Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 15 – Two Favorites

After yet another month of failing to finish our special project, we knock together an episode at the last second to keep our monthly schedule going, sort of like this.

Further reading
P320 selection
Borgundy pistol selection
DCS Viggen videos
InRange TV AK mud test


Visit the Soapbox for articles and commentary authored by the hosts of the Crossbox Podcast. Find back episodes of the Crossbox Podcast here.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Extra: MHS comes with JHPs

I don’t usually do this, but this is worthy of an Extra edition.

The MHS contract, won by SIG, also includes a contract for ammo. Ordinarily I would yawn. Okay, great, the US Military has a new ammo supplier. To paraphrase The Who, here comes the new ammo, just like the old ammo.

Nope. Nope nope nope.

The MHS contract with SIG is not only for P320s and associated parts, not only for plain old 9×19 mm FMJ rounds, but also for 9×19 mm jacketed hollow points.


Can I get an ‘amen’ from the people of the gun?

Hollow points are significantly more effective than FMJ rounds at stopping people. It’s still a pistol bullet, so it’s still a lousy choice. But it’s much better with hollow points.

No sane pistol trainer recommends FMJ rounds for carry.

No police department that I’ve heard of in the United States still issues FMJ. They all issue hollow points.

It’s about damn time our army followed suit.

Okay, peanut gallery. I hear you. You’re probably yelling something about the Geneva Conventions. And you’d be wrong. It was the Hague Convention of 1899 that outlawed hollow points, not the Geneva Conventions.. Specifically, the third additional declaration of the Hague convention of 1899. Which was not signed by the United States. And we’ve been using “Open Tipped Match” ammunition for a while now, which are hollow points, except they say something else on the box, and are Totally Not designed to expand when they hit people. Or so says the Office of the Judge Advocate General. Any expansion is, incidental. Also shut up, because terrorists didn’t sign the Hague Convention either, so we’re not fighting a signatory power. I love lawyers.

Oh, and it’s not like any of the high and mighty European powers cared about the second additional declaration in the Hague Convention of 1899. You know, the one banning the use of projectiles that spread poisonous or asphyxiating gasses? In a war between signatory powers? Well, I’m pretty sure World War I counts as a “War Between Signatory Powers”, and you all were totally using projectiles designed to gas people. Phosgene shells, chlorine shells, lewisite shells. Hypocrites!

And I don’t understand the prohibition anyway. War is hell, said William T. Sherman.

Glock Trigger Pull Mods

I have an awesome and heavily customized Glock 19. It’s awesome. And it would get even awesomer if I had an improved trigger. One of the things I noticed at the high level pistol class I took was that I was the only one running a stock Glock trigger. There were lots of tuned Glock and tuned M&P triggers, plus a PPQ (which has a great stock trigger, something like a tuned Glock). So let’s play around a bit.

First, let’s talk what the trigger pull actually has to do. When you pull the trigger, you finish cocking the striker (at rest, it’s partially cocked). This is done by pulling against the striker spring, of course. Your pull is assisted by the trigger spring, which provides some extra pulling force to help you.1 The path of the sear is controlled by a little bit of bent metal called the connector. At the appropriate time, the connector guides the sear down, the striker is released, and a bullet comes flying out of the muzzle.

Second, let’s talk safeties. Actual, mechanical safeties. The Glock has three things that perform safety functions. First, is the little lever in the trigger. You have to depress this for the trigger to move. And there’s a certain amount of minimum forward travel the trigger has to go through to let the little lever redeploy. Second is the firing pin block. It’s a plunger. When you pull the trigger, a vertical tab on the trigger bar pushes the plunger out of the way. The rest of the time, the plunger will prevent the firing pin from going forward. Finally, the cruciform tab (it’s horizontal) on the trigger bar sits in a slot in the fire control housing. It has to move backwards far enough for the slot to widen. At rest, the narrow part of the slot prevents the trigger bar from dropping away and releasing the sear if the pistol is dropped.

I am not willing to compromise any of these safeties for obvious reasons. Note also that this means there’s a certain required amount of trigger travel before the break if we do not want to disable the safeties. A Glock is not a 1911, and it’s not possible to get an actually 1911-like trigger out of a Glock. Not possible. Well, not without being dumb. We can reduce some of this travel if we’re careful.

There are other things we can do as well. We can reduce the weight of the striker spring. The risk here is that the striker spring is what’s driving the striker into the primer. Too little force means the primer will fail to fire. That’s bad.

