Monthly Archives: May 2018

Super Multihit Body Armor from RMA Defense

Those of you who have a good memory for the history of body armor will recall the issues that the now-defunct Pinnacle Armor ran into with its Dragon Skin product. Dragon Skin body armor was supposed to be a revolution in personal protection. The concept was to replace the monolithic plate of regular body armor plates with an array of overlapping ceramic discs. Having multiple discs would prevent the propagation of cracks across the whole plate. In 2006, the US military found Dragon Skin to be unsatisfactory as a replacement for the hard plates used in the Interceptor body armor system. Pinnacle claimed the tests were biased, and sued. The lawsuit found in favor of the US Government. The arguments continued, especially on various internet forums, but Pinnacle Armor eventually went out of business in 2010.

The goal of trying to gain resistance to more hits by stopping the propagation of cracks lingered, and I’ve recently found someone else who is tackling the basic concept.

Enter RMA Defense’s Model 1189 Level IV plate.

RMA Defense is claiming, and has the all-important third-party tests to back up, that their plate will stop 5-7 rounds of .30-06 M2AP. This is pretty impressive when you consider that all that’s required for a Level IV rating is to stop one round of M2AP. “Multi-hit” generally means three rounds of M2AP. Having a third party lab verify that you stopped six rounds is awesome.

We can get some notion of how the armor works from their patent. The key bit is a series of tiles, joined with structural adhesive. Think of a set of bathroom tiles, only made of silicon carbide. Then, cracks from a hit on one of the tiles will only propagate as far as the joints, leaving most of the rest of the array intact. This ceramic array is mounted over a plate of UHMWPE and wrapped in a fancy aramid. It’s pretty cool.

Price per plate is pretty reasonable for ceramics at $299 a piece. Weight of 6.9 lbs is on the heavy side for ceramics, and is similar to that of the similarly-sized, high-end steel TAC3S plate. Also, the 1189s are single-curve plates, and that’s pretty old school. Triple curve is the current standard, and will fit you a lot better. That said, it’s still an innovative product. Personally, we’d wait for the future generation model.

Soldiers’ Gadgets: Geissele High Speed Selector

The AR-15 selector is a pretty standard component. There are a few variations on the lever shape, some including an ambi part for lefties, but it’s worked the same way since the 1960s: Point the lever forward (“0 degrees”) for Safe, point the lever straight up (90 degrees) for semiautomatic, and point the lever back (180 degrees) for full automatic. Or burst. Pretty simple.

One innovation seen occasionally on competition guns is the ‘short-throw’ safety lever. This is a safety lever where semiauto requires less than a quarter-turn of the lever. Usually it’s about a 45-55 degree range of travel that will switch the rifle to semiautomatic.

Something like this has also been seen on some military rifles, including the FN SCAR. On the SCAR’s safety lever, the 45 degree position is semiautomatic and 90 degrees is fully automatic. It’s definitely easier and faster than the standard AR lever, but it’s not really worth fussing about. Unless you’re a competition shooter where every tenth of a second counts, in which case, you can mod your heart out. That said, it’s not a super popular mod on the competition circuit. Usually money gets spent elsewhere.

It becomes a little more interesting when combined with a recent Marine Corps study. The Corps appears to have (re)discovered that fully automatic fire is more effective on moving targets than semiautomatic fire. This is no surprise. We’ve known this for a while now. Recall that the original demand for the rate of fire on the MG-42 came from wanting to maximize hit probability for a target moving from cover to cover at range. And Project SALVO and SPIW were all about increasing hit probability by getting more bullets downrange.

All that said, let’s look at the specific formulation, since we have it for this study. Numbers are always good. To simulate an enemy soldier moving from cover to cover, the marines looked at a man-size target moving at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, at a range of 50-150 yards, and assumed a 2.2 second exposure. They worked out that if a soldier was firing on semi-automatic, the hit probability was about 0.4. This hit probability went up to 0.6 simply by switching over to full automatic.

