Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Question of Procurement 2: Carrying the Queen of Battle

For a while, I was very skeptical of the whole IFV concept. IFVs don’t hold as many men as the typical APC, so they force you to use smaller squads or split squads between multiple vehicles. And the modern combined-arms army is very light on infantry to begin with. However, the typical ‘battle taxi’ isn’t very well suited to keeping up with MBTs—they’re either wheeled MRAP-like things, or old tracked designs from the 60s. Neither will do when you are planning deep thunder runs into enemy territory. And the IFV does have some significant advantages–namely massive amounts of firepower to support and (generally) better protection than APCs. The protection means it’s more likely to be able to stay with the infantry it’s supporting, so they can remount faster. Plus, we’ve gotten away from the conscript armies of years past, so we don’t have the masses of men that your Grandpa’s army had. We need force multipliers.

At this point, I should probably go and settle the whole “Tracks v. Wheels” thing, at least as far as the Borgundian War Ministry is concerned. On the holistic level, both have their place. For IFVs, the answer is tracks, tracks, tracks. IFVs are part of the combined arms team. Would you send your quarterback on the field without receivers or the offensive line? No, you wouldn’t. No one would be there to snap the ball to him and he’d get pounded into the dirt. The combined arms team must work together, and to do that it must stay together. So, it’s critical that the IFV can keep up with the MBT, which is pretty much forced by it’s bulk to be tracked. That gives us a baseline to shoot for. If the IFVs can’t keep up on rough terrain, because of it’s wheels, then the MBTs are forced to slow down too, and you lose mobility. Similarly, on roads, the extra speed of wheeled IFVs is wasted, because they can’t go faster than the MBTs without becoming separated. Also, tracks mean less ground pressure, which is good when you place a premium on protection and really don’t care about weight overmuch (within limits–weight concerns will be revisited later).

A tracked IFV does disqualify a number of good vehicles from the running, simply because they are unsuited to our needs. These include the Patria AMV and the VBCI, plus some more that I’m either forgetting or am ruling out because they have insufficient protection. Concerns over protection and survivability rule out the BMP series for us, as they tend to be light on armor and packed with ammunition. They have an unpleasant history of burning quite well when they meet opposition. Currently there are two fine vehicles that are in production and might be suited for our needs: the CV90 and the Puma.

This time, I’ll cut to the chase: the Puma is the winner on grounds of survivability, protection, electronics, and firepower. Let’s break it down. In no particular order, we’ll go with protection first. Much has been said of the Puma’s modular armor as an aid to deployability. To be blunt: I don’t care.I won’t deploy them without tanks, and my tanks weigh 67 tonnes with the latest upgrades1. But modular armor is good for the conventional warfighter because it makes it easier to replace damage modules or to upgrade them in the future with better stuff. That’s a win right there, and no other IFV on the market has such things. The CV90 is reasonably well protected, and has some improvement kits, but they’re not as well integrated, and they’re certainly not as easy to swap up to an upgrade later. It should be noted that the baseline Puma (without the supplemental armor packs) is about as well protected as the fully kitted out CV90 Mk. III. A fully kitted out Puma has side protection roughly equivalent to it’s front, or the front of most other IFVs on the market. It’s also equipped with a ‘softkill’ active protection system. The cost is weight: the Puma is the heaviest IFV around, weighing in at around 43 tonnes in full battle rattle. As mentioned before, this is not a great concern.

The Puma’s biggest gains though are in survivability. Ammunition and fuel are stored outside of the crew compartment. While this makes reloading the main gun a bit more annoying, it means that the infantry and crew inside are safe from cookoffs and most secondary effects of a penetrating hit. Which is good, because as well armored as the Puma is, it’s going to be hanging around with MBTs and their big guns, plus weapons designed to kill those behemoths. The extra survivability systems will ensure that the crew and infantry have their best chance to live to fight another day. Vehicles are repairable–personnel not so much.

