Tag Archives: militariana

The Armored Squad

Like many armchair strategists, I like thinking about questions of organization. And this includes examining some unconventional ideas from history. Today, we have a really neat one: The Armored Squad. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have also dubbed it the “Super Squad” in conversations with Fishbreath.

This squad idea comes out of World War 2, and the question of tank-infantry cooperation. Tanks and infantry are better together, which leads to questions of how this should be organized in order to promote unit cohesion. Some American units organized into Armored squads, where an M4 Sherman tank was paired with an infantry squad in an M3 half track. This gave a tank, with all the armored firepower that entailed, plus ten dismounted infantry who had their own transport to keep up with the tank. On paper the Sherman had a crew of 5, and the M3 half track had a crew of two: one driver and one machine gunner, so this is a total of 17 men.

This wasn’t an ad-hoc formation; particular tanks and particular squads were paired together for training and were kept together. They ate together. They fought together. In the Hurtgen Forest, the tankers took turns in the foxholes with the infantry, and the dismounted infantry got turns in the vehicles to warm up. Training together meant that infantry and tanks were much more intimately familiar with their respective counterparts’ limitations.

Moving up the organization table, we have five armored squads per platoon, and three such platoons per company. There were three of these tank-infantry companies per “Combat Command”, which is another organizational curiosity of the US Army in the Second World War. In brief a Combat Command was basically a brigade sized unit comprised of companies and platoons. There was no battalion-level organizational structure, and this was thought to increase flexibility. So, in the combat commands in question, there would be three tank-infantry companies plus a host of supporting units.

The advantages are the obvious increase in firepower over a regular mechanized squad, and it provides a tank with much more effective close-in protection than it would have otherwise. The disadvantages are on the logistics side. There’s a much larger fuel burden, plus there are two dissimilar vehicles that need maintenance, which increases the burden for maintenance personnel. Where a normal tank or mechanized infantry company would only have one sort of vehicle to maintain, with one set of spare parts to stock, the tank-infantry company has two.

In combat, the armored squad and associated units built from it were very effective. The 5th Armored Division was organized along this model, and it suffered notably fewer casualties than either 6th or 7th Armored Divisions (which were more conventionally organized), all of which were deployed to the European Theater of Operations at about the same time. 6th Armored went in on July 27th, 5th Armored went in on August 2nd, and 7th Armored went in on August 14th. Each division was deployed for the duration. 6th Armored took 5,194 casualties and lost 196 tanks, 5th Armored took 3,043 casualties and lost 116 tanks, and 7th Armored took 4,781 casualties and lost 360 tanks. Combat situations are, of course, not identical, so we should be careful not to read too much into these numbers. But it might suggest some tactical improvements by putting tanks and infantry together for the duration.

We can also see a very similar organization almost 60 years later. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, aggressive divisions driving on and into Baghdad often organized their forces to combine a pair of Abrams tanks with a pair of Bradleys. The force could fit down most streets with the Abramses in the vanguard. The Bradleys and the dismounts provided effective cover for closer threats, or for higher threats the Abramses couldn’t tackle. The Abrams tanks could also use their guns and fronts to breach buildings, which would then be cleared by the dismounts. Plus, putting the Abrams tanks forward meant that they drew the ambushes, and they were much harder to kill with RPG-7s than Bradleys.

In 1944 and again in 2003, the concept has been proven in combat in a variety of environments. To be sure, there is an increased logistics, maintenance, and training burden. But we made it work in 1944 with a conscript army. So we can make it work now with a professional army from a training standpoint. And if the US Army’s long drives with Abrams tanks have taught us anything, it’s that the correct answer to logistics is more trucks. The TO&E should reflect how we fight. And we should train like we fight.

I really like this organizational setup. I’d probably go with three tank-infantry teams per platoon, and three tank-infantry platoons per company. I’m usually a triangular organization kind of guy.

TO&Es for ’44!

Last time, we looked at the result of the German combat testing of the StG-44, and how they thought it compared to the MG-42. Their conclusions were that the StG-44 was very good, but could not completely replace the MG-42.

