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Science and Technology (S&T) research and development is vital to the development of the next generation of non-lethal weapons (NLW). While traditional NLW, such as rubber bullets and mechanical barriers, have proven effective, there remains a need for improved and expanded capabilities. S&T investment provides for the fundamental exploration and understanding of the technologies and stimuli necessary to develop effective next-generation NL capabilities and provide the Department of Defense with the tools they need to accomplish their missions.

Warfighters have identified the need to accomplish non-lethal missions at greater ranges and with longer duration non-lethal effects. In an effort to improve and expand the capabilities of current NLWs, the JNLWP continues to invest in technologies with the potential to provide improved range and duration, as well as increased precision (in both weapons accuracy and desired effects), instantaneous effects, and significantly greater magazine depth in one scalable weapon. The continued development of advanced non-lethal technologies will help our warfighters meet the challenges they face on today’s complex battlefields. Some of the specific areas of current science and technology research include vehicle and vessel stopping, optical distractors, focused acoustics, active denial technology, lasers and laser induced plasmas


Warfighters have clearly articulated the need to find a method for stopping vehicles and vessels at greater ranges without the need for pre-emplacement. Because of this identified capability gap, the JNLWP has made stopping vehicles and vessels at range a top priority. The JNLWP has sponsored and continues to investigate multiple technologies for potential application to the NL vehicle and vessel stopping challenge. Among these are high power microwaves intended to disrupt electronic engine components and advanced materials to alter engine combustion. Additionally, the JNLWP is evaluating the feasibility of employing tactical high energy lasers and direct electrical injection to bring vehicles and vessels to a stop.


Non-lethal optical distractors are visible laser devices that have reversible optical effects. These types of non-blinding laser devices use highly directional optical energy to support several non-lethal missions; including the following capabilities:

optical distractor
Temporarily overwhelming an adversary’s visual sense by emitting a compelling glare source
Providing an unequivocal, non-verbal warning
Providing the target an opportunity to clarify intent
Although these mission capabilities are generic to any high intensity light source, laser light sources are ideal for non-lethal applications, as the optical energy is collimated. Thus, the precision effects can be delivered very accurately with little to no collateral damage. This allows the user to precisely deliver the optical energy at long ranges while minimizing the total power output of the device. The effect is very similar to the glare off a windshield from a setting sun. This illustrates the fact that, when used according to pre-determined concepts of employment and through proper training, an optical distractor can offer the user a variety of desirable non-lethal effects.

Current efforts focus on characterizing a wide variety of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf/Non-Developmental Items and government-funded prototypes to both assess the current state-of-the-art and to cross-compare for potential military effectiveness. Selected devices are carefully characterized to verify each manufacturer’s advertised specification, establish the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance (NOHD), and assess the potential military effectiveness. The most promising devices then undergo limited operational testing to demonstrate how the device will perform under relevant operational conditions. Future and ongoing developmental efforts aim to increase the military effectiveness of optical distractors by increasing the effective range, improving daylight performance capabilities, and optimizing the effective spot size based on the specific military application. Link to Optical Distractors fact sheet


Focused acoustic devices are being investigated for their potential to project sound energy to tactical ranges. One method being developed utilizes an array of speakers arranged to create a directional beam of high-intensity sound. Another method leverages the focusing of an audible (muzzle-safe) ultrasound to create an audible sound source at the target. The devices have the potential to deliver an unambiguous warning to approaching personnel on foot or in vehicles at great distances. They can give the user ample time to assess the intent of those approaching. Link to Acoustic Hailing Devices fact sheet


Building on the success of the Active Denial System (ADS) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD), the JNLWP is looking to identify millimeter wave sources that will help minimize the size, weight, and system cost of an effective Active Denial System which provides “ADS-ACTD-like” repel effects. Several concepts are being explored which range from reducing the size of existing sources through the development of solid-state-arrays, to developing the next generation of light-weight, highly efficient millimeter wave sources. Link to ADS Page


Several focus areas have been established within non-lethal human effects research. These include risk assessment, effects-based design and modeling, and non-lethal effectiveness. These knowledge areas are fundamental to understanding the safety and effectiveness of developing and next-generation non-lethal technologies.

Risk Assessment: Risk assessment is a process that allows weapons developers to visualize a non-lethal system’s human effects. This visualization clarifies and outlines the risks associated with the system and allows developers to determine if there is a way to use the system while mitigating risks. For example, curves are generated to define the relationship between military utility and risk of injury.

Effects-Based Design and Modeling: Human effects-based design is an approach whereby non-lethal technologies are evaluated by their potential to produce intended and unintended effects and then developing research plans to address gaps in understanding. These evaluations ultimately support the development of non-lethal capabilities specifically designed to mitigate known capability gaps.

The results of human effects research provide key data points that support the development of non-lethal human effects modeling and simulation tools. In an effort to produce a common resource to predict human effects and compliment the HERC process, the JNLWP has sponsored an effort to develop an Advanced Total Body Model (ATBM) for predicting the effects of non-lethal impacts. Beginning in 2004, efforts have been made to improve the fidelity of the ATBM through finite element modeling. The ATBM continues to be modified to allow for interface with external non-lethal bioeffects models. The intent is to develop a suite of models for the assessment of many new non-lethal stimuli specifically related to next-generation non-lethal directed energy weapons. This modeling suite will constitute the Human Effects Modeling and Analysis Program or HE-MAP.

Non-Lethal Weapon Effectiveness: The JNLWP non-lethal human effects community has begun to increase its focus on improving the characterization and quantification of NLW effectiveness. In other words, researchers are attempting to better answer the question of how well the human response relates to desired mission outcomes. This area of research is critical to ensuring that the end user will get reliable, repeatable, and safe results from future non-lethal capabilities. Several efforts are ongoing in the focus area.

The JNLWP’s Human Effects and Effectiveness Branch guides DoD research to determine for each non-lethal weapon in the current DoD inventory and those in development where these weapons are safe and where these weapons are not safe; where they are effective and where they are not.

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