The Puma has a dual-feed autocannon capable of firing the NATO standard 30x173mm round. This round is quite a bit better at penetrating armor than the Russian 30x165mm round (which is why you should read the fine print carefully when a manufacturer says that their vehicle is protected against 30mm rounds). While I might prefer a 35mm gun (and think one could be accomodated if not for the design’s airlift restrictions), the 30mm gun is an acceptable compromise, especially seeing as 30mm airburst ammunition is readily available. In terms of armor penetration, a 35mm gun doesn’t get you that much more. While 35mm rounds are more effective airburstwise, a vehicle can carry about twice as many 30mm rounds. 40mm Bofors guns would provide a significant gain in round effectiveness, but also reduce the ready ammunition capacity by roughly a factor of 10. The Puma has a 5.56mm machine gun, which is an adequate coaxial weapon. It can be fitted with a 7.62mm machine gun for those less concerned about transportable weight, which Borgundy will probably do. The biggest win for the Puma over many of it’s contemporaries is in the missile suite. The Puma is designed to fire the Israeli Spike-LR ATGM. This is more or less a longer-range Javelin equivalent, top-attack mode and all, and should be able to defeat heavily armored targets that the 30mm gun can’t.

In addition to good firepower, the Puma has really good optronic systems as well. It’s hunter-killer optics suite (separate optics for the commander in an independently-rotating mini-turret) and targeting systems are as good as or better than the systems on many tanks, not to mention the vast majority of IFVs. They’re roughly equivalent to that of the newer Leopard 2 variants. Additionally, the Puma has several cameras around the hull to improve his situational awareness, since he can’t stand up in the unmanned turret and poke his head out. While the CV90 has a two-man turret, which I like better overall for the situational awareness, it doesn’t really have a good option for a proper independent commander’s sight. In addition to the computerized fire control system, the Puma has all of the fancy battle management computer systems that you’d find in a modern MBT. What’s more, there are viewscreens available for the passengers allowing them to see information from the camera systems or the battle management computer, providing an informational advantage to the infantry in the back.

Compared to the CV90, the Puma is ATGM-equipped, is tougher, has a better targeting and electronics package, and is more survivable. And, as mentioned previously, it has much better protection and survivability than the BMP-3. In addition, the targeting and electronics on the Puma are much better than those of the BMP-3. The Puma is certainly the best of the lot for Borgundy given our priorities.

Up next, the Ultima Ratio Regum—Artillery!
More specifically, Self-propelled howitzers, because towed guns are so World War I.

1. Someday I shall discuss the Borgundian opinion of strategic mobility, or why I’m ignoring the ‘Shinseki School’ and buying superheavy German vehicles without really paying attention to the weight. But today is not that day.

Comment on our procurement posts in the Procurement Games comment thread.

A Question of Procurement 3: I Say ‘Arty,’ You Say ‘Oi’!

Ah, Artillery. The real killer. The big guns. The terror of Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, and hundreds of other Great War battlefields. No army would be complete without it.  We’re going to be looking for a self-propelled howitzer of 155mm caliber. Generally speaking, heavier calibers are too unwieldy, and their role can be replaced by accurate fire from smaller guns, or, in the case of hardened point targets, hardened penetrator bombs dropped from medium altitude. 155 mm gives us commonality with our fellow NATO members, plus many options for guided rounds or specialty antitank rounds (e.g. SmART 155).

We can first rule out the current trend of “truck artillery.” These suffer when compared to proper self-propelled pieces in two key areas. First, and most obviously, they lack any protection for the gun crew when operating it, much like a towed gun. We would prefer our artillery crew to have protection from fragmentation, or actually have the lower cost and maintenance benefits of being a towed gun. A similar thing can be said about the on-vehicle ammunition stowage. The on-truck units don’t have very much integral capacity, and are very dependent on resupply. While ordinarily we expect a steady stream of supply trucks bearing ULCs of fresh shells, we really can’t count on this. Proper self propelled howitzers carry two to three times the ammuniton. So the latest ‘it must be air-mobile’ craze has once again brought us the worst of both worlds: the cost of a self-propelled howitzer but the lack of integrated support mechanisms of a towed howitzer.

