Soldiers are not good policemen. They are trained for the extreme environment of war, when they must kill quickly and efficiently or be killed themselves. Police are trained to work in a different way. They are most effective when they live in the neighborhood they patrol, and know all the people. They rarely shoot their guns, and prefer to depend on authority and persuasion. When those fail, they have a host of less lethal weapons to try.

Many of these are well-known, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, bean bags, and tasers (named in honor of Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle). These have recently been supplemented with more sophisticated technology. “Fire pellets” are like paint balls but filled with pepper spray. “Stinger grenades” explode with rubber pellets and pepper gas; they can also give a blinding flash and frightening bang. Guns that shoot wooden dowels do more than hurt—they inflict debilitating but usually non-fatal injury.

The military capability in the use of less lethal weapons is growing. An illustrative example occurred last year. A large group of Iraqi civilians (estimated over a thousand) was looting buildings in the Rasheed Military Base of the Republican Guard. U.S. soldiers, armed only with lethal weapons that they were forbidden to use against looters, were helpless. But the area was cleared ten minutes after the arrival of eight soldiers who had been trained in Los Angeles Police Department riot control techniques. Their weapons were bean bags, rubber bullets, stinger grenades, batons, and a public address system with an Arabic speaker. (This example is taken from a recent report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.)

The list of available LLWs is growing. For denying access to large areas, the military now has a “mobile barrier foam system” that can spread a meter of foam containing tear gas over an area of 400 square meters. It would not stop a trained military force, but it would certainly deter most civilians. “Sticky foam” is a material shot out of a high-pressure gun system that can be carried by a single soldier. It slimes the victim with a tacky material that makes it hard to move; it has been called a “high-tech lasso,” although it is more analogous to the ancient gladiator’s net. Microwave weapons can remotely deliver a painful (but supposedly harmless) burning sensation on the skin. Long-range nonlinear acoustic devices overcome the normal atmospheric diffraction of sound to direct a narrow beam at a target; I saw one demonstrated last year. This sound can confuse and disorient individuals and groups.

More here.