
To understand non-lethal weapons, it is essential to understand the situations our militaries and law enforcement agencies will face in the future. If you believe that wars and crime will be the same as they have been in the past, then there is little need for non-lethal weapons. The very nature of conflict is changing. Soldiers and law enforcement officials will be challenged by circumstances almost unimaginable two decades ago. To accomplish their missions, they will need a wide variety of options for use of force. Non-lethal weapons must be part of their arsenal.
Therefore, Part I of this book describes in some detail how the future is likely to evolve. It provides the foundation for contemplating the force options that will be necessary and the rationale for the development and deployment of non-lethal weapons. Some non-lethal weapons exist. More are needed—now. Here’s why.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Nothing is harder than armed struggle.
—Sun Tzu (Chou Dynasty)
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the notion of “non-lethal warfare” has been hotly debated in military circles. The shift from bipolar confrontation, in which national survival was the driving force, to a geopolitically complex world requiring regional stability and engendering transient, pragmatic relationships requires us to rethink the whole notion of national security.
In the bygone era of the Cold War, Western military forces were structured to fight the most dreaded of all battles: war in Central Europe. Our national security policy, articulated in National Security Directive NSC-68, was containment and deterrence. It was oriented solely on countering the Soviets. That thinking was dominated by the strategic triad of nuclear weapons systems: long-range, stealthy bombers; precision-targeted, underground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles; and highly survivable submarines armed with sea-launched ballistic missiles. These forces were to hold the Soviet empire in check and ensure our survival through a policy known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD meant that if a nuclear war erupted, we would destroy each other, and probably the world. To work, it depended on rational adversaries who would not risk total destruction of civilization as we know it.
However, plans had been drafted on both sides that could allow a war of massive forces without crossing the nuclear threshold. Therefore, in addition to these strategic forces, the United States and its NATO allies developed and maintained large conventional military forces comprised of modern ships, airplanes, tanks, and artillery. The driving factor was to have sufficient forces to meet a Russian and Warsaw Pact invasion head-on, stop their advance, and be able to restore the boundaries to their pre-war state. Since we always assumed the Soviets were developing new and better fighting systems, our development efforts were designed to meet threats twenty years down the road.
The Soviets were known to rely heavily on armored forces; thus, their tanks were of keen interest to us. In the early 1980s studies were conducted and reports published stating that there was a significant “armor gap” between the West and the Soviets. Urgent action was required, and a major armor/antiarmor initiative was undertaken. While we knew their new T-82 was being fielded but didn’t know its characteristics, we hypothesized about the next generations, dubbed Future Soviet Tank (FST) I and II, respectively. Shortly after I retired from the army in 1988, there was even talk about FST-III. It was the perceived high-tech, future Soviet threat that was used to justify the development of most new systems. That was the focus and raison d’être of all military research and development.
We structured our military forces assuming that if we could defeat the Soviets in Central Europe, any other military engagement could be considered a lesser-included case. That means our forces would be able to defeat any other adversary. Of course, the American experience in Vietnam unequivocally demonstrated the problems with that thinking. Heavy forces could not fight well in jungles and were seasonally restricted in the rice paddies. Air and sea power provided extensive firepower but couldn’t occupy and hold the territory. Politically (but not militarily) defeated, we abandoned Vietnam. The psychological impact of our experience in Southeast Asia would shape the military leadership for decades to come. Most of all, the military leadership wanted troops to be employed only when clear military objectives could be established, and the support of both the people and elected political officials was firmly behind them.
During the drawdown and restructuring that followed, high-technology weapons continued to be developed. Their worth was undeniably proven in 1991 during Desert Storm with the rapid and devastating defeat of the Iraqi armored and air forces. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli troops demonstrated that “what could be seen could be hit.” Now we have confirmed “What could be hit could be killed,” and “We owned the night.” With our advanced sensor systems, including satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, and ground-based systems, we could find any exposed target, strike it, and kill it, day or night. Precision-guided munitions decimated tanks and other armored vehicles at a phenomenal rate.
