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News | Aug. 15, 2021

Integrating Lethal and Nonlethal Effects

By Maj Carri Salas Air Land Sea Application Center

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Article Originally Published in Air Land Sea Bulletin 2017-02, August 2017

How to View a Potential Target

There are numerous methods to effect enemy targets. Historically, the joint force focused on physical effects, which evolved into effects based opera­tions. A traditional example of this is dropping a bomb on an enemy building with the desired effect of destroying it. One problem however, is that the tar­geting methodology has not caught up with current capabilities.

In general, there are five catego­ries of characteristics by which targets can be defined: physical, functional, cognitive, environmental, and time (per Joint Publication 3-60, Joint Targeting). The physical characteristic includes electromagnetic signature; however, in the target development process, it is common for planners to only analyze the structural characteristics of a tar­get in preparation for a kinetic strike. An example of this would be planning to employ an aerial delivered munition against a target to produce a destruc­tive effect. As the physical characteris­tics of a target are evaluated for a pend­ing strike, the cognitive characteristics are often overlooked, which includes how the target processes information which could be exploited to produce desired effects.

In support of an upcoming op­eration, intelligence analysts deter­mine when an enemy command and control (C2) node must be disabled to facilitate the successful mission execu­tion. As the target is developed, targe­teers determined that dropping a bomb to destroy the C2 building will achieve the desired effect of denying the ene­my C2 communications. After further analysis, however, collateral damage concerns in proximity to the building become factors and a kinetic strike is no longer an acceptable option. Only after circumstances like these arise do planners explore other options to achieve the desired effects. This leads to a delay of mission to initiate de­veloping other means to achieve the desired effect; consequently, time be­comes a critical factor. To prevent this, all available options to engage a target must be considered from the beginning of the target development process, to achieve the desired effects in the most efficient and effective manner. If addi­tional options were developed for this target, such as an option to employ a network attack to disable enemy com­munications at the C2 node, the de­sired effects could still be achieved (in the desired timeframe) to successfully support the operation.

In the current environment, artillery members do not learn from these mistakes and choose to accept degradation in mission versus explor­ing better ways to mitigate complica­tions. The adversary’s threat modern­ization and sophistication is turning integration of nonkinetic effects from a historically enabling capability into a necessity. In future anti-access/ area denial fights, successful kinetic options may be predicated upon suc­cessful nonkinetic enablers. Combat environments are, inherently, dynamic and the joint force must have flexible options available to deliver desired ef­fects throughout all phases of the joint operation. The result is a more effective and efficient, deliberate and dynam­ic targeting process with the ability to achieve desired effects in a rapidly changing environment.

Changing how targets are viewed and prosecuted, in support of joint op­erations, cannot be accomplished by adjustments to the targeting process alone. Organizational structures, per­sonnel, and training requirements are additional areas that require examina­tion. These areas are key in develop­ing targeteers and targeting processes that leverage all available capabilities across multiple domains to present de­cision makers the optimal options to produce the desired effects.

The following photograph shows target destruction using kinetic effects.

Battle Damage Assessment
Pictured is a battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, following a United States (US) Tomahawk land attack missile strikes from the USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Porter (DDG 78), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers April 7, 2017. Targets such as these are viewed from a standpoint of how they can be destroyed using kinetic weapons without exploring potential NK means to achieve the desired effect. (Courtesy photo)
Battle Damage Assessment
Battle Damage Assessment
Pictured is a battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, following a United States (US) Tomahawk land attack missile strikes from the USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Porter (DDG 78), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers April 7, 2017. Targets such as these are viewed from a standpoint of how they can be destroyed using kinetic weapons without exploring potential NK means to achieve the desired effect. (Courtesy photo)
Photo By: US Navy
VIRIN: 170407-N-XX999-002

Pictured is a battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, following a United States (US) Tomahawk land attack missile strikes from the USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Porter (DDG 78), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers April 7, 2017. Targets such as these are viewed from a standpoint of how they can be destroyed using kinetic weapons without exploring potential NK means to achieve the desired effect. (Courtesy photo)


“The terms ‘lethal’ and ‘nonle­thal’ are currently recognized, although not formally defined, in joint doctrine. The existing dictionary definitions of these words describe them adequately. Joint doctrine refers to ‘lethal or non­lethal military force’ (Joint Publication [JP] 3-0, Joint Operations), ‘lethal and nonlethal fires’ (JP 3-09, Joint Fire Sup­port), and ‘lethal and nonlethal effects’ on targets (JP 3-09). This volume refers to the effects that both lethal and non­lethal weapons and fires have on tar­gets exactly as joint doctrine does.

