By: Michael Cantrell

Understanding the differences and similarities of munitions and launchers is very important for the professional CERT team member. How those terms are used in language and reports can limit personal liability personally as well as agency liability. Here are the nine definitions every CERT team member should know about munitions or launchers.

1. NON-LETHAL: Non-lethal munitions are explicitly designed and developed to incapacitate or repel personnel, with a low probability of fatality or permanent injury. 

2. LESS LETHAL: Less-Lethal munitions are less likely to cause death. However, less-lethal munitions, by manufacturer design, have a greater likelihood of serious bodily injury or death over non-lethal munitions. 

3. KINETIC ENERGY: Kinetic energy is the energy of motion, observable as the movement of an object. Every moving object has kinetic energy: a person running, a thrown football, or an impact munition, fired from a launcher. The kinetic energy of an object can be found by the following formula: KE = ½mv2 where m is mass and v is velocity. Doubling the weight or mass of an object will double its kinetic energy, but doubling the velocity of the object will quadruple this amount!

4. STANDOFF DISTANCE: The distance from operator to target. Most impact munitions have a set standoff distance for each munition dependent on many factors including velocity, weight, and size of impact munition. Generally standoff distances will be provided either by the munition manufacturer or agency policy.

5. ORGANIC IRRITANT : Oleoresin capsicum (OC), pelargonic acid vallinylamide (PAVA), and capsaicin are organic irritants derived from the pepper plant. The ingredients in hot peppers that are responsible for the ‘heat’ are called capsaicinoids. PepperBall PAVA is an organic irritant.

6. CHEMICAL IRRITANT: Irritant incapacitants, sometimes called riot control agents (RCA), lacrimators or tear gases. The most common compounds are known as chloroacetophenone (CN) and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS). Other examples include chloropicrin (PS), which is also used as a fumigant, bromobenzylcyanide (CA); and dibenzoxazepine (CR).

7. PEPPERBALL LAUNCHER: Part of the non-Lethal PepperBall system. A PepperBall launcher uses high-pressure air tanks or CO2 cartridges to deliver PAVA powder projectiles from a safe distance. PepperBall launchers should never be referred to as guns or firearms.

8. PEPPERBALL PROJECTILES: Part of the non-Lethal PepperBall system. PepperBall projectiles are designed to break and release either PAVA or INERT compounds in a powder cloud. The kinetic impact of PepperBall is one-tenth that of 12 gauge drag stabilized or 37/40 mm foam less-lethal munitions. PepperBall projectiles should never be referred to as bullets.

9. 37/40 MM LAUNCHER: The M1916 37mm gun was developed by the French and used primarily by French and American forces in WWI for destroying machine gun emplacements. Later versions would be used for flares, chemicals, and smoke, until adopted by United States law enforcement as a method of dispersing riot control agents and impact munitions.

Interested in learning more about PepperBall for Corrections? Click here to schedule a demo.  

About the Author: Michael Cantrell has recently retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons as the Chief of the Office of Emergency Preparedness. A Master Instructor for PepperBall, he is considered a leading expert in the area of correctional breaching. Michael is also the author of The Prison Officer Podcast Job Guide, and can be heard every month on The Prison Officer Podcast.

Michael Cantrell

Published on Nov 22, 2023