Monthly Archives: December 2016

Tafl Open 2016: An Update

Unfortunately, turnout for the tournament ended up being rather disappointing. The only entrant to submit an entry was Jonathan Teutenberg, with J.A.R.L.

By the rules as written, this leaves him with the title of champion. Fortunately for you, dear tournament follower, I spoke with Mr. Teutenberg, and we agreed to a one-match playoff between OpenTafl and J.A.R.L.

You can expect to see that game on Monday, January 2nd, starting at about noon Eastern time. There will be coverage available in several forms: a liveblog here, a stream at my hitbox channel (I’ll provide a link when the time comes), and live viewing at a special OpenTafl multiplayer server.

To connect to that multiplayer server, go to Options in your OpenTafl client and change the server address to taflopen.manywords.press. (That server is not up yet; I’ll be starting it on Sunday night.) Connect to the server. (Note that accounts will not be transferred from the main Many Words OpenTafl server. Logging in with a new username and password will register a new account.) The game will be made available for spectators at about the start time.

Stay tuned later today for OpenTafl v0.4.5.0b, the version which will play in the tournament.

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 14 – Christmas Special

Merry Christmas! We dive into our wishlists for a very special special episode.

Further reading
YAGM-169
In defense of the single-seat attack helo
Website search for ‘tank’, since John has written about a million of ’em


(Download)

On Squad Automatic Weapons

When equipping that base unit of infantry, the squad, with automatic weapons for support fires, there are two schools of thought. These are the magazine-fed ‘automatic rifle’ vs. the belt-fed ‘light machine gun’. In World War 2 terms, this might be seen as the BAR/Bren vs the MG-42. We can see the same question being asked today, with the US Marine Corps using the M27 IAR, and the US Army using the M249. Let’s look at these options.

First, the M249. Made by FN, this is a belt-fed weapon. Unlike the M240, the M249 is chambered for the same 5.56×45 mm round as the squad’s M4s. It is also generally considered to be operable by one man. No assistant gunner required. It has a quick-change barrel to facilitate sustained fire and help deal with heat buildup. It can be operated from 100 or 200 round belts. It weighs 17 lbs empty and 24 lbs loaded with a 200 round belt in a plastic box (sans optics). It has an integral bipod, and is most effective when fired from the prone position with the bipod for stability and support.

Second, the M27. Made by HK, this is a magazine-fed weapon. It is also intended to be operated by one man. While it has a relatively heavy barrel profile, it lacks a quick change barrel. It can only be loaded with standard detachable box magazines. While there are some higher capacity magazines on the market1, the US Marines currently only issue the standard 30 round box magazines. These are the same as what the rest of the squad uses for their M4s, so there’s some commonality there. Weight is 7.9 lbs empty, and a bit less than 9 lbs loaded with a 30 round box magazine (again, sans optics or other accessories).

Note that both weapons fire the same 5.56 mm round. So effective range and lethality are roughly equivalent. Specifics will depend on the skill of the shooter and the round being fired. I will not discuss this further.

It is also true that the M249 has a greater capacity for sustained fire than the M27. Even the M27’s proponents agree there.

A more useful question is “Is the greater suppressive capability of the M249 outweighed by what you give up?” The M27 is less than half the weight of the M249 (even after we add appropriate optics and other accessories to each weapon). The M27 is a more accurate weapon than the M249. The M27 can be used in a stack for room clearing, whereas the M249 cannot due to safety concerns stemming from its open bolt mechanism and the bulk of the weapon. Weight and bulk also means that the M249 gunner is harder pressed to keep up with the other members of his squad.

Let’s also briefly talk ammo weight. The basic load of a SAW gunner is 1,000 rounds, or five 200 round boxes, which comes out to about 35 lbs. It takes thirty four 30 round magazines to get about the same number of rounds,2 and that weighs about 34 pounds. Note that by-the-book loads for the M27 IAR gunners in a USMC squad vary from 16 to 21 magazines (480-630 rounds). Variance due to the weapon being new, and TTPs being worked out. That’s 16-21 lbs of ammo. This neatly side steps the question of weight of the spare barrel assembly for the M249, but I can’t find its weight. Assume several more pounds of weight for the barrel assembly, if it is carried. If it is not carried, then the quick-change barrel feature is not useable, and sustainable rates of fire will be lower. However, they will still be significantly higher than those of the M27.

