MRE Quirks

The American MRE is the standard ration for the US armed forces, and is also frequently deployed as aid to areas affected by natural disaster. The MRE came with some interesting innovations when it was introduced in 1981, and many of these have spread to other nations’ rations. Let’s take a look.

Calorie Accounting
The contents of one MRE, as you might have gathered from the name, are intended to be one meal. Or, one third of a soldier’s calorie and nutrient needs for one battle day. One entree, one side, one powdered off-brand Gatorade clone, etc. Most other nations’ rations are accounted for by day. So one package contains two or three entrees, three sides, maybe a snack. I have no idea where this difference came from. Maybe it’s a metric/imperial thing.

Retort Pouches
The classic ration uses cans to store the various components. This is pretty common among older rations, and is still popular today. Cans are pretty old school and easy to make. You can heat things up right in the can, and they can be used to make all kinds of improvised stuff. The MREs are different, using retort pouches to store food instead of cans. A retort pouch is a pouch made from layers of metal foil and various plastics. Food can still be heated up in them, either by immersing them in hot water or with the ration heater. They’re still sealed, just like cans. They weigh less than cans. They don’t make a clanking sound when a bunch bang around in a pack on a long march. Oh, and they require less energy to make. Although these are slowly spreading, especially among the Commonwealth nations, I don’t know why these aren’t more popular. Retort pouches rock.

Ration Heater
Everybody provides some means to heat the food in their rations. Usually, it’s a knockoff Esbit stove with some fuel tabs and matches. It’s fire. Fire is good. But fire leaves obvious traces. So the US military did what it usually does, and came up with a solution. The result is the flameless ration heater. No visible flame. No smoke. It’s a plastic pouch with some magnesium, iron, and salt in it. Add water, and it’ll get really hot. Hot enough to heat your rations. The spec says it’ll heat an 8 ounce ration entree item up by 100 °F in twelve minutes. They’re a really neat little piece of equipment, and lots of fun to play around with. They’re also super easy to use. I really like the flameless ration heater.

The Tabasco bottle
An offshoot of the program to improve MRE menus is including a small bottle of Tabasco sauce. The Army, after spending millions1, finally figured out that being able to control how spicy a dish was played a big factor in how much people enjoyed a dish. So they added a small bottle of Tabasco2 sauce to some, but not all, of the MRE menus. Progress. All that said, while I really like this idea, it would be better if it was in all of the menus.


  1. They could have grabbed a few chefs, or even a few diner cooks, interviewed them over a few beers and gotten the exact same information. But leave it to Big Army to do it the spendy way. 
  2. Actual, name brand Tabasco sauce! Unlike most things in an MRE, this is a brand you’ll recognize, not some knock-off. 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W USPSA Limited Match Report

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll no doubt remember my project gun from last winter, a CZ P-09 in .40 set up for USPSA Limited. You can read about the process here, or carry on to the next paragraph, where I’ll sum up the changes.

The Changes, Summed Up

The C-Zed, as I’ve been calling it, looks pretty much like a CZ P-09 externally. The only notable change is the Dawson Precision sights, a blacked-out rear unit and a fiber-optic front sight. As I’ve repeatedly complained, they may be Dawson sights, but they sure aren’t Precision. It took half an hour of filing to get the rear sight in, and because Dawson uses the least-stainless steel they can get their hands on, it’s already rusty less than a year in. Hopefully the Rustoleum in the garage will take care of it.

Internally, most of the original parts are gone in favor of Cajun Gun Works gubbins. The upshot is that the trigger, in single-action mode, is crisp, resets quickly, and weighs in at about 2.5 pounds. That’s in the ballpark of tuned 1911 trigger weights, although 1911 triggers are admittedly better in other dimensions. You’ll also note magazine extensions and a magazine well funnel, courtesy CZ Custom. On the belt, the gun rides in a race holster from Cook’s, with a Tek-Lok attachment thing1.

The Match

The match in question was at a local Western Pennsylvania gun club, and featured six stages. The first two were both hoser stages to one degree or another, with a large number of close-in targets, and a focus on leaning around barriers to hit targets otherwise inaccessible. Since I’m a young buck by the standard of the average club-level competitive shooter, the leaning and running plays to my advantage, as does the ability, when presented with a close target, to shove the gun in its direction and pull the trigger twice really fast. The next two were a bit more cerebral, with longer-range targets and some arrays which could be attacked from multiple positions. The last two were classifiers or classifier-like stages: a two-position classifier with six paper targets, and a three-string Virginia count stage with some strong hand only and weak hand only shooting.

Notes from the Range

The CZ’s trigger, as mentioned, is now pretty darned good. I can pull it twice really fast. As such, I set a new personal best for hit factor on the very first stage I shot in Limited2. I set my prior hit factor record of 6.34 on a no-movement burn-it-down classifier stage with the M9. On a move-and-shoot stage with 16 targets3, I ran the CZ to a 6.35. In fact, on three of the six stages, I notched hit factors greater than 5, which corresponds to an average of about one hit to the center of a target per second4. Although I made a mental error on the classifier stage, I was still fast enough to score a C rating, which is always my baseline goal for a new gun or division.

In general, I scored sufficiently well to beat a Production shooter I’m usually neck and neck with. Some of that may have to do with the more generous scoring for major power factor5. We’ll look into that a bit later with the match results.

