University Park, Pa. --- The first assessment of the less-than-lethal munitions available to law enforcement agencies striving to keep order with a minimum of force has found that they do not approach the accuracy demanded of their lethal counterparts, a Penn State report says.
The authors write, "We were struck by the general inaccuracy of these munitions. Some configurations were more accurate than others but the accuracy decreased significantly as the range increased. There were very few direct fire munitions that could be used accurately at a range of 75 feet."
The report, "The Attribute-Based Evaluation (ABE) of Less-Than-Lethal, Extended-Range, Impact Munitions," is posted on the web at www.arl.psu.edu/areas/defensetech/defensetech.html The authors are Dr. John M. Kenny, research engineer at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), and Capt. Sid Heal and Capt. Mike Grossman of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD). The study was a project of ARL's Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies.
As more varieties of less-than-lethal munitions have become available, it has become more difficult for users to make selections. The munitions not only differ in ballistic stability, energy transfer, price, range and accuracy but also are dissimilar functionally ranging from lead-filled pads to plastic-fin stabilized projectiles to rubber pellets.
Late in 1996, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department began campaigning for objective and measurable criteria to identify the best munition for a given situation and recommended listing the common characteristics of each munition, as provided by developers, and measuring the common critical factors such as accuracy and energy transfer. Since the LASD and Penn State's Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies, an ARL unit, had been collaborating since 1997, they decided to undertake a preliminary project together to establish a starting point for the needed reference information.
Over a two-day period, LASD marksmen fired five rounds of 80 different less-than-lethal munitions at a ballistic impact measurement device. The munitions were launched from a freestanding position, as they would be in the field. The ranges were based on field requirements specified by the LASD. A team from both LASD and ARL collected the data. Kenny analyzed the data and characterized the munitions.
The team found that projectiles that use lead were accurate with little variation when compared to rubber munitions at 21 feet. However, at 75 feet, nearly a third of the 37 munitions tested missed the bull's eye by 18 inches or more and nine could not reliably hit the impact plate.
Manufacturers often claim that getting hit with a less-than-lethal, extended range impact projectile is similar to getting hit with a baseball. As part of the Penn State/LASD testing, the team checked this statement. They found that an official hardball thrown at the impact plate from a distance of 30 feet had a momentum in the middle range of the less-than-lethal munitions.
The research team acknowledges that the project was a "low tech" rapid attempt to provide much needed information about less-than-lethal extended range impact munitions. They suggest as next steps, 1) more comprehensive repeat testing with more rounds; 2) skip firing of pelleted projectiles; 3) actual measurements of the impact velocity; and 4) skin penetration studies.
"These less-than-lethal extended range impact munitions need to be more accurate," the researchers say. In addition, they write, "A better understanding of why these types of munitions are expensive would be helpful."
Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory provided funding for the project. The projectiles manufacturers donated the munitions, and both Penn State and LASD donated people, time and equipment.
Materials provided by Penn State. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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