There’s also a temptation we should avoid when considering infantry tactics. While it is easiest to ponder loadouts one organizational level at a time and build from the smaller levels to the bigger ones, we should remember that the smaller ones don’t fight alone. A squad is not going to be running around the battlefield on its own. Ad hoc room-clearing units can be assembled from the manpower from a few squads in a platoon without difficulty. If flexibility is desired, additional carbines can be stowed aboard the squad’s organic transport.3 We have lots of assault rifles already, which look an awful lot like the automatic rifles in question.

The most important matter, whether the greater sustained fire rate of the M249 means it is a more effective suppression weapon than the M27, is not something I have the means to test. I would question most tests of suppression on the grounds of failing to adequately simulate combat. Setting aside the intangibles, not having a belt-fed weapon in the squad does not have a good historical record for staying power. Let’s review it:

  • In World War 2, the US Army and US Marine Corps both had BARs as their squad-level automatic weapon. They considered a new Automatic Rifle version of the M14, but declined, and switched to the belt-fed M60 (and later the M249).
  • In World War 2, the British Army had the Bren gun, which is also more or less an automatic rifle, being fed from a magazine. The replacement for the Bren Gun was the L7, which is a licensed version of the FN MAG.4
  • In the 1980s, the British attempted to put a new 5.56 mm automatic rifle, the L86, into service to compliment their new 5.56 mm assault rifle. Caliber commonality. They were dissatisfied with the loss of firepower in the squad, and switched to using the FN Minimi as the squad automatic weapon.
  • The Germans had plenty of experience fighting American troops equipped with BARs in World War 2. The German soldiers were armed with the MG42. The American soldiers wanted MG42s instead of their BARs. The German soldiers agreed with them. They did not think the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, and stuck with the MG42 (rechambered for 7.62×51 mm NATO as the MG3).
  • The Russians built a belt-fed 7.62×39 mm machine gun, the RPD, to compliment the AK-47. It lacked a quick-change barrel, and proved to be unsatisfactory. They replaced it with the RPK, an automatic rifle version of the AK-47. They stuck with it through the caliber change to 5.45×39 mm. The Russians are very doctrinally disciplined. Once the Russians hit actual combat in Afghanistan, again the automatic rifle proved unsatisfactory and soldiers exchanged their RPK-74s for belt-fed PKMs (chambered in 7.62x54R mm). This happened again in combat in Chechnya. The belt-fed weapon was favored over the magazine-fed weapon for support purposes, even though it was heavier and bulkier. Russia is moving (albeit slowly, for want of money) towards equipping mechanized forces with PKP machine guns as squad support weapons. In the meantime, the PKM sees lots of service in that role.

There is a clear trend towards real combat driving the use and purchase of belt-fed weapons at the squad level. The US Marine Corps is bucking the historical trend, which gives me pause. The US Marine Corps tends to favor large, 13-man squads, and doesn’t fight mechanized. This might influence their decision somehow. The US Army, which uses 9 man squads (more similar to other powers at present), and does fight mechanized, has not followed the Corps in switching out M249s for M27s. Given the firepower and limited dismount capacity of the M2 Bradley, this switch would seem attractive for them. Perhaps they don’t agree with the conclusion of the USMC tests which said the M27 was better at suppression.

Without knowing the details, I could not possibly comment on the tests. Offhand, we’d want to make sure we weren’t favoring the M27s in test parameters, or putting new M27s against old, well-used, and worn-out M249s.

Here the Corps and I part ways. I much prefer a belt-fed machine gun or two at the squad level. Given the choice between the M27 and the M249 to support a squad, I’ll take the M249 every time. Belts all the way. Sometimes heavy is best.

