Author Archives: parvusimperator

Lewis and Clark Class Dry Cargo Resupply

Warships are cool. Warships are sexy. But if you want those warships to project power beyond your shores, you have to keep them resupplied. Let’s look at some of the ways the US Navy keeps its ships supplied. We’ll start with the Lewis and Clark class Dry Cargo Resupply ships, known by the hull code T-AKE.

The Lewis and Clark class are 689 feet long, 105.6 feet in beam, and have a design draft of 29.9 feet. They displace 41,000 tons and are designed to handle up to 6,005 tonnes or 783,000 cubic feet of dry cargo, plus 2,390 tonnes or 18,000 barrels of fuel. of the 6,005 tonnes of dry cargo, 1,557 tonnes are refrigerated storage. Dry cargo can include ammunition, frozen and dry food, consumables, and spare parts. The T-AKEs are equipped with US Navy Underway Replenishment equipment, and can resupply any US or allied vessel that is equipped with same.

The T-AKEs are all-electric ships, generating power with four diesel generators. They have one electrically-driven screw, plus a bow thruster for maneuvering in port. The electric drive system can propel the Lewis and Clark class ships at speeds of up to 20 knots. Electric power is also used to run the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS). ASRS can work with any standard container, will retrieve containers in weather up to sea state 5, and will survive undamaged in weather up to sea state 9.

The Lewis and Clark class have a crew of 124 civilians and 11 naval personnel. A mostly civilian crew is what gives the ships the “T-” prefix on the hull type classification. At present, the T-AKEs do not have any active means of self defense, but there is space and topweight available for CIWS if this is desired in the future.

Also of note is that the T-AKEs are generally built to civilian standards, with some additions for increased survivability. This was to reduce costs, bypass any potential bottlenecks, and to produce a design that would also have a lot of marketability to the civilian merchant marine.

NSWC Crane Likes Midlength Gas Systems

These days the US miltary favors M4s with 14.5″ barrels and carbine-length gas systems, which is to say, a gas port located approximately 7.8″ in front of the bolt face. It works. On the civilian market, lots of companies are offering (usually pinned) 14.5″ barrels with the midlength gas system, i.e. gas port about 9.8″ ahead of the bolt face. Civilian shooters will tell you the midlength gas system is a softer shooting system. But is it more reliable? We could make arguments about it, but NSWC Crane decided to put it to the test.

Barrel Wear: Accuracy Degradation
In a normal, carbine-length gas system, a degradation of accuracy can be seen after about 6,000 rounds. Crane’s testing found that after 12,000 rounds, the midlength barrels did not suffer appreciable accuracy degradation.

Muzzle Velocity
Does the midlength gas system cause any loss in velocity? In the unsuppressed case, the carbine had a mean muzzle velocity of 2,905.4 feet per second, and the midlength had a muzzle velocity of 2,906.4 feet per second. The difference in means is -1.0 feet per second, or 0.04%.

In the suppressed case, average muzzle velocity was 2,989.7 feet per second for the carbine system and 2,983.0 feet per second for the midelength. Here the difference is 6.7 feet per second, or 0.23%. In either case, muzzle velocity is negligible.

Terminal Velocity (100 yards)
Given the negligible difference in velocity at the muzzle between the carbine length and midlength gas systems, we would expect the difference at 100 yards to be similarly negligible. And it is. In the unsuppressed case, carbine-length gas system yields a terminal velocity of 2,635.9 feet per second and the midlength gives 2,677.6 feet per second for a difference of 41.6 feet per second or 1.57%.

The suppressed case is similar, with the carbine-length gas system providing 2,654.1 fps and the midlength providing 2,686.7 fps, for a difference of 32.6 fps or 1.22%. Overall, there’s not much of a performance difference. Midlength is actually slightly better. Of course, we wouldn’t expect much of a difference in velocities from changing the gas system length.

Cyclic Rate
We might expect a change in cyclic rate from altering the gas system length (and hence the gas pressure in the system). Also, small reductions in cyclic rate tend to be good from a parts-life standpoint as well as a controllability standpoint. So what do we get? Again, we have the suppressed and unsuppressed cases. In the unsuppressed case, we see a reduction of 127.2 rounds per minute or 15.9% going from a carbine-length 864.8 rpm to a midlength 737.6 rpm. The suppressed case gives us a reduction of 62.7 rounds per minute or 6.9% when we go from a carbine-length 944.2 rpm to a midlength 881.5 rpm.

