Less Lethal Force Options for Military Units.
Some people cherish the simplistic view that the job of the Military is solely to fight the Military of other nations. In reality missions such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief are just as important. Between the two extremes is a broad expanse that includes peacekeeping, peace enforcement, civil disturbance, border security, counter-terrorism etc.
In Iraq at the moment (May 2005) our troops are mainly facing a guerilla war where they face automatic weapons, RPGs and planted explosives. Such threats warrant equal or superior lethal force. However the same servicemen have also been faced by violent protests by mobs or disgruntled civilians armed with little more than rocks or verbal abuse. Use of lethal force is not justified and likely to prove counter-productive in the long term and on the strategic level.
Most armies have a stock of riot control weapons and systems but combat units in the field are often only equipped for lethal force.
The individual Soldier already carries a considerable weight of munitions and other equipment so any Less Lethal Weapon (LLW) systems issued should not add too much to his burden. They should be versatile and create the option of graduated response.
The telescopic baton is an obvious system for an individual. Some models have a push button or other system so they can be closed without needing to slam the end against a hard surface. This is useful if the ground in the area is soft or you want to collapse the weapon with minimal noise. Some models are designed with magnetic tips to assist when being used to search suspects. ASP produce "Airweight" versions of their batons that are 45% lighter than the standard models but they claim have only 1% less striking force.
How to use such a baton requires very little extra training. Since it is intended to be a LLW option emphasis needs to be placed on concentrating on the limbs and shoulders as target areas.
Compact pepper sprays also have a place in the individual's equipment. Used correctly they can be very effective yet take up minimal space and weight. Of the various models on the market the "Option" made by Option Safety, LLC looks the most promising for Soldiers. The size of a fat pen or small flashlight it can be concealed in the hand till used. It can be held in an "ice-pick" grip and raised up to face level to shoot at distances of up to 15 feet.
The same basic device can also be mounted to handguns, rifles, shotguns and other firearms.
Gloves are an essential part of the modern Soldier's kit. Even when "bare fingertip" sensitivity is wanted fingerless "Recondo gloves" may be worn. In Northern Ireland the issue leather glove had foam padding across the knuckles. It was not unknown for this foam to be replaced with lead or steel shot.
Such "Sap gloves" are used by some Police but have been banned by some departments. The usual rationale for this doesn't really apply to a Soldier who also has access to grenades and automatic weapons.
If weighting gloves is found unacceptable for military use then an alternative is to add moulded plastic inserts across the knuckles and edge of the hand.
As well as offering another less lethal force option such gloves are a backup weapon that is always "to hand".
A unit's assault rifles and machine guns offer little LLW capability. Plastic 5.56mm ammo has been suggested for riot use but probably offers too great a risk of causing serious injuries. The butt of a rifle can be used as an impact weapon but in practice a telescopic baton offers greater control and accuracy. The main function of the rifle for less lethal force is as a mount for grenade launching. The M16 can be fitted with the M234 attachment that allows the firing of Ring Airfoil Projectiles. Although a very effective anti-riot system there has been some talk that the M234 will be phased out in favour of the 40mm Sponge Grenade. Even if this does not prove to be the case the M234 is unlikely to be found outside specially equipped riot-control units.
The 40mm Sponge grenade round is the latest variant of the baton round. While it is unlikely that the Sponge round will be as effective as the M234 this may be an acceptable compromise since it does not require a dedicated launcher. The Sponge round is fired by the M203 grenade guns already carried as part of a combat squad's standard equipment. On the negative side the M203 is a single-shot weapon and most squads only issued with two of these.
In certain circumstances explosive rounds for the M203 have been used as baton rounds. Since the arming distance is at least 14 metres the rounds will not detonate if the target is sufficiently close. This is very much an emergency improvisation since it will leave the area littered by dud rounds that may be a hazard to innocents or be used as a source of explosive by terrorists. Some foreign manufactured M203 rounds include a self-destruct feature that may cause the grenades to explode anyway.
In Vietnam several VC were killed by being hit by unarmed 40mm grenades when fired within the arming distance. Reported effect was a wound 40mm across and 2-3 inches deep. This suggests that such rounds should not be fired directly against a target if a non-lethal effect is desired. Bouncing such rounds off the ground will however increase the distance the grenade travels and may result in it arming.
If the M203 is to be useful in an LLW role a wider range of ammo needs to be introduced. In addition to the Sponge round the CS round needs to be reissued. A barricade penetrating variant and close-range "instant cloud" or "muzzle blast" variant should also be considered.
Rifles may also be capable of using other grenade launching technologies. Many riot-control munitions are designed for spigot launch from rifle muzzles, although these tend to require blank ammo rather than ball rounds. In addition to chemical grenades there are also systems that project nets or rubber impact pellets from a canister that can be attached to the muzzle.
The Disposable Grenade Launcher (DGL) concept can also be applied to LLW. DGLs could launch Ring Airfoil Projectiles without the need to carry M234 attachments.