After the above, you may be forgiven for asking “Wait, Parvusimperator! Why not get only towed guns? Those worked great at the Somme and Verdun. And the USMC can move theirs with helicopters!” Both are true, and, while towed guns are very old school, they’re still darn useful because they’re cheap and easy to move. And no one said we won’t be buying those, just not today. The key advantages of self-propelled howitzers are that they can get in and out of action faster. On-board fire control is also a big plus. Plus, having treads (at least on the proper models) will mean that they can keep up with tanks better. So we’ll still be wanting some self-propelled howitzers for our armored formations. With treads.

We can also rule out any vehicle that doesn’t have a barrel that is 52 calibers long (i.e. 52 times the diameter, or gun caliber). This is actually not that restrictive for modern systems as most recent designs are built to the NATO Joint Ballistic Memorandum of Understanding, which calls for a 155mm gun with a barrel length of 52 calibers (155mm/52 in shorthand) and a chamber volume of 23 L. The chamber volume means that we can use NATO standard propellant charges. Increased barrel length for an artillery piece means better range, but also makes the gun somewhat less wieldy. On a self-propelled howitzer, this is an acceptable trade off.

Next, we’ll ask ourselves, “Do we need a specialist resupply vehicle?” Because if we do, our choice is obvious: only the South Korean K9 comes with one (called the K10). Technically, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann has said they could make one for the Panzerhaubitze 2000, but they haven’t yet. Armored resupply vehicles are pretty cool. They’re usually about as fragmentation resistant as the self propelled howitzer that they accompany. Plus, they’re treaded. Tracks mean they’ll go anywhere. And, of course, there’s that fancy resupply robot arm that means you can resupply in a harsh, NBC-contaminated modern battlefield. Awesome. However, they’re pretty expensive for something that has limited use. Plus, if you actually are using them regularly, you need a lot of them, because they usually only carry a couple extra loads, so they’ll be shuffling back to whereever you stashed more rounds frequently.

The alternative is to use trucks with flatpacks and ULCs, unloaded by all-terrain forklifts and burly artillerymen. This certainly doesn’t work as well in the NBC-contaminated battlefield, but otherwise, it has the distinct advantage of being cheaper and more flexible. We’ll need trucks and all-terrain forklifts to manage other logistic burdens. Also, trucks and forklifts are much cheaper than big reloading vehicles. So, big gain in versatility, losses in time to completely reload a magazine, and operating in NBC wastelands. Thus, we needn’t be overly concerned with the lack of an armored resupply vehicle. ULCs are also a lot more flexible, since you can pick a ULC containing specialized rounds off the back of a truck if you need those more than others, or even reconfigure a truck load without too much difficulty. The same cannot be said for an armored resupply vehicle–the reloading of which is slow.

All that said, the K9 is a good self-propelled howitzer, with good electronic targeting systems and a proper 52-caliber gun barrel, like all of the lastest systems. If we look at rate of fire and range, we find that while the K9 is good, it’s outclassed in both areas by the aforementioned PzH 2000 and the South African G6-52. The G6-52 is the longest ranged howitzer in the world, and posesses a phenominal six-round MRSI capability. In other respects, it’s pretty conventional, with a good rate of fire (burst and sustained), reasonably modern fire control systems, and good integrated ammunition storage. Interestingly, the G6-52 is protected from the front against 20mm gunfire. Which is better than any other self-propelled howitzer on the market, but isn’t actually all that useful–most first-rate vehicles these days are armed with an autocannon of at least 25mm. Interestingly, despite its phenominal range, the G6-52 has not enjoyed much export success.

