FN 303 Less Lethal Launcher Review

Last Updated on

One definition widely preferred by law enforcement regarding less-lethal systems is stated as follows: “A weapon system or device that, when properly applied, can stop the undesirable action of an individual and induce compliance, by means that have a low probability of producing lethal effects.” The concept of a less-lethal system is the reduction of the number of fatalities produced in encounters when lethal force was previously acceptable and within the rules of engagement. When a less-lethal system is used as the first round, knowledgeable courts and investigative boards frequently recognize this action as a legitimate attempt to avoid lethal injury.

A Recent Discovery

One of the most interesting less-lethal systems this author has recently seen is the FN Herstal XM303. I both handled this system and witnessed its use during the recent Mock Prison Riot scenarios held at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary, located in Moundsville, West Virginia. The XM303 is completely different and far more refined than other systems which are generally made from modified paint ball platforms. These altered paint ball systems have a number of shortcomings, including being fragile in design; having hoppers which may break off of the weapon; hopper lids which may open, spilling less-lethal rounds all over the ground; hoppers which interfere with weapons handling techniques; and they can sometimes provide a silhouette readily identified as a less-lethal system (this can be problematic as the reader will soon understand).

The FN XM303 operates off of a “quick detachable” compressed air canister mounted on the right side of the platform, and is semiautomatic. Semiautomatic fire is more controllable and accurate, thus avoiding the problem of “hosing a perpetrator and perhaps adjacent noncombative personnel.” Less-lethal rounds should not be used in a suppressive fire role (the intent of automatic fire), but as a precisely fired projectile targeting large muscle masses (generally the same areas an officer would strike a perpetrator with a baton).

The XM303 has many other advantages. For example, it can be used as a stand-alone device or as a supplement to a lethal system. To clarify, the XM303 is 29 inches long and weighs five pounds in the stand-alone version. The stand-alone version is black and does not present a silhouette which is easily recognized as a less-lethal system. Other platforms are easily identified as less-lethal and perpetrators are becoming aware of this fact. A perpetrator who identifies a less-lethal system will often utilize evasive maneuvers, including rapid movement, seeking cover and concealment, or aggressively attacking the less-lethal operator. The main intent of “flagging” other less-lethal systems is the fact that they are also used as deadly weapons (or may be used in such a manner, if there is an ammunition mix-up). For example, using orange stocks on these platforms usually means they are dedicated to firing less-lethal munitions.

In the supplemental version (undercarriage version), the XM303 is 16.7 inches long, weighs 4.9 pounds and is temporarily fitted to the underside of the M16 rifle handguards. The undercarriage version can be quickly mounted, or dismounted, with the flick of a lever. Like the stand-alone version, the undercarriage version is black and does not present a silhouette which is easily recognized as a less-lethal system. Perhaps the strongest advantage the undercarriage version has is the fact that, at a moment’s notice, the deploying officer can deploy the M16 rifle if the situation escalates into a deadly force situation. Other systems call for two officer deployment (one less-lethal officer and one lethal officer).

Additionally, the XM303 uses a very rugged, quick change, 15 round drum style magazine suspended in the underside of the platform’s receiver. The drum style magazine will not easily break off, spill rounds onto the ground, or interfere with weapons handling techniques.

Superior Ammo

The XM303 uses ballistically superior 12-gauge type projectiles capable of accurate impact out to 100 meters. Unlike the traditionally designed paint balls that other less-lethal systems use, the XM303 projectiles are rifled and fin stabilized to enhance accuracy. The exterior of the projectile is clear plastic and the interior contains a weighted nose containing nontoxic bismuth with a payload housed directly behind. The payloads weigh 8 to 8 1/2 grams which is significant when compared to other paint ball type projectiles containing only 2 1/2 to 2.8 grams of payload. Payloads can include chemical agents (OC, CS or CN), malodorant (an overpowering, disgusting, smelling substance), low velocity specialty impact (dense plastic), marking (washable or indeliable dye), or illuminating (Cyalume or infrared payloads) rounds. Marking rounds can be used to mark suspects, people, vehicles or locations. Illuminating rounds may be used to illuminate interior rooms or hidden locations. Chemical loads may be used to deny access or incapacitate individuals. Low velocity specialty impact rounds may be used to impact aggressive individuals.


The XM303 can be used in a number of roles, such as controlling target-specific situations, and riot control situations. Target-specific situations include barricaded subjects, suicidal subjects, and the arrest of some violent subjects armed with knives or other nonfirearm type weapons. Also, this less-lethal system may be used to arrest subjects brandishing firearms in a nonthreatening manner. In riot control situations, the XM303 may be used to disperse a crowd, deny access to an area, or discourage looting. The XM303 may also be used to target a specific individual who is providing motivation or otherwise instigating civil disorder.

Both the stand-alone and undercarriage models are easily operated and maintained. The undercarriage model is particularly suited for the armed forces operating in nontraditional combat roles, such as peacekeeping or humanitarian missions – Missions Other Than War (MOTW). Troops in these environments are provided less-lethal devices as alternatives to the use of lethal force.

In conclusion, no department is immune to potentially tragic consequences of the misapplication of force. Too much, too soon is as inappropriate as too little, too late. Thus, the XM303 is designed to fit legally and socially acceptable concepts of the appropriate use of force.

Larry Pomykalski is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply