Parvusimperator’s Carry Optics Experiment: Out-Cheaping Fishbreath

Between the two of us, Fishbreath is normally the penny-pinching tightwad. Usually.

Now and then though, I have my moments. When we last left my plans for next season, I was going to get a snazzy custom-built open gun. I’m now reconsidering, not because of the cost of the gun, but because of the hassle of the ammo. Open guns require 9×19 mm or .38 Super Comp loaded to make major power factor. Usually, this is the sort of thing one loads himself. You can buy some commercial major 9×19 mm or .38 SC, but it’s very expensive. Like $0.40-0.50 per round expensive. And I don’t have a reloading setup, and getting one would be kind of expensive. And I really don’t have much of an interest in reloading right now.

Then I thought about competing in other divisions. And I still want a 2011, possibly even a semicustom one. And I might still get one, and it might even see some competition in the Limited Division, where I could probably use factory .40. But there’s another division I can compete in today, and be technically near-optimal: Carry Optics. And with the changes in magazine rules (now as many rounds as you can fit in a 140 mm magazine), I won’t get traumatic flashbacks to living in Soviet Cuomostan1.

Let’s review my equipment list, and all the money I’m not spending.2

Base Pistol: Glock 17, $0.00
It’s a full-size 9 mm pistol. And I’m comfortable with it. And in this division, any polymer-framed pistol is going to work fine if you do your part. There’s no competitive advantage to any of them.

Trigger Job: Polish and Small Parts Tinkering, $0.00
I’ve got a bunch of glocks, so I have a bunch of parts I can tinker with to get the trigger feel right. And I have a dremel with polishing wheels, so I can polish stuff up.

Optic: Trijicon RMR02, $0.00
This optic works. RMRs have great battery life and are plenty tough. The window is a little small, but this will certainly work well, even if it isn’t optimal.

Optic Mount: Mark Housel Slide Milling, $0.00
I already got the slide milled for this RMR. It’s a sturdy mount. Mark does good work. Also, the cut is cerakoted, so I don’t have to worry about rust. It does lock me into the RMR on this gun, but I really don’t care.

140 mm Magazines: ETS and Magpul, $0.00
I already have a bunch of these from competing, because they’re reliable and a little easier to pull off of a belt than a big stick. They all hold at least 20 rounds in an easily-reloaded package. And that’s good enough for club matches. I can get a few more with extenders.

Holster: Dale Fricke Michael, $0.00
This is a production-legal, straight-drop holster. Does not require a weaponlight, which aren’t allowed in carry optics. It’s legal and it works great. There are more optimal holsters, but we can get those later, when I want to optimize. I have a good holster to do some testing. Plus this one is named for an archangel. How cool is that?

Magazine Pouches: Kytex Glock Mag pouches (3), $0.00
I already have these from taking classes with Glocks. Since I can load as many rounds as I can fit into my 140 mm mags, I don’t need a Ramboload of mag pouches. So I don’t need to purchase more.

Tuning required, $0.00
It’s a 9 mm Glock shooting factory ammo, with no changes to the recoil system. It’s about as reliable as you can get. Did I mention it’s a Glock? Time spent: Zero hours. Cost of parts and tools needed: $0.00.

There you have it. One super cool carry optics pistol, ready to rock. If I do get that 2011 in .40, expect some testing to see which gives me a higher hit factor. And I spent less than Fishbreath.

  1. Also known as New York State. 
  2. Or, I guess, technically money I’ve already spent, but SHUT UP. 

Project LSAT

When you look at the soldier’s load, ammo is a natural place to consider weight reductions. Less weight means more ammo. To deal with ammo weight, we can make the bullets smaller, or change their composition. We’ve tried Caseless Ammo, and that proved to have some significant technical challenges. What if we kept the case, but made it from something else?

Enter the LSAT project.

