Monthly Archives: February 2017

Armored Vehicle Fuel Capacities

I’ve found these to be quite hard to find on the net. All do not include supplementary drop tank options. Except where specified, variants have the same capacity of the original.

VehicleFuel (US Gal)Fuel (L)
M1 with UAAPU4501,703.4
Leopard 2317.01,200
Challenger 2420.61,592
Merkava IV369.81,400
Boxer MRAV145.3550
Panzerhaubitze 2000264.21,000
K9 Thunder224.5850

How-To: Two USB Mics, One Computer, JACK, and Audacity

The Crossbox Podcast is going upmarket: I now have two USB microphones, and for the March episode, parvusimperator and I will each have one directly in front of us. This is a wonderful advance for audio quality, but it does pose some problems:

  1. Audacity, our usual recording tool of choice (and probably yours, if you ended up here), only supports recording from one source at once.
  2. Though other tools support recording from multiple sources, the minor variations in internal clocks between two USB microphones mean that each microphone has a sample rate which varies in a slightly different fashion, and that longer recordings will therefore be out of sync.

Modern Linux, fortunately, can help us out here. We have need of several components. First, obviously, we need two microphones. I have a Blue Snowball and a CAD Audio U37, with which I’ve tested this procedure1. Second, we need a computer with at least two USB ports. Third, we need the snd-aloop kernel module. (If your Linux has ALSA, you probably already have this.) Fourth, we need JACK, the Linux low-latency audio server. Fifth, we need the QJackCtl program.

Before I describe what we’re going to do, I ought to provide a quick refresher in Linux audio infrastructure. If you use Ubuntu or Mint, or most other common distributions, there are two layers to your system’s audio. Closest to the hardware is ALSA, the kernel-level Advanced Linux Sound Architecture. It handles interacting with your sound card, and provides an API to user-level applications. The most common user-level application is the PulseAudio server, which provides many of the capabilities you think of as part of your sound system, such as volume per application and the ‘sound’ control panel in your Linux flavor of choice. (Unless you don’t use Pulse.)

JACK is a low-latency audio server; that is, a user-level application in the same vein as Pulse. It has fewer easily accessible features, but allows us to do some fancy footwork in how we connect inputs to outputs.

Now that you have the background, here’s what we’re going to do to connect two mono USB microphones to one computer, then send them to one two-channel ALSA device, then record in Audacity. These instructions should work for any modern Linux flavor. Depending on the particulars of your system, you may even be able to set up real-time monitoring.

  1. Create an ALSA loopback device using the snd-aloop kernel module.
  2. Install JACK.
  3. Build QJackCtl, a little application used to control JACK. (This step is optional, but makes things much easier; I won’t be providing the how-to for using the command line.)
  4. Use JACK’s alsa_in and alsa_out clients to give JACK access to the microphones and the loopback device.
  5. Use QJackCtl to connect the devices so that we can record both microphones at once.

We’ll also look at some extended and improved uses, including some potential fixes for real-time monitoring.

Create an ALSA loopback device
The ALSA loopback device is a feature of the kernel module snd-aloop. All you need to do is # modprobe snd-aloop and you’re good to go. Verify that the loopback device is present by checking for it in the output of aplay -l.

The loopback device is very straightforward: any input to a certain loopback device will be available as output on a different loopback device. ALSA devices are named by a type string (such as ‘hw’), followed by a colon, then a name or number identifying the audio card, a comma, and the device number inside the card. Optionally, there may be another comma and a subdevice number. Let’s take a look at some examples.

  • hw:1,0: a hardware device, card ID 1, device ID 0.
  • hw:Loopback,1,3: a hardware device, card name Loopback, device ID 1, sub-device ID 3.

For the loopback device, anything input to device ID 1 and a given sub-device ID n (that is, hw:Loopback,1,n) will be available as output on hw:Loopback,0,n, and vice versa. This will be important later.

Install JACK
You should be able to find JACK in your package manager2, along with Jack Rack. In Ubuntu and derivatives, the package names are ‘jackd’ and ‘jack-rack’.

Build QJackCtl
QJackCtl is a Qt5 application. To build it, you’ll need qt5 and some assorted libraries and header packages. I run Linux Mint; this is the set I had to install.

  • qt5-qmake
  • qt5-default
  • qtbase5-dev
  • libjack-jack2-dev
  • libqt5x11extras5-dev
  • qttools5-dev-tools

Once you’ve installed those, unpack the QJackCtl archive in its own directory, and run ./configure and make in that directory. The output to configure will tell you if you can’t continue, and should offer some guidance on what you’re missing. Once you’ve successfully built the application, run make install as root.

Run QJackCtl
Run qjackctl from a terminal. We should take note of one feature in particular in the status window. With JACK stopped, you’ll notice a green zero, followed by another zero in parentheses, beneath the ‘Stopped’ label. This is the XRUN counter, which counts up whenever JACK doesn’t have time to finish a task inside its latency settings.

Speaking of, open the settings window. Front and center, you’ll see three settings: sample rate, frames per period, and periods per buffer. Taken together, these settings control latency. You’ll probably want to set the sample rate to 48000, 48 kHz; that’s the standard for USB microphones, and saves some CPU time. For the moment, set frames per period to 4096 and periods per buffer to 2. These are safe settings, in my experience. We’ll start there and (maybe) reduce latency later.

Close the settings window and press the ‘Start’ button in QJackCtl. After a moment or two, JACK will start. Verify that it’s running without generating any XRUN notifications. If it is generating XRUNs, skip down to here and try some of the latency-reduction tips, then come back when you’re done.

