Category Archives: All

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.

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. 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W Review

If you read a certain previous article of mine, you might remember that I decided to build a USPSA Limited race gun out of a CZ P-09. Well, my base model P-09 arrived, I took it to the range, and now I have some thoughts for you.

The Gun

The CZ P-09 is a full-size, polymer-frame, double-action pistol. In common with all of CZ’s handguns, the slide rides inside the frame. The slide is cut down in the front to save weight, swelling to the usual squared-off profile at the ejection port. CZ provides an accessory rail forward of the oversize trigger guard. As is common with your polymer pistols, it comes with three interchangeable backstraps.

One of the innovations CZ brought to the table with the P-07 and P-09 is the so-called Omega trigger system. The most interesting feature thereof is the safety. From the box, the P-09 comes with a decocker installed—a pure decocker, unlike the safety/decocker on my Berettas1. Push down on it, and the hammer falls to the safety half-cock position without risk of falling all the way to the firing pin2. Provided in the box, though, and easy to swap to, is a pure manual safety. It can’t be engaged while the hammer is down, and offers no way to safely drop the hammer. All it does is prevent the sear from disengaging while activated. Swapping the decocker for the safety (or vice versa) is a five-minute job, and more or less tool-free3. As I mentioned in the race gun proposal article linked above, the option for a pure safety was a major driver of my choice of the P-09 over the Beretta 96.

Size and Feel

The P-09 is a duty-size pistol. Compared to my M9, it’s very slightly shorter nose-to-beavertail, roughly the same width at the slide, and significantly taller. Unlike with the M9, however, I can hit the P-09’s magazine release without breaking my grip. The P-09’s grip thins toward the top, where the strong-side thumb goes, and this gives me enough extra wraparound to get my thumb to the generously-sized button. I had planned, in my race gun build, on adding the extended magazine release. Turns out I won’t need to.

The sides of the grip are nicely textured, and the backstraps have substantial knobbly bits to hold your hand in place. The front of the grip has the most aggressive texture I’ve seen on a bog-standard factory gun. It proved highly effective on a hot, sweaty day at the pistol bay. Textured patches on the left and right of the frame above the trigger guard provide a nice obvious place to put one’s finger when off the trigger.

The controls are nicely sized and well-placed, even for my average-sized hands. The safety is easy to flip off and difficult to engage, accidentally or otherwise. The trigger reach is significantly shorter than on the M9. I do quibble with the placement of the slide release—it’s far forward, and would be hard to hit under pressure—but in the manual, CZ recommends the slingshot method for dropping the slide from slide lock. With that out of the way, there’s little need for an easily manipulable slide release.

Now, for a few final notes. Despite being bulkier than the M9, it’s lighter. Not tremendously lighter, but notably so. It’s also less well balanced, which should come as no surprise. Polymer pistols always have that issue; a metal-framed pistol is going to have a more favorable center of gravity (nearer your hands) in both loaded and unloaded conditions. Lastly, both are similar in terms of grip angle, which is shallower than that of, say, a Glock. If you’re coming from that direction, there will be a bit of transition to get the point of aim down.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

The P-09 field strips in the same manner as CZs the world around: pull back on the slide a hair to line up a notch on the slide with a notch on the frame, then pop the slide release out with the corner of a magazine. The slide comes off, and then you have a pretty standard tilting-barrel pistol. Compress the recoil spring, remove it from its shoulder on the barrel, remove the barrel. Mine came from the box in desperate need of lubrication, but after a liberal coat of oil, it slides much more freely.

Deeper maintenance, on the other hand, seems a bit trickier. Most of the components of the action—ejector, lifter, sear, double-action roller—ride on one pin. The hammer and disconnector, which are pinned together, ride on the hammer pin. The firing pin and related parts are retained by a roll pin, that nemesis of home gunsmiths everywhere. I’ll have more to report on this front when I get into its guts for my various race gun modifications.

Range Notes

I swung by the local gun shop, picked up two boxes of Remington UMC4 180-grain .40 S&W, and hit the range at lunchtime today. One hundred rounds isn’t enough to draw serious conclusions, but nevertheless, here we are.

Trigger

Out of the box, surprisingly poor in single action. On my M9, which hasn’t seen any trigger tuning beyond a lighter hammer spring, even sitting down, watching my finger rather than the sights, and dry-firing with every effort to find creep, there’s very little to be had. The takeup, which pushes the firing pin plunger out of the way, is distinct from the actual trigger pull.

The P-09 is, in comparison, not great. The takeup is less smooth, building to what feels almost like a striker-fired wall (or a ‘rolling break’, if you want to use the euphemism). This is extremely noticeable sitting and dry-firing, if you’re looking for it; it’s less obvious on the range. Even being below my Beretta-based standard for a double-action trigger, it’s as good or better than the best factory-made striker-fired triggers5.

Neither gun is anything to write home about shooting double action. The Beretta is lighter, which is expected based on the lighter hammer spring, but also smoother. It doesn’t matter, really; with the safety installed on the CZ, the double-action pull is an in-case-of-failure-only tool.

Accuracy

I’m not a pistol marksman, neither on the level of major gun reviewers nor even on the scale of our own parvusimperator. I am an average shot at best, so I won’t bore you with tales of bench shooting, or a picture of a terrible 25-yard target.

That said, the P-09 seems to suit me pretty well. This was my first range trip; the first shot out of the first magazine at my traditional 7-yard familiarization target ended up dead on in the center ring. The 15-yard plate rack at the local range is a traditional nemesis of mine, and I managed to clear it with the dregs of my second box right before leaving. It points naturally. The night sights on mine out of the box are blockier, more target sight than I would prefer on a competition gun. They are night sights, though, which are pretty cool.

Recoil

Here we come to one of the more interesting results. The P-09 is a very soft-shooting .40; it doesn’t feel that much punchier than the M9. The typically low CZ bore axis has something to do with it, I’m sure, converting the muzzle flip into much more controllable backward force. The choice of recoil spring may have some effect on proceedings, too. Either way, it’s much more pleasant to shoot than I expected it to be.

Reliability

Two boxes of good ammo is hardly enough to say one way or another, but I had no failures of any kind.

Conclusions

As usual, I won’t muck about with star ratings. I will say, however, that the P-09 presents an excellent value proposition. The version I got, which includes night sights and three magazines, set me back just over $500 from Bud’s Gun Shop, including transfer fee. For that price, you get a handgun with industry-leading magazine capacity, excellent controllability, good ergonomics, and a passable trigger. If you like your guns double action, as Saint Browning intended6, this one’s a good buy.


  1. Rather, it’s like the pure decocker available on other Berettas. 
  2. Unlike my Berettas, it does not appear to rotate any part of the firing pin out of the way, though. 
  3. Unless you have excellent fine motor control, you’ll need needle-nose pliers or something to replace the decocker spring. Installing the manual safety is entirely tool-free. 
  4. UMC stands for Union Metallic Cartridge. How did we let that one sneak away into the mists of time? 
  5. At least, those factory striker-fired triggers trying to be single-action triggers. I’ve test-fired the Walther PPQ from the Parvusimperator Arsenal, and I find it to be pretty darn good. Rather than emulate a single-action pull—something impossible to do with the half-cock nature of most striker-fired pistols—it aims to be the best darn double-action pull you’ve seen. At that, it succeeds. 
  6. I am informed that Saint Browning never made a double-action pistol, but I pose that he would have done if he’d had more time7
  7. Objection! Speculative. -parvusimperator 

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.