This brings us to the PzH 2000 (which is in desperate need of a better name). It’s range is second-best behind the G6-52, and it manages a good but not exceptional 5 round MRSI capability. But it’s fire control systems are second to none, and its ammunition storage and loading mechanisms are world-beating. The PzH 2000 holds a whopping 60 rounds with associated propellant charges, so it is better able to deal with supply line disruptions. It also has a very well designed automatic loading system, that gives it excellent burst and sustained rates of fire. What’s more, all 60 rounds are acessible by the autoloader, so the crew never has to wrestle rounds from reserve to ready magazines inside the vehicle. This is one less thing for them to do if they’re also manhandling rounds into the vehicle from ULCs. On the support and spare parts side, the Panzerhaubitze 2000 has won several contracts with other NATO members, making long-term support something to trust. It’s the best overall self-propelled howitzer on the market today, and Borgundy’s choice.

So, Germany has swept the Major Ground Combat Vehicles. It’s a big win to be sure. Next up, inspired by Fishbreath, will be a long investigation of fighters, which will no doubt end in a fat procurement contract (or two). We’re going to need something to drop those hardened penetrator bombs now that nobody’s making really big guns. Will the Germans continue their sweep? Will Parvusimperator join Fishbreath in procuring Viking fighters?

The Procurement Games 2014: A Fishy Fighter for All Occasions

Luchtburg, a reasonably wealthy country with limited strategic interests in its immediate vicinity1, requires a robust array of aerial equipment. The lynchpin of any air force is its fighter type, and Luchtburg has a few specific constraints.

First, as a Central American power with trade interests primarily in Europe and Asia, it operates aircraft carriers2. As such, any fighter it purchases must either be a naval fighter already, or be available in a navalized variant.

Second, it must be inexpensive to procure and operate. Luchtburg is reasonably wealthy, but is also in the midst of a 20-year, $200 billion-ish procurement plan, and savings on the operating costs of acquired hardware can be put into personnel or further hardware purchases.

Third, it must be a swing-role aircraft, capable of carrying out tasks which fit multiple roles in the space of a single mission.

Fourth, in terms of weapons carried, it must not be tied inextricably to a single bloc3. Luchtburg does not want to be like Iran in any way at all, but especially does not want to be like Iran by having fighters which require American arms after falling out of favor with America.

Fifth, it must be capable of buddy refueling. Carriers in Luchtburg’s inventory aren’t universally large enough to operate light tankers, and so fighters must be able to top off fighters.

Other capabilities and characteristics Luchtburg would like include proven combat performance, short and unimproved airfield performance, and fancy network and datalink capability, but these are points in favor more than their absences are disqualifying factors. Supercruise and supermaneuverability are nice to have, too.

There are five good candidates: Flankers and navalized Flanker variants from Russia, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet out of the good old US of A, the F-35A and C, also of the USA, France’s prized Rafale4, and the Gripen NG/E/F of Sweden.

The easiest candidate to discard is, I’m afraid, the F-35. The reasons are myriad: it’s extremely expensive, it’s unproven in combat, and its armaments load is very American. Further, there are tradeoffs Luchtburg doesn’t like. The naval variant doesn’t feature an internal gun, although it does feature larger wings and correspondingly improved low-speed performance, and the type’s focus on stealth yields compromises in weapons load which Luchtburg finds unacceptable. As far as the procurement mavens know, it’s neither supercruise-capable nor supermaneuverable.

After discarding the F-35, the going gets harder. Next up on the chopping block is the entry from Sukhoi. Navalized Su-35s hit a lot of the capabilities Luchtburg wants, but also feature a lot of the downsides. Russian aircraft are notoriously expensive to operate, hard on fuel and hard on parts, as well. Russian avionics, though much improved from those dark days of the Cold War, still lag somewhat behind their Western counterparts, especially in aerial radars. Although Flankers mount Russian weapons almost exclusively, Russia is willing to sell arms to just about anybody, so that factors less into the decision.

Next to be crossed off the list is the Super Hornet. Here, it starts to get very hard. The biggest point against the Super Hornet is its absolute dependence on American support. Luchtburg hopes its policy goals never preclude its purchase of AMRAAMs, but it’s impossible to say that will certainly be the case. In every other category, the Super Hornet is average or above average, but in the absence of a native air to air arms industry, Luchtburg can’t go with the F/A-18E.

