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News | May 31, 2020

The Commandant’s Guidance for the DOD Non-Lethal Weapons Program

By Col Wendell Leimbach

 Many Marines may be surprised to learn that the Commandant of the Marine Corps serves as the Department of Defense Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW), or that Gen Charles C. Krulak, the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, volunteered the Marine Corps to take on a leadership role in their development in 1996. Almost 25 years later, NLW—which have been associated primarily with law enforcement and military security missions—are at a strategic turning point. NLW technology, to include directed energy systems, has advanced significantly.

Compelling effects without destruction can be delivered at extended ranges and integrated with a variety of manned, unmanned, and autonomous platforms. These advancements are timely as the National Defense Strategy aligns the Joint force to compete, deter, and win across the competition continuum, including the ever-present competition below armed conflict. Similarly, the Commandant’s guidance to the Marine Corps takes us into a new strategic direction that includes “successfully competing and winning in the gray zone,”1 calls for investment in “less-lethal” capabilities,2 and notes the need for stand-in forces to be equipped with non-lethal payloads to counter malign activity.3 In addition to aligning the DOD NLW Program in a new strategic direction and updating the Program’s mission and vision, the following planning guidance also introduces updated terminology: “Intermediate Force Capabilities” or “IFCs,” which include NLW as well as other non-lethal tools. The new language is intended to encourage interest across the Joint force beyond  legacy law enforcement applications. IFCs apply to a broader array of capabilities that bridge the gap between presence and lethal effects, allowing active measures when presence alone is insufficient to deter malign activities or the use of lethal/destructive force is otherwise not desired.

Conclusion The Commandant’s Planning Guidance for the DOD NLW Program reflects his intent to transform traditional views of non-lethal weapons from primarily law enforcement tools to muchneeded capabilities that can contribute to deterrence and the warfighting needs of the Joint force. His guidance also supports the DOD’s intent to enable U.S. and allied forces to deliver accurate, tailorable, and compelling effects in complex and ambiguous scenarios while preventing unnecessary loss of life or destruction of property. With a wide spectrum of strategic competitors challenging the Nation, the opportunity exists for the Marine Corps—as the Nation’s most prepared force-in

readiness—to lead in the development, experimentation, and operational use of IFCs. The Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office, located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, stands ready to assist the Marine Corps and the Joint force in advancing the development and fielding of IFCs and their application across the competition continuum.