Monthly Archives: September 2015

Luchtburg Picks A Carbine

The Luchtbourgish procurement apparatus has been slothful over the last year—the members of the Procurement Board have made their preferences clear on a number of challenges, but the secretary has yet to finish typing up most of the proposals. He’s hammering one out right now for you.

The Luchtbourgish Individual Carbine Competition has a few extra constraints imposed by Luchtburg’s defense priorities. One: Luchtburg has a vast stockpile of 7.62x39mm ammunition left over from its time as a Russian client state. Any proposal for a weapon chambered for a different cartridge will have to account for the price of acquiring new ammunition stockpiles, and other new infantry weapons to replace other 7.62x39mm . Two: Luchtburg is a jungle country, and a heavy bullet is desirable1. Three: Luchtburg’s land army is small2, and so the price of an individual rifle is less important than it might be otherwise.

With those constraints in mind, I can easily eliminate 5.45x39mm and 5.56 NATO. Neither are bad cartridges, and both are perfectly acceptable choices. They are not, however, the right choice for us. Disposing of 7.62×39 to acquire a new cartridge would be expensive—conservatively, the cost of a modern corvette out to a ten-year horizon, and probably another FREMM over the 25-year lifetime of the Procurement Games. It would also violate another constraint: jungle effectiveness. I can also eliminate full-size rifle cartridges, for the same reasons that parvusimperator does. I’ll leave the takedown to his post. (Look back through the militariana tag for the post about SCHV rounds.)

So, that leaves me with the intermediate intermediate cartridges, if you will: 7.62×39, the great granddaddy of the field; the modern American contenders, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, and .300 Blackout; and lesser-used wildcats. The latter class is right out on production scale grounds. We’ll be buying, at the least, several hundred million cartridges, and sorting out production at the same time as a new rifle is not something Luchtburg wants to do.

The modern American contenders present more interesting problems. I’m a huge fan of 6.5 Grendel based on its ballistics, and of .300 BLK and 6.8SPC based on larger bullets and similar magazine capacities to 5.56, along with specialty loadings for various purposes. The thing about .300 BLK and 6.8SPC is, I’m not sure that their main advantage over 7.62×39 is inherent. You could just as easily load 7.62×39 with a heavy, subsonic bullet for use with a suppressor, or load it with a lighter bullet and hotter powder for ballistics more similar to 6.8SPC. I don’t think it’s quite possible to match Grendel, which is much less a compromise round than the other two American contenders. Generally speaking, though, I don’t think that 7.62x39mm is less capable by design. It’s less capable by less development. The expense of developing new loadings down the line is offset by not having to buy new training ammunition, or new squad automatic weapons3.

You may have noticed that I’ve rather biased the contest toward 7.62×39, and may additionally have noticed that this seems not to leave me with many good options: old AK variants, the AK-103, and (questionably) the AK-124. Russian-built arms, dependable but not generally known for their accuracy are not a particularly good fit for Luchtburg’s well-trained, well-supplied, well-maintained professional army. Fortunately, there is another contender, and it is the victor.

Enter the Swiss Arms SG5 553R. A member of the SG 550 family, it’s based off the current issue arm of the Swiss military, a pedigree that carries weight in the halls of Luchtbourgish government6. SIG/Swiss Arms is a large conglomerate, no stranger to handling large contracts, and is not Russian—a point in its favor when it comes to support and services. The design has been in service long enough to work out its kinks. As a bonus, it accepts AK magazines, meaning Luchtburg can dip into its stock of those, too. The short version is very short, and with the folding stock, is suitable for issue to vehicle crews and others who work in cramped spaces.

It does have some downsides—for one, we’ll probably want to pay for a longer-barreled version. The extant ‘long barrel’ version only has twelve inches of barrel length. We’ll probably want 16″, or maybe even a 20″ (although whether the squad marksman will also use 7.62×39 depends mainly on how our cartridge development project goes7). For another, it’s a precision-machined Swiss masterpiece. That kind of quality comes at a price. It’s hard to find contract price figures, but I’d expect to pay north of $1500 per rifle. Finally, there’s very little data on the SG 550-series in the sorts of terrain we’ll be using it most often: jungle, seaside, and aboard ships, none of which feature heavily in Switzerland’s landscape. It’s possible that those rather harsh conditions will reveal some flaws not otherwise known.

