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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.


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.

Fishbreath Shoots: Beretta M9 Review

Is it necessary to review the Beretta M9 nowadays? Given the 92-pattern’s long history of military and police issue, I don’t doubt it’s near the top of the list as far as ‘how many people have shot this?’ goes. Am I going to review it anyway? Yes, yes I am. Will it be a traditional review, where I tell you things you already know? No, it won’t.

The gun in question is a bone-stock, commercial production Beretta M9. It isn’t a 92, so it has the flat backstrap and straight dust cover. It’s neither an M9A1 nor an M9A3, so it doesn’t have a rail, retains the original snowman-style sights, and isn’t finished in Modern Operator Tacticool Desert Tan1. It’s an M9, no more, no less, recently produced but in the very same pattern as the M9 as accepted into US military service in 1985.

Like I said, it’s one of the most widely-shot firearms in history. Like many popular things, the stereotypical view of it is wrong.

If you hang around firearms forums, or if you were recently deployed to somewhere sandy and far away, you may be down on the M9. “It’s unreliable! The fiddly bits inside get clogged with sand. Mine is inaccurate. It rattled when I walked. The slide came off of a buddy’s gun and hit him in the nose.”

None of these complaints are strictly inaccurate, but they don’t capture the full picture. Let’s get nerdy and talk about firearms actions for a bit. The 92-pattern pistol, unlike most modern handguns, does not use a Browning-inspired tilting-barrel design2. Rather, it uses a locking block, which engages the frame by lugs until an internal plunger running up against the frame pushes the locking block down to release the barrel.

Though it’s less common nowadays, the locking block action has some advantages. For one, given the traditional open slide, the ejection on the M9 is absurdly reliable. If the case comes out of the barrel at all, it’s leaving the gun. For another, the skeleton slide makes for a much smaller recoiling mass. The main wear item—the locking block—is easier to fix than worn-out cuts inside a slide. All you have to do is replace the locking block, rather than the slide. The bullet at the top of the magazine can feed directly into the barrel, since its angle relative to the barrel never changes. This makes for simpler magazines and requires no faffing about with feed ramps; as a side effect, it means that the M9 will happily feed any ammunition which is not overlong. It also means that feeding failures3 rarely happen outside of torture tests.

Now, the 92-pattern pistol does have some failings as an issue weapon, which we’ve touched on in previous articles. Mainly, a double-action pistol is not especially well-suited to the role the M9 found itself in, that of a soldier’s sidearm. Shooting a double-action pistol well requires mastering both the double-action trigger pull and the single-action trigger pull. It’s a heavy pistol, only incrementally lighter than the 1911 it replaced, and it’s also quite large. I have average-sized hands, and I suspect my thumbs are somewhat shorter than the norm; the magazine release is out of my reach.

I’m purposefully not mentioning the trigger reach or the safety. The former is obviously a problem, and the latter is obviously not. Do you subscribe to the school of thought which claims the 92’s safety is easy to engage by accident while working the slide? If so, next question: have you ever actually done it? Parvusimperator and I once spent a good ten minutes trying to engage the safety by accident, and wouldn’t you believe it, neither of us managed to. This particular complaint is overblown.

I did say that the 92 has some failings as an issue weapon, and if pressed, I might even admit that a striker-fired gun is probably a better choice (for a secondary weapon, because of easier training). Obviously, it isn’t a great choice if your aim is concealment. That leaves two categories: the duty gun and the competition gun. I think it stacks up well in both of those. Let’s look at why.

For a competition gun in particular, weight is not a bad thing. Even a heavy gun can be comfortably carried in a good holster, and if concealment isn’t a requirement, it’s not terribly hard to make a good holster. Weight means less felt recoil. Less felt recoil means faster, more accurate follow-up shots.

It’s a double-action trigger. By definition, that means it’s better than almost every striker-fired trigger in existence. The first pull is rough, but how often do you have to do that? Once4.

Much like parvusimperator’s favored Glocks, the M9 is, on the whole, a legendarily reliable piece of equipment. Unlike said Glocks, the M9 requires some attention to hold up its end of the bargain. Any firearm with steel riding on aluminum, like the 92-pattern guns, requires lubrication. It also requires occasional replacement—the design life of an M9 is about 40,000 rounds, and combat conditions undoubtedly shrink that figure. Many of the M9’s alleged flaws can be chalked up to pistols nearing their end of life, and to bad maintenance habits5. Carrying an M9 by itself, or shooting it in competition, leaves a gun owner room to solve both problems.

It’s no secret I like Beretta’s products. My carry gun, after all, is a Px4 Compact, and I’ve taken to shooting the M9 as my standard competition pistol. It’s plenty competitive, both in 3-Gun Nation Practical division, and USPSA Production division. I have some plans, even, to build a Beretta 96 for Limited competition next season. Watch this space.

