Monthly Archives: November 2016

Announcing Random Carrier Battles

Coming soon, or at least at some point down the line, from the Softworks division of Many Words Press, Random Carrier Battles:

random carrier battles main menu

Random Carrier Battles is a computer wargame simulating aircraft carrier warfare at the operational level between the mid-1930s and the end of the Second World War. It features a user-friendly design system for carriers, escorts, and aircraft, along with a large library of predefined types for your convenience. Planned features include a scenario editor and a random scenario generator, along with some premade scenarios covering major battles in the Second World War.

If you listened to Episode 12 of The Crossbox Podcast, you’ll remember my goal for the design system: create something just complex enough to adequately capture the different schools of carrier design in the era in question.

random carrier battles design

In scenarios, the player fills the role of the admiral in command, controlling the composition and disposition of the task force or task forces under his control, as well as the tempo and target of air operations. Hands-on admirals will be able to control aircraft handling down to the individual plane aboard their carriers; big-picture admirals will be able to delegate those to the computer.

Both kinds of admiral will have plenty to sink their teeth into strategically: Random Carrier Battles will accurately model the uncertainties inherent in carrier warfare, including incorrect spotting reports and communications failures, incomplete information about enemies, and lack of direct control over aircraft.


Obviously, this project is still in its infancy. I’ll be blogging about the development process here (at least until it’s far enough along for its own website), and sharing more screenshots and videos as things progress. Stay tuned for more information in the months to come!

The 2016 OpenTafl Computer Tafl Open approaches!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, one month until entries close. I’ve posted final deadlines and submission guidelines at the official tournament page; have a look and get ready.

During the tournament, expect coverage here, possibly to include some liveblogged or streamed games. See you in a month!

F125 Class Frigate

Historically, Germany has made some well designed ships in insufficient numbers. Bismarck and Tirpitz were both well designed and well regarded. Bismarck was formidable enough that the Royal Navy issued orders to avoid one-on-one engagements with her.

In general, modern German Frigates1 are high capability ships. I’m quite fond of the Sachsen class, which are excellent ships with a fine SAM suite. Unsurprisingly given the feature set and the small production run, they’re quite expensive. They may or may not be the right choice for you depending on your budget, priorities, and the other ships in your Navy.

But all things must come to an end. And the long chain of well-designed German ships came to an end with the F125 class.

I do not understand the F125 class at all. They’re the biggest “Frigates” in the world, with a displacement of 7,200 tonnes. They are also massively expensive. I am not opposed to large frigates or expensive ships. But I want something for my money. The FREMMs that Fishbreath is fond of and the Sachsens I alluded to earlier are both high capability ships. They’re suitable for any standard mission you might expect from a modern maid-of-all-work from air defense to antisubmarine warfare to land attack to antiship work. The F125s aren’t.

Looking at the F125, it is clear something is missing. And that something is the VLS. The VLS is where you put your surface to air missiles. And, if you’re smart like the Germans, you’ve got a VLS like the Mark 41 that can also take cruise missiles. So the VLS gives your ship the ability to defend itself from incoming antiship missiles and to strike targets over 1,000 miles away. Without it, the F125 is like a clawless, toothless tiger.

The F125 does have the RIM-116 point defense missile system. This is presently the best CIWS in the world. But it is no substitute for proper SAM capability. The CIWS is only able to protect against a small scale attack. It is not capable of contributing to the anti-air umbrella of a task force or providing protection to nearby ships. This might be fine for a small corvette or patrol craft, but the F125 is expensive and important. To put it plainly, the F125 will require escorts, like an aircraft carrier does.

Of course, an aircraft carrier carries aircraft. There’s a reason it has no space for missiles. But the F125 isn’t an aircraft carrier. There are no squadrons of Sea Typhoons ready to scramble from a flight deck. The F125 has one 127mm gun, some smaller remotely operated guns, four RHIBs, a submarine ROV and a pair of helicopters. It has a mere eight Harpoon launchers, and a small crew of only 110. I don’t know what happened to the space. I wish I could tell you.

Such a simple ship should be cheap, but it isn’t. In the tradition of other recent German projects, every gold-plated technological innovation has been thrown at it. The radars are split between the two superstructure islands. Command and control has been split as well. Plus, the ships have plenty of fancy modern stealth shaping. All wasted on a useless hull.