If Luchtburg were to go with a two-fighter procurement plan, the Rafale would be its heavy fighter. Agile, proven, carrier-capable, and able to haul quite a lot off of even Charles de Gaulle-sized decks, it can also mount weapons from both Europe and America, and has cockpit and pilot workload features Luchtburg also finds intriguing. Unfortunately, Dassault has no experience successfully exporting the Rafale, and the unit cost, in the $100 million range, is too high for Luchtburg to call it the one fighter for every occasion.

That leaves us with the victor, the JAS-39E/F Gripen. Now purchased by Brazil, the next-generation Gripen is one launch customer away from a naval variant, and Luchtburg is more than happy to continue operating its obsolescent air force until such time as Saab begins to roll out the Sea Gripen. A Sea Gripen variant would no doubt improve on the Gripen’s already-impressive short-field performance, and given that it’s not all that much bigger than an A-4 Skyhawk, it would be a suitable fighter even for miniature carriers. In initial procurement cost, it’s the second-cheapest behind the Super Hornet, and far and away the least expensive to operate5. It fits the swing-role descriptor, capable of carrying a wide variety of munitions at once. Variants can already mount American and European equipment, and Saab’s willingness to open the aircraft’s avionics source code to partners puts the armaments possibilities at essentially limitless, especially for a high-tech economy like Luchtburg’s. Gripens use a probe and drogue refueling system, and therefore have the technical ability to buddy tank.

It’s supercruise-capable, designed to operate from highways and unimproved airstrips, and features a datalink equaled in current service only by the F-22’s datalink. Perhaps most important of all, Saab has, in the past, been willing to offer technology transfers and even co-production, which would serve to kickstart Luchtburg’s own native air industry. Finally, Saab is a known quantity in the export market, trustworthy and reliable.

In the end, the Gripen is (though it pains me to say) not the most combat-capable aircraft on my list. For Luchtburg’s purposes, it is, however, the best fit for the requirements, militarily, politically, and economically.

1. That sounds like a post for sometime down the line: what are its specific aims? I’ll put it on the stack.
2. Luchtburg’s navy is also a post I need to write, but probably after the one about strategic aims.
3. The US, Europe, and Russia, for the purposes of this discussion.
4. Yet another piece of military hardware whose name means ‘squall’.
5. It is a small, single-engined fighter in a pack of large, twin-engined fighters, after all.

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A Question of Procurement: A Fishy Introduction

As parvusimperator has his Borgundy, so I do I too have my own little fake country for questions of procurement and geopolitics. Luchtburg, named after an old NationStates country named after a setting for a story I have yet to write, is a Central American Prussian successor state1.

Geographically, it’s a small country north of the Panamanian isthmus, about two hundred fifty kilometers from end to end, with both Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The terrain is mountainous and heavily jungled, and population is centered on the coastlines. Transport links between the coastlines are limited; with Panama being a near neighbor, the difficulty of improving rail links over the mountains hasn’t been all that important since the canal opened. Several highways cross the mountains.

Economically, Luchtburg is high-tech services and finances and as such quite wealthy. Local heavy industry is limited to shipbuilding, so outside of naval buys and small arms, Luchtburg is a major defense importer.

Strategically, Luchtburg has two main geopolitical concerns. First, it desires to counterbalance regional powers such as Brazil2. In pursuit of this goal, it needs conventional armed forces capabilities superior to theirs. Second, it desires to participate in stability maintenance operations in regions where it has trading partners, primarily Europe and Asia, and as such it needs a robust amphibious, naval, and naval air capability. Although it is wealthy, it isn’t a large enough economy to spend willy-nilly, so ideally, defense systems it acquires should be able to be used in pursuit of more than one strategic aim.

That’s about all you need to know for now. The first which-is-it-gonna-be article from me will be on fighter aircraft.

1. We never claimed this game was at all plausible.
2. Brazil! *fistshake*

Comment on our procurement posts in the Procurement Games comment thread.

