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Specialty impact munitions: Design purpose and effect

Specialty impact munitions
Specialty Impact Munitions are one of the most progressive and unique force options inside a correctional facility. Wide variety to choose from, various deployment tactics and throughout the few years has given us a reasonable expectation for results. Even though nothing is 100% effective we can count on the subject experiencing mild to intense pain, in some cases incapacitation, and the physiological reaction of being shot with a weapon. Less-lethal impact munitions are an excellent tool for quelling rioting crowds or taking down armed emotionally disturbed persons.

For generations law enforcement has been seeking the perfect round, the so-called “magic bullet.” The ideal non lethal projectile for police is munitions that can be fired at a safe distance to temporarily incapacitate a threat so they can be taken into custody without injury to either the suspect or the arresting officer. It would work each and every time, and it would be a substitute for deadly force. Such munitions do not exist at this time.

However, there are a wide variety of non-lethal impact munitions that officers can use to temporarily incapacitate suspects at ranges out to about 50 feet, and some even 50 yards.

Effects of specialty impact munitions
When a subject is hit they will experience both a mental and physical effects of the munitions. At times the mental effects can out last and be more intense then the physical effects. Specialty Impact Munitions or referred to as SIM’s in general have been use throughout the world in many situations from single to multiple threats used to distracting, disabling, but more importantly they are designed to create pauses in combat that can be both mentally and physically disabling.

Typical scenario

A typical scenario that often calls for use of such munitions is an uncooperative subject standing at various ranges from 10 to 50 feet away in possession of a weapon. The subject is not attacking, so the officers have no need for the use deadly force at this time. Yet the threat is armed and presents a threat for the officers and public, and using empty hands to make the arrest may jeopardize the safety of the general public or officer(s) in the area. The subject is also too far away for the officers to employ impact weapons, chemical aerosol projectors, or electrical control weapons.

The solution to this problem is deploying a specialty impact munitions that will safely impact the body and not cause any lethal trauma. But just like a golfer has a lot of clubs to choose from in his bag, officers in this situation have a lot of different munitions to select from, and choosing the wrong one can be dangerous for both the officer and subject.

Reaching out to touch someone
Non-lethal weapons are weapons and munitions that are designed to impact or physically effect the body in such a way that will enable the officer to safely subdue the threat without causing the officer or the subject any lethal harm. However, it needs to be understood that even though the intention of the design is non-lethal, the outcome can still have lethal results.

SIMs are a force multiplier and provide you with additional use-of-force options by extending the threat distance and enhancing the safety of the officers using these munitions and the subjects they are arresting or attempting to capture.

What do I pick?
One of the most important decisions that you have to make when using special impact munitions is what type of round to use. There are a variety of factors that you have to consider. Such as:

  1. How far you are from the target?
  2. How much impact energy will you need to do the job?
  3. How accurate does your shot have to be to achieve the desired effect on the subject(s)?
  4. Where is my take-down area?
  5. If I miss, or it fails to knock them down, what is my transition?

The actual shape, material and construction design of the SIM round used will be a major factor in both accuracy and knock down power. Some rounds are more aerodynamic than others and offer less resistance to the air during flight, thereby increasing their effective range and enhancing their accuracy.

Weight of the round is important as well. For example, foam baton rounds are much lighter than rubber or wooden baton rounds. So generally they aren’t quite as accurate, and they don’t hit as hard. It’s important to remember when discussing the effective range of specialty impact munitions that there may be minimum distance as well as maximum effective ranges to consider. If you use munitions too close to the subject, the knock down power may be much more traumatic than you desire. It could even be lethal.

Factors for expected outcome of using specialty impact munitions
The size and mass of the subject is a major factor that can determine the success of a SIM deployment. A subject who weighs 100 pounds and who is shot with a 37/40mm foam baton round at a range of 14 feet will experience a different effect than a subject who weighs 300 pounds who is shot at the same range with the same round. Heavy coats and other padded clothing can also mitigate the effects of a SIM. Inmates have been known to make their own protective armor from wetting magazines then molding them to fit their limbs, old clothing, pillow cases filled with other soft items, etc.

To achieve maximum effect, you also have to hit the subject in the right place on their body. Center to the lower abdominal section is recommended but target opportunity may dictate someplace else. This is easier said than done because these munitions are harder to shoot accurately than lethal munitions and need more training in handling the weapon used.