Use JACK’s alsa_in and alsa_out clients to let JACK access devices
Now we begin to put everything together. As you’ll recall, our goal is to take our two (mono) microphones and link them together into one ALSA device. We’ll first use the alsa_in client to create JACK devices for our two microphones. The alsa_in client solves problem #2 for us: its whole raison d’être is to allow us to use several ALSA devices at once which may differ in sample rate or clock drift.

Now, it’s time to plug in your microphones. Do so, and run arecord -l. You’ll see output something like this.

$ arecord -l
**** List of CAPTURE Hardware Devices ****
card 0: PCH [HDA Intel PCH], device 0: ALC295 Analog [ALC295 Analog]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 1: Audio [CAD Audio], device 0: USB Audio [USB Audio]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 2: Snowball [Blue Snowball], device 0: USB Audio [USB Audio]
  Subdevices: 0/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

This lists all the currently available capture hardware devices plugged into your system. Besides the first entry, the integrated microphone on my laptop, I have hw:1 or hw:Audio, the CAD Audio U37, and hw:2 or hw:Snowball, the Blue Snowball.

Next, set up alsa_in clients so JACK can access the microphones.

$ alsa_in -j snow -d hw:Snowball -c 1 -p 4096 -n 2 &
$ alsa_in -j cad -d hw:Audio -c 1 -p 4096 -n 2 &

Let’s go through the options. -j defines the label JACK will use for the microphone; make it something descriptive. -d declares which ALSA device JACK will open. -c declares the number of channels JACK will attempt to open.

On to the last two options: like the JACK settings above, -p defines the number of frames per period, and -n defines the number of periods per buffer. The documentation for alsa_in suggests that the total frames per buffer (frames per period multiplied by period) should be greater than or equal to JACK’s total frames per buffer.

Next, set up an alsa_out client for the ALSA loopback device.

$ alsa_out -j loop -d hw:Loopback,1,0 -p 4096 -n 2 &

The arguments here are the same as the arguments above.

Use QJackCtl to hook everything up
Now, we’re almost done. Go back to QJackCtl and open the Connect window. You should see a list of inputs on the left and a list of outputs on the right. Your inputs should include your two microphones, with the names you provided in your -j arguments. Your outputs should include system, which is linked to your system’s audio output, and an output named ‘loop’, the ALSA loopback device.

Assuming you have mono microphones, what you want to do is this: expand a microphone and highlight its input channel. Then, highlight the system output and hit ‘connect’ at the bottom of the window. This will connect the input channel to the left and right channels of your system audio output. At this point, you should be able to hear the microphone input through your system audio output. (I would recommend headphones.) The latency will be very high, but we’ll see about correcting that later.

If the audio output contains unexpected buzzing or clicking, your computer can’t keep up with the latency settings you have selected3. Skip ahead to the latency reduction settings. That said, your system should be able to keep up with the 4096/2 settings; they’re something of a worst-case scenario.

If the audio output is good, disconnect the microphones from the system output. Then, connect one microphone’s input to loop’s left channel, and one microphone input to loop’s right channel. Open Audacity, set the recording input to Loopback,04, and start recording. You should see audio from your microphones coming in on the left and right channel. Once you’re finished recording, you can split the stereo track into two mono tracks for individual editing, and there you have it: two USB microphones plugged directly into your computer, recording as one.

Recording more than two channels
Using Jack Rack, you can record as many channels as your hardware allows. Open Jack Rack, and using the ‘Channels’ menu item under the ‘Rack’ menu, set the number of channels you would like to record. In QJackCtl’s connections window, there will be a jackrack device with the appropriate number of I/O channels.

In Audacity, you can change the recording mode from ALSA to JACK, then select the jackrack device, setting the channel count to the correct number. When you record, you will record that many channels.

Jack Rack is, as the name suggests, an effects rack. You can download LADSPA plugins to apply various effects to your inputs and outputs. An amplifier, for instance, would give you volume control per input, which is useful in multi-microphone situations.

Reduce frames per period
If you’re satisfied with recording-only, or if you have some other means of monitoring, you can stop reading here. If, like me, you want to monitoring through your new Linux digital audio workstation, read on.

The first step is to start reducing the frames per period setting in JACK, and correspondingly in the alsa_in and alsa_out devices. If you can get down to 512 frames/2 periods without JACK xruns, you can probably call it a day. Note that Linux is a little casual with IRQ assignments and other latency-impacting decisions; what works one day may not work the next.

You can also try using lower frames per period settings, and higher periods per buffer settings, like 256/3 or 512/3. This may work for you, but didn’t work for me.

If you come to an acceptable monitoring latency, congratulations! You’re finished. If not, read on.

Fixing latency problems
Below, I provide three potential latency-reducing tactics, in increasing order of difficulty. At the bottom of the article, just above the footnotes, is an all-in-one solution which sacrifices a bit of convenience for a great deal of ease of use. My recommendation, if you’ve made it this far, is that you skip the three potential tactics and go to the one which definitely will work.

Further latency reduction: run JACK in realtime mode
If JACK is installed, run sudo dpkg-reconfigure -p high jackd (or dpkg-reconfigure as root).

Verify that this created or updated the /etc/security/limits.d/audio.conf file. It should have lines granting the audio group (@audio) permission to run programs at real-time priorities up to 95, and lock an unlimited amount of memory. Reboot, set JACK to use realtime mode in QJackCtl’s setup panel, and start JACK. Try reducing your latency settings again, and see what happens.

Further latency reduction: enable threaded IRQs
Threaded IRQs are a Linux kernel feature which help deliver interrupt requests5 more quickly. This may help reduce latency. Open /etc/default/grub. Inside the quotation marks at the end of the line which starts with GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT, add threadirqs, and reboot.