We can reduce the weight of the spring holding the safety plunger down. This makes it easier to push out of the way. We’re no longer holding it in place as firmly though.

We can also increase the assistance provided by the trigger spring. Too much and the gun may have issues resetting.

Trivially, we can change the trigger bar from the current ‘Gen4’ design to the older ‘Gen3’ design. This removes a nub which can rub on the frame and add drag to the pull. The nub was added to deal with issues if you reverse the magazine release. Fortunately, I’m right handed.

Finally we can mess with the trigger ‘shoe’ itself, to change the feel, and maybe remove some pretravel and overtravel.

Glocks are very plug and play. No fitting should be needed with most parts out there. It’s very easy to spend a fortune on trigger kits. We’re going to try to avoid that. If you’d prefer not to mess around with parts yourself, go check out DK Custom Triggers. You won’t regret it.

Anyway, you’ll need a punch to disassemble your Glock. If you’re a little rusty on the details, plenty of youtube videos exist to help. Let’s review what I tried. A lot of the following will be a very mix and match sort of nature. That is to be expected. I am not you. I may like different things than you. I may have different preferences as to trigger pull weight than you. That’s ok. Most of these parts are pretty cheap.

To start, I bought a Glock 17 type smooth-face trigger on a Gen 3 bar. Glock makes two kinds of trigger shoes, one with ridges for more Gun Control Act of 1968 points on the import system and one without. The one with is used on smaller guns. I’m not a fan of the feel of the ridged trigger shoe. So this change felt better, and made it a little less likely to pull in a not-straight back direction, but didn’t do much for trigger pull. Well, it took out some of the grit from that nub.

Part set two is the TTI Grandmaster trigger kit. Yes, I know this will not make me a GM-class shooter (alas, I’m not one already). But it comes with a lot of neat parts at a great price. It’s got an increased power trigger spring, a reduced power striker spring, a reduced power plunger spring, and the TTI connector. Score. Price is pretty good too. It uses all stock parts. I found that the connector and plunger spring smoothed out the pull. I’ll have to experiment to see if I get any light strikes with a reduced power striker spring. It made some improvement to the weight though. Definitely noticeable.

I also found that with the 3rd gen trigger bar and the increased power trigger spring on my Glock, that if I let the slide go home gently, the trigger wouldn’t reset all the way. I probably should take a look at it and see if it’s hanging up on something there. But I decided not to bother. I was happy enough with the pull with the standard trigger spring, and I had one more part on the way.

That part was the Overwatch Precision Tac Trigger. It’s the most expensive part, being a machined aluminum trigger shoe. Now I can experiment with a flat-face trigger design. I probably wouldn’t have bought it had I not played around with a buddy’s flat face Glock trigger at a class. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to resell if you end up not liking it. I chose the Overwatch flat face trigger because they’re recommended by more of my friends who like flat face triggers than any other brand. They also have a bunch of great videos to demonstrate that even though they remove some pretravel by playing with the geometry of how the trigger shoe interfaces with the trigger bar, they don’t disable any of the safeties.

Fittingly, the Tac Trigger also made the biggest difference in pull. Way shorter, with less of a perceptible trigger wall. I immediately noticed in dryfire that I could get on the trigger hard and fast with a lot less perceptible movement of the red dot. The flat trigger and reduced overtravel really made it hard to not pull the trigger straight back to the rear. I varied finger position. I tried to pour on the speed. Didn’t matter. I like this trigger a lot.

Pulling the trigger slowly, I found the lighter feel of the wall to be nice. Again, it’s easier to keep the sights on target. But the creep in the trigger is more readily apparent. Is it creepier than a stock Glock trigger? I think so. I think some mush has been added to the ‘wall’ that also makes it lighter. That said, both Fishbreath and I agree that this is a big improvement over stock, creep or no.

Let’s make another comparison: to the Walther PPQ. Which has a phenomenal stock trigger, and some complicated internals to make that happen. Is this as good as a PPQ? No. The PPQ has a really clever internal system to get the trigger characteristics, plus a fully cocked striker at rest. The Glock has a partially cocked striker at rest. Pulled slowly, the PPQ trigger is longer, and has less creep to it. This is still a good trigger though, and I’d give it the nod if you’re looking to improve your Glock trigger.

Interestingly, I tried swapping back to the dot connector. This made the wall a lot more noticeable again, but it also got rid of a bunch of creep, and masked most of what was left with the wall. I decided I preferred the more ‘rolling’ break of the TTI minus connector, so I stuck with that. I think the minus connector always makes the break more of a roll with some creep, and the Overwatch Trigger just makes this more obvious.

