Send in the drones


Over at Forbes magazine, the very clever Michael Peck writes on a new move to place new technology on other new technology for an old purpose. It may take a while for the Pentagon to get what it wants loaded handily onto drones, but when it does we have anticipated it with optional rule 8.6 for Civil Power:

8.6 Helicopters (And now Drones!)

In the existing rule, Helicopters already come equipped with a searchlight plus the Police player’s choice one of a Gas Gun, a Sniper or an Active Denial System (optional rule 8.3). It’s easy enough to add a Baton Rounds capability to the aircraft (optional rule 8.1) reflecting the non-lethal munitions requirement; the Height Advantage of the Helicopter (now a drone) defeats the shelter a Barricade or Hedge would have given against these munitions. 

In the existing rule, Helicopters are eliminated by a “K” result in Fire combat. For balance, let us give Trained Crowds (1-6-3-3) laser pointers and let them apply their Fire Combat strength of 1 with infinite range against drones only, and treat a drone target as an individual, so it is removed on a “W” or “K” result (so 4 or more Trained Crowds using their laser pointers have a reasonable chance of overloading its sensors and bringing it down, as happened in Chile in 2019 ( , see illustration above). Again, if it is a drone, its crashing to the ground will not be so dramatic an event so it would simply be removed.  

Helicopters are fairly expensive at 70 points each, but we have made them easier to shoot down, so let us say that if the Police player buys one (as a drone) with a Gas Gun, Baton Rounds or Sniper system aboard, it will automatically be replaced within 1d6 turns if it is eliminated. A drone with an Active Denial System aboard is removed from the game when shot down. Also, they are machines, and no one cares about machines: eliminating a drone does not add to the Tactical Disintegration Number (optional rule 8.9). For a bit more balance, we can also assume that a small drone will not have a lot of munitions aboard, so roll a 1d6 every time a drone uses any of these systems and remove it on a roll of “6”. It will be replaced 1d6 turns later, as above.  

However, I am not writing rules for the “optogenics modulation of high magnetic fields to disrupt the human nervous system”. That’s just freaky.

The Pentagon Wants To Arm Drones With Non-Lethal Lasers And Microwave Cannon
Michael Peck, Contributor, Aerospace & Defense Mar 8, 2021,10:29am EST

These devices would include exotic non-lethal gear, including directed energy weapons such as low-powered lasers and microwave beams, as well as more familiar weapons such as stun grenades and stink bombs. These weapons would equip aerial drones and manned and robotic ground vehicles, as well naval surface and underwater craft.

For most of history, armies have only enjoyed a binary option: either use lethal force or don’t use force at all. Employing regular troops – who often lacked appropriate equipment and training – for missions such as riot control and civil policing often had bloody and politically embarrassing results.

But a new generation of non-lethal weapons – and the advent of small drones able to carry them – offers new options for armies preparing for gray zone warfare, that netherworld populated by information operations, cyberattacks, state-sponsored political and militant groups, and special forces operations. For U.S. commanders dreading social media video of American troops firing bullets at a mob, a robot that can disperse rioters with a non-lethal laser or microwave cannon would be a godsend.

The Pentagon is examining multiple non-lethal weapons for tasks such as disabling people or vehicles, according to the research solicitation published by the U.S. Navy, which is acting on behalf of the other services. These weapons, called Intermediate Force Capability, include:

  • lasers to dazzle an opponent.
  • 12-gauge/40-mm non-lethal munitions, including “blunt impact, flashbang, riot control agents, human electro-muscular incapacitation and malodorant” devices
  • long-range acoustic hailing devices,
  • directed energy weapons “such as counter-electronics (e.g., high power microwave weapons) and Active Denial Technologies (ADT ADT +3.2%).”

Particularly intriguing is a call for development of “optogenics modulation of high magnetic fields” to disrupt the human nervous system. The proposal also mentions using drones for broadcasting long-range “hail and warn” messages,  as well as access denial devices to discourage people from moving into designated areas.

The Pentagon wants small weapons that can fit on small platforms, so they should be less than 3 cubic feet in size and weigh no more than 50 to 100 pounds. Given that directed energy weapons such as lasers gulp electricity, it is not surprising that the military wants systems that don’t neither require a lot of power nor run so hot that they need elaborate cooling equipment (temperatures should range from minus 55 degrees Centigrade to 125 degrees).

Phase I of the project calls for developing “non-lethal stimuli.” Drone payloads should be less than 3 cubic feet and weigh no more than 50 to 100 pounds.

The Pentagon also wants equipment with a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than “payloads that cost more than $1 million.”

