Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.
Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns, said Secretary Michael Wynne.
“If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,” said Wynne. “(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press.”
The Air Force has funded research into nonlethal weapons, but he said the service isn’t likely to spend more money on development until injury issues are reviewed by medical experts and resolved.
Nonlethal weapons generally can weaken people if they are hit with the beam. Some of the weapons can emit short, intense energy pulses that also can be effective in disabling some electronic devices.
On another subject, Wynne said he expects to pick a new contractor for the next generation of aerial refueling tankers by next summer. He said a draft request for bids will be put out next month, and there are two qualified bidders: The Boeing Co. and a team of Northrop Grumman Corp. and European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the majority owner of European jet maker Airbus SAS.
The contract is expected to be worth at least $20 billion.
Chicago-based Boeing lost the tanker deal in 2004 amid revelations that it had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who had given the company preferential treatment.
Air Force tightens its belt
Wynne also said the Air Force, which is already chopping 40,000 active duty, civilian and reserves jobs, is now struggling to find new ways to slash about $1.8 billion from its budget to cover costs from the latest round of base closings.
He said he can’t cut more people, and it would not be wise to take funding from military programs that are needed to protect the country. But he said he also encounters resistance when he tries to save money on operations and maintenance by retiring aging aircraft.
“We’re finding out that those are, unfortunately, prized possessions of some congressional districts,” said Wynne, adding that the Air Force will have to “take some appetite suppressant pills.” He said he has asked employees to look for efficiencies in their offices.
The base closings initially were expected to create savings by reducing Air Force infrastructure by 24 percent.