The ARES Arms & Munitions Classification System (ARCS)

The identification of small arms and light weapons by make and model has long been the subject of specialist literature, but the definition and classification of these items has received only sporadic—and often limited or incomplete—attention. At the time of publication, there is no universally accepted definition of a ‘small arm’ or of a ‘light weapon’. Perhaps surprisingly, there has been relatively minimal effort on the part of international organisations to define these high-level terms more precisely, or to define the types of weapons which comprise these broad classes. International organisations have instead relied upon definitions developed in a broad range of different contexts—for different purposes—with the result that there is often inconsistency between terminology used by different groups. Military manuals, law enforcement outputs, academic publications, manufacturers’ documentation, national legislation, and multilateral instruments often define SALW in substantively different ways.

The primary purpose of this release of the ARES Arms & Munitions Classification System is to present a set of universally applicable definitions for SALW which will convey the maximum amount of useful and practical information to the observer. These definitions are supported by a classification schema which organises the definitions hierarchically, into several categories of SALW, and by an extensive glossary of technical terminology. It is hoped that the use of technically precise and consistent definitions and descriptors can mitigate problems with communication, allowing for improved collaboration between correspondents who might be of varied backgrounds, working in different sectors, or located across national boundaries.

The current public release of ARCS (ver1.3) is available to download here.

Version History

Version 1.0 (internal only) July 2020
Version 1.1 (external review – round 1) December 2020
Version 1.2 (external review – round 2) September 2021
Version 1.3 (public release) July 2022

The ARES Glossary

ARCS is supported by the ARES Glossary, which provided information on a number of technical terms that have not been subject to the ARCS definitions development process (as well as incorporating ARCS definitions). A version of the ARES Glossary is reproduced at the end of the ARCS handbook, however the most up-to-date version can be found on the ARES website.

With such a wide-ranging project as ARCS we appreciate that—no matter how extensive our review and editing processes—minor errors will have crept into the document. ARCS is intended to be reviewed and expanded periodically, so many of these will be caught and fixed over time. Nonetheless, we would welcome constructive feedback on ARCS. Should you wish to provide feedback, please contact: Please ensure that your feedback references specific sources, or is otherwise founded upon an established body of work, rather than simply presenting an opinion.