A Question of Procurement 1: MBTs

Okay, so all the boilerplate out is out of the way. On to the problems! Since Borgundy is very much a traditional, continental power that focuses on conventional warfare, we’re going to be spending some time with the army first. We’ll buy some front-line combat vehicles: MBTs and IFVs. First up, the MBT.

I love tanks. Tanks are wonderful things, and modern tanks are fascinating beasts of battle. But which to buy? Well, that very much depends on your combat doctrine. Borgundy’s ground doctrine is a lot more tank-centric than you might expect from being a NATO member. In fact, they’ve probably stolen more than a few pages from the Soviet doctrine on ground combat. And, being in Northern Europe, there are rivers and other waterways, which mean bridge crossings are going to be a factor in movement in theater. At first, this would seem to suggest that I’d go Russian for my tanks, which tend to be good at fording and light to pass over the crappy infrastructure of Eastern Europe.

But this would be wrong. For one thing, they’re not logistically compatible with NATO weapons.  More importantly, they’re not as good from a firepower or protection standpoint. The Russian 125mm smoothbore is lower pressure than the 120mm NATO ones, and the Russians haven’t kept up on their projectile design, so their APFSDS rounds penetrate less armor than the current state-of-the-art from Germany or America. Russian tanks, historically, have been small and light. They get their protection from ERA tiles–which have gaps which the tiles don’t cover and are weak where different tiles meet. They’re also not very good against follow-up shots. Frankly, I trust boring old composite armors more. Plus, Russian tanks don’t have the fancy internal electronic systems that the Western tanks do. So, we’ll be going Western for our tanks.

Here’s where it gets interesting. There are lots of western tank makers. Probably the most obvious choice to anyone who knows me is the M1 Abrams. This is my favorite tank, actually. Great speed and tactical mobility, great firepower, and great protection. Plus, it pioneered fancy electronic things like an independent commander’s sight and a battle managment computer. However, there are a few factors that make it a poor procurement choice for Borgundy. The first and most obvious is its gas turbine engine, the AGT-1500. This has notoriously poor fuel economy at idle. It’s closer to, but still not as good as, a diesel at high speeds. Fuel economy would have been improved if they had put in the LV 100-5, a newer gas turbine design with improved fuel economy, but that program died with the Crusader Project (Thanks a lot, Rumsfeld). The AGT-1500s are also old and a pain to maintain. There are some good things going for the gas turbine though, namely really nice acceleration and that they start in cold environments easily. They’ll also run on just about any flammable liquid.

If the only downside to the Abrams was its gas turbine engine, I’d probably be okay with it. However, there’s another issue: materials. The Abrams has some really nice armor of some top secret composition. The export models (“Monkey Models” in analyst parlance) have a lesser form of armor. Export customers also don’t get the fancy American depleted uranium-alloy rounds. Again, you get something less. Is it bad? No, but it’s not as good as the top shelf. So it’s also almost certainly less good than the competitors. A lot of this is speculation, I don’t actually get to see real-world data on these, just the estimates. But all estimates put the newest Abramses in about the same protection class as it’s contemporaries, so a downgraded export model wouldn’t be as good. And who wants to get the ‘monkey model’ anything when they don’t have to? So, Abrams is out.

Another obvious choice, since I do put a premium on protection, is the Challenger 2. This is a British tank, and by all accounts it’s very tough to kill. To make the export model competitive, the Brits even put a proper 1,500 hp engine in it to make up for the weight. For some reason, they use a 1,200 hp diesel in the regular army ones. There are two problems with the Challenger though. First, it has a rifled gun that uses two-piece ammunition. So you’re stuck with developing for something different than everybody else’s smoothbore 120mm guns that fire one piece ammunition, and you can’t share. Second, the rounds it does have aren’t quite as good at tank killing as the latest from Germany or America, because the Brits haven’t kept up with round development. So you’re stuck behind the curve. (Also, it’s technically not offered any more, but it was recently, and it’s a pretty well-known tank to discuss all the same).

