What Are Non-Lethal Combatives?

by Joseph R. Svinth

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, November 1999

 For the purposes of this journal, non-lethal (a.k.a. nonlethal and less-than-lethal) combatives are defined as fighting methods designed to incapacitate rather than kill. In general, they fit into one of three general categories: weapons, chemicals, and unarmed fighting methods.

 At a military level, non-lethal weapons are frequently exotic and controversial. Examples here include blinding lasers, anti-personnel microwave transmitters,  and infrasound devices. At the other end of the spectrum are relatively commonplace devices such as concussion grenades, riot batons, rubber bullets, and sticky foams.

 Examples of non-lethal military chemical agents also run the range from exotic to mundane. For instance, at the exotic level there are various puffer fish poisons that make people appear clinically dead. Meanwhile, at the mundane level, the use of incapacitating agents such as CN and pepper sprays is almost ubiquitous.

 Finally, there are unarmed combatives. Obviously hand-to-hand methods can kill or maim, but usually they are intended solely for subduing or restraint.

 As few people will ever see, let alone handle, exotic weapons, the focus of this journal is on the mundane level weapons. Articles are solicited in the following areas. If you have ideas outside these areas, by all means ask.

  Plans and training.
  Rules of engagement.
  Legal, medical, and psychological concerns for both victims and users.
  Leadership and team building. (Outside the movies, hardly any serious fighting man works alone; even the Lone Ranger had Tonto and some well-trained horses.)
  Historical or bibliographic articles.

  Non-lethal combatives are fighting methods designed to control or restrain opponents without any intent of causing them permanent injury or death. These methods can be armed or unarmed, are NOT gentle, and if misused can result in some lengthy court battles and jail sentences. Therefore readers are strongly encouraged to consult an attorney specializing in criminal law and organizational leadership channels beforeattempting anything discussed on this website. The alternative is talking to these same people afterwards, and that kind of conversation is likely to be unpleasant.

 A subset of non-lethal combatives is military and paramilitary training in hand-to- hand fighting. For police, the emphasis is usually showing officers how to safely restrain opponents while for militaries the emphasis is usually on increasing soldiers' self- confidence and physical aggressiveness. Properly supervised, such programs are safe, but broken bones are not unknown and some trainees have died due to undiagnosed preexisting conditions or instructor abuse. Therefore readers are strongly encouraged to consult health care professionals before attempting this training and to only practice under competent professional supervision.

 Disclaimers aside, there is an astonishing range of technology available. At the simplest level, batons and pepper sprays are commonly found non-lethal weapons. At an intermediate level, there are net launchers and sticky foams. And at an advanced level there are vehicle-mounted blinding lasers and microwave weapons. Yet in the end the best weapon is no better than its worst user. So while technology will be discussed the editor's intent is to focus on issues of team-building, training, field employment, communications and negotiations, and acting within the law.

 It is acknowledged that there are significant differences between how individuals, police forces, and military units properly employ non-lethal methods. For example, in any given situation an individual might be best advised to withdraw, a police force to negotiate, and a military to blow a hole in the roof with a shaped charge. Therefore prospective writers should be specific about their intended audience, and list probable outcomes of any misuse of described courses of action.

Some Introductory Reading

 As most of us are not used to thinking in terms of non-lethal technologies, the following are some interesting noncommercial websites. (There are books and articles, too, but as this is an electronic medium we might as well confine ourselves to other electronic sites.) Note that a listing does not constitute any endorsement of ideas, products, services, or technologies. All sites listed worked as of November 1999, but as URLs change without warning, some pursuit may be required.

