Dept. of Wishful Thinking and Fascinating Fictions

Posted in Crazy Weapons at 11:30 am by George Smith

Via Cryptome, a USAF document, large in size, listing the definitions (and sources thereof) for everything mentioned about non-lethal weapons from the past twenty years. At least.

Although the war on terror has been hard on the efficacy of alleged non-lethal wonder weapons, the crackpot nature of most of them remains vital.

Outside of Tasers (which are demonstrably not non-lethal), tear gases, water cannon trucks, pepper sprays, flash bang grenades and beanbag ammo loads, non-lethal weapons ‘science research’ has been virtually a complete zero, from worthless gadgets to pure fictions except in the minds of developers and wishful thinkers.

One of the best examples is the never-ending story of the pain ray. In development for at least a decade, touted as a revolution in military affairs and on network tv, it was taken to Afghanistan and brought back — silently — without firing a shot.

Back at the work of shooting reporters for the sake of regular news stories, a variant of it is being peddled into prisons where targets can’t retaliate against it.

“Non-lethal Weapons: Terms & References” contains more non-lethal weapon arcana than you can shake a bundle of sticks at.

Produced by the US Air Force’s Institute for National Security Studies in Denver, Colorado, it indirectly affords a look at the large industry devoted to making shit that really doesn’t work. But which makes for delightful storytelling.

Some of the examples:

Barrier Foam, Sticky: A name given to a polymer-based superadhesive agent … It is extremely persistent and is virtually impossible to remove without a liquid solvent which has a pleasant citrus odor … Sticky foam came to public attention on February 28, 1995 when US marines used it in Mogadishu, Somalia …

Most Americans remember Somalia from Black Hawk Down.

The use of sticky foam in Somalia is a type of rewrite of history, one of very thin sourcing, in this case notably, Sid Heal, a commander in the LA County Sheriff’s Department who spent a career promoting non-lethal weapons. To little effect. For example, unless DD has missed something, sticky foam never made an appearance in southern California.

In fact, after fifteen years in southern California, evien with a cheerleader like Heal in law enforcement the entire time, use of prosaic non-lethals is just what you’d expect. Tasers, beanbag loads and beating people up through weight of numbers. And a few years ago a judge was reprimanded for famously shocking a defendant, bound in an electrocuting truss, for trying to speak up too much in court.

Sticky foam, however, is well-known for having been used on the Incredible Hulk in the first movie, directed by Ang Lee. Where it failed spectacularly.

Another fascinating reference from non-lethal cracked pottery:

Biotechnical, Pheromones: The chemical substances released by animals to influence physiology or behavior of other members of the same species. One use of pheromones, at the most elemental level, could be to mark target individuals, then to release bees to attack them. This would result in forcing them to exit an area or abandon resistance.

Apparently, bees were wished for in 1995. Earlier this decade, bomb-sniffing bees were thought to be something that might be useful in Iraq.

However, bees have proven stubbornly unsuitable for general use by police forces and the US military. Poor bees. It wasn’t their fault.

Also scintillating, this bit of fantasy, beloved for years:

Reactant, Liquid Metal Embrittlement: Agents operate by altering the molecular structure of base metals or alloys and could significantly interfere with the operation of aircraft, vehicles, metal treads and bridge supports to which they were applied …

Reactant, LME Graffiti: Graffiti used to mask an LME strike against a bridge or other target. Great potential for terrorist use. Example: Phone call to law enforcement stating than an LME strike has been used against one of a number of bridges in a city using red LME graffiti.

Good thing it doesn’t exist or LA would really be in trouble.

Full of the intriguing rubbish of non-lethal fact and mythology, “Non-Lethal Weapons: Terms and References” — is here.


  1. Major Variola (ret) said,

    January 31, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Actually, liquid mercury metal is a hazard to aluminum and not allowed on airplanes for that reason.

    BTW, have you tried acetylene dispersers on diesels? I hear the precombustion works wonders. Very wide explosive range too.

    As a chemist would be please debunk these? Or show them to be wildly impractical?

  2. George Smith said,

    January 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    The general rule is that non-chemist military men and applications guys thinking about non-lethal always get carried away with the properties of various elements and compounds.

    When I was a kid I could think of a lot of nuisance things to do with a chemistry set. But it was more practical joke work than practical. And as one gets ahold of progressively more toxic substances with interesting qualities, the more education and equipment one needs to handle them safely. Then you approach the phenom of diminishing returns, too much required to achieve a result and a hair line between that and lethality.

    And at the same point you cross over straight into lethal administration of exotic chemicals. The most famous case of which is Russian use of fentanyl, which was hardly non-lethal.

    But lots of people have always believed this trash. I remember reading in the run-up to the deployment to Afghanistan, some fool wrote in an op-ed piece in the LA Times that we would be using sleep gas on al Qaeda and the Taliban. That worked well.

    I’d have to look at all the entries in the paper more closely to take a stab at your question. I remember speeding over something have to do with acetylene.