With all that being said, though, it’s a gun with very little downside for us: it isn’t as thrown-together as a Kalashnikov, so it costs a pretty penny, but the nice thing about small armies relative to defense spending is that they can afford to be well-equipped. The SG 553R is a modern rifle with a fine pedigree, and it’s the thing to take Luchtburg into the next 25 years.

I admit, this one was something of a foregone conclusion, given the constraints I imposed upon my choices, but that, I think, is a lesson in itself: procurement choices are ordinarily dictated by factors other than the raw quality of the platforms. (Else I might have ended up with SCARs.) We merely continue in that long tradition8.

1. Undoubtedly parvusimperator will quibble about the effectiveness of a fast, small bullet, but penetration of a barrier to hit something directly behind it is a very different game from penetration of a barrier to hit something 50 yards behind it. That’s the story in a jungle.
2. 75,000 rifles would cover every front-line combat formation, including vehicle crew, with about 10,000 to spare. 200,000 rifles would cover every reservist as well, with plenty of headroom.
3. Modernized PKMs will serve for now.
4. Izhmash would certainly sell them to me, but it’s unclear whether they’re vaporware or actually in testing right now.
5. Formerly SIG, but they’re currently organized as separate manufacturers. I think. The web of firearms manufacturer acquisitions and spinoffs is dizzying to untangle.
6. Several of the generals on the procurement board carry surplus K31s as hunting rifles.
7. You need speed and ballistic coefficient for that, and it’s hard to get both out of 7.62×39 at the same time.
8. Although my frigate choice was a lot more wide-open, as was parvusimperator’s carbine choice. It’s probably also true that your headline capabilities are the ones where you get to be a bit choosier.

M2 Bradley Part 2: Variants

I’ve already discussed my affection for the M2 Bradley. Everyone knows that the Bradley is loaded with firepower, though. What most don’t know, is that there were a ton of vehicles proposed off of the basic Bradley chassis. There would have been a complete family of combat vehicles that would fill a number of neat niches, but it didn’t happen for reasons of costs and that stupid peace dividend thing. We’ll start with the variants that we all know and love, and move to the more exotic ones.

The first and most obvious variant, of course, is the M3 Bradley Cavalry Vehicle. Intended for reconnaissance, it replaces all but two of the dismounts with a double load of stored 25mm gun ammo and TOW missiles. As far as recon vehicles go, it’s pretty big. But it’s also really heavily armed, and makes a good choice of a vehicle that can be used to cover the flanks against against an attack. It’s very much on the French model of recon vehicles, which is a model I approve of.

Next we come to the Bradley Linebacker. This was made somewhat hastily after the Bradley ADATS (see below) didn’t happen. It replaces the twin-tube TOW launcher with a four-tube Stinger launcher. It’s a pretty simple switch, and the resulting vehicle isn’t very well integrated into an air defense network. And Stinger missiles don’t have the greatest range, but it allows mechanized formations to have an extra antiair punch for dealing with low flying aircraft or attack helicopters. Also, visually, it doesn’t look all that different from a regular Bradley, so it’s a bit harder for ground attack pilots to spot which vehicles need to be prioritized.

The last of the TOW missile pod substitutions was the M7 Bradley Fire Support Vehicle. The job of this vehicle was to direct artillery fires. Key changes were a ground vehicle laser designator, a high end inertial navigation system to provide a good reference for the vehicle’s location, and extra radios to keep in good contact with the artillery. The laser designator, plus an additional high end night sight were in a box that replaced the TOW missile tubes.

There were several attempts to upgun the Bradley, given the concern that the 25mm autocannon would prove inadequate against newer IFVs. This has been a recurring trend, but they’re worth mentioning here. Variants have included using a 30x173mm Mk. 44 autocannon, the 35x228mm Bushmaster III autocannon, a 45x305mm cased telescoped weapon (the ’80s COMVAT program), and the 40x255mm cased telescoped gun from France. I don’t have much detail on the 35mm version, but the 30mm version had 180 ready rounds (and 360 stowed rounds). This is really good as far as 30mm gunned IFVs are concerned, but I don’t see much of a point. The 25mm M919 DU APFSDS round is almost as good an armor penetrator as the 30x173mm APFSDS used in Europe, and having 120 more rounds makes up for the smaller HE payload of the 25mm.