1.) Magpul makes a 40 round box and a 60 round drum magazine, and Surefire makes a 60 round and a 100 round quad-stack box magazine. There are a bunch of others, but these come to mind first for being quality. That said, when the M27 was adopted, the USMC did not find any existing 100 round magazines to be reliable. I am unsure of their test protocol or which magazines were tested (or if 40/50/60 round magazines were considered).
2.) This works out to 1,020 rounds, but mais n’enculons pas des mouches.
3.) Admittedly I’m a big fan of mechanized infantry, but is there any army worth talking about that doesn’t provide some form of motorized transport for its infantry units?
4.) The American M240 is also a licensed FN MAG.

Fishbreath Plays: Train Simulator vs. American Truck Simulator

If you caught the most recent episode of The Crossbox Podcast, you may recall that I cited these two games as examples of a genre I don’t quite understand. (I’ve come to call it the Podcast Screensaver genre1.) At the same time, said I kind of understood the appeal of Train Simulator. Namely, driving a train is at least a little unusual. Driving a truck on a highway is a little too similar to my daily commute.

Predictably—inevitably—further experience has made me change my tune.

What makes a good entry in the Podcast Screensaver genre? It needs to take a little attention, but not so much that you can’t follow the thread of the podcast. It should present occasional challenges—if it doesn’t, it ceases to be a game in the Podcast Screensaver genre, and you might as well just watch a screensaver. Ideally, it should be immersive. Most importantly, it should be pleasing to look at.

Let’s go down the list.

Takes a little attention
American Truck Simulator fits the definition more or less perfectly. If you drive a car, you know this. Driving isn’t difficulty, but it does take a constant minimum expenditure of brainpower.

Train Simulator, on the other hand, is a little harder to defend. Driving a train, though it is more exotic than driving a truck, takes basically no attention at all. You have to watch out for signals every mile or two, and if one of them is red, you have to fiddle with some brakes. Things get more complicated if you’re running a steam engine, but not dramatically more complicated.

The distribution of required attention is different, too. A driving game requires a relatively constant amount, whereas a train simulator takes extra thought when you’re coming up to a signal: you have to squint through the window to see the thing, decide whether or not to brake, and then carry out the action of braking to stop where you want to stop. This is not conducive to paying attention to a second thing. (At least, not for me.) The human mind (or my human mind) is much better at handling two constant cognitive loads (such as driving and listening) than it is at handling one constant load and one highly variable load (such as listening and train driving).

Points, then, to the truck simulator.

Presents occasional challenges
It may perhaps be a result of Train Simulator’s demographic2, or perhaps it is a result of the inherent ease of driving trains3, but Train Simulator is easy. Nor is it only easy because trains are easy. Even the scenarios labeled ‘difficult’ (for example, using a tiny British tank engine to haul a rack of passenger cars up a hill, or using an enormous American gas turbine locomotive to haul a bunch of hopper cars up a different hill, and taking a steam locomotive low on water4 to its next stop) are straightforward. I’ve seen some people on forums complain about the difficulty of these precise scenarios, while I—a train neophyte if ever there was one—had no trouble whatsoever.

American Truck Simulator is also not all that difficult, provided you’ve driven a vehicle with a trailer before. That said, there are some places where it is honestly hard, mostly relating to maneuvering trailers in tight spaces, whether they be right-angle corners or narrow loading docks.

Again, points to the truck simulator.

Is immersive
Immersion is, of course, subjective, and I can see how it might go either way. For the particular games I’ve played (American Truck Simulator and Train Simulator with 2016 and 2017 routes), it comes to a coin toss.

I’ve done a little bit of driving in the American Southwest, and ATS gets that right on a reliable basis. Sunrise and sunset are also super-pretty, and the sound design is excellent. That said, Train Simulator’s Sherman Hill route also has things to recommend it, and in fact, the scenario I played there obscures one of Train Simulator’s biggest flaws.

