Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 22 – Sacred Cows Edition

In this episode, we talk about guns (lots of guns), and how sci-fi designers can’t design them; about Star Wars and space flight games; and about red dots on pistols, and how we can’t design experiments to save our lives.

Further reading

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Fishbreath Hefts: ALICE (large) Hellcat Pack Review Part II

The year is 2017. Your correspondent recently purchased and reviewed an ALICE large field pack and frame, plus some modifications, to make a package sometimes known as the ALICE Hellcat1. Or rather, reviewed in part: no review of field gear can be considered complete without some actual field time, and that’s what this article addresses.

If you, like me, do not live under a rock, you may have heard that there was recently (at time of writing) a total solar eclipse. You can be sure I wasn’t going to miss my chance at seeing one, and you can be similarly sure that I wasn’t going to spend the money on a hotel. Some college friends decided a camping trip was in order, and I decided to tag along. The destination: Shawnee National Forest. The plan: unimproved camping near the Garden of the Gods2.

That brings me to the first part of this review: how roomy is the pack? Well, it’s complicated. The ALICE pack is shorter than your average backpacking pack from top to bottom, but wider and deeper. This has its upsides and its downsides. In the bottom of the pack, I could fit things next to my sleeping bag in both directions—both toward the front face of the pack3 and to the sides. I packed my ground cloth in front of my sleeping bag, and used the space to the side for the base of my tent.

On that note, my gear generally is not backpacking gear—although I grew up camping, I mostly grew up camping out of cars. The family two-man tent comes in a bag twenty-seven inches tall, and weighs something like eight or ten pounds4. My sleeping bag is a backpacking model, I suppose, but it’s also a three-season bag, and as such doesn’t pack down as small as a summer model might. In general, I made no particular effort to bring lightweight or compact gear, and overpacked generally for the sake of the experiment5. I ended up with a pack which weighed about thirty-five or forty pounds and filled most of the available volume of the pack. As the packing list in the footnote there suggests, this was not an ultralight or even an efficient trip. Packing as luxuriously as I did, an overnight or weekend trip is plausible. I expect I would have very little trouble packing for a longer stay if I had more appropriate gear—with access to water on-site, compact dehydrated food, and no extra-fancy mess equipment, I suspect I could pack a good week’s worth of summer clothing.

Now that we’ve loaded the pack, we can talk about how it fits and how well it carries weight. As far as fit goes, I don’t know if I could recommend it to someone very much taller than me. As I said in the previous article, I’m USGI-standard height, a hair over 5’9″. The MOLLE straps on my frame can be adjusted to ride lower on it (thereby moving the hip pad nearer to the shoulder straps for a shorter person), but they’re already at the upper limit of their adjustment. On my back, the pack fits perfectly, with the MOLLE hip belt extending from about belly-button height to my hip bones. I had a few taller people give it a try, and it didn’t fit them nearly as well. I suspect there is some further room for adjustment—by lengthening the bottom of the shoulder straps, the pack could be made to ride lower, and likely fit long torsos better—but the primary adjustment, that effected by moving the entire yoke up and down, is only really useful for average-to-short men and short-to-tall women.

We’ve established it fits people my size and smaller well. How does the ALICE Hellcat carry weight, though? As described above, the ALICE pack is short and squat relative to modern backpacking gear. Taller, flatter packs, such as the latter, put the center of gravity higher and closer to your back. Well-packed, they’ll primarily press down on your hips; the shoulder straps are primarily to stabilize the load and keep it close to your body. The load on the shoulders tends to be a downward load. The ALICE pack is a little different. It is, once again, short. Even with a sleeping roll lashed to the top, it only comes up to about the middle of my head. It doesn’t exert a downward force exclusively; rather, it exerts a sort of pivoting torque in addition to downward pressure. It’s as though the waist belt is an axle, and the pack is trying to fall away from your back.

I wouldn’t characterize this as bad, though. It’s just different. The weight on the shoulder straps, is on your upper chest just below the shoulders. The pivoting movement helps to hold the pack onto the hip pad. My forty-pound pack was no less comfortable than I would expect out of a more traditional pack. Some adjustment of the shoulder straps is necessary; there’s a middle ground I had to find between, “Too tight up top, weighing on my shoulders,” and, “Too loose up top, pulling me backwards.” Once I found it, though, I found myself able to carry it neither bent forward nor pulled backward, and as an added bonus, the smaller top-to-bottom height made for easier crouching under obstacles.

As far as hiking goes, we only had to walk a few hundred yards in total with our packs. I can’t speak to the Hellcat’s comfort over the course of a long hike. I have no reason to think it would be significantly worse than it was with my static testing and light hiking. The MOLLE straps are excellently padded and provided good comfort, even when loaded heavily by backpacking standards.