Anyway, the Marines were a little concerned that by the time the soldier saw the moving target, flipped the selector to automatic, took aim, and fired, the target would be gone. Remember, there’s only a 2.2 second exposure time. So they reached out to Geissele to help. While they were wishing, they also wanted the transition in and out of full-auto to be as easy as possible.

Geissele’s high speed selector starts with a 45-degree position for semi-automatic, and a 90-degree position for fully automatic. Just like the SCAR. What’s new is that the selector is spring loaded. So the marine holds the selector in the 90-degree position with his thumb to fire on full-automatic and lets go when he wants to go back to semi-automatic.

I like the shorter throw, but I’m not entirely sold on the spring-loading. It seems to me like this is the sort of thing that one ought to be able to handle with doctrine and drill. A technological solution in search of a problem. And I really don’t think the short throw is worth the bother.

The Opinionated Bastards: Tukayyid (Jun. 1, 3052)

Tukayyid from the Sidelines

The Opinionated Bastards spend the month of May engaged in the typical activities of warriors removed from the fighting. Some work on maintenance. Others hit the simulators. Still more poke around the small city where the Bastards are ostensibly guarding evacuees from the combat zone, looking for leisure and finding little of it. Drake spends some time with MechTech Endo, learning the ins and outs of his Awesome’s guts. Between the new double heat sinks, the new power conduits and mounting points for the Clan PPCs, and the general rebuild-it-from-scratch thing, it’s a serious project, and is going to be a serious project for some time longer.

News reaches the Bastards both by radio intercepts and by our Free Rasalhague Republic liaison, who is a little more plugged into happenings than we are. The general impression is that things are going well. As mid-May passes, the news turns a bit more sour, but Hanzoku points out that Clan Wolf’s victories are largely symbolic. The Com Guards have already won the balance of the fighting, and that’s enough.

On the 20th, the fighting stops. The distant rumble of heavy weapons fire falls silent. News filters out: the Truce of Tukayyid is now in force. The Clans may not advance past Tukayyid for fifteen years.

With that, our purpose in the remains of the Free Rasalhague Republic is moot. Our liaison informs us that he’ll be paying us the rest of our fee, and that we’re free to stay for a while, but there’s no more combat against the Clans to be had in his government’s employ.

The Bastards stick around through the end of May, at least. Few of the planet’s residents join them; most of the large population centers were ruined during the fighting, and despite its newfound historical importance, Tukayyid is still a backwater. Our mechs keep an eye on the loading process, as DropShips arrive to carry off the portion of the population which doesn’t want to stay.

Kill Board(s)

Last Battle

Nothing much going on this month.

All-Time Leaders

  1. “Rook” Ishikawa (26, 7 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  2. “Drake” Halit (14, 6 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  3. “Woad” Kohler (13, 5 mechs, 1 Clan kill)
  4. “Carcer” Ngo (11, 5 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  5. “Wizard” Que (7, 6 mechs, 6 Clan kills)
  6. “Teddy Bear” Jamil (5, 3 mechs, 2 Clan kills)
  7. “Double Dog” Dare (5, 2 mechs, 1 Clan kill)
  8. “Linebuster” Atkinson (5)
  9. “Severe” Payne (4, 4 mechs)
  10. “Milspec” Ortega (4, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  11. “Ker-Ker” Ec (3, 2 mechs)
  12. “Hanzoku” Yuksel (3, 3 mechs, 2 Clan kill)
  13. “Euchre” Kojic (2, 2 mechs)
  14. “Kicks” Hernandez (1, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  15. Simona (1, 1 mech, 1 Clan kill)
  16. “Wojtek” Frajtov (1, 1 mech)

Status

It is now June 1, 3052, and a very different world awaits.

The Bastards are not currently under contract.

Finances

We have 47.259 million C-bills in the bank.

Repairs and Refits

The Awesome is still three months away from combat readiness. Otherwise, we’re in top fighting shape. An Ostroc is on the way for Blinky.