  1. A color I actually really like. 
  2. For patent reasons, maybe? Ask parvusimperator. 
  3. Why yes, I did choose a picture of a Glock to illustrate this point. No, no particular reason why. cough 
  4. The match-running mavens at Performance Shooting Sports in Ohio are fond of ‘pistol loaded, chamber empty’ start conditions. Those are my favorite. No double-action pull at all! 
  5. I’m not judging, mind. A soldier overseas has many, many tasks which come ahead of ‘pistol maintenance’, not least of which is ‘rifle maintenance’. 

The Five Seven is Stupid

It’s true. The FN Five Seven1 is profoundly stupid. Too stupid to have a good time.

There’s nothing really good about it. If you hold one, you’ll notice that the grip is quite long. The better to accommodate the longish 5.7×27 mm rounds. It’s awkwardly long, and it’s fat at the back, narrowing at the front. So, vaguely egg shaped, if you were to look at it from the top. Nothing else is like that, and there’s a reason for that. They could have made it a long oval like a 1911. People like that. Or even something squarish like a Glock or USP. Both of which work well for people. But no.

The trigger is awful. Apparently you’re pulling the trigger bar across the whole Sahara desert. It’s mushy, gritty, and creepy. Nothing redeeming about it.

The slide release is weird. Like everything else about the gun, it’s plastic. Or polymer. Whatever. But it gives absolutely no feedback. It doesn’t feel like it’s a lever. You press on it, and it feels like a solid molded protrusion. Until you press down like it owes you money. And then it will release the slide. It’s too small. It really doesn’t do its one job.

The safety on the Five Seven is proof that a frame mounted safety can be done extremely stupidly. It’s directly above the trigger. You can reach it with the tip of your trigger finger. Or your weak hand thumb. No one else does this. It’s unintuitive. It’s easy to engage accidentally, and engagement isn’t even positive. If anything, it’s negative. It’s everything a safety shouldn’t be.

How does it shoot? Well, recalling the time I spent on a range renting one, it’s ok. The sucky trigger made me sad. The round has good paper punching ballistics. Very flat shooting. So, that’s a plus.

At least, as long as you’re made of money. It’s an expensive pistol that shoots expensive, hard to find ammo. Terminal performance of actual rounds that have seen service is atrocious. Maybe defensible in the P90 when you can riddle the bad guy’s face with 15 in a second, but not so good for a pistol. You get 20, though, so there’s that. It’s also very loud for what it is. So it’s a poor choice for the recoil-averse, even though there’s no recoil. That bang and flash will induce flinches anyway.

I think the biggest indictment of the Five Seven is that both Fishbreath2 and I should like it, and both of us don’t. At all. It’s a hipster gun that’s ultramodern and grew out of the last years of the cold war. It’s flat shooting. It should be our favorite thing since the 9 mm Luger round. But no. It’s a super expensive curiosity. It doesn’t really do anything well that you can’t get elsewhere.

Except, I guess, be the Ultimate Status Item for drug lords. It’s got that going for it.

  1. No, I’m not going to capitalize it the way the FNH Marketing department wants. That’s stupid too. 
  2. It really is a terrible piece of kit, and something I wanted to like. I just can’t bring myself to it. The controls are awful, and I am this blog’s resident AK shooter. -Fishbreath 

Fishbreath Plays: MHRD Review

If you like puzzle games, it’s a good time to be alive. You’ve got your programming puzzle games, like Shenzhen I/O, SpaceChem, and really, the entire Zachtronics catalog; you’ve got your process optimization puzzle games, like Big Pharma and Production Line; you’ve got puzzle games of every shape, size, color, and description.

You even have, it turns out, logic puzzlers. That’s where MHRD comes in. You’re a hardware engineer for the waggishly-named Microhard, a company building the Next Big Thing in CPU design in the 1980s. You start with a single logic element: a NAND gate (for the uninitiated, that means not-and). You end up with a simple but entirely functional 16-bit CPU1, designing all the logic circuits you need along the way. Start with NAND, build the rest of the logic gates, figure out your multiplexers, demultiplexers, adders, and memory elements, put it all together into your higher-level CPU components.

It’s packaged in a fun, oldtimey DOS-style terminal editor, and unlike a lot of retro UIs, it doesn’t wear out its welcome. All your circuit design happens in a hardware description language, in an in-game editor. The editor has some foibles: it doesn’t scroll, and it only does line wrapping when adding text. On the other hand, it has a decent auto-completion engine. The hardware description language makes sense: you refer to pins and buses by name, connecting them to other pins and buses with an arrow operator. For instance, opCode->alu.opCode would connect the circuit’s opCode input to the ALU’s opCode input. Generally, the syntax is straightforward and easy to remember. Sound effects are basic; you get a background fan whir befitting an old PC, and an IBM keyboard sound effect which wears out its welcome after a while.

That’s all there is to it, which brings me to my next point. Is it good as a game? That’s a harder question to answer. It is sited in a difficult middle ground. It can’t be too freeform—given an instruction set and a CPU specification, very few people who don’t already know how could build all the necessary subcomponents. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too static, or else it feels a little too much like rote construction to the truth table for the component at issue. MHRD errs a bit too far in the latter direction. There is no real sandbox. All you’re doing is building the gates and circuits the game tells you to, in exactly that order. There’s no discovery to be had, and not a lot of freedom to design solutions in different ways. Unlike, say, Shenzhen I/O, the problems are small enough that it’s never all that unclear how to solve them.

