Report calls $819 million Non-lethal Weapons Program a waste of money

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Report calls $819 million Non-lethal Weapons Program a waste of money

Over the years there have been many gee wizz articles on the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program and its potential weapons that stop but don't kill people. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office comprehensively demolishes the Program, finding fault with almost every aspect of its work.

Over 12 years were spent developing useless systems, weapons were fielded without proper testing or adequate supplies of ammunition, and over $817 million dollars were wasted.

Established in 1996, the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program is supposed to be the U.S. military’s central clearinghouse for researching, developing, testing, and training troops on these less-than-lethal arms.

Take R&D, for instance. “The Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program has conducted more than 50 research and development efforts and spent at least $386 million since 1997, but it has not developed any new weapons,” the report says.

Perhaps the biggest flop was the Program’s most visible project — the Active Denial System, a microwave “pain beam” design to send crowds running. The core technology mostly works. But the system’s logistics make it way too tough to bring to a warzone.

Not only does it have “several subsystems that are too complex for extensive field repair,” according to the GAO. The system needs “about 16 hours” to reach its supercool operating temperature, “making it difficult to use on short notice unless the compressor is kept continuously running.”

The latest “prototype weighs more than 9 tons, and has been mounted on a heavier vehicle than the first prototype to accommodate additional armor and air-conditioning. Because of its weight, it is not easily used for missions requiring mobility.”

No wonder the program “terminated efforts” to deploy the Active Denial System overseas in 2008, after spending more than $55 million.

The reports also criticizes the Program for taking too long to recognize programs that simply aren’t getting anywhere. For example, there’s the Mobility Denial System, which used slippery foam to make area impassable to vehicles.

Development went on for eight years at a cost of about $10 million until it was canceled “because it did not meet combat developers’ needs and its extensive water requirement was considered a logistics burden.” The only positive outcome is for the guys who got to spend eight years having fun skidding jeeps and trucks over slippery foam.

Occasionally, the Program would buy systems from commercial vendors and field them “under urgent processes… in order to rapidly support an operational need.” But those efforts often ran into logistical roadblocks, too.

The report cites the FN303 Less-Lethal Launching System, or “paintball gun on steroids.” The military spent about $2 million to evaluate it, only to terminate the effort because “the weapon was too heavy and ergonomically cumbersome, the weapon and ammunition magazine was too fragile, and the weapon required compressed air canisters in order to launch its non-lethal munitions.

However, several dozen FN-303s were fielded to units even though their utility was limited by the availability of the canisters and the infrastructure to replenish them.”

It cost $2 million to find that out? Note to developers: weapons aren’t much use without ammunition. Hopefully, this is a problem that the FN303’s replacement, the Variable Velocity Weapon System should solve.

The program did manage to field four items during the last dozen years: a 40 mm non-lethal crowd dispersal cartridge (a giant shotgun shell firing 48 rubber balls each of .48 caliber), the modular crowd control munition (a claymore mine firing 600 rubber balls), the portable vehicle arresting barrier ( a net device for catching vehicles which at a mere 645 pounds offers a new definition of ‘portable’) and the spiky Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Device,which is at least a bit more mobile (25 to 50 pounds depending on what you’re catching)

But the report notes that “of these, three are variations of or munitions for existing weapons, and the portable vehicle arresting barrier was in an early stage of development” when the Program took over.

In other words, in the last twelve years the GAO don’t appear to credit the developers with developing and fielding anything.

The Pentagon seems to be accepting the criticism with hardly a murmur. The GAO showed them an early version of the report and say that: “The DOD concurred with five of our recommendations, partially concurred with the other three, and described actions it is taking or will take to implement all of the recommendations.”

Much more on the link
By netchicken: posted on 29-4-2009

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