Magazine article National Defense

Non-Lethal Rounds Tough to Mass Produce

Magazine article National Defense

Non-Lethal Rounds Tough to Mass Produce

Article excerpt

Industry would like common standards for commercial and military ammo

Growing involvement by U.S. military forces in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions around the world has fueled the demand for non-lethal munitions in recent years.

Manufacturers, however, are struggling to adapt non-lethal ammunition-fired in 12gauge shotguns-to mass-production techniques, said Eduard L. Lilliott, chief executive officer and vice president of Ordnance Technology Associates (OTA), headquartered in Perry, Fla.

OTA, a subcontractor for Technical Solutions Group, in Charleston, S.C., is one of a handful of manufacturers supplying nonlethal munitions to the military services.

The firm makes three different types of non-lethal munitions for the U.S. Marine Corps, Coast Guard and civilian law enforcement agencies. Within the industry, these munitions-bean bag, rubber fin stabilized and peacekeeper-are called kinetic-impact rounds, which means they are intended to stun individuals, not maim or kill them, noted Lilliott, a ballistics chemist who retired from a 25-year career at Olin Corp.-Winchester, of East Alton, Ill.

He gave National Defense a tour of his small plant's operation in rural north Florida.

A beanbag is a small cotton sack, filled with steel pellets, in this case, number-four buckshot. After being stitched shut, the bag is packed into a 12-gauge shotgun shell.

The rubber fin is a light, plastic, bulletshaped projectile with stabilizing fins on the back to promote short-range accuracy.

The peacekeeper round is used for marking individuals who are believed to be leaders or instigators. It is a light, plastic projectile that is filled with a durable, ultraviolet paint. Once an individual has been hit, he or she can be apprehended later, when there isn't a volatile crowd watching.

Even if the paint has been seemingly scrubbed off, suspects can be identified, by scanning them, as much as seven days later, with a black light, Lilliott said. He vouched for the tenacity of the UV paint because he has tried it on himself

The peacekeeper is the first non-lethal round that OTA made, said Eva C. Jones, chief financial officer and president of the firm. Jones developed the mold design and the manufacturing process for the peacekeeper.

When OTA started in 1995, no established database existed for making nonlethal rounds, Jones explained. The firms first attempts, using paint-ball technology, didn't work well, she noted. Nevertheless, she said, OTA eventually attained success by continued experiments with a wide variety of rubber and plastic-based materials.

One of the biggest hurdles that manufacturers face is being held to a standard two and three-quarter-inch shell, said Lilliott. Most shotguns made today come with a three-inch chamber, which is where a round sits when it is fired. Holding manufacturers to a two and three-quarter shell gives any kind of projectile a quarter of an inch "to bounce around in" before it goes down the barrel of the gun, Lilliott explained.

"The bean bag is okay, because of the way it is shaped," continued Lilliott. "It's heavy enough to do what it's supposed to. But projectiles like the peacekeeper or the rubber fin are more of a problem. These projectiles will gyrate [in the chamber] and act like they don't know what they are doing."

Problems arise because this quarter-inch void compounds a loss of propellant pressure when a round is discharged, said Lilliott. "This is not a problem in a regular [lethal] round," he said. "If I lose five or 10 percent of my pressure, I'm not in much trouble. However, losing five or 10 percent with reduced psi [pounds per square inch] means I'm in trouble.

"This makes the round unpredictable. [The projectile] could catch the gases and go one way or another. Or it could catch the gases just right and do what it is supposed to do. There is no way of predicting it. …

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