So, we got to the campsite. How is the pack to live with? Again, not bad, if perhaps not up to the same standard as present-day backpacking gear. One of the bigger things to note (again) is that the ALICE rucksack has no bottom access. It’s traditional to pack a sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack: something bulky but not terribly heavy. Many modern packs have a zipper or some other means by which items at the very bottom of the pack may be gotten at without having to unpack everything on top of them. With the Hellcat, you have to pack a little more carefully. Follow the two cardinal rules of packing (rarely accessed things go at the bottom, eavy things go closer to the frame) and you’ll be fine.

All convenience is not lost, though. The ALICE large pack has six exterior pockets, plus one pocket in the top flap. The six pockets come in three different sizes: three small (up top), two medium (on the sides down below), and one large (bottom center). The large pocket fits a mess kit and notebook with room to spare. The medium pockets are roughly three-espresso-cup moka pot-sized. The small pockets are large enough to fit a hard-sided glasses case, or an alcohol burner, pot rack, and folded aluminum foil windbreak. All are easily accessible without opening the pack or even loosening the compression straps. The top flap pocket was originally designated a map pocket and is not rated for heavy items, but it is very roomy. It easily held my maps, flashlight, phone, charger, cables, and earbuds, and could have fit much more.

The lashing points, too, are a wonderful piece of old-time fun. Putting the MOLLE straps onto the ALICE frame yielded a pair of straps used to secure the ALICE shoulder straps to the frame; I borrowed those, ran them through the buckles on my British P37 canteen carrier, and attached it to the outside of my pack. There are a good dozen or so lashing points spread out over the pack. The full Hellcat pack uses some of them to attach the MOLLE sleep system carrier, and potentially uses others to attach the MOLLE sustainment pouches, but even that would leave a number of them open for other gear. The compression straps are also very generous in length, and can readily be used both to hold gear to the top of the pack (I had a fire kit, a sleeping pad, and a spare water bottle up there) and to tie it to the bottom of the pack. If you want more strappage, you can find MOLLE accessory straps on Amazon which should serve just fine for lashing items to the pack.

Speaking of lashing and straps, the pack has exactly zero zippers. All the external pockets close with snaps. The main compartment has a drawstring closure, and the compression straps hold the top flap down on top of it. Despite that lack, I didn’t find opening the pack to be all that inconvenient. A little on the slow side, perhaps, since you generally have to loosen both compression straps, but certainly livable.

Lastly, the ALICE pack is definitively not waterproof, or even water resistant, and doesn’t come with a pack cover or dry bags6. You’ll have to work out your own solution for keeping things dry. For myself, it was lots of ziploc bags, some garbage bags, and one garbage bag big enough to serve as a pack cover. The lack of waterproofing out of the box is freeing, in a sense; it doesn’t lock you into any one solution.

So, the bottom line. Is it worth the buy? Provided it fits you, I say it is. My pack cost $70, including shipping, and if you have a nearby surplus store you can probably find one for a similar price. (That is, the pack and the frame together.) The MOLLE straps and belt came to about $30, again including shipping, and again with the similar caveat about brick-and-mortar storefronts. For the money, you get more pack, and more durable pack, than you might shopping for a traditional backpacking pack on the same budget. That said, I wouldn’t pay much more than $100 for the whole setup unless you’re very into the Hellcat’s modularity7. Once you get to, say, $150, you’re in the range where you can get a used or discounted pack from REI. $200 will buy you a new one. The quality of life there is, admittedly, better, and you have a warranty to go with it.

All told, though, I’m happy with my purchase. For my very occasional backpacking trips, a proper pack makes little financial sense. For a solid discount over even cheap hiking packs, I have something which works very nearly as well. Who can argue with that?


  1. Well, kind of. As I say in the previous article, one of the characteristics of the Hellcat is the MOLLE sleep system carrier attached to the bottom of the ALICE medium pack; I just went for a large pack right off the bat, which yields approximately the same capacity. 
  2. The one in Illinois, obviously, not the one in Colorado. 
  3. That is, the side opposite the straps. 
  4. It’s an excellent tent. It’s been bone-dry inside after taking a full day of rain on the fly. It just isn’t small or light. 
  5. For reference, I brought the following: sleeping bag and pad, tent, large cooking pot, mess kit, dinner for the whole group (three cans of chunk chicken, two boxes of rice and beans), an alcohol-burning stove, pot stand, and foil windbreak, a moka pot for coffee, coffee and stove fuel, a hoodie, cargo pants and cargo shorts, pajama pants, three t-shirts, three pairs each of underwear and socks, my trusty P37 canteen, a separate 20-oz. water bottle, maps, phone charger, sunglasses, various plastic bags to hold things and serve as pack covers, a pad for sitting on, and earbuds. 
  6. At least mine didn’t. It was issued with dry bags, though, and the full kit list did include a pack cover. 
  7. Which is to say, you like the idea of bringing the sleep system carrier and sustainment pouches as necessary, or leaving them behind when you don’t need them. 

Resurrected Weapons: LOSAT/KEM/CKEM

I’m lumping these together because they all operate on the same basic principle, and are really just different sized versions of the same concept. This idea keeps coming up in a bunch of different sizes and a bunch of different guises.

