Author Archives: parvusimperator

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.

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.

Antos vz. 99 Light 60 mm Mortar

I really like mortars, which you may have gathered if you’re a regular reader. Today, we’re looking at something that doesn’t resemble the standard mortar that one usually pictures. It doesn’t have a bipod. It has a decidedly nonstandard sighting system. It has a composite barrel and a smaller baseplate. If anything, it resembles the Japanese Type 89, better known to the world by the colloquialism “knee mortar”. Today, we are considering the Antos vz. 99.

Most modern mortars, even the “light” 60 mm ones, are focused on squeezing the maximum possible range out of the weapon. This means longer barrels, and more weight. The 60 mm mortar is a platoon or company level weapon. However, it’s bulky and quite heavy. The M224 60 mm mortar requires a crew of three, and breaks down into three 7 kg loads. It can fire mortar rounds up to 3.45 km. Note that mortar rounds weigh about 2 kg apiece.

In traditional, large-scale operations, this really isn’t a problem. But it’s a bother for light infantry forces and smaller units. A commando mortar like the Antos is a lot easier for such a unit to handle. It can also provide more range, accuracy, and firepower than a 40 mm grenade launcher.

The Antos weighs about 5 kg ready to fire. It’s under a meter long. It fires 60 mm mortar rounds, which were the smallest mortar rounds deemed effective when light mortars last saw widespread use during World War 2. It’s about 10 cm shorter and 2 kg lighter than an AT4 rocket launcher, and it’s generally considered to only require a crew of one. So its easy to throw in a vehicle or distribute to a member of a platoon. Powerful enough to be useful, it’s also light and compact enough to not get left behind. Note that it does have significantly less range than the M224. The Antos can only reach out to 1.23 km, as opposed to the 3.4 km range of the M224. So it’s probably more reasonable to view it as a supplement, not a strict replacement. Though, given how easy it is to carry, I wonder if it might be ‘good enough’ to be the only light mortar, leaving the long range work to the 81 mm medium and 120 mm heavy mortars. Certainly something that would have to be tested. It might also be nice to compare it to the lighter LGI F1 spigot mortar, though the LGI fires a notably smaller round.

It would make an excellent replacement for the XM25. If you’ll recall, dear reader, I called out the XM25 for being too expensive, too heavy, and too ineffective. The Antos is significantly cheaper than the XM25, it’s a kilogram lighter than the XM25, and it’s significantly more effective. 60 mm mortar shells have worked for the US Army since World War 2. This is a lighter way to throw them.

Movie Guns: Colt Model 733 (Heat, 1995)

I love Michael Mann’s movies. All of them are great. He’s a guy who goes the extra mile to work out all the little details of the story, both in the dialogue and in the details of the scenes. Among his best movies is Heat (1995) starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. This movie features one of the best gunfights ever to hit the silver screen. This scene, a fighting retreat from a bank robbery gone wrong, sees robbers McCauley (played by De Niro) and Shiherlis (played by Kilmer) endeavor to fight off the cops (led by Pacino as Det. Hanna) using Colt Model 733s converted to fully automatic.1

The Colt Model 733 is one of the models that falls under the umbrella term “Colt Commando”, and is based off the old-school CAR-15 projects that saw service in Vietnam. The Model 733 has a collapsible stock, fixed carry handle with A1-pattern sights, 11.5″ barrel, and a carbine-length gas system. They fire the standard 5.56 mm round. These are converted to be capable of fully automatic fire,2 and this is used to excellent suppressive effect.

If you’re expecting lame, cheesetacular gunplay, you’ve got the wrong movie and the wrong director. Mann gets his stars some real weapons training, so they look like they know what they’re doing. And I can find exactly zero, yes zero, faults with the gun handling in this film. Reloads are accomplished using good technique. Guns run out of bullets appropriately. Thirty round magazines hold thirty rounds, not 300. And De Niro and Kilmer fire their weapons in nice, controlled bursts. There’s even a great bit where De Nero, while carrying a duffelbag full of money on his back, supports a wounded Kilmer with one arm, and keeps shooting his carbine effectively with the other.

McCauley and Shiherlis conceal their Colt 733s under their extra-baggy 90s suits with the help of bungee slings. And yes, they’ve got a vest under the suit too to hold a whole bunch of magazines. The (converted) 733s provide massive amounts of suppressive firepower, and are vaguely concealable. At least concealable enough to let them take up positions in the bank without hassle. And the firepower means they can defeat police body armor and outrange the usual mid-90s standard patrol officer armament of handguns and 12 gauge pump-action shotguns.

As a brief aside, Heat was used as the model for several actual, real-world bank robberies, including one that would lead to the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, which would see illegally converted automatic rifles outrange and generally overmatch LAPD-issue handguns and shotguns.

Anyway, let’s look at the weapons choice. Remember, it’s 1995. So most modern bullpups aren’t available when you think ‘compact firepower’. The Steyr Aug is available, but due to import restrictions, it’s a lot rarer than the Colt 733. I would guess an Aug would be harder to convert to full auto, though I have no experience doing that with either weapon. Also, go see all of my previous discussions about the handling issues that come up with bullpups. Reloads are way easier with an AR-15. Short barreled AR-15s are still super popular among entry teams. The Model 733 is a fine choice. One I wouldn’t mind having in my own collection for more legal shooting endeavors.


  1. Presumably illegally. These are bank robbers, after all. 
  2. Generally speaking this is illegal. Obvious disclaimer: We here at the Soapbox are not suggesting or encouraging you to break the law. Conversions are only for dealers. Do not commit federal crimes. We do not condone such things here. 

Parvusimperator’s Carry Optics Experiment: Out-Cheaping Fishbreath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Project LSAT

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

Enter the LSAT project.

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

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

The focus of LSAT was a Light Machine Gun first setup, since the current US Army LMG, the M249, is considerably heavier than an M4. There’s more weight savings to be had there. The end result was a weapon prototype that weighed 9.4 lbs for the polymer-cased telescoped ammo version3. The version firing caseless ammo weighed a little more because of the need for extra components to provide an adequate chamber seal. Polymer-cased telescoped ammo is 40% lighter and takes up 12% less volume than conventional brass-cased ammo, so a belt of 100 rounds of 5.56 mm LSAT ammo weighs about 2 pounds, rather than the roughly 3.3 lbs for a 100 round belt of 5.56 mm NATO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any effort to make the standard infantry rifle a morbidly obese4 affair with a fat, overly energetic cartridge is a return to 1950s US Army Ordnance Department thinking. That nonsense brought us the M-14, which is a piece of junk. Let’s not make the same mistakes of the past. History teaches us what our parents and grandparents did wrong so we can make our own mistakes, not steal theirs.

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


  1. Telescoped like the 40mm CTAS rounds, but way smaller of course. 
  2. Even on ‘rimless’ cases like 7.62 NATO. 
  3. This unloaded weapon weight is very nearly replicated in 5.56 mm NATO caliber by the Knights Armament Stoner 96 LMG. 
  4. Projected weight for an empty, opticless 6.5 mm LSAT ‘carbine’ is 8 lbs, which is about 33% heavier than an empty, opticless M4 carbine. It would make a good DMR. 

It’s Not the Arrow, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Yes, that Jodie.