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Size matters: Large caliber impact systems leave their marks in the field

In August of 2005, I extolled the virtues of the 12 gauge bean bag round on the cyber pages of this forum. I received a number of positive emails in response to that posting, and it appears that for many I had hit a positive nerve. With that in mind, I'll take this opportunity to tell you why in the world of impact projectile systems-as in most areas in life-bigger really is better.


SL6 & a SL11
Before you suggest that I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, let me say unequivocally that everything I wrote in August is true. The 12 gauge bean bag system is the most commonly observed in police practice for a reason; it offers the perfect balance of cost effectiveness (procurement and training), ease of training, ease of deployment, and function/performance. In the absence of 12 gauge bean bags, most police agencies would not have an extended range impact projectile system-period. The large caliber systems struggle when it comes to comparative "balance" with the 12 gauge, but they greatly exceed that popular system in one all important area-performance.

Plain and simple; large caliber, rifled barrel, single projectile, multi-shot systems rule. They deliver precision accuracy and energy levels-with reduced energy density-that 12 gauge systems can only dream of. They also do this shot after shot, at ranges that would leave a bean bag skipping in the dirt. The 37/40mm weapons are generally not adaptations of existing technology (as the 12 gauge is), but stand alone systems created to meet a specific operational need. Their recent evolution is easy to track, beginning in Hong Kong and ending in of all places, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Large caliber "baton rounds" had been used in the British colonies for many years. In the mid-1960's, they were deployed in the Hong Kong during periods of intense labor strikes and anti-British protests. The original rounds were made of teak, and combined the hard hitting power of the "truncheon" with the tactical advantage of long range stand off.  They were fired out of tear gas launchers and their accuracy-as with all such smooth bore systems-left much to be desired.


New Penn Gun
During the 1966 campaign, hundreds of protestors were reportedly injured by the rock solid impact or splintering of the wooden rounds, and one female demonstrator was killed. With what some considered perverse colonial logic, the Brits deemed the teak projectiles too dangerous for use on "their own" people-most notably the political protestors in Ulster. Likewise, they recognized the value of the extended range impact concept, and viewed it as a much needed back-up to their primary CS and water cannon crowd control systems. As a result, the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) set out to create a round capable of getting the job done, with a reduced potential for causing death or serious physical injury.

The fruits of their labor at Portadown resulted in the development of the now infamous, "rubber bullet", and it hit the streets of Northern Ireland in 1970. The 5.5 inch 37mm projectile weighed 5.25 ounces, and left its smooth bore barrel at a whopping 160 MPH. They were generally intended to be skip fired, and needless to say packed more than a wallop. They also did so with little concern about whom or where they struck. Between 1970 and 1974, almost 60,000 rubber bullets had been fired.

Numerous deaths and critical injuries were logged, which caused the MoD to convert to a "safer" to plastic bullet in 1975.  Unfortunately, the new round was still being fired out of an inherently inaccurate smooth bore barrel, and the lighter projectile traveled at over 200 MPH. Not surprisingly, the body count continued to grow. By 1985 the Brits had logged 17 deaths, and the international pressure reached a fever pitch.

Development of an accurate multi shot rifled system had been underway for several years, but the weapon that would become the ARWEN (Anti Riot Weapon ENnfield) found itself in a political environment that prevented it from ever setting foot in Ulster.  The British military ultimately transitioned to an accurate rifled barreled single shot system made by HK, which dramatically improved safety and performance.

This move also left several thousand ARWEN launchers gathering dust in the UK.  Royal Ordnance needed to move them, and a significant number were exported and sold in the United States. They worked well for those fortunate enough to procure them but regretfully, importation was discontinued around the time "less lethal impact" really began catching on in the U.S.


Arwen 37 and Ace 1
The large caliber rifled system had made its mark, and many contemporary agencies were clamoring to get one. In the void created by the lack of ARWEN access, SWAT operators from Springfield, Missouri reached out to Penn Arms in Punxsutawney, PA., in September of 1992.

Penn was manufacturing grenade launchers for military forces around the world, and their corporate policy was focused on, "quality, service, flexibility, and a constant drive for improvement". Springfield PD needed large caliber rifled baton launchers, and hoped that Penn Arms "flexibility" might include their wiliness to build such a device for law enforcement. Head engineer Hans Kornberger was contacted, and after numerous discussions concerning specifications and operational use, agreed to take on the project. Several months later serial #001 arrived in Springfield, and the device that three years later would become the SAGE SL6 was born.

The ARWEN was eventually re-introduced, and is now manufactured and exported from Canada. Armor Holdings/DEFTEC introduced the Exact Impact 40mm and related deployment system, and Penn Arms is marketing its stand alone line of 37/40mm launchers, along with continuing to manufacture the excellent SL6 for SAGE Control Ordnance. The large caliber rifled systems offer long range accuracy and  hard hitting performance that simply can't be beat, and they will continue to be the premier impact projectile systems for those agencies that are able to put them in the field.

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