The idea behind LSAT was to create lighter cartridges using polymer cases and telescoped1 cartridge construction, and compare those to using caseless ammo based on the G-11 project. Of course, polymer isn’t brass, and this presents some design challenges. With a brass case, you can make a sturdy rim2 that an extractor claw can grab. You can then pull the case, spent or live, out of the chamber. This doesn’t work for polymer cases. A polymer rim of similar design isn’t strong enough for an extractor claw to pull the round out. You can only push the polymer case, which makes ejection a challenge.

To deal with this problem, the LSAT light machine gun uses a swinging chamber. When the chamber swings down to feed a round, the previous round is pushed forward into the ejection chute. The chamber then swings up to interface with the barrel for firing.

The focus of LSAT was a Light Machine Gun first setup, since the current US Army LMG, the M249, is considerably heavier than an M4. There’s more weight savings to be had there. The end result was a weapon that weighed 9.4 lbs for the polymer-cased telescoped ammo version. The version firing caseless ammo weighed a little more because of the need for extra components to provide an adequate chamber seal. Polymer-cased telescoped ammo is 40% lighter and takes up 12% less volume than conventional brass-cased ammo, so a belt of 100 rounds of 5.56 mm LSAT ammo weighs about 2 pounds, rather than the roughly 3.3 lbs for a 100 round belt of 5.56 mm NATO.

Let’s briefly talk about the LSAT rifle before getting into some analysis. The LSAT rifle is much less further along designwise than the LSAT LMG. Much of this is due to the fact that the US Army’s existing rifle, the M4, is already really lightweight. It’s an excellent weapon, and weight savings from ammo changes will be less noticeable with a 30 round magazine than with a 100 or 200 round belt. Further weight savings here are likely going to require materials changes.

Recently, the LSAT program started looking at the development of 6.5 mm cased telescoped ammunition, and weapons to fire them.

And now for the breakdown. First, I like the idea of continuing research into small arms development. And I like the idea of trying to keep it evolutionary rather than trying to force a revolution like with Project SPIW or the OICW. I like the LSAT LMG and the 5.56 mm LSAT round best. I’m a big fan of weight reduction, and the weight reduction in both weapon and ammo weight are big wins for the infantryman. I also like that combination for really only having one variable being played with. We’re still using the same 5.56 mm rounds, with the 5.56 mm bullets that we know, but we’re trying to use new materials to reduce the weight burden.

I’m also fine with the 5.56 mm LSAT rifle being put on the back burner. Weight savings from lighter bullets is less attractive here because we’re dealing with significantly fewer bullets. Plus, we already have a solid, lightweight rifle. Weight reductions there are probably going to come from rifle materials, not bullet design. I’m also ok with having a different round for the belt-fed infantry support weapons and the carbines. Linked and loose ammo are basically two different things anyway.

What about the new 6.5 mm projects? That really depends on the goal of those projects. If they’re looking to replace 7.62 mm NATO with a 6.5 mm LSAT round, I’d be okay with that. Or at least, I’d be fine with looking into that and testing the daylights out of that concept. And I would also be fine with a DMR-type ‘heavy rifle’ that fired the same round, in the same vein as the Dragunov rifle.

I would not be happy with any kind of effort to switch the general issue carbine from 5.56 mm anything to 6.5 mm anything. I do not approve of the extra load. I do not approve of adding a whole bunch of extra range that the average grunt can’t use. I do not approve of ignoring a mountain of historical evidence across multiple wars that most infantry combat occurs at relatively short ranges of less than 300 meters. I do not approve of excessively optimizing to fight in Afghanistan. I do not approve of small arms solutions to problems of rules of engagement and airspace deconfliction. I do not approve of any deviation from the classic solution to the sniper problem of mortars and artillery and airstrikes.

Any effort to make the standard infantry rifle a morbidly obese3 affair with a fat, overly energetic cartridge is a return to 1950s US Army Ordnance Department thinking. That nonsense brought us the M-14, which is a piece of junk. Let’s not make the same mistakes of the past. History teaches us what our parents and grandparents did wrong so we can make our own mistakes, not steal theirs.

