Project Sheriff: Combined Lethal/Nonlethal Weapons System

Troops In Iraq To Get Combined Lethal/Nonlethal Weapons System (Stars & Stripes)

The Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation is designing a combined lethal and nonlethal weapons system to be fielded to Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq by summer, 2005, in an experiment called “Project Sheriff.†The concept is to retrofit ground vehicles already in the services’ inventories with an array of new lethal and nonlethal systems, giving troops working in urban terrain more options, especially when deciding how to deal with potential noncombatants or civilians being used as shields, said program director and transformation strategist Col. Wade Hall, a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps. Like a sheriff, Hall says. “He’s not there to cause destruction. He’s there to keep the peace, but has the option to go to destruction status if he needs it,†Hall said. The Pentagon hopes to launch the system in Iraq in June or July, equipping four to six Army and Marine Corps vehicles with a combination of off-the-shelf technology and systems being developed. Vehicles under consideration include the Army’s new Stryker armored personnel carrier or the Armored Security Vehicle, or ASV, and the Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicle, or LAV, already proven to work well in cities, said Hall.

A goal of the Office of Force Transformation is to cut through the years and years it used to take the department to introduce a new system, he said, while assuring that the technology employed is well-studied and the office is not sacrificing safety for the sake of speed. Designers see the systems being used for missions such as armed reconnaissance, raids, crowd control, security patrol and vehicle checkpoints.

While no decisions have been made on which systems will be used, managers have narrowed the field to a few for consideration, Hall said. Among them is Raytheon Company̢۪s nonlethal Active Denial System, a counter-personnel directed energy weapon that projects a speed-of-light millimeter wave of energy that makes skin feel like it̢۪s on fire. According to studies done by the Air Force Research Laboratory, which developed the technology in a joint effort with the Marine Corps and Raytheon, the invisible beam penetrates the skin to a depth of less than 1/64 of an inch and produces heat that within seconds becomes intolerable, said lab spokeswoman Eva Hendren. The sensation stops when the individual moves out of the beam. The beam does not cause injury because its penetration is so shallow, Hendren said. Vehicles also could be equipped with high-powered lights to aid in searches, and an acoustics system such as the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, a high-powered bullhorn of sorts that emits an ear-piercing noise. Marines in Iraq already are using the LRAD system. No decision on LRAD has been made, but the office has no alternative if it is not picked, Hall said. Critics of the LRAD system have said the ear-piercing noise could cause permanent damage and deafness. He said the military still is conducting studies. The lethal portion of the projects includes a mounted rapid-fire gun that will be able to carry a diversity of medium- and small-caliber machine guns at a high rate of fire. The system under consideration is called Gunslinger and is under development at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va. An Active Protection System would place an array of sensors that could deploy decoys and detect chemical or biological agents.

While the Pentagon is taking the lead in developing Project Sheriff, other agencies interested in the experiment̢۪s progress include the Justice, Energy, and State departments and the FBI, Hall said.

This makes perfect sense. The equipment already in the inventory is the best in the world, it’s just insufficiently versatile for the incredibly wide-ranging missions our armed forces must accomplish. Retrofitting existing systems is not only cheaper but it should get the troops the tools they need much more quickly than starting from scratch.

Update (9/20): Microwave Gun To Be Used By US Troops On Iraq Rioters (London Sunday Telegraph)

Microwave weapons that cause pain without lasting injury are to be issued to American troops in Iraq for the first time as concern mounts over the growing number of civilians killed in fighting. The non-lethal weapons, which use high-powered electromagnetic beams, will be fitted to vehicles already in Iraq, which will allow the system to be introduced as early as next year.
Using technology similar to that found in a conventional microwave oven, the beam rapidly heats water molecules in the skin to cause intolerable pain and a burning sensation. The invisible beam penetrates the skin to a depth of less than a millimetre. As soon as the target moves out of the beam’s path, the pain disappears. Because there are no after-effects, the United States Department of Defence believes that the weapons will be particularly useful in urban conflict. The beam could be used to scatter large crowds in which insurgents operate at close quarters to both troops and civilians. “The skin gets extremely hot, and people can’t stand the pain, so they have to move – and move in the way we want them to,” said Col Wade Hall of the Office of Force Transformation, a body formed in November 2001 to promote rapid improvement across all of the American armed services. Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, where the systems were developed, took part in testing the weapon and was subjected to the microwave beam which has a range of one kilometre. “It just feels like your skin is on fire,” he said. “[But] when you get out of the path of the beam, or shut off the beam, everything goes back to normal. There’s no residual pain.”

A heated battle on a crowded Baghdad street last week that left 16 Iraqis dead, highlighted once again the pressing need to reduce the number of civilian casualties, and at the same time prevent further damage to relations between American troops and the Iraqi population. American commanders later admitted using seven helicopter-launched rockets and 30 high-calibre machine gun rounds in last Sunday’s incident. The armoured vehicles will be named Sheriffs once they have been modified to carry the microwave weapons, known as the Active Denial System (ADS). Col Hall said that US army and US marine corps units should receive four to six ADS equipped Sheriffs by September 2005. The project was initiated only three months ago but US military chiefs intend to rush the Sheriffs into the front line, believing that they can be of immediate assistance.

In another development, the Sheriffs will be fitted with Gunslinger, a rapid-fire gun currently under development that will detect enemy snipers and automatically fire back at them.
If the Sheriffs prove successful, their use will be expanded in combat zones. They will also be deployed for security at ports and air force bases, and could take part in border patrols.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.