Tag Archives: procurement

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.

Leclerc Review

The Leclerc is a very underappreciated tank. For better and for worse, it got its design completed just before the end of the Cold War. On the one hand, this is bad, because order numbers were slashed, and there weren’t large quantities of surplus tanks to drive the price down in the 90s, when no one in Europe thought tanks were cool.1 On the other hand, it meant it got a lot of really innovative design features pretty early. It’s still a formidable and competitive tank today, held back only by the lack of upgrade budget.

The Leclerc was designed to (finally) replace the venerable AMX-30, after a joint Franco-German project and the AMX-40 project had both failed. The French were the first western power to put an autoloader in a production tank. It’s a ‘belt-type’, and is contained in the turret bustle. It has a capacity of 22 rounds. A further 18 rounds are stored next to the driver in the front of the hull. The bustle is provided with blow-out panels. All ammunition is marked with a barcode, so that the autoloader knows what round types are where.

The gun is a 120 mm L52 smoothbore, developed in France. At the time of introduction, this was the most powerful tank gun in production. It can keep up with the newer Rheinmetall L55 given appropriate ammo design. The gun is fully stabilized.

In a reverse from other western designs, the coaxial machine gun is a 12.7×99 mm HMG, and the commander’s gun is a 7.62×51 mm GPMG. In its original design, the commander’s machine gun was pintle mounted. More recent improvements have replaced it with a remote weapons station mount.

The Leclerc was an early adopter of the Commander’s Independent Sight, giving the commander the ability to use optics to look in a direction other than where the turret faces. The Leclerc was also one of the first tanks to give the commander his own laser rangefinder in the sighting unit, an ability still not found on the Abrams or Leopard 2.

Leclerc came with a battle management system from the factory, though it initially did not have a video display. This was rectified on later models. Just like on other modern tanks, a battle management system provides a huge coordination bonus to vehicle crews and unit commanders, and just like on Abrams, the BMS on Leclerc is integrated with the communications suite.

Leclerc’s protection hasn’t been as upgraded as much as its contemporaries, and here it suffers. The best estimates I can find give it a protection somewhat less than an M1A2 SEP or a Leopard 2A6/2E. Given the era, it’s not terrible, but it could use some work today. It’s an interesting armor array because it uses a lot of materials chosen to reduce weight but are somewhat more costly to work with.

The protection of Leclerc is somewhat improved by the inclusion of the Galix combat system, which is a computer controlled array of 14 smoke grenade launchers. Current modernization plans increase this to 24 launchers. These are capable of launching the usual smoke grenades in quick-blooming and long duration versions, but can also launch antipersonnel grenades. While this system would make an excellent soft-kill component of an active protection system, I do not know of any plans to link it with a missile approach warning system.

Leclerc’s powerplant is my favorite part of the tank. It’s a diesel engine, but it’s a little bit different. Instead of a conventional V-12 diesel with twin-turbochargers, it has a 16.4L V-8, called the V8X, and its equipped with a hyperbar system. The hyperbar system is neither a supercharger nor a turbocharger. Rather, it’s an externally-powered compressor, driven by a small gas turbine engine. This yields absolutely massive boost pressures of 32.1 bar mean effective boost pressure, no turbo lag, and no loss of power at the driveshaft. It also yields big gains in horsepower. For comparison, the V8X generates 1,500 hp, and the same basic engine with a conventional twin-turbocharger instead of the hyperbar system generates 1,000 hp.

This come at a cost of course. You might have guessed the V8X engine is expensive, and it is. The hyperbar system adds quite a bit of bulk, though the gas turbine can also be used to drive an integrated APU quite easily. Finally, there’s the question of fuel consumption. The then brand-new Leclerc didn’t fare so well in the Swedish tank trials, though GIAT hadn’t really done much optimization of the engine settings. Once they had, the result was probably about what you might expect: better than gas turbines, worse than diesels.2

So what do we think? Well, that depends on the timeframe. Today, the Leclerc is good but in need of some upgrade funds, and the reduction of orders from 1,400 to 460 didn’t do anything kind to the price. But at its debut it was extremely modern, introducing a number of new features that were on the Want List of every modern tanker.3


  1. Looking at you, Leopard 2. 
  2. The numbers I have are about 4.5 L/km in M-1 and T-80, >3 L/km for more modern experimental gas turbines like the LV 100-5, about 2.8 L/km for the V8X, and 2.2 L/km for Leopard 2A6. I think newer diesels are supposed to get a bit under 2 L/km. Of course, I don’t have acceleration data for any of these vehicles. A drag race would be very illuminating. 
  3. Look at some early 90s vintage issues of ARMOR magazine, especially the ones from 1993. Plenty of great tank designs in there. Or look at K2. 

