Militaries harness optical technologies to minimize casualties and collateral damage in the face of irregular warfare.
Irregular, asymmetrical warfare is the new norm, requiring agile and adaptable military forces. Defense organizations the world over have found that unconventional battles cannot be fought effectively with traditional tactics and tools.
A growing proportion of military operations are taking place in close proximity to civilian populations. In such situations, militaries are turning to and relying on non-lethal or less-than-lethal deterrents.
Non-lethal weapons play a crucial role on today's battlefield and will become increasingly more relevant on future battlefields, acknowledges retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who also served previously as Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
"Non-lethal weapons offer military forces advantages as complements to lethal systems and, in some cases, as replacements for the other systems," Zinni explains. "The smart warrior is the one who understands how to use a diverse arsenal of capabilities, and isn't afraid to think beyond the traditional way of conducting military operations."
Government & industry partner
As commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) in 1996, then-Lt. Gen. Zinni was instrumental in defining and establishing U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy on non-lethal weapons under Directive 3000.3, Policy for Non- Lethal Weapons. At the same time, the DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) was established as the authority responsible for providing operating forces with escalation-of-force options to help minimize casualties and collateral damage.
The DOD defines non-lethal weapons as: "Weapons, devices, and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate targeted personnel or material immediately, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property in the target area or environment. Non-lethal weapons are intended to have reversible effects on personnel or materiel."
To deliver flexible and effective non-lethal weapons, the JNLWP works with other agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institute of Justice, private defense contractors, universities, and private research institutions and consultants.
Considerable efforts are being made to bring together government and industry to discuss opportunities in DOD non-lethal weapons development, affirms U.S. Marine Corps Col. Tracy Tafolla, director of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) in Quantico, Va. In fact, industry, academia, and DOD officials congregated at the DOD Non-Lethal Weapons Industry Day at the Alfred Gray Research Center in Quantico, Va., to discuss future research and technology development procurements.
The desire and demand for non-lethal deterrents continue to grow worldwide. "Non-lethal capabilities provide operating forces with an important capability that reduces casualties and collateral damage, and saves lives in situations where distinguishing between adversaries and innocent civilians is difficult," admits Peter MacKay, Canada's Minister of National Defense.
"A growing number of commanders in the field are requesting smaller-scale weaponry to include non-lethal capabilities," a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) representative describes. "These weapons are less damaging to infrastructure, buildings, surroundings, and civilians."
The development of non-lethal capabilities is an important part of NATO's ongoing and future operations and counter-terrorism efforts, "through which NATO can actually achieve its objectives in a way that spares human life and property," explains Gábor Iklódy, NATO assistant secretary general for NATO's Emerging Security Challenges Division.
|Wicked Lasers laser solutions are used for reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, and urban warfare applications.|
Optical distracters & interrupters
Electro-optical components and systems sit at the core of many non-lethal deterrents, such as optical distracters and directed-energy weapons.
"Laser light sources are ideal for non-lethal applications, as the optical energy is collimated and very directional," says a JNLWP representative. "This allows the user to precisely deliver the optical energy to a target at long ranges, while minimizing the total power output of the device and minimizing collateral effects to other bystanders."
Non-lethal optical distracters, visible laser devices having reversible optical effects on human targets, use directional optical energy to support such non-lethal missions as providing a non-verbal warning, clarifying intent, and temporarily overwhelming an adversary's visual sense by emitting a glare source.
Escalation-of-force options such as laser dazzlers assist warfighters, aid missions, minimize civilian casualties, and limit collateral damage. JNLWD Director Tafolla indicates that dazzlers have been extremely effective in engaging unauthorized people at safe standoff distances, both protecting soldiers from would-be attackers and keeping noncombatants out of harm's way.
These non-lethal deterrents temporarily interfere with a target's vision to temporarily blind or disorient without causing eye damage. Modern laser emitters are man- portable and operate in the red (laser diode) or green (diode-pumped solid-state laser, DPSS) areas of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Engineers at LE Systems in East Hartford, Conn., developed a dazzler based on a DPSS laser with the aid of a DARPA contract in 1996. Company officials recognized early the need for a laser device with eye-safe power density capable of temporary vision impairment. The patent-pending Compact High Power (CHP) Laser Dazzler from LE Technologies, a subsidiary of LE Systems, is designed for applications in which a subject's vision impairment must be achieved at a distance and in bright or daylight conditions. The CHP Laser Dazzler employs a 500-milliwatt, 532-nanometer green flashing laser and is well suited to military, law-enforcement, and security applications.
