When law enforcement thinks of less-lethal launchers, one of the first companies to come to mind is PepperBall Technologies. PepperBall was formed in 1996 as an offshoot of Jaycor, a defense contractor for more than 30 years. The company was officially incorporated in 1998 as Jaycor Tactical Systems and changed its name to PepperBall Technologies
in September 2002.
PepperBall has produced a wide variety of products that all revolve around PepperBall projectiles. Products include the SA-10 semi-auto pistol, the custom carbine rifle and the recent FlashLauncher, which is an integrated flashlight and five-shot PepperBall launcher with a laser aimer. PepperBall continues to give law enforcement a wide variety of delivery systems for PAVA powder OC rounds. The most recent addition to the impressive PepperBall Technologies product line is the SA-4 handheld launcher.
The SA-4 is a four-shot pistol with no moving parts other than the trigger and safety. The SA-4 almost looks futuristic in design and appearance. It has four barrels set up in a diamond configuration. Made of black polymer plastic, it is sturdy and rugged but lightweight (just under a pound at 14 ounces loaded with the battery installed). It features an ambidextrous three-position safety with a safe, fire and fire with laser aimer configuration.
The safety was easily accessible and required minimum effort to operate. When the safety is first kicked off, there is a small lighted display on the back of the weapon just below the sights that shows how many rounds are live and which barrels they are in. This is a nice feature to be able to get that visual confirmation that the weapon is loaded and to let the operator know exactly how many shots he has available.
In addition to the laser aimer, the SA-4 comes with high-visibility sites. Two orange rear dots and a single green / yellow front dot for the sites are designed to gather ambient light for improved sighting in low-light conditions.
A 9-volt battery powers the weapon. Yes, you read it right. The weapon is fired electronically with two small pins in each barrel. The 9-volt battery fits into the handle of the weapon. The cover is held in place by an Allen wrench, which was not provided with our unit.
A shotgun primer propels each round. That means the SA-4 qualifies as a firearm. Any weapon that fires a projectile by the means of an explosion is a firearm. That almost certainly complicates things. How do you fit the SA-4 firearm, which fires less-lethal projectiles into your department’s force continuum? It’s a less-lethal option, but it is lethal firearm by definition, for lack of better terminology. The PepperBall fires a projectile that is both an impact munition as well as a chemical agent. With that in mind, the SA-4 should probably be placed above pepper spray but probably below a baton.
The fact that the rounds are fired electronically removes any need to stage the weapon to charge it or make it ready. Once loaded, the SA-4 can sit for a prolonged period of time without any worry of the CO2 cartridge losing its charge, unlike some of the other weapons, i.e., the SA-10. It is simply reload and shoot, reload and shoot. The muzzle velocity or the SA-4 is about 320 fps.
The projectiles are fin stabilized 10x rounds. They are very similar if not identical to PepperBall’s shotgun rounds. Some of you may be familiar with the Impact Plus Less Lethal 12-gauge round. These rounds can be fired from any standard 12-gauge shotgun, and they are also fin stabilized. A side-by-side comparison of the shotgun rounds and the SA-4’s 10x rounds showed very little difference. The shotgun rounds use a dimple in the side of the shell casing to hold the projectiles in place inside the shell casing.
The SA-4 10x rounds were encased in a long plastic tube with the primer and metal flange built into the end. From there, the fin-stabilized rocket projectile is positioned in the tube with a round tube of foam as the retaining device to keep the projectiles from sliding out of the tubes on there own.
This is great in theory, however, I observed a problem. The foam-retaining stopper sometimes caused the projectiles accuracy to be effected. As it was pushed out of the way, it caused some of the rounds to stray from their point of aim. This was especially true at the maximum manufacturer’s range of 30 feet. I had a few rounds hook to the left as far as 3 feet at the 10-yard line.
To prove this point, we removed the foam retainers and shot from the 10-yard line again. No strays this time with every round striking dead on with my point of aim. This may seem trivial when considering the amount of PAVA pepper powder delivered in each round totally engulfs the surrounding area, but the point behind PepperBall is that it’s an impact projectile as well as a chemical agent. With only four rounds available between magazine changes, you have to make each one count.
According to PepperBall, the 10x rounds fired by the SA-4 contain a 5% concentration of PAVA pepper powder. While 5% doesn’t sound like much, whenever we went downrange to check the targets, the area was totally contaminated after four rounds. This was even with a descent breeze blowing and being up wind. The SA-4 also has baby powder training rounds available for it. We fired these down wind of the target area and were immediately hit with the baby powder smell at the 30-feet mark as well as back at 50 feet. The 10x rounds have three times as much PAVA powder as standard PepperBall rounds.
The magazine for the SA-4 consists of a plastic holder that snaps onto the front of the barrels into which you can preload four live rounds. The rounds fit snuggly into the magazine. Magazine changes were quick and efficient after we got past the first couple, which was nothing more than becoming familiar with the weapon. Just squeeze the buttons on both sides of the magazine and pull forward. The magazine with the empty tubes came right out, and the new rounds easily snapped into the weapon with the new magazine. Magazine changes could be accomplished in 10 seconds.
The difference between SA-4 and some of the other PepperBall launchers is considerable. The SA-10nx is the semi-auto pistol version powered by CO2. The SA-10 delivers 12 ft-lbs of kinetic energy with a 30-foot optimum range with standard PepperBall rounds. The FlashLauncher uses standard PepperBall rounds with a 12 ft-lbs of kinetic energy and a range of 30 feet also.
The SA-4 uses the fin stabilized 10x rounds and delivers 20 ft-lbs of kinetic energy on impact with the same range of 30-foot maximum. The only other round that delivers the same 20 ft-lbs of kinetic energy would be the Impact Plus 12-gauge round with a range of 60-feet maximum that was mentioned earlier.
The trigger pull was moderate and very consistent. It was very easy to stay on target with virtually no recoil. The psychological effect of being lasered, shot with the hard-hitting impact projectile and then engulfed with the strong chemical agent would change most anyone’s mind from the current focus to self-preservation.
PepperBall has put the power of its shotgun round into a pistol version that can be worn as a duty weapon or for special events with the cross-draw holster. The SA-4 is a solid weapon that is made well and has a definite place with today’s law enforcement personnel. Of course, your department will have to find a way to deal with the firearm definition issue. Don Munson is a deputy sheriff with the Benton County, IN Sheriff’s Department, and he is point man with his multi-agency response team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.