So let’s review. Things that made a big change in my trigger pull, and might be worth tinkering with: connector, striker spring, and trigger shoe. I didn’t think the rest of the parts provided that big a difference. Clearly, if you swapped to a NY1/NY2 trigger return spring, that would change stuff. I do know several guys, including one of my instructors, who like the feel of an NY1 spring and a minus connector. Also, note that if you use a reduced power striker spring, test your ammo with it and consider a lightened striker, especially if you shoot Wolf ammo.

Oh, one more thing. You’ll notice that I haven’t provided any trigger pull measurements. Most of that is from not having an NRA weight set with which to measure trigger pull. But also I think too much emphasis is placed on poundage and not enough on the less tangible things like distance and creep and abruptness of wall. And also what you feel comfortable with. Everyone’s different in that regard. Also, note that Glocks aren’t the most tightly toleranced of pistols.

  1. Unless you have an NY1 or NY2 trigger spring, which fight your trigger press rather than help it to meet NYPD pull weight mandates. 

Borgundy Modular Aerial Bomb Family

And now, time to develop some native industry. Our specific impetus is that we think cluster bombs are highly useful things. While the Dublin Convention bans them for signatories, plenty of nations didn’t sign on. Including arch-nemesis Russia. And likely troublemaker China. And frankly, why should they? Yes, war is horrible. Yes, the effect on the civilian population really sucks. But there are tons of unexploded shells in Northern France from World War I and tons of unexploded bombs throughout Europe from World War II. Let’s ban those too! Really, let’s just ban war. Oh wait, we tried that. Didn’t work1. Additionally, the Obama administration wouldn’t sell new customers any cluster munitions. So, we really can’t trust the United States to supply our needs, though Trump might change that in the near term. And neither can all of those middle eastern countries who have bought western aircraft/artillery. Time to fill a market void. And if we’re building cluster bombs, why not build some regular unitary-warhead bombs too?

Our goal is to reduce costs as much as possible by building a complete modular family. We’re going to have two sizes of cluster bomb dispensers: one in the 500ish kg size class, and one in the 1,000ish kg size class. We’ll then have various submunitions packages that we can put in the dispensers. We’ll review these packages first, then go over what we can attach to a dispenser (or a unitary warhead for that matter).

Package one is a bit of a mouthful, because it’s our analogue for the BLU-97/B. It’s a triple-threat, HEAT/Frag/Incendiary submunition. It’s got a shaped charge warhead to provide some anti-armor effect. This will necessitate an integral ballute to orient the shaped charge correctly so it will work if it hits armor. We don’t need a ton of penetration, since we’re hitting the roof. So we can make the charge rather small. This shaped charge warhead has a fragmentation casing to provide anti-infantry capability. It is also equipped with incendiary sustainer: material that burns hot for a while like magnesium that can be scattered by the explosion of the shaped charge to start fires. Three ways to do its job. Very cool. Total weight is about 1.55 kg, with explosive content of 290 g of cyclotol. These are cylindrical, with a diameter of 64 mm and a length of 17 cm. Really nice general purpose munitions.

Our second package is somewhat larger. These are thermobaric submunitions, also known as fuel-air explosives. For maximum safety, it actually uses a solid fuel air explosive warhead, weighing 33 kg. The idea here is to create a massive firestorm, which has a significant pressure wave secondary effect. It’s about 70 cm long and 34 cm in diameter, with an overall weight of 58 kg. It works with a dual fuse mechanism: the first releases the SFAE at an altitude of about 9 m and extends a probe, the second detonates everything when the probe hits the ground. The significant overpressure wave can be used for mine clearing, in addition to the obvious destructive uses.

Package three is a dual purpose mine. It uses an explosively-formed penetrator to provide anti armor capability, and it’s also equipped with a fragmentation casing for antipersonnel work. It has a parachute to slow it’s fall and a spring-loaded mechanism to right itself once it lands. This part is important since the explosively-formed penetrator must be pointing up to work. The self righting mechanism triggers after impact plus a time delay. There’s an additional delay before the mine is armed. It contains about 0.6 kg of explosive, has an overall weight of 2.4 kg, a diameter of 10 cm and a height of 15 cm.

