The 40mm Low Velocity Less Lethal

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The author recently had the privilege and opportunity to qualify with 40mm Low Velocity Less Lethal rounds. As a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan, these rounds are usually not part of our tool kit. They would be much more commonplace among Military Police, Marine Security Guard detachments at Embassies overseas or base riot contingency forces. But because of the highly volatile and strategic situations Marines are finding themselves in at the tail end of the war, the issuance of these rounds have become necessary.  The need for zero civilian casualties because of the previous election and the terms of the security agreement between President Hamid Karzi and ISAF forces has made it so. With this being said, the ROEs are extremely restrictive, requiring extensive PID and EOF procedures before engaging the Taliban. This is an extremely different situation in which Marine Infantrymen find themselves in compared to previous conflicts where direct action was the name of the game. In current day Helmand, before pulling the trigger Marines must now have to decide upon a life alternating shoot, no shoot call.

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Less Lethal ammunition is one of these solutions in dealing with hostile civilians. The rounds themselves are ideally suited for the 03’s arsenal because of the extensive presence of M203A2 Grenade Launchers among Infantrymen. It has the same dimensions of a 40mm HE grenade but cannot be mistaken for one. The projectile itself is a spongy blue round and feels like tightly packed neoprene to the touch. In order not to disclose OPSEC and specific ranges, the round has the approximate range of a tennis court in length. At closer ranges the round can be extremely lethal as it is a 40mm grenade fired from a rifled M203A2 barrel after all. But just like paintball ammunition its velocity drops dramatically and beyond moderate ranges it is both inaccurate and has lost its power, thus making it ineffective. This essentially means the shooter has a very intermediate range at which to engage with. Head and groin shots are strictly unauthorized as is also the shooting at children. This might strike the reader as obvious but children are sometimes among groups of scavengers and scrappers who come too close to Marines and for which the round is intended.

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Shooting the round itself utilizes the same techniques as firing a regular 40mm HE or Smoke Grenade. Loading, unloading, misfire procedures, safety conditions, and grips do not deviate with the exception of carrying the round to a dud pit after misfire/immediate actions have taken place. The biggest difference is in the aiming points. The 203 iron sight cannot be used because it is not calibrated for the range or the rounds. Instead the 800 meter mark in the shooters Trijicon RCO is used as an intermediate aiming point on the body. Qualification takes place at before mentioned range intervals with different aiming points utilized for the respective ranges. For most shooters, the best aiming point is along the upper chest, neck or top of the head for a strike of the round on the chest which is the most preferred impact zone. The loss of the velocity at the differing ranges was readily apparent as the yard lines increased with the round punching through cardboard easily at short range, moderately further on, and barely passing through at maximum range. In fact, some rounds would simply smack the target and bounce off in random directions, some even boomeranging back to the shooters feet! Recoil was the same as from an HE or Practice projectile. But all in all, M203A2 grenadiers received the sufficient qualification and confidence necessary to utilize the Less Lethal round outside the wire in an EOF procedure.

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Is this the best Less Lethal option out there? Certainly not. Is it the most practical and useful one for the modern day 03 in the current environment? It does fill a necessary niche with the least amount of additional weaponry or gear expense to our arsenal. The field of Less Lethal projectiles is extensive, entire professions and companies are built around it. Everything from Pepper Spray to high frequency sound waves have been in use all over the world and are constantly experimented and refined. But for the 03 on patrol in the desolate Helmand Province, this is an excellent alternative to a single 5.56 bullet at 2,300 FPS that has strategic implications to the ISAF contingent.




Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • AK™

    It would be interesting nonetheless,to see this ammo used in a Mk19,mounted on a humvee….

    • mechamaster

      Nice idea, but The problem is it’s ammo doesn’t have enough energy to cyclic the automatic mechanism of mk.19. ( Except they use external power source to cyclic the automatic launcher like chaingun mechanism, or MetalStorm-style )

      • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

        FWIW: There has been work on Non-Lethal 40x53mm rounds for well over a decade. These include the XM1044 and XM1057.