Antitank missiles today use shaped charge(s) to penetrate armor. We might call this a “chemical energy” method of penetrating armor. More technically, we might call it the Munroe Effect. This is really effective, and doesn’t depend on missile speed. However, there are lots of technologies today to counter this method of armor penetration, including reactive armor (both explosive and non-explosive types), spaced armor, various forms of composite armor, and cage armor. And we can mix and match the above to get some really hard to kill vehicles.

That said, the clever observer will note that most tank guns today use some kind of APFSDS round, a kinetic energy penetrator. Heavy alloy dart moving very fast. Present armor technology makes this a lot harder to defeat than a shaped charge. LOSAT (later renamed KEM) and CKEM would try to apply this same warhead type to an antitank missile. Start with a heavy metal warhead, add a big honking solid fuel rocket motor and fulfill your need for speed.

The missiles were a little different. MGM-166 LOSAT/KEM was 2.85 m long, 16.2 cm wide, and weighed 80 kg. It had a top speed of about 1,500 m/s or 5,000 fps. At this speed, it reached its maximum range in under 5 seconds.

CKEM is the newer, Compact version of the concept. It’s also faster because of rocket motor improvements. It was build in the late 90s/early 2000s to fit a roughly TOW-sized footprint. CKEM was a little longer than TOW at 1.5 m, but matched it’s 15.2 cm diameter. Maximum speed was Mach 6 (about 6,700 fps or 2,047 m/s).

This ends up being a great idea for a number of reasons. We’ve already mentioned that it’s a lot harder to protect a vehicle against APFSDS type rounds. In this case, there is no replacement for velocity. You’ll need heavy armor to stop what’s incoming. Further, a lot of the complicated guidance systems can be done away with. Both missiles had minimal guidance, and relied on lead computations in the launcher to account for any target movement. Given the speeds involved, this is more than sufficient. Finally, being a very fast moving, relatively unfragile thing, it’s a lot harder for modern active protection systems to defeat. All big wins.

Downsides? Well, most of the development and system cost is the motor. We need a relatively small engine that can deliver a lot of thrust very quickly and will also remain stable in storage. That’s not really insurmountable, or a terrible cost driver. Especially when compared to the high-end thermal-imaging based fire and forget systems around these days. The other obvious problem, which doesn’t come up in documentation I’ve seen, is minimum ranges. Even a really high impulse motor will take some time to accelerate that missile up to speed, so there’s going to be a dead zone where the missile will not work as advertised. I’d also expect the motor to be bulky.

Bulk, even for the smaller CKEM, is still an issue. It’s certainly not man-portable. But it would make an excellent antitank missile for vehicles. A JLTV, or a Bradley would make a great carrier vehicle for these. We love tanks, and thus we love antitank missiles. Just like the Russians, who have new tanks. As do the Chinese.

Also, I’d love to see these trialed from helicopters and aircraft. The size isn’t terrible, and the speed should help with the fire control problem.

Verdict: Funding approved by the Borgundy War Department Army Ordnance Board

Project LSAT Weight Comparisons

As a follow-on to my earlier post analyzing the LSAT project, I provided this table with the best comparative data that I can find. Note of course that LSAT systems are prototypes, and weights might change should these come into production. All LSAT data is for the more successful polymer-cased, telescoped (PCT) rounds.

First, the machine gun table:

WeaponM249 SAWStoner 96LSAT LMGM240BLSAT GPMG
Unloaded Weight17 lbs10.5 lbs9.4 lbs27.6 lbs14.7 lbs
Caliber5.56 NATO5.56 NATO5.56 PCT7.62 NATO7.62 PCT
Ammo weight (200 rd belt)6.92 lbs6.92 lbs3.8 lbs13.4 lbs7.5 lbs
Loaded Weight23.92 lbs17.42 lbs13.2 lbs41 lbs22.2 lbs

The 6.5 mm PCT round is very nearly the same size and weight as the 7.62 mm PCT round, so the 6.5 is omitted for simplicity. This also provides a better comparison with the existing M240B. A 200 round belt was used for ease of comparison, though 100 round belts are also commonly used.

Now, the carbine table:

WeaponM4 CarbineLSAT Carbine
Unloaded Weight6.5 lbs6.5 lbs
Caliber5.56 NATO5.56 PCT
Ammo weight (30 round magazine)1.05 lbs0.69 lbs
Loaded Weight7.55 lbs7.19 lbs

The carbine designs are less well developed. I don’t have enough data on the prospective 7.62 mm/6.5 mm PCT ‘battle rifle’ to include it in the table (specifically, I lack the weight of a loaded magazine). We can see that the weight savings are much less significant here, amounting to 2.5 lbs for a standard combat load of 210 rounds. Which is nice, but not quite as massive as the savings for machine gunners.