I did run into one problem, which is most likely a shooter issue more than a gun issue. One-handed shooting is an old nemesis of mine. In this case, it wasn’t that the shooting was hard6, it was that the CZ repeatedly failed to feed, slowing me down and throwing off my place-keeping on the Virginia count7 stage. I suspect I was simply not giving it enough locked wrist and elbow, which I intend to verify at the range, or the next match if I can’t make it out to shoot before then.

Turning now to the belt and holster, I am entirely satisfied. The cheapo Midway belt is entirely up to the task of holding up a loaded CZ and spare magazines. The one downside is that, between the inner and outer belts, it’s quite fat, which reduces the amount of room you get for offsets.

The holster, the competition kydex model from Cook’s, did its job, besides the afore-footnoted out-of-spec offset. (That’s on me, anyway.) The adjustable retention did its job; the gun comes out buttery-smooth, but the holster still grips it enough to keep it from falling out. I’d be interested in a drop-only piece with no offset and maybe a bit of reverse cant, but such a thing does not appear to exist. On the other hand, kydex sheeting is cheap, and a simple drop is going to be pretty straightforward to fabricate. A project for the future, perhaps.

Conclusions

Match Performance

Lastly, let’s talk match results. How did I do, both overall and compared to other comparable shooters with Limited widebody 1911s? Did I perform meaningfully better than I did with my Production gun, accounting for the difference in scoring?

Overall, I placed 52nd of 92 shooters, a middle-of-the-pack finish, which isn’t surprising. I’m very much a middle-of-the-pack shooter. Since last summer was pretty busy, and the last match I shot last year was all classifier stages, we have to go back to May 2017 to find a comparable match: club-level competition, a single classifier, and a number of longer stages. In that match, I was 32nd of 40, scoring 34.37% compared to the match winner. This time, I scored 59.59%. If I hadn’t scored a goose egg on one of the stages, I likely would have come in ahead of a pair of Open shooters in my squad.

How about in my division? Surprisingly, despite blowing a stage altogether, I still managed 14th out of 30 Limited shooters8. I scored 65% of the Limited winner’s points. I’d have to cross-check more closely than I have time to, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the widebody 1911 shooters beat me, which is to be expected. Most of them have been doing this for more than one season. Again, if I had managed some points on my zero stage, I might well have moved up as high as 11th.

Scientific Testing

Now, though, we come to the interesting mathematical part. How good is my gun? How much better is it than my Beretta? Well, we can compare hit factors. My hit factor over the entire match with the CZ was 4.049. My hit factor over the comparable match with the M9 was 2.47. Clearly, the CZ is the winner!

Not so fast. The CZ benefits from major scoring. If we rescore my CZ match with minor scoring, my hit factor drops to 3.6810. In addition to the fascinating result that major power factor is worth about 10% over minor, this suggests that the CZ is definitely better than the Beretta.

Just a minute, though! I’m most likely a much better shooter in April 2018 than I was in May 2017, by dint of focused practice and a number of matches. What we really need is a benchmark. Which we have. We’ll call him L. He also shoots USPSA in western Pennsylvania, and last year, when I was shooting in Production with him, we were neck and neck through several matches. Luckily, L was at the match last weekend, still shooting Production. Presumably, he’s also been improving. So, his full-match hit factor? 3.22.

Worth It?

At this point, I think I’m finally comfortable saying the CZ improves on the Beretta by somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 points per second, independent of more generous scoring as well as my changing competence. Of course, that figure is mainly of academic interest. “This gun is better, independent of the conditions in which it’s used,” is not a statement with a lot of practical application. The true test was this: with the CZ, am I faster than the people that I should be faster than? The answer is yes. The CZ passes with flying colors. As poor-man’s-Limited guns go, I think you’d have a hard time doing better11.


  1. I bought it with a drop-offset bit between the Tek-Lok thing and the holster, which drops the gun to a questionably legal height—the back of the magazine funnel just barely clears the top of my belt—and offsets it to a flagrantly illegal three or three and a half inches from the inner belt. Oops. Happily, the local match let me off with a warning. 
  2. USPSA scoring is a bit arcane even to the initiated. It goes like this. For each stage, you have a number of points based on where you hit your targets (up to a maximum of 5), and a time. Your hit factor is simply your points divided by your time. (It’s easier to think of it as points per second.) Each stage is worth a certain number of match points. The shooter with the best hit factor on a stage gets the full amount of match points from it. Other shooters get a percentage of the full amount of match points, based on the ratio of their hit factors to the fastest shooter’s. 
  3. All else being equal, a longer stage is harder to score a high hit factor on than a shorter one. In particular, a longer stage requires reloads and movement. 
  4. This is a little misleading, because there’s usually some dead time in moving and reloading. 
  5. Power factor: the weight of the bullet in grains, multiplied by the velocity in feet per second, divided by 1000. Greater than 165 (one way to get there is a 165-grain bullet at 1000 feet per second) is major. Less than that is minor. Minor scores 5 for an A zone hit, 3 for a B/C zone hit, and 1 for a D zone hit. Major scores 5/4/2. 
  6. Well, it was hard, but that wasn’t the issue. 
  7. Virginia count is a scoring mechanism where you’re penalized for extra shots and extra hits. 
  8. Many of whom were shooting minor, however, especially those who didn’t score as well as me. Out of the thirty shooters, four minor shooters scored ahead of me, and only three major shooters scored behind me. Read on, however, to see how big an advantage that actually is. (I don’t know yet. I haven’t written it up.) 
  9. The numbers in the next few paragraphs ignore misses and penalties, because, for a given stage, online-scoring system Practiscore only reports the raw point totals, ignoring misses, no-shoots, and procedurals. As long as I calculate everything the same way, I think the comparison is still valid, even given the different reloading requirements. 
  10. I’m going to ignore reloads here. On any legal USPSA stage, the Production magazine limit doesn’t really matter; you can reload while moving between arrays. 
  11. If parvusimperator ever wants to try a Limited Glock, we might see how wrong I am. 

