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The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 20

In this first show of the official summer, we go back to our normal show. We talk about a 2000-era PC game near and dear to us both, the most likely democracy-vs-autocracy throwdown of the early 21st century, and the best Marvel movie we’ve seen lately.

Further reading
Korean artillery: this one is complicated. Check the footnote1.
Airplanes, Crimson Skies style
Crimson Skies on Amazon (Crimson Skies on Win10 guide still to come)
NATO vs. our Asian allies, in Polandball form

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Sling Use

The sling is a massively useful piece of equipment. A long gun without a sling is like a pistol without a holster. You’re just not serious. Let’s talk about a few ways to use a sling, and what kind of slings you should (and shouldn’t) consider.

We’re going to focus on tactical use, because I’m a tactical kind of guy. I’ll touch on slings for high-power-type marksmanship competitions later.

What kind of sling should you get? You should get a quick-adjust two-point sling, unless you have a big reason to get something else. If your job is doorkicking, and you’re one of the first guys in the stack, you may find a one point sling is better for you. Everybody else should stick with the modern, quick-adjust sling. There are many out there. I happen to prefer the VTAC one. The Vickers one is good too.

The problem with the one-point sling is that it doesn’t stabilize the weapon on its own. Your carbine will swing, probably between your legs, whacking you in the knees and groin as you move. Fun. So you’ll need to put a hand on the gun to keep it stable. Hopefully you don’t need both hands for stuff.

Properly mounted, a quick-adjust two-point can be lengthened to facilitate transitions. Or it can be tightened to secure the gun and keep it out of the way. Given the two points of attachment, it will stabilize the gun fine on its own, letting you do other things with both your hands. It will also comfortably support the weapon, but let you get the gun into action quickly.

Let’s note that a quick-adjust sling requires a quick-adjust mechanism. A nylon strap is not a quick adjust sling. That’s good for carrying a rifle on your back and looking bored and not ready. Fresh out of the 70s. Have a c-ration with that, cheapskate.

I should also tell you that three point slings are stupid. I don’t know anyone who uses these anymore, probably because it isn’t the 90s. Just say no. Three point slings are a great way to strangle yourself. Or trip yourself.

Now that you have your sling, you need to figure out how to mount it. Some of this will depend on carbine setup, and some of this will depend on you. As a general rule, the further apart your attachment points are, the more support you’ll have. The closer the attachment points are, the easier it will be to manipulate the carbine in transitions. It’s up to you which you value more. QD sockets will help you adjust and figure out what works right.

For the forward attachment point, if you have a modern handguard with rails, keymod, or m-lok, you can get a QD sling socket that attaches to it, and you can move it around until you find what works. Problem solved. Don’t forget to loctite it down once you found what you like.

Further aft, you can get a receiver end plate with a QD socket. Most not-craptastic stocks come with a QD socket on either side. Again, the end plate socket will work better for transitions, and the socket on the stock will stabilize the rifle better. If you opt for the stock, remember to attach the socket on your strong hand side. I.e. if you are right handed, use the socket on the right side. Having the swivel on the outboard side will feel weird at first, but it will allow you to switch shoulders without the sling choking you.

If you’re shooting high power or similar competitions, you want a sling that’s going to help lock the rifle in place. These slings are loop slings, and they connect your support arm bicep to the rifle. The mounting swivel is adjustable so you can get your support hand in behind it. This will significantly increase the stability of the rifle once you master it. The sling should be tight, and is taking your muscles out of the problem of supporting the rifle.

On Airbase Hardening

Conventional wisdom might say that airbase hardening was demonstrated to be foolhardy in the 1991 Gulf War. USAF precision guided weapons demolished Saddam’s hardened aircraft shelters. But is it really still so foolhardy? Let’s set aside a convenient mountain to hide your planes under, and think about the traditional Hardened Aircraft Shelter: a small hangar covered with a good deal of reinforced concrete and other armoring materials.

Let’s also suppose, of course, that we’re in an operating environment where the question has some merit. That is, we’re in an area where there are reasonably proximate threats. The mental calculus is different in the middle of Nebraska or Siberia than for most parts of Western Europe. Fortunately, that is where Borgundy is.