The General Issue Plate Carrier

The standard wisdom for current infantry protection is to use rifle plates and an armor carrier, which provides fragmentation protection for more area of the torso than the plates do. The armor carrier means that the lower abdomen, area around the plate, and the shoulder straps are going to be rated against fragments. Of course, this comes at a bulk and weight penalty. In Afghanistan, US special forces often took to wearing plate carriers. Plate carriers carry only plates. No soft armor panels, besides optional armor backers. They’re a lot lighter and less bulky. For mountain operations, this is awesome. Of course, there’s basically no artillery threat in Afghanistan. Let’s look at whether or not this makes sense in the general case.

We’re going to compare the IOTV with front and rear plates to a lightweight plate carrier with front and rear plates, specifically the Crye JPC. For the IOTV, we’re not going to include side plates and carriers, since the plate carrier we’re choosing doesn’t come with side plate pockets. Also, these plates provide protection for the abdomen, not the upper thoracic cavity, and the abdomen is a much less critical area. Both would need supplemental protection for the neck, shoulder, or groin. Removing accessories simplifies the comparison a little.

As usual, we’ll be using medium size items for comparison. We’ll also be using a pair of ESAPI plates for both. Two ESAPI medium size plates weigh 10.9 lbs. The medium size IOTV weighs 10.56 lbs. The medium size Crye JPC weighs 1.3 lbs. Since we’re using ESAPI plates, which require plate backers, we’ll need to add those, which gives us another 2.4 lbs.

So we might break this down into three options. The IOTV alone weighs 10.56 lbs. The JPC with plates weighs 14.6 lbs. The IOTV with ESAPI weighs 21.46 lbs. So switching to a a plate carrier with plates instead of an armor carrier with plates saves us about seven pounds in our example, though the exact weight will vary if we choose different models.

Clearly, the armor carrier with plates and plate carrier with plates are both going to be very effective against most rifle rounds. Also clearly, the plates will stop fragments that hit them. The armor carrier will provide fragmentation protection around the abdomen, around the border of the ESAPI plate and on the shoulder straps. Weight for marginal hit protection is what’s in question here.

Overall, I’m inclined to favor the plate carrier given the weight savings. There’s entirely too much load on our soldiers already. It may interest the reader to note that the ESAPI plates were deployed in Iraq to combat fragments from IEDs, so perhaps the traditional kevlar-type soft armor fragmentation protection is insufficient. It is important to understand the expected threat level.

Further weight savings might be obtainable with a different choice of plates. ESAPI plates (and the SAPI plates they were derived from) were intended to be worn over soft armor, and the soft armor backers are required to get the designed level of protection from the plates. We’ll look at some alternative plates in the near future.

M230 LF Autocannon

Autocannons are awesome. Earlier, I talked about the ASP-30, an autocannon for light vehicle applications that fired the 30×113 mm round. This gives an explosive payload like a 40 mm grenade, but has a nice flat trajectory. It’s also currently the ammo of choice for the gun on the excellent Apache attack helicopter. While I love looking at old projects, we might consider if there’s another way to get similar capability without all the R&D costs.

Enter the M230 LF. Orbital ATK’s M230 is the gun used on the Apache helicopter. It’s externally powered and it uses a linkless feed, which is light and convenient for aerial applications. It’s less than ideal for vehicles though. The M230 LF has a longer barrel and is adapted for a linked feed. It’s still externally driven, using ground-vehicle-convenient 24V DC electrical power, and has a reduced rate of fire.

In terms of vehicle mounts, light turrets, and the increasingly popular remote weapons station, the M230 LF has a lot to offer over the standard Mk. 19 automatic grenade launcher or M2 heavy machine gun. Just like the ASP-30, it’s got a much flatter trajectory than the Mk. 19, giving it increased range and improved precision. Having an explosive payload gives it improved lethality over the .50 BMG round. The M230 LF has better range than the M2. Also, it’s externally powered, so it doesn’t need solenoids to cock it or work the trigger. It also improves on the ASP-30 by being a system that’s already in the inventory, so spare parts are already present.

Awesome. However, the M230 LF is not a perfect replacement for the M2 and the Mk. 19. It is not ideal for man-portable operations. It isn’t really designed to be broken down into smaller loads like the M2, and it weighs about twice as much. It’s not compatible with existing tripods, and the external drive functionality that made it so well adapted to turret use is problematic for infantry operations. You can’t have everything.

I am happy to report that sensible people are deploying the M230 LF on shipboard remote weapons stations and on vehicles. Oshkosh has even put some on their JLTV-winning design.

Fishbreath Hefts: ALICE (large) Hellcat Pack Review Part I

The year is 1975. The brand-new ALICE load-carrying equipment has been released, and it brings relief for American soldiers worldwide from a system of equipment which has its roots in the mid-1950s. Improved webbing, nylon for everyone, not just the men in Vietnam, better pouches, suspenders, and belts, and at last, a proper frame pack as part of the general issue kit1, with both a medium and large rucksack available.

ALICE generally, though it’s an interesting system and what I would call the first truly modern American load-carrying equipment pattern2, is not our topic for today. Our topic for today is, instead, the ALICE pack frame, its associated belts and straps, and the large ALICE rucksack.

