Introducing the ARES Arms & Munitions Classification System (ARCS)

ARES is delighted to announce the first public release of the ARES Arms & Munitions Classification System, a new handbook designed to increase clarity and precision in how arms and munitions are defined and classified. The culmination of several years’ work by ARES and external specialists, ARCS offers a series of clear, technically focused definitions of arms and munitions, a method for classifying these items, and an extensive glossary of technical terms. This initial public release of ARCS focuses on small arms and light weapons (SALW), with further work on heavy weapons and munitions being conducted internally at the time of writing.

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 writing, 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.

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