Weapons for the 'New American Century'
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 control.
*       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 target.
*        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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