First, the frame. Primarily constructed of tubular aluminum, it also has some flat aluminum crossmembers for rigidity. Some D-rings at the top provide a place for shoulder straps to attach, and the waist pad attaches through larger D-rings at the bottom. Some holes in the waist pad bracing provide bottom attachment points for the shoulder straps. The ALICE straps need no further attachment points, and accordingly, the frame doesn’t provide them.

Next, the rucksack itself. As packs go, it’s very large, but not quite as large as your average expedition pack. I’ve seen figures from 3800 to 5000 cubic inches cited (about 65L to 80L, for you metric fans/backpackers), which ranges from ‘enough for long trips with smart packing’ to ‘enough for long trips’. Curiously, given American experience in Vietnam, the pack itself is not waterproof3. There is a waterproof compartment in the lid, but it isn’t large enough to fit much or rated for heavy weights. The pockets and main compartment all feature drain holes to let out any water that gets in.

Speaking of external pockets, it has six: three large ones at the bottom, and three smaller ones nearer the top of the pack. The bottom pockets close by means of straps, as does the main pack; the bottom pockets, at least, feature snaps for quick-opening goodness4. The main compartment is divided in two; a smaller, secondary compartment on the frame side has inside compression straps. (It might also be a place to put a water bladder, if you have such a thing.) This compartment is absurdly spacious by backpacking standards; although it isn’t especially large in the absolute sense, the maximum cross-sectional area of the pack is significantly greater than your average modern backpacking pack5 of the same size. The outside of the pack is festooned with gear attachment points, loops of fabric through which you can tie, lash, or otherwise secure equipment to the pack. Of course, being a 1970s-vintage pack, it has none of the modern conveniences like bottom access, vertically separated internal compartments, a built-in rain cover, a dedicated hydration bladder compartment, zippers, a water bottle pocket… In the interests of saving space, let me say this instead. It is a large sack with pockets. That’s about all there is to it.

The large pack fits onto the frame by means of a large padded envelope at its top edge, as well as some retaining straps which attach to the frame near the bottom. The padded envelope at the top does double duty as the padding on the pack side of a more modern yoke. And, to be honest, it doesn’t do a very good job.

Let’s back up a bit first. I ordered an ALICE pack from an eBay surplus outlet because I wanted something I could take on backpacking trips (in particular, a camping trip for the upcoming eclipse) that I couldn’t break, and something which wouldn’t break the bank. Military surplus fits the bill on both accounts, and ALICE is cheaper and yes, more hipster than the current state-of-the-American-art, MOLLE6. Then I put it on, and realized that, although the frame and pack are solid, the parts you actually have to wear are not.

First: the shoulder straps. That’s literally all they are. Very little padding and no sternum strap. Nobody ever told the GI of the day that soldiering would be easy, but for a pack designed to carry a load of seventy pounds7, adding an extra eight ounces of softness in the straps seems like a no-brainer that the Army managed to brainlessly miss. The waist belt is a similar case: the padding reaches more or less from kidney to kidney; the official name for the padded piece is the ‘kidney pad’. It’s maybe three inches from top to bottom and eight across, and remember, behind the kidney pad there are two D-rings to hold it and nothing else. The pad has to isolate the wearer from a lot of force applied over a very small area. It doesn’t pay to skimp. Lastly, the padded envelope at the top of the pack does not do a very good job at keeping the frame off of the wearer’s back. I wore it for five minutes unloaded, and there was very little comfort to speak of. Something would have to change.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The ALICE pack is still popular among some ex-military who liked it during their days in the service, and also has a following among the prepper crowd8, as well as in the cheap-outdoorsman crowd (to which yours truly belongs). Someone from one or another crowd worked out how to attach the MOLLE yoke and waist belt to the ALICE frame, making what the internet calls the ALICE Hellcat9. Since I had foreseen the problems with the raw ALICE gear, I ordered some surplus MOLLE items at the same time. The MOLLE pack straps are a proper yoke, with padding for the upper back; the MOLLE waist pad is gigantic—it wraps around nearly to the front of my hips—and both stiffer and softer than the ALICE equivalent.

I won’t repeat the build instructions here; you can find them pretty easily by searching for ‘ALICE Hellcat’. After some time spent in assembly10, and some time spent with a kitchen lighter melting a frayed strap end back to something approaching integrity, I was ready to try it out. Most of my camping gear lives away from my apartment, so I had to improvise. A pillow on the bottom of the pack simulated a sleeping bag. A pair of ammo cans and a bunch of 7.62×39 simulated my heavy kit—rations, tent, mess and cooking equipment. Those ended up pushed against the frame by ‘clothes’, another pillow stuffed in the front and top of the pack. I cinched everything down, put the pack on, and tightened up up the straps. All told, the load was about 35 pounds, and the pack weighs five or six pounds itself.

And it was surprisingly comfortable. I’ve heard bad things about ALICE, even with the MOLLE upgrades, but in ten minutes of wearing the pack around my apartment11 with a fairly heavy load by backpacking standards12, I experienced neither the bounce and wobble people talk about (the MOLLE waist belt doesn’t quite fit the ALICE frame perfectly; it’s a touch loose) nor the frame digging into my back at any point. I should note that I’m very nearly ALICE-sized: the frame was designed with a 5’10” man in mind, and I am a 5’9″ man. Larger or smaller people may have different experiences. The MOLLE straps in particular are a worthwhile investment. Proper padding at the top of the pack is payoff enough for the price of admission. Beyond that, they also have a sternum strap and load-adjustment straps, so you can change the weight balance between hips and shoulders on the fly. Beyond the serious ergonomic gains, I now have some spare ALICE attachment straps I intend to loop through some of the lashing points for utility purposes. For instance, they may carry my Pattern 37 British canteen, so I have some water on the outside of the pack. In a similar vein, I expect I could use them to secure other parts of my Pattern 37 webbing to the pack if I need extra capacity.

That’s all the testing I did—or at least all the testing I’m going to report before the inaugural trip. “It works in my apartment” is not a ringing endorsement of outdoors gear, and there are some outstanding questions about this setup. Will my frame attachment straps hold? Does the pack provide adequate access to supplies on the march? Will the lack of waterproofing be a serious problem? The trip is in about two weeks, and although it’s only an overnight, it should provide a much better indication of how the Hellcat Light works in actual practice. Expect Part II after I return.


  1. It’s my understanding that frame packs were issued starting in about 1965, but they were issued alongside the 1956 and 1967-pattern load-carrying gear, rather than being part of either set. 
  2. I think a reasonable marker for modern load-carrying gear is, “Has an associated frame pack.” By that measure, the British didn’t have modern load-carrying gear until the Pattern of 1985 PLCE. 
  3. It may be that American experience in Vietnam suggested that making something with as much stitching as pack waterproof was doomed from the start. Troops were issued waterproof liners of various sizes instead. 
  4. Not as quick as a zipper, obviously. 
  5. The ALICE packs had to fit above a pistol belt, so rather than build tall, they built wide and deep instead. 
  6. It’s a shame we didn’t name our other web kit so creatively. BETTY in WW2, say. I suppose acroynm-sanity is a modern phenomenon. 
  7. S.L.A. Marshall wasn’t even dead yet, and he still would have been rolling in his grave. 
  8. Because it’s surplus, and preppers love them some surplus. 
  9. Technically, the standard Hellcat is a medium ALICE ruck on the ALICE frame. The medium pack rides high enough to put a MOLLE sleep system carrier beneath it, attaching to some of the pack lashing points. This makes for a pack about as large as the unmodified large ALICE rucksack in volume terms, with extra compartmentalization, which substitutes for bottom access. If ever I’m interested in a serious backpacking trip, though, I can still add the sleep system carrier and/or MOLLE sustainment pouches; doing both with the large rucksack makes a pack with something like 8000 cubic inches/130L of volume, which is more gear than I could carry for very far. 
  10. When connecting the MOLLE straps to the ALICE frame, the attachment straps make two laps. Once around the frame, once through the buckle, then repeat around the frame and through the buckle again. Otherwise they slip. 
  11. To my wife’s amusement. 
  12. I’m not an experienced backpacker by any means, but it’s my understanding that packs north of thirty pounds are out of vogue among the lightweight backpacking set nowadays. 

Namer IFV

I love the Israeli Namer. It’s great. Like Steven Segal, it is Hard To Kill. Its armor is proven effective against the most modern ATGMs. And it can carry a full squad.

But nothing’s perfect. The obvious limitation of the Namer was its firepower. Out of the factory, it came with a remote weapons station with an M2 heavy machine gun. So while it could carry infantry through eight kinds of hell, it couldn’t engage other armored vehicles or provide as much supporting fire as other mechanized infantry vehicles.

Until now.

Those magnificent bastards have done it. They’ve made an IFV version of the Namer. Now with a brand new, unmanned turret! Let’s take a closer look.

Primary armament is a 30 mm Mk. 44 autocannon. The classic Bushmaster II. This is a fine choice, and pretty standard. It’s got 400 ready rounds in a dual-feed system. Unfortunately, I have no information on how the 400 rounds are split up. 30 mm allows the possibility of airburst rounds, and gives a nice volume of stowed ammo. It’s a solid choice on the ammo vs. round size spectrum.

Coaxial armament is a 7.62×51 mm machine gun, with 700 ready rounds. Pretty good capacity, standard choice of armament here.

The turret also contains a pop-up missile launcher. This comprises two tubes for Spike ATGMs. I’m not sure which Spike version is carried, probably -MR or possibly LR. Spike is an excellent modern ATGM that’s similar to Javelin.

But wait, there’s more! The turret also comes with a 60 mm mortar. I haven’t been able to find the capacity for it. The Israelis love mortars, as I do. Their tanks have been equipped with mortars since the Centurion days, when they were retrofitted. This gives their IFVs some indirect fire capability, and anything that gets more mortars (and more firepower) to the troops is fine with me.

