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.
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.
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.
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.