Further latency reduction: run a low-latency or real-time kernel
If none of these help, you might try running a low-latency kernel. You can attempt to compile and use low-latency or real-time kernels; the Ubuntu Studio project provides them, and there are packages available for Debian. If you’ve come this far, though, I’d recommend the…

All-of-the-above solution: run an audio-focused Linux distribution
AV Linux is a Linux distribution focused on audio and video production. As such, it already employs the three tactics given above. It also includes a large amount of preinstalled, free, open-source AV software. It isn’t a daily driver distribution; rather, its foremost purpose is to be an audio or video workstation. It worked perfectly for me out of the box, and met my real-time monitoring and audio playback requirements for The Crossbox Podcast6. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Given that my laptop is not primarily a podcast production device, I decided to carve a little 32gb partition out of the space at the end of my Windows partition, and installed AV Linux there. It records to my main Linux data partition instead of to the partition to which it is installed, and seems perfectly happy with this arrangement.

So am I. Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope it helped!

  1. Two identical microphones actually makes it slightly (though not insurmountably) harder, since they end up with the same ALSA name. 
  2. If you don’t have a package manager, you ought to be smart enough to know where to look. 
  3. This is most likely not because of your CPU, but rather because your Linux kernel does not have sufficient low-latency features to manage moving audio at the speeds we need it to move. 
  4. Remember, since we’re outputting to Loopback,1, that audio will be available for recording on Loopback,0. 
  5. Interrupt requests, or IRQs, are mechanisms by which hardware can interrupt a running program to run a special program known as an interrupt handler. Hardware sends interrupt requests to indicate that something has happened. Running them on independent threads improves the throughput, since more than one can happen at once, and, since they can be run on CPU cores not currently occupied, they interrupt other programs (like JACK) less frequently. 
  6. Expect us to hit our news countdown time cues a little more exactly, going forward. 

TTPs: The Drawn Gun

They say it can’t be done. Suppose you’re being held at gunpoint. And I’ll be mean. The guy with the gun is six feet or so away. So he’s out of reach. Or maybe there’s a counter in the way. You have a concealed, holstered gun.

So how do get the gun in play? If you draw, you die.


Not exactly. Usually we make a number of assumptions, and turn it into a race. You have to clear your cover garment, get your gun out, and take the shot. He just has to take the shot. When I put it that way, you lose every time.

I hate losing. We’re looking at the wrong problem. What’s going on in his head? He’s got a gun out. He’s expecting something from me. Maybe I’ve got a gun, and I’ll draw. He shoots! Maybe I’m going to give him something, like a wallet. I give him that, maybe toss it to him, whatever, and then maybe he leaves. Maybe he shoots me first. Maybe any hand motion is going to look like I’m going for a weapon to this guy, and he’ll shoot me.

Did you notice a common theme in those? Read them again. What am I doing in all of those options?

Standing still.

You might be skeptical. “Of course you’re standing still, parvusimperator. If you run, he’ll shoot you in the back. And if you charge, you probably won’t be able to get to him before he shoots you with the gun drawn.”

All of these points are true. Backwards, I die. Forwards, I die. Sure. And none of those will help my draw, or more importantly, help me go on living.

But what about going sideways? Let’s take a good deliberate step sideways, and draw at the same time. What then?

Well, we’ve done something unexpected. Now he’s got to process this. I grant you, it won’t take very long, but we don’t have to buy ourselves much time here.

Since we’re not doing something that he’s expecting, he has to ask “What happened?” Answer: “That tricky parvusimperator moved! He’s no longer in front of my gun!” “Where did he go?” “He moved sideways.” “I’ve gotta reacquire that target.” And then he has to turn his gun to face me and shoot me.

While I’ve broken this down nicely, all that is going to be processed pretty fast. That’s why it’s critical that you draw as you move. If you move and then draw, it will take too long. Draw as you move. This will take some practice. Start slow and gradually build speed. Be safe.

Also, it’s best to train to shoot more than one shot when you do this. If he’s worth shooting, he’s probably worth shooting again.

There you have it. We’ve done the impossible. Provided we’re quick.

It certainly beats the alternative.

IFV Autocannon Ready Ammo Capacities

I mentioned this already in Bradley Planned Improvements, but it’s easier to find if it’s separated into a nice reference post. Also added information for the Stryker with Kongsberg MCT-30 unmanned turret.

IFVReady CapacityCaliber (mm)
M2A3 Bradley30025×137
M2 – 30 mm conversion18030×173
Stryker with MCT-3015030×173
T-15/Epoch turret50030×165

Some notes on the above:

  1. I’m defining “Ready rounds” as “rounds from which you can fire without manual loading”, since these are autocannons. So the CV9040 gets the quick-access rounds counted as ‘stowage’, because someone has to grab them and refill the 24-round ready feed system (three eight-round racks).
  2. The K21 gets credit for 224 rounds because the 200 rounds it has under the turret basket are connected to the gun via an automatic resupply system. No manual top-off required.
  3. Russian IFVs do not have any additional autocannon rounds stored separately in a non-ready condition. I.e. ready capacity is all you get.
  4. The “Bradley 30 mm Conversion” listed uses the existing 2-man turret suitably modified to accept the new gun and ammo. There’s also images of a Bradley with the turret crew moved to the hull and what appears to be an MCT-30 unmanned turret mounted in place of the original turret. It will match the Stryker/MCT-30 for ready ammo capacity.

Battle Royale 2: M9 vs P320

Let’s compare the US Army’s old M9 to their new P320s1. I’ve got a P320F Tacops2 and Fishbreath has an M9, so we’re going to do a comparison.

