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Kinetic Energy Non-Lethal Weapons (KENLW) use the combination of the projectile mass and velocity to incapacitate targets. Nowadays, they are the most frequently used “non-lethal” systems offering an intermediate response between coercive measures and conventional firearms. The goal of our research group is to assess the possible injuries inflicted by KENLW. It is a challenge, due to the wide variety of projectiles currently in use and the complexity that characterises the interaction between the projectile and the human body.

Effective Range

The possible injury inflicted by a kinetic energy projectile depends upon its impact velocity. Drag makes sure that a projectile decelerates once it has been fired. Hence, beyond a certain range, the projectile becomes ineffective (the velocity is too low).

Engaging targets can be unsafe i.e. unacceptable, for two reasons. On the one hand, too close to the weapon, the projectile’s (high) velocity could lead to fatality or permanent injury. On the other hand, too far from the weapon, shot dispersion could be too important and lead to an unacceptable high probability of unintentional permanent injury (the projectile could hit a critical point on the target e.g. an eye, instead of the aiming point e.g. the centre of the thorax). For these two reasons, one should not engage targets beneath a minimum nor beyond a maximum safety distance, respectively.

The minimum and maximum safety distances define the effective range. Determining the effective range is an important issue for each {KENLW,projectile} combination.  

Dangerous or ineffective


Effective range

Weapon’s firing direction

International effort

Obtaining the minimum and maximum safety distances is based on risk assessment models and protocols. As today no standardization exists in this field of interest, international collaboration is necessary and ongoing.

- NATO SAS094 : Analytical Support to the Development and Experimentation of NLW Concepts of Operation and Employment (SAS = System Analysis and Studies);

- NAAG LCG/DSS NLC SG : the NATO Army Armaments Group Land Capability Group Dismounted Soldier System, Non-Lethal Capabilities Subgroup;

- NATO DAT : NATO Defense Against Terrorism;

- European Working Group on NLW.

The Royal Military Academy (RMA) NLW research group plays an active role in these organisations.

Focus of the RMA NLW Research Group

Our efforts are towards the evaluation of the impact of non-lethal kinetic energy projectiles onto the human thorax and a person’s head. Both areas have been recognised as being those most likely hit during real situations involving the use of KENLW. Also it appears that thoracic and cranial impacts tend to inflict the most severe injuries.

For the thorax, two major injury mechanisms have been identified : the skin penetration of the projectile, and the blunt trauma effect (even if the projectile doesn’t penetrate, costal fractures or lung damage can still occur).

Head impacts are assessed regarding the following damage thresholds: unconsciousness, meningeal and bone damage.

Our research is based upon laboratory experiments and numerical simulations.


NLW European Working Group

Surrogate composed of a block of 20% gelatine, a foam panel, and chamois skin. It has been shown that the presence of fissures or cracks on the gelatine block correlates well with the occurrence of skin penetration onto the human body.

Thoracic blunt trauma effects and head injuries are assessed by a combination of experimental results and numerical simulations.

Laboratory measurements require the use of real weapons or homemade versatile pneumatic launchers, force sensors, high-speed cameras and performant processing software.

Kinetic Energy Non-Lethal Weapons (KENLW)

Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW)

NATO has had an active interest in non-lethal weapons (NLW) for more than a decade. In 1999, the North Atlantic Council signed out a policy, which defines NLW as “weapons which are explicitly designed and developed to incapacitate or repel personnel, with a low probability of fatality or permanent injury, or to disable equipment, with minimal undesired damage or impact on the environment.” Additionally, non-lethal capabilities were identified as a “critical, additional capability needed in order to meet the demands of future operations.” Ongoing operations have confirmed this need and further increased interest in NLW.