We know that with sufficient application of firepower, any target can be destroyed. Emphasis on the word application–only hits count. This is where the precision comes in. Precision guidance kits have massively increased the hit probability. If we can see it, we can hit it. And if we can hit it, we can kill it. And aircraft shelters, hardened or not, are pretty easy to spot.

The Iraqi experience in 1991 bears this out. Shelters didn’t last. The Iraqis were unable (or unwilling) to contest the coalition airstrikes, so coalition airpower hit targets at will. Tougher shelters might have taken multiple hits, but precision guided munitions made this easy.

All of this is true. But note that the bombs used in Desert Storm were big. 2,000-5,000 lbs big. And the coalition air forces were able to operate with impunity. Suppose we have a more aggressive, competitive air force, and a more useful air defense system. In other words, suppose a peer opponent. Unless your ‘peer’ is the United States, your opponent will not have a near-limitless supply of precision guided munitions.

You will not be able to harden your shelters against everything, of course, but you can harden them against a strike or two from 1,000 lbs class penetrator warheads. Why 1,000 lbs? Because those bombs are easy to carry in quantity on tactical fighters, and that’s the size warhead you can fit on a Tomahawk cruise missile. And the Tomahawk is widely emulated. That’s a pretty standard size for a large cruise missile. Long range, 1,000 lbs warhead. Smaller cruise missiles have tend to have significantly shorter range and similar warhead sizes.

Cruise missiles are cheap, accurate, and effective. They’re hard to stop, being significantly smaller than a fighter aircraft and flying low and fast. And if they are downed by a high-end air defense system, there are now POWs or friendly casualties to see on the evening news.

So the goal is to remove some low-risk, low cost means of attacking your hard targets. Force them to increase missile count and bombs, meaning more sorties.

Now all I need is some cost estimates for a bunch of bunkers.

Movie Guns: Indy’s Revolvers

I’m lumping a couple guns together with this one. Indiana Jones primarily used a Smith and Wesson Second Model Hand Ejector in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Colt Official Police in Temple of Doom, and a Webley-Government (sometimes referred to as a Webley Green) in The Last Crusade. The Hand Ejector and the Webley were chambered in .455 Webley, and the Official Police was chambered in .38 Special. I’m going to focus on the better movies. Indy barely uses the .38 in Temple of Doom anyway.

Recall that Raiders of the Lost Ark is set in 1936 and The Last Crusade is set in 1938, so choices of sidearms are limited accordingly.

The S&W Second Model Hand Ejector is a double-action revolver where the cylinder swings out to the left side of the gun. Pretty typical for the day. The example here, being a gun for the parts filmed in England, is chambered in .455 Webley. Also note that this is the pistol used to famously and simply dispatch the swordsman in Cairo, so it should have a place in the heart of pistoleros everywhere.

The Webley Government was a popular service revolver often purchased privately by British Officers and used as their sidearm. It’s a top-break double-action revolver, and it’s chambered in .455 Webley.

The .455 Webley is an interesting old cartridge. Interestingly, it’s one of three service pistol cartridges to get an endorsement from Col. Cooper as having ‘acceptable stopping power’.1 It’s rather lower pressure than .45 ACP, but comes from the same sort of ‘heavy and slow’ school of thought. It’s also more closely descended from black-powder loads. In an all-steel service revolver like the Webley Government, the .455 will provide quite tame recoil.

Overall, the .455 Webley gave good ‘man-stopping’ service in British hands in two world wars and a number of colonial actions. It also provided the origin of the term ‘dumdum’. The British had a large stockpile of early hollow point rounds at an arsenal in Dumdum, India around the time when they signed the 1899 Hague Convention outlawing the use of such rounds.

Double action revolvers were generally seen as the police sidearm of choice in the 1930s, though a good bit of this may be due to Depression-era finances and following the lead of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, who thought that semiautomatic pistols were tools of ‘criminals’ and not fit for law enforcement personnel.2 In military service, they tended to stick around due to post-Great War budget cuts not leaving room for new sidearms.