“Two other terms are in wide­spread, informal, use as well: ‘kinetic’ and ‘nonkinetic’, [they are] intended to mean, roughly, weapons or actions that cause destruction of targets and those that do not. To avoid confusion, the joint doctrine community deliber­ately removed all references to ‘kinetic’ and ‘nonkinetic’ in joint doctrine, sub­stituting lethal and nonlethal. Nonethe­less, the terms, even though informal, have a somewhat different meaning. They have attained general recognition in the military and elsewhere in the US government, so that even [former] Presi­dent [Barack Obama] and his close ad­visors use them. President Obama, for instance, referred to ‘nonkinetic sup­port to [operations in Libya]’ in a letter to Congress concerning compliance with the War Powers Resolution (15 Jun 11).

“[These are] definitions that con­vey useful and distinct military meaning while keeping them as close as possible to the technical meaning of the terms in physics. Kinetic is: relating to ac­tions designed to produce effects using the forces and energy of moving bodies and directed energy, including physical damage to, alteration of, or destruction of targets. Kinetic actions can have le­thal or nonlethal effects. Nonkinetic is: relating to actions designed to produce effects without the direct use of the force or energy of moving objects and directed energy sources. Nonkinetic actions can have lethal or nonlethal effects.”[1]

For the purpose of this article, nonkinetic refers to capabilities or means other than traditional air-to-surface or surface-to-surface weapons (such as bombs or missiles) used to af­fect a target in a non-physically destruc­tive way. Kinetic refers to the tradition­al ways to provide destructive effects to a target (such as an aerially delivered bomb producing lethal effects). Non­kinetic capabilities to produce lethal and nonlethal effects against a target include airborne electronic attack, of­fensive and defensive space control, offensive and defensive cyberspace op­erations, and information operations.

Organizational Structure and Personnel Matters

Target development timelines are not synchronized, and organizations are not properly structured to provide decision makers with all potential op­tions to affect a target. This leads to a lack of joint integrated planning, which leads to the lack of developing kinetic and nonkinetic options to meet target development timelines and constraints to present decision makers with mul­tiple options. Lethal and nonlethal op­tions need to be identified early to pres­ent commanders with viable options to account for multiple dynamic variables that arise for potential targets.

Personnel with nonkinetic ex­perience who are aligned within the air and space operations center (AOC) require some examination. As part of the air planning cycle in the AOC, plans are shaped in the strategy divi­sion before reaching the combat plans division (CPD) and combat operations division (COD). Because the prepon­derance of nonkinetic experts tend to reside in CPD and COD, there is a lack of planners with the right expertise embedded in early stages of the plan­ning cycle to help guide the inclusion of potential nonkinetic capabilities. The current process requires planners in CPD and COD within the AOC to match nonkinetic assets and capabilities to requests after a concept of operations (CONOPS) is developed. This current structure and process integrates non­kinetic planners too late in the process, resulting in reactive planning and ex­ecution and an inefficient use of nonki­netic capabilities across the joint force.

An interim recommendation to improve this process is to create an on-call mission planning cell consisting of kinetic and nonkinetic experts from the AOC who are temporarily embed­ded into supported component planning teams during initial CONOPS develop­ment. (This will change based on area of responsibility (AOR) requirements.) As the United States Air Force (USAF) grows nonkinetic experts, a future im­provement is to permanently embed a nonkinetic liaison officer (NKLO) with the supported component for integrated and synchronized joint planning. This allows USAF planners to be part of the joint force CONOPS development from inception, which will assist with the cor­rect integration, synchronization, and prioritization of joint kinetic and nonki­netic effects. The joint force cannot af­ford to ignore information provided by joint fires and effects liaison officers with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, throughout Op­eration IRAQI FREEDOM, the USAF, United States Navy, and Marine Corps embedded electronic warfare (EW) of­ficer NKLOs within the Multinational Corps Iraq Joint Fires and Effects Cell. These were the right embedded persons because they assisted at the support­ed-component level to help the process. These NKLOs helped shape CONOPs early, taught requestors how to request EW properly, etc. The same type of cir­cumstance occurred during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM when NKLOs were embedded in Combined Joint Task Force 76. Because of these successes, it would be prudent to adopt Tactics/Flash Bulletin manning recommenda­tions for NKLO roles and responsibilities in the joint force as well as nonkinetic operations cell (NKOC) and offensive cy­ber operations integration.

