Weapons for the 'New American Century'

They find you, they blind you and they cook your skin

Bill Berkowitz - WorkingForChange

11.08.02 - Just when you thought you've heard some pretty bad news,
along comes a story that renews your faith that the worst is likely
to still be on the drawing boards. After a nearly two year study, the
National Academy of Sciences issued a report on November 4th urging
the military to ratchet up its efforts to develop so-called
non-lethal weapons -- "agents designed to disable criminals,
terrorists and protesters." If the Pentagon's weapons designers are
successful, a whole new class of weaponry could be rolled out in the
near future -- perhaps in time for one of those pre-emptive strikes
the president is fond of talking about or maybe an anti-war or
anti-globalization demonstration.

In late September we wrote about "exotic" weapons systems being
developed by the U.S. military and its partners in the defense
industry. At the time we focused on what's being called high-power
microwave weapons -- weapons that "produce a split-second spike of
energy powerful enough to damage electronic components and scramble
computer memories."

Now, the British newspaper The Observer has reported that the U.S.
and Britain have been holding "secret talks... over the development
of so-called non-lethal weapons, including lasers that blind the
enemy and microwave systems that cook the skin of human targets."
Cooking the skin of human targets is a non-lethal weapon?

Antony Barnett, public affairs editor for the Observer, writes:
"Documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act detail
talks [held in November 2000] about battlefield uses of the weapons
and whether they could be used to back up economic sanctions against
target countries. The weapons include lasers that can blind and stun
an enemy and cut through metal to disable vehicles.

"Another weapon discussed was a system that uses microwave beams to
heat the water in human skin in the same way as a microwave oven
cooks a meal. The third category of weapons was the use of gases
similar to those deployed to end the terrorist siege in a Moscow
theatre, which killed more than 100 hostages."

Barnett reports that "the documents reveal the full scope of the new
weapons programs that the US military is developing. The first was
high-power microwave technology that cooks an enemy's skin. Its
military name is the Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System (V-Mads),
but it has already been nicknamed the People Zapper. It works by
harnessing electromagnetic power to fire an invisible pulse of energy
at light speed towards a target. The beam causes the water molecules
under the skin to vibrate violently, producing heat and discomfort.
Scientists believe the system could heat a person's skin to about 130
degrees in two seconds." (For the U.S. Air Force's Fact Sheet on this
weapon, see:
and for another perspective, see investigative reporter Martin Lee's
story "The Pentagon's People Zapper: New electromagnetic weapon for
crowd control":

A November 4, story in the Financial Times of London claimed that the
November 2000 secret meeting unleashed "a public relations offensive
to promote the use of non-lethal nerve gases and other biological
weapons." Janine Roberts and Jean Eaglesham reported that the United
States and Britain agreed to cooperate in research and development of
a new class of non-lethal biological weapons and pointed out that
these revelations might prove embarrassing to Prime Minister Tony
Blair who is "taking a high-profile role in efforts to stem the
global proliferation of biological weapons."

Lessons from Moscow

Meanwhile experts continue to debate the use of gas during the recent
Moscow theatre hostage incident.

The development of so-called non-lethal weapons has been going on for
years, however, according to a story in the Straits Times
Interactive, "the effort has proceeded very slowly in the face of
thus-far insurmountable technical hurdles as well as concern about
possible violations of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention."

In May 2000, the Defense Department paid nearly $70,000 to a
Michigan-based firm to begin a multiphase project "to demonstrate the
feasibility of innovative, safe and reliable chemical immobilizing
agents." The Pentagon-funded Applied Research Laboratory at
Pennsylvania State University, which conducts $120 million worth of
research every year in non-lethal technologies primarily for the
Defense Department, issued a report in 2000 on incapacitating agents
and "concluded that their development is 'both achievable and
desirable,'" reported the Straits Times.

"There was no hard research done, and there has been none done here
on such agents," said Andrew Mazzara, a retired Marine colonel and
director of the laboratory's Institute for Emerging Defense
Technologies, who characterized the study as a review of existing
literature on the subject. Mazzara, who ran the Pentagon's Joint
Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate before joining the laboratory in 1999,
suggested that "what we saw in Russia almost cries out for more,
rather than less, research into this."

The Straits Times Interactive, the flagship publication of the
Singapore Press Holdings group, reported that biological weapons like
those used by Russian authorities against Chechen rebels -- killing
114 hostages and hospitalizing more than 200 others -- "has
tantalized the United States' military and law enforcement officials
for years." Developing ways to "render large numbers of people
harmlessly unconscious, instantly terminating a hostage crisis or a
riot without gunfire, Billy clubs or needless violence" is quite
desirable for law enforcement. Yet the use of such substances, as the
Moscow theatre incident proved, is laden with danger -- especially
the danger of incomplete knowledge and poor judgment by officials.

According to a UPI report, "Mazara said, the time may be nearing for
the signatories to the CWC to rethink the prohibition on calmatives.
With civilians more likely than ever to be in a terrorist situation,
having a way to rescue them by knocking everyone out with a safe dose
of a sedative could be an extremely valuable and life-saving tool for
police and the military."

How safe is such a strategy? Glenn Shwaery of the University of New
Hampshire's Non-Lethal Technology Innovation Center raised a number
of questions in an interview with UPI. "How do you knock everyone out
with the same safe dose? How do you get gas to be uniformly
distributed in a building so everyone is exposed to the same
concentration with a minimal effective dose?"

After gas is "pumped in a room, there is a lag between when it is
first detected and when it actually takes affect, Shwaery explained.
To shorten that time and reduce the chances of 'hostiles' detonating
bombs or killing hostages, the amount of gas used must be substantial
-- making it possible that innocent civilians close to the gas's
entry point will be overexposed and injured or possibly killed. 'The
problem in that scenario is that you can't afford people who are five
seconds away from the gas to detect it and then act.'"