Abrams Additions

Earlier, I talked about the US Army’s latest improvements to their Abramses, the M1A2 SEP v3 program. Which is great, because as they start to take deliveries, I’ve heard no concrete orders for further Leopard 2 upgrades, or anything about the vague, pie-in-the-sky new MBT to be developed by France and Germany. Given that it’s multinational, it will probably be overbudget, late, and contain a bunch of stupid compromises. So good on you, US Army!

This program, combined with the M829E4 APFSDS round development, plays to the traditional strengths of the Abrams: well designed armor piercing rounds, heavy frontal armor, and excellent fire control.

Unsurprisingly, I am not satisfied. There are a few more things I’d like to see in the short term. No, these aren’t dream weapons like a rail gun. These are doable things. They are in order of urgency (and also affordability, amusingly enough).

  1. An Active Protection System. Since this term gets kicked around a lot, I mean a proper hard-kill one. CIWS for a tank. There are a lot of good options. The US Army is currently “investigating”. Yawn. They should have a competition and pick the winner. Or just take Trophy, because it works pretty well at stopping incoming RPGs and ATGMS. No, it won’t stop APFSDS rounds. Oh well. Yes, it can be dangerous to nearby infantry. It’s not perfect. I don’t care. It works, and unlike a lot of other systems, it’s been combat tested, and a bunch of bugs have been beaten out of it. So what I’d really like is to just add Trophy. Plus the cost is reasonable. That whole “in production now” thing really helps with that.
  2. Extra roof protection. This isn’t too terribly difficult to add, but you’d need to do quite a bit of reworking, and probably add a power-assist to the hatches. Weight is also a concern. To be clear, we’re looking for a specific, limited protection upgrade. We want roof protection from DPICM-type submunitions, and maybe EFP submunitions if practicable. It is not feasible to protect against top-attack ATGMs with armor, so we won’t try. On the one hand, all those optics are toast in a submunition storm. On the other, we can at least keep the crew alive, and they’re more important. Tanks are reasonably easy to salvage. Crews, not so much.
  3. New engines. I’m not going to spill a lot of ink here, over type. You could give the existing, worn AGT-1500s a rebuild. You could (at least in theory) use the LV100-5 from the canceled Crusader program. You could switch to diesel. Given a diesel engine, you’d have to rework the rear suspension to remove the last set of torsion bars. You’d have two off-the-shelf engine choices:1 L3’s AVDS-1790 1,500 hp variant and General Dynamics’ GD883.2
  4. Situational Awareness improvements. The Germans have prototyped day/thermal camera arrays around the turret to improve situational awareness while the crew is buttoned up. Given the new 1080p displays added in SEPv3, these would be welcome and helpful, especially in urban settings. A radar or other missile approach warning system would be nice too, but that would come with the active protection system.

So there you have it. A few more ways to put more improvements into your M1A2 SEP v3 Abrams tank. I know Big Army is working on number one as I write this.


  1. Using the reasonable constraint of “1,500 hp diesel engines that are made in America” 
  2. A license built MTU MT833. Made in America so the Israelis can buy them with US Aid credits and use them in Merkava IVs. 

Resurrected Weapons: M4A1 PIP

The M4 is by no means a terminated weapon. But it could do with some improvements to bring it in line with advancements in the civilian AR-15 sector, and to take advantage of hard won battle experience.

Recall that the standard M4 is an AR-15 configured as follows (there are other features, but these are the salient points):

  1. Barrel Length: 14.5″
  2. Barrel Profile: A2 type (or “Government” type)1
  3. Revised feedramps on the upper receiver (“M4 feedramps”)
  4. A 7″ (“carbine length”) gas system
  5. Round plastic handguards with dual aluminum heatshields
  6. A flat top upper with the MIL-STD-1913 (“Picatinny” rail) on top
  7. A trigger group with capability for semiautomatic and three round burst fire
  8. A four-position collapsible stock (and the necessary receiver extension and buffer system changes for this to work)

Great. Of course, time marched on. And as we became engaged in the War on Terror and deployed troops, soldiers found that they had a bunch of other stuff that they wanted to mount to their rifles. Lights, lasers, that sort of thing. So the plastic handguards were replaced with the Knights Armament Rail Interface System.2 This system is a drop-in replacement for the earlier handguards. It does not require any special tools or disassembly of the upper to install. It is not free-floated however. It is also not very rigid, since it uses the same delta ring attachment method as the stock handguards. Good enough for an IR laser for use at night, but hardly for mounting more precise sights.

