Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nonlethal weaponry 
Is nonlethal weaponry feasible? The Armchair Generalist lays out some of the issues here.

I mentioned something about the dream world of the nonlethal munition last night, in another post. Not because I am opposed to the nonlethal munition per se. Quite the contrary, there's enough death in the world already - we don't need to go out of our way to add to it, excepting killing terrorist orcs and their ilk.

But I believe as a practical matter, nonlethal munitions pose problems in areas where troops must routinely use lethal munitions, and anywhere where troops expect to be engaged themselves with deadly force. You cannot reliably mix lethal and nonlethal munitions in a basic combat load. The uniform basic load for a dismounted infantryman is (mumble mumble) magazines, plus one in the weapon.

It's not enough. (mumble mumble) rounds go fast in a firefight.

But soldiers cannot reliably carry significantly more ammo than that. Maybe one or two mags in their shirt pockets. Mags don't work too well in cargo pockets-they bang you to pieces. The point, though, is that the dismounted (or even mounted) soldier has a limited carrying capacity for ammunition.

Now, for every rubber bullet you give him, for every nonlethal munition you give him, that's that much fewer live rounds he can carry. So you send your troops out at a disadvantage.

Now Ali Baba, who has no compunction about using lethal munitions, has no such handicap. He's going to carry a full basic load of live ammo, and seek to engage our soldiers who themselves must carry, say, a 70%-30% mix. When our soldiers are pressed into a fight, that ammo shortage could well make the difference between our soldiers pursuing, and pressing the fight, and being pursued. It could make the difference between gaining fire superiority so we can maneuver against the enemy's flank and kill him, or having to conserve ammo, cede fire superiority, and be forced to withdraw or get flanked ourselves.

It could mean the difference between a small detachment holding out until reinforcements arrive, or getting overwhelmed. Imagine the Rangers in Mogadishu, surrounded in the marketplace that one horrible October night in 1993, if they had had to carry two mags of nonlethal in their UBL!

The situation was dicey enough. Every round counted. Would they have been able to hold out?

Maybe. Maybe not. You don't know ahead of time.

The nonlethal munition has great utility in law enforcement. New technologies will no doubt save thousands of people who ordinarily would have been shot down. And that's a good thing. Even if I don't like protesters-even dumbass, violent protesters, that's a far cry from wanting to see them dead.

But the nonlethal munition has limited utility in a combat zone, where the pitcher aims for the head, and woe be to the hitter who's not willing to first disable the catcher and then charge the mound swinging a bat.

Splash, out


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