We’ll start with the M9. The M9 is alloy framed, and has a double action trigger. In double action mode, the trigger has a pull weight of about 11 lbs, and in single action mode it has a pull weight of about 6 lbs. It has a frame mounted safety/decocker, a fixed forward sight, and an adjustable rear sight. The fixed front sight cannot be easily replaced with a tritium sight or a fiber optic sight.3 It does not have an underbarrel accessory rail. Side grip panels can be changed, though the grip is pretty fat.4 Small-handed users may find the safety/decocker or the trigger (in double action) hard to reach. Standard magazines come in 15 round capacity.

The P320 is polymer framed, and has a striker fired trigger. Its trigger pull is rather short and somewhat heavy at about 7.5 lbs when compared to other striker fired pistols. It is modular, and can be converted to the subcompact or compact models by swapping frame, slide, and barrel. Front and rear sights are both dovetailed, and are therefore easy to change out. There are three sizes of grip available for a given frame length, so small-handed users can find something that will work for them.

On to the direct comparison!

How do they shoot: Trigger?
This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The P320 trigger is almost like a heavy SAO trigger. It’s short. About 7.5 lbs. The M9 has that double action trigger. The P320’s will be easier to shoot well, for some given definition of “well”5. The M9 will be more resistant to negligent discharges from poor handling habits. Your preference will determine which you prefer. I have not yet met a striker fired trigger or a double action trigger that will convert those who dislike the system.

How do they shoot: Recoil?
Both are full sized guns. The M9 is heavier, so it will absorb recoil better. Not that the 9 mm is some kind of superhot round.

How do the ergonomics compare?
P320 gets the nod here. It’s newer. It’s got interchangeable frames, which you can replace for about $40. So it’s very easy to get one stippled or reshaped, or try to do so yourself. Plus, there are three sizes available (note that only the medium sized one comes in the box). The aluminum structure of the M9 frame restricts grip size somewhat. You can get thinner grip panels, but that’s about it. People with normal sized hands or larger will not have trouble with either gun. People with small hands will have an easier time getting the P320 to a place that works for them. Also, the M9’s mag release is quite low, and trickier to reach. It requires a good bit of grip shifting. Aftermarket options are available to remedy this. The P320 has a nicely sized mag release that is easy to press as it comes from the factory.

How does the aftermarket compare?
It’s a pretty mixed bag. You can find cheap mags for the M9, if you don’t mind 15 rounders. MecGar makes 18 rounders which are quite good. SIG makes 17 round (standard) and 22 round extended magazines for the P320F. There are a reasonable number of sight options available for the P320. M9 front sight work requires a drill press. Wilson Combat makes a good number of aftermarket M9 parts to improve the trigger. Only Grey Guns does P320 trigger work, and they’re annoyingly closed about such things. Only now are they starting to release parts for DIY trigger work. Overall, I think the M9 wins by a little bit, but not by much. The P320 should get better given the US Military contract. Emphasis on should. Neither is looking to give Glock a run for its money in the customization department anytime soon.

And now, it’s time for the Main Event of the Evening!

Which should you buy?
Unlike my first Battle Royale, this one is a lot harder to call. It comes down to this: Which trigger do you prefer? If you like double action triggers, buy an M9 like Fishbreath, and drive on. If you prefer striker fired triggers, buy a P320 and call it a day.

  1. At the time of writing, P320s aren’t available to the general public with thumb safeties, so mine lacks this feature. Also, I don’t like it on striker fired pistols, so I wouldn’t get one if it was available. 
  2. Comes with 22 round extended magazines, TFX front sight, and Siglite rear sights. Otherwise it’s a regular P320F. 
  3. This problem is corrected on the M9A3, which has a front sight dovetail, and sights can be changed by the user. This isn’t what the Army has though, so it’s only of interest if you’re buying one. The M9A3 is also a lot more expensive. 
  4. Also corrected in the M9A3, which uses the Vertec-type grip. 
  5. Fishbreath disagrees, providing the following remark: “Striker-fired triggers are better than a DA pistol’s double action trigger and much worse than a DA pistol’s single-action trigger.” 

Movie (and Firearms) Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Do you like action movies, dear reader?

If so, then you are in for a treat. You will like John Wick: Chapter 2. You will also like John Wick, a quiet hit from 2014, but the sequel is out now so that’s what we’ll talk about. Like a good sequel, most of what I say here also applies to the original. It is pure, cask-strength, unfiltered, undiluted action movie. There is just enough plot to justify the delightful orgy of violence and action that follows. There is a bit of worldbuilding to spice up the movie world and make it a little unique. It is its own movie, not a rehash of, say, Death Wish. And then, as they say, “Lights, camera, action!” There is nothing to get in the way. Nothing to dilute what you came to see. No sadness. No angst1. No romance. No self pity.

It is refreshing, don’t you think?

I also love the fact that John Wick: Chapter 2 is made by a group of former Second Unit cameramen. They’re used to filming fights and stunts, because that’s what the Second Camera Unit is used for. Further, they eschew that stupid “jason bourne movie” style of fight cinematography:2 they don’t zoom in on little bits of the actors clothes, or the spot the stuntman missed shaving this morning, and they don’t use lots of rapid cuts to hide the fact that none of these idiots knows how to fight. The camera is stabilized, as it should be, and it’s set back like the camera at a UFC event: out of the way of the fighters and positioned so that you can enjoy the brawl. This is why you’re here. Don’t ruin it with lame camera work.

The fight action is solid for a movie. Keanu Reeves is pretty athletic, and does a good job of selling the fight sequences. He also enjoys 3-gun, and trained with Taran Butler, shootist extraordinaire. His weapon handling was first rate, except for a bit too much of the weird Center Axis Relock thing. But so much of this movie is fun that I’m not going to nitpick. It is Hollywood, after all. They got so much right, I’ll cut them a little slack. Of course, he takes an obscene amount of damage, but he’s the protagonist. He’s supposed to never say die. This isn’t a training video, so realism has been thrown out the window.