        • J.S.Bridges

          FWIW: The only “non-lethal” 40×53 rounds, in reality, would be blanks – and even those might be lethal at very short range.

          “Non-Lethal rounds” of ammunition are one of those silly-assed ideas that only politicians and other empty-headed folks believe in.

  • iksnilol

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just carry a mag with rubber bullets? Lighter weight and does the same (stop without killing) with less risk.

    • Schadavi

      That would probably not work. Rubber bullets with a pressure high enough to cycle the action would probably be only very slightly “less” lethal than a usual full-metal jacket 223. Probably about as deadly as a .22lr.

      It would be a lot easier to just use soldiers for doing soldier stuff, and the police for doing police stuff…

      • iksnilol

        It’s faster to pull back the charging handle than it is to load a M203.

        The “5.56 is too small” isn’t really relevant. Rubber bullets work by dispersing the energy in the target, if it weighs enough and goes fast enough (but not too fast!) then it should work fine.

        Found this:
        http://www.lesslethalafrica.com/rifle.html

        • Steve Truffer

          Those are too weak to cycle the action. Schadavi made the remark about rubber rounds hot enough to cycle the action.No one made the “5.56 is too small” comment.

          • iksnilol

            Below my comment (this one) someone said it is too small.

            Cycling the action is not relevant since it is easier and faster to pull the charging handle than it is to load a M203.

      • KestrelBike

        Don’t the Israelis use special M16/M4 for use with less-lethal rounds?

        • Bob

          They use an adaptor on the muzzle with a blank round to fire a rubber coated steel ball.

          Much more on the lethal end of less-lethal than 40mm or similar.

          • Gallan

            Probably alot more range though, which is needed for the rock throwers they have to face.

    • Matrix3692

      Rifle-caliber rubber bullet weights much much less, thus much much less kinetic energy on impact. And these “less-than-lethal” ammunition did not cycle normally in normal-configurated semi/automatic firearms, so it doesn’t mean much where you had to manually charge your rifle every shot.

    • Gallan

      Rubber bullets the size of .22’s wouldn’t be very effective.

      What they need is a picatinny rail Glock pistol, 33 rubber bullets in the magazine. Israeli’s made a dodgy rail attachment that does this, what’s needed is something alot more ergonomic and rugged.

  • Mystick

    Is it my imagination, or are these men pictured shooting from the hip? Do they train for that?

    • jdkchem

      Yes.

      • Julio

        In the lower picture there appears to be smoke wafting away from the muzzle and a round flying towards the target, which suggests to me that the mentoree has indeed “fired from the hip”. In the upper picture, reloading does indeed seem to be in progress, however.

    • Steve Truffer

      Looks like they’re reloading to me.

    • Joshua

      It’s a 40mm fired in close distances, you can literally point and aim and still hit your target according to the distances shown in the pics.

      • Gallan

        Seems kind of dangerous, Why can’t they just use their optic?

        • Joshua

          Because to fire a 203 accurately you need the leaf sights, but since this is a non lethal round firing it in that manner works.

          Now if they were training with HE rounds I would be calling foul.

  • The Hun

    They test them overseas before US LE gets them.

  • seans

    Shooting this and CS at thieves from a 79 was the best part of deployment.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve (TFB Editor)

      Please tell us more. What were they trying to steal?

      • seans

        All our building supplies, our location didn’t allow us to bring much other than sensitive gear within our walls. So it became a game in itself for the locals to try to steal from us without getting caught.

      • J.S.Bridges

        According to what I’ve been told (wasn’t there, myself), they’d steal what ever wasn’t bolted down, and bring along a couple of adjustable wrenches for the rest.

        Time-honored tradition in many of the poorer part of the world, when it comes to military, foreign OR domestic: Some of the civilians try to steal all they can, the military try to prevent them from doing so. This is at least half of the reason for military-base security efforts, such as fences, guards, alarms, lights, etc.

  • Guest

    It’

  • Jon

    It’s a pity, I though it was about lower lethal radius of 40x53mm grenade compared to counterparts. 30x29mm for example.