That isn’t to say that there’s no fun to be had. If you aren’t a hardware engineer, or a software engineer with a deep interest in hardware2, you will find it fascinating how few steps it takes to get from a NAND gate to a functioning processor3. There are leaderboards, too, based on NAND counts for each element. Given that logic design is a fairly well-understood field, the NAND counts are uniformly the smallest possible number of gates required for each task, which gives you a nice target to aim for. The developer is active on his Steam forum, and seems to have more planned for the game. Given that it’s an atmospheric logic puzzle that I, an experienced software engineer, found enjoyable and educational, I think it’s worth a buy. (You may want to wait for a a sale.)

At the same time, there’s a better way. (If you’ve been reading the footnotes, you should have seen this coming.) There’s a free course out there, a Computer Science 101 sort of thing, called Nand2Tetris. As the name suggests, it’s similar to MHRD in that you’re building a CPU from a NAND gate alone. Nand2Tetris differs in two ways. First, it isn’t a game. As such, there isn’t a plot (MHRD’s is skeletal, but present), or any pretension that it’s about anything besides learning. Second, it goes a lot further. MHRD stops at the aforementioned functional CPU. The last puzzle combines the instruction decoder, the ALU, and some registers, and that’s it. It verifies your solution by running a few instructions through the CPU, and you’re done.

Nand2Tetris, as the name suggests, keeps going. After you finish the CPU, you write a compiler to generate your microcode. After you write your compiler, you write an operating system. After that, you can run Tetris. Furthermore, although you have assignments, you also have a proper sandbox. You get a hardware design language and a hardware simulator, and you can build anything you like. That, I feel, is the promise of a logic design puzzle game, and MHRD doesn’t quite deliver.

In the final reckoning, though, I say MHRD is worth the price of entry. I don’t really have the inclination to write my own compiler, and I have plenty of other software projects besides. If you’re only interested in the logic design portion, you ought to get MHRD too. If, on the other hand, you want to really understand how computers work—how the processor you built becomes the computer you use every day—try Nand2Tetris instead.

  1. It’s very similar in architecture, I understand, to the CPU designed in the Nand2Tetris course. We’ll come back to that. 
  2. Or a very good memory for that hardware class you took back in college. 
  3. Not counting the memory elements, the CPU task takes fewer than 800 NAND gates in the minimal solution. My current best is 3500. 

Battle Royale 2: M9 vs P320

Let’s compare the US Army’s old M9 to their new P320s1. I’ve got a P320F Tacops2 and Fishbreath has an M9, so we’re going to do a comparison.

We’ll start with the M9. The M9 is alloy framed, and has a double action trigger. In double action mode, the trigger has a pull weight of about 11 lbs, and in single action mode it has a pull weight of about 6 lbs. It has a frame mounted safety/decocker, a fixed forward sight, and an adjustable rear sight. The fixed front sight cannot be easily replaced with a tritium sight or a fiber optic sight.3 It does not have an underbarrel accessory rail. Side grip panels can be changed, though the grip is pretty fat.4 Small-handed users may find the safety/decocker or the trigger (in double action) hard to reach. Standard magazines come in 15 round capacity.

The P320 is polymer framed, and has a striker fired trigger. Its trigger pull is rather short and somewhat heavy at about 7.5 lbs when compared to other striker fired pistols. It is modular, and can be converted to the subcompact or compact models by swapping frame, slide, and barrel. Front and rear sights are both dovetailed, and are therefore easy to change out. There are three sizes of grip available for a given frame length, so small-handed users can find something that will work for them.

On to the direct comparison!

How do they shoot: Trigger?
This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The P320 trigger is almost like a heavy SAO trigger. It’s short. About 7.5 lbs. The M9 has that double action trigger. The P320’s will be easier to shoot well, for some given definition of “well”5. The M9 will be more resistant to negligent discharges from poor handling habits. Your preference will determine which you prefer. I have not yet met a striker fired trigger or a double action trigger that will convert those who dislike the system.

How do they shoot: Recoil?
Both are full sized guns. The M9 is heavier, so it will absorb recoil better. Not that the 9 mm is some kind of superhot round.

How do the ergonomics compare?
P320 gets the nod here. It’s newer. It’s got interchangeable frames, which you can replace for about $40. So it’s very easy to get one stippled or reshaped, or try to do so yourself. Plus, there are three sizes available (note that only the medium sized one comes in the box). The aluminum structure of the M9 frame restricts grip size somewhat. You can get thinner grip panels, but that’s about it. People with normal sized hands or larger will not have trouble with either gun. People with small hands will have an easier time getting the P320 to a place that works for them. Also, the M9’s mag release is quite low, and trickier to reach. It requires a good bit of grip shifting. Aftermarket options are available to remedy this. The P320 has a nicely sized mag release that is easy to press as it comes from the factory.