The nature of unmanned turrets, and the newness of this model, makes it hard to determine the amount of passive protection. I’d guess from the shape and bulk that it’s got autocannon protection (STANAG level 6), but that’s purely speculation. However, we can clearly see that the turret is equipped with radar and effectors for the Trophy active protection system. There are also the usual smoke grenade launchers at the front.

Sensors are also pretty standard, though details are scarce. There’s an optics array for the gunner, and a separate, independently-rotated unit for the commander. I’d expect laser rangefinders and thermal viewers for both, but I don’t have data on the generation of the thermal units, magnification levels available, or the laser type for the rangefinders. I’d also expect computerized fire control systems, but the details aren’t available yet.

This is actually pretty close to my ideal IFV sketch. I love it. I’d buy in a heartbeat. As should the US Army. A large number of Namers are built at the General Dynamics Land Systems factory in Lima, Ohio. There’s no reason why the GCV couldn’t have looked much like this, and there’s no good reason why this shouldn’t be bought in lieu of the failed GCV.

It looks like Hanukkah has come early this year.

Resurrected Weapons: FN BRG-15

In the late 1980s, FN tried to develop a replacement for the venerable Browning M2. They also tried to develop this weapon to match the power effects of the Soviet KPV machine gun, which is chambered for 14.5×114 mm. This round is a tremendously powerful heavy machine gun round, able to penetrate 10 mm of steel armor, angled at 30 degrees at a distance of 1,350 m.

This took quite a bit of effort. Originally FN tried necking the Hispano-Suiza 20 mm round down to 15 mm, but this tore up the barrels too quickly. They eventually settled on 15.5×115 mm rounds with a driving band, much like a very small artillery shell. Also interestingly, they used a necked-out KPV case as the base for their new cartridge. This protracted development cycle did nothing to help the cost of FN’s new weapon.

The BRG-15 itself possesses some curious design elements. It is a dual-feed weapon, feeding from both sides simultaneously. Spent cases are ejected out the bottom. The BRG-15 also possessed a quick-change barrel system. It was 2.15 m (just over seven feet) long overall, and weighed 60 kg (just over 132 lbs) without a tripod, of course. Contrast this with an overall length of 1.65 m (5.4 ft) and a weight without tripod of 38 kg (83.78 lbs) for the Browning M2.

The BRG-15 was cancelled in the early 90s when a lack of buyers and troublesome finances at FN forced them to be selective about their projects. They chose to focus on development of the P90 instead.

This is a case where I actually agree with the termination decision. Clearly, the KPV provides similar, though somewhat inferior, ballistic performance. The KPV was also designed in 1947, so it’s going to be much cheaper to acquire either directly from the Russians or on the secondary market.

Further, in the current age, I do not see the value of such a weapon. The Browning M2 is not a perfect weapon, but it and its ammo are firmly established in our arsenal. The BRG-15 adds considerable weight and bulk in both weapon and ammunition for vehicle mounts or manpack loads. While it is able to perforate most classic APCs, more modern vehicles have the edge in protection. 15.5 mm is also too small to provide a useful explosive payload. The larger 20 mm is a marginal, obsolescent autocannon caliber for vehicles, both in terms of armor penetration and explosive payload. 25 mm is increasingly being seen in a similar light.

At present, the heavy machine gun is a secondary weapon. A weapon to supplement the primary armament of vehicles, or to provide armament to otherwise unarmed light vehicles. Here the lighter, lower cost weapon holds the advantage, even if it is less effective overall at penetrating armor. There are few enough targets that the BRG-15 can defeat but the Browning M2 cannot that it is not worth deploying the heavier BRG-15.

Here, I find myself in agreement with the Russians once again. Having developed the KPV in the late forties, and hence having a cheap, established weapon in the same size and performance class as the BRG-15, they have chosen instead to focus and primarily field weapons that fire the 12.7×108 mm round. In other words, they have opted for weapons in the same performance class as the Browning M2 when cost is much less of an issue.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy War Department Army Ordnance Board

Tactical Shotgun Build: The Pump

Time for a different kind of build. This is a shotgun for tactical and defensive purposes. It’s very different from a gamer shotgun. Shotguns don’t get a lot of love from a lot of people, but I’m not one of them. Know your weapon and its limitations. The shotgun is the king of CQB. It is a way of cheating at pistol problems, which is perfect for, say, home defense.

This is going to be the first of a few articles on the shotgun. We’re starting with the pump shotgun, and what follows is how I would go about setting one up. There are many good reasons to use a pump shotgun, viz:

  1. Pump shotguns will cycle anything. Light loads, heavy loads, or if you’re job is Law Enforcement, breaching rounds and less-than-lethal rounds. You can even mix and match in the same mag tube. The pump gun will not care.
  2. A good pump shotgun is way cheaper than a good semiautomatic shotgun. There’s a really significant cost savings here. Especially if you look at used pump shotguns.
  3. Pump shotguns are politically acceptable just about everywhere. Even in godforsaken commie states, you can get a great home defense weapon with a pump gun, and no one will think twice of it.