Given the reduced cyclic rate for the midlength, does this translate into more reliability? The tests showed that it did. The carbine length gas system had 65 stoppages, and the midlength gas system had 30. The high temperature (160 F) testing phase accounted for 5/65 stoppages in the carbine-length gas systems and 1/30 stoppages in the midlength gas systems. Low temperature testing (-60 F) accounted for 27/65 stoppages in the carbine-length gas systems and 15/30 stoppages in the midlength gas systems. All other stoppages occurred in ambient-temperature testing.

So now we have some hard data proving that midlength gas systems are better on 14.5″ barreled weapons. Great! This gets more interesting because the USAF is looking at buying 50,000 improved M4s for security forces, battlefield airmen and OSI. That’s the kind of significant buy that can have an impact on what kind of weapons the rest of the US armed forces use. Remember, the Air Force were the first to embrace the M16.


Despite being designed in 1960, the M113 has remained popular. It’s a big, tracked aluminum box. So it’s easy to fit stuff in. And lots of things can be put in a nice aluminum box. Lots of these, like command vehicles, mortar carriers, ambulances, and the like aren’t frontline vehicles. So the M113’s increasingly marginal protection wasn’t that much of a concern. It’s adaptable and low cost. But there’s not a lot of weight capacity for more protection if the vehicle is to be used in urban operations, and the powerplant is pretty old.

Enter FFG. FFG cut their teeth upgrading old M113s, and they finally figured they might be able to offer something better. This is the PMMC G5, seen below.


The G5 is actually somewhat larger than the M113, having a payload capacity of 14.5 cubic meters, as opposed to the M113’s 8.3 cubic meters. Where the M113 can handle 2.4 tonnes of payload, the G5 can handle up to 8.5 tonnes of payload. Gross vehicle weight of the G5 is 26.5 tonnes.

The G5 also has a semimodular design. The modules have a floor and roof, plus internal stuff, and can be switched out with a crane. It’s not quite as modular as Boxer MRAV, but it’s still a solid feature.

The G5 faces stiff competition, being somewhere in between a full-featured, turretless derivative of an IFV like the CV90 Armadillo or simpler M113 refits. The PMMC G5 has only been entered into one procurement contest, in Denmark, where it lost out to the Mowag Piranha V.

As for what I think, I am a fan of the concept. Whether or not I’d go with it for Borgundy really depends on cost compared to some other options, and the sort of boring details of proposals that never gets leaked. Specifically, how the cost of a cheap additional vehicle plus spares compares to additional variants of more expensive vehicles (plus more of the spares that you’re already ordering).

Reconsidering the LCS

Editor’s note: Fishbreath and I aren’t fans of the LCS, but he asked me to defend it and I can hardly resist such a challenge…

The LCS is a curious sort of ship. There are two classes, the Freedom-class and the Independence-class, and I’m going to group them together for the purposes of this discussion. They are both very fast, lightly armed, and carry a helicopter. They have some swappable mission modules to enable them to carry things like Hellfire missiles. Their only air defense system is a launcher for the RIM-116; a close-in weapon.

One is immediately struck by what the LCS don’t have. They don’t have a fancy towed sonar array. They don’t have a fancy bow sonar array. They don’t have a bunch of lightweight torpedo tubes. They don’t have antiship missiles. They don’t have a “proper” SAM system like SM-2/3/6, Aster, or ESSM. One might think of them as stripped down Oliver Hazard Perry-class analogues, but this might be frustrating. The Perrys are the quintessential Cold-war era multirole frigate. One might also look at all of the other ships called frigates these days and despair about the LCSes. They are underarmed!

Or are they? Let us first ask what mission we might have for the LCSes. Mission ought to drive the ship design. The Perrys were designed as escorts. Second-rate escorts: intended to protect the anticipated convoys running supplies and war materiel from North America to Europe in the event of a Cold War gone hot. As such, they have an antiaircraft armament of one Mk. 13 single-arm launcher for the SM-1. They also have a towed sonar array and some lightweight torpedo launchers, plus hangar facilities for two helicopters. On paper they’re much more capable ships.

However, one of the things we note is that from 2004 to 2005, the US Navy removed the Mark 13 launchers from the Perrys that remained in service. Why? Well, clearly removing the system reduces ongoing support and maintenance costs. Plus, it’s not really all that useful. The SM-1 missile and Mark 92 fire control system is grossly inadequate against modern threats. The CIWS is going to be able to (probably) handle a single inbound antiship missile fine, and anything serious attack is going to get past SM-1 and CIWS.