Rivers of 'non-lethal' weapons

The use of non-lethal weapons can easily become lethal. UPI reported
that an independent Pentagon panel of advisers, the Defense Science
Board, warned in 1994 that "a usually non-lethal weapon may cause
unintended lethality under certain conditions: A stun gun could kill
someone with a weak heart. A 'rubber' bullet could hit a particularly
vulnerable body part like the throat, and thus become lethal. And
microwave devices could have unintended effects."

Currently a number of high-tech, non-lethal weapons are available or
under development/investigation. According to the Army and the
Non-Lethal Joint Weapons Directorate, which is headed by the U.S.
Marine Corps, they include (descriptions provided by the military):

*       Anti-traction technology: Teflon-type environmentally neutral
lubricants that make footholds or traction exceedingly difficult. A
product of this type can be used to deny access to areas or to cover
a unit's flank.
*       Sticky foam: Extremely adhesive foam that immobilizes
individuals. This foam can be used to subdue an individual or
reinforce obstacles.
*       Infrasound: Low-frequency sound generators that incapacitate
individuals by causing nausea, disorientation and bowel spasms.
*       Microwave transmitters: Directionally oriented devices that
heat skin to an unbearable degree as people approach them.
*       Lasers: Personnel-portable and vehicle-mounted flashers
designed to dazzle but not permanently injure eyes.
*       Electrical shockers: Stand-off, hand-launched, electrical
shock projectiles.
*       Pyrotechnics: Rapid-bloom smoke grenades and enhanced smoke grenades.
*       Vortex weapons: The vortex gun fires a doughnut-shaped shock
wave, powerful enough to knock people down. The gun can also be
filled with a riot-control agent such as pepper spray that disperses
a chemical irritant as well as knocks a person down.

Several programs have received military funding and are to be
employed when ready, according to the Center for Army Lessons Learned
(CALL) -- -- which "collects and
analyzes data from a variety of current and historical sources,
including Army operations and training events, and produces lessons
for military commanders, staff, and students":

*       Modular Crowd Control Munition: a non-lethal variant of the
current Claymore mine. The lethal fragmentary payload is replaced
with numerous rubber ball blunt-impact munitions for use in crowd
*       Portable Vehicle Immobilization System: a pre-emplaced
capture system designed to stop a 7,500-pound vehicle traveling at
speeds up to 45 mph without causing permanent injury to the occupants.
*       Non-Lethal, or NL, Crowd Dispersal Cartridge: intended to
fire a non-lethal cartridge from the M203 40mm grenade launcher for
crowd control. It will provide soldiers with a means to strike a
targeted individual with a direct fire, low hazard, and
non-shrapnel-producing blunt-trauma round from 15 to 30 meters.
*       Bounding NL Munition: intended to be a non-lethal tactical
area denial munition for site security and perimeter defense. The
payloads produce an audible alert signal to friendly forces within a
range of 200 meters.
*       Canister-Launched Area Denial System: provides friendly
forces a rapidly dispensed, non-lethal area denial capability. The
CLADS launcher can be used to deliver a variety of payloads,
including the BNLMs above.
*       66mm Non-Lethal Munitions: provide a short-range, indirect
fire, crowd control/area denial non-lethal capability that can be
employed from the Light Vehicle Obscurant Smoke System. The two types
of munitions are: (a) Blunt Trauma with 450 32-caliber rubber balls
inside a rubber housing attached to a metal base, and (b) Distraction
(flash-bang) device made of a polyurethane material which produces
audible and visual distractions.
*       Foam Applications: provide the capability to temporarily
delay access to building openings in urban operations and temporarily
disable selected equipment, vehicles, and weapons.

And there are more in store for the future: The military, under the
Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, is conducting research in
partnership with laboratories in the government, industry and
universities to investigate possible future technologies. According
to the Center, potential projects and their objectives include:

*       Pulsed Chemical Laser: to create a flash-bang effect on a
target with varying amounts of energy. The effect is equivalent to
delivering a massless, blunt-shrapnel impact on the surface of the
*       Frangible Mortar Casing: to develop a non-lethal (NL) mortar
round based on the existing M821 120mm high explosive round. The
non-lethal weapon round flight performance should closely match the
aerodynamics, ballistics, firing tables, and propellant loads of
rounds in the inventory.
*       NL 81mm Mortar: to develop and demonstrate an NL 81mm mortar
round capable of delivering long range NL payloads. The desired
effect is to cause disorientation and distraction among a crowd in a
targeted area.
*       Microcapsules: to determine the effectiveness of
encapsulating NL chemicals with respect to delivery. It will offer
significantly improved ways of delivering chemical agents similar to
the ones already being used, but which are crudely delivered.
*       Airborne Tactical Laser: to conduct a feasibility study to
determine effectiveness of an airborne tactical laser to conduct NL
engagements. The payoff will be in providing stand-off ranges when
conducting NL engagements against material targets.
*       Overhead Chemical Agent Dispersal System: to demonstrate the
ability to rapidly disperse NL chemicals over large areas. The OCADS
provides a flash-bang effect when the chemical agents are rapidly
dispersed. It can be used for crowd control or to provide a remotely
generated protective barrier.
*       NL Weapon-Guided Projectile: to conduct a feasibility study
to determine possible usage to include payload tradeoff analysis and
effective studies. In addition, this effort will explore the
feasibility of applying guided projectile technologies to provide
long-range delivery and deployment of non-lethal weapons. Make no
mistake about it: The Pentagon will use whatever weapons it has at
its disposal. Are you ready for a future of Moscows?

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