In 1995, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni was charged with protecting the final withdrawal of United Nations forces from Somalia. He explored the prospects of using non-lethal weapons to accomplish his mission and asked for a quick response in fielding non-lethal capability sets. The U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army teamed to provide available non-lethal weapon capabilities for use in and around Mogadishu. Lt. Gen. Zinni's vision on the utility of non-lethal weapons in military operations and aggressive support in fielding these unique capabilities contributed to the establishment of the U.S. Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program.
On July 9, 1996, the Department of Defense issued Directive 3000.3, Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons. The Directive established Department of Defense policies and responsibilities for the development and employment of non-lethal weapons and designated the Commandant of the Marine Corps as Executive Agent for the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program. On July 1, 1997, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate was established to support the Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons in the day-to-day management of the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program. The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate works in collaboration with many partners, most notably the Services, including the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Special Operations Command (due to its unique Title 10 authorities and responsibilities); the Unified Combatant Commands; various Department of Defense agencies; the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice; and other government organizations with interest in non-lethal weapons development.
Since the establishment of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate to facilitate non-lethal weapons development and support the Services' non-lethal weapon efforts, the inventory of non-lethal weapons available to U.S. forces continues to increase. Fielded non-lethal weapon capabilities include blunt impact, marking, and warning munitions; acoustic hailing devices; optical distracters; electro-muscular incapacitation devices; and vehicle stopping equipment. A rigorous process for evaluating and independently reviewing the human effects of non-lethal weapons has been integrated into non-lethal weapons development. The requirements foundation for both counter-personnel and counter-materiel non-lethal weapons has been validated through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. International engagements with NATO as well as allies and partner nations have resulted in the inclusion of non-lethal weapons into military exercises around the globe. Industry, academia and government laboratories are conducting research on the next generation of non-lethal weapons, of which directed energy technologies are showing much promise.
In May 2020, The JNLWD was redesignated the Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office. The Commandant of the Marine Corps’ 2020 Executive Agent’s Planning Guidance outlines the mission and vision for the new Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office (JIFCO). This milestone in the DOD NLW Program’s history ensures that the Department of Defense mainstreams the use of the vital and relevant tools known as Intermediate Force Capabilities (IFCs). IFCs, which exist between presence and lethal effects, enable U.S. and allied forces to deliver accurate, tailorable, and compelling effects in complex and ambiguous scenarios while preventing unintended escalation of hostilities, unnecessary loss of life, or destruction of critical infrastructure.
While the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program had its origin in operations such as peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance, there is a growing appreciation for these weapons, devices and munitions in irregular warfare operations such as counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, stability operations, and counter-piracy. In response to the growing complexity of the modern battlefield, the Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Program will continue to research, develop and field these non-lethal technologies and capabilities to support the operational needs of U.S. forces.