How does the aftermarket compare?
It’s a pretty mixed bag. You can find cheap mags for the M9, if you don’t mind 15 rounders. MecGar makes 18 rounders which are quite good. SIG makes 17 round (standard) and 22 round extended magazines for the P320F. There are a reasonable number of sight options available for the P320. M9 front sight work requires a drill press. Wilson Combat makes a good number of aftermarket M9 parts to improve the trigger. Only Grey Guns does P320 trigger work, and they’re annoyingly closed about such things. Only now are they starting to release parts for DIY trigger work. Overall, I think the M9 wins by a little bit, but not by much. The P320 should get better given the US Military contract. Emphasis on should. Neither is looking to give Glock a run for its money in the customization department anytime soon.

And now, it’s time for the Main Event of the Evening!

Which should you buy?
Unlike my first Battle Royale, this one is a lot harder to call. It comes down to this: Which trigger do you prefer? If you like double action triggers, buy an M9 like Fishbreath, and drive on. If you prefer striker fired triggers, buy a P320 and call it a day.

  1. At the time of writing, P320s aren’t available to the general public with thumb safeties, so mine lacks this feature. Also, I don’t like it on striker fired pistols, so I wouldn’t get one if it was available. 
  2. Comes with 22 round extended magazines, TFX front sight, and Siglite rear sights. Otherwise it’s a regular P320F. 
  3. This problem is corrected on the M9A3, which has a front sight dovetail, and sights can be changed by the user. This isn’t what the Army has though, so it’s only of interest if you’re buying one. The M9A3 is also a lot more expensive. 
  4. Also corrected in the M9A3, which uses the Vertec-type grip. 
  5. Fishbreath disagrees, providing the following remark: “Striker-fired triggers are better than a DA pistol’s double action trigger and much worse than a DA pistol’s single-action trigger.” 

Movie (and Firearms) Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Do you like action movies, dear reader?

If so, then you are in for a treat. You will like John Wick: Chapter 2. You will also like John Wick, a quiet hit from 2014, but the sequel is out now so that’s what we’ll talk about. Like a good sequel, most of what I say here also applies to the original. It is pure, cask-strength, unfiltered, undiluted action movie. There is just enough plot to justify the delightful orgy of violence and action that follows. There is a bit of worldbuilding to spice up the movie world and make it a little unique. It is its own movie, not a rehash of, say, Death Wish. And then, as they say, “Lights, camera, action!” There is nothing to get in the way. Nothing to dilute what you came to see. No sadness. No angst1. No romance. No self pity.

It is refreshing, don’t you think?

I also love the fact that John Wick: Chapter 2 is made by a group of former Second Unit cameramen. They’re used to filming fights and stunts, because that’s what the Second Camera Unit is used for. Further, they eschew that stupid “jason bourne movie” style of fight cinematography:2 they don’t zoom in on little bits of the actors clothes, or the spot the stuntman missed shaving this morning, and they don’t use lots of rapid cuts to hide the fact that none of these idiots knows how to fight. The camera is stabilized, as it should be, and it’s set back like the camera at a UFC event: out of the way of the fighters and positioned so that you can enjoy the brawl. This is why you’re here. Don’t ruin it with lame camera work.

The fight action is solid for a movie. Keanu Reeves is pretty athletic, and does a good job of selling the fight sequences. He also enjoys 3-gun, and trained with Taran Butler, shootist extraordinaire. His weapon handling was first rate, except for a bit too much of the weird Center Axis Relock thing. But so much of this movie is fun that I’m not going to nitpick. It is Hollywood, after all. They got so much right, I’ll cut them a little slack. Of course, he takes an obscene amount of damage, but he’s the protagonist. He’s supposed to never say die. This isn’t a training video, so realism has been thrown out the window.

The review of John Wick: Chapter 2 is very easy to write. A review’s job is to tell you whether or not you will enjoy a film, and thus whether or not you should go see it. If you like action movies, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s just that simple.

Of course, that’s a rather short article. Let’s talk about the guns that John Wick uses.

John Wick kits himself out with a full set of guns that have been worked over by Taran Butler’s gunsmithing company, Taran Tactical innovations (TTI). There’s a Glock 34 Combat Master, a Glock 26 Combat Master, a TR-1 AR-15 build, and a Benelli M4 that’s been worked over. In preparation for a massive gunfight as he escapes a hit, he stashes the TR-1 and the modified Benelli with a belt of shotgun shell caddies to aid his fighting escape.

The Glock 34 Combat Master package has a lightened, refinished slide, a steel guide rod, Taran’s sights, a reduced-power recoil spring, a trigger job, a magwell, and a stippled frame. The idea behind the heavy guide rod and the lightened slide is that you can reduce recoil by making the parts of the gun that move lighter and the parts that don’t move heavier. Competitive shooters have been doing this for years. The reduced-power recoil spring is designed to maximize reliability with the lightened slide. The TTI Combat Master package is a little more expensive than buying the individual components/services yourself from various other smithing services, but part of buying a package like this is that it’s a tested set, so you don’t have a bunch of tweaking to do. It’s a competitively priced package when compared to other packages. That said, sourcing the individual parts and services can work if you don’t mind some spring fiddling and have something particular in mind as for looks.