I’m happy to debate the merits of a different cartridge for the medium/general purpose machine gun role, but that’s a very separate question. And trying for a ‘single cartridge’ means compromising too many ways. Since the SCHV rounds are the least bad present compromise, I’m happy to try out polymer cased telescoped rounds there, where at least the projectile itself can be kept constant.

  1. Telescoped like the 40mm CTAS rounds, but way smaller of course. 
  2. Even on ‘rimless’ cases like 7.62 NATO. 
  3. Projected weight for an empty, opticless 6.5 mm LSAT ‘carbine’ is 9.7 lbs, which is about 50% heavier than an empty, opticless M4 carbine. It’s also heavier than a loaded, fully equipped M4 carbine. That’s ‘wicked retarded,’ as my friends from Boston would say. 

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 21 – 21st Episode Spectacular

In our mostly-uncommented-on 21st Episode Spectacular, we dig into what’s wrong with three-gun, why the current iteration of light carrier design studies will end up like all other light carrier design studies, and how Uncharted and other third-person adventure games grip us.

Further reading
The Bureau Gun
Fishbreath’s Old-School Two-Gun Run
Modular Handgun System analysis (there’s more, too, I’m just too lazy to link it all)

We take requests! If you want to see a podcast topic done, let us know in the comments. We also take article requests. Leave us a comment on a related article and, if we like the idea, we’ll get on it.

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It’s Not the Arrow, Stupid

Fishbreath and I are gear junkies. We love tinkering. And there’s always the temptation to look at your gear, and look at how you can make it just a little bit better. Tinkering can quickly turn into obsessing. Jodie’s1 “interesting idea” becomes your “must have”. And you go nuts. Tons of perfectly fine pistols are ruined by people’s dumb ideas.

Let me be perfectly clear. As my old man says, it’s the indian, not the arrow. It’s your skill that makes the match day performance, not the gun.

Of course, I’m just some guy on the internet. Let’s look at a few examples.

EXHIBIT A: The Case of Mr. White.
Enter one Mr. Gabe White. A USPSA Limited division shooter out of the state of Oregon. He has a Master classification in this division. And yet, he has two noteworthy hardware limitations holding him back: his gun is strictly minor power factor, and he draws from concealment. He shoots a Glock 34. He can only score minor power factor with 9mm in Limited. So every hit outside the A zone costs him points when compared to the competition. And concealment slows his drawstroke. For usual rules of thumb, I’ve seen anywhere from one quarter to one half of a second as the difference between a concealed draw and an unconcealed draw. Another penalty his fellow competitors don’t have. And yet, he has an M classification.

EXHIBIT B: The Case of the First Two Limited Nationals
USPSA was originally a Run What You Brung sort of match. So if you had a lightly modified 1911 with sights you could see, a crisp trigger, and a dehorn job, and Jodie brought his new fancy compensated, optically-sighted gun, then you were stuck. One of the first divisions was a split between “Open” (No Limits) and Limited (No optics or compensators allowed). Around this time, some enterprising gunsmiths were figuring out how to make reliable 1911s with double stack magazines. They were expensive, and only a few guys could do it, so they were not common weapons. Enter Mr. Rob Leatham and Mr. Jerry Barnhardt. They took first and second place at the first and second Limited Division Nationals. Their pistols? Single-stack 1911s. Even though many of their competitors had the new double-stack models.

It’s not your equipment that’s holding you back.

  1. Yes, that Jodie. 

Some Thoughts On DCS: Part I

Eagle Dynamics’ flight sim DCS World is, on its surface, an impressive achievement. It’s the most beautiful game in its genre of the modern era, and one of the most exhaustive. Only the big players in civilian flight sims surpass it in terms of aircraft and theater variety, and nothing beats the complexity of its flight dynamics and systems modeling.

And yet, it remains a niche title. Why? I have three reasons: the engine, the ecosystem, and the community. Today, let’s look at the first.

Wait, wasn’t the engine a big pro? You’ll note I said it was pretty, and nothing more. I will grant it’s also fairly easy on performance for what it is, provided you haven’t added too many planes.