Is pretty
This, unfortunately, is where Train Simulator falls down a bit. In terms of graphics and audio design, it lags far behind American Truck Simulator5. For a game in the Podcast Screensaver genre, visual and aural beauty are non-negotiable. The whole idea is that, while your brain is mostly focused on listening to something, you have a pleasant background scene to enjoy. If the background scene is ugly, then it all falls apart.

As I mentioned, there are moments where Train Simulator looks and sounds good. I was hauling a load of empty hopper cars up Sherman Hill at sunset. A rainstorm was overhead, but it didn’t reach the horizon, and as the sun went down, it lit the scene in a perfect gloomy orange. The sounds for the turbine locomotive I was driving were also excellent, lovely whirring, a bell which rang as clear as itself, and an air horn in the finest tradition of train air horns. Moment to moment, though, I give this one to the truck simulator.

Conclusions
As scored above, the final tally goes to American Truck Simulator, 3-0, with one tie. I should note that the difference is not quite so vast as I make it seem. For instance, the Unreal Engine 4-based Train Sim World, the next in Dovetail Games’ series, is extremely good-looking, and the sound design is just superb. That would pretty handily tip the balance in the ‘pretty’ and ‘immersive’ categories, and suddenly the score is 2-2.

Or is it? If you’ve looked at American Truck Simulator and Train Simulator on Steam, you’ll have noticed a certain crucial difference: price.

American Truck Simulator has a list price of $20. At press time, it’s on sale for $14. Going by European Truck Simulator 2, we might expect DLC prices in the $10-$20 range. Those DLCs massively expand the road network—ETS2 has DLCs for regions like France and Scandinavia—along with new cargo types, which are at least graphically interesting.

Train Simulator, on the other hand, seems bound and determined to extract as much money from its captive audience as possible. A small route runs $20 or $30, and I mean small. That’s about sixty miles of track, generally without any branches off the main line besides sidings. (Some routes, however, do give you a little more for your money. Sherman Hill has two routes over the hill.) You get one to three locomotives and a few types of rolling stock, and that’s it.

In this genre, repetition is bad. The world ought to be big enough so that by the time you see scenery again, you’ve forgotten what it looks like. If the world is small, it should be cheap to expand. Train Simulator has neither quality. American Truck Simulator has both. Buy the latter.

  1. There are evidently two classes of people unlike me: those who can simply sit and listen to a piece of audio-only content, and those who can multitask effectively enough that they need not focus primarily on a piece of audio-only content. If you’re one of those sorts of people, and you still like transport games, please drop me a line as to why.
  2. Let’s face it. On aggregate, train simulator fans are, well, old.
  3. The only major challenge is learning braking distances. Working out how to keep steam up in a steam locomotive is an additional challenge. Otherwise, it’s a vehicle which travels in one dimension, and navigation is done for you at the switching office.
  4. Well, not so low that you can’t make it if you don’t know how to use the water troughs the scenario tells you to use. Which I didn’t. (Neither knew how nor did use.)
  5. At press time, the next iteration in Dovetail Games’ train sim series, Train Sim World, is in preview-beta. Built on Unreal Engine 4, it appears to be quite a lot prettier, and a lot more sonically pleasing, than Train Simulator 2017, which is built on an eight-year-old engine.

Tafl Open 2016 Contenders: J.A.R.L

The first submission to the 2016 OpenTafl Computer Tafl Open arrived in my inbox yesterday morning. Since I had not yet finished my coffee at work, I decided to open it up and extend my break a bit.

J.A.R.L was developed by Jonathan Teutenberg, who comes to us from the java-gaming.org forum (under the name Jono). It’s a fairly standard iterative deepening depth-first search player, the same structure as OpenTafl’s AI, with two fascinating features.

First, it uses as a component in its evaluation function the distance to a king victory in a simple abstraction of the game. In the simplified version, only the king is allowed to move, and he can move through pieces with a move count penalty. The score is a combination of the abstract distance to each corner, the material balance, and the freedom of the king’s men.