I don’t have time with a TTI Combat Master Glock (yet), but it is well reviewed among competition shooters. All of the theory is right, and Taran and his gunsmiths have likely taken the time to tune it right, or else he wouldn’t put his name on it.

He’s also got Glock magazines with the TTI basepads, which give capacity of 23 rounds per magazine.

I was really happy to see John Wick take a tricked out Glock 26 as a backup gun. It’s similar to the Combat Master Glock 34, but without the window cuts and magwell. Backup guns are often neglected by movie gunfighters. Big thumbs up from me there. See above; it’s a similar package of modifications. I will note that John Wick deploys his backup gun too early in the fight: in a hand-to-hand engagement, that is everybody’s gun until one achieves a dominant position. Gain position, then go for the gun.

The TR-1 is a solid looking AR-15. It’s got an 11.5″ barrel, BCM KMR handguard, compensator, Hiperfire trigger, BCM Gunfighter stock, ionbond-coated bolt carrier group, and a Trijicon Accupoint 1-6x scope. All solid choices. I love the KMR for light and lightish builds. The hiperfire trigger is a really good trigger choice. I’m thinking of getting one to try. I also really like the BCM gunfighter stock. It’s really cool that my parts list lined up with that of another serious builder. Anyway, it’s a great parts list.

The Accupoint optic is a solid choice. It wouldn’t be mine, but Taran seems to like and do well with them. Plus, the lack of holdover options isn’t a huge handicap at the ranges we’re talking about here or in most 3-gun competitions.

We might also note that John Wick goes for a gun with a compensator, not a suppressor. This is going to abuse everyone’s hearing in confined spaces. But his cover is blown if he’s going for the rifle, so stealth won’t help him much. Plus, the compensator will keep the muzzle on target better, so he’ll get faster follow up shots and transitions. As ever, a trade-off. I’m cool with this choice, especially since he knows what he’s doing as far as weapons handling goes.

Also note that John Wick used a pair of coupled magazines before transitioning to what he had on his belt. Coupled magazines add weight, but give you a really fast first reload. This one I don’t have enough experience with to comment on. They add weight, but if you train with them, there are gains to be had there in terms of reloads, and they’re more reliable individually than the big 60 round magazine options.

Finally, the shotgun. Shotgun handling and reloading is the hardest part of running one, but Keanu did a great job of keeping it fed, quad loading like a pro. He also had a pair of shell carriers near the ejection port, to quickly get one round in when you’re caught needing to reload. The TTI-customized M4 had an opened up loading port to make reloads easy. I’m sure the recoil system and trigger tuning are present here too. The bolt is lightened and refinished in ionbond.

Note also that the Glocks and the Benelli have some milling and refinishing done. These are the kind of things that are better outsourced unless you’re well equipped and know what you are doing or else it will look awful.

As far as arsenals go, this set gets a huge thumbs up from me. I might make a few minor preference changes, but it’s a set I’d be extremely happy with.

There are a few other weapons of note that I should comment on, aside from incidental combat pickups.

John Wick starts Chapter 2 using the same pistol he used as his primary in the first movie: the HK P30 with a compensator. This compensator is really more of a frame weight, and doesn’t have a ton of baffles or porting. It does work though. Not a lot of mods, because the P30 is a relatively new gun that’s not very popular in competitions, so it’s not going to be modded to hell and back by guys looking for an edge. It’s a great pistol though; BORTAC really likes theirs.

Late in the movie, Wick is given a Kimber 1911 (in .45) with a single seven-round magazine. And yes, he comments on only having seven bullets. I am unable to ascertain which Kimber 1911 model is used here, though it looks like a Kimber Warrior. Kimber has had some poor QC for awhile in the early 2000s. As far as I can tell from actual reports, this has gotten better recently. QC issue reports tend to be old, or hearsay of old issues. Not that this isn’t something to be aware of, but their current body of work is good. Price is in line with the rest of the 1911 market. Also, their service is very good.

Plus, while we’re talking hearsay examples with small sample sizes, one of the guys in pistol 2 had a Kimber 1911 in .45 and it ran great. He also shot really well with it.

  1. Thank God. 
  2. Again, thank God. I always hated that modern “ghetto documentary” style of camerawork, especially when there’s fighting to be done. I want to see it. Of course, the reason for shakycams zoomed in to the limit is to hide the fact that they have a bunch of men who can’t fight trying to sell me on a punch. 

Fishbreath Flies: DCS AJS 37 Viggen Review

Leatherneck Simulations is at it again: a 1970s aircraft modeled in loving detail. Once more, we get a plane which has virtues beyond accuracy. Leatherneck’s DCS Viggen has heart.

I’ve written about the Viggen’s history already, so if your first thought is, “Why should I care?”, there’s your answer. With that out of the way, we can move onto the plane itself.