Revolvers do provide the advantage of letting you quickly deal with a bad cartridge by pulling the trigger again, rather than having to clear a jam. For this reason, they were commonly seen as the ‘more reliable’ option, despite having intricate, clockworklike internals. They also lack a magazine to go wrong. However, when they do go wrong, it tends to be a real bother to fix.

The biggest difference between the two revolvers is that the Smith has a swing-out cylinder, which you’re probably familiar with from more recent revolvers, whilst the Webley has a top-break design. With a low-pressure cartridge like the .455 Webley, the design choice really doesn’t matter all that much. As more powerful cartridges were developed, the ease of making a sturdy frame with a swing-out cylinder meant that design became the standard. There might be a small reload margin in favor of the Webley, since it automatically ejects spent cartridges, but that’s a minor one. The particular hand ejector used in the film had a shortened barrel, which might be a little handier.

As for the choice of firearms, they’re both pretty reasonable. They are duty pistols in a good caliber, and you could certainly do a lot worse. Of course, my preference during the era would be for an M1911A1. No surprise there. I’m quite fond of Old Slabsides. Despite the capacity disadvantage, I much prefer the handling characteristics, trigger characteristics, and lack of magazine safety of the 1911 when compared to the Browning Hi-Power. Also, being limited to 1930s ammo (i.e. ball ammo), I’d prefer to shoot .45.


  1. The other two rounds are the .45 ACP and the 10 mm Auto. 
  2. Though, of course, plenty of such semiautomatic pistols were used by G-Men, especially in the early days when equipment was less standardized. 

TTPs: The Scan and Assess

One of the most oft-derided things to come out of tactical training is the scan and assess. It’s also a great illustrator of why watching a bunch of tactical videos on youtube is a bad idea. Taken out of context, both good and bad ideas all seem stupid. Or brilliant. Or both. With proper context and explanation, one can determine if something is actually good or if it’s dumb. And let’s face it, the scan and assess is really easy to mock.

But let’s talk about it, because it’s got a lot of value if done correctly.

Everyone says they ought to have Situational Awareness (TM). And, everyone claims to have great Situational Awareness. Like driving, most people suck at situational awareness. It’s not something you can quickly switch on, or something that’s easy to teach. It’s the kind of thing that you have to practice, usually with drills.

When you’re shooting, you get focused on the target (and your front sight). That’s what you’re oriented on. And it’s really easy, especially under some stress or when the goal is speed to focus on the drill too much. Maybe run things by rote. Supposing we’re thinking about training for something defensive, this tunnel vision will get a bit counterproductive.

The idea of the scan is to look around and break out of the tunnel vision. Notice I said look. Not shake your head around with a neck spasm. Look. See things. That bad guy you shot. Is he out of the fight? Does he need more shooting? What about around you? Does he have some friends? What about you? Are you hit? Does your gun need some ammo management?

It’s really easy to cheat the scan, flip the head around a few times, call it good, and then get back to growing that tactical beard. You’re missing the point. Like reholstering, there’s no prizes for doing this fast.

It’s a lot more fun to do this with a friend. Have a friend stand behind you. Maybe have that friend hold up some fingers. Or hold them out at his sides. And then check if you actually saw those fingers. Do you know how many he held up? Did he have something in his hands? Was it car keys? Are you looking?

Looking around slowly and breathing is a great way to start to bring those stress levels down. If you’re training hard, you’ll sometimes need a breather. Make it work for you.

Is there anyone in the parking lot? Maybe your buddy’s coming to test his new blaster. Maybe some sketchy guy is looking to score a free gun. Are you looking?

In addition to your surroundings, you might need some minding. You might have been hit and not know it. Your weapon has less ammo than when you started. Maybe you should see to that. Especially in classes, or if you’re working timed drills, executing the drill as written is important. If the drill doesn’t require a reload, and you haven’t been doing it with a reload, then a reload is going to throw off your times.