The F125 is optimized for the not very difficult mission of antipiracy hunts off the Horn of Africa. What a spectacular waste of Reichsmarks er, Euros.

1.) Fishbreath would probably quibble about the use of the term Frigate here. Most German frigates follow the European standard of being a destroyer in all but name.

Lessons from Night Gun School

One of the components of the class I attended last weekend was a dusk/night portion. We engaged targets in transitional light and darkness. I brought with me my trusty Glock 34, which has a fiber optic front sight and plain black rear (i.e. no tritium whatsoever), a Surefire X300U with DG Switch(and a second without), and a Surefire E2D Defender Ultra flashlight. I got some reps in with everything, and I can now draw some conclusions.

Note that these are conclusions from the perspective of a civilian concealed carrier. NOT a special forces type guy or a SWAT guy or a policeman. So I’m not usually engaged in hunting bad guys. This will impact a bunch of conclusions.

First, sights. Or, were fiber optic sights a handicap? I shot in both transitional and nonexistent light. I found that if there was enough light to see the target, there was enough light to use the sights I had. I had no problems in transitional light. Any less light, and you have to use some kind of light of your own, which will wash out whatever sights you’ve brought. So my fiber optics were no problem when it got really dark either. Win. Because they’re cheaper and more pleasant to work with in the daytime. I’m not going to optimize for transitional light.

See, while lots of crime happens at night, it happens in well lit areas. Because criminals need some light to figure out that you’re worth the trouble. They need to see you, size you up, and then make their move. That needs light.

Okay, that’s the carry problem taken care of. Let’s look at techniques that might be used in the case of home invasion, or other night work. First, the independent flashlight. We worked a number of techniques, including the Harries, the FBI, the temple index, the neck index, and the Kyle Lamb technique. Let’s break them down.

I really liked Harries. Despite not being a Weaver stance shooter, I found it was pretty intuitive and easy to use. It was the most stable of the flashlight techniques for me.

The FBI technique worked great for searching. Not so much for shooting in most cases. It’s just awkward, and hard to keep everything pointed where you want it. But it’s easy to transition to the temple index…

The temple index was another excellent technique. It was less stable than the Harries, but it was a lot easier to get the light pointed in the right direction. It worked well for me for shooting. And again, really easy to transition to the FBI technique for searching. Switching between the two worked really well for most purposes. Though it does make you shoot strong hand only.

The neck index is stupid. It illuminates the rear sight too much. The temple index does a better job of highlighting the front sight, which is the one you should be paying attention to.

I did not like the Kyle Lamb technique. This one was super awkward and needed lots of awkward push-pull mechanics. Maybe it would have worked better for a Weaver shooter, but this was significantly trickier than the Harries. And I ain’t a Weaver guy. Pass.

I also brought weaponlights. These are not good for searching, since that requires pointing your weapon at things. But they are great for target identification. Confirming that your target is a hostile and not the cat or your daughter or some shit is what weapon lights excel at. Way easier to engage targets with a weaponlight on your pistol. You have your natural grip. The light is automatically aligned with the barrel. And with a DG switch, a firm shooting grip means the light is on. Relax a little, it goes off. Easy.

Also note that if you come to a door (we did drills with a door), you can easily free a hand to open the door and then reestablish the master firing grip. Makes that problem a lot easier.

The experience of me and the other students reinforced the importance of simple switchology. We didn’t have time pressure or other stress, but people still didn’t get their flashlights to do what they wanted. This is part of the brilliance of the X300U/DG switch combo. You don’t have to think too much. It’s got two settings. On. Off. Press if you want on. Don’t press if you don’t. It’s great. Technically it’s a ‘momentary on’ switch, but I found that gripping correctly meant it was on until I relaxed.

By the end of class, everyone who had a weaponlight but no DG switch had ordered one.

The E2D is a really good handheld. It’s got a low setting and a high setting in addition to off. Default is high, which is what I want. To get to low, you have to double tap the button. So you have to want low to get low. This is useful for small tasks right in front of you like reloading mags. I had no instances of getting the wrong input. Also, the button can be pressed for momentary on or clicked to stay on. Again, this is useful.