Next we come to the Leclerc. It’s a French tank of relatively recent design. It has an autoloader that does a good job of isolating rounds from the crew, an improvement over Soviet designs. It also is good at deep fording, is relatively mobile, and has a very good fire control system. However, I’m not generally a fan of autoloaders. And the protection on the Leclerc is mediocre. Not bad, just not as good as its contemporaries. It’s also stupidly expensive because of the low production rate. I’m not averse to expensive things (ask Fishbreath), but I really don’t see myself as getting more bang for my buck here.

So now we come to my choice: the Leopard 2E. It’s got a big, 1,500 hp V12, so it has plenty of power. It has the most powerful tank gun…in the world, the Rheinmetall 120mm/L55 smoothbore. The Germans develop some very nice tungsten APFSDS rounds for it, and you can use any NATO standard 120mm one-piece ammo. So you’re not shackled ot one supplier. It’s even been tested firing the Israeli LAHAT gun-launched ATGM. The 2E has enhanced armor on the turret face, on the hull glacis, and on the roof over the older Leopards. It even has good deep-water fording capability (4 m if you erect the snorkel) and has a modern, computerized fire control suite with all the usual trimmings.

So there you have it. My pick of Tank Buy. I’ll let Fishbreath write up his own ode to the T-90. I know this is probably a really boring pick (Sweeden came to a similar decision in a test of these very tanks), but them’s the breaks. It’s the most popular tank on the export market for a reason–it does a lot of things very well. There are some that do specific things better, but it’s really hard to find a big enough improvement to justify the other trade-offs. And no, I’m not going to apologize for picking the Glock of modern MBT procurement. I’m no tank-hipster. No points for guessing the standard sidearm of Borgundy either. On to Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

Comment on our procurement posts in the Procurement Games comment thread.

On Procurement of Materiel Critical to the Defense of the Nation

Something that I’ve often done with Fishbreath is debate the question “If you were in charge of defense procurement, what would you go and buy?” I’ll have some more fun with the these prompts starting today. First, some rules and notes.

1) Whatever you’re buying has to be in production. This rule is kind of limiting, since there are lots of cool cancelled projects out there, but that’s okay. We can always specify a time frame to redefine the problem if we like. But we do want to avoid hypothetical weapons that didn’t actually get out into the wild ugly world. The first test for a military system is whether or not it can escape bureaucratic hell.
2) You can only buy what’s available for export. And if there’s an export version, that’s what you’re getting. Sorry, no Raptors for you (though these also violate Rule No. 1).
3) You need a consistent environment to fight in. This takes the form of a hypothetical country, listed below.

Our hypothetical country is the nation of Borgundy. This is an (obviously completely made up) country in Northernish Europe. Or possibly some fictitious continent that’s a lot like the terrain and climate of North-Central Europe. They’re a lot more conservative than actual Western Europe, reflecting certain tendencies on the part of myself and Fishbreath and also because that means they’re much more likely to fulfil their NATO spending obligations. Call it a return to good old early 20th Century Militarism. Threat nations are assumed to be using ex-Soviet or modern Russian gear, though a war with other, NATO-compliant adversaries is not ruled out. Borgundy is not a member of whatever alternate-reality EU-analogue might exist. We like not listening to representatives not elected by us and controlling our own fiscal policy, thankyouverymuch.

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How to drive an R53 Mini Cooper S for best fuel mileage

This is a post of limited interest to anyone who does not own an R53 Mini, but I couldn’t find a simple answer anywhere else on the Internet, so here it is anyway.

As a proud first-generation modern Mini owner, the question of how to do better than 20mpg in my almost exclusively city driving routine weighed heavily on my mind, until I decided to test it. Some cars (such as my mom’s old BMW 318i) do best at higher revs than you might expect. The Mini does not. What you want to do is short shift as much as possible, with a target cruise RPM of 2000-2500. My suspicion is that, whenever the supercharger bypass valve closes at ~3,000 RPM, you get such a large amount of added air that any economy you gain from being nearer the middle of the power band is wiped out by the necessity of adding so much more fuel to get the mixture right. I went from 20mpg to 24mpg when I tweaked my driving.