Someone is going to be along to quote the importance of a reload to me. Fine. Nevermind that actual CCW permitholder gunfights and the vast majority of Officer Involved Shootings don’t involve a reload. You’re going to have to reload, so you should learn to do it right. And there are plenty of drills that call for a reload, just so you can practice it. But if you’re doing some Mozambique drills, and you’re looking at by the book par times, those don’t count a reload. So keep your gun prepped. It’s a good thing to do in class too, if you’re not drilling reloads, for the same reason. Keeping that gun topped off lets you execute the drills as instructed. Are you looking?

AGM-158C LRASM

I’ve complained before about the lack of modern American antiship missile options. Finally, the rebuilding Chinese Navy has gotten Lockheed Martin to answer the call. Building upon their excellent AGM-158 JASSM air-launched cruise missile, Lockheed has made a new antiship missile that checks pretty much all of the boxes I might have and then some.

The LRASM (Long Range AntiShip Missile) is based on the AGM-158B JASSM-ER. It’s low-observable for both infrared and radar sensors, and comes with a nice 1,000 lb. penetrating blast fragmentation warhead. It flies at a medium altitude towards the target, then dives for a sea-skimming terminal attack. While it has good range, estimated at about 350 nautical miles, this is rather less than the 500 nautical miles or so that the AGM-158B can manage, and most of that is due to the fancy new multimode seeker system.

LRASM comes with a fancy multimode imaging infrared and active radar homing seeker system, to help it find ships and not be spoofed by decoys. It also includes a datalink for external targeting information, and the inertial/GPS navigation system that you’d expect to find on a cruise missile. While the launch platform can designate targets for it, the LRASM is also capable of searching for targets autonomously. It can also pull targeting data from its radar warning receivers and passive RF sensors. This formidable sensor suite gives LRASM excellent targeting capability, and a wide variety of attack options for the commander.

Since JASSM and JASSM-ER are both air-launched platforms, the US Navy originally envisioned LRASM, and will initially deploy it, as an air-launched weapon. It’s being integrated onto F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and B-1B Lancers. The Lancers are noteworthy for being able to carry 24 AGM-158Cs, and give a long-range land-based naval attack capability to the United States for the first time in a while. However, testing showed that by adding the booster used on Lockheed Martin’s RUM-139 VL-ASROC, LRASM could be launched from Mk. 41 VLS tubes. This would give Mk 41 equipped ships the ability to easily be configured to have a formidable surface attack capability, and would remove the need for supplemental harpoon launchers.

LRASM is a modified land-attack cruise missile, and it has been tested against land targets in addition to ships. Its targeting systems work just as well against land targets. Right now, its range is less than ideal as a land-attack missile, but there are proposals to trade some warhead weight for more fuel to increase the range. Having one missile type for surface vessel attack and land attack would considerably simplify supply for the US Navy ships.

What do we think? It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Low observability and an excellent targeting system are excellent features. Few current antiship missiles (from any country) actually take advantage of low-observability features. Plus, it’s great that it can be used from both aircraft and standard Mk. 41 VLS tubes. We’d buy lots as soon as they get put on the market.

Parvusimperator Designs A Frigate

I’ve talked about frigates before, and while I settled on the F100, it’s not ideal. Plus, designing things is fun. So I’m going to work up a frigate design sketch, and get exactly what I want. Unlike some of my other design sketches, this one will have requirements and some open questions. Consider it more of an RFP solicitation, because I don’t have the naval architecture skills to place components and be sure the ship is stable.

As with any good design, we’ll start with the mission first. We want a Frigate. Alas, that has become a rather nebulous concept these days, so permit me to resurrect an older, more appropriate term: destroyer escort. We want a relatively small1 ship geared toward the antisubmarine and antiaircraft2 missions. A token antiship armament will suffice.

For the antisubmarine mission, we want the following:

  1. Hangar space for two (2) LAMPS III[^helo] helicopters. These are critical. Helicopters allow for more coverage of the sea and rapid prosecution of contacts. I’m extremely disappointed with how few frigates accommodate two helicopters.

  2. A modern, variable-depth towed sonar array. This gives the best performance, and a modern towed array is a very useful and effective tool for hunting subs.

