Tag Archives: procurement

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.

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

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.

Project LSAT

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

Enter the LSAT project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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. 

Parvusimperator Reviews the F-22 Raptor

No fighter discussion would be complete without mentioning this one, even if it’s technically not available for the procurement games.

To understand the F-22, we should first look at the ATF, or the state of military aviation in the ’80s. The core of the USAF was the F-15 and the F-16. These were great fighters, but the Soviets had counters, namely the Su-27 and the MiG-29, which were at least the equals of the American fighters. In the maneuverability area, they might even be considered a bit ahead.

American doctrine was heavily invested in air superiority, and the USAF was always looking for the next big thing, so they put out a design concept for the ATF. It was to fly faster and higher than other fighters. Or, more precisely, to cruise higher. Speed is good, since speed is energy that can be converted into maneuvers. Energy is life. But supersonic speed meant afterburners, which burned fuel rapidly. So most fighters couldn’t sustain supersonic speeds for very long. The USAF’s idea was to use new engine technology to push the envelope of cruise speed, not maximum speed. The resulting fighter would not be faster than the Eagle, but it would be able to maintain supersonic speeds without lighting its afterburners (to “supercruise”). These engines would be designed to work at higher altitudes, because altitude can be converted into energy. Energy is life. Energy is winning.

Of course, there were secret projects in the works too, and so the USAF added stealth requirements. Stealth demanded careful shaping, special skin, and internal carriage of weapons. This helped the supercruise, since it reduced drag. A protracted development period due to the end of the cold war, and a competition between the Lockheed and Northrop Grumman entries eventually resulted in the F-22 we know today.

The F-22 is the king of the skies. Full stop. There is no better aircraft at aerial combat. None. Fighting with a Raptor really, really sucks. The Raptor has a massive, powerful, highly advanced, low-probability of intercept radar, and the obvious stealth features. So it’s going to see you first. And because it cruises at mach 1.2-1.4 at a higher altitude than you, the Raptor has the energy to decline any engagement it pleases, or dictate the range as it pleases.

If the Raptor chooses to engage BVR, as we’ve mentioned it’s going to get the first shot. It sees you first. It gets to position favorably. Plus, if you’ll recall, it’s flying higher and faster than you. So its missiles get that much more energy, because they start from a supersonic platform, and get a gravity assist as they dive down. Which is a great recipe for an intensely frustrating exercise. And by ‘exercise’, I mean ‘simulation of being smote by an angry god’.

But that’s BVR. The Raptor owns BVR. What if we force the merge and go to WVR? Probably by stipulating in the exercise rules that it’s a WVR fight, but still. Well, here go some of the advantages, though it’s still a massive pain to acquire a lock on the Raptor. At least you can see it. And you can engage with IR seekers, but not super well. Everybody dies in WVR. The Raptor is no exception. But it has the best aerodynamics of any fighter around, with a very high thrust/weight ratio and very low wing loading. It also has thrust vectoring. So even in WVR engagements, the Raptor is a winner more often than everybody else. It’s kill to death ratio at Red Flag is hilariously lopsided, and that’s against pilots who dogfight for a living.

If you’re thinking this is quite gushy, and excessively positive, you’d be right. I love this thing. But it’s not tops at everything. The internal weapons bays are somewhat limiting. The Raptor was designed around a warload of six AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders internally. This isn’t a bad loadout, though it could be bigger. However, those bays are not very deep. So the F-22 can’t carry much in the way of bombs. And it can’t carry any bombs that are all that big. The F-35 can’t carry many bombs, but it can carry two of just about any air to ground weapon you please. The F-22 is limited to bombs of 1,000 lbs or less, and that size class also rules out most standoff weapons. Plus, it only recently got ground-oriented radar modes. Ground attack is not its thing. Though the USAF is trying, and has made special small GPS-guided glide bombs so the Raptor can bomb more stuff.

Oh, and it’s out of production. Even when it was in production, it was super expensive. You could theoretically restart the production line, but that would cost a whole bunch of money. And the USAF only bought 187, which isn’t a lot. And there are have been issues with the onboard oxygen generating system, which have restricted that flight envelope. Those should be fixed by now.

So it’s an expensive, gold-plated, air-superiority fighter with gimped ground attack in a world of strike operations. Would we buy it?

Well, we can’t. Production lines were closed in 2011. Sorry. Blame Rumsfeld, not me.

Feels like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Okay, fine. Suppose they got their act together and started making them again. Raptors rolling off the production lines. Would we buy them?

Well, we still can’t. Even if the production lines were reopened, there’s a pesky act of Congress in the way. Really. There’s a law in the United States that says Thou Shalt Not Export the F-22. Even to one of America’s favorite and closest allies, like Japan or Australia or Israel. No Raptors for you.