“Phase I will not require human subject or animal subject testing,” the Navy added.

Phase II calls for integrating these non-lethal weapons on small manned tactical vehicles as well as drones. The Pentagon’s Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office (JIFCO, formerly the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate) “maintains a set of counter-personnel human effects and weapon effectiveness models and a full set of counter-personnel and counter-material test targets at various DoD labs,” notes the Navy, which suggests these weapons will not be tested on humans.

If the projects succeeds, it’s not just the military that will be using exotic non-lethal weapons. Other potential users include the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security – and even Customs and Border Security, according to the Navy. “Local civilian law enforcement has these specific type of missions to support both counter-personnel and counter-materiel missions for law enforcement as well as to mitigate terrorist acts. Currently overall system size, weight, and cost have hindered the use of these systems by these agencies.”

The project appears more than feasible. Machine guns and anti-tank missiles are already mounted on drones, robot tanks and the manned dune buggy-like tactical vehicles by special forces units. Mounting weapons like lasers shouldn’t be that difficult, assuming that scientists can miniaturize them sufficiently to fit on a small platform.

The Navy says these non-lethal drones will be used across the Range of Military Operations (ROMO), which includes conventional combat operations, as well as irregular warfare and civic stabilization operations. This raises the question of whether non-lethal weapons could be used on conventional battlefields when governments decide that it’s better to incapacitate than kill opposing forces.

Either way, the advent of drone swarms – hordes of small robots that overwhelm a target – combined with miniaturized non-lethal weapons raises the possibility of future warfare where deadly force isn’t the only option. The fact that these non-lethal weapons can also be used by law enforcement raises another possibility: instead of calling out the riot police, authorities can call out the riot drones.


About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

4 Responses to Send in the drones

  1. sunray42 says:

    As it happens I was recently reading Arthur Harris memoirs about the use of airpower in COIN operations between the wars (Afghanisatan/Irak/and Palestine 🙂 ) and thought this was a cracker of a statement:

    ” The rules for rebellion in Palestine appeared to me to get simpler every day. For the British forces they amounted to this; you must not get rough, no matter how rough the “enemy” is. If the “enemy” gets particularly rough and you get rougher and kill any noticeable number of his men, even if only with the aim of saving your own men, then it is just too bad for you.

    My advice to all young commanders in all services is, whenever you see any prospect of being called out “in aid of the civil power” in any part of the world, to get to hell out of there as quickly and as far as you can. If you fail by being too soft you will be sacked; if you succeed by being tough enough, you will certainly be told you were too tough, and you may be for it. Therefore I say that the best thing to do is to take long leave, or to get transferred, or to retire and buy yourself a farm; do anything, in fact, sooner than get involved “in aid of the civil power.”

    There are two things you can get from aiding the civil power, and two things only—brickbats and blame. If you do not mind either of these things it can at times be quite amusing, especially if you are in a position to watch the machinations and the wrigglings of “the civil power” itself.

    Harris, Arthur. Bomber Offensive: Marshal of the R.A.F Sir Arthur Harris (Pen & Sword Military Classics) . Pen and Sword Aviation. Kindle Edition.

    • brtrain says:

      Sounds like something Harris would say, since his preferred method was the 1940s equivalent of “nuke the entire site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.”

      Have you read Unofficial History by William Slim? The chapter on his company being called out for “Aid to the Civil” is great.

      • sunray42 says:

        I will have to check Slims commentary, as usual I end up with a new reading list everytime I go on your blog !

        I am a fan of Harris: uncompromising achievement of the aim, didn’t ignore new and novel technological methods, (OR/Radar.ESM) great judge of character and fantastic trainer and organiser with a fierce defence of his men and women – reciprocated even though they took over 60% casualties, higher than all other arms and services I believe, way ahead of his time.
        The fact that more slippery characters around him dodged the ethical questions later in the war and afterwards did him a massive disservice, as he had already checked that ROE box years before.
        Nobody whinged about Truman dropping the bomb or burning Japan into cinders – that was to “prevent casualties” – double standards.

        • brtrain says:

          Yeah, a few people have alluded to leaving my company with a reading list… that’s probably why I never get asked back anywhere.

          Not attacking Harris for the job he did, which was to turn Germany into a car park – he did it well and used all his advantages.
          But he was not a policeman.

          As for the Bomb, I think that was almost as much to frighten the Soviets as to shock the Japanese… more atom bombs would just be bouncing the rubble the conventional-bomb firestorms had left.

          PS: I’m thinking of declaring this blog a “whataboutism-free zone” – it doesn’t solve anything and will just get you a yellow card!

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