Mechwarrior Claims and Assignments

  • For the record, the following mechwarriors are claimed.
    • Captain Huri “Drake” Halit (Mephansteras) – Awesome Custom (refitting)
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Lt. SG Mariamu “Rook” Ishikawa (Culise) – Stalker STK-3F
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s) – Thunderbolt TDR-5S-T
    • Sgt. Jose “Milspec” Ortega (milspec) – Crab CRB-20
    • Sgt. Tedros “Teddy Bear” Jamil (Knave) – Vulcan VL-5T
    • Cpl. Damayanti “Carcer” Ngo (Dorsidwarf) – Flashman FLS-7K
    • Cpl. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing) – Grasshopper GHR-5H
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack) – Trebuchet TBT-5S
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies) – Koshi Custom
    • Pvt. E-Shei “Ker-Ker” Ec (Kanil) – Lancelot LNC25-02
    • Pvt. Ed “Hanzoku” Yuksel (Hanzoku) – Guillotine GLT-4L
    • Pvt. Ik-jun “Wojtek” Frajtov (Blaze) – Trebuchet TBT-5N
    • Pvt. Xue-Min “Wizard” Que (Rince Wind) – Guillotine GLT-4P
    • Pvt. Abdul-Hafiz “Pepper” Popalzi (mrkilla22) – Archer ARC-2K
    • Pvt. Kevin “Blinky” Stirzacre (moghopper) – Ostroc OSR-2C (en route)
    • Pvt. Gwenael “Kicks” Hernandez (Sheyra) – Phoenix Hawk PXH-1K
  • The following mechwarriors are available.
    • Rec. Simona – Ryoken/Stormcrow B (missing lasers)

Action Items

The whole of the Inner Sphere is our oyster, as the saying goes.

  • In the short term, we’re in excellent shape. Our war chest is large enough to absorb a long wait while we refit most of our mechs to be more Clan-competitive. Alternately, we could take an easy contract while we’re refitting, taking it a bit more slowly and getting our greener pilots some experience against an easy opponent.
  • As it happens, there’s just such a contract available: ComStar offers us a job fighting rebels right here on Tukayyid. Since some of Tukayyid’s residents aren’t happy about the devastation or the ComStar takeover and the Com Guards are seriously battered after the battle against the Clans, our services command a premium. ComStar would be paying us better than the Free Rasalhague Republic did.
  • Do we take the ComStar contract while refitting, refit without taking a contract, or go looking for more opportunities to get stuck in against the Clans? (Although there was a truce, the Clans are a long way from the truce line across most of the coreward Inner Sphere.)
  • On that note, what do we want to refit? I think it’s probably a good time to get the Stalker done, at a minimum, but most of our heavy mechs would benefit from a double heat sink refit. We’re a pretty energy-heavy company at present.

Recharging in the Field

Here at the Soapbox, I try to talk logistics when I can. While it’s not as sexy as a cool new fighter jet or carbine optic, logistics is a vitally important part of keeping an army going. Today we’re going to look at a few different ways to provide power to all of the electronic devices of the modern soldier.

SPM-622
The SPM-622 is an army-issue battery pack. It weighs one pound, and measures 1.2″ x 3.4″ x 3.2″. It has six bidirectional ports for charging devices or charing the SPM itself. It can be used to charge a wide variety of commercial and military batteries, and it can also directly charge a variety of military radios. As you might expect, it’s also weatherproof and rugged. The SPM even comes with an LCD display to show the status of its battery, plus those of any connected devices.

REPPS
REPPS (Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System) is a 62 watt solar cell “blanket” that folds up into a convenient backpack. It weighs about ten pounds and is a good choice for light infantry units. In hostile terrain, moving fuel for generators is expensive, difficult, and dangerous. REPPS reduces the need for fuel convoys.