The cased telescoped rounds are kind of cool though. The 45x305mm CTA was originally a collaboration between Ares Inc and GIAT (France). While we in the US shut our part of the program down after the first Gulf War showed just how well we could kill BMP-2s with the 25mm, the French stuck with it, getting the English as second-choice partners and eventually shrinking the round down to 40x255mm CTA, which is now entering actual production. Interestingly, the Bradley can hold 105 of the 40mm CTA rounds. That’s a firepower upgrade I’d strongly consider, given the much bigger HE payload and the improved KE power in the 40mm CTA rounds. More on IFV guns later, for now let’s get back to the Bradley.

I’m going to group the next two variants together. Both replaced the troop compartment and the regular turret with a different arrangement to carry some new fancy missiles. Neither missile program survived the cuts at the end of the cold war. I’ll also look at both missiles in more detail elsewhere. The first vehicle was a dedicated anti-tank missile platform that would make the Soviets jealous. It replaced the turret and troop compartment with a pop-up KEM launcher assembly. This missile was beam riding and achieved results with a heavy long rod penetrator at high velocity. The second was the combined anti-tank and anti-aircraft ADATS missile, which ended up being adopted only by Canada. It’s a nifty electro-optically guided short range SAM that had a combination shaped charge and fragmentation warhead. The Bradley ADATS had a radar system that could track ten targets at once, but the missiles were laser beam riding, and the Bradley ADATS also had an infrared tracking system. Both vehicles and their respective missiles showed quite a bit of promise, but needed more funding to finish the program, and in the early 90s, this just wasn’t going to happen1.

But FMC’s2 engineers weren’t content to stop there. They had a number of designs based on the Bradley chassis and powertrain. This base, the Fighting Vehicle Systems Carrier, had a three man cab at the front that was lightly armored. You’re most familiar with this vehicle as the base for the M270 MLRS, one of the best rocket artillery pieces available. This vehicle gives the option of 227mm rockets with a wide variety of payloads or two ATACMS short range ballistic missiles. But that’s the one you know. The one that got made. What else is out there?

If you imagine an M270, but replace the missile launcher with a big aluminum box, you have the basic picture for the next set of vehicles that I’m going to talk about. The first is the XM1070 electronic fighting vehicle system. It has a crew of six (three in the cab, three in the box), a telescoping, 20-meter tall mast, and 60 kW of AC power on tap to drive all of the neat electronic warfare goodies that the modern general demands.

Next we come to the XM4 Command and Control vehicle. This had space for six men in the box, and had a telescoping 10-meter mast. Internally there were extra radios for the command staff, map boards, and battlefield management computers. Unlike the army’s previous command vehicle, the XM4 was designed to not require setting up a tent at the back for everyone to have enough space to get work done. As a result, it was NBC-protected and was capable of operating while moving, unlike the M577.

An ambulance variant was proposed as well. With the aluminum-armored body, it was designed to evacuate casualties and provide early medical treatment. Two medical personnel were carried in the cab with the driver, and the aluminum box could be configured for 9 patients on stretchers or 12 ambulatory patients on seats, all under armor that can resist artillery fragments and machinegun fire.

The next set of vehicles are logistics vehicles. Two cargo variants are avalable. One can carry six pallets of ammunition, the other can carry 2,000 gallons (7,570.82 L) of fuel. The cargo carrier can be switched from the solid cargo configuration to the liquid cargo configuration in one hour. Both cargo variants have a five ton crane. To round out the logisitcs and support package, an armored maintenance vehicle is also devised. This has space for three additional crew in the back compartment, and comes with welding equipment, an air compressor, a hydraulic pump, a workbench, and of course, plenty of tools.

There you have it. Probably the most versatile family of vehicles ever build around an IFV. Pity we didn’t see more of them in service.

1.) Thanks, Clinton.
2.) Food Machinery Corporation. I shit you not.