Digital Combat Simulator made huge strides on this front with the release of its new rendering engine in 2015; Leatherneck has proven itself well above average at the graphical side of DCS module development. The MiG-21 was a work of art, and the Viggen is perhaps even more so. The external model is well done, and seems perfectly realistic to me1. The real artistry comes inside the cockpit, though. Flip on the battery and the low pressure fuel pump, and the master warning lights (labeled HUVUDSVARNING, because Swedish) come on, bathing the cockpit in a luminous flashing red. Turn them off and get through the rest of the startup checklist, then turn the radar on. The CRT casts its eerie green CRT glow over everything, and seems to glow with the inner light all displays of its type do.

Beyond the superb lighting effects, the cockpit also has the weathered feel you would expect from twenty-year-old airframes. (Remember, the AJ 37 Viggen is a 1970 plane; the AJS 37 Viggen is the 1990s update). It isn’t dingy, but it does look and feel as though it’s been used, and that adds tremendously to the plane’s character.

We come now to perhaps the best part of the Viggen: its sound design. Although the DCS engine may not do very well at exterior sounds for any plane, Leatherneck has still managed to make the flyby sound meaty, especially in afterburner. In-cockpit, the state of things is much better. Turn on the AC power, and the computer’s fans spin up with a sound that reminds me of my childhood machines. The master warning alarm has the same warmth to it as the light does. Later, the insistent chirp of the radar warning receiver gives way to the thunder of the afterburner, growing deeper by stages as the throttle clicks past its detents through the three afterburner power bands.

Sound is an important and underrated component to immersion in sims. The Viggen gets it spot-on. It’s good as any sim I’ve played to date.

Systems and weapons
The Viggen flies a mission profile rather out of favor in today’s world: interdiction. That is, it’s designed to fly at ludicrously high speeds and ludicrously low altitudes, carrying a wingload of bombs, rockets, or rudimentary guided weapons. It gets to its target, pops up at the last minute to aim its weapons, makes one pass, and heads home.

This is reflected in its design: the canarded double delta makes quite a bit of low-speed lift, but it does so inefficiently. The Viggen is happiest in its native habitat: Mach numbers greater than 0.6, altitudes lower than 500 meters above the ground. It does not fit into the low-intensity COIN world of DCS nearly so well as (say) the A-10C, the Ka-50, or even the Su-25. The weapons fit requires you to know where your target is, and even the air pressure at the target’s location. All of this (except for the air pressure) must be programmed into the computer ahead of time, or using the wee six-digit input display while flying.

So, don’t expect to do much loitering, waiting for JTAC, and dropping bombs precisely. Even if it was more straightforward, the Viggen has very little facility for dropping quantities of its weapons smaller than ‘all’. Only guided missiles fire one at a time.

Having introduced this section with an extended ramble, let me get back on point for a paragraph. The systems modeling feels right to me. I’m not an expert on Swedish systems of the 1970s and 1990s, but everything feels plausible enough, modulo some early-access issues Leatherneck is working through in weekly patches. Notable fun items include the overwhelmingly programmable RB-15 anti-ship missile, the BK-90 totally-not-a-low-altitude-cluster-JDAM, and the RB-05A manually-guided missile (easier to use than it sounds). The air-to-ground mapping radar works as expected; that is to say, it’s very cool, albeit with the confusing wrinkle that green means no radar return and black means return.

There are some ongoing issues with rearming, as well as some others involving weapons and multiplayer, but I’m confident Leatherneck will be able to get those squared away.

On to the most subjective point! Is it fun?

Yes. Yes it is.

The design of the HUD, with few numbers and lots of indicator lines, makes you feel like you’re flying a Swedish X-Wing, and the rest of the cockpit supports that impression. As the treetops zip by at four hundred knots, and the waypoint distance line on the HUD shrinks to indicate you’re closing in on your target, you can just picture yourself hurtling down the Death Star trench.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Viggen’s mission profile makes for a certain sense of rising anticipation as you speed toward your target. Do you know that stereotypical scene from adventure movies, the one where the sun inches toward a bejeweled staff placed just so, or the one where some narrator is speaking while an orrery clicks toward planetary alignment? Everything is building toward a single moment, and then, bam—the payoff. The sun sparkles off the jewel and lights up the model of the city below, the orrery’s planets align. That’s the feel of a Viggen mission done correctly. Your range-to-target dial—and it is a dial; the Viggen may be computerized, but it isn’t that computerized—ticks down toward zero. You pull up, catching a glimpse of your target as you do. You roll onto it, lining up the sighting mark in the HUD, and then, bam. You pull the trigger and your weapons strike home. There’s the payoff.

It’s tremendously exciting.

I recommend the Viggen wholeheartedly, based on its production values and on the sheer thrill I get out of flying it. I offer the following two caveats, though. First, it’s an early access product; more importantly, it’s an early access DCS product. There are still plenty of gremlins. Second, if you’re a multiplayer-primary player, be warned that there are several bugs and several usability issues to contend with. Even with those caveats, though, it’s an excellent aircraft, and I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed with your purchase.

  1. I don’t count rivets, though. 

Review: ETS 22-round Glock magazines

For a while I didn’t understand the point of aftermarket Glock magazines. Factory Glock magazines are really cheap. Factory Glock magazines are reliable. Saving a couple bucks on some other brand’s magazine didn’t make sense to me. And that was before I read a ton of unfavorable reviews about crappy Korean-made aftermarket mags and others that don’t work.