Students with poorly thought out flashlights seriously considered flinging their lights over the nearest berm. Lots of problems were had with getting low when you wanted high or vice versa. I also learned strobes suck. I don’t see the point of a strobing flashlight. 500 lumens to the face is just as disorienting, and the strobe is more likely to piss off the user. Any kind of complicated fancy switch mechanism could be counted upon to suck and be gotten wrong. And this was not a stressful environment.

In terms of gear, I came well prepared to do night work, so I didn’t have any gear takeaways from this portion of class. Again, note that it’s very not necessary to have a weaponlight on your carry gun, for the same reasons that tritium isn’t needed. In terms of holster selection, our instructors really like Dark Star Gear and C&G holsters. Both make great kydex holsters. They, and most other good kydex holstermakers, have plenty of options for holsters that will carry a weaponlight.

As for light brands, Surefire. Surefire Surefire Surefire. The other consistent recommendation for something cheaper was Streamlight.

On the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier

Of the two of us, Fishbreath is by far the naval expert. But even though I’m an old Army hand, I still know a thing or two about navies. Especially the navy of my native America.

The United States Navy is the most formidable in the world, bar none. Full stop. We’re going to talk about carriers today, and they do that better than anyone. The US Navy is also the world’s second most powerful air force. At least, if we’re going by capability and not just “Things That Call Themselves an Air Force”. The US Navy operates the mighty Gerald R. Ford and Nimitz class supercarriers. These are the benchmark for distant power projection. They are unmatched in both capability and cost.

But we know that those are awesome. Let’s take a moment to talk about other people’s carriers. Specifically, the new British flattops, the Queen Elizabeths.

Decatur’s ghost, they’re bloody awful.

The Queen Elizabeths displace 65,000 tons full load and have a maximum air wing of 40 planes. For comparison, this is the same max capacity as the French Charles de Gaulle, and a bit less than half that of Nimitz or Gerald R. Ford (which max out at 90 aircraft). But the Queen Elizabeths are half again as heavy as de Gaulle, and more than half the weight of Nimitz. Tonnage is a decent low-order proxy for ship cost, so we can see that the Royal Navy has bought more ship without getting more capability for their trouble.

It also amuses me that the Royal Navy only plans to equip their new carriers with an air wing of twenty four planes. What is the point of all that ship for 24 planes? Yes, I know 24 planes are cheaper than 40, but then why make a 65,000 ton ship? You could fit 24 planes in a ship of less than half the displacement, which would be a lot cheaper. And no, you can’t just add planes. All of your strike planning and aviation handling skills are going to be based around the nominal air wing, since that’s what they usually have to work with. Siiiigh.

But it gets worse. Far, far worse. The Queen Elizabeths straight-deck ships, with neither catapults nor arresting gear. Both angled decks and arresting cables were British innovations. Nelson is weeping right now. And probably spinning in his grave. At least you can power London that way.

Of course, in addition to spitting in the face of tradition1, this means the Royal Navy has lost quite a bit of capability. The angled flight deck allows for simultaneous takeoff and landing operations. Previous straight-deck carriers had a wire net to catch planes that missed the arrestor wires, and if a plane missed the net on a botched landing, they’d hit their comrades’ aircraft in the deck park forward. Yay fire. There wasn’t enough room to do takeoffs in front of the net. During takeoff operations, the deck park would be aft, containing planes waiting to take off. No landings here for obvious reasons.

Not putting in any kind of catapult or arresting gear causes other problems. Charles de Gaulle is equipped with arrestor gear, catapults, and an angled flight deck, like the bigger Nimitzes and Fords. So the French can cross train with the US Navy. You can borrow notes from the people who have been practicing naval aviation since the 1920s without a break. If the Marine Nationale and the US Navy are doing exercises together, they can take off and land on each other’s ships and share best practices. For the French, this is a great way to build their skills without having to reinvent the wheel. Unlike China or Russia, the French are America’s oldest friends. Do what les Americains do. At least to start. It’s also nice to have an ally’s ships as an optional ship to divert to.

