To appreciate the complexity of situations where police or military forces charged with peacekeeping duties utilize force, one must conceptualize force not as a static concept but rather as a continuum of responses, ranging from verbal commands, as a minor exertion of force, to deadly force, the maximum amount of force possible to apply. A use-of-force continuum relies on the concept of multiple categories of increasing officer perceptions of suspect resistance linked to similar groupings of the officer’s response to those perceptions. As personnel are expected to make split second decisions based on rapidly evolving situations, the incorporation of a use-of-force continuum into departmental policy provides guidance in making force decisions. Most conflicts inherently contain a fear of escalation. The use of less-lethal weapon systems in the early stages of a conflict may reduce the risk of escalation, and give reason a chance to work. Unlike the traditional law enforcement or military capabilities associated with lethal weapon systems, the mission context for the employment of less-lethal capabilities is not always obvious. Arguably, less-lethal weapon systems have a potentially broader range of application than do lethal systems.
Let’s take note of terminology here in that “less-lethal” is as it implies – not as prone to kill or permanently injure as a traditional rifle, shotgun, or handgun. Less lethal devices still relies on blunt force trauma of its projectile in gaining compliance or dissuading persons from continuing a course of action that is detrimental to public safety/interest/law. Less lethal technologies are weapons developed to assist law enforcement, military and corrections personnel when lethal force is not appropriate, justified, or available for backup. Less lethal technologies may subdue, confuse, delay, restrain, or incapacitate an aggressor in many different conditions such as prison disturbances, hostage rescues, and riots. Ostensibly, less lethal force will not be as prone to cause injury to bystanders or life-threatening damage to property and environment.
Less lethal devices are on the lower rungs of the use-of-force continuum with deadly force at the top. A subset of less lethal technology is non-lethal technology. Less lethal is distinguished from non-lethal weapons in that the latter refers to devices that cannot cause death no matter how it is used. Today the search for non-lethal weapons is viewed as an effort to find tools or devices that subdue without harm. They are not considered weapons in the usual sense nor are they seen as alternatives to deadly force. The presence of the “CNN effect,” which puts great value on minimizing or eliminating casualties, particularly among non-combatants, suggests that non-lethal weapon interventions should be developed for conventional warfare and law enforcement. Uses of non-lethal weapons are especially valuable when suspects and/or culprits are found among innocent people who outnumber the bad guys. In such instances, use of large-scale lethal force is undesirable. Yet, there is a lack of effective non-lethal weapons even though most agree their development would be beneficial.
The FN 303 less lethal platform is a semiautomatic shoulder fired launcher. The FN 303 launcher uses compressed air stored in a removable and refillable bottle to launch projectiles stored in a fifteen round disc magazine. Though initially developed by paintball gun designers, the FN 303 is far from this genre with its potential quickly seized upon for less-than-lethal uses. FN Herstal brought the design to fruition. The FN 303 launcher weighs 5 pounds and measures 29 inches. Its .68-inch diameter barrel measures 10 inches in length. While it comes with foldable iron sights it has a section of Picatinney rail that red dot optics can be mounted to for greater precision. The FN 303 can be broken into four major components: 1) upper stock assembly 2) lower stock assembly 3) magazine 4) air reservoir. A point of interest is that the lower stock assembly can be configured to mount under an M16/M4 style rifle (or any other rifle with Picatinney forend capability) offering flexibility to an entity that chooses this configuration.
The FN 303 launcher is only part of the story as its variety and effectiveness of its projectiles are the true heart of the system. The FN 303 .68-inch projectiles are fin stabilized and weigh 8.5 grams. FNH USA currently offers the following projectile types all specifically color coded for easy identification when loaded into disc magazines: indelible paint (yellow) , PAVA powder (orange), clear, washable paint (pink), and inert powder (white). An interesting note on the PAVA is that it is a synthetic version of OC (oleoresin capsicum) called Capsaicin II that is reportedly two times hotter than OC and has longer shelf life. The PAVA is very handy for area clearing and denial. The FN 303 with its multi-round capability can create enough of a PAVA mist to affect general area denial; though its primary goal is to impact specific subjects with PAVA powder released into targets sensory organs. The FN 303’s semiautomatic firepower is a major plus delivering PAVA loaded projectiles in rapid fashion. Do not forget even with the PAVA payload the blunt force trauma of being struck with the FN 303 projectile will have its own effect on a subject’s decision making process. This is one of the keys with the FN 303. As with most other less lethal devices, blunt trauma is its major attribute and source of effectiveness. However, the FN 303 also has benefit of secondary effectiveness in terms of various payloads delivered – PAVA, indelible paint, etc.
Any weapon system – even less lethal – must have certain attributes to be effective. These attributes are accuracy, ammunition effectiveness, ease of maintenance/reliability, capacity/firepower, modularity/adaptability, and simple to use. The FN 303 has these attributes. The semiautomatic nature of the FN 303 combined with a 15-round disc magazine provides an important advantage over single shot or manually operated launchers. Statistics gathered from law enforcement incidents deploying less-lethal devices indicate that often multiple strikes are necessary to gain compliance from a subject. The FN 303 can send projectiles as quick as the trigger can be stroked. The design challenge for less-lethal devices has always been to increase effective range while not proving lethal at close range due to increased velocity or mass needed for effective down range performance. As with any tool, training personnel before deploying in the field is as important as design parameters for effective use.