Since the mines from package three are so small, they can be used alone or combined with other things. One such example is package four, which combines a bunch of our dual purpose mines with runway-destroying boosted penetrators. These are about 1.1 meters long and 10.2 cm wide, with a weight of 20.4 kg. A parachute delays the fall and orients them downward, at which point the parachute is jettisoned and a rocket drives them deep into the runway before a 3 kg warhead detonates. The mines are added to complicate reopening the runway.

Package five is some more dedicated anti-armor kit. These are submunitions, again equipped with an explosively-formed penetrator warhead, plus a ranging laser and an infrared sensor to determine if a tank is below the submunition. There’s also a self destruct mechanism so that if the submunition hits the ground without finding a tank, it will detonate anyway. There are drag flaps to induce a bit of oscillation in the fall so that the submunition can scan an area, while keeping the warhead pointed earthward. Diameter of the submunition is 13 cm, height is 9.5 cm, and weight is 3.4 kg. This is an analogue of the BLU-109. While in the 80s this was state of the art, by now the electronics industry has caught up, and the result isn’t too hard to duplicate. Offhand, Germany and Sweden both make similar submunitions.

That should cover most submunition needs that we can think of right now, but more can be added later. We also have a series of unitary bomb bodies. These are low-drag bodies in the 250, 500, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 kg size classes. There are also 1,000 and 2,000 kg class reinforced-case penetrator bodies. All unitary bombs have nose and tail fuse wells, and can accept a bunch of fuses, including contact, mechanical delay, and radar altimeter.

Both the unitary bomb bodies and the cluster bomb canisters can interface with a comprehensive set of accessory kits. There’s a basic tailfin kit for stability. A variant of this kit allows fin angles to be adjusted, in order to scatter bomblets for the cluster bombs by means of rotational inertia. There are a couple different fall delaying options, including parachute kits and ballute kits. In terms of guidance packages, there’s a GPS/INS equipped tail kit. This can be used alone or with a nose guidance kit. Laser guidance and IIR guidance nose kits are available. These may also be used with a conventional tail kit if a laser-guided bomb is desired, for example, instead of a Laser/GPS guided bomb. The IIR guidance kits are capable of transmitting back to a human operator or performing stand-alone automatic target recognition on a preloaded target. We can also add a wing kit if a standoff glide capability is desired.

  1. No really. Cf. the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928. If you think any such notion can actually work, or that this war will actually be the last war, then I have some bridges to sell you. 

US Ground Combat Systems Are Not Obsolete

I came across this article in the Free Beacon this morning, whose headline reads as follows: “Army’s Ground Combat Systems Risk Being Surpassed By Russia, China”.

Look, if you’re reading this article, you’ve read a lot of our articles. You know that I, Fishbreath, am not the expert on ground combat systems. Not really my cup of tea. You know, therefore, that when I say, “Man, this article is dead wrong,” that it really is just flat out dead wrong. Let me revise the Free Beacon’s headline: “Army’s Ground Combat Systems Risk Being Roughly Equalled By Russia, China After 40 Years Of Curb-Stomping Dominance”.

In the modern era, a combat system’s age is not nearly as important as its current capability. The T-14 and the Type 99 are modern tanks. They compete against the modern American system, the M1A2, in the three categories by which all armored fighting vehicles are judged: firepower, protection, and systems1.

First off: firepower. The American contender mounts the stalwart Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore gun in the 44-caliber length. The Germans, being a little squeamish about depleted uranium2, made an L/55 version for higher muzzle velocities. This gun, either the lengthened version or the original with depleted uranium, still sits in the top tier of tank guns as far as penetration goes3. The Russian and Chinese entries both use the Russian standard 125mm caliber; the Armata uses the 2A82, the shiny new version sans fume extractor for installation in the unmanned turret, while the Type 99 uses the ZPT-98, the traditional Chinese clone of the 2A46. Neither is clearly superior to the Western choice of gun. Standard 125mm ammo is nevertheless lighter and shorter overall (counting the penetrator and propellant) than the one-piece 120mm loads usually fired through the Rheinmetall guns. In exchange, the Russian-style gun gains the ability to launch ATGMs—questionably effective against modern tanks—and a little bit more power for HEAT rounds, which have the same issue as the ATGMs. Call this one a slight win for the Abrams.