All of that requires that you have the toys to play. The Royal Navy isn’t in the CATOBAR club. So they can’t play well with those who are. They’re also stuck with reduced payload and range, since they’re going to be using STOVL aircraft. Those takeoffs are hard on fuel and put limits on how much you can haul. It was true for the Harrier, it will be true for the F-35B. Shorter range and lower payload than a CATOBAR equivalent. And the F-35C is really nice, with a bigger wing and more fuel stowage capacity than even the basic F-35A. The F-35B loses some tank space to accommodate the lift fan, so it has the shortest legs of the bunch, and that’s before you try to do zippy short takeoffs or leave fuel for a vertical landing.

The more you look, the more isn’t good. The Queen Elizabeths lack any kind of missile armament. I don’t like the notion of turning aircraft carriers into cruisers, but short range missiles like the RIM-162 Enhanced Sea Sparrow (ESSM) or the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile are both a lot more effective than the venerable Phalanx. That’s going to put more pressure on all of those Daring-class destroyers that the Royal Navy didn’t buy. The US Navy has a much more formidable surface escort fleet, and it still put both Phalanx and ESSM on the Nimitzes and put ESSM, RIM-116, and Phalanx on the Gerald Fords.

I don’t like the conventional power plant either. You’re not really going to save all that much for a couple sizeable ships. And you gain quite a bit of range and staying power. Which is super helpful, because politicians love to commit carriers to wave the flag and blow stuff up.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine worse ships. They make excellent white elephants. Something more like Charles de Gaulle or Cavour if a smaller air wing was desired would be a far better buy. But instead the Royal Navy built something bloated and af

1.) Spitting in the face of tradition is punishable by hanging from the yardarm.

Sunrise, November 9

Well, here we are. It’s November 9. In a few months, Donald Trump will be our president. I prefer him over Hillary, but it’s hard for me to say I’m happy with the outcome. There are no good choices between a brutish egotist and a corrupt kleptocrat.

So, in the spirit of united disappointment (though I grant yours is likely greater than mine), I offer this olive branch. We have a president none of us1 is all that happy with. I have little doubt you’re ready to stand in opposition to him. So am I, when he steps out of line. Let’s stand together.

Let’s also talk about why this happened. If you’re reading this and you’re disappointed, I suspect you’re going to go with ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’. This is not true, and it’s unfair to your fellow Americans. A month or two ago, I posted an excellent article on Trumpism from, of all places, Cracked. It gets at the crux of the thing: rural voters perceive that educated urban liberals hate their values. Said rural voters have been content to let it pass, but after a decade or two of the capital’s trouble finding them, they’ve had enough. Now they’ve thrown a brick through the window saying so. Frankly, I think they were right to do so. The documented malfeasance of the media—this year more than ever the Democrats’ palace guard—and the stink in Washington are brickworthy things2. I would have chosen a different brick, but educated suburban conservatives didn’t get to pick the nominee this time3.

I’ve seen murmurings about pushing that ridiculous national popular vote plan. I’d urge against that. The brick came through your window because the rural voter feels like the urban population centers have too much say over the way the nation goes. The Electoral College is designed specifically to give said rural voter a voice. Be careful taking away the ballot box: the next one in line is the ammo box. On that note, I do find myself a little unsettled. If nothing else, this election has cast into sharp relief the gulf between the country and the city. More than any time since about 1860, people on both sides of the aisle feel like they’re living in two separate Americas4. I hope the similarity ends there.

In fact, I believe the similarity ends there, at least for now. We aren’t doomed. America is stronger than that. I believe in the resilience of our system of government and the vigilance of the opposition, both Republican and Democrat, to Trump’s presidency. Let the next four years be a time of renewal of the checks and balances over which the last few executives have run roughshod, a time of returning power to the states and liberty to the people, where power and liberty ultimately belong, and a time to once again become a government of laws, and not a government of men. That’s where I am. I hope you can find your way there too.

1. Except, I believe, parvusimperator.
2. I really doubt any media people are reading this, but if you are and your name is not Jake Tapper, be more like Jake Tapper. That’s all we ask. I don’t care if you have political beliefs so long as you aren’t obviously a partisan on the job.
3. And it isn’t like we have a good record at picking candidates anyway.
4. British political scientist Rob Ford expressed the following sentiment after the Brexit vote: do you feel like you’re a stranger in your own country? That’s the way people voting for (Brexit/Trump) have felt for years.