Mk 153 SMAW

In the early 1980s, the Marines were looking into light antitank weapons. They had the M72 LAW and the AT4, both of which were solid disposeable rocket launchers. However, they were limited to a single warhead type, and Vietnam had showed the utility of reusable systems, like the old recoilless rifles. So they went shopping. They settled on a variant of the B-300 rocket launcher, originally developed in Israel. A number of changes were made, resulting in the Mk. 153 SMAW.

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Sweden Chooses an MBT: Looking back at the ’94 contest

Yes, it’s been about 24 years since Sweden made its choice. And it’s no secret that they ended up going with a variant of the Leopard 2A5 with improved armor (or, more technically, an armor package that was proposed but the Germans didn’t opt for because of budget cuts). But I found a presentation on the trials, complete with previously-classified armor comparisons. The comparisons are twenty four years old, but they’re actual hard data, and I love data. No guesstimates here.

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Competition Meets Tactical: SOCOM and the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x

I love competition shooting, and I love modern military gear. Sometimes, the two worlds collide, and I always find such events fascinating. Let’s take a look at optics used on carbines.

Right now, the gold standard, go-to optic for three gun shooters is the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x. It provides excellent glass clarity, 6x magnification for long shots, a simple reticle that’s easy to work with, a wide field of view, a very forgiving eyebox, and a bright center dot for close-in stages all at a price point much more reasonable than a lot of its competitors. When it came out, it undercut the previous standard (the Swarovski Z6i 1-6X) by about $1,000, and money saved is ammo to practice with. Between the glass quality and the eyebox, on 1x it works a lot like a red dot, and the scope body basically disappears.

There’s always a catch though, and the catch for the Razor is the weight. It weighs 25 ounces, about ten ounces more than the Z6i. And that’s not including a mount for either. With a mount, you’re looking at almost two pounds of weight added to your gun. For 3-gun, it doesn’t matter, because stages aren’t that long. You shoot, dump your gun, move on. And lots of guys have a carrier for all their stuff when they’re not running through a stage.

The weight sucks to carry, but that’s also a lot of capability. SOCOM also loves the Razor. They love it so much they had Geissele make them a mount for that exact scope. It really fills a need that they’ve been looking to fix for a while: to get the benefits of a red dot and magnification in one optic.

Red dots are great, because they simplify aiming. Dot goes on the target, shoot. There are no sights to align. And because of the way the human eye perceives the dot, it appears in the same focal plane as the target. So you can maintain a target focus and still get accurate hits.

The only downside to dots is that they don’t give you any magnification. Aimpoint red dot optics were in use as early as Operation Gothic Serpent,1 where it quickly became clear that the one shortcoming of the dot was that it didn’t help with target identification. If a terrorist is in a crowd, he probably is dressed like everybody else, and magnification helps spot the small differences that give him away. An ACOG sight will help with this, but it’s got fixed magnification, and a tight eyebox, so it’s going to be slower than a red dot.

The Razor gives you all the benefits of both, plus enough durability to withstand the lousy operating environments and abuse that soldiers tend to inflict on their gear, all at a reasonable cost.2 The only penalty is weight.3 And that’s a price they’re willing to pay.


  1. I.e. “Black Hawk Down” over in Mogadishu. 
  2. I don’t know what Uncle Sam gets his for, but on the civilian market a Razor HD Gen II can be had for about the same price as a 4x ACOG. 
  3. When mounted in Geissele’s excellent mount, about 30 oz. or 1.88 lbs. 

The Opinionated Bastards: Nox (Feb. 1, 3052)

Nox

The Rasalhague JumpShip leaves us on Nox, a pleasantly temperate world with some defensive forces still in place. It’s one world back from the front, at least for now.

The Action of January 25, 3052

Intelligence and preparation are classic Inner Sphere advantages over the Clans. This time around, the Rasalhague reconnaissance and intelligence forces give us a week’s worth of advance notice of Clan light forces arriving in our sector.

WIth time to set up, Drake and Teddy Bear hit on a plan: hide Drake’s Destroyers nearby, and dangle the Bruisers out front as bait. It ends up being a little more complicated than that—the projected course for the Clan force takes them through a badlands with next to no cover—but after disguising the Destroyers’ mechs as small hillocks, we settle in to wait.

Sure enough, the Clanners show up a few days later, tripping some remote sensors we’ve placed a few kilometers ahead. A few minutes pass, Drake wakes up his pilots and has them wake up their mechs, and before you know it, we’ve managed to bring twice the Clanners’ tonnage to the field.

The battlefield is open badlands, with no cover to speak of and very little relief to the terrain. This will benefit the Clans at first, whose weapons have absurd reach, but will swing around to helping us as we close in.