I should also point out that Colt rolled a bunch of improvements into some of the small parts of the M4. I will not discuss them much here, but note that they exist. One of them was moving from a “carbine weight” buffer to the “H1” buffer, which is heavier and made the M4 run more reliably.

After a number of battles, the US Army wanted to make some changes to their M4s. The result is called the M4A1. The following major changes were made:

  1. Barrel profile revised to “SOCOM” profile. This is a medium-weight profile, adding mass under the handguards. It adds about 0.25 lbs of weight to the carbine.
  2. A revised trigger group capable of semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.
  3. A heavier buffer for better reliability

The revised, heavier profile was to make the rifle perform better when providing sustained fire. It will also mean that a shooter’s groups will not open up as much after shooting a bunch. Replacing the three round burst with fully automatic results in an improved trigger pull, even in semiautomatic mode, a more useful capability, and more predictable results. The burst cam was an awful idea, and it’s good that it’s gone.

The M4A1 PIP (also known as the M4A1+) was designed to add some more capability to the M4A1. The rifle would be as an M4A1, but with the following additional changes:

  1. A new, more effective flash hider
  2. A longer, free float handguard (likely the Daniel Defense M4 RIS II3)
  3. ‘coyote tan’ coloring on the handguard to break up the outline of the rifle.
  4. A low-profile gas block
  5. A folding front sight
  6. An improved (read: larger) charging handle
  7. An improved trigger

The M4A1 PIP program was cancelled in June 2016 when the Army decided the upgrades were not worth the effort.

Sigh.

That is absolute nonsense. Observe the USMC moving towards getting M27s in the hands of everyone. Most of those improvements are actual, serious improvements on the M4A1 design. While #6 and #7 in the PIP changelist above might not be cost effective, the rest are very good.

A longer, free float handguard is the biggest and most obvious benefit. I finally tried a long (13″) handguard on Bridget, my competition rifle. And I really, really like it. It’s not about looking cool.4 The longer handguard gives you more options for where to put your hand, gives you more room for mounting accessories while still having a place for your hand, and is better to rest on a barricade than a barrel or a non-free-float handguard.

Free float handguards do provide a noticeable gain in accuracy, especially when resting the rifle on a barricade or using a sling. In other words, any time when we might be exerting some pressure on a barrel. Also, on an M4, we can’t get the longer, more useful handguard without free floating, and there isn’t much of a cost difference between free float and non-free float handguards, so there really isn’t a good reason not to go free float.

The low profile gas block makes life a lot easier, and means you don’t have to worry about burning yourself by touching the hot FSB. Daniel Defense does make a version of the RIS II that is 12″ long and has a cutout for the FSB. It’s a bit more annoying to install than one with a low-profile gas block. As long as it’s pinned in place, I’m cool with low profile for issue kit.

An improved flash hider is also welcome. The A2 ‘birdcage’ is a pretty good flash suppressor, unless you’re wearing night vision equipment. Then, it’s still pretty damn bright. So your own rifle is interfering with your vision. And people with night vision can find you easily. Not a problem while you’re fighting Taliban scum. Might be an issue if you fight a more formidable opponent.

I also really like coloring rifles not-black for issue purposes. It occurs to me that this could be done easily and cheaply with some Krylon and tape to keep paint off optics and out of muzzles, but the Army isn’t likely to go for that.

Unsurprisingly, I’m a big fan of the M4A1 PIP program, though I might like to see if other handguards are better (maybe one with mlok? It’s on the Army’s new HK CSASS). And buying new upper components and assembling them is a lot cheaper than buying M27s. And if you had a good PIP product, that would get rid of most of the reason for adopting the M27.5

As for the other question, is the M4A1 PIP better than the HK 416/M27, that’s likely to require testing that I can’t do here. And knowledge of what price I could get each for, which I don’t have. But within the confines of “For the US Army”, or another army that has already bought M4s, it’s almost certainly a better idea to upgrade.

Finally, some weight data if you’re interested in considering some of these rifles for your Infantry Kit Challenge.

CarbineWeight
Basic M46.120 lbs.
M4+RIS6.245 lbs.
Basic M4A16.80 lbs.
M4A1+RIS6.420 lbs.
M4A1 PIP6.990 lbs.
HK 416A5-14.5″ barrel7.678 lbs.
HK M277.900 lbs.

Weights in the above table assume no carry handle is mounted and the weapon is unloaded. I used the weight for the Knights Armament 600 m rear sight since I don’t have weight numbers for the Army-issue Matech 600 m rear sight. Both fold away when not in use. ‘Basic’ means with the plastic handguards. M4 assumed to have H1 pattern buffer. Front sight on the M4A1 PIP was assumed to be the Troy folding front sight. For improved muzzle device on the M4A1 PIP, I chose the B. E. Meyers 249F, since it has tested better than the A2 birdcage. HK 416A5 and M27 weights included for reference. Note that the M27 has a 16″ barrel, not a 14.5″ barrel like all others on the chart.