To ensure capabilities and effects are applied in the appropriate place dur­ing each stage of the targeting cycle pro­cess, nonkinetic subject matter experts (SMEs) with space, cyberspace, EW, and information operations (IO) must be rep­resented in all AOC divisions. Include a nonkinetic planning cell within the strategy division that assists in a long term, centralized focus to nominate tar­gets. Also, include an nonkinetic analy­sis and targeting team (NKATT) in the intelligence, surveillance, and recon­naissance (ISR) division and an NKOC in CPD to integrate with the target ef­fects team and master air attack plans team to deliver requests to the COD to synchronize effects. The nonkinetic duty officer would lead an EW duty officer, space control coordination element, and cyberspace duty officer to coordinate space, cyberspace, and EW fires within the AOC and other components across the joint force. Ensuring the right type of experience is sourced with the correct line remarks in the unit manning docu­ment is key to gaining the correct SMEs. Including these teams of nonkinetic SMEs would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of nonkinetic capabilities to improve the planning development and targeting cycle processes.

Nonkinetic SMEs from other Services and components should be embedded within AOC divisions. Based on strategic structuring and authori­ties, this would allow established two-way communications to leverage all joint assets as well as be aware of mul­tiple-domain actions in a specific AOR. Initially, for CONOPS reaching the ex­ecution phase, representatives should be placed in the CPD to deconflict mul­tiple-domain fires when they are being executed in the AOR. This allows the USAF to ensure proper use of the limit­ed nonlethal assets and reassign those assets to support other requests. Each Service’s members know how to best employ their assets and capabilities. To have the best synchronized and inte­grated CONOPS from inception, SMEs must be available and established in the appropriate locations to build an integrated and synchronized plan.

The Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar is pictured on October 7, 2015. This CAOC provides C2 of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations. It is comprised of a joint and coalition team that executes day-to-day combined air and space operations and provides rapid reaction, positive control, coordination, and deconfliction of weapon systems. Photo by TSgt Joshua Strang, USAF

The Nonkinetic Education and Training Investment

The joint force lacks the appro­priate training required to meet tar­geting and execution process needs. Currently, USAF targeteer and target development analyst training pipelines focus on kinetic and nonkinetic capa­bilities differently. Training should be reevaluated to include both for targe­teers and analysts. This will help build a foundation for an understanding of multiple-domain capabilities and ef­fects. Changing training focus will en­sure planners understand the best way to use these skill sets or how they can be leveraged to complement one an­other. Fully understanding both capa­bilities will allow planners to provide decision makers the best solution to produce the desired effect on a target, given the circumstances.

Geospatial intelligence analyst courses are starting to address these issues, but they need modifications to ensure target development ana­lysts possess the critical understand­ing of kinetic and nonkinetic capabili­ties. Furthermore, this type of training foundation is essential for NKATTs and NKLOs to be able to integrate the best solutions when developing plans prior to their assignment to divisions within the AOC. Training for these positions should include, targeting and planning processes and specialized joint train­ing commensurate with the level they will be assigned. The USAF Air Com­bat Command’s nonkinetic capabilities branch has begun examining what this training should entail. Those receiv­ing training would include personnel in positions within the AOC, joint task force headquarters, or components. Also, this training should be added to the progressions of EW, IO, space, and cyberspace career fields.

Targeting Database Improvements

Current targeting databases are not designed to incorporate nonkinetic attributes required for targeting. The Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual (JMEM) provides users the kinetic ef­fect for a selected target. However, some databases operate independently and include classification differences. This results in a targeting board be­ing conducted, including target fold­ers that do not contain all potential multiple-domain options to achieve the desired effect. This can lead to a po­tential missed target opportunity while allowing an adversary the freedom of maneuver through multiple-domains.