The review of John Wick: Chapter 2 is very easy to write. A review’s job is to tell you whether or not you will enjoy a film, and thus whether or not you should go see it. If you like action movies, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s just that simple.

Of course, that’s a rather short article. Let’s talk about the guns that John Wick uses.

John Wick kits himself out with a full set of guns that have been worked over by Taran Butler’s gunsmithing company, Taran Tactical innovations (TTI). There’s a Glock 34 Combat Master, a Glock 26 Combat Master, a TR-1 AR-15 build, and a Benelli M4 that’s been worked over. In preparation for a massive gunfight as he escapes a hit, he stashes the TR-1 and the modified Benelli with a belt of shotgun shell caddies to aid his fighting escape.

The Glock 34 Combat Master package has a lightened, refinished slide, a steel guide rod, Taran’s sights, a reduced-power recoil spring, a trigger job, a magwell, and a stippled frame. The idea behind the heavy guide rod and the lightened slide is that you can reduce recoil by making the parts of the gun that move lighter and the parts that don’t move heavier. Competitive shooters have been doing this for years. The reduced-power recoil spring is designed to maximize reliability with the lightened slide. The TTI Combat Master package is a little more expensive than buying the individual components/services yourself from various other smithing services, but part of buying a package like this is that it’s a tested set, so you don’t have a bunch of tweaking to do. It’s a competitively priced package when compared to other packages. That said, sourcing the individual parts and services can work if you don’t mind some spring fiddling and have something particular in mind as for looks.

I don’t have time with a TTI Combat Master Glock (yet), but it is well reviewed among competition shooters. All of the theory is right, and Taran and his gunsmiths have likely taken the time to tune it right, or else he wouldn’t put his name on it.

He’s also got Glock magazines with the TTI basepads, which give capacity of 23 rounds per magazine.

I was really happy to see John Wick take a tricked out Glock 26 as a backup gun. It’s similar to the Combat Master Glock 34, but without the window cuts and magwell. Backup guns are often neglected by movie gunfighters. Big thumbs up from me there. See above; it’s a similar package of modifications. I will note that John Wick deploys his backup gun too early in the fight: in a hand-to-hand engagement, that is everybody’s gun until one achieves a dominant position. Gain position, then go for the gun.

The TR-1 is a solid looking AR-15. It’s got an 11.5″ barrel, BCM KMR handguard, compensator, Hiperfire trigger, BCM Gunfighter stock, ionbond-coated bolt carrier group, and a Trijicon Accupoint 1-6x scope. All solid choices. I love the KMR for light and lightish builds. The hiperfire trigger is a really good trigger choice. I’m thinking of getting one to try. I also really like the BCM gunfighter stock. It’s really cool that my parts list lined up with that of another serious builder. Anyway, it’s a great parts list.

The Accupoint optic is a solid choice. It wouldn’t be mine, but Taran seems to like and do well with them. Plus, the lack of holdover options isn’t a huge handicap at the ranges we’re talking about here or in most 3-gun competitions.

We might also note that John Wick goes for a gun with a compensator, not a suppressor. This is going to abuse everyone’s hearing in confined spaces. But his cover is blown if he’s going for the rifle, so stealth won’t help him much. Plus, the compensator will keep the muzzle on target better, so he’ll get faster follow up shots and transitions. As ever, a trade-off. I’m cool with this choice, especially since he knows what he’s doing as far as weapons handling goes.

Also note that John Wick used a pair of coupled magazines before transitioning to what he had on his belt. Coupled magazines add weight, but give you a really fast first reload. This one I don’t have enough experience with to comment on. They add weight, but if you train with them, there are gains to be had there in terms of reloads, and they’re more reliable individually than the big 60 round magazine options.

Finally, the shotgun. Shotgun handling and reloading is the hardest part of running one, but Keanu did a great job of keeping it fed, quad loading like a pro. He also had a pair of shell carriers near the ejection port, to quickly get one round in when you’re caught needing to reload. The TTI-customized M4 had an opened up loading port to make reloads easy. I’m sure the recoil system and trigger tuning are present here too. The bolt is lightened and refinished in ionbond.

Note also that the Glocks and the Benelli have some milling and refinishing done. These are the kind of things that are better outsourced unless you’re well equipped and know what you are doing or else it will look awful.

As far as arsenals go, this set gets a huge thumbs up from me. I might make a few minor preference changes, but it’s a set I’d be extremely happy with.

There are a few other weapons of note that I should comment on, aside from incidental combat pickups.

John Wick starts Chapter 2 using the same pistol he used as his primary in the first movie: the HK P30 with a compensator. This compensator is really more of a frame weight, and doesn’t have a ton of baffles or porting. It does work though. Not a lot of mods, because the P30 is a relatively new gun that’s not very popular in competitions, so it’s not going to be modded to hell and back by guys looking for an edge. It’s a great pistol though; BORTAC really likes theirs.

Late in the movie, Wick is given a Kimber 1911 (in .45) with a single seven-round magazine. And yes, he comments on only having seven bullets. I am unable to ascertain which Kimber 1911 model is used here, though it looks like a Kimber Warrior. Kimber has had some poor QC for awhile in the early 2000s. As far as I can tell from actual reports, this has gotten better recently. QC issue reports tend to be old, or hearsay of old issues. Not that this isn’t something to be aware of, but their current body of work is good. Price is in line with the rest of the 1911 market. Also, their service is very good.

Plus, while we’re talking hearsay examples with small sample sizes, one of the guys in pistol 2 had a Kimber 1911 in .45 and it ran great. He also shot really well with it.

  1. Thank God. 
  2. Again, thank God. I always hated that modern “ghetto documentary” style of camerawork, especially when there’s fighting to be done. I want to see it. Of course, the reason for shakycams zoomed in to the limit is to hide the fact that they have a bunch of men who can’t fight trying to sell me on a punch. 