Second, it does some advanced pruning of the search tree, along with some move ordering. Moves which make or avoid captures are weighted heavily and searched more deeply, while states which are much worse than alternatives and worse than the current position are not expanded.

The upshot is an AI which seems to have no small measure of strength to it, enough so that a game against it was worth commenting on, to some degree. (Granted, only because it lost a particular corner endgame I’ve seen come up before.) My suspicion after one game is that it’s one of the best AIs for the attacking side I’ve played to date. I look forward to seeing it in action in the tournament.

The Soapbox Carbine Qualification

The Soapbox carbine qualification is a quick test of a number of useful carbine skills.

Start all stages from a proper low or high ready. If you need rules beyond your own personal code of honor, your low ready should be at least thirty degrees down. Targets are IPSC steel or cardboard unless otherwise stated.

The times given here are our first estimates. (We’ll update this post after we’ve shot the qualification ourselves and evaluated how good our guesses were.)

Stage 1: Short-range transitions
Round count: 6
Par time: 4 seconds

Ten yards away from the firing line, place one target five yards left of the stage center line, and one target five yards right of the stage center line. At the buzzer, engage the left target with two rounds, engage the right target with two rounds, and finish by engaging the left target with two rounds.

Stage 2: Cover
Round count: 6
Par time: 4.5 seconds

Find some object to represent cover. (This may be a target stand, a support post, or even a mark on the ground.) The stage center line is the line drawn downrange from the right edge of the cover. At ten yards, place a target five yards left of the center line. At 20 yards, place a target five yards right of the center line. Start at low ready, positioned so that no part of your body is past the right edge of the cover. At the buzzer, come around the cover, engaging the twenty-yard target first, followed by the ten-yard target, both with three rounds each.

Left-handed shooters should reverse the stage: the center line and the 20-yard target go left of the edge of the cover, the ten-yard target goes to the right, and the shooter must start behind the left edge of the cover.

Stage 3: Snapshot
Round count: 2
Par time: 1.5 seconds

Place a target at 25 yards. At the buzzer, engage the target with two rounds as quickly as possible.

Stage 4: Midrange reload
Round count: 6
Par time: 4 seconds (+1 second for closed pouches)

Load three rounds in one magazine and three rounds in another. Place a target at 50 yards. At the buzzer, engage the target with three rounds, reload, and engage the target with a further three rounds.

Stage 5: Long-range speed
Round count: 6
Par time: 4 seconds

Place a target at 100 yards. At the buzzer, engage the target with six rounds.

Stage 6: Long-range precision
Round count: 4
Par time: 8 seconds

Place a paper plate or 8″ steel at 100 yards. Start in your firing position of choice, carbine at low ready (for all positions except prone), or laying on the ground (for prone). At the buzzer, engage the target with four rounds.

Scoring
Score one point for every hit under par time. Passing score is 20.

More Conclusions From Gun School

Some more not so night-oriented follow ups. For the first part, go here. These are from two separate classes, because I’ve had some busy weekends of late.

Overall, I was really happy with the equipment I had. I had added the Vickers extended mag catch to my Glock 34 and it worked great. I had no problems with mags falling when I didn’t want them to, and it was much quicker to drop the mag. Also, love the Warren fiber optic sights on it. These got some compliments from other students.

I expected that having brought good night gear, and having managed to avoid fondling the IDPA Master Class shooter’s 2011, I would not come home wanting more stuff. As you might have guessed, this was incorrect.

I got some time with some other people’s custom Glocks. One of the instructors had a G19 with the grip professionally reduced and stippled. The finger grooves were removed. I don’t ordinarily find the Glock finger grooves all that objectionable, and I like the standard Gen4 texture, but this customized 19 felt even better. I was really impressed. Guess some Glocks might get sent out. He got his worked on by Fire 4 Effect weapons. This is one of those things that I really had to feel to be convinced of.