Sigh.

Okay, that’s another cop-out, right? I’m still avoiding the question. Fine, fine. Remove both pesky intrusions of reality. Would. We. Buy. One?

We’d need a price, right? Well, let’s be awful and take the figure from an offhand quote of an Israeli Air Force general of $200 million, rather than the much more favorable wiki flyaway cost of $150 million. So. 200 million dollars a copy. Would we buy?

Hell fucking yeah, we’d buy.

Did you really think I’d say no to the greatest aerial combatant of all time? Are you mad?
We’d be all over this, if the above conditions were met. Even at $200 million. It’s got Wunderwaffe-class awesomeness. It’s also an absolutely beautiful fighter. It looks right. It is right.

Since this is a game, you might be thinking I should try to trade Fishbreath something so we can both skirt our self-imposed rules a little. He’d never go for it though. He doesn’t like spendy wunderwaffe.

Author’s Notes: This review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by Lockheed Martin, the Fighter Mafia, or members of the United States Air Force.

M4A1 PIP vs HK 416A5

We talked a little bit about the M4A1 PIP before. Let’s compare it to the popular and successful HK 416A5.

The 416A5 is the latest variant of HK’s version of the M4. It’s available in a number of barrel lengths, but to try to keep this comparison as objective and direct as possible, we’re going to compare carbines with the same barrel length: 14.5 inches.

While the 416A5 is a production weapon, the M4A1 PIP isn’t. So I’ll have to make some guesses as to what it might have looked like in an approved format. In the above article, I made some guesses:

  1. “SOCOM” profile (a medium profile) barrel
  2. Safe/Semi/Full Auto Trigger Group
  3. Daniel Defense M4 RIS II (12″)
  4. Cut down pinned gasblock (as on Colt 6920-OEM2)
  5. Knight’s Armament folding front and rear backup iron sights
  6. H2-weight buffer
  7. B. E. Meyers 249F flash suppressor

Pretty simple. I chose those parts because all of those have NSNs, and are already-approved accessories, and Colt already makes guns with that particular low-profile gas block. I keep going back and forth on the notion of changing the stock, and settled on not changing it mostly to keep things simple. The obvious stock alternative is the SOPMOD stock, however I couldn’t find anything on stock changes, so I opted to be simple and leave the existing stock. The SOPMOD stock weighs 11.5 ounces, which is about 4.4 ounces (0.275 lbs) more than the regular stock.

Let’s compare them. Both carbines are capable of semiautomatic and fully automatic fire. Both carbines do not have a burst feature. Both carbines have collapsible stocks. Both carbines offer quadrail handguards. The M4A1 PIP has a 3″ longer handguard (12″ compared to the 416A5’s 9″ handguard), but both are longer than the 7″ RAS/RIS handguard currently present on the M4.1 Both fire the same 5.56×45 mm round.

Doing a weight comparison, the M4A1 PIP weighs 6.99 lbs as above, unloaded and without optic. The 416A5 weighs 7.68 lbs unloaded and without optic, which comes to a weight difference of 0.69 lbs. Where does the weight difference come from?

Both rifles have medium-profile, 14.5″ barrels. The 416 also has a short-stroke gas piston system and a heavy handguard, both of which add weight. The stock of the 416 is also a bit heavier.

Carrying more weight sucks. But weight can also bring advantages. Bearing in mind the following destructive tests had a sample size of one, let’s see what weight helps with.

On a standard M4, firing 140 rounds rapidly and continuously will raise the temperature of the barrel to the cook-off point. At this temperature, any live round remaining in the chamber for any reason may cook-off (detonate) in as little as 10 seconds.

What if you keep going cyclic? What if you’re desperate? Colt tested this in 1996, and discovered that the barrel on a standard M4 (with full auto trigger group) will burst after 596 rounds fired cyclic. That’s just under twenty magazines worth of rounds. That is a lot.

The M16A2 (also with a full auto trigger group) was also tested to destruction. Its barrel burst after 491 rounds. That’s also a lot, though less than the M4.

The M4A1 with the heavier SOCOM-profile barrel will fail after it has fired 840 rounds cyclic. In this case, the barrel won’t burst, but the gas tube will fail. If this was a problem, you could conceivably use a beefier gas tube. Or accept that this is good enough, since a soldier’s basic load is 210 rounds.

Unfortunately, I can’t find much in the way of good data on when the HK416 (or the M27 for that matter) fails if it’s run cyclic until it chokes. I do know that it’s “more than 900 rounds” but that’s the best I’ve got. This makes sense: the barrels are similarly beefy, and eventually the op-rod/piston will fail. Or the barrel will. Waste heat sucks.