An earlier version of this article attributed the Cracked article to Buzzfeed, despite the fact that I failed multiple times to find it on Buzzfeed via Google searches, and eventually copied the link from an old Facebook post while thinking, “Well, I guess Google must be wrong.” The error in the article has been corrected.

Why we don’t trust gun control

If you were unfortunate enough to catch the final 2016 presidential debate, you may recall Hillary Clinton’s most bald-faced lie: that the Heller decision was about toddlers, guns, and accidental deaths. It’s difficult to express how comprehensively this is untrue.

The Supreme Court described the law at issue in DC v. Heller as a ‘total handgun ban’. This is not in any way in dispute. The word ‘toddler’ appears nowhere in any of the opinions, nor does it appear in oral argument. The word ‘child’ appears only in Breyer’s dissent, and comes up a few times in the oral argument transcript. In the latter case, though, the context is a discussion of the safe storage requirements imposed by the DC law1. In any event, the children under discussion are, depending on your statistical source, all people under the age of 14, or all people under the age of 18. Hardly ‘toddlers’.

So, there’s nothing in the court’s final decision, and very little in the supporting material, to suggest the primary issue at hand was anything but the aforementioned total handgun ban. And yet, Hillary brought up DC v. Heller as a case in which the Supreme Court failed to properly apply the Second Amendment. Put another way, she supports the DC law as written.

Why might she have chosen to express her position using toddlers as a framing device, then? One possibility is that it’s simple scoring of cheap political points. This is almost certainly the case. However, I posit that it is not the only cause here. I take Hillary at face value when she says that she feels accidental deaths by toddler with gun are a problem worth tackling2. I also take her at face value when she argues that DC v. Heller was a bad application of the Second Amendment. Taken together, what does that mean? Preventing the vanishingly small number of accidental gun deaths among youth per year is an admirable goal, and a complete ban on handguns is a proportional effort to make in service of that goal.

As a gun rights guy, this is a completely terrifying line of reasoning. The right to armed self-defense (whether against petty crime by petty criminals, or high crimes by petty politicians) is a fundamental right, however out of vogue it may be most places in the world. Subjecting fundamental rights to utilitarian arguments is a real slippery slope, not the fallacious kind a particular set of internet leftists are so eager to throw a flag on. There is literally nothing, legally speaking, which distinguishes the First Amendment from the Second. If you’re attacking one on utilitarian grounds, you’re opening the door for an attack on the other.

Leaving aside that argument, though, consider the end result of such utilitarian reasoning. If fewer guns in private hands reduces deaths (which is not settled science, but we, like the gun control supporters, will momentarily assume it to be true), and if government has a responsibility to reduce deaths to as near zero as possible, then the government has a compelling interest in reducing the stock of privately-owned firearms to zero. This chain of reasoning underpins the thinking of every major advocate of gun control.

Don’t believe me? How often have you heard gun control advocates express admiration for the gun laws in Australia or England? If you’re paying attention, the answer is ‘all time time’. Those two countries have de facto gun bans, and de jure gun bans on anything you might be able to reliably use for self-defense. It’s the same in New York, where a recent report blames lax gun laws elsewhere for criminal firearms violence in New York. (As opposed to, y’know, New York’s violent criminals.) The solution? Stronger gun laws elsewhere! Stronger laws in New York, even!

So, gun control supporters, I ask you this: are you for banning guns? If so, good for you; that’s a reasonable position, if one I completely disagree with. Come right out and say that, because it’s a very different position than ‘reasonable regulations’. People deserve to know exactly where you stand. If you do like the sound of ‘reasonable regulations’ but not ‘total gun ban’, then I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re a patsy for the total gun ban people. They aren’t planning to stop with the gun show loophole (not a thing), the online loophole (also not a thing), better mental health reporting, or anything that sounds good to you. They will exploit your vote as far as you’re willing to give it to them, then they’ll dump you and find the next group of suckers willing to vote for them. Bear that in mind when you go to the ballot box tomorrow.

  1. ‘Disassembled and nonfunctional’.
  2. She’s allowed to feel that way, but frankly, they aren’t a problem worth tackling, at least not by federal law. I cite a David Mitchell sketch as evidence for this.