I’ve chosen to look at the relevant tables for 1944 because at that point (or at least when the tables were written) the situation wasn’t so desperate as to put economy uber alles. Lots of the ’45 tables do just that. Also, keep in mind this is what the planners envisioned, which wasn’t necessarily what was fielded in great numbers.

The difference we’re interested in happens in the infantry platoons. The previous table had squads of nine men: one leader and eight soldiers. It also had one MG-42, and there was a designated gunner and assistant gunner. The gunner and assistant gunner both also carried P-38 pistols for personal defense. The squad leader had an MP-40, and the other six men had Kar 98ks. Moving up the table, each platoon had three squads. It also had a command element consisting of a platoon leader, two message bearers, and a litter bearer.

For the standard rifle squad, total ammunition allotment (i.e ready and reserve rounds) was as follows:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds
Squad Leader1,536
Assistant Gunner993,450
Rifleman 199
Rifleman 299
Rifleman 399
Rifleman 499
Rifleman 599
Rifleman 699

Of course, the assistant gunner’s ammunition was in 50 round belts, often carried in drums, and a good portion of his allotment might be distributed to the rest of the squad or left on any vehicle the platoon might have. The gunner was the one who got to carry the MG-42, of course.

The table of ammunition allotments for the new squad was quite a bit simpler:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds8mm Kurz rounds
Squad Leader720
Assistant Gunner720
Rifleman 1720
Rifleman 2720
Rifleman 3720
Rifleman 4720
Rifleman 5720
Rifleman 6720

(I’ve left the titles as-is from the previous table for comparison’s sake, but they don’t quite fit when everyone has an StG-44.)

Readers who are interested in the soldier’s load will note that this is a savings of about 13 lbs over the previous one in terms of total load carried for the entire squad.

The new assault platoon had two such all-StG-44 squads. The third squad contained all of the long range support weapons, including two MG-42s and three rifle grenadiers. This support squad consisted of eight men altogether, including the squad leader. Snipers were concentrated in the company headquarters squad.

This new organization was pretty easy to command, a bonus for the Wehrmacht Heer as its supply of well-trained veteran squad leaders dwindled.

A few more things stand out to me, looking back seventy-odd years later. First is that we could replicate this platoon pretty readily with three IFVs that each have a six mount capacity, if we used the IFVs themselves as a “support squad”. While this would be a small, easily commanded platoon, it does tie the IFVs closely to their dismounts, and perhaps that is not desirable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment briefly on what the 1944 tables said about the Panzergrenadiers. Panzergrenadier platoons consisted of three identically-equipped squads. Each squad was made up of ten men, including vehicle driver and assistant/gunner. No StG-44s were assigned at this time. Instead, the eight dismounts had two MG-42s, with a third MG-42 remaining in the halftrack.

StG v. LMG

I got the awesome book Sturmgewehr! recently from Collector Grade Publications, and it contains tons of great stuff. It’s got a detailed history of the crazy internal politics and the various iterations of the prototypes that would eventually become the world’s first assault rifle.

All of that is awesome. And that alone would be worth the price of admission. Engineering prototypes are cool, and it’s great to track the evolution of an idea as it intersects with operational realities in testing. Plus, despite (or perhaps because of) being a dictatorship, the Third Reich had some crazy political struggles, with all kinds of subterfuge and pet projects and competing notions. Right there, I had my money’s worth.

But I was hoping for more, and happily Collector Grade (and the Waffenamt’s obsessive documentation) delivered. What I was really interested in was how the Germans figured they would be deploying this new weapon. Clearly, an assault rifle can replace bolt action rifles, semiautomatic-only rifles like the Gewehr 43, and submachine guns like the MP-40. That’s most of the weapons of the squad right there. But what about Hitler’s Buzzsaw? Can the StG-44 plausibly replace the MG-42? Did the Germans figure this was a net gain or a net loss?