So what do I think? Well, a good part would depend on what price you could get both guns for. But if you could get the M4A1 PIP as a package from Colt for any price that isn’t exorbitantly over that of the 416A5, I’d probably go with the M4A1 PIP. I like less weight, and I really don’t think the piston system gets you all that much for your trouble.

That goes triple if you already have M4s/M16s in your procurement system, since you can just swap uppers (and trigger groups if you have that infernal burst mechanism).


  1. We could have used a 9″ quadrail on the M4A1 PIP, but that would have increased its weight advantage, and we would have had to pick a handguard that isn’t currently in the inventory. The DD M4 RIS II 12″ handguard is already in the system, as the handguard for SOPMOD Block II upper. Also, note that I don’t have a weight figure for a 416 with an extended handguard. 

Unmanned Autocannon Turrets

There’s a big interest in remote weapons stations for machine guns, since they let you use the guns without exposing yourself to enemy fire. Their bigger brothers, unmanned autocannon turrets, are also increasing in popularity, because they’re a cost effective way to add firepower to vehicles. Let’s look at some options. Alas, costs are unavailable, so you’ll just have to guesstimate.

EPOCH
First, Russia’s Epoch turret. It’s used on the T-15 Armata Heavy IFV, plus the Kurganets IFV, and could probably be retrofitted on to other things. It’s got a 30×165 mm autocannon with 500 rounds of ready ammunition (dual feed with one 160 round box and one 340 round box), a 7.62x54R mm machine gun with 2,000 rounds of ready ammo, and four Kornet-EM ATGM tubes. The gunner has a day/thermal sight with laser rangefinder. The commander has an independent day/thermal sight with laser rangefinder as well. I do not have information on whether or not these are Gen 3 thermal sights. No secondary remote weapon station is fitted for the commander. Epoch is not protected against autocannon fire. It is fully (i.e. biaxially) stabilized. Eight smoke grenade launchers are fitted. It is capable of high-elevation fire. It does not appear that reloading the turret is possible from under armor. Also, even though it lacks armor, given it’s bulk and ammo reserves, I would expect it to be heavy. Also, relatively expensive. But it does have the most firepower of any turret on our list.

MCT-30
This is the turret that the US Army is fitting to some of its Stryker vehicles for more firepower. It’s made by Kongsberg, out of Norway, and it has a lot of options. The gun is a 30×173 mm autocannon, with 150 rounds of ready ammunition (dual feed with a pair of 75 round boxes). There’s also a coaxial 7.62×51 mm machine gun with 600 rounds of ready ammo. ATGM launchers are available as an optional extra. The gunner’s sight is the usual day/thermal with laser rangefinder. An independent commander’s sight, or a Commander’s Remote Weapons Station, are available as optional extras. The basic turret has negligible protection, but the turret can be provided with protection against up to 30 mm autocannon rounds (STANAG Level 6) as another optional extra. High-angle fire is another optional extra feature, as are threat detection systems and active protection systems. All versions can be reloaded from under armor. We’d expect weight and cost to vary significantly based on desired feature set. It’s not a bad turret, but we wish it could accommodate more autocannon ammunition. A pity that’s not another optional extra. Full stabilization is standard.

Samson RCWS-30
This is an Israeli turret, currently in use on the Czech Pandur II. It’s very barebones, without any kind of protective shell. It comes with 200 rounds of 30×173 mm (in a 140 and a 60 round box), a 7.62×51 mm machine gun with a 460 round box, and a pair of tubes for Spike ATGMs. The turret is fully stabilized and a commander’s independent sight is available. A commander’s remote weapon station is not available. There are no protection options available for this model. On the other hand, it’s only 1,400 kg ready to fight. Also, since it’s an exposed gun and feed systems, it can be fitted with any other autocannon system. Conceivably, one could also increase the ammunition capacity, but that might require more powerful traverse and elevation motors. It is capable of high angle fire as well. This is probably my favorite turret from an ‘add more firepower’ standpoint, since it’s light, cheap, and provides balanced firepower.

Lance-RC
The unmanned version of the German Lance turret, the -RC variant is very nearly identical to the turret mounted on the Puma. It comes with a 30×173 mm gun with 200 ready rounds (dual feed, but I haven’t found box sizes), a 7.62×51 mm coaxial machine gun (probably about 650-700 rounds based on the Puma’s capacity for 5.56), and the option for a pair of Spike missiles. It’s got STANAG Level 6 protection out of the box, and excellent optics for the gunner and an independent sight for the commander. It can also be fitted with additional cameras to improve situational awareness or a laser-based jamming system as part of a soft-kill APS. As you might expect, it’s heavy and expensive. But it’s also very nicely equipped.

Of the NATO compatible turrets, what you’re trying to do will determine which you buy. Platform and transportability requirements will also impact your decision.