Military Non-Lethal Weapons


 "The Gentle Soldier's Shopping Cart," by Eugene Ciurana, Omni Magazine, http://www.omnimag.com/archives/features/nonlethal/shopping.html

 "Nonlethal near death," by Eugene Ciurana, Omni Magazine, http://www.omnimag.com/archives/features/nonlethal/near.html

 "The Somalia Experiment," by Eugene Ciurana, Omni Magazine, http://www.omnimag.com/archives/features/nonlethal/somalia.html

 "Wonder Weapons," by Douglas Pasternak, US News and World Report, http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/970707/7weir.htm

 "Nonlethal weapons," by Timothy Ray and Eric Metzler, http://sutherland.monroe.edu/Pages/L7000/Non.lethal.weapons.html (includes bibliography)

 "What Price Sticky Foam?," by Martin N. Stanton, Reprinted from Proceedings with permission. © 1996 U.S. Naval Institute, Parameters, http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/96autumn/stanton.htm

 "Webshot device lets police net suspects," USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/review/crg410.htm

US Governmental or Major Defense Contractor sites

 "Development of a Low-cost, Portable Surrogate - The 3-Rib Chest Structure," Cynthia A. Bir, David H. Lyon and David C. Viano, Defense Technical Information Center, http://www.jya.com/nld3-bir.htm

 Department of Defense (DOD) briefing on non-lethal weapons, Feb 1995, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Feb1995/x021795_x0217nlw.html

 DOD Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program, http://www.defenselink.mil/locator/records/000893.html

 DOD Joint Non-Lethal Weapons program, http://iis.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil/jnlwd/

 Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/nld3.html (List of papers; files are in Adobe 3.0 and are slow to download)

 TRADOC PAM 525-73, C1, "Concept for Nonlethal Capabilities in Army Operations," http://www-tradoc.monroe.army.mil/tpubs/pams/p525-73.htm

 United States Army Infantry Center, Fort Benning, Georgia 31905-5000 27 April 1998, "Infantry Branch Concept for Tactical Nonlethal Capabilities," http://www.benning.army.mil/dcd/

 United States Marine Corps Non-Lethal Weapons Program: http://www.hqmc.usmc.mil/poswebpage.nsf/852564750060e4c88525645d006f6979/529bac6bf7fa02d685256667005c3c98?OpenDocument

Opposition sites

 "'Non-lethal' weapons: precipitating a new arms race," by Robin M. Coupland, Surgeon, British Medical Journal, Volume 315, 12 July 1997, pg. 72, http://netaccess.on.ca/~raven1/bmj315.htm (Includes bibliography)

 "Nonlethal Weapons, A Global Issue," by Cheryl Hopkins, http://www.morethanconquerors.simplenet.com/MCF/welsh598.htm (includes bibliography); see also Citizens Against Human Rights Abuse site http://www.calweb.com/~welsh/index.htm

Chemical Weapons

 US military publications of interest include US Army Field Manual 3-9, Military Chemistry and Chemical Compounds, October 1975; Field Manual 3-9, Potential Military Chemical/Biological Agents and Compounds, December 1990; and Field Manual 8-9, NATO Handbook on the Medical Aspects of NBC Defensive Operations, August 1973. I didn't see these publications posted to the Internet, but that is probably because some of the material in them is proprietary and therefore protected by copyright.

 That said, if you can't find more details about CS, CN, OC, etc., on the Internet than you know what to do with, then you aren't trying. For a sample chemical defense site, see the site posted by Hazmat Chemical Associates,

Unarmed Combatives

 Martial art texts abound, and are indeed a separate topic. But for an introduction to current US Army doctrine, read Field Manual 21-150, "Combatives", Some older editions are also available online or in public libraries; the 1942 edition is of particular interest to Danzan Ryu jujutsu stylists because it was heavily influenced by the teachings of Henry Okazaki.

 The Marine Corps has separate doctrine, and for public discussions of its various programs, none of which have proven entirely satisfactory, see Marine Corps Gazette. Recommended readings include Capt. Charles M. Dunne, "Elimination of Combat Hitting Skills from Recruit Training: Cutting Our Nose Off to Spite Our Face" (December 1998) and Capt. Clinton J. Chlebowski, "Grappling with Close Combat" (October 1999). To order copies, send US $2.50 per article requested to the Editor, Marine Corps Gazette, Box 1775, Quantico, VA  22134. If foreign, remember to add another dollar to cover international postage.

 You also might check the websites belonging to the militaries and police forces of the various NATO countries. For example, there are some intriguing bibliographic suggestions on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website at http://www.rcmp-learning.org.

JNC Nov 1999.