GREEN
The Marines wanted something a little bigger than the backpack-mounted REPPS, and developed GREEN: the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network. It consists of rigid solar cells, stored in protective cases; a power controller; and an array of batteries. With batteries and solar power, GREEN provides a continuous 300 watts. Each solar cell is stored in a 67″ x 36″ x 12″ case, and the cell and case together weigh 145 lbs. The power controller is 23″ x 17″ x 8.5″ and weighs 60 lbs. The batteries weigh 38 lbs. each and measure 13″ x 16″ x 7″. Interestingly, this bigger system is more suited to vehicular carry, and for setup in a more permanent sort of base.

RGW 90 LRMP

Despite their original design as antitank weapons, most unguided rocket launchers get pressed into service for battlefield demolition work, targeting bunkers and buildings that are used as firing positions. The RGW 90 LRMP was designed to handle a lot more of this sort of demolition work, while keeping some anti-armor capability for moderately armored targets. Which is fine by me; a 90mm HEAT warhead is going to be pretty marginal against most modern MBTs.

The RGW 90 LRMP is a derivative of MATADOR, also known as RGW 90, which is itself a derivative of Armbrust. Armbrust is a contemporary of the American M72 LAW, and like the LAW, it is a single-shot antitank weapon. It’s even about the same caliber. A significant difference is in the operation. The Armbrust puts a propellant charge between two pistons. The front piston pushes the projectile out the front, and the rear piston pushes a bunch of shredded plastic bits. The mass of the projectile matches that of the plastic bits, and the pistons don’t leave the launch tube. This removes the danger of backblast. RGW 90 offers a few different warhead options in a larger 90 mm caliber.

The RGW 90 LRMP (a.k.a Wirkmittel 90) uses a unique, programmable, tandem-HESH warhead with a fragmentation jacket. It’s optimized for blowing up battlefield obstructions and ruining a bunker’s day. It’ll be great in a city, and while it’s going to do plenty of damage to moderately armored vehicles, it’s not the best choice for engaging MBTs. Which is fine. Those tend to be equipped with lots of composite and reactive armor these days. Plus, there are lots of other weapons that look to take down tanks. Few are optimized for demolition.

An electronic sighting unit, made by Hensoldt, is paired with the RGW 90 LRMP. It can be detached and moved from launcher to launcher. The sighting unit handles rangefinding and airburst settings, if desired, as well as elevation adjustments for range. With the electronic sighting unit, Dynamit Nobel claims the RGW 90 LRMP has an effective range of 1,200 meters, which is outstanding. I suspect but can’t confirm that the round uses some kind of rocket assist to reach that range.

The RGW 90 LRMP weighs a bit less than twenty pounds, making it two pounds heavier than the AT4-CS (which is safe to fire in confined spaces) and about five pounds heavier than the regular AT4. However, the AT4 does not feature a programmable warhead, and the AT4 does not have an electronic sighting unit to assist in making accurate long range shots.

Overall, I think the RGW 90 LRMP is a pretty compelling light antitank weapon, with an unusual (and welcome) specialization.

The Opinionated Bastards: Tukayyid Interlude

Introduction

(If you’re reading at Bay12 as opposed to one of the other places this runs, you can skip ahead to the last two paragraphs of the introduction, which reproduces stuff I’ve posted during the week there.)

Readers familiar with the BattleTech lore will have put May 1, 3052 and Tukayyid together already.

For everyone else, the Battle of Tukayyid is one of the seminal events in the history of the Inner Sphere. ComStar, up until now believed to be merely the people who run the hyperpulse generator interstellar communications network, reveal themselves to be guardians of enormous caches of Star League technology and an army as large as any of the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere. They challenge the Clans to a Trial of Possession, a throwdown for the fate of the known galaxy. Seven miniature battles are set for Tukayyid, seven Clans against seven units of the Com Guards. If ComStar wins, the Clans advance no further than Tukayyid for the next fifteen years. If the Clans win, ComStar forfeits Terra itself. I won’t spoil the ending.

What I will do, since the Opinionated Bastards are on the sidelines for this month, is replicate one of the official Battle of Tukayyid scenarios and play that, with the Bastards replacing the Com Guards for fun.

