FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- With increased awareness about the capabilities and uses of nonlethal weapons, the Marine Corps detachment here that instructs trainers for all the military services may soon be expanding its program.
A review of the two-week "train the trainer" course in nonlethal weapons is expected to provide insights into how to enhance the training and extend its reach, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dan Choike, commander of Marine Corps Detachment Fort Leonard Wood, told the American Forces Press Service.
Choike said the review of the Interservice Nonlethal Individual Weapons Instructor Course will help identify gaps in the current training, particularly in light of new technologies being developed. It's also expected to provide a blueprint for training areas and facilities needed to support that training.
The Marine Corps took the lead within DoD for nonlethal weapons 10 years ago, and the school here trains 350 to 370 servicemembers a year, most from the Army and Marine Corps. These trainers, in turn, return to their home bases to share their new skills with other servicemembers.
"We're looking at the possibility of expanding into more than a 'train the trainer' concept and possibly taking on more students," Choike said. "We're definitely expecting growth in the next couple of years."
In addition, a joint service team is reviewing the curriculum developed by Marine Corps military police with input from the other services, to be sure it meets their current needs and is keeping up with ever-changing nonlethal weapons technology being fielded.
The expansion, if approved, is likely to require more training space and facilities, Choike noted.
Currently, nonlethal weapons training is restricted to classrooms and one military police range here. That means that for some nonlethal systems, there's no opportunity for students to get hands-on training; they can learn about the weapons in the classroom, but don't get to try them out, Choike said.
This creates a serious training shortfall because students don't get to see the effects of the weapons firsthand, he said. They may not, for example, get to see that rubber balls, if fired in quarters that are too close, can boomerang back to harm the shooter, or that some systems can be lethal if used improperly.
Nonlethal weapons are assuming a bigger role in the defense arsenal, particularly in situations such as riot and crowd control and in many urban scenarios like those troops face in Iraq.
"They're proving valuable in policing types of actions, when your first response is not necessarily to kill or harm, but to control," Choike said. By using nonlethal weapons, he said troops often can help prevent violence from escalating and reduce collateral damage.
Unlike traditional weapons, nonlethal weapons are designed to intimidate or inflict pain or discomfort, but not to kill, he explained.
They range from devices that send out ear-splitting noises to pepper spray to sting-ball grenades to plastic bullets to batons.
Other systems being developed or tested include a gel-like substance that's so slippery that people can't walk or drive on it, "malodorants" that smell so bad they send people fleeing, a sticky foam that stops people in their tracks and a device that projects a laser beam, causing an adversary's skin to feel like it's burning.
The laser device, called the Active Denial System, won Popular Science magazine's Best of What's New Award in general technology in 2001.
As nonlethal technology develops, there's little debate within the Defense Department that they'll play a greater role in the future.
"We anticipate more interest and more growth," Choike said. "What we need to do is ensure that we're prepared to offer the training necessary to support that growth."