Round 1

001-deployed

We march from our deployment zone southward, taking desultory fire from a pair of ER PPCs and an ER Large Laser. Hanzoku, unluckily, takes a PPC to his arm.

Round 2

Carcer in the Flashman takes a few hits, but her armor is holding. Once again, we’re mostly out of weapons range. Next round should be better.

Round 3

Drake is still out of range, but will be able to bring the Clanners under fire next round. Most everyone else can hit the enemy Ryoken, the heaviest unit on the field. (The Pumas, however, with their twin ER PPCs, are probably more dangerous.)

Hanzoku scores the Bastards’ first hit; unfortunately, Severe and her Locust take a hammering and fall down. Hopefully they’ll leave her be.

002-locust-under-fire

Round 4

003-out-of-range
The green line is the extent of Drake‘s PPC range.

The Clanner scum squeak just outside of Drake‘s range. Happily, Severe manages to stand, so she’ll have a shot at running away if she doesn’t take too much more damage.

The Bastards’ shockingly poor gunnery continues, and Severe‘s Locust, alas, falls. She ejects, landing well away from the battlefield.

Round 5

Most of the Clanners continue to juke just beyond Drake‘s range; they rightly consider him the biggest threat on the field. The Ryoken, however, stays within his reach. He lines up and thumbs the triggers, along with nearly everyone else.

In the meantime, the reast of our mechs are getting closer, where the superior Clan technology doesn’t tell nearly as much. (An Inner Sphere mech fist punches just as hard as a Clan fist.)

While most everyone focuses on the Ryoken, Hanzoku and Teddy square off against the nearest Koshi, a Clan 25-tonner.

004-alas-poor-locust

The enemy Ryoken falls on its side after taking two hits from Drake‘s PPCs, and some miscellaneous hits from other units. Hanzoku trades fire with the Koshi, and flubs a piloting check after taking a number of hits. He falls, and his large laser is out of commission.

Round 6

Woad leads a pair of Phoenix Hawks (one of them is Private Hernandez, one is our liaison) toward the Clan flank. Embarrassingly, Carcer slips as she enters the rubble pile pictured. (Needed: 3 or better. Rolled: 2. On 2d6.) Hanzoku, too, fails an easy piloting roll, and slips as he’s standing up.

005-fallen-hanzoku

The enemy Koshi closes in, taking another crack at Hanzoku. Teddy is there, hopefully to kick it in the back.

006-shoot-the-koshi

Drake scores three solid hits on the Ryoken, cutting deep into its center torso.

Round 7

007-koshi-flanking

Drake looks to finish the job, firing another three-PPC barrage at the Ryoken. The Koshi comes up on his flank; Teddy and Hanzoku will angle to keep him safe.

Pepper in the Archer is looking a little unsteady; there are a few enemies pointing weapons at him. He may have to fall back.

Drake does indeed finish the job on the Ryoken, with an assist from Carcer and her pair of large lasers. During the physical attack phase, he brings his Awesome’s battle fist around in a sweeping arc, slamming into the Koshi’s cockpit. Somehow, its armor holds, but it’s looking decidedly worse for the wear.

Round 8

008-archer-dying

Alarms go off in Pepper‘s cockpit, as his Archer takes internal damage. He throttles his mech up to a run, hoping to throw off the Clanners’ aim.

Much of the rest of the lance focuses on one of the Puma Primes, whose aforementioned PPCs are causing us no end of trouble. Behind Drake, the dogged Koshi moves into position for another attack with its machine guns and flamer. Hanzoku and Teddy are there, ready with both weapons and their mechs themselves.

Drake‘s PPCs hammer one of the damaged Pumas, shredding its torso armor. Carcer follows up with a shot into the structure, punching through its core and knocking it down.

Though Teddy and Hanzoku don’t manage many hits with their weapons, their physical attacks finish it off. Teddy kicks off its left leg, and Hanzoku kicks off its right leg.

Round 9

Pepper takes a few more hits, one of which knocks out an LRM-15 and comes perilously close to his ammo storage. He turns around, presenting his rear torso armor to the enemy, which is in much better shape than his front. He’ll try to get to safety behind what little terrain there is.

Hanzoku and Teddy are out of the fight for the moment, but thanks to their jump jets, they can hopscotch their way south and back into the thick of things.

Bear’s Bruisers have had the worst of it this go round, down two mechs—Severe‘s dead Locust, and Pepper‘s heavily damaged Archer. As such, the only forces in the south are our liaison in the Phoenix Hawk, Hernandez in the all-energy Phoenix Hawk, Woad in the Grasshopper, and Carcer in the Flashman. All are in pretty good shape, and the numbers will only go further in our favor.

Round 10

009-fenris-faceoff

Woad boldly challenges the enemy Fenris face to face. Drake fires his PPC’s over the Grasshopper’s shoulder, hoping to support his lancemate. The rest of the Bastards will focus on the Puma-C nearest our forces.

Carcer once again scores solid hits on the enemy, slicing off the Puma-C’s arm with a large laser hit. The liaison Phoenix Hawk is looking a little unsteady, but stays on its feet.

Woad‘s challenge doesn’t really pay off; the Fenris hits him much harder than he hits it.

Round 11

Jockeying for position, the Bastards surround the damaged Puma-C, while Woad continues to bravely face off aginst the Fenris.