Next: protection. The Type 99 falls behind quickly here; it’s more or less a T-72 hull, and the T-72 doesn’t have a great deal of headroom for armor. Too, the Type 99 has to deal with the swampy, rice-paddied Chinese south. The Chinese can’t build a T-72-based tank much heavier than the current 52 to 54 tons, and the protection they can achieve there is limited, given what they have to work with. The Armata, though it weighs in in the 50ish-ton range itself, has the benefit of an unmanned turret. Unmanned turrets can be smaller, and armored volume is expensive in weight terms. Our own parvusimperator claims Armata has roughly Western-equivalent protection. Give Armata an edge, even; there are no squishy humans in its turret, and no explodey ammo in its hull. The unmanned turret, unproven though it may be, neatly isolates the two. Call this one a slight win for the Russians.

Finally: systems. This is the hardest one to write about, since the Russians and the Chinese aren’t talking. We know more or less what’s in the M1A2: nice digital moving-map navigation, color displays, modern sighting units, separate ones for the commander and gunner, with nice thermal displays. I think it’s reasonable to assume the Armata has similar. We can see that it has an independent sight for the commander, and the Russian avionics industry has built color MFDs and moving map systems in the past. Presumably, the charionics4 in their tanks won’t be too far behind. It’s even less possible to speculate about the Chinese; their latest MBT entered service around the turn of the century, and who knows what they’ve stuck in it. Call this one a tie between the Americans and the Russians.

In a way, though, systems are the least important item here. Unlike armor or guns, swapping out the computers, stabilizers, navigation systems, and sights in tanks is more or less trivial. There may be integration costs, and there are definitely upgrade costs, but ordinarily, you don’t run into the same sort of critical design problems you find when, say, trying to cram a 140mm gun into an Abrams turret.

So that about wraps it up. Contra the Free Beacon article, the new Combloc5 tanks do not surpass the Abrams in any meaningful way. Where they are superior, it’s a matter of degrees. Elsewhere, they still fall behind the Abrams. What we have today is not a new era of Combloc dominance. It’s a return to parity for the first time in almost forty years.

Let’s go back a few years more than that. It’s 1972, and the fearsome T-72 has just entered service. It’s faster than the M-60, hits harder, has better armor, and is being cranked out of the Soviet tank factories at an astonishing rate. The armored fist of the Soviet Union could well crush Western Europe. This doesn’t sit well with Western Europe.

The Germans and Americans are already hard at work on the MBT-70. It reaches a little too far, and doesn’t quite work out. The Germans and Americans each take the blueprints and build something on their own, and we get the Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams, entering service in 1979 and 1980. This begins the aforementioned era of Western tank dominance. The Abrams and the Leo 2 are vastly superior to the T-72 and T-80. The Russians do some various upgrade projects to the T-72 and T-80 over the years, but never regain the lead. The Leo 2 and Abrams see upgrades on more or less the same schedule; they’re still a generation ahead.

Finally, today. The Russians have Armata, a legitimate contender; the Chinese have the Type 99, which is sort of the Gripen to the Abrams/Armata F-22: some of the same technologies, still half a class behind. Which brings us to the final decider. Quantity.

The Russians have about one hundred Armatas. They only entered service last year, so I give them a pass. Their eventual plan is to acquire about 2300.

The Chinese have about 800 Type 99s. I have no idea if they’re still being produced.

The Americans have roughly 1000 M1A2s, the most recent Abrams. Of course, we also have about 5000 M1A1s of various marks, most of which have been upgraded to include nearly-modern electronics.

Even if we allow that the Type 99 and the Armata are superior to the average Abrams in American service, which is wrong, we still have twice as many as both other types combined.

The Free Beacon may say otherwise, but I say we’re doing just fine.

  1. To include sights and viewers, as well as command and control computers. 
  2. Understandable, given that in most hypothetical wars, the Wehrmacht Bundeswehr would be shooting it over their own land. 
  3. As far as anyone knows. Armies are a little cagey about revealing how punchy their guns are, for some unfathomable national security reason. 
  4. Electronic systems for tanks, by analogy to avionics. (An avion is a French plane, a char is a French tank.) 
  5. Yes, I know they are, respectively, not Communists anymore and nowadays only Communists inasmuch as they’re heirs to a truly Communist body count. I don’t care. ‘Combloc’ is a reasonable way to refer to Russia and China in the context of this article. 

NATO Rants

Unlike a lot of my other posts, this will not be from the perspective of my fictional country, Borgundy. This is Parvusimperator the American talking. -Ed

During the Cold War, NATO was a damned good idea. A more permanent alliance. Get interoperability right before war begins. Get joint exercises done. Get experience working together. Get units (especially American units) forward based, where they can be ready for trouble.

All well and good. But the Soviet Union is no more.