Then I found these ETS magazines. They’ve gotten generally positive reviews, and have a lot of things going for them. They seem to actually work for people. And they come in more sizes than the Glock standard 17 round and 33 round massively large magazine for full size pistols. I bought a few 22-round (9mm) magazines to see for myself what they were like.

On the ETS website, you will notice that they not only makes the 33-round “Happy Sticks” and the standard magazine sizes (17 rounds for full size, 15 for compact, 10 for subcompact, various reduced-load variants for evil communist hippie states), but they also make magazines targeted at competitive shooters. If you shoot Limited division in USPSA or Practical division in 3-gun nation, your pistol magazines must have a height less than 141.25 mm (colloquially referred to as “140 mm magazines”). USPSA Open division shooters are limited to mags that are less than 171.25 mm tall (colloquially referred to as “170 mm magazines”). Happily, ETS highlights in the product name their 140 mm and 170 mm compliant offerings. For the record, their 140 mm magazines hold 22 rounds of 9 mm, and their 170 mm magazines hold 27 rounds of 9 mm.1

The magazines themselves are made out of transparent, smoke-colored plastic. There’s no metal liner like on factory Glock mags. The ETS mags seem durable enough to me, but I haven’t driven over them or used them for many years yet. Transparent is nice because it lets you see and count your bullets, no matter how you pull the mag out of the gun. Also, they look really cool. In terms of guts, they take the same followers and the same sort of springs as standard Glock magazines. Clearly these are longer, so you’d want longer springs. But if you wanted to replace them with Wolff extra power Glock magazine springs, no problem. Also, the floorplates are the same design as factory Glock magazine floorplates. So if you want more weight to help them drop free better, you can add any existing aftermarket metal “+0” floorplate for Glock magazines.

I experienced no problems in my use of these magazines. I could load 22 rounds, as advertised. I had no trouble inserting fully loaded magazines, or getting empty magazines to drop free. The slide locked back appropriately on an empty magazine. There were no feeding problems to report.

I did not “stress test” these magazines by stomping them in mud or driving over them. I did drop them onto concrete a couple times fully loaded, and they didn’t explode. I’d expect them to be more durable than factory mags with extenders, because they don’t have to deal with a join in the middle of the body.

I’ve also had a bit of time with Magpul’s Glock magazines. I experienced no reliability problems with those in class (though they belonged to another shooter so I did not use them for the whole class). I cannot speak to the long-term durability of either. However, the Magpul magazines don’t have any of the little convenience features that endeared me to the ETS magazines. They are opaque, and have many fewer witness holes than stock Glock magazines. They do not clearly confirm the height of their magazines on their website. They also use a different floorplate design. The price difference isn’t really anything significant, so I’d take the ETS magazines over the Magpul ones.

ETS extended magazines are a great choice for competitive shooters and those looking for more bullets in the magazine. They are longer than stock magazines2, but if you want to conceal them, feel free to try to figure out a way to make that work. They’re a hell of a lot cheaper than a factory mag and an aftermarket extender, and provide about as many bullets, with none of the breaking on drop issues.

  1. I shoot 9 mm because I’m a “tactical timmy” and I like more bullets. Plus 9 mm is cheap, and just as effective with good defensive ammo. If you take your pistol competition more seriously than I, you probably are interested in the .40 versions, since it’s a lot easier to make Major power factor with .40. The 140 mm ETS magazines hold 19 rounds of .40, and the 170 mm ETS magazines hold 24 rounds of .40. 
  2. DUH. 

Book (Series) Review: The U.S. Army in World War II — European Theater of Operations

I have a number of these volumes. They are published by the Whitman Publishing Company, though the originals were published by the US Army’s Military History Department. They are a staff-officer level view of the war. They provide an excellent battalion-and-above level perspective. Discussion of command decisions, command reasoning, politics, and large scale maneuvers is handled well. The author, Martin Blumenson, is also good at covering logistical matters, which is a very important side of war that few bother with.

As fitting a staff level account, the maps in the text are first rate. They are very clear and carefully reproduced. These are not crude, cheaply printed duplicates. However, the maps within chapters are somewhat sparse. We might expect more within the text, but the back of the book has something better: color gatefold maps.

That’s not a delusion or an ungodly typo. I’ll write it again.


I’ve never seen any other book do this. Each volume in the set has approximately twenty (20! That’s Two-Zero!) full-color, fold-out maps at the back for your analytical pleasure. Now you feel like you’re sitting in a warmer, nicer version of SHAEF. You can see terrain features and force depositions like never before. It’s spectacular. And yes, the text has inline references to the maps, which are numbered for your convenience. This is the best way to get a great mental image of the campaigns of the European Theater of Operations.

All that said, these are very much in the old-school of history writing. Unless someone gets a mention in dispatches, individual soldiers on the front line do not get called out. And we do not get the perspective of individual soldiers at the front lines. That is not the objective of these works. As I mentioned before, they’re oriented to the staff level, and they do not deviate from that.