It falls down on the job in four crucial areas, though. First, it has no ‘bubble’ system a la Falcon 4, and can’t handle especially large numbers of units. There’s no good way to build and populate an entire front with opposing forces, and the lack of a true front line makes large-scale war scenarios very hard to do. It also means that the enormous bomber boxes from Battle of Britain 2 are still contained solely to Battle of Britain 2. Lacking the capability for large numbers of units makes even excellent innovations like MBot’s lua-script dynamic campaign engine less enjoyable than the pushing-20-year-old competition.

Second, there are currently two versions of DCS. DCS 2.1 is the new branch, which supports the payware Nevada and Normandy maps. DCS 1.5 is the legacy branch, which only has the Caucasus/Georgia map, but is also more reliably stable. This is a terrible state of affairs. Third-party developers have to keep their code up to date against two highly distinct versions of DCS, and these third-party developers are to a man small indie-style shops. They don’t have the developer resources to support two branches and build new products, and it shows. (More on this later.)

Third, developers can’t release standalone module updates. Module updates, as far as I can tell, require a full DCS recompilation. If a show-stopping bug makes it out of testing, players are pretty much out of luck until Eagle Dynamics can scrape together a hotfix. I have no idea why this should be the case, in this age of dynamic loading and so on. I suspect one of two things: either limitations in the engine, which does date back in some places to the Lock-On Modern Air Combat days, or a misguided attempt to prevent unauthorized third parties from accessing the high-end flight modeling features. The first issue could be fixed by a little work, and the second is a bad solution in search of a solved problem. Code signing is a thing. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Fourth, the simulation engine is extremely creaky. We’ll start with the scripting system. Not only is it difficult to use (fortunately, there are some scripting frameworks which wrap the inscrutable API), the API occasionally changes with no notice, breaking old missions. The mission editor, which is a key piece of any game that doesn’t have a dynamic campaign, is clunky and poorly integrated with the simulation engine. Its support for scripting is basically nil, to the point that it’s dramatically better to edit mission scripts in Notepad than in the mission editor itself. It may be a bit much to ask for a proper lua development environment in a flight simulator, but a full-screen text editing window would be nice, at the very least.

The simulation engine also lacks some crucial features for the sort of game Eagle Dynamics is trying to make. Most of the major omissions center on radar and electronic warfare. A third party, Heatblur Simulations, fields the current state of the art in DCS radar technology with the Viggen’s ground-mapping setup. Eagle Dynamics is scheduled to come back to the forefront with the DCS Hornet, but that still leaves all their other planes using a lightweight system which dates back to the Lock-On days. Aspect is unimportant but for notching, jammers are simple noise which only protect your aircraft, chaff (and countermeasures generally) only affects missiles locked on you (so Vietnam- or Viggen-style chaff corridors are impossible). The list goes on. Certainly, radar modeling is hard, but that’s no reason not to do it.

So much of Eagle Dynamics’ attention has been focused on paying work—modules, engine upgrades, new theaters—that they’ve let their underlying technology fall by the wayside. In the long run, that’s unsustainable, and I only hope that they can find the time to fix what needs to be fixed before the ongoing, accumulated debt catches up with them.

(More) Testing the RMR and Irons

I’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink on slide-mounted red dots. Specifically, the RMR. When last we left the subject, I found it less than ideal for unconventional presentations. Of course, class being class, I’m not always getting good, apples-to-apples comparisons. And I’m not always able to get a chance to record data.

So I thought I might spend a little time on my club’s new Quick Draw Range with a timer and some pistols. Out came the Glock 34. Out came the Glockblaster. Time for some work. I did two five shot strings with each pistols. A quick coin flip said the irons would go first. I alternated pistols between strings. All tests were from the 7 yard line, square to the target for the standard draw. I care more about the overall results, and the second strings, i.e. after I’ve gotten ‘warmed up’ for comparison purposes here. No test is perfect, but here’s my rather unscientific data:

G34 String 1GBL String 1G34 String 2GBL String 2
Avg: 1.37Avg: 1.34Avg: 1.26Avg: 1.18

Sigh. Okay. Let’s draw some conclusions from the data. First, I need to practice more. There’s a lot of variability in there. I need to iron that out. And I need to get faster. Further, we can see that the red dot pistol is faster on average, both cold and when warmed up.