So what do we think of Russia? Well, Putin likes his saber rattling and his little wars. Well and good.

And most of Western Europe does not like defense spending. Fine. Neither do I. I’d rather pay less taxes, personally.

Here’s what I hate. Freeloaders. And that’s what the vast majority of NATO members are. FREELOADERS.

To hell with defense welfare. Germany and Italy and the rest can sure afford two stupid percent of GDP per annum on defense.

We shouldn’t have to support you all. We oughtn’t have to support you all. We increasingly can’t afford to support you all.

Finally I can write what I’ve wanted to say for years. Pull your damned weight or we’ll leave.

It’s simple, really. If Russia is worth losing sleep over, then spending 2% GDP per year is something that’s worthwhile. And if they aren’t a threat, if y’all have got this, then fine. We’ll take our army and go home. And you shouldn’t have a problem with that, right?

You don’t need our armed forces. No, the Libya intervention went fine without us. We were called for help purely for sentimental reasons. Serbia wouldn’t have been any trouble at all. And those Russian tanks, they’re rusted out. Going nowhere. Probably not even loaded with ammunition.

Don’t like the 2% GDP per year target? Okay, fine. That’s just the median level of spending from the end of the Cold War until 2003. It’s not enough, good point. Name some other benchmark and meet it. Any way you cut it, our European allies are a bunch of useless freeloaders, who couldn’t stop a paper brigade of dummy tanks. ISAF sucked in the ‘Stan against a bunch of underequipped terrorist scum. They’ll do worse against an actual army with materiel.

Were it up to me, I think y’all should have a year to get your act together. And then, since we all know you won’t, we’ll take our stuff and move it elsewhere. Maybe back to the States. Maybe to Korea and Japan. They actually spend money on defense. Make the pivot to Asia real.

And I would then hand Vladimir Putin a ceremonial blank check. He’s your problem now, useless socialists.

MMQB: MHS Decision Analysis

Last week, we reported that the US DoD chose the SiG P320 as its new handgun. So let’s take it apart Monday Morning Quarterback style.

First, is this an improvement? Yes, but with caveats. From a shooters perspective, given the choice between a new M9 and a new P320, I’ll take the SiG every day of the week. I like the ergonomics of the P320 better. I like the trigger better. The P320 is one of the new crop of striker-fired pistols that’s been designed to try to compete with Glocks and M&Ps, both notorious for mediocre to lousy trigger pulls by having a good trigger. Plus, it’s a striker fired trigger, and I prefer that to a double action trigger. Also the P320 doesn’t have a slide-mounted safety/decocker. I would prefer one control or the other (i.e. a safety or a decocker, but not both) mounted on the frame. Plus, the P320 is a modern, polymer-framed design, so it’ll require less lubrication and maintenance. The P320 is also equipped with sight dovetails, and comes with decent night sights out of the box. In any case, it’s a lot easier to order/mount tritium sights on the P320. The M9 does not have sight dovetails for the front sight, limiting the changes you can make. Well, without drilling, and I doubt the DoD is going to do that.

There are two caveats here. First, I’ve tried to be as kind to the M9 as I can. The ones in the inventory are mostly ill-maintained and worn out. They’re in need of spring replacements, locking block replacements, and a bunch of TLC. The M9s in inventory are pretty much EOL.

Second, in the grand scheme of things, pistols are relatively unimportant arms. So I might like some more cost analysis, but I think the M9s are too abused to be salvageable in a cost-effective way. Which means the alternative to this sort of winner is rolling in M9A3s to the existing contract. And I don’t think ignoring more recent developments is in any way a good idea. Plus, the DoD wanted a striker-fired design, and wrote the rules accordingly. Good for them.

Okay. So let’s look at the chosen P320 itself, viz.

There’s a few things I like, and one thing I really don’t. Let’s start with the positives: it’s a good design. The DoD wanted modularity, and even though I’m not sold on this being all that useful, they did and got it. And it is cool from an engineering standpoint. I like that the pistols are finished in something FDE colored: guns are a pretty good spoiler of camouflage if they’re colored black as they usually are. So that’s a small thing, but a nice one. The full-size pistol has an installed factory extended mag, and that’s good too. Not a lot of extra length for five more bullets. That’s a tradeoff I’m cool with in a service/duty pistol. And there are flush fit ones for when you don’t want the extra length. Finally, if we look closely at the rear sight, we’ll note that it’s mounted to a large plate. This is removable, and can be replaced with a SIG Romeo 1 mini red dot, or something else with the same footprint. That looks like some planning ahead for once. Red dots are a much nicer sighting system than irons, and it’s really good to see the idea getting traction out of the box in a big contract.

