Concepts & Programs HomeProgramsFocus Area 4: Modernization & TechnologyPart 4: Fire SupportDOD NLWP

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Tory Martin, a rifleman with 3rd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and 20-year-old native of Twentynine Palms, Calif., reaches into his drop pouch for a non-lethal Stingball grenade while participating in a crowd-control scenario in a simulated urban village on Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, Aug. 15, 2012. The training was part of a two-week test readiness review fielded by the Quantico, Va.-based Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate and the Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Experimentation Center. The DoD Non-Lethal Weapons Program, headed by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, trains operating forces on escalation of force options to minimize casualties and collateral damage, said Kelley Hughes, a directorate spokesperson.


Non-lethal weapons (NLW) complement lethal effects, enhance the Joint Force’s adaptability to increasingly complex operating environments, and support strategic objectives that include minimizing civilian casualties, limiting unintended infrastructure damage, and denying critical areas.

The DoD NLW Program has its foundation in U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni’s vision on the utility of non-lethal weapons in military operations and aggressive support in fielding these unique capabilities. Lt. Gen Zinni was charged with protecting the final withdrawal of United Nations forces from Somalia in 1995 as commander of the Combined Task Force for Operation UNITED SHIELD. He explored the prospects of using NLW to accomplish his mission and asked for a quick response in fielding these capabilities. The U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army teamed to provide available nonlethal weapon capabilities for use in and around Mogadishu.

On July 9, 1996, the DoD issued Directive 3000.3, Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons, which established policies and responsibilities for the development and employment of NLW and designated the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) as Executive Agent (EA) for the DoD NLW Program. The directive also defines NLW as weapons, devices, and munitions that are explicitly designed and primarily employed to incapacitate targeted personnel or materiel immediately, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property in the target area or environment. NLW are intended to have reversible effects on personnel and materiel.

The DoD NLW Program provides department-wide, interagency and international leadership for the advancement of NLW through the stimulation and coordination of related U.S. Armed Services requirements and allocates resources to help meet mission-critical needs. The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD), located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., serves as the DoD NLW Program EA’s day-to-day management office.

The U.S. Armed Services works with the combatant commanders and the EA through a joint process to identify requirements and coordinate the planning, programming, and funding of NLW research, development and acquisition. Within the DoD NLW Program, the JNLWD and the Services fund science and technology, research and development, as well as test and evaluation for NLW to advance the suite of NLW available to U.S. forces.

Operational Impact

NLW have wide-ranging and relevant mission applications, including:

  • Stability Operations
  • Gray Zone/Hybrid Conflicts
  • Noncombatant Evacuation Operations
  • Urban Operations/Megacities
  • High-Value Asset Apprehension
  • Checkpoint/Convoy Security
  • Crowd Dispersion
  • Perimeter/Area Security
  • Detainee Operations
  • Maritime Interdiction Operations

Most notably, NLW:

Provide Options – Offer means for national leadership, operational commanders, and warfighters to employ military force in the gap between presence and lethal conflict to reinforce national strategic interests and operational mission requirements.

Increase Decision Space and Time – Increase the space and time required to assess a potential threat and influence ambiguous or uncertain environments before escalating to deadly force.

Enable Maneuver – Enable active engagement in physical domains of maneuver in ways that mitigate escalation to conventional conflict and/ or diplomatic fracture while minimizing civilian casualties and limiting collateral damage.

Support the Narrative – Counter narratives used by adversaries to recruit and sustain their forces under the belief that the U.S. asserts its will lethally and risks populations through indiscriminate use of lethal force.

Reassure Partners – Demonstrate to allies and partners a spectrum of capabilities that can offset adversary actions and means across all phases of conflict and over the entire range of military operations.

Support National Values – Reinforces the moral source of American authority; providing tangible evidence to allies, partners, sympathetic populations, and global media of our just and humanitarian ethic while enhancing the physical and moral force protection of America’s all-volunteer force.

Build Partner Capacity – Provide capabilities to allies and partners to reinforce sovereign interests where they are uncompetitive in physical lethal response.