The scenario is #3 from the BattleTech Tukayyid sourcebook: Battle in the Suburbs. Clan Nova Cat’s forces, battered somewhat by ComStar aerospace fighters while landing, nevertheless marched on the city of Joje in moderate force. In the real timeline, two veteran Com Guard divisions stood ready to meet them. The Nova Cat commander who won the batchall for the attack bid a single Cluster, which matched the Com Guard strength mech for mech, but ignored the Com Guards’ penchant for combined arms tactics. An engagement in the northern suburbs between the 9th Division and the leading elements of the Second Nova Cat Guards saw the Clanners stopped in their tracks. The Nova Cat forces, heavily dependent on ammunition supplies, made no further progress into Joje.

In our hypothetical timeline, it isn’t the Com Guards who meet the Nova Cat forces in Joje, it’s the Opinionated Bastards. In particular, it’s Drake’s Destroyers, Second Lance, and Reserve Lance. Facing off against them are two stars of Clan mechs, one medium, one light. The light star is down one mech, for a total of 9 Clanners. All are elite pilots.

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Rak 120mm Self Propelled Mortar

Poland’s Rak 120mm self propelled mortar is the sort of turreted system that Russia has had for years but never really caught on in the west. It’s built on the Rosomak chassis, which is a Polish-made variant of Patria’s 8×8 AMV.

Rak self propelled mortar

In the turret is a 120mm breach-loading mortar. It has an automatic loading system with a capacity for 20 ready rounds. 26 additional rounds are stowed in the hull. The autoloader and mortar has a rate of fire of 6-8 rounds per minute. The mortar has the expected computerized fire control system that is integrated with the GPS/INS navigation system. This fire control system also allows for direct fire with a laser rangefinder and a day/night sight. A coaxial 7.62mm UKM-2000D machine gun is also provided.

Chief among the advantages of a turreted mortar carrier is the ability to provide protection for the crew. The Rak has STANAG Level 1 armor protection all-around, which means it’s rated to resist 7.62mm M80 rounds and 5.56mm M855 and M193 rounds fired from a distance of 30 meters. It’s also proof against fragments from a 155mm artillery shell detonated at 100 meters. That’s pretty good, but I’d prefer a bit more protection. More specifically, I’d be concerned about DPICM-type submunitions hitting the roof, and I don’t expect the Rak to be protected from these.

The Rak has a crew of three, which is notably less than the simpler mortar carriers. That’s good for life-cycle costs. Overall, I like the Rak a lot.

CAS Aircraft Revisited

I’ve spoken before about CAS-specialist aircraft. I’ve spent a lot of time with the virtual A-10 in DCS, and I’m a big fan of the aircraft. In my heart, I love that gun. But the heart can make us do stupid things. We can’t always trust it. Similarly, the A-10 has saved the bacon of a great many American soldiers in combat. They adore the Warthog, and rightfully so. But they would adore any aircraft that saved them.

We want to know whether or not the Dedicated CAS aircraft is a good buy. Keeping it simple, we’ll compare it to buying more multirole aircraft instead. In USAF terms, A-10s or F-16s. Given that this is 2017, and we have combat data on both, is it worth it to put money towards maintaining the A-10 fleet, or should that money be switched over to the F-16s and F-35s?

The close air support mission is a peculiar one, and one full of contradictory requirements. The A-10 seems tailor-made for the mission, with plenty of armor and a massively powerful gun. It’s optimized for flying low and slow, and this kind of flight profile maximizes the utility of the gun and the ability of the pilot to see things.

That sort of flight profile make a number of assumptions:

  1. Local air superiority has been achieved and can be assumed
  2. Enemy air defense is extremely limited in number
  3. Enemy air defense is gun based or nonexistent

In a conventional shooting war, or even a low-intensity conflict with a sophisticated adversary, we don’t get to assume these are true.1 In a COIN conflict, we get (1) and (2) but we may not have (3). The enemy may have access to MANPADS like Stinger or Igla. As seen in the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, this forces aircraft to medium altitudes, i.e. out of the gun envelope.

