How to buy projectiles and launchers

At the high end of less-lethal force options are weapons whose primary function is to deliver kinetic energy. There are a lot of options, so reading up on what will fit your needs is absolutely essential.

1. Launchers – The effects of launchers, or impact weapons, are not permanent (or at least they’re not supposed to be). The use of impact weapons is for temporary solutions, such as incapacitating an adversary for only a short amount of time.

Here is a list of available options:

Air Launchers – There are two kinds of weapon systems that use compressed air to fire munitions, and that’s their only similarity:

a. Pepperball Gun – Has a maximum effective range of 60 feet, uses a 250-round hopper, and newer versions can shoot single, semi-auto and full auto. There are five types of ammunition for this weapon – Pava OC Round, Water Round, Purple Powder Training Round, Green Marking Round, and the solid white plastic glass shattering round.

b. FN303 – Has a maximum effective range of 50 meters, uses a 15-round magazine, and hits with a 16 pound to 24 pound force. (It’s also more expensive.) It has four types of ammunition – OC Round, Powder Training Round, Temporary Marking Round, and the Permanent Marking Round – which are aerodynamically designed for great distance. At times these are not recommended for close distances due to the possibility of causing lethal injuries.

12-Gauge – These munitions are fired using black powder and at times can be lethal if the user is not properly trained. Some munitions can deliver pain for compliance and deliver chemicals, based on distance from threat, target area, size of target, clothing and other known and unknown factors. The types of rounds available are 31. or .32 Caliber Rubber Pellets (high or low velocity,) Single or triple 60 Caliber Rubber Balls and bean bags.

37mm and 40mm – These are some of the oldest impact weapons, using black or smokeless powder, but unlike the shotgun, these come with both smooth bore and rifled barrels. They come in various size casing and fire several types of rounds, including rubber pellets; rubber balls; foam, rubber, and wooded baton rounds; and for the 40mm only, spin stabilized sponge rounds.

2. Projectiles: Most less-lethal projectiles are shot from a 12-gauge shotgun. Below are some other options for less-lethal uses.

a. Chemical munitions – These are fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. Some of these munitions can be confusing so make sure you are briefed on what you are using and or purchasing. Some of these may be fired indirectly at a crowd or person; others may cause serious bodily injury if fired at a subject. Some only discharge a blast of powder. Short range will go 75 yards and long range can reach 150 yards.

b. Wireless electrical projectile – These devices are designed to deliver an electrical charge to the muscular and neural areas. These can be fired from a shotgun, some offering an extended range up to 50 feet.

3. Black Powder vs. Smokeless Munitions: Munitions employing black powder have a louder report, produce a bigger kick and generate an impressive tongue of flame. They are not as accurate as smokeless rounds and cause far more fouling of the barrel, in turn requiring more cleaning. The big bang that a black powder round generates is impressive, but the accuracy of the smokeless rounds makes more sense.

4. Things to ask when shopping for launchers and projectiles:
a. What is the shelf life of the munitions?
b. Is there in-house testing from third parties? Are there results they can release?
c. Is training for these devices mandatory?
d. What is required for storing these munitions and launchers?
e. Is sustainment training required?
f. Is there a warranty? What does it guarantee and for how long?
g. What are the expected ranges for point of aim and point of impact?
h. Any idea of knockdown power?
i. Are there significant examples or issues with penetration?
j. Are there any other medical concerns?
k. Any injuries at all associated with the use of these munitions?
l. What kind of maintenance is required after firing these munitions?

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing launchers and projectiles? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

Police1 Columnist Dave Young, who also serves as Director of Specialized Training, NTC-RedMan Training Division, contributed to this report. The National Association of Police Equipment Distributors contributed to this report.

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