  3. A modern bow sonar. We’re looking for a good, effective bow sonar, that can accommodate future upgrades. Something reasonably sized and reasonably priced. This is less important than the towed array, so we’re open to savings here.

  4. A ‘beartrap’ hauldown device on the helicopter pad, to enable flight operations in a wider range of weather conditions.

For the Antiaircraft mission, we want the following:

  1. The Aegis Combat System, with NTDS datalinks and Cooperative Engagement Capability. This is the thing that’s going to hurt our budget, but we need it. This is the best integrated battlespace engagement system afloat. And it’s scaleable. We won’t want ballistic missile defense capability on these.

  2. Four multifunction PESA radar arrays, either SPY-1D(V) or SPY-1F(V). Here’s something that I’d need more information to choose from. I don’t know the weight, cost, and capability differences here, and frigates have gone either way on these3. I’m inclined to think the -1F is the way to go, but I won’t sell the bigger -D model short without data.

  3. A 3D Air Search radar to complement the SPY-1 array. Again, lacking the relevant comparison data on effectiveness and price, I can’t specify one. Offhand the SMART-L might fit the bill, but we might also have something smaller available that would be a reasonable cost compromise.

  4. Forty Eight (48) VLS tubes. No less. We want the American Mk. 41 or Mk. 57 tubes, since they can carry a wider variety of missile types. We’ll need to carry VL-ASROC or similar in addition to SM-2, SM-6, and ESSM SAMs. We’re not too particular as to layout though, and it may work better to use the peripheral mounting capability of the Mk. 57 tubes to place some on either side of the helicopter hangar, in addition to the usual forward mounting position on the bow.

  5. Two (2) Mk. 49 Rolling Airframe Missile Launchers. CIWS is important. Ask the USS Stark. Two launchers provide excellent coverage. And we’re going with missiles instead of Phalanx or Goalkeeper because the missiles are the more effective system.

  6. Three (3) Mk. 99 Fire Control System radars for terminal illumination. ESSM and SM-2 both feature terminal semi-active radar homing guidance, at least at present. These provide the radar.

That covers the key points. Let’s talk a few others.

As mentioned before, a token antiship missile armament will suffice. We’ll take eight Naval Strike Missiles4 in two quad launchers mounted amidships. Good enough for dealing with trouble if it shows up unexpectedly.

To save space and weight (and cost), we’re only requiring a 76 mm gun. Probably the Oto-Melara 76mm/62 Super Rapido. We’re also not too particular as to where it goes. We’d expect it to be in the ‘A’ turret (forwardmost) position, but it might work better in the ‘Q’ turret (amidships) position, as on the Oliver Hazard Perry-class. Make it work, that’s all we ask.

Lightweight torpedoes have long been standard equipment for prosecuting close submarine contacts. We won’t argue. A pair of triple-tube launchers for 324 mm torpedoes will do nicely.

We’ll also want some smaller guns to take out small attack craft or suicide bombers. We’ll go with a pair of M242 25mm autocannons in remote weapon stations, mounted amidships. Also a few 12.7mm M2 machine guns amidships, and a few more Ma Deuces on the fantail.

I’m not going to comment on ECM and decoys beyond specifying modern suites of both. Open source data on ECM system effectiveness is basically nonexistent, so I won’t comment further.

Now, let’s talk propulsion. We would expect some kind of combined diesel/gas turbine system5 with two screws. We would also like a maximum speed of at least 28 knots, and a range of 4,500 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 20 knots. A 20 knot cruising speed will enable her to keep up with just about any task force you please, and 4,500 nautical miles will do a good job of getting you from friendly base to friendly base, and refueling at sea is something we know how to do.

We would guesstimate a crew compliment, including officers and men for the ship as well as flight personnel, to be about 250. By modern standards, this is probably a little heavy, but that’s ok. We want to be sure there are enough men for proper damage control drills.

As for the hull and superstructure, we’d like good internal subdivision in the hull, and we won’t sweat an overabundance of low observability features beyond a bit of angling and avoiding corner reflectors. We’ll keep everything pretty conventional in terms of hull shape in order to keep the costs down. Also to keep stability up.