1.) It’s a pencil profile that’s been thickened in front of the gas block. First introduced on the M16A2. It is a stupid profile and I don’t like it.
2.) Later replaced with the KAC Rail Adapter System (RAS).
3.) It’s a 12″ long quadrail that’s free floated, pretty sturdy, and already in the US DoD’s procurement system, so they wouldn’t need an elaborate RFP/Eval/challenge process. It also allows the easy mounting of the M203 with existing brackets, since that lacks rail mount adapters.
4.) Okay, it’s not just about looking cool.
5.) Yes, I know the HK 416/M27 has a short-stroke gas piston. While this is easier to develop, the M4’s direct impingement system has got a lot of development time already sunk in. And I don’t see actual benefits from the data when you compare the 416 to modern M4s (or Mk 18s if you want to talk properly short barrels). More on this later.

The USMC Moves to Issue the M27 to All Riflemen

See: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=278024299180d7a9c1185936329ae560&tab=core&_cview=0

This would be step one of the process to getting a whole bunch of them. One for every rifleman in the Corps.

Now, there are more steps that have to be done (an RFP), but this is step one of a procurement move.

And it’s pretty big. I know lots of folks who’ve been wanting to go this way, and HK originally called the 416 the “HK M4” until they ran afoul of trademark rules.

We’ll see if any snags come up. But this is an interesting move with the Corps.

Glad to see we agree again.

F-35 First Red Flag Performance

The F-35A is at its first Red Flag! And we’ve gotten some reports of how it’s doing.

First, a little review. Red Flag is the most advanced aerial combat exercise in the world. In a given year, there are several Red Flags, operated out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. There, the US Air Force and US Navy squadrons join with squadrons from other NATO and Non-NATO allies to engage in a series of realistic training exercises. They have the full suite of AWACS support, and air combat is staged against the Aggressors, instructor pilots who fly F-15s and F-16s and are trained in a wide variety of foreign flight tactics.

The Aggressor pilots are the best dogfight pilots in the world. That is literally all that they do. Their job is to be the nastiest guys in the sky, to catch pilots making mistakes in training where there’s a nice debrief so they can learn from their errors. Beats the Hanoi Hilton.

And the F-35 is, of course, the next fighter of the US Air Force, the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, the Royal Navy, the Israeli Defense Forces, South Korea, Australia, and a whole lot of others. It’s a huge, complicated, advanced program. And it’s had its share of problems as well as its share of detractors. And it was my pick for Borgundy’s Fighter in the Procurement Games. Despite the problems, I stand by that decision.

So with all that in mind, let’s see how it did. Keep in mind, this is only one Red Flag exercise. Small sample sizes can lead to problems. But it’s the data we have, and given the questions, it’s worth commenting on now.

As befits USAF doctrine, the F-35 has been primarily tasked with strike and SEAD missions. The USAF has F-22s for air combat. And the F-35 has done great. They didn’t lose any fighters on day one of the exercise when they engaged enemy air defenses, which is not something that usually happens. The Aggressor Team had to revise their exercises to be more complex and difficult in order to make life more difficult for the ‘Blue’ team (the good guys with the stealthy fighters). These tests are only interesting when they are hard.

But let’s talk about dogfighting. Nobody else has Raptors, so the rest of the world will need the Lightning II to be ready to mix it up, and the F-35 got some dogfights in. We do not know any of the specifics of the engagement–range, circumstances, rules of engagement, simulated loadouts, etc. But we do have a final score. 15-1 in favor of the Lightning. Questions abound, of course. What were the rules of engagement? What were the circumstances? Were these all WVR? BVR? We do know that the Aggressor pilots have had a lot of experience dogfighting (and mostly losing) to the F-22, so they may have been a little more ready for the F-35 than one might otherwise expect.

Pilot impressions of the Lightning II continue to be positive. The situational awareness is better than anything else in the sky, and unsurprisingly, pilots love being able to see and know more. No complaints about the aircraft have emerged. Also, it’s done great on the flightline. No F-35s have missed a sortie for maintenance problems, and the planes report a 92% mission readiness rate. Most legacy aircraft have a 70-85% mission readiness rate.

So despite the problems, many of which do not affect the -A variant, we can see that the Lightning is doing well in unscripted exercises. It’s a very good sign for the program.

And no, we do not expect the program to be cancelled as part of President Trump’s review.