  • derfelcadarn

    The idea of less than lethal guns is beyond stupid, it is right up there with the concept that wars can be fought and no one dies. If no one is going to die then why bother holding a war? Non lethal weapons only allows the enemy to come back for more and that is stupid.

    • seans

      These aren’t for shooting at people who are shooting at you.

    • Gallan

      If civilians get too close they might have a have knife to stab you or may try to punch you or grab your weapon, at worst they’ll conceal your vision to real threats. In the old days, crowd control was rifle butting them in the head or kicking them. This doesn’t look good on cameras, so now they just shoot them with non-lethal ammo.

      I say just use 9mm rubber bullets in your pistols and get some pistol training too.

      • derfelcadarn

        So we are more concerned with appearance than effect ?

        • Gallan

          No, it’s more effective, safer for the soldier and looks better on a video camera, which even afghans have now. It’s a no brainer.

          • J.S.Bridges

            “…it’s more effective,” No – what would be “more effective” would be chasing them off with a big stick, this is just stupid.

            “…safer for the soldier” Wrong again – what would be “safer for the soldier” would be: Stop trying to use soldiers as neighborhood cops, and other forms of asininity.

            “…and looks better on a video camera, which even afghans have now.” Right – as the previous commenter said: more concerned with appearance than actual effect.

            “It’s a no brainer.” The only factual part of your statement – though, not with the meaning you likely intended.

            This is stupid, mostly-useless and more-dangerous-to-troops stuff.

            “Less-lethal ammunition” is an obvious oxymoron, a Progtardian attempt to make something into something it is not by applying a stupid set of rules pursuant to a stupid statement of definition.

          • Owl

            Spoke to some guys on crowd control in Ireland before. They had to make do with smacking people with rifle butts. Not good if you’re dealing with someone packing an exploding vest.

          • valorius

            Dont subjugate people that want to be free, you wont have these problems.

      • valorius

        How about not starting wars that force us to shoot children.

    • dan citizen

      These are being used against scavenging kids, beggars etc.

      If you use lethal force against these individuals you get horrible press, lose trust among locals, and incite real violence.

      Avoid deterring them at all and you provide cover for suicide attacks and truly dangerous insurgents,

      • derfelcadarn

        You can deduce suicide attackers and dangerous insurgents from a distance ? If so then why not just shoot them ?

        • dan citizen

          The problem is not the obvious ones, the problem is the 10 year old kids that acclimatize you to having them just a little too close. The problem is the beggars who will accept a kick or two for the chance of a handout.

          If you kill the wrong person the next thing you know you have a whole freaking village on your doorstep wailing, whining, and bitching, you have a mullah in front of your commander demanding a trial and reparations.

          Fail to kill the wrong person and your family gets mailed a flag and the 40% of you they could find stuffed in a coffin.

          This is not COD, there are piles of stupid rules about when and who you can and cannot shoot, nonlethal weapons fill a gap.

          • valorius

            If you find yourself in a position where you need to be shooting 40mm projectiles at kids, you do not belong there to begin with.

          • Owl

            Lies. Even local forces have to drive away scavengers and mobs, it’s not just a US/UK problem, you’re looking at the problem from a too specific POV.

          • valorius

            If you are suggesting we give us police 40mm grenade launchers, i must reply that i think you are utterly insane.

          • dan citizen
          • dan citizen

            agreed

      • valorius

        Your commentary is absolutely terrifying, and all the proof we’ll ever need that we have been at war for far too long…and that we will never win.

    • Nate

      Mildly amusing that you think the point of war is to kill people.

      • J.S.Bridges

        Highly risible for anyone to think that the point of war, for soldiers, is to do anything OTHER THAN kill people and break stuff.

  • GUNxSPECTRE

    Kind of off-topic, but does the weight of the M203 put the rifle off-kilter? I’d image it would, considering you’d probably also have a laser and tac-light on the rail too.

    • 11b

      Yes, very much so. Especially the new M320 the Army is issued (not sure about Marines) because it weighs even more. There’s nothing like 40mm HE though, and it’s a great weapon to have two or three in the squad.