The shotgun is now firmly established as an infantry weapon. After action reports from Iraq suggest that scale of issue be increased to at least one per squad. A wide range of decreased lethality ammo has been developed for 12 gauge shotguns. "Rubber-bullet" type rounds are available for shotguns, although it is possible the smaller calibre may make them too dangerous. "Bean-bag" rounds from shotguns have a proven track record and Sponge round technology may also be adaptable. Another useful kinetic energy round is "Rubber buckshot" -multiple plastic or rubber pellets designed to deter a mob and inflict pain rather than injury. Other possible ammo types include CS, CS-barricade penetrating and Dye/Scent marker capsules.
One problem with the use of shotguns is the current M1004 model is a semi-automatic only weapon not particularly well suited to firing low velocity LLW rounds. The selection of a weapon with a tube magazine means that in the heat of battle it is unlikely that all of the lethal ammo is removed before lethal ammo is loaded.
An important consideration when issuing LLW rounds for weapons such as M203s and shotguns is that such ammo must be clearly distinguished from lethal ammo. One manufacturer produces lethal shotshells with red bodies and non-lethal rounds in green.
A squad may also carry a few LLW grenades. The most obvious choice are some form of tear-gas grenade, and such weapons also have applications in more lethal forms of combat. However, military use of anti-riot agents is currently viewed as a violation of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. Such a stance creates the ludicrous situation where troops have no option but to defend themselves with more lethal forms of force. The CWC needs to be amended to allow the use of anti-riot agents.
A non-chemical type of anti-riot grenade is typified by Combined Tactical Systems' Sting-ball. The grenade is filled with plastic or rubber pellets intended to produce pain rather than permanent injury. Many grenades of this type are designed to detonate with a very loud retort to increase their psychological effect. Some manufacturers term these "Breakout grenades" since they can be used to break contact with a mob. On my page on Rifle/Hand grenades I suggest that a useful type of Rifle/Hand grenade would be a "Flash-Bang"/Stun grenade that could be used to deter mobs. A Sting-ball/Breakout Rifle/Hand grenade would have similar applications. LLW Rifle/Hand Grenades would need to use a bullet trap system rather than Bullet-thru to reduce the risk of injury.
In most situations where infantry are likely to be in the presence of irate civilians they are likely to be mounted on some form of vehicle. If it is a Peacekeeping or Aid mission it is possible this will be a truck. If threats such as RPGs and mines are more likely they will hopefully be mounted on more protected vehicles such as M113s or Bradleys. The widespread use of HMMWVs in Iraq is totally inappropriate and is unnecessarily throwing away the lives of our young Soldiers.
Out of sensationalism or ignorance journalists have a tendency to refer to any tracked vehicle as a "Tank".
The British Army was deployed in Ireland in 1969 with the mission of action in support of a civil power in other words to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A policy decision was made not to deploy any tracked vehicles in the province. Images of Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Prague were too fresh in peoples' minds and giving the insurrectionists such obvious propaganda material was foolish. Saracen APCs and Humber Pigs were used along with Land Rover-based armoured vehicles such as the Shorlands. Currently the Saxon and CAV-100 (another Land Rover-based design with composite armour) are used. An Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (Battalion) mainly equipped with Fox Armoured Cars was also stationed in the province and proved very useful.
For a Peacekeeping mission there may be some prudence in appearing non-aggressive, but it is always wise to have a pool of more capable systems in reserve.
Another school of thought, and one equally valid, is the if you don't want to appear capable of aggression then don't send in the army. In some situations the presence of combat vehicles such as tracked armour can act as sufficient deterrent to prevent the onset of violence.
As I've advocated in other articles, choice of vehicle must depend on pragmatic and realistic assessment of mission requirements and likely threats, not political wishful thinking or desires.
Iraq at present does not equate to the conditions that were present in Northern Ireland. While RPGs and particularly bombs have been used in Northern Ireland these threats are far more common in Iraq. Operations in Iraq in most parts of the country are anti-guerilla operations, not Peacekeeping. This is a situation where troops should be operating in adequately protected vehicles such as Bradleys, M113s and Guntrucks rather than HMMWVs. The public relations aspect of operating in HMMWVs is of little value given that the army originally arrived by Abrams rolling through the streets. The use of HMMWVs is just giving the enemy easy victories.
Many military vehicles have MBGLs and these should be a standard fitting on all vehicles in any combat zone. CS and Sting-ball type grenades are available for such launchers but under combat conditions they are more likely to be loaded with screening smoke rounds as an RPG defence. It should be feasible to create a dual purpose grenade that has both irritant and screening capability.
Another capability that should be expanded on for combat vehicles operating close to civilian populations is that of video recording. This will greatly increase the Intelligence gathering capability of a patrol and can also be used for Propaganda and Evidence.
A vehicle that may prove to be a useful dual-purpose asset for a force is the proposed M113 Fire-Fighting Vehicle or FFV (Geyser-Gavin?). During conventional urban combat it has been suggested that such vehicles could travel just behind the combat elements and reduce the likelihood of uncontrolled fires. Such a vehicle would doubtless see applications on airfields too. A useful addition would be a dozer blade kit, allowing the vehicle to move debris, fill in craters and clear scatterable mines. The FFV could also serve as a water cannon. The Israeli Avnon water cannon vehicles have separate tanks for dye and irritant additives and the largest version has an additional foam tank too. These features should be incorporated into the FFV-M113.