In the eight years Iraq fought ground battles with Iran, troops learned they were safe if they stayed in tanks. In the first two to three days of Desert Storm, they learned they were safe only if they did not stay in the armored vehicles. UN air supremacy was established within a few hours of the onset of the operation. Their ground-based air defenses obliterated, the Iraqi Air Force learned instantly not to challenge the far superior UN fighters. Similarly, the state-of-the-art bunkers they possessed for their aircraft were quickly destroyed by our pinpoint penetrating munitions. The survivors were a few brave souls who dashed to the relative safety of their old archenemy, Iran.
The recent development of military non-lethal concepts arose from very lethal roots. While law enforcement has always been charged with using the minimum force necessary to restrain assailants, the post-Vietnam military embraced the concepts of overmatching enemy weapons and the use of overwhelming force. “Overmatching” meant that, system for system, we could shoot farther and more accurately than any adversary. Overwhelming force indicated that we did not believe in our age-old principle of “fighting fair”—at least not when it came to war.
When I went to Los Alamos National Laboratory in August of 1988, the Soviets were still our predominant adversary. Although we were working on weapons technologies that would temporarily disable any enemy system, the rationale was that it would be easier to disable that system than to kill it. The Pentagon had established an Office of Strategic Competitiveness under the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Headed by Dan Goure, a politicalmilitary affairs expert and son of a famed Sovietologist, the office was determined to learn how we could defeat the Soviet military asymmetrically. That meant employing methods in which we did not have to go head-to-head with their formidable armored forces.
While military leaders always felt we would eventually win any war—in- cluding Central Europe—they knew our casualty rates would be substantial. They also had to consider the problems associated with bringing our force to bear against an enemy that planned to advance 50-100 kilometers each day. The Soviet forces planned to establish and maintain a ferocious tempo of attack. The fast-moving, heavily armored forces would be very difficult to stop. The United States concluded that we would “trade space for time.” That meant we would conduct a retrograde action while moving our troops to their prepositioned equipment. Then we would counterattack and restore the boundaries. Our German allies did not like the idea of trading space. They pointed out that it was their “space” we were willing to trade.
Defending Central Europe presented tremendous logistical problems. The Soviets, we believed, would come in such great numbers that even superior technology would have problems killing the multitude of tanks that would be thrown at our front lines. Their doctrine called for wave after wave of armored forces, supported by an incredible amount of artillery, to keep up constant, unrelenting pressure. Everyone on the NATO side knew it would be a tough fight—one none of them wanted to engage in.
It was in this environment that I first started developing concepts for nonlethal weapons. The initial ideas were focused on an established concept: breaking threat tempo. That meant if we could delay the Soviet reinforcements as deeply in their territory as possible, it would provide time for NATO forces to get troops and ammunition forward in time to destroy the forward-deployed Soviet military. The concept was in sync with the newly developed concept of Follow-on-Forces Attack, or FOFA, as it was known. The only difference was that instead of destroying the enemy forces, the weapons I proposed would temporarily delay their arrival at the front. Short delays deep in enemy territory would result in a cascading effect, thus producing major influence on the battlefield. Somewhat ironically, rather than being “non-lethal,” the ultimate desired effect of these weapons was to increase the kill ratio in the forward battle area.
An additional issue was the population density of Europe. Cities large and small cover much of the landscape. From World War II engagements, we knew and understood the problems of fighting in cities. Going house to house, it is a very nasty battle. Since the United States was going to move light infantry into the theater, the only place it could be expected to survive a brutal armored onslaught was in difficult terrain or in cities. As I studied the problem, I was surprised to find a document written nearly twenty years earlier by Joseph Coates of the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). It was titled Nonlethal and Nondestructive Combat in Cities Overseas and addressed many of the same ideas and technologies that were beginning to form the heart of the current non-lethal weapons concepts.1 A problem at the time Coates wrote his thesis was that the technologies he proposed were not sufficiently mature to offer practical weapons applications.
Over the next few years, the United States and its allies engaged in operations that would prove instrumental in the evolution of non-lethal weapons and concepts. We had already gone after Manuel Noriega in Panama with Operation Just Cause. Then we were involved in several operations-other than-war, including Somalia, Haiti, Cuba, and, most recently, Bosnia. These operations provided commanders with the experience necessary to begin to formulate requirements for new non-lethal systems.
