Picture this: a tank commander is challenged by a protestor blocking the tank’s path. The tank must move forward but the protestor maneuvers left and right, blocking tank’s path.

Using the large gun against the protestor is foolish, and so is driving over the protestor, as PLA tanks did at the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

The vivid example was used by a top Army manager for close combat systems Joseph Pelino, to illustrate the Army’s need for non-lethal systems at a recent defense industry forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“If you think of that one civilian standing down a T72 tank, that said a lot," Pelino said. "What is the capability? Run the person over, do nothing or fire some type of system that can push the person away?”

Surprisingly, for an office that manages nearly half of the Army’s munitions systems, its non-lethal capabilities are few. One of its most recent systems is a gun that basically fires hot sauce at people.

Even Pelino admitted that non-lethal is an area which “there’s not a lot of focus on”. He warned “we’re going to be in a bad situation” if that doesn’t change.

The challenge doesn’t stop once non-lethal capabilities are achieved.

Pelino said the advent of autonomous vehicle systems and next generation combat vehicles will require less reliance on blunt impact.

“We do not want to fire blunt impact because there actually is an effect when you fire blunt impact," hinting at recent fears of autonomous systems making their own use of force decisions.

So “our needs are continuing to get away from blunt impact."

The solution, he says: “We’re looking at directed energy type systems”.