Substantial Measures for Substantial Riots

The IDF must be capable of handling large-scale violent demonstrations. Ofer Fridman reviews the systems capable of providing Israel with a modicum of tranquility at the focal points of the conflict

Substantial Measures for Substantial Riots

Apparently, it would be very hard to claim that the political-security situation that evolved in the Ukraine in recent months had taken the world by surprise. EuroMaidan square, one of Kiev’s primary squares, was under siege as of November 21, 2013. Government security forces, which included, among other units, Berkut – the famous Ukrainian special police unit, failed in their attempts to cope with the deteriorating violence. The situation escalated substantially on February 18, 2014, almost three months after the riots had begun, when violent demonstrators clashed with police forces. This serious clash left 82 dead, including 13 policemen, and led to an international crisis between Russia and the West.

The question of “who’s right and who’s wrong” in the context of the response to the outbreak of the present crisis is significantly less important than the actual reasons that had led to this situation. One of the primary reasons that led to the “Ukrainian Revolution”, a name given to the conflict by news reporters around the world, was the inability of the local security forces to cope with large-scale violent riots without exacerbating the violence and increasing the number of casualties. At the same time, one should bear in mind the fact that the Ukrainian police was not the first law enforcement agency to fail in this undertaking. While some may think, quite wrongly, that this problem is a disadvantage exclusive to unstable or autocratic regimes, the  riots in France in 2005 or the events of 2011 in London proved that even advanced western police forces are unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with large-scale civilian riots.

At first glance, the situation in Israel should be different. The IDF and police forces succeed in coping with violent demonstrations by Palestinians on a regular, daily basis. Locations such as Bil’in, Ni’lin, Silwad, Beitunia and many others have long been established as battlefields between Palestinians armed with rocks and slingshots and the Israeli security forces, armed with an extensive range of riot control measures. As long as the number of rioters does not exceed a few hundred, the training and equipment of the Israeli security forces are more than adequate to maintain the violence at a tolerable level.

On the other hand, the events of Nakba Day 2011 on the Golan Heights proved that coping with more violent riots demands tools that are more effective than those that have been available to this day. One of the lessons of Nakba Day 2011 was the introduction of the “Venom” Non-Lethal Tube Launch Munition system, designed to cope with large-scale violent riots through the launching and dispensing of massive amounts of CS (tear) gas to considerable distances of up to 150 meters. While the introduction of this system received extensive media coverage (by this magazine, among others), it is apparently important to discuss similar systems being used around the world and providing similar solutions.

The first and talked about system is the famous “Venom” Non-Lethal Tube Launch Munition system, manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems (CTS), which is in active use in Israel. The system consists of thirty launching tubes divided into modules of ten tubes each. The operational success of the Venom system may be attributed to the simplicity of its launcher module on the one hand, and on its cutting-edge munitions on the other hand. CTS keeps the system as simple as possible, with no investment in a traverse and elevation mechanism or complex command systems. At the same time, the launching module itself offers a unique technological advantage – replaceable munitions cassettes. When reloading, the operator replaces the entire cassette for each 10 tube module (instead of loading the tubes one by one), thereby reducing the reloading time considerably. The Venom system fires 38mm electrically primed munitions designed especially for it. The range of munitions includes tear gas munitions, stun munitions, kinetic munitions, et al. Each tube can handle up to four sub-munitions. The system is effective to ranges of up to 150 meters.

“Iron Fist” is another US-made system, manufactured by one of CTS’s major competitors – Nonlethal Technologies, Inc. Although the Iron Fist launcher tube system appears to be very similar to the launcher tube array of the Venom system, its method of operation is radically different. The primary advantage of the Iron Fist system stems from the fact that the system fires standard 38mm munitions. Like the Venom system, the launcher tube array of the Iron Fist lacks a traverse and elevation mechanism, but reloading takes much longer as each tube must be loaded separately. At the same time, the fact that the Iron Fist system uses less costly standard munitions positions the system as a competitive alternative.

The “Lafet” system was developed by JSC Applied Chemistry & RD of Russia. Unlike the US-made systems, the Lafet system has a massive traverse and elevation mechanism, a built-in high-quality camera and a substantial illumination device. The Lafet system has a launching array for twelve 50mm ready-to-launch munitions designed especially for this system. The range of munitions includes stun cluster munitions, tear gas, white smoke and even liquid CS. The effective range of this system is up to 100 meters, depending on the type of munitions being launched. The system is controlled by a sophisticated remote-control unit that includes a display screen, a joystick and launching buttons. With all of these advantages, the Lafet system appears to be much more effective and sophisticated than its US-made competitors, the Venom system and the Iron Fist system, but the limited amount of munitions (12) and the reloading interval, which can be as long as 5 minutes, place this system’s ability to cope with large-scale riots in serious question.

The final system hails from a South Korean company - Korea CNO Tech Co. It is the “Stak” Multiple Launcher machine, offering the best compromise between the US-made systems and the Russian Lafet system. Like the Iron Fist system, the Stak machine fires standard 38mm munitions, which significantly reduces costs. Its launching array may consist of 9, 15 or 30 tubes, according to the client’s demand. The launching tube array is mounted on a small traverse and elevation mechanism that enables the direction and range to be adjusted during actual launching. The Stak system has a built-in camera (although this camera is not as massive as that of the Lafet system) to enable remote control. On the one hand, the Stak system is not as massive and simple as the Venom or Iron Fist systems, but on the other hand it is not as overly-sophisticated as the Lafet system.

In conclusion, it is important to stress, as stated above, that the IDF and Israel Police have already chosen the Venom system. At the same time, and regardless of the reasons that had led to this choice, it is still essential to be familiar with the characteristics of other riot-control systems being used around the world. ž

Ofer Friedman is a doctoral student at University of Reading in Britain and head of nonlethal weaponry projects at the LHB Company

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