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In the News

News | Dec. 29, 2008

Picatinny lab dazzles participants with non-lethal studies

By Joint Center of Excellence for Armaments and Munitions Picatinny Arsenal

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – How could Soldiers determine if suspicious vehicles contain innocent civilians or dangerous insurgents? Are there ways to suppress an insurgent from opening fire on Soldiers without injuring innocent civilians in the immediate area? What are the most effective methods to clear crowds?

Thanks to research underway at the Armament Re-search, Development and Engineering Center's Target Behavioral Response Laboratory here, these questions may soon be answered for the U.S. military.

The laboratory, which is the first of its kind in the Department of Defense, conducts various scientific experiments that gauge the effects that lights, lasers, acoustics and other non-lethal items have on individuals.

The information will be used to develop systems that suppress and deter potentially unfriendly forces, according to the lab's research director Kenneth Yagrich.

Currently, the lab is focused primarily on finding simple solutions to manage crowds, stop wayward vehicles at checkpoints and inhibit insurgents from shooting at American targets.

The TBRL's tests are designed to determine if different lighting variations will stop an enemy from targeting and shooting Soldiers, explained Gordon Cooke, lab engineer and principal investigator.

One of the tests is a multi-chromatic, non-coherent experiment.

During the experiment, a participant uses a modified M4 rifle that shoots light beams instead of bullets at targets on a screen. Data is collected as each shot is fired. Throughout the experiment, different lighting techniques are applied to determine if they affect the shooter's ability to aim or hit the target.

"We take the broad data and compile the numbers down. Then we can understand how long it took them to get to the target, how long it took to pull the trigger while they're fixing their aim-point and whether or not they hit their target," Cooke explained.

The team will use the data to help engineers create a device that will either cause the shooter to delay pulling the trigger or affect the shooters ability to aim at the Soldier, he said.

"Soldiers on the move frequently encounter large groups of people tending to their daily business, such as in marketplaces. Convoys have to stop, making it more vulnerable to insurgent attacks," Yagrich said. "Clearing crowds quickly without escalating to a confrontation is difficult and time-consuming."

If there was a lighting or sound technique that could suppress the shooter from firing, it could "give you five or 10 seconds to get out of there - something to get out of the trouble spot," Yagrich said.

These few seconds could potentially save a Soldier's life, he said.

"From an engineer's perspective, if you told me 'go design this system,' there are certain questions as an engineer you would want to know about. What's the requirement? How bright does it need to be? Does color matter? How long does it need to be on for? So those are the questions we're trying to answer with these experiments," Cooke explained. Cooke said that to design for the field, engineers need to know things that are currently unknown.

"We've tried different colors and different intensities to see how those things interact and what would be the requirement to achieve a certain affect," he said.

"It's a brand new science, as far as I'm concerned," Yagrich said. "What we're trying to do is understand those measures so we know what is expected.

"The real problem is the data's never been there before - everything's been anecdotal. We're trying to get the real data, and I know a number of the reports prove here's a second or here's half a second that the guys not shooting at you - he can't," Yagrich explained. "None of these metrics have ever existed because when you look at it, if you want a crowd to move out of the way so you can drive down the road, how long does it take them to move? Nobody really knows because there's no data."

Besides testing light suppression, the lab also tests the effectiveness of some blunt impact non-lethal weapons.

"We can use paintballs to safely simulate many of the systems because we're not interested in the actual level of pain being inflicted. We're more interested in the decisions people make when faced with the threat of the pain," he said. "Some people will endure far more pain than others, but the actions they decide to take are what we measure."

Other experiments include examining crowd behavior such as studying how people act while working as a group.

Yagrich said all experiments adhere to federal laws, Department of Defense directives and Army regulations.

Additionally, all research involving human participants is reviewed and approved by the ARDEC Institutional Review Board at Picatinny. An assurance of compliance to conduct human research also had to be obtained from the Army Assistant Surgeon General for Human Research Protection.

Each experiment must be thoroughly explained to each participant and participants must sign an IRB-approved consent form before the experiment begins. Nothing can be done without the participants' full knowledge and they are free to withdraw from the experiment at any time without penalty. Participants Although pre-requisites vary with each experiment, most studies are open to individuals between the ages of 18 and 65, according to Charlie Sheridan, who coordinates the experiments.

So far this year, Yagrich estimates nearly 200 people have participated in various experiments at the lab. Test subjects have ranged from retired police officers to local college students and stay-at-home moms.

For their time, participants are paid $20 per hour and also have the opportunity to earn additional money, Sheridan said.

To make the experiments as realistic as possible, the participants are paid additional money if they negotiate the obstacles and still achieve their goals. For instance, in the crowd-behavior experiment, participants are asked to throw simulated rocks at vehicles while a control force tries to stop them. The crowd participants could earn $2 for each simulated rock they throw at a military vehicle, but could lose $10 if they don't comply with instructions from the control force to stop or back up.

Participants who 'lose' money are not asked to repay it and they still receive their $20 an hour in earnings.

Yagrich said the incentives are built into the experiment so that participants will want to move closer and score higher while the control force attempts to keep them away. This model provides critical data on how crowds move and how various intervention and control techniques and technologies can affect that movement.

"We're trying to find out what works and what doesn't," he said. "Our goal is to provide that information to the warfighters who have to do the job. It's possible that the simplest of tactics or devices work far better than sophisticated, expensive systems. Also, information can be used to develop requirements for new non-lethal systems."