The series comes highly recommended, whether they are list price or on sale.

Fishbreath Plays Total War: Warhammer

I fear we are too late.

Under the High King’s banner, we drove the grobi scum out of the halls of our ancestors. We chased them through the badlands and put them to the az, and now they will never trouble us again. Our diplomats traveled the whole of the world, drawing together the karaks and reforging the alliances of old. We stood side by side with men for the first time in a thousand years.

But while we looked south, Chaos fell on the world from the north. Kislev fell. Nordland teeters on the brink. Men fought men in the Empire’s heartland, and now tendrils of darkness reach the very gates of Altdorf.

The High King looks north now. Umgi and dawi alike are united under his command. So we march to the lands of men, az in hand, to face those who would bring about the end of all things—servants and champions of the dark gods.

The Empire is a shadow of its old self. The Wood Elves still make war on all who stand for order. Their stubbornness may yet doom us all. We are the world’s last hope.

– Elmador Oathforged

Warhammer is an excellent setting for storytelling.

You should need no further convincing, but in the event you do, let me elaborate. From its rather humble beginnings as a miniatures wargame, Warhammer Fantasy Battles1 developed a world full of timeless themes for war stories: dramatic final stands against insurmountable odds, the evil horde sweeping through the world to eradicate all that is good and right, brave men standing athwart the tide.

Total War games are story generators. Perhaps they aren’t as effective in that role as Crusader Kings 2, but they nevertheless make interesting alternate histories. Note I say ‘interesting’, as in, ‘huh, that’s interesting’, and not ‘compelling’, as in, ‘I cannot wait to see where this goes next’. Previous Total War games were interesting, but not compelling. Factions aren’t all that different, generals are more or less interchangeable, your enemies are the ones next to you, and your territory is whatever you can take.

Not so much in Total War: Warhammer. Factions are very different—some depend on siege weapons, some depend on strong infantry, some depend on movement and trickiness, and all feel almost like different games. Generals have a deep skill tree, and that helps to turn them from collections of bits into characters. (I didn’t even have to start the game to look up General Oathforged’s name.) Your enemies may be across the world. Chaos, remember, comes out of the north, and the dwarfs start in the south. You can’t take territory willy-nilly, either. Most factions have some territorial restrictions. Dwarfs, for instance, can only occupy territory which was originally dwarfen: the settlements in the central plains are right out, but old dwarfen settlements occupied by the greenskins are fair game.

Ultimately, though, the thing Total War: Warhammer has over previous Total War games is its setting. It probably isn’t quite correct to say that everyone knows Warhammer, but a lot of people know Warhammer. There are more people familiar with Warhammer, I would say, than the 18th-century history of the Netherlands2. Even if the numbers were equal, the Warhammer setting is a fictional setting. By their very nature, fictional settings generate stories more easily than historical ones. This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting stories out of the Netherlands’ exploits in the 1800s—just that they aren’t as memorable or as frequent as the stories out of the dawi’s fight against the grobi, or the Empire’s strife with its neighbors, or the coming together of all the civilized peoples to stand against Chaos.

So, when compared to other Total War games, Total War: Warhammer has much deeper emotional impact because of its setting. Game systems reinforce this: I’m not just fighting a war of conquest, I’m fighting wars of conquest to rebuild the Karaz Ankor and reclaim what was lost to dwarfkind thousands of years ago. Or, I’m not just beating up on my neighbors to take their stuff, I’m beating up on my neighbors because they are to the south, they won’t stop fighting me until they’re defeated, Chaos is to the North, and the Empire is the first and best line of defense against the Ruinous Powers. Or, I’m not just swarming up out of the badlands because I’m looking for a scrap—well, okay. Maybe the greenskins aren’t the best example, but even if they do fight just for the sake of fighting, they have a reason for it. It’s what they do: beat up on anyone small enough to take a beating, then find the next biggest thing, rinse, and repeat.

That, in my opinion, is what previous Total War games were missing, and what Total War: Warhammer has in spades: context.

To hit on a few final, technical notes, battles play quickly, moreso than even the relatively quick games in recent Total War history, but the factions are varied, tactics are interesting, and the AI has a great sense for cavalry flanking maneuvers. The Creative Assembly finally got to cut loose and have some fun, and it shows here. Presentation is generally superb all around; the writers nailed the Warhammer feel, and the art design follows along. There are some spectacular battle maps, too.

Really, it’s the perfect union of theme and mechanics. I’m glad it took this long to happen, because they got it very right. Ordinarily, when I’m looking forward to a game, I build up a picture in my head of what it’ll be like. That picture is usually not altogether accurate, so when the game finally comes out, there’s a time of adjustment. The game may not be bad, but it isn’t what I’m expecting, and so in a sense, I’m disappointed. I never had that feeling with Total War: Warhammer: it is everything I had hoped it would be. If you like games that generate stories, the Total War formula, or Warhammer, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl.

  1. May it ride eternal, shiny and chrome!
  2. Fun fact: your author’s next favorite Total War game is Empire, because he likes to be contradictory.