Non-Lethal Weapons

Mike at Raising Sand and Noah Shachtman of Defense Tech both pointed me towards an article in the NYT Magazine.  The Pentagon would like some options, it appears. 

Strangely, for a New York Times article, it's fairly well balanced. The pros and cons of the program are covered adequately.  I have no idea about the author's background, but no glaring mistakes jumped out at me. This is slightly impressive, but that's only because the usual level of the Times military coverage sucks.  The average reporter has no clue about the military and usually gets basic facts wrong on many levels.  One of the things that first clued me in to the failings of the press was the gradual realization of this fact. When reporters can't even get simple facts like weapon calibers and nomenclature correct, and editors can't catch the mistakes, one begins to realize maybe the press doesn't know what they're talking about on the subject.  Once a crack appears, the whole journalistic edifice starts to crumble in your mind. If they miss this, what else don't they know? The answer, it appears, is almost everything.  

I tend towards the sceptical view of the systems mentioned. I'm theoretically okay with the idea of non-lethal weapons.  On a practical level, it's going to be a clusterfuck for quite a while. More equipment to clean, maintain, and haul around with you?  That wins heart and minds in the military, especially down at ground level where the joes have to deal with the equipment.  The infantry, I've noticed, doesn't like to get more stuff to carry around. 

The training and doctrine is also going to be a mess. Anybody who thinks a dual-use weapon like the weird rifle that shoots lethal and non-lethal rounds is a good idea is fooling themself. Someone will die needlessly using that system. I have two similar examples from my military experience.  M1 tanks used to be (and probably still are) equipped with a ballistic computer to handle trajectories for the different types of ammunition.  The gunner should enter the type of round loaded to get the proper elevation. I saw a tank literally fire a sabot round over a mountain because the gunner screwed up and entered the wrong ammunition type. The gunner's control also controls the main gun and the co-axial machine gun. Again, a switch must be engaged to change from one to another. If you don't flip the switch, you can engage a target with the wrong weapon system. Not a huge deal when you're intending to fire the main gun and shoot the coax instead. It becomes a much bigger problem when you are intending to fire the coax and accidentally launch a depleted uranium long-rod penetrator moving at a mile a second at somebody or something. Problems ensue.

On a philosophical note, I have a pretty simple rule of engagement left over from my time as a squad leader and gunner. Anybody that tries to kill us, dies. If they don't die, it will not be from our lack of effort. This also works on a larger level. If it becomes understood by every third-world belligerent with a leftover AK that attacking US troops is a quick way to ensure your untimely demise, they might reconsider some things. Non-lethal weapons will undermine this philosophy.

If non-lethal weapons become useful and fielded, some jackass in an office suite is going to expect the military to use them when it's wholly inappropriate. Sending soldiers into far-off lands and expecting them to react with non-lethal force to lethal attacks is a strategy doomed to fail. As better minds than me have remarked, joe is going to do whatever he thinks he has to do to make it home alive. If the guys on the ground decide that the non-lethal stuff doesn't work worth a crap and is getting them wounded and killed, a whole bunch of expensive non-lethal toys are going to be 'broken' quicker than you can imagine. Joe will then fall back on good old-fashioned lethality as his preferred mode of engagement.

Another thought occurs to me. Using non-lethal force on a determined enemy trying to kill you simply will not work. It has been proven empirically that you can poke an amazing number of holes in another person and they will still keep trying to kill you. The only foolproof methods I know to stop someone from trying to kill you are a) kill them and b) set them on fire. Neither of these are non-lethal. Given the nature of the enemy in our current conflict, they might be the only solutions to the actual fighters we face.


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