AFSFC explores updated non-lethal weapon options for Defender force

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The Air Force Security Forces Center is continuing its efforts to arm Defenders with the technology and equipment they need to better protect people and resources across the Department of the Air Force. 

With a mission of training, equipping and managing program execution for the Air Force security forces enterprise across the globe, the center is working in partnership with the Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and sister services to deliver the latest equipment and state-of-the-art technologies in the non-lethal weapon arena to the field.

Non-lethal weapons, like Tasers, pepper spray and rubber bullets, have been used by the Air Force for over 30 years to deescalate situations and, if needed, respond with appropriate but less than deadly force, said Salvador Hernadez, Air Force non-lethal weapons central action officer.

Three non-lethal areas currently being explored are Tasers, directed energy vehicle stopping devices and diversionary grenades.

HEMI Devices
The two human electrical muscular incapacitation devices, commonly known as Tasers, currently in the security forces inventory – one delivered in 2007 and the other in 2015 – allow Defenders to approach and detain adversaries while limiting harm, to both security forces member and suspect, said Aaron Hodges, Air Force Non-Lethal Weapons Acquisition Program support officer.

They do, however, come with limiting factors, like their usefulness in water or around flammable liquids, and that’s what the AFSFC is hoping to address with the delivery of the next generation of non-lethal weapons.

“Earlier this year, we completed a joint warfighter limited user assessment of Conducted Energy Weapons (i.e., Tasers) which consisted of carrying out operationally relevant vignettes. We’re now compiling metrics and individual feedback to ultimately help the Air Force determine what device will replace legacy Tasers in the field,” Hodges said. 

Directed energy systems
The Department of Defense community is also looking at vehicle stoppage systems that would replace or supplement final denial barriers systems, like wedges or bollards, commonly seen at installation entry gates.

Commanders in the field provided feedback that the current systems, although seen as non-lethal, can be detrimental to those who encounter them, said Keith Collins, Air Force Non-Lethal Weapons Program support officer.

“When people run into them or when deployed, they cause cars to tip over, and sometimes they can cause serious injuries and even death,” Collins said, “so we’re looking at other options to nonlethally stop vehicles without harming the driver or vehicle occupants.”

One option is directed energy systems that use radio frequencies to disable a car by stalling out its engine.

“The Air Force has volunteered to be the test bed for a directed energy vehicle stopping system so we can do evaluations and assessments in the next year or two within the National Capitol Region,” Collins said. 

That location is being considered by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program because it allows for joint testing with the various installations in the region, he said.

Confined space control
The third area currently being addressed by the AFSFC is Defender recapture operations in confined spaces.

“Some of our current diversionary grenades aren’t as efficient as we need them to be in small spaces like offices or large rooms so we’re looking at a variety of options to help with that. Things like billowing smoke or flashing lights that would disorient and overwhelm the senses of an adversary,” Collins said. 

“We’re looking at modeling what we’re calling smoke, light and sound aggregated effects to essentially not just deter but defeat an adversary using non-lethal means,” he added, “and that’s important because you’re not just preserving human life but adding an intelligence factor as well.”

“The intent of non-lethals is to give our Defenders and commanders more options instead of just shout and shoot,” Hodges said. “Non-lethal weapons allow defenders to delay, deny and deter when needed while minimizing serious injury or death in situations where that could be detriment to accomplishing the Air Force mission.   

“One last point, non-lethals aren’t meant as substitutes to lethal force, they’re enablers,” Collins said.