FN Herstal details its FN Smart ProtectoR®-303T, which reduces the risk of injuries in riot control missions

Paolo Valpolini

Designed for law enforcement use, but potentially for military who are involved in riot control missions, the new FN Smart ProtectoR®-303T drastically reduces the risk of major injuries, these being mostly due to headshots. Unveiled at Milipol Paris 2023 last November, EDR On-Line was provided detailed information on the new system

Although currently symmetric confrontation issues are back on the agenda of all armies, this does not exclude the potential use of armed forces in operations other than war, where the chances of the engagement of military personnel in riot control situations is always a possibility. On the other hand their use in homeland security missions is also possible, hence the new less than lethal product developed by FN Herstal and unveiled at Milipol Paris can potentially be used both by “blue” and “green” personnel.

The new FN Smart ProtectoR-303T is based on the existing FN 303® Tactical less than lethal system, to which the “smart” word is added, as the system is able to provide the shooter with warnings should the aiming endanger the potential target.

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The system maintains all the physical characteristics of the previous version, and fires the same 18 mm calibre 8.5 grams rounds available in four versions, Impact, Impact and Marking (Washable), Impact and Marking (Indelible), and finally Impact plus Irritant Effect. Fired from a 194 mm long smoothbore barrel, the round energy is 33 Joules at muzzle while at 30 metres distance it is reduced to 22 Joules, The drum magazine contains 15 rounds, the FN 303 Tactical firing in semi-automatic mode, the air compressed bottle allowing to fire three full magazines before replacement, a larger bottle being availabe that doubles autonomy.

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The non-lethal definition has been modified in less-than-lethal long time ago, as even such weapons can eventually kill a person should they hit him or her at the wrong place. And one is definitely the head. The shock generated by the round, which breaks-up at impact, transferring all energy to the target without risk of abrasions or ricochets, is compared to that of a baton strike, and should it hit the face of a human damages might be irreversible. Hence the need for police officers and military called to act against mobs to avoid hitting the “small target” as it is often referred to, unintentional headshots being possible when the operator is faced with stressful situations or is jostled by a passerby. 

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FN Herstal developed its FN VictoR®-SP image processing camera with the aim of providing a reliable system able to dramatically reduce the aforementioned risk. The camera. A small cylinder installed at the front of the weapon, close to the air compressed bottle, is able to capture the scene seen by the shooter, record it in a memory card, analyse images in real time, and should the aiming point be within the target head emit audible and visual warnings to the shooter. Not only, an electro-mechanical impulse activates the safety that temporarily prevents firing.

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To reach this result the FN® e-novation department analysed thousands of heads to generate an algorithm capable to identify that part of the human body with utmost reliability. It is capable of detecting human heads in different conditions. “This includes occlusions such as glasses, caps, scarves, hygienic masks, as well as getting head detected at 360°,” a company source told EDR On-Line. “This results from a multi-year development based on different computer vision techniques. The baseline is built with machine learning techniques and reinforced by decision trees and image transformation. A key challenge of this algorithm was the tradeoffs between latency, accuracy of detection and power consumption. It needs to be computed very fast without drawing too much battery life while maintaining accuracy,” he added. Considering urban situations, elevation is taken into account and proper computer vision technique is used to overcome this situation. “Of course we are considering spiral development and making recurrent update. We know we can still improve the algorithm over time.”

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If the crosshair is spot on or too close to the head, a red cross marks the target, an acoustic signal is generated, and the trigger is blocked. If not the cross is green and the weapon can be fired squeezing the trigger as usual. To ensure maximum reliability and accuracy, FN Herstal advises to zero the weapon at 15 metres distance.

Should the shooter aim at a target who is directly threatening his life, the FN VictoR-SP decision can be overruled. “The system features a bypass button that the police officer can activate anytime, in case of legitimate defence for instance. The FN VictoR-SP records the scene of the intervention, both audio and video as well as buttons status, and if required, these images will be available for judicial investigations for instance,” the company source told EDR On-Line. This allows the police officer or soldier to neutralise the target in a short time, much quicker than if he or she had to grab the service handgun to shoot.

The bypass button can be used also to exploit the maximum range of the FN Smart ProtectoR-303T, which remains the same of the original FN-303 Tactical, which goes between 0 and 50 metres, no minimal safety distance being considered; when using the FN VictoR-SP camera the range is between 5 and 25 metres, due to camera performances, thus excluding the camera-controlled system the original range is restored when needed.

Data captured by the FN VictoR-SP are downloaded via a USB-C port, the same used to reload the battery which has an autonomy between 5 and 12 hours, depending on use and external conditions. The system features an automatic sleep mode to reduce power consumption, while an external power pack can be added if necessary.

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As said initially, the FN Smart ProtectoR-303T draws heavily on the existing FN-303 Tactical but it is in fact a wholly new system with the exception of the ballistic elements. “Although we keep the same ergonomics and the new addition is almost transparent to the operators, the original FN 303 Tactical has been modified quite a lot internally. The front grip contains an electronics board controlling the solenoid, diverse sensors and is in charge of the battery management. These elements imply a number of changes internal to the launcher. All the benefits of the original launcher remain the same, such as accuracy, safety and efficiency. What is made safer with the FN Smart ProtectoR-303T is the use of the launcher,” EDR On-Line was told. Therefore retrofitting an existing FN 303 Tactical into an FN Smart ProtectoR-303T is not proposed, and it would not be cost-effective.

The FN Smart ProtectoR-303T also includes an integrated training system. The App allows following shooters weapon skill proficiency, and its evolution, by showing the muzzle movement done before putting the crosshair on the intended target. It can also be used on pre-recorded video scenarios, for a more realistic training.

Technical specifications
Projectile diameter18 mm
PropellantCompressed air
Firing modeSemi-auto
Magazine capacity15 projectiles
Compressed air bottle capacity3 magazines
Length (depending on FN 303® Tactical model)508-755 mm
BarrelSmooth bore
Barrel length194 mm
Energy (E0/E30)33J/22J
Zeroing15 m (recommended)
Operating distance5-25 m
Battery autonomy5-12 hours
Connectivity (battery charge and data transfer)USB-C

Photos by EDR On-Line and FN Herstal