Dazer Laser Defender and Dazer Laser Guardian Light Fighting Technologies from Laser Energetics Inc. (LEI) in Mercerville, N.J., are optical distraction and interruption devices designed to advance military tactics and strategies, as well as save money, assets, and lives. LEI's non-lethal devices can be used as an optical distracter and interrupter to temporarily impair the threat's ability to see, engage, or target the user. The Dazer Laser Defender works at a range of up to 2400 meters, enabling warfighters to engage a threat at a greater distance and at a lower risk.
Wicked Lasers, with offices in California and China, provides ultra-high-powered laser solutions for reconnaissance, combat search-and-rescue, and urban warfare operations by special weapons and tactical response teams. "Our lasers are used by military forces around the world as divergent capable dazzlers, target painting, and distraction devices," explains a representative.
Engineers at Wicked Lasers, in cooperation with personnel at Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems in Anderson, Ind., developed the Photonic Disruptor non-lethal, waterproof, high-powered green laser specifically for use in rugged, harsh environments. Classified as a Threat Assessment Laser Illuminator (TALI), the Photonic Disruptor tactical laser device features a focus-adjustable collimating lens to compensate for range and power intensity when used at close range to incapacitate subjects and at a distance to identify threats.
|An optical distractor can be used for signaling or as a non-lethal deterrent to any hostile force approaching a ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano.)|
Two military programs currently underway to produce next-generation optical systems are the U.S. Army's Green Laser Interdiction System (GLIS) and the U.S. Marine Corps Ocular Interruption program.
B.E. Meyers Electro-Optics in Redmond, Wash., won a contract award from the U.S. Army Program Executive Office (PEO Soldier), through the Soldier Maneuver Sensors Office, to deliver 12,542 GLARE MOUT Plus visual disruption lasers under the GLIS program.
The GLARE MOUT system is rated to emit 200 milliwatts at 532 nanometers, either pulsed at a few hertz or continuous, with an operating range of 20 meters to 500 meters. The 10-ounce laser module can be mounted on a gun or held separately, and the beam diverges to cover a person's head and shoulders at 100 meters and an entire vehicle at 500 meters.
The Green Laser Interdiction System is a rifle-mounted/handheld laser that allows interdiction of potential hostile actions through non-lethal effects and is interchangeable between host weapon platforms. This ocular impairment weapon is handheld, but can be mounted on a rifle or crew served weapon.
"Military units across the globe are challenged to provide security and safety while also minimizing the danger to civilians," explains Brad Meyers, CEO of B.E. Meyers. "Non-lethal lasers have been proven to save lives by reducing the number and severity of incidents with non-combatants, and are a great addition to these young soldier's capabilities."
Engineers at B.E. Meyers, a provider of non-lethal visual disruption and ocular interruption lasers, designed the GLARE dazzlers to interfere temporarily with a suspect's vision without causing ocular damage. Soldiers use GLARE Escalation of Force devices to signal an approaching target, interrupt a target's vision, and determining if escalation to lethal force is warranted.
Pentagon's lasers and directed-energy weapons budget for 2013 includes a proposal by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to spend $1 million to procure the GLIS. This figure is down from $25.36 million CECOM had budgeted to buy this system in 2012, explains Military & Aerospace Electronics Editor John Keller. (See Keller's article, "Pentagon proposes deep cuts in lasers and directed-energy weapons work in 2013 budget," at http://bit.ly/x4QN56.)
|Military and law-enforcement personnel worldwide are opting for compact, man-portable, and handheld lasers.|
The Marine Corps Ocular Interruption program also makes use of B.E. Meyers GLARE MOUT and GLARE LA-9/P non-lethal deterrents. The company's LA-9/P provides an effective range of 300 meters to 4 kilometers and a safety feature designed to neutralize the possibility of eye injury even at close ranges.
Ocular Interruption technologies are currently used at checkpoints, at maritime ports, and in patrols and convoys to suppress individuals, move them through a specific area, and deny them access to an area. Handheld or weapon-mounted, the light-emitting, eye-safe, visible laser devices can warn and suppress individuals at ranges as far as 500 meters.
Optical distraction and interruption devices are integral to the U.S. Marine Corps Escalation of Force mission modules. "Escalation-of-Force Mission Modules provide commanders with an improved ability to respond to situations with varying levels of non-lethal force by way of modular capability sets that can be tailored and scaled to fit missions down to the platoon/squad level," explains a JNLWP representative.
|A soldier familiarizes himself with an optical distractor on the fantail of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano.)|
Escalating with electro-optics
Marine Corps officials, in the face of the changing scope of missions overseas, sought to minimize friendly and civilian casualties by modifying their existing Force Protection Capability Sets (FPCS) to include multifunctional non-lethal systems and Escalation-of Force equipment. They found their solution at Aardvark in La Verne, Calif.
