Nonlethal Directed Energy Weapons

Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold and Lt. Gen. William Etter, the air component commander at US Northern Command, joined officials from other services in calling for the ability to use nonlethal systems, such as high-power microwave systems to control crowds or counter a potential threat without resorting to deadly force. “You don’t always want to kill people, maybe just to disperse them,” said Heithold during a directed energy “summit” in McLean, Va. A system like the active denial weapon, which uses microwave energy to create a burning sensation without causing lasting injury, “can go a long way” to avoid the risk of unnecessary civilian casualties. Etter said directed energy weapons also could be useful in homeland defense, noting such weapons can stop a single airliner that might be a terrorist threat while not affecting others in the same airspace. “I believe directed energy brings us to a whole new domain, spanning the spectrum from non-lethal to deadly,” he said. However, he also noted the use of such nonlethal systems are inhibited by legal and policy disputes.