  1. Guesstimating based on other designs, 5,700 tons or so. Nothing set in stone, of course. 
  2. Okay, anti-antiship missile. 
  3. SPY-1D is used on destroyers like the Arleigh Burke and derivatives, as well as the F100. SPY-1F is used on the Fridtjof Nansens. If the F100 can accommodate the -1D, so can we, but the -1F might be a better buy. More data is required. 
  4. We would also accept, and very much like, eight HF-3s, but NSMs are smaller and cheaper, so they’re what’s required. 
  5. i.e. CODOG or CODAG depending on the economics of the engines and gearboxes in question. Again, I don’t have those numbers, so I’m not going to sweat picking one. I would also not say no to COGAG. 

What Is Acceptable Handgun “Stopping Power”?

Well now isn’t that a loaded term. “Stopping power.” Right now, I’ve got my Glockblaster on my hip, loaded with 16 rounds of Speer 124 grain +P Gold Dot rounds. These are commonly held to be ‘good’ handgun rounds. Let’s look at why, and what we mean by ‘good’.

First, let’s get some things out of the way. Handguns are terrible at stopping people. All of them. Long guns are way better, but I can’t concealed carry an M4 around all day, and I’m not guarded by a battalion of Marines. Pistols are concealable, and we have to deal with that. I’m using the colloquialism “Stopping Power” because it’s convenient and fun to say.

Second, no, I do not want to get shot by any of the rounds discussed here. Or any others. Getting shot sucks. Lots of people will say “I wouldn’t want to get shot with…” about all kinds of rounds. And that’s true. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to get shot by a rubber bullet or a paintball gun either. That shit hurts. And yeah, the rubber bullet has a chance of killing you if it hits you wrong.

But all of this is missing the point. Yes, some people will stop whatever they’re doing when they’re shot. With anything. Yes, some encounters between concealed carriers and would-be criminals are ended without a shot fired. Would you just carry a convincing fake gun, and figure most problems will be solved with brandishing?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Third, stopping power is not kinetic energy. Don’t let idiots try to convince you otherwise, regardless of what unrelated degrees they have. As an example, consider a 230 lb lineman, sprinting at 25.5 feet per second. That works out to 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. Now, consider a 7.62 mm, 190 grain bullet fired from a Remington 700, moving at 2,200 feet per second. That’s also 2,020 ft-lbs of energy. One of these is a lot more likely to kill an elk (or a man) than the other. Can you spot which?

If you said the bullet, you’re right. Energy is merely the capability to do work. We’ll need energy so that the bullet can function as designed, but energy alone is not the answer.

For a stop to work here in the real world, we need to get the brain to shut up and stop working. There are a few ways to do this. Obviously, we could hit the brain and ruin it. We could hit the central nervous system, i.e. the spinal cord, and that would get the brain to be unable to send instructions to the body. Or, we could disrupt blood flow enough for the brain to be unable to function. This is nominally done with blood loss, which comes from tissue damage.

When a bullet strikes living tissue (or a similarish medium like calibrated ballistics gel), we get two kinds of damage: the temporary wound cavity (this is the big thing that blossoms dramatically in the high-speed video) and the permanent wound cavity. For handguns, the temporary wound cavity doesn’t matter, because there’s not enough energy in the handgun bullet for the tissue disrupted by the temporary cavity to matter, so only the permanent cavity matters.

Note also that this is why long guns are so much better at terminal ballistics. In general, long gun bullets have enough energy for that temporary cavity to actually damage tissues enough to matter. The temporary cavity is much bigger than the permanent one, so this means more blood loss.

So if only the permanent cavity matters, how can we measure that, and what is ‘good’? Let’s look at a case study. On April 11, 1986 the FBI engaged in a shootout in Miami with two felons, Platt and Matix. Platt was an ex-Ranger who had served in Vietnam. He was a hardcore guy with a lot of will to win. Two FBI agents would lose their lives in that gunfight: Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove. Five other agents were wounded. Both Matix and Platt also perished.