    • Gallan

      One of the main reasons for bullpups attractiveness nowadays is it’s far superior balance with a ugl. And it will only get worse for the traditional rifle layout with things like thermal imaging and ballistic computers on the rifle.

  • DV

    I was issued a dozen-or-so of these same rounds in 2005. Five or six of them had the rubber head separate due to the extreme temperatures. The rubber projectile literally fell right off of them when handled.

    • dusel1

      Next time use lawn darts.

  • Seerightthere!

    Marines as crowd control….. How sad.

    • usmcmailman

      That is NOT our mission !

      • Seerightthere!

        Really? You maybe should check with your CIC. I am pretty sure the LAST real Marine Commandant was fired for having that position. The few, the proud, the riot police.

        • usmcmailman

          Blow me punk !

          • Seerightthere!

            See what happens when you let gays into the military? They start asking for blows on the internet.

    • dusel1

      They also serve as umbrella specialists for the illegal-alien-in-chief during Rose Garden events.

  • usmcmailman

    Marines should NOT be limited in how they kill the enemy! Marines are only trained to do
    one thing in combat……..KILL THE ENEMY ! If you want gay, mission specific soldiers then
    use the Army ! You morons are ridiculous

  • usmcmailman

    It was a proven fact in Vietnam. If you kill all the enemy they send, they will stop sending
    them ! War is not complicated !

  • dan

    why would a trained ‘killer’ of the enemy want to go into combat with a less than lethal arms…is it because this countries leadership in congress and the MILITARY want to inflict the most possible damage to OUR TROOPS that they can….since Nahm seems that is what they intend by not WINNING any conflict we have been engaged in….only casualties…and waste of time money and our TROOPS….FUCK THEM ALL…..imho………Semper FI

  • TXgnnr

    I am so sick and tired of reading this type of crap. We are in a WAR dammit. If our men and women in uniform are in harms way then KILL the threat….PERIOD! Enough of this GD ROE crap. It would appear to me that if our soldiers were actually allowed to fight this war, then the enemy would be much less anxious to fight back. One shot, one kill. End of game.

  • dan

    and by the way…I guess the DHS does NOT like non lethal rounds …or why would THEY buy…..HOLLOW POINTS…to use against this countries civilians…FUCK THEM ALSO…..imho

    • Nathan Redbeard

      So…you don’t want the people patrolling the border to have the most effective bullets available? Any particular reason why not?

      • dusel1

        You sound like a bean-bag specialist and expert.

        • Nathan Redbeard

          You sound like you can’t back up your moronic comment.

  • dusel1

    Wow, that’s some fat fellow. My Gerdy wishes that I had that much girth.

  • dusel1

    Pat the enemy on their head and tell them to move along. Obama 101.

  • MartinWoodhead

    40mm less than lethal munitions are an accident waiting to happen.
    Theres a reason british baton rounds were 37mm for a reason KISS it only takes one HE grenade to be fired by mistake.

  • Tadatadum

    Flamethrowers are non-lethal too as long as the target keeps its distance. Too bad pepper spray can’t be dispersed from the rubber round upon impact as well, give them a real soaker and anyone near them.

  • J.S.Bridges

    Let’s just cut to the proper equivalent – equip ‘em all with a bag of tennis balls and a metal-framed racket.

    Then, they can lob tennis balls at the “targeted” miscreants – and use the racket to “return fire” if/when the “targets” pick up the missiles to lob ‘em back.

    Also – the rackets can be used when off-duty, for recreational purposes…and, as necessary, for close-in self-defense against any of the “targets” that get too close…

    Makes more sense than “less-lethal/non-lethal ammunition” – and at least as much sense as (mis)using combat troops as a cross between cops on patrol and grade-school playground supervisors.

  • maodeedee

    New Politically Correct GI Joe! Comes with Nerf Gun, helmet, and lawyer.

    • J.S.Bridges

      Acessorized with the very finest in marshmallow boolits, and “grenades” that pop out a little flag that says “BANG!”…

  • valorius

    These are no doubt intended for use on american citizens.