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18.9.2021 : 10:02 : +0200

Product Categories

The Small Arms Survey’s definitions of small arms and light weapons provide an idea of the extent and diversity of weapons production. The products can be divided into several categories. The most important distinction is to be made between civilian and military products. Small arms and ammunition products are often developed for military use, then adapted to the civilian market.

Several other important distinctions can be made to classify the range of products. Ammunition, for instance, is categorized as cartridge-based or non-cartridge–based. Light weapons can be designed as either direct- or indirect-fire weapons. While the mortar is an example of indirect-fire weapons, developments in air-busting ammunition will progressively blur this notion. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and bunker-busting weapons can be either guided, unguided, crew-served, or fire-and-forget weapons firing high-technology projectiles.

Rudimentary weapon systems still feature predominantly in arsenals around the world, confirming an ongoing demand for low-cost, low-tech weapons. With an estimated nine million or more units produced, the rocket-propelled grenade RPG-7 is exceptionally inexpensive, user-friendly, and easy to upgrade; it has become a weapon of choice for armies of the developing world and non-state actors alike.

Less-lethal weapons form another category that has seen substantial developments in both military and law enforcement applications. 

Small Arms

Small arms include revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns.


Small arms and light weapons’ ammunition features a range of ammunition types from small calibre cartridge-based ammunition to rocket propelled, high explosive projectiles fired from re-loadable or disposable shoulder-fired launchers.

Less-lethal Weapons

Less-lethal weapons are designed to incapacitate people without causing death or permanent, irreversible injury. Specialized literature usually refers to these weapons as 'non-lethal' in a military context, and as 'less-lethal' in a domestic security—or police—context.

Light Weapons

Light weapons are mortars up to 120 mm in calibre; hand-held, under-barrel, and automatic grenade launchers; heavy machine guns; portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile systems; anti-materiel rifles, recoilless rifles, and guns; portable rocket launchers and portable rockets fired from rails. 


Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) are light-weight surface-to-air missile systems designed to be operated by a single individual or small crew.

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