Toxotis Self-Propelled Howitzer

Okay, so we have our new MBT, and our new Heavy IFV. Now we’ll outline our self-propelled howitzer. Again, we’re going to make logistics and crew safety a priority. We’re going to push the envelope a bit, but not too much. This will of course be a 155mm howitzer. Can we add another standard item, our stock heavy vehicle engine?

We might think no, at first. 1,500 horsepower is an awful lot of horsepower. But we’re getting pretty heavy. The Panzerhaubitze 2000 and 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV are both about 55 tonnes. That’s pretty close to the weight of our tank, and we can always govern the engine down a bit. So it will be a heavy vehicle, to no one’s great surprise. It will be able to keep up with an armored thrust, of course. The powerpack is rear-mounted.

Heavy is good though. It lets us haul plenty of ammo, which lets us sustain proper fire missions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching The Great War’s wonderful week-by-week of World War One on youtube, it’s that there’s no such thing as enough artillery shells. Artillery does the killing. Artillery is the key to success.

But, a good load of artillery shells (which are, of course, explosive) and the charges needed to launch them (more explosives, duh) is going to be dangerous in the event of an armor penetration. To maximize survivability, we will take a page out of our MBT design and completely separate the crew from the ammunition.

This means a reduction in crew, because we can’t have human loaders. We’ll need to handle loading shells and charges automatically. This is a little harder than it was in the Myrmidon, since tanks use convenient one-piece ammo. So the projectile and cartridge and primer are all in one relatively easy to handle piece. Great. But artillery is different. Artillery has a much larger range spectrum than an MBT gun, because it’s an indirect fire weapon. To make accommodating this easier, charges come separate from the projectiles, and in different sizes. Recently, rather than dealing with a whole bunch of different size charges, some have developed modular charge sets, to let you build a full charge from smaller, easier to handle bits. To no one’s great surprise, we’ll go with this. Specifically, the Bofors Uniflex-2 Modular charge system, since it’s already developed. As a bonus, Uniflex-2 charges are insensitive munitions, so they’re harder to accidentally detonate. Which is great for reducing how bad an accident gets. Electrical fires suck. Electrical fires setting off your stowed ammo load sucks more.

To maximize the potential of the Uniflex 2, we’ll have a chamber volume of 25 L on our 155mm/L52 howitzer. This is a bit bigger than the NATO standard of 23 L, but that’s not really a big issue for us. We can still use NATO standard projectiles, which is the more important bit, since that saves us some R&D money if we can just buy/license existing things like the wonderful GPS-guided Excalibur round. More on exotic and cool 155mm rounds later in this piece. Also, since I know you’re curious, it requires 6.5 Uniflex-2 charges to fill the chamber completely. There are both “full” and “half” size charges, and you need six full-size charges and one half-size charge to fill the 25 L chamber to capacity.

Speaking of capacity, you’re probably wondering how many rounds are carried. The Toxotis carries 60 rounds and associated charges (390 equivalent charge loads total) in two 30 round/195 charge magazines. The magazine subdivision, with corresponding roof blow-off panels, is designed to try to reduce the chance of one hit igniting everything. Ammunition handling, charge loading, fuze setting, and primer handling are all fully automated.

Automatic loading and a modern, computerized fire control system allows for nine-round MRSI1 capability. Toxotis can come to a halt and fire the first shot within thirty seconds of receiving a fire mission. It can get moving again in under thirty seconds.

Electronically, the Toxotis has a fully-computerized fire control system, and our standard friendly unit tracking system. It also has a highly precise navigation suite, which can compute position based on inertial references, from satellite data, or pull in positional information over the tracking system. Fire missions may be computed internally or sent via secure datalink. The radios are designed to facilitate communication with nearby infantry, armor, and aircraft to coordinate support and fire mission requests. So while it can use a fire direction system, this is not required for a fire mission. Like on the Myrmidon, the three-man crew of the Toxotis are all in the front of the hull in an armored capsule. There is, of course, less armor than on the Myrmidon. NBC protection is, of course, standard. There’s also provision for direct fire missions, with a thermal viewer and laser rangefinder mounted on the roof.