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 16 – Winter, Planely Negative

In this episode, Jay picks a horrifyingly punny title, we agree that shotguns are for door locks, beanbags, and pigeons clay and live, John picks older items in a gaming topic than Jay for once, and we discuss the only pitiful species of hornet in the world.

Further reading
Clashes and 11 Days of Christmas, Marshall L. Michael III
A Gripen-C (payload 11,400lb) can indeed carry an empty A-4F (weight 10,450lb). We couldn’t find payload figures for the Gripen-A in our admittedly abbreviated after-show research.


Visit the Soapbox for articles and commentary authored by the hosts of the Crossbox Podcast. Find back episodes of the Crossbox Podcast here.

Fishbreath Flies: DCS AJS 37 Viggen Review

Leatherneck Simulations is at it again: a 1970s aircraft modeled in loving detail. Once more, we get a plane which has virtues beyond accuracy. Leatherneck’s DCS Viggen has heart.

I’ve written about the Viggen’s history already, so if your first thought is, “Why should I care?”, there’s your answer. With that out of the way, we can move onto the plane itself.

Digital Combat Simulator made huge strides on this front with the release of its new rendering engine in 2015; Leatherneck has proven itself well above average at the graphical side of DCS module development. The MiG-21 was a work of art, and the Viggen is perhaps even more so. The external model is well done, and seems perfectly realistic to me1. The real artistry comes inside the cockpit, though. Flip on the battery and the low pressure fuel pump, and the master warning lights (labeled HUVUDSVARNING, because Swedish) come on, bathing the cockpit in a luminous flashing red. Turn them off and get through the rest of the startup checklist, then turn the radar on. The CRT casts its eerie green CRT glow over everything, and seems to glow with the inner light all displays of its type do.

Beyond the superb lighting effects, the cockpit also has the weathered feel you would expect from twenty-year-old airframes. (Remember, the AJ 37 Viggen is a 1970 plane; the AJS 37 Viggen is the 1990s update). It isn’t dingy, but it does look and feel as though it’s been used, and that adds tremendously to the plane’s character.

We come now to perhaps the best part of the Viggen: its sound design. Although the DCS engine may not do very well at exterior sounds for any plane, Leatherneck has still managed to make the flyby sound meaty, especially in afterburner. In-cockpit, the state of things is much better. Turn on the AC power, and the computer’s fans spin up with a sound that reminds me of my childhood machines. The master warning alarm has the same warmth to it as the light does. Later, the insistent chirp of the radar warning receiver gives way to the thunder of the afterburner, growing deeper by stages as the throttle clicks past its detents through the three afterburner power bands.

Sound is an important and underrated component to immersion in sims. The Viggen gets it spot-on. It’s good as any sim I’ve played to date.

Systems and weapons
The Viggen flies a mission profile rather out of favor in today’s world: interdiction. That is, it’s designed to fly at ludicrously high speeds and ludicrously low altitudes, carrying a wingload of bombs, rockets, or rudimentary guided weapons. It gets to its target, pops up at the last minute to aim its weapons, makes one pass, and heads home.

This is reflected in its design: the canarded double delta makes quite a bit of low-speed lift, but it does so inefficiently. The Viggen is happiest in its native habitat: Mach numbers greater than 0.6, altitudes lower than 500 meters above the ground. It does not fit into the low-intensity COIN world of DCS nearly so well as (say) the A-10C, the Ka-50, or even the Su-25. The weapons fit requires you to know where your target is, and even the air pressure at the target’s location. All of this (except for the air pressure) must be programmed into the computer ahead of time, or using the wee six-digit input display while flying.

So, don’t expect to do much loitering, waiting for JTAC, and dropping bombs precisely. Even if it was more straightforward, the Viggen has very little facility for dropping quantities of its weapons smaller than ‘all’. Only guided missiles fire one at a time.

Having introduced this section with an extended ramble, let me get back on point for a paragraph. The systems modeling feels right to me. I’m not an expert on Swedish systems of the 1970s and 1990s, but everything feels plausible enough, modulo some early-access issues Leatherneck is working through in weekly patches. Notable fun items include the overwhelmingly programmable RB-15 anti-ship missile, the BK-90 totally-not-a-low-altitude-cluster-JDAM, and the RB-05A manually-guided missile (easier to use than it sounds). The air-to-ground mapping radar works as expected; that is to say, it’s very cool, albeit with the confusing wrinkle that green means no radar return and black means return.

There are some ongoing issues with rearming, as well as some others involving weapons and multiplayer, but I’m confident Leatherneck will be able to get those squared away.

On to the most subjective point! Is it fun?

Yes. Yes it is.

The design of the HUD, with few numbers and lots of indicator lines, makes you feel like you’re flying a Swedish X-Wing, and the rest of the cockpit supports that impression. As the treetops zip by at four hundred knots, and the waypoint distance line on the HUD shrinks to indicate you’re closing in on your target, you can just picture yourself hurtling down the Death Star trench.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Viggen’s mission profile makes for a certain sense of rising anticipation as you speed toward your target. Do you know that stereotypical scene from adventure movies, the one where the sun inches toward a bejeweled staff placed just so, or the one where some narrator is speaking while an orrery clicks toward planetary alignment? Everything is building toward a single moment, and then, bam—the payoff. The sun sparkles off the jewel and lights up the model of the city below, the orrery’s planets align. That’s the feel of a Viggen mission done correctly. Your range-to-target dial—and it is a dial; the Viggen may be computerized, but it isn’t that computerized—ticks down toward zero. You pull up, catching a glimpse of your target as you do. You roll onto it, lining up the sighting mark in the HUD, and then, bam. You pull the trigger and your weapons strike home. There’s the payoff.

