Non-Lethal Weapons FAQs

Q1. What are non-lethal weapons?
A1. According to DoD Directive 3000.03E, DoD Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW), and NLW Policy, the Department of Defense defines non-lethal weapons as weapons, devices, and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate targeted personnel or materiel 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 and materiel.

Q2. Why does the DoD need non-lethal weapons?
A2. Today's Service members are required to fulfill a variety of complex missions ranging from peacekeeping and humanitarian scenarios to full-scale combat operations. Non-lethal weapons can play a critical role in filling gaps between "shouting and shooting" options as part of the escalation of force. Non-lethal weapons allow a commander to elevate or decrease his response to a suspected target as the situation changes. 

Q3. What is the gap between "shout and shoot?"
A3. The gap between "shout and shoot" is often referred to as the escalation of force. The escalation of force can be categorized into four actions: detect, delay, deny, and defeat.

  • Detect: the ability to learn if a potential belligerent, vehicle or vessel is hostile or not.
  • Delay: the ability to stop/repel the potential belligerent, vehicle or vessel from reaching a monitored or secured area to avoid escalation of force.
  • Deny: the ability to stop/keep out the potential belligerent, vehicle or vessel from reaching a monitored or secured area to avoid escalation of force.
  • Defeat: The ability to incapacitate the potential belligerent, vehicle or vessel with minimal harm to innocent civilians and minimal collateral damage to surrounding areas.

Non-lethal weapons allow a commander to elevate or decrease his response to a suspected target as the situation changes. 

Q4. What kind of missions will non-lethal weapons support?
A4. Non-lethal weapons support the warfighter in military operations across the spectrum of conflict. Non-lethal weapons can protect warfighters by providing non-lethal counter-personnel and counter-material capabilities to engage targets at various ranges while helping to protect non-combatants.

Types of missions and environments supported by non-lethal weapons include:

  • Complex and Urban Terrain
    • Facility or infrastructure security
  • Checkpoint security
    • Entry control points
    • Maritime or port security
  • Convoy operations
    • Operations security
    • Unambiguous warning
  • Crowd Management
    • Intermingled belligerent and innocents
    • Humanitarian aid distribution security

The Department of Defense is examining future use of non-lethal weapons in support of a variety of missions, such as temporarily disabling combatants, disabling or disrupting logistics operations, perimeter security, and rendering enemy assets inoperable with little to no collateral damage. Non-lethal weapons do not replace lethal force but enhance the capability of U.S. forces to accomplish mission objectives. 

Q5. What does "incapacitation of personnel and materiel" mean?
A5.  Incapacitation is a "key attribute" associated with all non-lethal weapons. To incapacitate a person is to disable and/or inhibit that person from continuing what he or she is doing. For instance, if an individual fails to stop at an entry control point, the guard could use a non-lethal, counter-personnel weapon to stop the person from proceeding further.
 
To incapacitate materiel, such as a vehicle, is to disable, inhibit and/or degrade the vehicle of one or more functions or capabilities rendering it ineffective. In other words, using a non-lethal, counter-material weapon to stop an unauthorized oncoming vehicle before it reaches an entry control point is characterized as incapacitating materiel. 

Q6. What does "reversible" mean?
A6. Reversibility is a "key attribute" associated with all non-lethal weapons and refers to the ability to return the intended target to its original pre-engagement level of functionality. While non-lethal weapons are use-of-force weapons that may cause injury when used appropriately, the effects are intended to be reversible. The standard for reversibility uses established Health Care Capabilities to determine level of health care treatment required to return a human target to their pre-engagement level of functionality. For materiel, the standard is based on required level of maintenance. A first responder should be able to return a target, be it a personnel or materiel target, back to its pre-engagement condition. One example would include using buddy- or self-aid to administer basic first aid after a person is targeted by a non-lethal weapon. After simple buddy-aid is administered, the person eventually returns back to pre-engagement condition. A materiel example could include the replacement of the tires on an incapacitated vehicle - the vehicle is soon back to its pre-engagement condition. 

Q7. What safeguards prevent the inappropriate use of non-lethal weapons?
A7.  Non-lethal weapons are intended to be used as an option to lethal force and are best described as another 'tool in the Warfighter's tool box' that will fill a gap between "shouting and shooting." Measures to ensure appropriate employment include: training on the tactics, techniques, and procedures for employment of non-lethal weapons; hands-on certification courses; firing demonstrations; and built-in safety constraints. 

Q8. Which non-lethal weapons are currently fielded?
A8. A list of currently fielded non-lethal weapons is available here.

Q9. What training is associated with non-lethal weapons?
A9. The hands-on Inter-Service Non-lethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course (INWIC) at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, is the primary training resource for non-lethal weapons in the Department of Defense. INIWIC is a 'train the trainer' program. Graduates are certified instructors and subject matter experts for a unit commander on non-lethal tactics, techniques, and procedures. An Education Contact Team, composed of INIWIC instructors can also travel to a unit's location, if requested, to conduct unit-specific non-lethal weapon training.

The INIWIC Mobile Training Team is also available for battalion level units and higher. The Mobile Training Team offers the resident course at the local unit location.

More information about non-lethal weapons training opportunities is available here.

Q10. What education opportunities are available to learn more about non-lethal weapons?
A10. The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program uses a variety of educational programs to promote increased understanding of non-lethal weapons and technologies.

Lectures are frequently given at the Services' top-level schools in order to enable professional military education on non-lethal weapons.
 
The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program offers annual training and demonstrations in a variety of venues.

More information about non-lethal weapons education opportunities is available here.

Q11. Do non-lethal weapons comply with legal requirements and treaty obligations?
A11. Any new weapon developed under the auspices of the Department of Defense is required to undergo a through legal and treaty compliance review prior to fielding. Non-lethal weapons are no exception. All previously and currently fielded non-lethal weapons have undergone legal reviews to ensure consistency with domestic law, and compliance with obligations assumed by the United States under applicable treaties, customary international law, and the law of armed conflict. 

Q12. What other U.S. government agencies are interested in non-lethal weapons?
A12. Several agencies, including the Department of State, Department of EnergyDepartment of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, have expressed an interest in non-lethal weapons.

Q13. What is the foundation of the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program?
A13. The Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program was established in 1996. Department of Defense Directive 3000.03E, DoD Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW), and NLW Policy, establishes Department of Defense policies and responsibilities for the development and employment of non-lethal weapons. The directive designates the Commandant of the Marine Corps as Executive Agent for the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program. The Executive Agent established the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate for the day-to-day management of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program and as the central focal point for non-lethal weapons activities within the Department of Defense.