The other thing that was around that I wanted to try was a flat-face trigger. The specific trigger in question was the Apex Flat Glock trigger. Again, I never would have thought enough of one to try, even though a bunch of friends like theirs. But getting some time with one makes me want to give one a try. I found it helped with consistent trigger finger placement, and a consistent, correct trigger press.

Last Time at Gun School, I learned firsthand that full size guns shoot easier than subcompacts. The sort of thing that you always knew, but it’s nice to have demonstrated. This time, we had a female student with small hands have trouble getting a good grip around her Glock 19. Her hands were rather small for the gun, and this made shooting from a draw tricky. A good grip reduction, or a pistol with a smaller grip size might have been helpful here. I didn’t get much details on this one, so I can’t comment on what could have helped beyond that.

We had a student change guns on day 2 because he felt like it. Feelings, ugh. Anyway, he changed from an M&P9 without a manual safety to a SiG P226 SAO with a manual safety. Yup, you guessed it, he forgot to disengage it a bunch. I don’t really have much opinion on the manual safety one way or another, but it’s better to be consistent in your training one way or another. If you want to “try” something new, take it to the entire class.

We did some drills with other people’s guns. This was mostly uneventful, except for the one guy who brought an FNX-45. My hands were big enough that I had no problem reaching everything. It’s a double action semiautomatic, so there were two trigger pulls to mess with. I found the double action pull to be long, heavy, and annoying. A strong grip helped me fight through it. The transition to the shorter, lighter single action pull (with much less trigger reach) was the more problematic part, interestingly. Between the lame trigger that I’m not used to and the big .45 rounds through a polymer-framed gun, my times went all to hell with the FNX. Was it usable in “fight with what you find” drills? Sure. Still not my preference, though this is hardly an outstanding example of the type. It might have been a different story with the CZ Shadow that someone brought but didn’t use. In general, one should try to stick with what one knows.

Another student had a PPQ with the longslide and the 5″ barrel. For the drills we were doing with strict, challenging par times and tough accuracy requirements, the PPQ excelled. Coming off of the FNX and going to the PPQ was like a revolution. It made the drills seem easy. The PPQ’s trigger is remarkably tolerant of slackening grip. However, when you bear down on it properly, the “flippiness” that I noticed in my review turns into fast times back into battery.

There were many Glock 17s and an M&P9 with aftermarket triggers. Also very nice. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Jeff Cooper said perhaps the first thing we should ask of a carry gun is that it should be unfair.

My second class had some real crappy weather to it. Day one was about 48 degrees, and rainy, with the temperature dropping and the rain eventually turning to snow around 1430. Day two was about 27 degrees, with light snow all day. The ground didn’t have a chance to freeze overnight, so what was a quagmire on day one turned into the Argonne on day two. I need better water-resistant cold weather gear, better boots, and some shooting gloves. While Grandpa didn’t need no gloves at Bastogne in ’44, I’m sure he would have liked some. One can make do, and I’m proud I did. It is better to be prepared.

Remember the 7th

Seventy five years ago today, the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan.

I could say a lot more on the matter, but I am merely an amateur analyst. Instead, listen to the stories of some men who were there, courtesy of C-SPAN.

Stories, Part 1

Stories, Part 2

Perhaps they are the lucky ones to have survived. Perhaps not–they lost a lot of friends that day.

Let’s spare a thought and a prayer for the men who gave their lives that day. And for those who had to wait so long to see their brothers in arms again.

BVRAAM

The Beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile is a critical munition in any air force arsenal. At first it might seem easy for a western air force. Call Raytheon, order up the latest version of the AIM-120 AMRAAM, and then call it a day and have a beer. Is it really that easy? Let’s take a look.

The AIM-120 AMRAAM was the world’s first missile with an active radar seeker, and it has become the world standard. It was designed to replace the AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing missile. It features improved range, and a way-cool seeker. The Sparrow’s semi-active radar seeker requires an external source of radar to illuminate the target, usually the firing aircraft. So the aircraft has to keep flying more-or-less towards the target while the Sparrow is in flight. This strongly limits the evasive maneuvering possibilities of the launch aircraft. If the radar lock is broken, the missile becomes a useless ballistic projectile.