It’s tremendously exciting.

I recommend the Viggen wholeheartedly, based on its production values and on the sheer thrill I get out of flying it. I offer the following two caveats, though. First, it’s an early access product; more importantly, it’s an early access DCS product. There are still plenty of gremlins. Second, if you’re a multiplayer-primary player, be warned that there are several bugs and several usability issues to contend with. Even with those caveats, though, it’s an excellent aircraft, and I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed with your purchase.

  1. I don’t count rivets, though. 

Resurrected Weapons: M4A1 PIP

The M4 is by no means a terminated weapon. But it could do with some improvements to bring it in line with advancements in the civilian AR-15 sector, and to take advantage of hard won battle experience.

Recall that the standard M4 is an AR-15 configured as follows (there are other features, but these are the salient points):

  1. Barrel Length: 14.5″
  2. Barrel Profile: A2 type (or “Government” type)1
  3. Revised feedramps on the upper receiver (“M4 feedramps”)
  4. A 7″ (“carbine length”) gas system
  5. Round plastic handguards with dual aluminum heatshields
  6. A flat top upper with the MIL-STD-1913 (“Picatinny” rail) on top
  7. A trigger group with capability for semiautomatic and three round burst fire
  8. A four-position collapsible stock (and the necessary receiver extension and buffer system changes for this to work)

Great. Of course, time marched on. And as we became engaged in the War on Terror and deployed troops, soldiers found that they had a bunch of other stuff that they wanted to mount to their rifles. Lights, lasers, that sort of thing. So the plastic handguards were replaced with the Knights Armament Rail Interface System.2 This system is a drop-in replacement for the earlier handguards. It does not require any special tools or disassembly of the upper to install. It is not free-floated however. It is also not very rigid, since it uses the same delta ring attachment method as the stock handguards. Good enough for an IR laser for use at night, but hardly for mounting more precise sights.

I should also point out that Colt rolled a bunch of improvements into some of the small parts of the M4. I will not discuss them much here, but note that they exist. One of them was moving from a “carbine weight” buffer to the “H1” buffer, which is heavier and made the M4 run more reliably.

After a number of battles, the US Army wanted to make some changes to their M4s. The result is called the M4A1. The following major changes were made:

  1. Barrel profile revised to “SOCOM” profile. This is a medium-weight profile, adding mass under the handguards. It adds about 0.25 lbs of weight to the carbine.
  2. A revised trigger group capable of semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.
  3. A heavier buffer for better reliability

The revised, heavier profile was to make the rifle perform better when providing sustained fire. It will also mean that a shooter’s groups will not open up as much after shooting a bunch. Replacing the three round burst with fully automatic results in an improved trigger pull, even in semiautomatic mode, a more useful capability, and more predictable results. The burst cam was an awful idea, and it’s good that it’s gone.

The M4A1 PIP (also known as the M4A1+) was designed to add some more capability to the M4A1. The rifle would be as an M4A1, but with the following additional changes:

  1. A new, more effective flash hider
  2. A longer, free float handguard (likely the Daniel Defense M4 RIS II3)
  3. ‘coyote tan’ coloring on the handguard to break up the outline of the rifle.
  4. A low-profile gas block
  5. A folding front sight
  6. An improved (read: larger) charging handle
  7. An improved trigger

The M4A1 PIP program was cancelled in June 2016 when the Army decided the upgrades were not worth the effort.


That is absolute nonsense. Observe the USMC moving towards getting M27s in the hands of everyone. Most of those improvements are actual, serious improvements on the M4A1 design. While #6 and #7 in the PIP changelist above might not be cost effective, the rest are very good.

A longer, free float handguard is the biggest and most obvious benefit. I finally tried a long (13″) handguard on Bridget, my competition rifle. And I really, really like it. It’s not about looking cool.4 The longer handguard gives you more options for where to put your hand, gives you more room for mounting accessories while still having a place for your hand, and is better to rest on a barricade than a barrel or a non-free-float handguard.

Free float handguards do provide a noticeable gain in accuracy, especially when resting the rifle on a barricade or using a sling. In other words, any time when we might be exerting some pressure on a barrel. Also, on an M4, we can’t get the longer, more useful handguard without free floating, and there isn’t much of a cost difference between free float and non-free float handguards, so there really isn’t a good reason not to go free float.

The low profile gas block makes life a lot easier, and means you don’t have to worry about burning yourself by touching the hot FSB. Daniel Defense does make a version of the RIS II that is 12″ long and has a cutout for the FSB. It’s a bit more annoying to install than one with a low-profile gas block. As long as it’s pinned in place, I’m cool with low profile for issue kit.

An improved flash hider is also welcome. The A2 ‘birdcage’ is a pretty good flash suppressor, unless you’re wearing night vision equipment. Then, it’s still pretty damn bright. So your own rifle is interfering with your vision. And people with night vision can find you easily. Not a problem while you’re fighting Taliban scum. Might be an issue if you fight a more formidable opponent.

I also really like coloring rifles not-black for issue purposes. It occurs to me that this could be done easily and cheaply with some Krylon and tape to keep paint off optics and out of muzzles, but the Army isn’t likely to go for that.

Unsurprisingly, I’m a big fan of the M4A1 PIP program, though I might like to see if other handguards are better (maybe one with mlok? It’s on the Army’s new HK CSASS). And buying new upper components and assembling them is a lot cheaper than buying M27s. And if you had a good PIP product, that would get rid of most of the reason for adopting the M27.5

As for the other question, is the M4A1 PIP better than the HK 416/M27, that’s likely to require testing that I can’t do here. And knowledge of what price I could get each for, which I don’t have. But within the confines of “For the US Army”, or another army that has already bought M4s, it’s almost certainly a better idea to upgrade.