Aardvark won a five-year, $49 million contract from Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, Va., to deliver and integrate Escalation of Force Mission Modules (EoF-MMs). Ten different mission-specific capability modules support U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy Forces worldwide: Vehicle Control Point, Entry Control Point, Convoy Security, Crowd Control, Detain Personnel, Conduct Search, Clear Facilities, Conduct Cordon, Urban Patrol, and Establish and Secure Perimeter.
|Wicked Lasers provides a variety of electro-optical, non-lethal deterrents, including powerful spotlight solutions.|
Aardvark executives estimate that the Marine Corps has fielded more than 840,000 pounds of equipment and more than 99,000 items to 11 locations under the Escalation of Force program.
Over the next 10 years, the non-lethal weapons market will emerge as a key domain for asymmetric warfare and law enforcement technology providers, predict Homeland Security Research Corp. (HSRC) analysts in Washington.
"There is a growing demand from combatant commanders, law-enforcement officers, and political establishments for non-lethal weapons capabilities. As a result, many governments have entered into non-lethal weapons research & development and procurement dedicated to the full spectrum of public safety, law enforcement, crowd control, and asymmetric warfare," analysts explain in HSRC's "Non-Lethal Weapons: Technologies & Global Market-2012-2020" report.
|The military-grade Wicked Lasers Spyder II GX is encased in an aerospace aluminum shell.|
HSRC analysts further forecast the emerging non-lethal weapons market to triple toward 2020.
Growth will be accelerated between 2016 and 2020, at a 17 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR).
Proposed cuts in lasers and directed-energy weapons
"Officials of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) are planning serious cuts in military lasers and directed-energy weapons work, with the Pentagon's proposed spending for directed-energy and laser weapons of $244.28 million," says Military & Aerospace Electronics Editor John Keller.
In fiscal 2013, Pentagon officials propose spending $209.24 million for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) related to lasers and directed-energy weapons, and $35.04 million in procurement.
These numbers are derived from a line-by-line analysis of the 2013 DOD budget request for procurement and RDT&E, and do not reflect potential spending in the Pentagon's operations and maintenance or other budget requests, and do not reflect budget line items in which lasers and directed-energy weapons content is not apparent.
Be certain to read Keller's full article, "Pentagon proposes deep cuts in lasers and directed-energy weapons work in 2013 budget," online at www.militaryaerospace.com or http://bit.ly/x4QN56.
Laser-equipped, unmanned boats
U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) officials in Norfolk, Va., conducted a fleet experiment in which unmanned surface vessels (USVs) deploy non-lethal weapons during maritime security and force protection operations.
"Equipping unmanned surface vessels with non-lethal weapons will further expand the capabilities of our naval forces to confront an increasingly complex set of threats," says Rear Adm. Scott Craig, USFF deputy chief of staff for fleet policy, capabilities requirements, concepts, and experimentation.
|The U.S. Navy experiments with non-lethal electro-optics on a remote-controlled boat in an operational environment to improve the capabilities available to the fleet.|
Small, militarized boats equipped with a directional acoustic hailer, eye dazzling laser, and flash-bang munitions operated autonomously and semi-autonomously during the experiment. More than 100 runs were completed over the course of the week.
Each non-lethal weapon was orchestrated to respond to a set of threatening behaviors from intruder vessels, describes a representative. Geo-positional data from the boats, surveys from fleet users, and observer logs from subject-matter experts will drive recommendations to Navy decision makers.
"No one is firing at us here in Virginia, nor are they trying to detonate any explosives near our ships, but these types of malicious scenarios drive our requirement to be prepared for the next time they do," says Cmdr. Mike Frantz, USFF's director for fleet experimentation. "Getting this defensive capability into the hands of warfighters to counter that aggression will be a game-changer for our forces when they are operating in dangerous waterways."
JNLWP at work
The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) has designed, developed, and tested more than 80 weapons and systems in three broad categories: counter-personnel, counter-material, and counter-capability.
Counter-personnel systems seek to control crowds, incapacitate hostile individuals, deny access to an area, and clear unauthorized or hostile individuals or groups from facilities, structures, or areas of operation.
Counter-material systems target vehicles, vessels, or aircraft with the goal of neutralizing them in a non-lethal fashion.
Counter-capability non-lethal weapons seek to disable or neutralize command and control facilities and systems, and deny use of weapons of mass destruction by a hostile force.