The AMRAAM is different. It has an inertial guidance component for the initial run towards the target. It can be updated by radar from the launch aircraft. Then, when it gets close enough to the target, it turns on the active radar seeker. This has it’s own radar, so the launch aircraft is free to turn away from the target aircraft. It’s a big improvement. The seeker can also home on jamming if the target aircraft tries to jam it.

Okay, so that’s cool. The rest of the AMRAAM is pretty typical: it’s a single-pulse solid fuel rocket. So once you light it, it burns until the fuel is gone, and only burns once. This means that during most of the intercept it’s coasting. There are also dual-pulse rockets which relight later, which helps chase down a maneuvering target. But those are more expensive, and while there’s been a lot of discussion about putting one on the AMRAAM, that still hasn’t happened yet. The AIM-120D gets its improved range from improved guidance algorithms and GPS-aided navigation. Cool. The question becomes: can we do better.

We’ll need to take a brief interlude here to define a term: the no-escape zone. This is the range in which a target can’t escape a missile by outrunning it. Outside of the no-escape zone, a fighter can turn away and light afterburners and the missile will be unable to catch it. Within the no-escape zone is not a guaranteed kill, it merely forces the fighter to maneuver aggressively to force the missile to miss.

Anyway, the Europeans have designed something nice for once in an effort to do better, and are actually getting it to market in a sort of timely fashion. This is the MBDA Meteor AAM. It’s noteworthy for two reasons. First, it has a datalink for midcourse guidance updates from the launch aircraft, which improves the accuracy of the midcourse phase of the flight at longer ranges. More importantly, it has a snazzy new engine. This is a “throttleable ducted rocket” also known as an “air-augmented rocket,” but it’s easiest to think of it as a hybrid solid-fuel rocket/ramjet motor. Like a rocket, it can give useful thrust from zero speed. Like a ramjet, it can also pull in outside air, and has no moving parts. This means it gets way more burn time from its motor, which means that it has a much bigger no-escape zone. Even the way-cool guidance algorithms in the -120D can’t get around the fact that the Meteor has a more advanced engine that provides more oomph. The Meteor isn’t that much bigger than the AMRAAM either, at least as far as length and weight. It might take some doing to get it certified for internal carriage on the F-35 though.

So where does that leave us? The Meteor is the better missile, with the bigger price tag. We’d say it’s worth it though, especially to get those early shots in on Flankers. We’ll have to spend some money to get it qualified on legacy platforms, but that’s totally worth it for the leg up on potential enemies. It’ll be interesting to see if the AMRAAM ever gets that improved motor.

CAS Aircraft Throwdown: A-10C vs. Su-25T

Fishbreath and I have spent lots of time studying these aircraft and flying them in DCS. They represent two different philosophies for air support, the clash between ‘push’ from the top and ‘pull’ from the bottom. Plus, they represent some different design philosophies. We’ve talked about these two planes already, but let’s break everything down and see how they compare directly. Features are in no particular order.

WEAPONS:
We’ll break these down by type, and then tally up an overall score for this section.

GUN: A-10C
This is no contest. The A-10C has the GAU-8A, which is the most powerful flying gun around. It’s got better AP rounds than the GSh-30-2, and more than five times as many rounds in the magazine (1,174 rounds as opposed to 250). The A-10C has some nifty pilot aids to stabilize the aircraft on a gun run too, but the Su-25T just leaves you to your own lack of skill. Interestingly, the Su-25T also doesn’t have enough dispersion built into it’s gun. The A-10’s designers recognized that being exactly on target is very hard, so the gun has some built in dispersion to give you a margin of error, which makes it a lot easier to hit things.

ROCKETS: Su-25T
This is also no contest. The Russians like their rockets, and have a wider variety of sizes available. Even if we restrict to the standard small rockets (Russian 80mm S-8 and American 70mm Hydra 70), the Russians have a wider variety of warheads available, including exotics like thermobarics.