For many, the very words non-lethal weapons represent an oxymoron. Is not the destruction of your adversary the objective of war? While controversial, the answer to that question is, “Not really.” In our fictionalized versions of war, we tend to concentrate on the total destruction of any group of people on whom we have bestowed the title of enemy. This was epitomized in the 1996 hit movie Independence Day. In the film, the U.S. President asked the alien invaders if accommodations could be made. “What do you want us to do?” asked the president. The movie alien response was “Die!” This exchange serves to show how deeply ingrained in popular consciousness the concept of physical destruction of an enemy has become.
The real objective of war, however, is the imposition of will. Getting an adversary to do as you dictate, not their physical demise, is the desired outcome. The Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz called war “an extension of diplomacy by other means. Imposition of will, not physical destruction, is the appropriate measure of success.”2 In fact, in the long run, physical destruction and unwarranted fatalities may be counterproductive to the goals of most advanced civilizations. There are two distinct issues that come into play in termination of conflict. One is the rebuilding that is required upon the end of hostilities. Recent history has shown that it is usually the victor who bears the heavier financial burden. The domestic economies that made the transition to support a war effort must be restructured to meet peacetime requirements. Additionally, the victors often feel compelled to assist the vanquished in reestablishing internal economic and political stability. The results of such efforts are best seen in the post–World War II support rendered to both Germany and Japan. From abject devastation, in a few short decades, they have emerged as major world powers.
The second issue relates to holding grudges. Throughout the world, there are many societies that have both large families and long memories. While physically destroying an enemy in battle may preclude future attacks in the short term, it does not prevent later retaliation. Today the world is replete with conflicts based on old animosities, events that transpired decades, even centuries ago.
The events of recent years in the Balkans and the southern states of the former Soviet Union demonstrate that emotions can be repressed by force for long periods of time. There can even be a semblance of integration and civility among the factions involved. Yet once the physical repression is relaxed, the conflicts resume. Even if a majority of the personally aggrieved parties have died off, new generations, imbued by the stories of past atrocities, seem fully prepared to take up the cause as their own.
It does not take large numbers of casualties to generate enduring hatred. Consider an ambush that occurred in the Middle East in which the prophet Ali ibn Abi Talib and about two dozen followers were murdered. That incident happened thirteen centuries ago in A.D. 661, and led to the split between the Sunni and Shiite Moslems. The two sects have been engaged in conflicts, both philosophical and physical, ever since.
The violent nature of most conflicts inevitably leads to violations of established military protocols and ethical constraints. The more intimately involved in combat the individual becomes, either physically or emotionally, the more likely it is for atrocities to occur. On the ground, hostilities can easily get up close and very personal. All military forces, no matter how professional they consider themselves to be, have committed unauthorized acts of extreme violence. U.S. forces in Vietnam were no exception. Most Americans were shocked to learn about the involvement of U.S. Army troops in the My Lai Massacre. In that incident, young American soldiers, mostly draftees, willfully executed 347 unarmed men, women, and children. Herded into the ditch by the infantry platoon commanded by Lieutenant William Calley, the villagers were machine-gunned to death at point-blank range. The reason? Some of the soldiers’ buddies had recently been killed in fighting in that area. Professional soldiers or not, combat evokes passion. Passion can get out of control, and frequently does. Retribution seems justified. The cycle continues.
Civilians around the world are being taught that retribution is acceptable, and sometimes desirable. It is a prevalent theme in novels, movies, and television. Justified violence has become a hallmark in Hollywood films, and is employed to gain the emotional support of the audience for acts that the hero is about to commit, albeit reluctantly. To make sure acts appear more acceptable and less self-serving, bad things happen to family members or close friends of the hero. The hero, his or her family killed or threatened, then sets about “righting wrongs” or protecting himself or herself and others. Any amount of force is acceptable, usually the more the better, from an audience perspective. Superstars such as Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry), Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon and Ransom), Wesley Snipes (Passenger 57), Steven Seagal (Under Siege and Above the Law), Arnold Schwarzenegger (True Lies), and Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) become the personification of revenge. They are rewarded by committed movie audiences that demand further involvement in retribution. The problem is that, while these actors always appear to solve one problem by the end of the movie, in real life other problems continue to emerge.