Let’s look at the technical considerations for that very comparison, comparisons forged in the hellish engagements of the Eastern Front. I’ll have a follow up where I look at the 1944 organization tables built with the StG-44 in mind. Note that the Germans frequently deployed prototype StG-44s to combat units to gain feedback. One of the questions asked was “Can this weapon replace the MG-42 in an infantry squad?”

Anyway, let’s grab some relevant figures for comparison, so we have them all in one place. The MG-42 weighs 25.51 lbs, is chambered for 7.92x57mm Mauser, is belt fed, and fires at about 1,200 rounds per minute. We’re concerned primarily with the light machine gun use case, so not supported by the excellent tripod. While the MG-42 could be operated by one man, in practice a second man was designated to be the ammunition bearer, and would also help carry spare barrels.

The StG-44 weighs about 10 lbs unloaded, is chambered for 7.92x33mm Kurz, is detachable box magazine fed, and fires at about 500-600 rounds per minute (cyclic). A lot like a modern assault rifle.

When comparing the two options, it should be noted that this was not a one for one replacement. That is, the StG-44 would not be issued one per squad or fireteam in the fashion of the M1918 BAR. Rather, it was a shift to a ‘distributed firepower’ model, something like that of the Soviet submachine gun regiments. Clearly the StG-44 was a lot handier, and could be easily used in a trench or in built-up areas. A squad of StG-44s didn’t provide one obvious target for enemy suppression, and when relocating, did not have a significant drop in effective firepower as the machine gun was moved.

While the firepower of one MG-42 was significantly greater than that of one StG-44, given the different rates of fire and the relative capacities of a belt and a box magazine. Since the StG-44 was to be deployed en masse, this wasn’t a focus of comparison. It may interest the reader to know that Wehrmacht planners figured three StG-44s were roughly equivalent in close-in firepower to one MG-42.

The one big advantage the MG-42 held was at range. The MG-42 was still effective at ranges beyond 500 meters, but the StG-44 was never designed to be effective at these ranges. In the evaluations, units that were stationed in areas of Russia with long sightlines placed a high value on the MG-42 and keeping it available. Units that did not have many long sightlines available at the time of evaluation tended to value the handiness of the StG-44, and reckoned it could completely replace the MG-42.

Next time we’ll look at the units equipped with the StG-44, at least as they were drawn up on the organization tables.

Giant OTV/IOTV Weight Chart

I do like playing around with weight accounting, and I do like tinkering. The following charts were pulled from a US Army service manual1 on the Interceptor Body Armor System. They’re remarkably annoying to find online in detail, and details are important. Especially if you want to play with your own configurations. So in the interest of knowledge and thoroughness, the charts are reproduced here. All weights below are in pounds.

First, the Outer Tactical Vest. This is the vest you see in early Operation Iraqi Freedom Photos.

Base vest6.646.957.668.389.519.8410.8111.79
Throat Protector Assy.
Yoke and Collar Assy.0.900.951.
Groin Protector Assy.0.700.700.700.850.850.850.850.85
ESAPI Plates (pair)7.609.5010.9012.5014.2014.2014.2014.20
ESBI Plate Carriers (pair)2.802.802.802.802.802.802.802.80
ESBI Plates (pair)
Total System Weight29.4931.7533.9136.4839.41>39.8440.9141.99

Next the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, Gen I. This reconfigured the armor a bit and added a quick release system for easier medic access to a wounded soldier, among other features. Note also the addition of some long sizes, and that the Axillary protection system (the A in DAPS) and the carriers for the ESBI side plates are now integrated into the IOTV base vest.

Base Vest9.019.339.8610.6010.9711.2411.9812.5113.5215.8016.17
Front Yoke/Collar Assy.0.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.56
Rear Yoke/Collar Assy.0.800.830.880.880.910.910.960.961.021.171.17
Groin Protector Assy.0.720.720.720.720.870.870.870.870.870.870.87
Lower Back Protector Assy.0.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.67
Deltoid Protector Assy. (pair)
ESAPI Plates (pair)7.609.5010.9010.9012.5012.5014.2014.2014.2014.2014.20
ESBI Plates (pair)
Total System Weight25.4628.7131.0931.8333.9834.2537.2437.7738.8441.2741.64

Finally, we come to the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, Gen II. This vest brought a bunch of minor improvements.