As I said before, everything is a compromise. I think red dots are a good one overall, if you’re willing to put the time in to practice. I’d also like to get and try a frame mount. Frame mounts add bulk, but make the dot significantly easier to track in recoil. There’s an obvious shootability win there, but I’d have to see one in person to determine what I think of the increased bulk. Stay tuned.

PII: A Useful Cooperism

The Great Col. Jeff Cooper coined a fascinating and useful term, PII, ‘Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments.” To wit, in his own words:

Years ago we coined the appellation, “Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments,” or PII. This peculiarity lies in attributing importance to measurable deviations so small as to be meaningless. You see it in the people who shoot test groups in rifles, awarding a prize to a group which is only thousandths of an inch smaller than those unrewarded. One sees it in speed records awarded in one-thousandths of one mile-per-hour. One sees it in basketball scores which, nearing the century mark, are separated by less than three points. In all such cases Score A is “better” than Score B, but who cares?

An increment may be termed inconsequential when it has no significant relationship to the purpose of the exercise. Of course if the purpose of the exercise is in itself inconsequential some may not think this to be foolish. A very distinguished general at Quantico once caused the sign to be placed over the exit door of every office asking, in brilliant scarlet and gold, “What are you trying to do?” There was a man who knew more about human nature than most.

The Colonel knew what he was talking about. Know what one is trying to achieve. Beware the obsession with minutia that don’t really matter.

The enumeration of specific examples of PII is an exercise that I shall leave to the reader, who will no doubt find it enlightening.

Visible Lasers for Carbines

On pistols, I know many trainers who’ve had very good experiences with visible laser sights on pistols. The late Todd Green was a big fan, for example. Laser sights work well for target-focused shooting and shooting problems involving unusual shooting positions. They also reduce time to first shot, which is big from a defensive standpoint.

Do they make sense on a carbine?

Clearly, the answer is yes if one is using night vision devices. IR lasers are tops at night, if you’re hunting hogs or scum.

What about visible lasers? Visible lasers can be had for a lot less than IR ones. That much is obvious. Also, the nature of the laser means that a red dot or low power variable optic will make the most sense as the primary sight for most. If one had a gas mask on, the laser would be a much better choice as a primary sight.

This points to some of the use cases that might make lasers helpful. The laser will naturally make shots from nonstandard positions easier, because we don’t have to get all the way behind the gun to get a good sight picture. The laser can help.

We might also expect the laser to help on getting faster first shots, because we don’t have to get the rife all the way up before getting our initial shot off. I would love to test this in match conditions. And yes, this is a very gamer reason for a laser. Yeah, I’m a gamer.

Another thought for the laser is as a backup sighting device. We love backups. Normally, people mean ‘backup iron sights’. But iron sights are very different from a red dot or other optical sights. Lots of people have backup irons on their guns, but don’t practice with them. I’m pretty sure plenty of people don’t even zero them. Or, you could use a laser, which is going to give you a similar ‘colored dot in a tube’ as your red dot.

A brief word on sight models. As usual, there are some high end military type models available for quite a bit of coin. For experimentation purposes, I’m not going to be getting one of these. I’m going to start with a Crimson Trace Railmaster, which is a bit cheaper than a high-quality BUIS set. It’s not as durable as an ATPIAL, but it’s a lot cheaper. And it should let me evaluate the concept fine. Given my expected use cases, I’m not concerned about the relative lack of durability.

Red Dot Pistols In Class

I attended a pistol class this past Saturday. As ever, it was awesome. This time, I decided to try something a little different. I brought my Glock 17 with slide-mounted RMR. No compensator.