Teddy shows the value of his refit Vulcan, hitting with the Puma with four medium lasers and notching the kill.

Woad‘s bravery continues to fail to pay off; he falls under sustained fire from the Fenris.

Round 12

Woad runs for it; he’s taken some fairly heavy damage, and is notably low on head armor. The enemy Puma still has a shot at him, but Drake, in turn, has a shot at it, and a very good chance to hit with all three PPCs.

Woad takes hits from both the Fenris and the Puma, but lives to tell the tale, albeit with heavy damage and alarms blaring in his cockpit. Hanzoku scores on the Fenris by blowing up its engine, after Hernandez shot out its torso armor and heavily damaged its engine.

011-grasshopper-armor

Cleanup

With only one Clan mech left, the battered Bastards line up and prepare to bring it down. Woad‘s Grasshopper, still clinging to life, survives a jump jet maneuver out of the Puma’s line of fire. Hernandez gets the kill to close out the mission.

After the battle, Hanzoku and Teddy flip for the right to claim the Koshi kill. Teddy wins. Privately, Hanzoku thinks it’s a lot more boring than a classic Clan trial by combat.

Damage, Injuries, Salvage

If anything, we’re more beat up this time than last time. Pepper‘s Archer and Woad‘s Grasshopper are both going to take some serious time in the repair bays.

Woad and Severe are both injured, but not badly. They pop over to the infirmary; hopefully they’ll be back in action quickly.

012-salvage

Observant Bastards will notice that I elected to salvage both Puma Primes. Happily, we neatly cored both of them, and each has a brace of Clan ER PPCs we can pick up, bringing our total to five. Refitting the Awesome as soon as we can finagle some double heat sinks from the Federated Commonwealth seems like the thing to do.

Most interestingly, as the Clans fight more and more battles in the Inner Sphere, there begin to be some Clan parts available. In particular, there are sufficient parts to bring the Koshi back online, provided we can successfully repair its engine. If we do, I propose to assign it to Severe, who is currently without a ride. (Since her Locust was her property, we either owe her a mech or a payout for the value of it.)

Kill Board(s)

Last Battle

013-killboard

Teddy Bear leapfrogs several people on the board. Congratulations to Hernandez on his first kill.

Drake, notably, takes the lead for mech kills, although he’s still ten behind Rook.

All-Time Leaders

  1. “Rook” Ishikawa (24, 5 mechs)
  2. “Drake” Halit (14, 6 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  3. “Woad” Kohler (12, 4 mechs)
  4. “Carcer” Ngo (11, 5 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  5. “Teddy Bear” Jamil (5, 3 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  6. “Linebuster” Atkinson (5)
  7. “Severe” Payne (4, 4 mechs)
  8. “Double Dog” Dare (4, 1 mech)
  9. “Wizard” Que (3, 2 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  10. “Ker-Ker” Ec (3, 2 mechs)
  11. “Milspec” Ortega (3)
  12. “Hanzoku” Yuksel (2, 2 mechs, 1 Clan kill)
  13. “Euchre” Kojic (2, 2 mechs)
  14. Gwenael Hernandez (1, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  15. “Wojtek” Frajtov (1, 1 mech)

Status

It is now February 1, 3052. Our contract is extended to May 17, on account of transit time.

Contract Status

Reports indicate that Clan Wolf’s morale is high, and understandably so.

The situation for the Free Rasalhague Republic, and for that matter the Inner Sphere entirely, remains dire. Our latest retreat takes us two world away from the Clan front, where we’re already facing enemy scouting forces.

014-sitrep

Unit Market

Not much in the way of mechs available: one Rifleman (large laser and AC/5 variant), one Dragon 1N (old-tech variant), and one Panther (a slow, 35-ton light mech mounting a single PPC and an SRM launcher).

We put feelers out to the Federated Commonwealth about access to better parts, along with a list of what we might be willing to part with. They responded with a potential deal; see Action Items.

Finances

We have 27.162 million C-bills on hand, although that number is dropping as we try to score more Clan parts on the crowded salvage market.

Recruitment

015-kevin

We welcome a new pilot to the ranks. Kevin Stirzacre is a veteran of the Rasalhague Royal Army, who hasn’t exactly been mustered out but has been stood down on account of there being very few mechs left in the Rasalhague forces. He saw that we returned from combat with the Clan forces with most of our mechs and all of our pilots, and thought that was a worthwhile thing to sign on to.

The Hot Dog ability decreases the difficulty on heat-related rolls (such as shutdowns or ammunition explosions). Gunnery Specialization – Energy means he rolls at a -1 bonus on all energy weapon attacks, and a +1 penalty on all other weapon attacks.

We un-mothball the Wasp we have in storage, put him in the cockpit, and attach him to Bear’s Bruisers for now, simply to keep our four-lance paper strength. Anything larger and the Bruisers aren’t a medium lance anymore. We’ll rejigger lances again soon.

Training

016-training

Milspec and Teddy Bear are now full-on veterans, both increasing their gunnery to 3+ and gaining the Hopping Jack trait (the penalty for using jump jets is only +2, not +3). Double Dog and Wizard both take a rank in piloting. Upon raising gunnery, they’ll move from Veteran to Elite status.

Repairs and Refits

A week of crazy work got all of our Inner Sphere mechs back in action. Drake’s Destroyers and Second Lance are on patrol; the other two lances are resting and refitting.