Current research and devel­opment to modify the modernized, integrated and joint targeting tool­box databases to include these attri­butes should continue. This could be achieved through developing a non­kinetic JMEM or cyberspace JMEM, however, the joint force must continue to define specific attributes that are required. These databases must be updated, integrated, and invested to ensure the joint force is prepared for major combat operations.

The databases must be construct­ed so there is only a single-point contact for a target. Multiple organizations must have access to input target analysis in these databases to permit joint collabo­ration. To maintain confidence and cred­ibility of the database, specific personnel need to be assigned to adjudicate inputs to ensure the target information is accu­rate and appropriate.   

Live and Large Force Exercise Training

Training ranges need to pro­vide realistic training and effects to warfighters. Separate domain training ranges do not correlate to one another. Live training leads to simulated effects instead of actual effects, providing the end users with unrealistic expecta­tions, understanding, and timing of ca­pabilities. During joint exercises (such as Red Flag, conducted out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada), live fly operations are executed on the Nellis test and training range while nonkinetic opera­tions are performed on the space test and training and joint information and operations ranges. However, effects ex­ecuted on these ranges do not trans­late to one another because effects from one range are transferred to the other range though exercise adminis­trative injects. The result is an unre­alistic expectation of the integration of major combat operations.

Assessing Nonkinetic Effects for the Long Term

The joint force needs to be able to better predict and assess the effective­ness of nonkinetic capabilities. Predict­ing the effects of a kinetic capability is fairly straight forward. For example, a laser guided, 500-pound bomb used to strike a building will have a relatively known effect. However, when it comes to nonkinetic capabilities, the effects are less predictable. Reliable ways to mea­sure nonkinetic effects, as well as pos­sible second or third order effects that may result from nonkinetic fires, are not fully understood by the joint force. These effects need to be accurately modeled to ensure any potential unintended conse­quences are known. Realistic assessment methods to predict nonkinetic effects will ensure commanders are presented with likely outcomes when choosing a nonki­netic method to attack a target.

Developing the cyberspace and EW weapons system evaluation pro­grams, in lieu of nonkinetic JMEMs, will help bridge the confidence gap ex­perienced by operational commanders. Also, pairing ISR assets to conduct as­sessments must be improved.

The improvement of nonkinetic effects assessment is a key area to be evaluated. If not predicted correctly, a nonkinetic capability could produce an unintended effect that can worsen a situ­ation. Therefore, due to the complexity of nonkinetic capabilities and the intended effects, the joint force must be educated on multiple-domains when leveraging these capabilities. At the same time, us­ers must be able to gauge the effect and leaders must accept potential risks.


The joint force must move away from parochial thinking when plan­ning to attack a target. The current model and process are biased toward kinetic options to provide a physically destructive effect against a target. As situations arise that no longer permit this type of option, target prosecution is either abandoned or other options are pursued too late in the timeline to be effectively implemented. The results are missed targets of opportunity or, in the worst case, mission failure.

The joint force must have mul­tiple options on the table to create desired effects against the enemy at a place and time of US forces’ choos­ing. It is only then that friendlies will be able to apply pressure against the enemy rapidly, in a way that will make it difficult for them to counteract.

For this to work, the process of planning for nonkinetic effects needs to happen at target discovery. This starts with approaching the targeting process differently. For the targeting process to successfully integrate all potential ef­fects, properly trained personnel need to be placed in the correct organiza­tional structure to effect change. Once the trained personnel are placed at the right level, more options can be pre­sented to commanders to achieve the desired effects, regardless of dynamic situations that may arise. Having the ability to rapidly transition across mul­tiple domains, through the electromag­netic spectrum, and leverage the appro­priate effects will directly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of joint and coalition operations, and drastically in­crease overall mission success.

In todays and tomorrows opera­tional environments, leadership must be armed with additional expertise and options. A true “fires” expert can no longer rely solely on kinetic weaponeering.

End Notes

[1] Air Force doctrine, Annex 3-0, Operations and Planning (Updated 4 November 2016).

Disclaimer. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or any other agency of the Federal Government.

Originally released on 01 August 2017 in Air Land Sea Bulletin 2017-02.