True flight of a specialty impact munitions
Once a SIM round leaves its launcher’s barrel, a specific sequence of events starts to take place. As the round moves out from the barrel, it loses velocity; this will cause a change in the trajectory and can change the expected point of impact.

The shape of the projectile will also affect the accuracy. SIM rounds come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are non-aerodynamic (rounds that offer more resistance in flight) and some are aerodynamic (rounds that offer less resistance in flight). They can be square, tubular, rectangular, and oval. Some even have special features like tails and stabilizers to help increase their range and accuracy.

Deployment options
Throughout the years law enforcement communities has found excellent justifications for deploying SIMs. Bean bag rounds are commonly employed in suicide-by-cop situation and other incidents during which officers confront armed emotionally disturbed persons. This is mainly due to the 12 gauge pump action shotgun being a weapon carried by most agencies.

Special operational units like S.O.R.T. or SRT have safely deployed SIMs in various high-risk situations where lethal force was not warranted or it wasn’t the best option. These have included officer hostage rescues, inner-perimeter security operation, less-lethal take-downs during raids, or forced cell situations.

Three main justification for using SIM’s are:

  1. Protecting life: Such as protecting line formations in crowd control, officers, bystanders, victims and even the subject themselves.
  2. Protecting property: Such as areas that are vital to security, vandalism, looting or area denial.
  3. Covering Chemical Munitions: When deploying chemical agents and the threats are trying to cover, throw or handle these munitions. In corrections operations, SIMs has proven to be especially effective. COs use them to stop fights between inmates, to cover cell extractions, and to regain area control of pods, housing units, day rooms, or recreation yards during inmate disturbances.

Classification of special impact munitions
Now that we’ve looked at some basics about special impact munitions, let’s look at some of the different types of munitions that are available.

  1. 12-Gauge Standard Bean Bags: Square in shape bean bag rounds are quite literally cloth bags made of special nylon or canvas that are filled with lead shot or small metal pellets.
  2. 12-Gauge Tear-Shaped Bean Bags: Often called sock rounds, tear-shaped bean bag rounds are made of Kevlar or other special lightweight materials. They are designed to have stabilizers or tails to make them more accurate.
  3. 37/40mm Standard Bean Bag Rounds: The primary difference between the 12-gauge and the 37/40mm square bean bag round is, of course, size. But there are also other differences. The impact power of these munitions is much greater than a 12-gauge round, and this should always be remembered when determining if such a large bean bag is suitable for a particular application.
  4. 37/40mm Baton Rounds: Made of soft foam, hard rubber, or wood, these munitions are approximately one inch in diameter.
  5. Spin-Stabilized Foam Baton Round: This special round is available only in 40mm cartridges and can only be fired from a launcher with a rifled bore. It was developed to increase the effective range, enhance the accuracy, and stabilize the impact of foam rounds. These rounds are designed to be fired directly at the target, not skipped off the ground. Some manufactures state that the point of aim for their spin-stabilized batons is 10 to 30 yards. These rounds are commonly known as “R.E.A.C.T.” or the “Sponge Baton.”
  6. Rubber Balls or Pellets: Available in both 12-gauge and 37/40mm cartridges, rubber ball and pellets are commonly used in riot control. These projectiles can be as small as .31 caliber or as big as .60 caliber. They are also available in .32 caliber, .45 caliber, and .50 caliber. These munitions are sometimes known as “Hornets Nest” rounds or Stingers.

Dave Young is the Founder and Director of ARMA, now part of the PoliceOne Training Network. He is also the Chairman of Advisory Board, and a training advisor for Dave graduated from his first law enforcement academy in 1985, and now has over 25 years of combined civilian and military law enforcement and training experience. He was a sworn corrections and law enforcement officer in the state of Florida and has served as a gate sentry, patrol officer, watch commander, investigator, Special Reaction Team (SRT) member, leader and commander in the United States Marine Corps.

Dave has participated in and trained both military and law enforcement personnel in crowd management operations throughout the world. Dave is recognized as one of the nation’s leading defensive tactics instructors specializing in crowd management, chemical and specialty impact munitions, protocol and selection of gear and munitions, ground defense tactics, and water - based defensive tactics.

He has hosted television shows for National Geographic TV Channel on Non Lethal Weapons and the host of Crash Test Human series. He is a former staff noncommissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, a member of the Police Magazine advisory board, and a technical advisory board member for Force Science Research Center. Dave is an active member of the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET), International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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