The Koshi is proving trickier; all of our most experienced techs cluster around it most days, scratching their heads. Hanzoku watches with concealed amusement. When it’s back in shape, I think the thing to do will be to refit it somewhat—remove the machine guns, slap in the ER Medium Lasers we have from previous salvage.

Mechwarrior Claims and Assignments

  • For the record, the following mechwarriors are claimed.
    • Captain Huri “Drake” Halit (Mephansteras) – Awesome AWS-8Q
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Lt. SG Mariamu “Rook” Ishikawa (Culise) – Stalker STK-3F
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s) – Thunderbolt TDR-5S-T
    • Sgt. Jose “Milspec” Ortega (milspec) – Crab CRB-20
    • Cpl. Damayanti “Carcer” Ngo (Dorsidwarf) – Flashman FLS-7K
    • Cpl. Tedros “Teddy Bear” Jamil (Knave) – Vulcan VL-5T
    • Cpl. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing) – Grasshopper GHR-5H
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack) – Trebuchet TBT-5S
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies) – n/a (provisional: Koshi)
    • Pvt. E-Shei “Ker-Ker” Ec (Kanil) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Pvt. Ed “Hanzoku” Yuksel (Hanzoku) – Guillotine GLT-4L
    • Pvt. Ik-jun “Wojtek” Frajtov (Blaze) – Trebuchet TBT-5N
    • Pvt. Xue-Min “Wizard” Que (Rince Wind) – Guillotine GLT-4P
    • Pvt. Abdul-Hafiz “Pepper” Popalzi – Archer ARC-2K
  • The following mechwarriors are available.
    • Pvt. Gwenael Hernandez – Phoenix Hawk PXH-1K
    • Pvt. Kevin Stirzacre – Wasp WSP-1A

Action Items

  • The Federated Commonwealth will give us market access to advanced Inner Sphere parts (including IS double heat sinks) at the cost of two Clan ER PPCs and two OmniMech corpses for investigation. That would take us from five PPCs to three. For chassis, we’d have to give up the Fenris from last time, and one of the two Pumas. (Unless we want to give them the Koshi.) Should we take the deal?
  • The Koshi continues to trouble our techs, but failing very unlucky dice rolls (always a possibility), we should have it back in service, in one form or another, by the end of the month. Should we assign it to Severe?

MBT Roundup 2018

A few years ago, I wrote an MBT comparison for our procurement games. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams, we’ve seen some upgrade programs for both tanks, I’ve gotten enough data on the South Korean K2 to write on it, and Russia has introduced the T-14. Also, I love tanks. So let’s do another roundup. As always, I’m limited to open source guesstimates only.

Firepower
The T-14 has a brand new 125mm gun, which can handle higher pressure rounds. So it’s almost certainly better than previous Russian guns. Whether it’s better than the latest Western stuff depends on whose propaganda you’re reading. I’m inclined to guess it’s going to be similar to the latest Rheinmetall options. Possibly a bit better because it’s newer.

Both the K2 and the newest Leopard 2 variants use the longer L55 version of Rheinmetall’s 120mm smoothbore, which gives more velocity than the Abrams’ M256 (a derivative of the Rheinmetall L44). Which would be better if all other things were equal, but they aren’t. The Americans use depleted uranium APFSDS rounds, which work better than tungsten (which Germany and South Korea use), all other things being equal (they still aren’t). Overall, tungsten sabot rounds from the L55 and depleted uranium sabot rounds from the L44 are about equal as far as armor penetration estimates are concerned. New rounds continue to come from the Americans, and there’s a plan to upgrade the L55 to the L55A1 which can take higher chamber pressures. Also, the Americans have finally added the capability to interface with datalinks on gun rounds in the SEPv3 Abrams, and this is present on the guns for Leopard 2 and K2. So this is very roughly a wash. Some magical person might be able to point to specific advantages of one option or another against specific targets, but this is all I’ve got with unclassifed, dodgy sources.

Protection
Damn it, this is classified too! UGH. In all seriousness, this too will be a wash in the main, because everyone’s got about the same technological problems, even if they come at it a little differently. Abrams and Leopard 2 have been receiving consistent upgrades, so their frontal armor should be just as good as the newer K2. T-14 has unclear amounts of protection on the turret, but only the gun is mounted there. Hull frontal protection should be good across the board too, given upgrades. Note that the Leopard 2 and Abrams have excellent side protection kits, should you wish to use them in cities full of scumbag insurgents. T-14 seems to have some quality skirt options as well, but K2 lacks similar levels of optional side protection. In terms of active protection, T-14 comes fitted with hard-kill APS systems from the factory, Abrams is getting Trophy kits installed (they’ve passed trials and money is allocated), K2 is fitted for but not with hard kill kits and the Germans are still trialing their hard kill setup. I should also point out that in the past the Americans have been reluctant to offer up their best armor technology in export models. The Abrams with export-level armor would be expected to be less good than the latest Leopard 2 variant or K2.

Survivability
So you’ve been hit, and your armor is penetrated! That really sucks. Now what?
T-14 isolates the crew completely from the ammo. There are also blow-out panels on the bottom. Not sure about the turret, it might get wrecked, or there might be venting measures there. So those are all good things. On the other hand, the T-14 has the smallest crew compartment, so that means any penetration there is going to cause more problems. There’s always a bigger IED.