Let’s look at the combat record. The A-10 has seen combat in Gulf War I as well as providing close air support as part of US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first Gulf War is as close as we get to seeing the A-10 in a conventional war. The A-10 was not sent in against the Iraqi SAM systems. But it did see plenty of use against troops of both the Iraqi Army as well as against those of the Republican Guard. The Republican Guard was better equipped and better disciplined than the conscript regular army. The Republican Guard did not have much in the way of MANPADS or other short-range SAM systems, but they fought back with guns. Many A-10s sustained combat damage, and two were lost on February 15, which caused A-10s to be tasked to other targets. While the A-10’s armor usually allowed it to make it back to base, the A-10’s lack of speed was identified as a deficiency that made it more vulnerable to gun hits.

The primary tank-killer for the A-10 in the Persian Gulf was the IR-guided Maverick, not the GAU-8/A. Of course, other aircraft can also carry these Mavericks, and these other aircraft also racked up a respectable tally of destroyed tanks with the AGM-65s. The A-10A had very little provision for precision-guided ordnance2, and so did not use laser guided bombs to “plink” tanks, unlike the F-111. Again it doesn’t take a purpose-built aircraft to carry precision ordnance, and these can be delivered from medium altitude, away from AAA and MANPADS.

Lots of aircraft have done CAS duty in Afghanistan, including of course, the A-10. Again, the big star weapon hasn’t been the gun. It’s the JDAM, which are GPS guided. Also using the JDAM to excellent close air support effect are the B-1B and the B-52H. And many others too, but I’m highlighting heavy bombers because they’re big, high-altitude behemoths that aren’t really “designed” with CAS in mind. But they can do it with modern weapons. As can F-16s, F-15Es, F/A-18C/Ds, F/A-18E/Fs, and just about every other multirole tactical aircraft you care to name. Tactical aircraft give up the giant gun and the armor plate. But there’s a net gain in survivability from more speed because they can evade missiles better, and they can perform the vast majority of modern CAS missions just as well as a purpose built type.

For COIN, one might be tempted to look for savings in aircraft types. These can be provided from UCAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper or from something like a Super Tucano. Both of these will provide more sorties per dollar than the sort of big armored CAS-optimized plane. And if there’s negligible threat, they’ll drop precision guided munitions just as well.

Against a hypothetical, sophisticated opponent with modern integrated air defense systems, all of the above will all require large strike packages to approach any kind of reasonable survivability level, and those aren’t feasible for CAS. Maximum survivability is provided by aircraft with low-observability characteristics, such as the F-35 or F-22. In Desert Storm, coalition air commanders had faith only in the stealthy F-117 to penetrate the formidable air defenses around Baghdad. The alternative to stealth is a big, Rolling Thunder-style strike package with ECM and SEAD escorts, plus fighter escorts. Which isn’t going to be generated for an aircraft to loiter in support of ground forces.

Let’s look at a more modern example: recent events in the Ukraine. Here’s a radar map of the Ukraine.
ukraine air search radar map
That’s a map of all of the air search radars in the region. Have fun with that. And remember, lots of these SAM systems are going to be reasonably modern units that can move. Everyone saw the success the Serbians had by shutting off their radars and moving their air defense systems around to frustrate NATO SEAD strikes. And you can’t sortie your A-10s until you get air superiority and deeply reduce that SAM umbrella.

The gun on the A-10 is a fantastic weapon, but it’s a trifle outmoded these days. If a gun and armor were the sine qua non of CAS, we’d sortie Hs 129 B-3s. With modern precision munitions, the role can be filled by multirole or low-observable-multirole types with no loss of effectiveness. And in hostile airspace where the opponent has some actual air defenses, the A-10 and its ilk are the least survivable types. A mess like the Donbass is begging for low-observability if you want to actually survive to deliver ordnance and live to strike again tomorrow.


  1. Cf. MH 17. 
  2. Rectified on the A-10C.