Knowing the instructors, I figured this class would focus on the short ranges typical of defensive handgun encounters for the CCW holder. I also knew this class would have plenty of unconventional presentations. I would not always start square to the target standing straight and tall. Plus, there would be plenty of mindset aspects that would ensure that I wouldn’t be focusing on my draw and presentation.

In short, this would be a great test of the RMR in conditions that wouldn’t be in its favor. To make this test as focused as I could, I used the same holster and weaponlight combo that I would normally use on my Glock 34.

I found that the RMR was, as expected, disadvantaged by class conditions. I found myself slower when I didn’t have a chance to focus on a good presentation, and when I wasn’t starting from the ‘standard squared-up draw’ that I practice a lot. Overall, the Glock 34 worked better in these class conditions.

Why is this? And why does the RMR work a lot better in the competition setting? In the competition setting, you get a draw once per stage, and there are many subsequent shots. These shots may be against very small targets, or targets at significant range. Here, even a slide-mounted dot can provide a noticeable advantage. Also, the draw is usually from a conventional, reasonably-squared off stance. So, in a competition setting, there’s a net advantage to the dot, even if your presentation isn’t perfect.

Clearly, I need some more practice with the red dot. Or, maybe everything is a compromise, and the dot may not always be the best choice for everyone all of the time.

Parvusimperator Talks on the Value of Competition

Near the Many Words HQ is a monthly (at least from April to November) two-gun match. Both Fishbreath and myself have found it tons of fun. There are lots of great other competitions out there, including USPSA and IDPA and IPSC. They’re lots of fun too.

Do these competitions have some training value? Sure! They get you out of the rigid, fuddy rules you find at most square ranges. Here you can move and shoot and apply your firearms skills to various problems. Excellent! Plus, you get to talk to other shooters about approaches and gear. All of which is highly valuable.

Further, matches introduce a stress component, which will cause little things to become a problem. Little things that you would not have noticed before. And it helps you to become inoculated to stress to practice having to deal with it. Note that I am not claiming that match stress is the equal of combat stress. I haven’t been in combat, and the comparison is probably disingenuous at best. They are different animals, but some work under stress is certainly better than no work under stress. Giving you some stress to work under in a safe environment can do nothing but help.

Now, there are those who complain about gun games. They will tell you that real targets don’t always present themselves in convenient normal silhouette orientations, they don’t stand still, they do shoot back, and (at least the clever ones will mention) that for the concealed carrier the decision to draw or not to draw is the hardest part. I would respond that all of these complaints are completely true. But what would you have us do?

Well, you could not have fun and not go to a match, and ignore all of the helpful things I’ve mentioned. That’s an option, and you’re welcome to it, if you’re an idiot or if you hate fun. You could also insist on MORE REALISM! but that way can get dangerous. Remember, a competition needs to be safe. And it needs to be accessible. And it really ought to be fun, or else people won’t come and then you won’t have a match. So let’s think critically about these complaints.

Targets should shoot back? How, pray tell, should we do this? Force on force? Fair enough. It’s the most dangerous kind of training, and most people don’t have simunitions guns, and have never done it before, and you’ll need lots of supervision, and you’ll have to use a specialized shoot house since you’ll need to contain any errant rounds, and it’ll take a lot of setup, and you’ll need to find people to be the “bad guys” and get shot a lot all day. I wish you all the best of luck in this. It’s a lot easier to set up an ordinary match with ordinary steel and cardboard targets on an ordinary range.

Targets don’t move? Well, nothing says we can’t make steel and cardboard targets move. It just takes a little effort. Lots of matches I’ve been to had some moving targets. And usually, people in a fight won’t move all of the time, because they might want to shoot back, and shooting on the move is hard.

As for the decision to draw, ok, you got me. To do this right, you need those simguns again, and experienced roleplayers to set up scenarios. Those people can be hard to find, and they have to be willing to get shot with simguns (read: paintballs) a lot. Plus, it’s a shooting match. Spoiler alert: there’s some shooting involved.

Really though, matches are fun. Go shoot them. You’ll improve your skills.