The Falklands War showed all manner of problems with the Type 42 destroyers. These were built for air defense, but they suffered badly at the hands of the Argentine air force. The Argentine air force used Exocet antiship missiles and the sort of unsophisticated, low-level, unguided bombing attacks one might see in the Korean War. There were problems with target prioritization, being sure that no target was left unengaged by the multiple firing ships, and ships fouling each other’s radar fixes. The Perrys were even less optimized for anti-air warfare than the Type 42s.

Anyway, the LCS-as-frigate comparison seems to be assuming implicitly that we have to have nice, simple ship types: cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, and proper navies have all three. We have Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which are built on Spruance-class destroyer hulls and are smaller than Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Let’s unpack those a little more. There are currently 22 active Ticos, each with the Aegis combat system and 122 VLS tubes. There are 65 active Burkes with three under repair, four under construction, and five more on order. Each Burke has an Aegis combat system and 90 or 96 VLS missile tubes. Taking active hulls only, that’s a total of 87 Burkes and Ticos, which I’ll collectively (and imprecisely) refer to as “Aegis ships” for simplicity.

The Aegis ships are fantastic escorts, since they all have powerful radars, computer coordinating systems, communication networks to chat amongst themselves, and lots of missiles. Each VLS tube can hold one of the Standard family of SAMs or four ESSM SAMs. In terms of dealing with air or missile attack, they are the best ships available. They can protect themselves and something nearby. Like a carrier. We have 11 supercarriers, plus nine more straight-deck “Baby Carriers” of the USMC. So if they all were at sea at once, and all operating separately we’d have about four Aegis ships per flattop. That’s pretty good. The Royal Navy would like to be able to do that, and we’d have way more missile tubes per flattop than they would, even if they could manage four escorts per flattop.

Of course, the Mk. 41 VLS tubes on the Aegis ships can carry other missiles as well, including Tomahawk Cruise missiles and LRASMs, giving the ships a potent land attack or surface strike capability. It’s pretty easy for a task force commander to lob an awe-inspiring number of cruise missiles at some tin-plate dictator we hate while having enough SAMs to protect the fleet. For comparison, look at the positively lame ground attacks from the Russian navy deployed to Syria. They wish they had “Aegisski” ships with tons of VLS tubes to lob cruise missiles at their enemies.

In the Aegis ships, the USN has a large number of highly capable surface ships that are truly “Do-everything” ships. They can do any mission you please, and can be configured to do all of them reasonably well at once. No 4-5,000 ton frigate can do likewise. They tend to have 16-32 VLS tubes and a much less powerful radar. These ships tend to carry a mix of quadpacked ESSMs and standard missiles, or foreign equivalent systems. They can do some amount of air defense, but mostly just of themselves. It’s not clear what adding a bunch of ESSMs is going to do to the already formidable air defense umbrella in a US Navy carrier battle group.

Lets also stress that, while we could argue about the most cost-effective mix of ships, the 87 Aegis ships mentioned earlier are already purchased. We have them. They’re ours. Spending a bunch of money on redundant capabilities is silly, and that seems to be what most want to advocate for.

What the Aegis ships aren’t is cheap. They have high operating costs, and there’s plenty of flagwaving missions or antipiracy operations that could be done by a ship without all the fancy, expensive bells and whistles. Playing “Plane guard” and fishing pilots who had to eject from a botched carrier landing doesn’t require a fancy radar or lots of missiles. Hunting pirates off the horn of Africa doesn’t require any fancy systems either, just seakeeping. So the best compliment for a big fleet of highly-capable Aegis ships is a bunch of austere, cheap-to-operate corvettes with good seakeeping.

Good seakeeping is important, and is the major cost driver. Seakeeping is a function of structure, and I’m being imprecise and lumping in range as well. America, as you probably know, is separated from regions of trouble by large oceans, and anything sent to those troublesome regions has to first cross those pesky oceans. And yes, seakeeping eats up space that could be otherwise filled with weapons. If our ships could sail ten miles from our coast and find trouble, we could pack them to the gills with weapons and not care how stable they are. But that’s not the situation we find ourselves in. So no, we can’t just build a few Pegasus-class fast attack craft and call it a day.

So that is how we get to the LCS, more or less. It has a deck gun, a SeaRAM installation, and a helicopter hangar. It can accept a few other mission modules. It can handle a number of basic tasks, including to sail to not-so-hot regions flying an American flag. The one thing I don’t get is the overly high top speed of the ships. I wouldn’t have designed that in, since it drives costs up. Even so, they’re good ships for what they’re designed for: complimenting the rest of our highly-capable surface fleet.