UNITARY BOMBS: A-10C
Both have the ability to drop laser guided bombs, plus plenty of dumb bombs. The A-10C can drop JDAMs (GPS guidance). The Su-25T can’t drop Russian GLONASS-guided bombs, but they do have the ability to drop bombs with the Electro-optical guidance system (they have a -Kr suffix). That said, the A-10C has glide bomb options, and the Su-25T doesn’t, giving the ‘Hog some excellent cheap standoff attack options. Glide bombs rock.

CLUSTER BOMBS: A-10C
Both have a lot of cluster bomb options, but (for now, at least), the Americans do cluster bombs better. The CBU-87 doesn’t really care at what altitude/airspeed it’s dropped at, and drops bomblets that combine antipersonnel, anti-armor, and incendiary effects in each bomblet. That’s pretty cool, and is a big logistics simplifier. It’s compatible with the wind-corrected munitions dispenser add-on kit, which isn’t really guidance, but it does ensure that the bomb dumps the submunitions where you intended, rather than get all mucked up by the wind. The CBU-97 Sensor fused weapon is also pretty sweet. It’s designed to scatter smart anti-tank munitions that will search for a tank beneath them as they fall, and then fire an explosively-formed penetrator at it if a tank is detected. The Russians don’t have such fancy anti-armor measures, and they don’t have fancy wind correction kits. They also don’t combine effects frequently in their bomblets. And altitude matters for the dispensers.

MISSILES: Su-25T
Given how much tech the Americans like to fight with, this might be a shock. Both aircraft can carry older WVR AAMs on the outermost pylons that can’t do much else. The A-10C can also carry a bunch of Mavericks, and that’s about it. The Maverick is a great air to ground missile, with a variety of guidance options. The Su-25T can carry the Kh-25 “Maverickski”, and the Kh-29, which is something like a bigger Maverick with a bigger warhead. It can also carry 16 9K121 Vikhrs ATGMs, so it ends up with more anti-tank capable missile capacity. You can also add an ELINT Pod and antiradiation missiles for SEAD missions. The A-10C has no such capability. The A-10C would certainly benefit from being able to sling Hellfires.

WEAPONS SCORE:
A-10C: 3
Su-25T: 2

MOBILITY: TIE
I’m not actually going to break this one down. Either way you look at it, it’s a tie. The Su-25T is faster. The A-10C has more range. The Su-25T was designed to be sent out from a forward airbase towards a given concentration of enemies. So it’s superior speed is more useful in that doctrinal role. It’s designed to go out, kill some stuff, and go home. Loitering is not called for, so plenty of range isn’t needed. The A-10C was intended to loiter near the battlefield until called for or it’s out of ammo. So range is good, because range translates into loiter time. Since it’s supposed to start in the air close to where the action is, it’s inferior speed isn’t a great handicap. Each does one thing better, and each has an attack doctrine built around its strengths.

DURABILITY: TIE
Both have a whole bunch of design features to make them tougher. Absent some kind of common destructive testing, this one is too close to call.

OTHER:
The category for random things that I can’t think of another place for.

LOCATING TARGETS: A-10C
This one’s almost not fair. The A-10C has a bubble canopy to provide good, all-around visibility. Plus, the A-10C has the LITENING pod, and this makes the Shkval look like a cardboard tube duct-taped to the cockpit. The LITENING has way more zoom, more resolution, a nearly-all-around field of view, and remembers what you were looking at if you have to make some turns, or if some part of the plane gets in the way during a turn.

SCORE TALLY:
A-10C: 6
Su-25T: 4

So the A-10C is better.

Or at least, in this simplified metric evaluation, the A-10C is the better plane. Really, the more relevant question is “Which doctrine do you prefer/buy into?” and to a lesser extent “Whose weapons are you buying?” since those questions will determine which will work for you, and if you’ll have to pay a bunch of annoying weapons integration costs and do some testing. Better electronics would go a long way toward improving the Su-25T, especially in the target acquisition phase.