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Extreme Force Options

When a crowd engages in violent activities, a control force may have to resort to forceful measures to control the crowd. Strong measures of force are used only against crowds who employ defenses, arms, or tactics that make lesser measures of force ineffective or impractical. These measures include the use of firearms, the most extreme measure of force. The use of firearms ranges from the M234, which is a nondeadly force measure, to the machine gun, which is the most deadly force measure. The commander employs these firearms in a manner that is consistent with the principle of using minimum force. When employing firearms, way that the commander tries to ensure that they are used in a minimizes the chances for fatalities.


The M234 launcher is a riot control weapon that uses nondeadly force. The launcher, mounted on the M16 rifle, fires a projectile that causes pain on impact. The force of the projectile's impact repels or distracts rioters while causing minimal injuries.

The ring airfoil projectile is shaped like a ring or doughnut. It is 2.5 inches in diameter. It consists of a one-piece, molded rubber body weighing approximately 1.25 ounces. The projectile is available in two variations: the soft projectile and the sting projectile. Both are identical in their external appearance. The sting projectile is a kinetic energy projectile that inflicts a painful blow. The soft projectile is identical to the sting projectile, but it contains riot control agent powder in small compartments in the projectile's body. On impact, the powder is spread directly on the person.

The M234 launcher is mounted on the closed-end flash suppressor of the M16 (if so equipped) or on the M16A1 rifle. An upper arm and a buffer housing on the rear of the launcher mate with the rifle's forward sight and bayonet stud to keep the launcher from moving on the barrel. The launcher is aimed using the launcher sights. The rifle is fired in the usual manner. The speed and flat trajectory of the spinning projectile make it extremely difficult to dodge, catch, or deflect.

The firing rate is about four to six projectiles per minute. The maximum range is 100 meters, but the weapon works best against individuals at ranges to 40 meters and against small groups to 60 meters. It is most effective when the person is lightly clothed.


The M234 launcher is issued two per squad for each authorized company. The weapons may be deployed in several ways. Soldiers armed with the launcher may be used as members of foot or motor patrols. They also may be placed in or behind a crowd control formation. They must be positioned behind other squad members because they are vulnerable and make likely targets. Also, they must be positioned where they can easily hear the squad leader and fire team leader and react quickly to calls for fire support.

The soft projectile produces a CS agent cloud 4 to 5 feet in diameter. It is specifically designed to provide the commander with a less lethal means of engaging specific people or small groups under conditions in which other riot control weapons would be prohibited, undesirable, or ineffective. Ball ammunition is used only in extreme circumstances. Dispersing greater amounts of a riot control agent by other means is often undesirable or not possible. The soft projectile may be particularly useful against individuals or groups who are highly motivated, are wearing heavy clothing, or are using protective gear or shields.

The sting projectile produces a sharp stinging blow on impact. Through its painful effects, it repels, deters, or distracts crowd members. The sting projectile is employed in essentially the same way as the soft projectile. Whether the soft or the sting projectile is employed in a given situation is largely a judgmental decision. The sudden and painful impact of the sting projectile is particularly effective when used against lightly clothed people or people wearing masks that protect against the effects of the soft projectile. Against small area targets, employing soft and sting projectiles in combination can be highly effective. Troops must be very careful with the sting projectile. They must avoid accidental shots that can hit windows, streetlights, or other fragile structures. The sting projectile can easily break ordinary windows and may crack heavier glass like that used on store fronts.

Troops using M234 launchers also may be a part of security elements protecting critical facilities. Their positioning depends on the shape and physical limitations of the perimeter barrier. Whenever M234 firers are used, other members of the unit must be equipped with lethal firearms.

Use of the M234 must be controlled at all times. In crowd control formations, authority to fire the M234 launcher is retained at the platoon or company level. In a patrol or a security element, that authority belongs to the person in charge. Its use must be limited to people who pose a serious threat to security forces or critical facilities or to people who are bent on violence or destruction. Any other use may incite more violence and destruction, thus promoting sympathy for the participants.


Firing techniques for the M234 launcher include selective, volley, and combination fires. Selective fire employs fire aimed at point targets. For greatest effect, the projectile should hit the front, upper half of the torso. To prevent eye damage, the soldier avoids aiming directly at a person's head.

Volley fire is used against area targets to cover as much of an area as possible. Volley fire must be restricted to situations in which serious destruction of property could occur or life is at stake.

Combination fire is the joint use of the M234 and riot control agents. It capitalizes on the incapacitating effects of agents and the shock of M234 projectiles. Combination fire is used against attacks by determined groups of rioters.

