Saturday, January 27, 2007

Soldiers Are Lethal--Not Weapons

Discussions of many "non-lethal" weapons (as if disabling a person who cracks their skull when falling down isn't fairly lethal) for use against non-combatants has always seemed rather silly to me. Against basically friendly protesters, sure, it could have some use. In the National Guard we were taught that the objective was basically to get the protesters to disperse and go home. Not kill them or harm them even to defend a random building from vandalism or destruction (unless the building had some instrinsic value and we were defending it).

But when the discussion moves to enemies who simply don't arm themselves knowing we won't shoot, it is rather counter-productive. The enemy is emboldened to act knowing the personal consequences aren't nearly as bad as attacking armed troops. And when used against enemies, they are not above hauling out some injured woman and claiming that the strange wound was caused by our new awful death ray, the Active Defense System.

So news of our new "non-death ray" doesn't impress me as a great advance in crowd control:

The ADS is a non-lethal weapon that looks like a radar dish. The ADS "radar dish" projects a "burn ray" that is about four feet in diameter. It is effective in fog, smoke and rain. When pointed at people and turned on, it creates a burning sensation on the skin of its victims, causing them to want to leave the area, or at least greatly distracts them. The microwave weapon has a range of about 500 meters. ADS is carried on a hummer or Stryker, along with a machine-gun and other non-lethal weapons. The proposed ROE (Rules of Engagement) for ADS are that anyone who keeps coming after getting hit with microwave is assumed to have evil intent, and will be killed. The microwave is believed to be particularly useful for terrorists who hide in crowds of women and children, using the human shields to get close enough to make an attack. This has been encountered in Somalia and Iraq.

Meanwhile, a new, smaller, version, called Silent Guardian, with a range of about 250 meters, has also been developed and offered for use defending vital targets (like nuclear power plants) against terrorists. The manufacturer is also pitching the Silent Guardian to the navy (for ship protection), the State Department (for embassy protection) and organizations like the border patrol, or anyone looking for a non-lethal way to quickly disperse crowds.

So use against civilians is just asking for bad press coverage. And I have difficulty believing that it is much use against a terrorist determined to detonate a suicide bomb. Already prepared to die, will discomfort in the last couple hundred yards in a speeding car or boat really cause them to turn aside? And isn't that situation one that calls for putting a lot of lead downrange?

I assume the ray penetrates material otherwise it would be little use in stopping terrorists who could be in a car or boat and thus shielded from direct rays. But this could be a great weapon in urban combat or clearing caves. We can destroy buildings with great precision, but as Fallujah in November 2004 showed, house-to-house fighting is still necessary unless you want to simply level every structure. And clearing buildings causes casualties.

Note that the ADS "non-lethal" weapon is mounted on an armored vehicle. Say you have an infantry platoon supported by an ADS mounted on an armored vehicle. You have a building you want to check out. You send in the recon robot and it either spots hostiles inside or gets shot approaching the building. So what do you do? Assault the building and take casualties? Or call in a GPS-guided bomb or rocket to destroy the building? We prefer not to take too many casualties and we'd like to avoid destroying every building we encounter. But you remember we have that ADS thingie tagging along.

So you sweep the building with the ADS. The enemy inside starts getting that burning sensation on their skin. Your platoon assaults the building, with the ADS turned off at the last moment much like an old-fashioned artillery bombardments that lift at the last moment, rushing in to find enemies trying to get away or at least greatly distracted. You kill them.

This could also work at night in planned raids. Waking up to find your skin on fire (in your mind) right before American troops rush in with night vision gear and weapons ready will probably really depress the instinct to fight back.

So while I think little of this weapon in a crowd control situation in a hostile neighborhood or to defend against terrorists, it could be quite the weapon for urban warfare when used by troops trained to kill enemies--even though the ADS is "non-lethal."