Note of course that pump shotguns require you, the user, to run the action. As such, practice! Seek training! The novice may screw things up if he is not careful.

Anyway, on to the build!

Base Gun
In terms of model, there’s lots of debate between Remington and Mossberg. See also: Ford vs. Chevy. I would suggest the higher end Remington 870 Police or Mossberg 590 model as your base gun. And I would suggest you look for a nice used shotgun, possibly a police trade in. You can save a ton of money on a great gun this way. Don’t worry too much about the furniture. Both Remingtons and Mossbergs have great aftermarket support. My choice would be whichever I could find the best deal on. I’ll be sure parts are listed for both. Note that the Mossberg safety is more lefty friendly, if that matters to you.

Barrel: 14″ SBS
Not all of you will agree with this one, and that’s ok. Yes, I’m advocating filling out a Form 1 to turn your shotgun into a short-barreled shotgun, paying your $200 for the tax stamp, etc. and then legally setting your shotgun up as an NFA item with a 14″ barrel instead of the usual 18.5″-20″ barrel. Yes it’s a pain. Having handled a buddy’s short-barreled shotgun, I really like the handiness and weight reduction that comes from a shorter barrel. It makes the weapon a much better choice for confined spaces. I’ll understand if you don’t want the hassle, but remember, your standard pump shotgun with an 18.5″ barrel is the same overall length as an M16. A little awkward in a hallway. Also note that this step is a little easier to do on an 870 because of the gun design. You can do this conversion with factory parts for either gun though.

Forend: Surefire DSF-870/590
Here, the appropriate light-equipped forend for your shotgun chosen in step 1. Surefire makes them for both Remington and Mossberg. I really like the Surefire forends because they make mounting a light, and the controls for said light, really easy. They’re also quite rugged, and don’t smash your hand with the light like a lot of other mounting solutions do. You could also get the Magpul forend, attach some rail, and then add the light of your choice, but I’d rather get something that I know won’t smash my fingers and won’t break under recoil.

Magazine: Vang +1 magazine extension
A +1 extension is about all the length we can add given that we’ve shrunk our barrel. And I’m okay with that. This gives us a capacity of 5 rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber. And that doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider the buckshot in each of those rounds. 6 rounds of 00 buck is a “six bad guy gun”. Given that our goal is something compact and handy, this is perfect. Note that if you did not opt to take my advice on the shortened barrel, you can get a longer extension to match the length of your barrel.

Magazine Parts: Vang steel follower, Wolff Extra Power Magazine Spring
A couple things to improve reliability. The steel followers don’t get hung up with dirt as much, and the Wolff spring makes for better feeding. Be sure you get the right spring for your magazine extension. There’s also a hole in the middle so you can tell by feel if your magazine is empty.

Safety: Vang Big Dome (870)/Vang Big Speed (590)
This is a bigger safety. Easier to feel and work than the smaller ones. I like these a lot.

Extra Ammo: VCS Detachable Ammo Carrier
This is a nifty, nonpermanent, secure method of attaching more shells to your gun. The carrier provides some velcro for the side of your receiver, which allows the attachment of ‘cards’ of shells. These have a velcro backing and six shell loops. With these, you can rip off an empty card, and slap on a full card from a pocket or magazine pouch. You also have the option of running the gun slick if you prefer, and its easy to add a little extra ammo to the side quickly if you need to. If you’re cheap, you can affix velcro to the side of your shotgun with some glue.

Stock: Magpul SGA
I really like the Magpul SGA stock. It’s sort of a hybrid between a more traditional stock and a pistol grip stock, providing some of the benefits of both. It also doesn’t obstruct the Mossberg’s safety like a pistol grip stock would. It comes with a couple different risers to get your cheek in the right place, plus spacers to let you adjust length of pull. And that’s the biggest thing for me. Apparently, shotguns are designed and built for people with giant, ape-length arms. I don’t have such arms, and I find regular shotgun stocks annoyingly long. Here’s a great fix. They also come out of the box with some good sling attach hardware, and I really like slings on my gun.

Sights: Aimpoint T-1
There’s a lot of ways to put sights on a shotgun. I’m a big fan of electronics. If you’re shooting either slugs, or Federal Flite Control buckshot, you’ll want something better than the old school brass bead. Ditto if you use your shotgun at night. That means rifle sights or ghost ring sights. Or a red dot, which is faster and simpler for the shooter. Of course we’re going that route. Our choice of Aimpoint T-1 gives us something durable with best in class battery life. Note that this will require the receiver to be drilled and tapped to allow us to mount some picatinny rail on it. That’s ok. It’s an easy task for a gunsmith. Note that if you are not going to follow me in the optic-equipped shotgun, your life will be made much easier if you select a barrel (or shotgun) that comes with the iron sights you want already mounted. Otherwise, consult your local gunsmith.

There you have it. How I’d make a kick ass ultimate pump action shotgun.