Base Vest9.619.9310.5611.3011.7211.9912.7813.3114.3216.6016.97
Front Yoke/Collar Assy.0.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.560.56
Rear Yoke/Collar Assy.0.800.830.880.880.910.910.960.961.021.171.17
Groin Protector Assy.0.720.720.720.720.870.870.870.870.870.870.87
Lower Back Protector Assy.0.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.670.67
Deltoid Protector Assy. (pair)
ESAPI Plates (pair)7.609.5010.9010.9012.5012.5014.2014.2014.2014.2014.20
ESBI Plates (pair)
Total System Weight27.0629.3131.7932.5334.7335.0038.0438.5739.6442.0742.50

That’s as far as this copy of the manual goes. Probably for the best. That’s more than enough tables for one day.

  1. TM 10-8470-208-24&P 

Ballistic Combat Shirt

Body armor. Don’t go outside the wire without it, right?

The upper thoracic cavity is where the heart and lungs are. That’s what we’re trying to protect. And hard plates like ESAPI do a good job of protecting the front and rear of the upper thoracic cavity. The sides get more difficult, because you have arms. There’s still a lot of important blood vessels, and rather complicated joints in the area above and to the sides of where plates go, regardless of whether you are wearing an armor carrier like the IOTV or a simpler plate carrier rig.

The IOTV comes with a number of accessories to protect the neck, collarbone region, shoulders, and the sides of the upper thoracic cavity. These components are the yoke and collar assembly and the Deltoid protector. These consist of an inner soft armor component, an outer cordura casing, plus attaching hardware. In size L the total weight of these accessories is 3.87 lbs.

We can contrast that with a ballistic combat shirt. This is the usual modern style of combat shirt, with heavier material for the sleeves and upper torso and lighter material for the abdomen, that’s designed for (somewhat) more comfortable wear with body armor. In the BCS, the upper chest and shoulder region contains segmented soft armor panels, providing the same ballistic protection as the aforementioned yoke and collar assembly and the deltoid protector, but the total weight of a size L Ballistic Combat Shirt is only 3.2 lbs. This looks like about half a pound of weight savings, but remember, this includes the combat shirt. A modern-style combat shirt sans armor weighs about 0.9 lbs.1 So, for system weight, we’re looking at more like 1.4ish lbs. of weight savings. Not a lot, but every little bit helps.

Weight savings isn’t the only gain here. We’re removing a lot of bulk from the shoulder area, which is a big win in terms of how much it sucks to wear. Deltoid protectors get caught on things. They make narrow doorways, crawlspaces, and vehicle hatches more annoying to move through. Less bulk means you can move through these areas faster. The bulk also makes weapon manipulation more annoying. In testing, soldiers unanimously praised the new ballistic combat shirts for being less bulky and annoying. The loss of the various straps and buckles to attach all the above components is probably also a big hit.

It’s often very difficult to reduce soldier load by reducing protection for the regular “line” infantry. Special forces guys play by different rules, but the regular grunts are usually stuck with a heavy load. Sometimes it takes some out of the box thinking to be able to make some small gains.

  1. Source here, though they don’t tell me size. Shouldn’t matter much though. “A bit less than a pound is probably a fair approximation for most modern NyCo shirts with this style of cut and a flame-resistant treatment. 

Body Armor Ratings

Body armor toughness comes in a bunch of different flavors. Over here in the US, we have a couple standards. There’s the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards, standards used by the US military, plus a bunch of other marketing-speak. Let’s break it down.