Now, the negative. You guessed it: that manual safety. I don’t like it. I don’t think factory standard striker-fired triggers benefit from one, and it’s one more thing to screw up. If you think otherwise, well, at least it’s ambidextrous and sensibly mounted to the frame. Still. Not needed.

Finally, the thing everyone’s probably wondering: Why not Glock? By all accounts they were part of the downselect.

Well I don’t know. Rampant speculation time. First, that safety I don’t like. If the DoD required one, or wanted one enough to give more points to the design with one, that’d be a good reason. The manual safety on the MHS winning P320 looks reasonably well thought out, if you like such things. I haven’t seen the guts though. Historically, adding a manual safety to Glocks hasn’t ever worked out well. The designs have been awkward. So that’s a possible reason.

Possibility two is a lower bid. Either SiG wanted the contract more, and was willing to go lower, or maybe they had production capacity to deliver faster. I don’t know. But economics is something else that’s good.

Finally, modularity. The P320 is modular, and the DoD really wanted that. The P320 is more modular than the Glock. Those are points in its favor.

So, did the DoD do badly by not picking Glock? Nope. Setting aside any particulars, both Glocks and P320s are good designs. Bet between the two, you can’t go wrong. I’d probably decide based on who could bid lower and deliver faster anyway.

Finally, what does this mean for shooters? Will SiG dethrone Glock in terms of popularity? Well, the future’s hard to figure. So…maybe? But probably not anytime soon, if ever. We can expect some Glock design improvements, to take care of things like that trigger, because competition drives innovation. Plus, we can expect SiG to gain a lot more aftermarket support, which is always great. So this is nothing but good for us shooters.

Also, the pistol the US Military issues doesn’t have any bearing on what pistols I buy, like, or carry. It didn’t before, it won’t now.

Swedish Strike Saturday: the AJS-37 Viggen

The AJS-37 Viggen is a modernized classic: a 1990s update of the 1971 AJ-37 Viggen.

Why is it a classic, though? You may be forgiven for not knowing. In fact, I did not know until I saw that Leatherneck Simulations1 are making a DCS AJS-37. So, on this first Swedish Strike Saturday, let’s take a look at why the Viggen is such an icon, and why you ought to be excited for it.

In doing so, we first have to take a trip back in history, back to Sweden circa 1961. The enemy du jour is the Soviet Bear. Although the Saab 35 Draken matches up well against Soviet fighters of the day, the Saab 32 Lansen, a late first-generation jet which handles the attack role, is looking a little long in the tooth. It’s time to make something better.

Much better. The Swedes had a history of pioneering aircraft designs out of Saab, and the Viggen was no exception.

It was the first canard aircraft to enter front-line service, and featured the first afterburning turbofan in a strike fighter. By date of start of development, the Viggen’s computer was the first integrated-circuit computer designed for use on an aircraft. For a time in the early 1960s, while development work was under way on the computer, Saab was the world’s largest buyer of integrated circuits. It was the first single-seat third-generation jet strike fighter to enter development, and the second to enter service2.

As one of the two first digital attack aircraft to enter service, it is, then, an object of some historical interest. Similarly, its computer is one of the first in the aviation world, and that makes it interesting to me (a computers guy). The CK37 (CK for Central Kalkylator) flight computer does just about everything data-related in the aircraft: it runs both of the cockpit displays (the HUD and the Central Indicator—think radar screen, but with navigational information, too), does navigational calculations, and handles weapon aiming.

Saab built the prototype, using individual transistors, in the 1960. It was table-sized, featured about 5,000 transistors, and ran at about 100,000 cycles per second. Total weight was about 450 pounds. Obviously, it wasn’t altogether suitable for aerial usage. Redesign efforts in 1961 used the newly-available ‘integrated circuit’.

Enter Fairchild, who beat Texas Instruments (!) for the contract. Their integrated circuits featured a whopping two transistors per square millimeter, ten times the density of discrete components. Some few years later, in 1964, Saab’s computing division delivered the final CK37 prototypes. This final version could run about 200,000 instructions per second, with about 28 kilobytes of magnetic core memory, with core density of about one core per millimeter3. It weighed about 150 pounds, comprised five computer units, and drew about 550 watts of power.