Abrams has the vast majority of it’s ammo in the turret bustle, again with blow-out panels. There’s also hull stowage for six more 120mm rounds, also with blow-out panels. Alternatively, if lots of hull hits from RPGs are expected, this can be emptied of ammo without too much difficulty. It’s only six rounds. Abrams has the biggest protected volume, which is why it uses fancy exotic materials for protection, but it also makes it very difficult to wound everybody.

Leopard 2 and K2 both have blow-out panels for their ammo stowage in the bustle. However, both have a large hull ammo rack (about 20 rounds or so) next to the driver up front. Neither has much in the way of bulkheads isolating this ammo and neither has blow-out panels for this stowage. Protect that hull, guys. Crew compartments are moderately sized, and should provide reasonable levels of safety due to dispersion. Leopard 2 is bigger internally than K2, and gets a bit of a nod here.

Also, while not strictly a survivability thing, more room means easier to jam upgrades in. So in order of most upgradeable to least: Abrams, Leopard 2, K2, T-14.

Tactical Mobility
Also known in some cultures as “driving around the battlefield.” Everybody’s got a 1,500 hp engine. K2 and T-14 should have a significant advantage from being 10ish tons lighter than the latest Leopard 2 and Abrams variants. Both K2 and T-14 have had transmission problems recently, however. Abrams has the gas turbine engine, which comes with some maintenance advantages because of the fewer small parts, but it is a very thirsty beast. The latest Abrams tanks have protected auxiliary power units, but I don’t have much data on how much this improves fuel economy. The Leopard 2 has a pretty boring twin-turbo diesel powerplant that seems to work well.

Strategic Mobility
Once again, the lighter tanks get the points here. I would be inclined to argue that the difference doesn’t matter for the purposes of ship-based transport, but a win is a a win.

Politics
The bureaucrats always get to put in their two bits. NATO-related stuff is going to torpedo the notion of a T-14 buy. Also, it hasn’t even passed Russian trials yet, and we don’t like being early adopters of anything. Otherwise, it comes down to who your friends are. America may not sell you the best and latest depleted uranium stuff if they don’t like you enough. The Germans may not support you with spare parts if you go off to war with the stuff. South Korea is new on the market and doesn’t have the same ability to bundle deals like the others.

Money
I did find the approximate unit cost of a K2 on the internet. Unfortunately, costs of the others are going to be determined by upgrade package, which is kind of a bummer. Also, for all tanks, a lot depends on the terms of the purchase and what other equipment is included (spares, weapons, training tanks, etc.). So I’ll go out on a limb and say that a similar level of outfitting is going to cost about the same for new builds, and I think that’s pretty reasonable. I can’t adequately work out who might offer the best package deal. However, unlike the other two western competitors, there are a ton of old Abrams tanks sitting in the American desert. So the Americans ought to be able to give you a better deal on overhauled and upgraded tanks, and they probably will be available faster. Also, given relative labor costs, there might be advantages to the K2 or the T-14.

So which do we go with? Whichever one can get us the best pricing deal and meets the political obligations. I don’t see much difference overall with any of the options, at least not in any way that matters. MBTs don’t really have different schools of thought like IFVs do, so which one is not a big deal. They all provide reasonable quality; it remains to get them in reasonable quantity. One might argue that the large stock of old Abramses gives that an advantage, if modifying is cheaper than buying new. Or one might argue for the extensive, already-trialled options list available for the Leopard 2, or the newer K2 with more standard features and lower lifecycle costs from having a smaller crew.

AR-15 Innovations Roundup

Normally when I see innovations in the AR-15 market, they come in the form of a component that can be easily combined with others. Something like BCM’s KMR handguards that used a magnesium-aluminum alloy or Proof Research’s carbon-fiber-wrapped barrels. These are cool products, but they can still be used by enterprising homebuilders like yours truly. So I’m not usually impressed by a lot of the premium AR-15 builders out there, simply because I can do something similar, and I enjoy putting AR-15s together. Your mileage may vary of course. You may be happy to pay someone else for labor. However, there are some manufacturers making some innovations to Stoner’s design that are much less easily integrated into homebuilds. Something where they’re willing to push the envelope and offer something new. Let’s look at a couple.

Knight’s Armament E3 Bolt
A standard AR-15 bolt uses eight square lugs. The lugs are square because of manufacturing processes available at the time the rifle was originally designed, but any engineer will tell you that corners tend to focus stress.1 As a result, the standard replacement interval for a bolt is 5,000 rounds (or so). Your bolt may last longer, but that’s the usual interval that the manufacturer suggests. Knights changed this by rounding all of the lugs, as seen in this picture. A standard bolt is on the left; the E3 bolt is on the right. Both have extractors removed.

ar-15 bolt comparison

Now, this has the downside of requiring a nonstandard barrel extension to work. So you’re stuck with Knights’ barrels. Not that those are bad barrels. On the other hand, the bolt life is expected to exceed that of the barrel. In Ballistics radio’s endurance test of an SR-15E3, they put 20,000 rounds through without cleaning or bolt breakage. The E3 bolt is available on all current Knights Armament rifle builds.

There are other proprietary things in the SR-15 design, like a nice ambi lower and an intermediate length (longer than midlength, shorter than rifle-length) gas system, but these can be had elsewhere, and have been done by others. The SR-15 is a pretty complete package but the coolest part is that nifty bolt.