Passionate responses are not limited to military operations. In recent years, law enforcement agencies have come to recognize the physical and emotional responses prevalent when they are engaged in chasing fleeing felons. The situation is so common that it has become known as High-Speed Police Chase Syndrome. While meeting the exigent, and sometimes life-threatening, requirements of the situation, the police officer experiences an adrenaline rush. Once the suspect is apprehended, the officer must exercise extreme restraint, even though his or her physical system is still in a fight-or-flight mode. Failure to control the emotional stimuli can lead to civic tragedies, such as the Rodney King case in Los Angeles. Having been a deputy sheriff in Dade County, Florida, and personally involved in high-speed police chases, I can attest that this altered state is easily attained.
Contrary to current popular belief, war has always represented the controlled application of force. Over two thousand years ago, Sun Tzu, the venerable Chinese military strategist, addressed the importance of fundamental non-lethal concepts. In The Art of War he wrote, “The general rule for use of the military is that it is better to keep a nation intact than to destroy it. It is better to keep an army intact than to destroy it, it is better to keep a division intact than to destroy it, it is better to keep a battalion intact than to destroy it, it is better to keep a unit intact than to destroy it.”3
Physical force is threatened, or applied, when differences cannot be resolved by other diplomatic means. The biggest problem in the application of force is that it initiates or continues the “cycle of violence” and rarely leads to long-term solutions. While differences will continue to occur and armed forces will actively participate in resolving them, options that limit violence will have inherent advantages over those that accentuate it.
Semantics have been extremely important in the discussions about nonlethal weapons and concepts. Many variations have been proposed. When I wrote my first article on this topic in 1989, I was concerned about our primary threat: the possibility of war with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in Central Europe. Soviet doctrine demanded rapid advances on a predetermined time schedule, or tempo. To describe the new concepts for disrupting that enemy tempo, I adopted the words antimatériel technology.4 The basic idea was to concentrate on stopping the machines of war, not necessarily on killing enemy soldiers. As the weapons applications expanded and the geopolitical realities and military missions changed, the term antimatériel clearly did not encompass the totality of concepts involved.
A term that experienced some favor was soft kill. This term inferred that attacks that limited destructive effects to soft and vulnerable nodes, while not causing catastrophic physical damage, would be made against a weapons system. In principle, it would be easier to create mild damage at critical junctures than total physical destruction. For instance, you could target sensitive electronics and cause them to malfunction without blowing up the heavily fortified command bunker that houses the equipment. Likewise, degrading optics can inhibit mobility of armored vehicles, and jamming communications can prevent coordinated assaults. The inherent advantage of the soft kill was that it took less energy to incapacitate an enemy system than to destroy it physically.
However, to many the term soft kill was a non sequitur. After all, things die hard, not soft. However, the term was used in several popular articles and occasionally can be found in use today. It was this term, coupled with societal references by President George Bush, that led people to talk about kinder, gentler war. Several articles touted such titles as Killing Them Softly and Bang—You’re Alive. Clearly, the authors did not understand the basic concepts they were writing about.
Another derivative term is mission kill, which means that an enemy system has been rendered ineffective because it can no longer accomplish a specific function. In the military, there are three main functions necessary for a weapons system to be effective and accomplish assigned missions: it must move, shoot, and communicate. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) commissioned a study chaired by General Glenn K. Otis, a retired Army officer with extensive armor experience.5 The panel recommended that mission kill be defined in the following words: “A military operating system, person, or unit suffers a mission kill when an adversary’s action causes it to be unable to perform its assigned function at a time or place required.” Examples of a mission kill could include a tank not being able to move, a cannon not firing, and radios not communicating. In every case, the system, while not destroyed, would be rendered ineffective in combat. Thus, a mission kill can be a cost-effective method of stopping an enemy with high-technology weapon systems.
The term less lethal also has been used to describe these new weapons. Less lethal implies that some level of lethal action will occur, but collateral fatalities can be minimized. It does not, however, have the same limiting connotation as non-lethal, which means that no one would be killed.