The shot that would eventually kill Platt was fired by Jerry Dove. It hit Platt in the upper right arm as he attempted to climb from his car, and penetrated the chest. This shot collapsed his right lung, damaged the blood vessels of the right lung causing the chest cavity to start filling with blood, but stopped an inch from his heart. Despite this wound, Platt was able to keep fighting and moving, and was able to subsequently kill agents Dove and Grogan after advancing on their position. During the course of the battle, Platt was wounded 11 other times before succumbing.

Let’s look at that shot by Dove, scored relatively early in the fight. Dove’s gun was the FBI SWAT issue gun, a Smith & Wesson 459 9 mm semiautomatic. The FBI 9 mm duty round of the time was Winchester Silvertip, 115 grain. At the time, a big concern was overpenetration–that a round would go through a criminal and hit a kindergartener playing somewhere behind him. So, the Silvertip was designed for good expansion and limited penetration. It worked as intended, though not as Dove would have desired.

So the FBI did a number of things to try to fix the problem. One of them was to try to come up with a repeatable way to test bullets. Let’s get scientific. So they worked up a test protocol involving calibrated ballistics gel1, and a number of initial barriers, including four layers of denim and auto glass. They wanted to simulate different things in the human body, like bones, not just muscle, and also simulate clothing or cars that agents might have to shoot through. The minimum acceptable amount of penetration, even with barriers, was set at 12″.

Why 12″? Shades of Platt. You don’t know that the criminal will obligingly square up with you, arms at his sides, like a B27 silhouette target. Maybe he’s moving. Maybe he’s turned. Maybe his arms are up, with a gun of his own, and maybe your bullet has to go through those. Remember, there are very few areas that will actually make a person stop if he doesn’t want to.

Ok. So the FBI, with it’s big juicy federal budget, developed a test protocol. And we now have plenty of rounds developed that will pass this protocol. Clearly, I won’t even consider a round that the FBI hasn’t tested and given a passing grade to.2 I also look for the round to be issued to some police departments, preferably large ones, and I want no complaints from its terminal performance on the street.

Offhand, three rounds come to mind as having passed the FBI protocols, being in common use amongst police departments, and having a good record in street fights: Winchester Ranger-T, Speer Gold Dot, and Federal HST. Since I mentioned the Gold Dots in my pistol before, I’ll talk a little more about them here. The 9 mm 124 grain +P load is used by a whole bunch of large police departments, including the NYPD and Las Vegas Metro PD. Both departments have used it in plenty of Officer Involved Shootings, and it has performed very well. And it passed the FBI testing. I can’t really ask for anything else from a round. I also mentioned the others, because sometimes I can only get one of the three, and that’s ok. I currently have a bunch of Gold Dots, but I’d also be happy with 9mm HST or 9mm Ranger-T.

I don’t really deal with other chamberings for defensive ammo. I don’t see the point. I see no reason to deviate from orthodoxy on the matter. There’s lots of snake oil out there marketed to concealed carriers because it’s rare that we’ll be able to prove them wrong.

If you’re looking for other brands of good defensive ammo, look up the work of Dr. Gary K. Roberts, who has done a lot of ballistics testing. He’s got a list of good ammo that has passed the FBI test protocols.


  1. It is paramount that the gel tested is properly calibrated, or else the test is not relevant. Lots of internet bullshitters shoot at “gel”. To the best I have been able to determine, only Shootingthebull410 shoots actual calibrated ballistics gel, i.e. only he conducts tests properly. 
  2. I tend to carry guns with plenty of barrel length. As does the FBI. They issue Glock 19s and 17s in 9mm. If you carry a gun with a barrel length of 4 inches or more, you’re fine with reading the FBI test protocol results and calling it good. If you carry something with a very short barrel, like one of those new “Pocket 9mm” subcompact single-stack guns, check the performance of your round from that sort of short barrel length. Again, Shootingthebull410 is a good source for short barrel tests. Rounds that do well from longer barrels often don’t work as well from short barrels. 

Movie Guns: USP Match (Tomb Raider, 2001)

And now for a fun little segment where I look at various guns used in movies and tell you what I think of the choice. A few caveats: first, when in doubt, imfdb is the source of truth on what the gun is, and second, all criticisms have to be leveled based on the time when the movie was set (so either the historical setting or when it was made).