Although the M234 is designed to keep injuries light, misuse of the weapon can cause permanent injury. Follow these precautions:

  • Take special care to avoid accidental use of ball ammunition.
  • Ball ammunition must not be issued to soldiers using the M234.
  • Avoid, if possible, using launchers for volley firing. An M16 firing blank ammunition sounds the same as it does when firing ball ammunition. To prevent panic and unfavorable crowd reaction, wait until the crowd realizes blank ammunition is being used. Then the launchers may be fired in greater numbers.
  • Do not use the M234 launcher for indiscriminate or harassing firing.
  • Do not fire at older people, pregnant women, or children.
  • Do not aim at the head or the neck. The projectile's speed gives it enough force to severely damage an eye.
  • Take every precaution to ensure a stray projectile does not hit an onlooker or the FM 19-15 property of residents. Not only can the projectile cause pain, it also can damage windows, streetlights, or other fragile structures.
  • Give annual training to all members of units using the M234. Training must include related equipment and the disassembly, assembly, and use of the launcher.


The riot shotgun is an extremely versatile weapon. Its appearance and capability have a strong psychological effect on rioters. It is particularly suited to certain applications in civil disturbance operations. When used with No. 00 buckshot, it is effective at a limited range. However, the use of No. 00 buckshot should be limited to specific missions. For example, it is ideally suited for use as a "covering" weapon in the antisniper role, during room-to-room searches, and at critical static posts that could be penetrated by a high-speed vehicle. By varying the ammunition from No. 00 to No. 7 1/2 or No. 9 birdshot, the shotgun can be used with considerably less possibility of serious injury or death. This gives the commander flexibility in choosing the ammunition that is most appropriate for the existing conditions.

When using No. 7 1/2 or No. 9 shot, the riot shotgun is suited to close-in firing against isolated targets like those encountered in antisniper operations. Because of the shotgun's short range, the danger of producing accidental casualties at ranges over 60 to 70 meters is much less than other types of weapons. However, the high lethality potential of the shotgun at shorter ranges places a severe restraint on its use during civil disturbance operations. The use of No. 00 buckshot, because of its high lethality at ranges beyond 100 meters, must be limited during civil disturbance operations.

Regardless of the type of shot used, the shotgun, like any other firearm, constitutes a deadly force that can be used only pursuant to the provisions of the rules on the use of deadly force. Positive control measures must be established to ensure that when shotguns are used, the commander specifically designates the type of ammunition to be used, and the troops armed with shotguns use only that type of ammunition.


The rifle is the primary individual weapon used in civil disturbance operations. The exception is crowd control operations. The primary weapon for crowd control is the riot baton. The rifle also may be used for antisniper operations.

When arming his troops with rifles, the commander may, in keeping with the principle of minimum force, select from several options. The options consist of various combinations of the rifle, the bayonet, the magazine, and the rifle's chamber. Each option represents an escalation in the level of force. The options are not sequential in the sense that a commander must start with the first option and proceed from one option to the next in order. As long as the option that he chooses is appropriate for the threat, he is in keeping with the principle of minimum force.

The rifle and the rifle with bayonet affixed have very limited offensive use in civil disturbances as both can constitute deadly force. The main value of the rifle with bayonet affixed is its psychological impact on a crowd. However, the danger of accidental or intentional injury to demonstrators or other control force members precludes the use of fixed bayonets except against extremely violent crowds. The rifle with a round in the chamber is an option that usually is reserved for the commander of selected marksmen, such as an SRT leader.

The troops fix bayonets only on orders. The order to lock and load rifles can only be given when the criteria for the use of deadly force have been met. When the M16 rifle is used, a lock plate must be installed to prevent automatic fire. The lock plate, a prefabricated insert, fits between the pistol grip and the receiver group. It prevents the selector switch from being inadvertently flipped to the automatic mode. A soldier can install the lock plate in less than a minute using only a screwdriver. Once in place, it ensures that the selector switch stays in the semiautomatic mode.


All automatic weapons, especially machine guns, are closely controlled by the task force commander. It is almost inconceivable that machine guns would be used, short of guerilla warfare. Only the most drastic circumstances would justify their use. Individual automatic weapons must be modified so that they only fire semiautomatically.

Automatic weapons larger than 7.62 millimeter are not taken on a civil disturbance mission. They usually are not needed or used. If a need develops, they can be obtained later.

Machine guns, 7.62 millimeter and below, may accompany units on civil disturbance missions. They are not taken on operations unless their use is imminent. Machine guns are available to the control force, but they are kept in a secure area.

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