Finally, some weight data if you’re interested in considering some of these rifles for your Infantry Kit Challenge.

Basic M46.120 lbs.
M4+RIS6.245 lbs.
Basic M4A16.80 lbs.
M4A1+RIS6.420 lbs.
M4A1 PIP6.990 lbs.
HK 416A5-14.5″ barrel7.678 lbs.
HK M277.900 lbs.

Weights in the above table assume no carry handle is mounted and the weapon is unloaded. I used the weight for the Knights Armament 600 m rear sight since I don’t have weight numbers for the Army-issue Matech 600 m rear sight. Both fold away when not in use. ‘Basic’ means with the plastic handguards. M4 assumed to have H1 pattern buffer. Front sight on the M4A1 PIP was assumed to be the Troy folding front sight. For improved muzzle device on the M4A1 PIP, I chose the B. E. Meyers 249F, since it has tested better than the A2 birdcage. HK 416A5 and M27 weights included for reference. Note that the M27 has a 16″ barrel, not a 14.5″ barrel like all others on the chart.

1.) It’s a pencil profile that’s been thickened in front of the gas block. First introduced on the M16A2. It is a stupid profile and I don’t like it.
2.) Later replaced with the KAC Rail Adapter System (RAS).
3.) It’s a 12″ long quadrail that’s free floated, pretty sturdy, and already in the US DoD’s procurement system, so they wouldn’t need an elaborate RFP/Eval/challenge process. It also allows the easy mounting of the M203 with existing brackets, since that lacks rail mount adapters.
4.) Okay, it’s not just about looking cool.
5.) Yes, I know the HK 416/M27 has a short-stroke gas piston. While this is easier to develop, the M4’s direct impingement system has got a lot of development time already sunk in. And I don’t see actual benefits from the data when you compare the 416 to modern M4s (or Mk 18s if you want to talk properly short barrels). More on this later.

Review: ETS 22-round Glock magazines

For a while I didn’t understand the point of aftermarket Glock magazines. Factory Glock magazines are really cheap. Factory Glock magazines are reliable. Saving a couple bucks on some other brand’s magazine didn’t make sense to me. And that was before I read a ton of unfavorable reviews about crappy Korean-made aftermarket mags and others that don’t work.

Then I found these ETS magazines. They’ve gotten generally positive reviews, and have a lot of things going for them. They seem to actually work for people. And they come in more sizes than the Glock standard 17 round and 33 round massively large magazine for full size pistols. I bought a few 22-round (9mm) magazines to see for myself what they were like.

On the ETS website, you will notice that they not only makes the 33-round “Happy Sticks” and the standard magazine sizes (17 rounds for full size, 15 for compact, 10 for subcompact, various reduced-load variants for evil communist hippie states), but they also make magazines targeted at competitive shooters. If you shoot Limited division in USPSA or Practical division in 3-gun nation, your pistol magazines must have a height less than 141.25 mm (colloquially referred to as “140 mm magazines”). USPSA Open division shooters are limited to mags that are less than 171.25 mm tall (colloquially referred to as “170 mm magazines”). Happily, ETS highlights in the product name their 140 mm and 170 mm compliant offerings. For the record, their 140 mm magazines hold 22 rounds of 9 mm, and their 170 mm magazines hold 27 rounds of 9 mm.1

The magazines themselves are made out of transparent, smoke-colored plastic. There’s no metal liner like on factory Glock mags. The ETS mags seem durable enough to me, but I haven’t driven over them or used them for many years yet. Transparent is nice because it lets you see and count your bullets, no matter how you pull the mag out of the gun. Also, they look really cool. In terms of guts, they take the same followers and the same sort of springs as standard Glock magazines. Clearly these are longer, so you’d want longer springs. But if you wanted to replace them with Wolff extra power Glock magazine springs, no problem. Also, the floorplates are the same design as factory Glock magazine floorplates. So if you want more weight to help them drop free better, you can add any existing aftermarket metal “+0” floorplate for Glock magazines.

I experienced no problems in my use of these magazines. I could load 22 rounds, as advertised. I had no trouble inserting fully loaded magazines, or getting empty magazines to drop free. The slide locked back appropriately on an empty magazine. There were no feeding problems to report.

I did not “stress test” these magazines by stomping them in mud or driving over them. I did drop them onto concrete a couple times fully loaded, and they didn’t explode. I’d expect them to be more durable than factory mags with extenders, because they don’t have to deal with a join in the middle of the body.

I’ve also had a bit of time with Magpul’s Glock magazines. I experienced no reliability problems with those in class (though they belonged to another shooter so I did not use them for the whole class). I cannot speak to the long-term durability of either. However, the Magpul magazines don’t have any of the little convenience features that endeared me to the ETS magazines. They are opaque, and have many fewer witness holes than stock Glock magazines. They do not clearly confirm the height of their magazines on their website. They also use a different floorplate design. The price difference isn’t really anything significant, so I’d take the ETS magazines over the Magpul ones.

ETS extended magazines are a great choice for competitive shooters and those looking for more bullets in the magazine. They are longer than stock magazines2, but if you want to conceal them, feel free to try to figure out a way to make that work. They’re a hell of a lot cheaper than a factory mag and an aftermarket extender, and provide about as many bullets, with none of the breaking on drop issues.

  1. I shoot 9 mm because I’m a “tactical timmy” and I like more bullets. Plus 9 mm is cheap, and just as effective with good defensive ammo. If you take your pistol competition more seriously than I, you probably are interested in the .40 versions, since it’s a lot easier to make Major power factor with .40. The 140 mm ETS magazines hold 19 rounds of .40, and the 170 mm ETS magazines hold 24 rounds of .40. 
  2. DUH.