Non-Lethal Weapons

Non-lethal weapons provide a military commander with a means of applying force that is something less than a total destruction of the opponent and may be less harmful to the environment. Non-lethal weapons are used to:

  • Control crowds
  • Incapacitate Personnel
  • Deny an Area to Personnel
  • Deny an Area to Vehicles
  • Disable or Neutralize Vehicles, Aircraft, Vessels or Facilities
  • Seize Personnel
  • Clear Facilities of Personnel

Conventional weapons and overwhelming force can be used for all of these purposes, but sometimes only at the cost of significant collateral damage, serious injuries and deaths. Non-lethal weapons can reduce these risks, contributing to a military resolution to the conflict that will not be at odds with the political resolution of the conflict.

  • An angry mob could certainly be subdued and dispersed with small arms fire, but with significant loss of life. The same mob might be dispersed using a noxious gas, or rubber bullets, usually without serious injury.
  • An individual resisting efforts to take him prisoner could probably be shot or clubbed into submission, but with significant risk of serious injury or death. The same individual might be easily taken prisoner with the use of a bean-bag shot or a stun-gun, neither of which would be as likely to cause injury to the individual.
  • Some other non-lethal techniques include lasers or bright lights to "dazzle" and disorient.

"Non-lethal" is not the same as harmless, and "non-lethal" doesn't always mean non-lethal. "Non-lethal really means "lethal less often than a lot of other things."

  • Lethal heart arrythmias have followed the standard application of an electrical "stun gun."
  • Lethal asthma attacks have followed the use of CS gas for riot control.
  • Both rubber and plastic bullets have resulted in deaths from skull fractures or closed head injuries, and permanent blindness for those struck in the eye.
  • Individuals dazzled by bright lights or lasers may be incapable of safely navigating an aircraft or vehicle, resulting in death.

As a medical provider in military settings, it may prove useful to become familiar with the various non-lethal weapons and the injuries they can cause. These weapons include:

Stinger Grenade

Bean Bag projectiles

No. 23FS-Rubber Fin Stabilized Round

CS Gas (Tear Gas)

CN Gas (Mace)

High Intensity Light


For more information, read: 


More Information on Operational Safety

From Operational Medicine 2001: Health Care in Military Settings
CAPT Michael John Hughey, MC, USNR
  January 1, 2001

Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Department of the Navy, 2300 E Street NW, Washington, D.C, 20372-5300
United States Special Operations Command, 7701 Tampa Point Blvd., MacDill AFB, Florida, 33621-5323

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