The FN 303 Less-Lethal Launcher

When nauseating substances hit the fan, as it most often happens in civil riots and similar manifestations, LE forces have to count on whatever equipment items that may help them to deal with the very complicated process of applying progressive use of force, or the so-called proportional response. The use of lethal force, of course, is the last desirable resort, and something must be available to fill the gap between a conventional police baton and a firearm. Enter the less-lethal systems.

The compressed-air powered FN 303 is in wide use worldwide by police and military forces. It fires as quickly as one can actuate the trigger, enhancing the system’s effectiveness.

For a decade or so, law enforcement units, special units, and military forces in five continents have been using the FN 303 Less-Lethal Launcher from FN Herstal, Belgium. It’s a pretty interesting system designed around an 18mm caliber impact projectile combined with a dedicated shoulder-fired or compact (add-on) launcher that uses a compressed-air cylinder as a power source for its semi-automatic operation. The dedicated ammo is stored in a 15-round drum magazine, available projectiles being of five types: impact glycol or inert powder (delivers a sufficiently dissuasive level of pain to temporarily disable targets), impact + washable marking paint, impact + indelible paint, impact + irritating effect  (OC – oleoresin capsicum type). Whatever projectile is chosen, the flight trajectory is very constant and allows good precision at ranges up to 50 meters, approximately. Muzzle velocity is given as about 90 m/s. The launcher looks like a small carbine, being 750mm long (250mm barrel) and weighs 2.9kg with a loaded magazine.

A compact version is also available for under barrel use, but the standard, carbine-like model is more common.

The FN Herstal less-lethal launcher is seen here in use by Rio de Janeiro Military Polices’ BPChq – Batalhão de Choque (Shock Battalion), the specialized riot-control unit. Employment includes rioters contention, dispersion and paint marking for eventual following and subsequent arrests. Blunt trauma is, sure, its most effective attribute.

The FN 303 is seen here with its drum magazines and color-coded projectiles displayed alongside a Condor TA-26 Taser gun, a 12-ga CBC Tactical shotgun, and a 37/38mm Condor AM 640 launcher, all Brazilian-made as well as the non-lethal rounds shown.

Ronaldo Olive

Ronaldo is a long-time (starting in the 1960s) Brazilian writer on aviation, military, LE, and gun subjects, with articles published in local and international (UK, Switzerland, and U.S.) periodicals. His vast experience has made him a frequent guest lecturer and instructor in Brazil’s armed and police forces.


  • DW

    Best milsim paintball gun that FN wont sell to civilians.

  • tiger

    Nice half step to a Star TREK Phaser gun

  • JD

    Where can civilians buy it? I’ve found ammo, but not the launcher.

    Might be a nice intermediate level of force for encouraging crowds to move on without having to go to more lethal options.

    • peter holmberg

      as i understand it its just a paintball marker?

      • Patrick Karmel Shamsuddoha

        close but not exactly

      • J.T.

        It doesn’t use standard paintball rounds. They are shaped more like foster slugs, which is why it needs the drum magazine.

        • Vhyrus

          Look up first strike rounds. Same thing but you can buy them. There are quite a few companies that make first strike compatible markers.

    • DW

      FN does not sell this model to civilians.
      However the pistol model the 303p is made by Tiberius, and that gun is the one you can buy, just not from FN

  • Audie Bakerson

    Is this an air gun (and not a firearm) or is the firing conventional with the compressed air for reseting?

    • Patrick Karmel Shamsuddoha

      it is closer in relation to a paintball gun, it use .68 cal projectiles, but the FPS is much higher then the sub 300 FPS dubbed safe for paintball

      • J.T.

        Muzzle velocity is about the same as a standard paintball marker, about 85-90 m/s

        • Patrick Karmel Shamsuddoha

          so the difference is the weight of the projectile vs the weight of a first strike round, if you try to shoot first strikes in an unmodified FN303 they will break inside the gun under the pressure.

          yeah i can throw an tomato and a baseball at the same speed but one hurts way more

  • iksnilol

    They should make a Thompson style foregrip and stock for it.

  • J.T.

    I’ve gotten to fire one of these before. They are more accurate than a paintball/pepperball gun, but you still get flyers that go off target so 50 meters is really about the outer range I would want to use one to be able to reliably hit the intended target. They are still a good substitute for beanbag rounds from a shotgun though since they can’t accidentally be loaded with “lethal” ammo and can be fired and reloaded more quickly if needed.

    • noob

      I heard one lady named Victoria Snelgrove died in 2004 when a fn303 pellet went through her eye socket and into her brain. I think they did a recall to make accuracy improvements in the wake of the incident. Is that correct? And if so did the groups get any more consistent after the fn303 came back to market?

      • Requiescat in pace

        maybe this is from where the LESS lethal designation comes from

        • iksnilol

          Yup, from cases like that.

  • Don Howard

    it is at it’s heart an Airgun Designs Automag paintball gun – though setup to push significantly more volume of air for greater velocity. They can be modded down to safe velocities for sport use.

  • Vhyrus

    It’s a freaking paintball gun with a 10th of the capacity and 3 times the cost. Come on people I thought you were better than this.

    • iksnilol

      Better accuracy, velocity and ammo as well.

      • Vhyrus

        Incorrect. First strike rounds are available for many different markers, and it is very easy to increase the fps of a paintball marker well above the 300 fps game limit.

        • iksnilol

          Looked up those first strike markers. Really want the pistol, loaded with rubber bullets it should be a decent less lethal option. I like that the CO2 shuts off when the mag is removed. So you could possibly have a mag ready almost in the pistol and store it like that.

        • Patrick Karmel Shamsuddoha

          so the difference is the weight of the projectile vs the weight of a first strike round, if you try to shoot first strikes in an unmodified FN303 they will break inside the gun under the pressure yeah i can throw an tomato and a baseball at the same speed but one hurts way more

          • Vhyrus

            If all you’re looking for is pain compliance you can load ball bearings or reballs (rubber paintballs, look them up) into a regular paintball marker for a fraction of the price. Or just buy some beanbag rounds for your 12 gauge. There is no need for this thing. It is solving a problem that has been solved dozens of other ways better and cheaper.

  • BooBooBaby

    Wow! Nice!

  • Looks quite front-heavy to me.
    I saw one on display at FNH’s booth at DSA 2016, it had an Eotech mounted on it.