7/14/2015 addendum: I’m back to highway driving, and I find that the same axiom still holds. Short shift—I went from about 275 miles before the low-fuel light comes on, to well over 300.

Pop-Culture Civility

I am a conservative on the Internet, and I play games, read speculative fiction, and watch TV. People who produce the media I consume, by and large, are either in vocal disagreement with me on almost every substantive issue, or silently disagree with me on almost every substantive issue. I maintain this is not a bad thing.

I certainly don’t take the progressive view, which frequently declares certain pursuits, views, and luxuries anathema1. See handwringing over the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, for one, or the occasional calls for boycotts of business which support gun rights, or who are accused of being too capitalist in their outlook, or the case of Brendan Reich of Mozilla, or various fora with a leftist bent whose progressivism extends to the progressive erosion of the Island of Acceptable Opinions2. This censorial impulse is frequently served with a side of disappointment or regret: “I really enjoy this thing, but the people who provide this thing are the scum of the earth, so I can’t have it!”

Some conservatives do yield to that impulse, but since I’ve already mentioned I enjoy consuming the products of the entertainment industry, I can’t. My choices are separate the work from the people, or live under a rock, and the latter is not a particularly charming option. Of course, separating the work from the person altogether is impossible. Maybe Green Eggs and Ham is a work without a message, but once you move beyond that level of complexity, almost every piece of art says something, whether or not the author had something in particular in mind to say.

That, then, is why it’s a good thing that a lot of storytelling I enjoy comes from people who disagree with me. We live in an age of echo chambers and isolation. We can go through life effectively avoiding exposure to people who don’t think the same way, but media has a way of sneaking in and showing us someone else’s opinion. Reading a novel colored by a communist utopian author’s perspective isn’t apt to turn me into a communist utopian, but it does tend to present a case, implicit or explicit, for communist utopianism. As wrong as I think that case may be, seeing it presented keeps me from lumping communist utopians into the Nameless Other category—though perhaps guilty of poor reasoning, they’re still humans.

Which finally brings me to the title of the post. We staunch conservatives with a fondness for pop culture have practice with that viewpoint, because the entertainment industry is so overwhelmingly leftist. Staunch leftists have a lot less practice in that realm3, and so I most often see them as the perpetrators of pop-culture incivility: angry proclamations that authors like Jerry Pournelle, Larry Correia, or Orson Scott Card are unfit to read, not because of the quality of their writing4, but because of the views they hold. That, I think, is definitely bad: it subverts media’s role in humanizing the other side, and depoliticizing life and rehumanizing the other side is an extremely important part of avoiding a society of cells of harmonious agreement in violent disagreement with all the other cells.

1. A word with a religious origin used advisedly. Humans like telling other humans what not to do. Progressivism rejects the thought that the traditional institutions which tell other humans what to do are worth much, and has to fall back on telling other humans what to do on their supposed merits when read through a progressive lens. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow the consensus leftist view” lacks something of the original’s verve, though.
2. Obviously, what I’ll term ‘my side’ doesn’t have the cleanest of hands, either, but I’m more qualified to nitpick about people I disagree with, so I don’t have any specific examples.
3. Though more, perhaps, in the personal realm. I hear a lot more about leftists surrounded by conservative family or friends than the other way around, but that might just be the sorts of circles I run in.
4. Which may be good or may be crap. Of these three, I’ve only ever read Card’s solo work, which ranges from good to crap all on its own.

It strikes me that I could probably apply this mode of thinking to the #GamerGate flap, but I’m not sufficiently thick-skinned to deal with the potential response to a whole post on that topic. The short version: the ‘death of gamers’ articles which helped push the movement more mainstream were examples of the same sort of cultural excommunication I spent this post condemning, and the #GamerGate people are guilty of declaring some games journalists unfit to read because of their politics. Both sides may be guilty of other things, and I don’t claim to capture every facet and every nuance of either side’s position. That’s why this is a paragraph below the footnotes instead of a fully developed post of its own.