Less-Lethal Launchers During Protest in Turkey

Crowd control actions executed by Turkish police in 2013 have showcased the employment of several less-lethal launchers. Aside from a range of medium-calibre riot guns (including 37/38mm Federal Riot Guns, 37/38mm Penn Arms PL-8 rotary launchers, and MKE 40mm launchers) firing CS, impact, and possibly OC munitions, three other less-lethal launchers have been observed. Each of these launchers have the ability to fire multiple projectiles quickly, and a capacity which exceeds that of the typically-employed 12 gauge and 37/38mm and 40mm systems. Both of these weapons appear to be in use by the Çevik Kuvvet anti-riot police unit. There has been some confusion about what these systems are, where they are produced, and what their capabilities are.

The Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal (FNH) FN 303. (Zuma Press)

The Fabrique Nationale d’Herstal (FNH) FN 303 is a purpose-designed, semiautomatic weapon that uses compressed air to propel projectiles approximately 100 meters. It functions primarily as an impact weapon, although several of the available (FN-proprietary) projectiles have secondary effects, as described below. The weapon is constructed primarily of polymer, and is relatively lightweight at 2.2 kg. There is a Picatinny rail along the top of the receiver, and folding front and rear iron sights. An EOTech holographic sight, specifically calibrated to match the FN 303’s ballistic profile, is also available. The FN 303 is fed from a 15-round detachable drum magazine, which features a clear polymer back plate to allow for rapid identification of round count and type. Magazine changes can be accomplished in a few seconds, and magazines can be reloaded in around 30 seconds. The weapon is factory-set to a muzzle velocity of 86-91 metres per second. Compressed air canisters are factory-specified, and the user manual warns against using other containers. One full tank should last for at least 100 shots.

FN 303 ammunition has also been documented in Turkey with 18mm (.68 calibre) glycol-based impact munition for the FN 303. Other available projectiles include powder-based impact, impact plus indelible marker paint, impact plus washable marker paint, and impact plus irritant powder. The munitions all contain a bismuth payload to provide weight for impact, and are fin-stabilised to provide accuracy at longer ranges than many other less-lethal launchers. All have the primary effect of incapacitating the target or degrading his or her will to fight through force of impact.

Marker rounds have the secondary effect of assisting authorities in identifying potentially threatening individuals. The irritant projectile contains a synthetic
capsaicin known as PAVA (for pelargonic acid vanillylamide; also known as nonivamide), which delivers a disruptive or incapacitating effect. At close range, these projectiles have been known to penetrate sheetrock, hollow-core doors, and auto glass and still affect the target behind cover. FN Herstal estimates the range for point targets at 50 meters, but the weapon can be effective out to 100 meters against area targets, such as crowds. FNH USA estimates the minimum engagement range at 1 meter, but U.S. DoD policy forbids engagement at ranges less than 5 meters.

Turkish law enforcement personnel photographed wielding the TAC 700 riot gun. (The Atlantic)

As with other impact munitions such as rubber bullets or 37/40mm impact projectiles, it is essential to engage targets in the limbs or torso to avoid serious injury. The FN 303 manual warns that, “Death or serious injury may result from projectiles striking the head or neck.” It is important to remember that there are risks inherent to the use of all less-lethal systems; this is precisely why there is a trend towards the use of the term ‘less-lethal’ rather than ‘non-lethal’. Comparatively safe systems, such as the FN 303, are often a preferable alternative to the use of live rounds or other, more dangerous less-lethal solutions.

It appears that the Turkish police tested the FN 303 in 2008, and introduced it into service in 2010. A 2010 article from Dünya Bülteni, a Turkish news site, suggests the use of both washable (pink) and indelible (yellow) marker projectiles. (www.dunyabulteni.net/index.php?aType=haber&ArticleID=122880, published July 26, 2010). Damien Spleeters has more on the presence of FN 303 launchers in Turkey at his excellent site, Damspleet (www.damspleet.com/post/52814245459/trying-to-quell-protests-turkish-police-uses, published June 12, 2013). The FN 303, in particular, seems to be the cause of frequent confusion when it comes to identification. In one particularly egregious example from The Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374315/Gaddafis-letter-Barack-Obama-calls-end-unjust-war.html, published April 7, 2011), an FN 303 seen in Libya was described as an ‘American
submachine gun’.

The other two systems sighted are the TAC 700 riot gun, produced by PepperBall, and the Tippmann LE-900. Both of these are essentially repurposed paintball guns, operating in a similar fashion and firing a similar projectile. Unlike the FN 303, the TAC 700 and LE-900 air cartridges can be refilled without the need for special equipment. They are selective fire weapons, capable of semiautomatic fire, three-round burst, and fully automatic fire at rates of up to 700 and 900 rounds per minute, respectively. PepperBall describe the TAC 700 as target accurate out to 60 feet (approximately 18 meters), or for area saturation out to 150 feet (48 meters). Both systems are chambered for .68 calibre paintball-type projectiles. Tippmann, a well-known manufacturer of paintball markers, ammunition, and equipment, produce a range of .68 calibre markers. It should be noted that PepperBall-branded systems are also based on Tippmann paintball markers.

A man firing the 37/38mm Penn Arms PL-8 rotary launcher. (AFP)

A wide range of projectiles are available for the systems. PepperBall lists several of their branded projectiles on their website, including inert, marking, water-filled, and glass-breaking (solid nylon) varieties. Additionally, there are the eponymous ‘PepperBall’ projectiles, available in ‘Live’ and ‘Live X’ formulae. The Live projectiles are filled with Capsaicin II, whilst the Live X range contain PAVA, described by PepperBall as “10x hotter than Live projectiles.” Numerous other .68 calibre paintballs are available from other retailers, including a variety of pepper, chili, and PAVA-filled examples. One South African website, Xtreme Paintball, (www.paintballguns.co.za) lists its solid nylon projectiles as ‘Skull Breakers’.

(This article is reproduced courtesy of Armament Research Services (ARES) and was originally published by them December 4, 2013. www.armamentresearch.com.)