And, going by everything I’ve seen, it made for a tremendously effective aircraft. On seven hardpoints, the original Viggen could carry a combination of weapons: 135mm rockets, 120kg bombs, the RB-05A MCLOS missile, and the RB-04 anti-ship missile. Between the radar and the advanced (for its day) navigation system, the Viggen could fly in ugly weather, dropping unguided bombs precisely on any target it could see by radar. Although its air search capabilities were rudimentary, the radar could still cue Sidewinder seekers; on those grounds, it was not altogether ineffective as a fighter.

It did so without a navigator; the autopilot and navigation systems are sufficient to permit the pilot alone to fly and fight. By all accounts, the Viggen gave excellent service from its introduction date in 1971 to its retirement thirty-odd years later. Along the way, it gained the RB-75 missile4, and a variant called the JA-37. A fighter first and striker second, the JA-37 gained a better computer, a lookdown-shootdown radar, and support for the Skyflash5 missile. Much later, both the JA and the AJ Viggens saw some upgrades. The JA-37 became the JA-37D, with a glass cockpit and the ability to sling AMRAAMs6. The AJ-37 became the AJS-37, and that’s the plane we’re interested in today.

Development of the JAS-39 Gripen7, the follow-on to the Viggen and the Draken, began in 1979. It didn’t fly until 1988, and it didn’t enter service until 1997. In the interim, Swedish military planners began to get a little nervous about the state of their ground attack force. Though the Viggen was a solid workhorse, its armaments were outmoded, and its navigation system was fiddly.

Some of the Gripen’s weaponry was already available in the early 1990s, though, including the BK-90 submunitions dispenser8 and the RBS-15 anti-ship missile. The S-modification allows the Viggen to launch both, giving it access to modern smart weapons. At the same time, Saab’s designers added a data cartridge, greatly simplifying pre-mission preparation. The extra data capacity in the cartridge also allowed for a terrain contour matching function. The data cartridge contains information about the elevation contours expected during the mission and their locations; in flight, the computer correlates the expected contours to the actual, observed contours from the radar altimeter. This allows the computer to update the INS with true positions, correcting to some degree for drift during flight.

With those upgrades, the AJS-37 soldiered on until 2005, flying alongside the Gripen for eight years, at which point it was finally retired. An airplane of many firsts, it was also a notable last: the last of the great 1970s low-altitude strike fighters to fly its original mission profile. The Tornado, the F-111, and all the Viggen’s other contemporaries were upgraded to fly more modern, middle-altitude missions. The Viggen never lost its focus as a low-altitude interdictor.

Is the Viggen a good interdictor in its original threat environment? Do the upgrades make it better? Is it suitable for the modern world? How good is the Leatherneck recreation? This paragraph is where I had hoped to tell you that we would soon be finding out. Unfortunately, it’ll be a little longer than I had hoped; Leatherneck’s Viggen releases on January 27, and it isn’t looking like the Soapbox is big enough for a preview key. No matter—that just gives me more time to prep for the articles down the road. In February, you can expect two or three of them, touching on the answers to the questions posed at the start of this paragraph.

Stay tuned!

  1. Makers of the DCS MiG-21
  2. The A-7 Corsair came first, entering service in the late 1960s to the Viggen’s 1971 
  3. The CK37 divides its memory into 8192 words of 28 bits in length, with 1536 words as working space and the remainder write-protected data. 
  4. The AGM-65A Maverick; the Swedes have a thing about keeping American names for missiles. 
  5. Or RB-71. 
  6. Surprisingly, they call this one the AIM-120. 
  7. The Gripen is a longtime favorite of mine. 
  8. The Swedes are anti-cluster-bomb, so a weapon which drops explosive bomblets is called a ‘submunitions dispenser’. 

Modular Handgun Winner: P320

It’s official, per the US DoD’s press release. The massive contract for an M9 replacement has been awarded, and the winner is SiG with their P320.

I guess this shows you how good my prediction was. Oh well. It happens. You can’t get all the analyses right, and I read too much into the deep-sixing of their competition team.

I would like to congratulate SiG on winning the contract. They could use some good news of late, and it appears they’ve got it. I would also like to congratulate the US Military on their new pistol. They wanted modular, and the P320 is the ultimate in modularity.

While the P320 isn’t my top choice for new 9mm pistols, it’s still a fine firearm. It would make a great project gun. And I like it a lot better than the M9.

Way to join the striker fired future, US Army.

Perhaps I should get one of the customized Bruce Gray P320s. He’s got a great trigger package for them.