The U.S. Army recently asked high-tech defense firms for ideas on how to develop a non-lethal weapon capable of knocking out remote weapon stations on enemy vehicles without endangering nearby civilians.
"The sociopolitical ramifications of collateral damage, especially the type of damage that can be inflicted with traditional anti-armor assets, have made it increasingly difficult for the dismounted soldier to engage lightly armored vehicles," according to an April 20 solicitation posted on www.sibr.gov, a government website for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is designed to encourage small business to engage in federal research and development.
Remote weapon stations, or RWS, are "often highly instrumented to provide vision, range finding as well as weapon stabilization," the solicitation states.
"If the instrumentation can be blinded or the stabilization destroyed, they become far less dangerous to the dismounted soldier and the civilian population as a whole," it continues. "If the entire electronics of the RWS can be disrupted, even basic traversing and firing functions become disabled."
The solicitation, which closed to submissions June 20, sheds new light on the Army's increased emphasis on electromagnetic and other non-kinetic weapons to give dismounted soldiers an edge on future battlefields in densely populated areas.
In addition to enemy vehicles, weapons such as surface-to-air missiles systems that are placed near housing, hospitals, schools and other civilian structures make it more difficult for ground forces to engage them.
"The ability to disable these targets in a manner that provides for very low collateral damage, with respect to civilian loss of life, would increase the effectiveness of the dismounted soldier in the modern, news-centric, politically charged environment," the solicitation states.
The goal of the effort would be to develop a system that could be deployed by a single dismounted soldier in an urban setting, according to the solicitation.
"The mechanism must be easy to deploy by an individual soldier and inexpensive enough that dismounted soldiers feel free to deploy them," the solicitation states. "The proposed mechanism must be able to be delivered in a payload weighing less than five pounds, and be effective in disabling or disrupting the intended component of the mechanized system in under 5 minutes."
There is no timeline given, but the initial phase of the effort directs firms to "evaluate multiple non-kinetic-kill mechanisms that can provide either a mobility kill, defeat of a remote weapon station with a low collateral damage mechanism for leveling the playing field against mechanized assets."
The Army is interested in prototypes that feature different modes that can be selected "prior to deployment in order to maximize their utility against various armored vehicles (ie. light vehicle vs. structure)," the solicitation states.
The effort will also involve working with the Defense Department, the National Institutes of Justice and law enforcement agencies to develop guidelines for the use of these devices.
"It is imperative that these mechanisms are not viewed as lethal to bystanders save for concerns of an accidental kinetic effect from the deployment itself," the solicitation states. "Evaluate the mechanism's utility versus its propensity for accidental collateral (property) damage."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.