Tomb Raider is a typical Bad Action Movie that’s based on a videogame. It’s a fun romp, as long as you don’t think too hard. In it, Lara Croft1 dual wields HK USP Match pistols. I won’t discuss dual wielding here, since that’s true to the source material, and really a question of TTPs.2 Let’s talk about the guns.

The USP was HK’s effort to make a ‘wundernine’ service pistol, in order to compete for the Bundeswehr’s service pistol contract and get other military service pistol and law enforcement duty pistol sales. It was released in 1993, and is a double-action pistol with a double-stack magazine. It comes with a proprietary accessory rail, and uses polymer magazines. HK would discover issues with these magazines, and all of their subsequent pistols would end up using excellent metal magazines, first designed for the P2000, and then lengthened for the P30. The USP had a bunch of innovative features, and sold reasonably well, but didn’t set the market ablaze.

The USP Match is a competition version of the USP. Lara is using the 9 mm version, as evidenced by the use of the ‘Jetfunnel’ magwells, only available on the 9mm version. These are smallish magwells similar to the modern crop of ‘concealment’ magwells, like the Freya magwell I have on the Glockblaster. These force the use of longer 18 round magazines rather than the standard 15 round magazines.

The USP Match comes with the match trigger system that HK made for competition use. I like nicer triggers. The stock USP is clearly a service trigger: double action is heavy and gritty with a double action pull weight of about 11.5 lbs and a single action pull weight of 4.5 lbs. The Match trigger drops these weights to about 7.5 lbs in double action and about 4 lbs in single action. Big difference for that double action pull. I don’t have enough experience with one to know if this setup risks light primer strikes, but I’m sure Ms. Croft can afford quality ammo. I approve of these kinds of competition triggers in general, and a 4 lbs. single action pull is hardly superlight. It also comes with an adjustable overtravel stop.

The most obvious external feature of the USP Match is the barrel weight compensator. A nose-heavy pistol will have less muzzle rise than one that isn’t as nose heavy. Also, this one is shaped to try to direct gasses upward somewhat. I suspect it will work, but not as well as a properly designed ported compensator will. This is all that’s available for the USP.

So what do we think of this as a hero gun? It’s not my choice given the circumstances, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s certainly defensible. Let’s break it down:

1) Does it look cool? Movie guns, especially hero guns, should look cool. And, probably look distinctive. This one definitely does. I’m sure its appearance in these movies in the hands of the lovely Ms. Jolie have sold a whole bunch of USP Match pistols. It looks different, but not too different. Good job.

2) Does it suit the character? Lara Croft is a rich adventuress. She would choose a reliable, accurate firearm, but she might not want something common, and she certainly has the money to get something a little unique and chase shooting performance. This fits the bill.

3) Is the choice plausible? While gun folks love to debate which brand is better, when you get right down to it these differences don’t matter much unless you’re a top end competitor. And lots of things boil down to preference. So I can’t knock this gun for being not my choice, as long as it’s not a stupid choice. And it isn’t. The USP Match is a good gun that’s reliable, accurate, and reasonably easy to shoot well. Just because Lara and I don’t agree on guns doesn’t mean she’s off her rocker.

Now, would it be my choice? No. Given the constraints of wanting a unique, effective pistol of circa 2001 vintage, I would look at the Glock 17L with a stainless slide, given my predilection for Glocks. Or a custom 1911 of course. We can always make one of those look good for the camera. Maybe a Wilson Tactical Elite.


  1. Played by Angelina Jolie. 
  2. Awful, awful TTPs. But that’s a rant for another time. 

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 19 – Special Edition

For May’s episode, we dispense with the typical structure of the show to bring you something entirely different: a guest! Dave Williams of Jellyfish Games joins us to talk about Astrobase Command, an upcoming space station management game. Join us as we discuss everything from water pipes to the nature of personality and consciousness.

Further reading
Once you’ve listened to the episode, you’ll want to visit the Astrobase Command kickstarter. Go give them your support.

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