Cobalt Kinetics C.A.R.S.
Cobalt Kinetics makes some really nice looking rifles. But lots of people have some CNC wizards to mill cool things out of billet aluminum, and if you choose handguards and receiver sets from the same manufacturer, you can get (or make) other cool looking rifles too. On some of their higher-end rifles, they have the C.A.R.S. system, which is aimed squarely at the competition shooter. When you’ve fired the last round from your magazine, the bolt locks open, just like on a regular AR-15. But the empty magazine also drops free automatically. No mag release press required. And when a fresh magazine is inserted, the bolt goes forward to chamber the next round automatically. This system can be disabled with a switch, and there are still the regular magazine catch and bolt release on the lower. This system requires some hand tuning during assembly, and is only offered on complete rifle builds. And yes, they’ll do custom colors if you like.

I love to see companies pushing the envelope and offering a product that stands out from the crowd.


  1. Ask the DeHavilland Comet 

Marine Raider Regiment Declines the M27

I’m a big fan of the AR-15 platform and of HK’s version, the 416, which became the USMC’s M27 IAR. The USMC really like the M27, and has moved it from being the squad automatic weapon to also being the squad designated marksman’s weapon, and soon to being the standard weapon for every man in the fireteam. But the Marine Raider Regiment has declined to get in on that, saying they’re happy with their existing M4s. Let’s unpack this a little bit. I’ve long held that while the HK 416 is a good weapon, it doesn’t do much that a well set up M4 doesn’t.

The Marine Raider Regiment1 is a special forces offshoot of the Marine Corps. So it’s under the auspices of SOCOM, not the regular Marine Corps. In terms of equipment, it gets to pick from it’s choice of stuff that SOCOM approves of and stuff from its parent service branch (i.e. the USMC). Previously, the carbine choice would be between USMC-standard M16A4s and M4s or the SOCOM M4s. Being a smaller group with a much greater ability to get new stuff, SOCOM has nicer M4s than the USMC does. Or Big Army for that matter.

M4s configured through SOCOM channels will probably have the following features: safe/semiautomatic/full automatic trigger group instead of the safe/semiautomatic/burst trigger group, a medium-weight barrel profile instead of the “government” barrel profile, and a longer, free float handguard. For the handguard, it will likely be either the Daniel Defense M4 RIS II quadrail2 or one of Geissele’s Mlok handguards.3 Either way, that’s most of what you get in a 416, other than the short-stroke gas piston system. At best, this would be a lateral move, to a new weapon system that doesn’t get you much else4, and is heavier to boot.

The M27 is also a little bit longer (16″ barrel on the M27, instead of a 14.5″ barrel on an M4A1). Which doesn’t sound like much, until you add a suppressor. And the Marine Raiders always run suppressors. Adding the suppressor length gets you back to the approximate barrel length of the M16. Longer is a little more awkward indoors, and the Raiders have mentioned that as another reason why they like their M4A1s.

None of this is all that surprising to me, but it’s always nice to see someone else confirm one’s analysis.


  1. f.k.a. MARSOC. 
  2. I discussed this rail in more detail in my M4 PIP post
  3. Discussed here
  4. In my post comparing the M4A1 PIP and the HK416, I talked a bit about how long each weapon can sustain a cyclic rate of fire. 

Improving the AR-15: Colt Canada At Bat

I’ve mentioned before that the AR-15 is a really great design. It got a lot of things right. It’s very hard to compete with a design that has had 60-odd years to fix bugs and get improvements. And when it’s not an AR-15 design that’s winning, it’s often a derivative. The popular HK416 is just an AR-15 with a few improvements that HK likes. Let’s look at another improvement project, courtesy of Colt Canada.1 Unlike the HK416, which you can buy today, this is a notional project.

colt canada rifle

Colt Canada has had a license to manufacture and sell Colt AR-15s (and derivatives) for quite some time, and their C7 rifle is basically an M16A1E1, rather than an M16A1 or M16A2. The C8 is very similar to the M4. Colt Canada also uses excellent hammer-forged barrels, which they make in-house.

Our first major difference is the handguard integrated into the upper receiver. Colt Canada already makes these for their IUR and MRR product lines. An integrated handguard is simpler, more rigid, and may be lighter depending on the design. It does lock the user into one type of accessory attachment system and handguard configuration, however. It also means that the handguard has to be designed cleverly to allow access to the gas block and the barrel nut.

Next, we have an integrated suppressor built into the barrel. Very cool. This should save some weight and length over attaching one on the end of a barrel. It also requires careful design to allow the suppressor to be easily cleaned in the field. Colt Canada discussed the finer points of this rifle design with the USMC, who are big on suppressors. I’m stoked about that, because I’m also a huge fan.2

The last is the power-pack in the stock, combined with a powered accessory rail system. Centralizing the battery should be a net improvement in weight, plus it means there’s only one battery to worry about. On the other hand, it makes the rail more susceptible to the elements and a possible failure point. I’ve heard lots of stories of these projects, but I haven’t seen much actual field testing. We’ll see.

Finally, let’s discuss what isn’t changing: the operating system. Colt Canada is sticking with the same tried-and-true direct impingement gas operating system. No short stroke piston here. I’m fine with this.


  1. F.k.a. Diemaco. 
  2. Those who actually do some research will find that suppressors really aren’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things.