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Flash-Bang Mortars

Nonlethal stun grenades in development could enable troops to counter insurgent attacks without risking civilian casualties

In today’s complex fighting environment, insurgents are known to shoot mortars from inside highly populated civilian areas. U.S. troops are unable to fire back without risking the lives of innocent people, but that could change thanks to the Department of Defense (DoD) Non-Lethal Weapons Program.

Using existing 81 mm mortar tubes and a modified M853A1 illuminating mortar, the Escalation of Force Branch at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command is developing a nonlethal “flash-bang” (also known as a stun grenade) mortar round that can temporarily disorient an enemy’s senses.

From over a kilometer away, troops could fire the Non-Lethal Indirect Fire Munition (NL-IDFM), the equivalent of 14 M84 stun grenades, simultaneously to stop enemy activity, deny them access to an area or help move people to another location, all while minimizing collateral damage and risk to Soldiers. Currently, developers are also looking to add infrared or ultraviolet ink to the mortar to paint anyone near the detonation, so Soldiers could identify people in a crowd. The mortar could also be used to control riots and answer other threats requiring a nonlethal response. Once the DoD certifies the mortar, it could be available to the Army Guard and other services for possible procurement by late 2017.



• Based on the existing M853A1 81 mm illuminating round body currently used by the DoD

• Compatible with the existing 81 mm mortar and propulsion system

• Includes two parachutes: one for the tail and fin section and a second for the fuse and shell body, mitigating falling debris that could injure civilians

Weight: 8.8 pounds when empty

Size: 25.3 inches long; 81 mm in diameter

Filler weight (nonlethal cartridges): Less than 1.5 pounds

Range: 5,000 meters maximum, but with nonlethal payload, its range is 450 to 1,500 meters



1. The modified M853A1 illuminating mortar is fired from a conventional 81 mm mortar tube.

2. The round flies through the air like a standard mortar; speed and time of flight dependent on the propulsion charge used.

3. The mortar could be fired at a target over a mile and a half away, but the round’s current effective range is between 450 and 1,500 meters.

4. Roughly 175 to 275 meters above the target, a time-delay fuse detonates, separating the mortar’s nose and tail sections and releasing 14 nonlethal cardboard-encased submunitions.

5. Parachutes release from the mortar’s nose and tail, and the mortar floats to the ground while the flash-bang grenades fall stabilized by drag ribbons.

6. The nonlethal cartridges detonate simultaneously, covering a 25–to-30-meter area.

7. Each cartridge, similar to an M84 stun grenade, emits a 170–to-180-decibel bang and a flash of more than 1 million candela within 5 feet of initiation.


Photos from Yuma Proving Ground and MAJ Darrin Haas