First, NIJ:

Level II9x19mm (124 gr. FMJ @ 1,305 fps), .357 Magnum (158 gr. JSP @ 1,430 fps)
Level IIIA.357 SIG (127 gr FMJ @ 1,470 fps), .44 Magnum (240 gr. SJHP @ 1,430 fps)
Level III6 rounds 7.62x51mm M80 (148 gr. FMJ @ 2,780 fps)
Level IV1 round 7.62x63mm (.30-06) M2 (166 gr. AP @ 2,880 fps)

NIJ ratings are commonly used for armor marketed to law enforcement and civilians. Some notes:

  • All velocities listed above are approximate, and should be understood to be +/- 30 fps.
  • Level II and IIIA are soft armor, and are understood to be reasonably multihit.
  • Level III and IV are hard plate armor.
  • Level IV is required to be able to withstand at least one round of 7.62x51mm M80 FMJ. It is not required to meet Level III multihit standards (6 shots) against M80.
  • You may notice there is no testing required against SCHV rounds (e.g. 5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm). Level III armors may or may not stop SCHV rounds. Level IV armors are required to stop at least one SCHV round.

This last point leads lots of manufacturers to test against various SCHV (usually 5.56mm in the States) rounds, which is good. Do note that “Level III+” and “Level III++” are not NIJ certifications. Those are marketing nonsense. Read the list of test rounds carefully. Some materials used for Level III plates have problems with M855 steel-core (semi-armor piercing) rounds, and some other materials used in Level III plates have problems with the speed of M153 rounds, especially out of a 20″ barrel. Ideally, your plate will withstand both.

What about military plates? I can only speak for the US plates at present. These plates are made from ceramic materials. The US Military uses its own testing standard, not the NIJ one. SAPI1 plates are designed to resist three hits of “up to” M80 7.62x51mm ball. There’s also ESAPI2, which has a similar multihit standard against M2 .30-06 AP rounds. And then there’s XSAPI. Because somewhere out there, some terrorist has some exotic high power super armor piercing 7.62x54R mm that will punch through ESAPI plates and we need to stop that round too. It’s also multihit. Against something exotic, but I don’t know the test round. Maybe tungsten-cored .30-06?

Anyway, as you’d expect, more protection means more weight:

SizeDimensionsSAPI WeightESAPI weightXSAPI weight (Approx)
XS7.25″ x 11.5″2.8 lbs.3.75 lbs.4.7 lbs.
S8.75″ x 11.75″3.5 lbs.4.6 lbs.5.8 lbs.
M9.5″ x 12.5″4.0 lbs.5.5 lbs.6.9 lbs.
L10.125″ x 13.25″4.6 lbs.6.3 lbs.7.9 lbs.
XL11″ x 14″5.3 lbs.7.2 lbs.9.0 lbs.

Do note that all US Military plates assume they are mounted over the OTV, IOTV, or equivalent military-spec soft armor for them to perform as advertised. To the best I am able to determine, XSAPI plates have never been deployed in combat. They sit in depots because they’re too damn heavy and because the expected threat never materialized. Also, remember the above is per plate. Double it.

That military soft armor is tested to a different standard than the NIJ one. The military is concerned with fragmentation, primarily, so they look at the V50, i.e. the speed at which a given projectile must be going to have a 50% chance of penetration. This number is chosen because it’s a lot easier to work with than V0 from a measurements and statistics perspective. To simulate artillery fragments, the US Army tests with steel projectiles with weights of 2, 4, 16, and 64 grains. Steel doesn’t deform like lead pistol bullets do, so this is sort of a different challenge than regular pistol bullets. The V50 for a 124 grain 9mm NATO round against the current soft armor in the IOTV is about 1,525 fps, which is pretty similar to that of most Level IIIA soft armor panels. On the other hand, the NIJ requires Level IIIA panels to also stop .44 magnum rounds, and the US Military doesn’t.

Next time, we’ll take a more in-depth look at soft body armor systems.

  1. Small Arms Protective Insert 
  2. Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resurrected Weapons: LOSAT/KEM/CKEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project LSAT Weight Comparisons

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

First, the machine gun table:

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

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

Now, the carbine table:

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

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

The General Issue Plate Carrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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