Despite years of developments and testing, the Pentagon has refused requests to send its most advanced nonlethal weapon to Iraq. In fact, as early as 2003, an Air Force scientist asserted that had the Active Denial System -- which uses millimeter waves to create an intense burning sensation -- been deployed to Iraq, it could have saved lives, the AP reports:
On April 30, 2003, two days after the first Fallujah incident, Gene McCall, then the top scientist at Air Force Space Command in Colorado, typed out a two-sentence e-mail to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial System had been there," McCall told Myers, according to the e-mail obtained by AP. The system should become "an immediate priority," McCall said.
Myers referred McCall's message to his staff, according to the e-mail chain.
McCall, who retired from government in November 2003, remains convinced the system would have saved lives in Iraq.
"How this has been handled is kind of a national scandal," McCall said by telephone from his home in Florida.
Not only did Pentagon officials refuse to send the controversial weapon to Iraq, they blocked a request that came as late as December 2006. The big concern is clearly the public fallout from deploying a microwave weapon.
Senior officers in Iraq have continued to make the case. One December 2006 request noted that as U.S. forces are drawn down, the non-lethal weapon "will provide excellent means for economy of force."
The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.
"We want to just make sure that all the conditions are right, so when it is able to be deployed the system performs as predicted - that there isn't any negative fallout," said Col. Kirk Hymes, head of the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.
There's a larger and more interesting issue here: there will never be a time that the first-use of a new and controversial weapon like the Active Denial System will occur without any fallout. On the other hand, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate has long said they need to move to directed energy weapons to achieve the stand-off distances they desire in new weapon. Sooner or later those in leadership will have to decide whether it's worthwhile to deploy such weapons, rather than just punting the ball down the field. Of course, another consideration the military will have to weigh is: At this late stage, would the actual benefit to the military of employing a nonlethal directed energy weapon in Iraq outweigh the possible public backlash, both at home and abroad?
Armchair Generalist writes:
Yeah, ah guys, little late in the game to be worried about impressions of "torture," dontcha think? Interestingly, the article notes that one request from the field is to take a similar directed energy system and combine it with guns on a mobile platform.
Such a versatile system would let troops deal with “increasingly complex operational environments where combatants are routinely intermixed with noncombatants,” Army Brig. Gen. James Huggins said in an April 2005 memo to Pentagon officials.
I suppose this saves one operator the trouble of retargeting a disruptive crowd that didn't respond to the directed energy "suggestion." Maybe the exact concept of "non-lethal" engagement hasn't really sunk into the broader military user community's mindset yet.