In response to concerns that some non-lethal weapons might cause injury but not kill, other terms emerged. Harvey Sapolsky, Director of Arms Control Studies Program at MIT, hosted one of the first meetings on non-lethal weapons. In noting the plethora of emerging terms, he even suggested that some weapons would be considered “worse than lethal.” This was derived from concerns about weapons that might blind or cause other abhorrent permanent injuries. In general these are emotional rather than factual arguments. Later we will discuss the physical effects of various non-lethal weapons, some of which do cause discomfort or short-term pain.
Despite the controversy about these weapons, senior military officials have set a framework in place. The directive assigning the title non-lethal also designated the U.S. Marine Corps as the Executive Agent for Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Programs. Under the leadership of Marine Commandant, General Krulak, and the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command, General John Sheehan, also a Marine, the Corps had actively pursued this assignment. U.S. experience in peace support operations has made nonlethal weapons development a high-priority issue. The Army chose to take a supporting role and let the Marines take over the program lead.6
Certainly, the preferred term, non-lethal, has serious drawbacks. Therefore, it must be understood that when force is used, fatalities are possible. When force is employed at a national level, some fatalities are likely to occur.
One approach to defining non-lethal weapons has been to quantify the number of fatalities that can be accepted or tolerated. Every study in which I have been involved has invariably made an attempt at such quantification. Some suggest that 1 percent fatalities might be an acceptable rate, while others would place the acceptable figure somewhat lower. The process is based on a well-established method for determining weapons effects. For many decades, precise measurements have been worked out for predicting the probability of casualties when rounds carrying high-explosive warheads are used. Weapons experts calculate the Probability of Kill (Pk) for each weapon, based on explosive power, fragmentation, distance from detonation, and the amount of protection afforded people at the target site. Such a formula can also project the probability of nonfatal casualties and even divide those figures into serious and minor injuries. Having such an explicit methodology has been useful in making critical decisions about weapons development and employment.
Unfortunately, the models are not very useful when it comes to questions concerning non-lethal weapons. The weapons involved do not lend themselves to such simple equations. Also, no one is ever prepared to provide a firm number that constitutes the “minimum acceptable number of casualties.”
Another very similar definition was put forth by NATO Advisory Group on Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) studies involving nonlethal weapons. The definition was, “Non-lethal weapons are those weapons that are designed to function in a manner that degrades the capabilities of matériel or personnel and yet avoid unintentional casualties.” The study went on to state, “With such systems, there should be few, if any, fatalities or serious permanent physical damage to humans. It is acknowledged that some casualties may occur due to accident or misuse of such systems. It is recommended that non-lethal weapons systems always be supported with lethal capabilities.”7
There has been far too much discussion of semantics, especially by lawyers, academics, and political observers. The consternation generated has allowed those who are not supportive of the basic concepts to obfuscate the real issues. It is important that the fundamental issues and concepts are understood in the context of current geopolitical realities. In many future military missions, as well as with police protecting our citizenry, use of deadly force will necessarily be minimized. The name applied to that task is not really important. Providing appropriate weapons options for field commanders and law enforcement officers is.
FUTURE WAR. Copyright © 1999 by John B. Alexander. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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Admiral William A. Owens, U.S. Navy (Retired), Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Clifford Beal, editor of Jane's Defense Weekly
David Morrell, author of Double Image and First Blood
General E. C. Meyers, U. S. Army (Retired), Former Chief of Staff
Meet the Author
Colonel John B. Alexander's concepts have appeared in Michael Crichton's The Lost World, Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, and other books. Future War is the first comprehensive book written by an expert in the field of non-lethal armaments. Colonel Alexander participated in the landmark Council on Foreign Relations study of non-lethal weapons and chaired the first major conferences on the topic. His extensive military experience includes commanding Green Berets in Vietnam as well as conducting research and development in advanced weapons. For five years, he was a deputy sheriff in Dade County, Florida. He developed the concept of Non-Lethal Defense at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and his work has brought him into contact with the Director of Central Intelligence and members of Congress, White House, and National Security Council staff. As NATO became interested, he served as a US representative on three international studies. He is currently the science director for a private research organization in Las Vegas and a consultant to the US government.
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