To resupply, troops can manually load projectiles and charges into loading hatches at the rear on each side of the turret. These automatically stow the munitions appropriately. For more rapid resupply, the companion reloader vehicle, the Hypaspist, can be used. This is built on a nearly identical chassis to the Toxotis, but it lacks the gun, the rotating turret, and only has a crew of two. In place of the gun is an enclosed resupply conveyor to reload the Toxotis through a hatch on the back of its turret. From here, both magazines can be reloaded. The Hypaspist carries a double-load, or 120 rounds plus associated charges and primers. All ammunition handling within the Hypaspist is fully automated.

Both the Toxotis and the Hypaspist come equipped with a Trophy active protection systems, an array of smoke-grenade dischargers, and a 12.7mm M2A1 heavy machine gun in a remote weapons station on the roof. They are designed for the highest paced shoot-and-scoot missions in mobile warfare. Each weighs approximately 60 tonnes, and the production cost for the pair is $6 million.

Let’s also talk about some off-the-shelf artillery rounds. A standard HE round weighs 43.5 kg, and carries 11.3 kg of HE filler. There’s the M549A1 rocket-assisted HE shell, which has 6.8 kg of HE filler and a rocket motor for extra range. The M110A2 White Phosphorus round, which can be used for incendiary effects or producing smoke, weighs 44 kg, of which 7.1 kg is white phosphorus filler. We have projectiles that can be used to scatter small mines. The antipersonnel variant weighs 46.7 kg, and holds 36 antipersonnel mines. Each mine weighs 0.54 kg, and contains 21.9 g of high explosive. The anti-vehicle variant also weighs 46.7 kg, and holds 9 anti-vehicle mines. Each of these mines weighs 1.8 kg and contains 0.6 kg of high explosive. There’s also a couple submunition variants available. The standard version holds 88 dual-purpose (antipersonnel/antimateriel) submunitions. The extended range version has a base-bleed shell, and holds 72 dual-purpose submunitions. The submunitions are similar to the US DPICM submunitions.

In terms of smart rounds, several more are available on the market at present. There’s the long (1.4 m), heavy (62.4 kg) M712 Copperhead, which uses laser guidance. This provides useful capabilities against quickly identified point targets, including armor. Also available for the anti-armor mission are the very similar Bofors BONUS round and the Rheinmetall SMArt 155 round. Both have a pair of smart submunitions that fall slowly in a spiral pattern. Multispectral infrared sensors and a millimeter wave radar are used to detect armor targets. If one is detected, the submunition fires an explosively-formed penetrator at the target. Finally, there’s the aforementioned M982 Excalibur, which is GPS guided. For fixed targets, this is easier to use than a laser-guided round like the copperhead, since it doesn’t require a designator, but it is not useful against moving targets.

1.) Multiple rounds, simultaneous impact. So the Toxotis can fire up to nine rounds at a target and have them all hit at the same time, totally ruining someone’s day.

Resurrected Weapons: YAGM-169

You may have noticed some logistical inefficiencies in current missile procurement. I’ll use Western examples, but there are similar Russian ones. We have several missiles that are about the same size and have about the same role: engagement of a visually (possibly with the help of infrared) acquired target. These missiles include the BGM-71 TOW, which might be launched from helicopters or ground vehicles; the AGM-114 Hellfire, which might be launched from helicopters or UAVs; and the AGM-65 Maverick, which might be launched from fixed wing aircraft or fixed wing aircraft. The Maverick’s warhead is quite a bit bigger, which contributes to its larger size. Otherwise, they’re all used for about the same sort of fire mission. Could we replace all three with a single missile?

Enter the YAGM-169. Quit snickering in the back. This missile weighs 49 kg and is 177.5 cm long. This matches the weight, but is a bit longer than the Hellfire missile, which is 163 cm long. This is, however, smaller and lighter than the Maverick. The big difference between the Hellfire and the Maverick, aside from platform-induced range variations, is the larger warhead. Here is where some compromises come in. The standard target for the Maverick and the Hellfire is an armored vehicle. The toughest armored vehicle is the MBT. If a Hellfire can kill any tank you please, why have the heavier warhead? The Hellfire can get this done with a large and powerful tandem shaped-charge warhead, delivered from above. Adding a fragmentation jacket provides some measure of multipurpose capability. We have our warhead, and hence, our Hellfire-like size.

What about heavier targets? Since the development of the Maverick, we’ve developed a number of precision-guidance kits for conventional bombs. Combine with a glide bomb kit and some altitude, gives us equivalent range. Alternatively, for well-defended targets, we can get significantly better standoff range from a longer range cruise missile like the AGM-158. Plus, we can carry more of the lighter YAGM-169s.

Okay. So we’ve perhaps accepted the smaller warhead size. What about range? Well, we have more advanced rocket motors, plus it’s hard to compare the range of the Hellfire and the Maverick, since the aircraft that launch the Maverick do so from a higher altitude and higher airspeed than that of the helicopter launching the Hellfire. Still, we can improve the range with a variable-thrust solid-fuel rocket motor.

What about guidance? Well, the TOW uses an old school SACLOS wire guidance system. Which is outmoded, and will be difficult to integrate onto a fast-moving aircraft. So forget it. Beyond that, the Hellfire has a couple different guidance options: a semi-active laser homing seeker and an active millimeter-wave radar seeker. The Maverick is currently available with a semi-active laser homing seeker, an imaging infrared seeker, or an optical CCD seeker. You might expect different versions of YAGM-169 with different seekers, but you’d be wrong.

YAGM-169 was designed with a triple-mode seeker that combined imaging infrared. semi-active laser homing, and active millimeter-wave radar homing in one unit. This is the one part of the missile that I’m concerned about, at least as far as cost. Still, it’s easy enough to build versions with separate seekers if cost becomes an issue.

That said, the YAGM-169 was (shockingly) on time and on budget. But the US cancelled it during Operation Iraqi Freedom because of budget pressures.

So what do we think? YAGM-169 was on budget, and tested from both fixed- and rotary-wing platforms. Awesome. Large production runs should help keep costs down. I’m wondering if it can also replace the TOW as a missile on e.g. Bradley, but we could press Spike LR or Javelin into this role, and those would be much easier for troops to reload in the field, being lighter.

Veridct: Approved for immediate production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board

The Humble 60mm Mortar

A while ago I talked about how the XM-25 was a stupid, useless waste of money. More recently, I expressed my disdain for it’s stillborn parent project, the XM-29. But that is not to say I don’t think that all infantry needs are rifles and machine guns. No, enemies in defilade or behind cover are a classic problem, and I like the classic, time-tested, cheap solution that is the mortar. Today, we’re going to be talking about the smallest of the common modern mortars, the 60mm.

The US Military has been using 60mm mortars since the Second World War, and really liked the concept. So we Americans have stuck with them, and they’re excellent light weapons for the platoon or company. Depending on charge and model, they’re good for a maximum range of four kilometers. Unlike the XM-25, mortars and mortar shells are both cheap. They also actually work. Let’s look at some examples.

The current American standard mortar is the M224A1. Fully assembled, it weighs just under 38 lbs, but it can be broken down into its components (namely baseplate, bipod, sighting unit, and mortar tube) to be carried by the mortar team. Nominally, the M224A1 is operated by a crew of three men. The M224A1 can also be operated ‘commando style’ by a single man. Here, a smaller baseplate is used, and the bipod is omitted. The soldier supports the tube with his hands for aiming. Perfect for light infantry. The M224A1 can be gravity-fired, or may use an optional manual trigger. The M224A1 has a one meter long barrel.

The M6 mortar family from Hirtenberger is the British standard mortar, when they’re not being criminally stupid and removing them from equipment tables. The M6 comes in three different barrel lengths: 640 mm, 895 mm, and one meter. Bipods and baseplates are standard across all models. Again, smaller baseplates are available for ‘commando style’ operation.

Since 60 mm mortars are pretty common, shells are available from a wide variety of manufacturers. The same sorts of warheads are available in all of the catalogs though: HE, combined effect antipersonnell/antimateriel, white phosphorous smoke, red phosphorous smoke, illumination, and IR illumination. Nothing too sophisticated here. Inert training rounds are available as well, and mortars are cheap enough that you can afford to practice with them.

Mortars are a proven solution to the problem of cover on the battlefield. They work. They’re cheap. Get some for your army today!