Movie Guns: Bond’s Walther PPK

Quite possibly one of the most famous movie guns ever, the Walther PPK has been (generally) Bond’s sidearm since his introduction to the silver screen in 1962. It probably doesn’t need much introduction, but I’m going to give it one anyway.

The 7.65 Browning (.32 ACP) Walther PPK replaced the .25 ACP Beretta 4181 as Bond’s sidearm in the novels starting in the book Dr. No. A fan, Geoffrey Boothroyd, had written Fleming disapproving of this small choice of firearm (in the Beretta). They corresponded for a while, and after establishing that Fleming thought Bond should be armed with a semiautomatic pistol, eventually settled upon the Walther PPK as the new firearm.

As a brief aside, I hate the Walther PPK. I can’t stand it. The trigger is garbage. The sights are virtually nonexistent. The mag release is in a stupid place. The grip is entirely too small for the hands of any reasonably-sized man. The slide seems purpose-designed to tear up the web of your hand. I would say at least it’s pretty, but there are plenty of other pretty guns out there that aren’t a total soup sandwich to shoot.

Now, because James Bond is a franchise but his weapon remains basically unchanged, we’re going to look at this first in the context of 1962 when the first movie was made. We’ll also look into it as a choice today.

Much as I hate to admit it, the PPK is not a bad choice in 1962 given Fleming’s strict criteria. There are not a lot of small semiautomatic pistols available. My preference would be to either relax the semiautomatic requirement and carry an S&W Centennial Airweight, chambered for .38 Special, or to relax the size constraint a bit and carry a Colt Commander2, chambered for 9mm. In either case, I get a much more effective round and a much more shootable weapon. Most of the time, Bond has a great concealment garment on. This does require a bit more effort on the part of one’s tailor, but that is why one employs a tailor.

You must be joking. There are so many better choices in 2018 that it truly boggles the mind, and it gets even worse if you relax those constraints again. In the Profoundly Small Semiautomatic category, we have the Glock 43, S&W M&P Shield, Walther CCP, and SIG P365. Also the Glock 42 if we don’t mind shooting .380. If we let ourselves go a trifle bigger into double stacks, we now include the PPQ SC, Glock 26, M&PC, and P320SC, which are even better, and can take larger magazines from their bigger brothers. If you’re still packing a .32 ACP anything in 2018 and you plan on wet work, you need to have your head examined. The .380 version is outclassed both by newer, better pistols in .380 as well as the latest crop of small, single-stack 9mm pistols. In .380 right now, I’d be all over the soft-shooting Glock 42, which fixes basically every problem I have with the .380 PPK.

  1. To quote the wonderful Mr. Boothroyd, “It’s a lady’s gun, and not a very nice lady at that.” 
  2. Later called the Lightweight Commander. It’s a 1911 with a 4.25″ barrel, an aluminum frame, and chambered in 9mm. What’s not to like? 

VLQ-12 CREW Duke

IEDs proved to be a persistent and deadly threat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They’re pretty easy to make with cheap, off-the-shelf electronics and existing warstocks, and are pretty easy to scale to deal with whatever armored vehicle you fancy. What is a modern high-tech army to do? When you consider that IEDs tend to be remote-detonated, an obvious answer is to jam them. Enter the VLQ-12 CREW Duke.

The VLQ-12 Counter RCIED Electronic Warfare (CREW) system, was designed to meet the threat of radio command detonated roadside bombs in Iraq. It is designed to be mounted to a wide variety of vehicles from the simple HMMWV to the mighty Abrams tank. Originally, CREW systems were placed in bustle racks of armored vehicles. CREW V3 is integrated into the Bradley M2A4 and Abrams SEPv3 upgrade packages in an under-armor installation. Clearly, cargo and utility vehicles have plenty of space available for the system.

crew duke v3 primary and secondary units

CREW Duke V3 comes with two major components, plus a controller, antennas, and related cabling. The primary unit weighs 70 lbs and measures 12.8″ x 12.8″ x 16.1″. The secondary unit weighs about 40 lbs and measures 14.4″ x 7.0″ x 11.7″. The secondary unit is one of the added components separating the Duke V3 from the Duke V2. The secondary unit also requires a directional antenna, the PRC-119. The PRC-119 weighs 5 lbs. and measures 23″ x 10.5″ x 1.5″.

One other useful capability is threat event logging. CREW Duke can store information on the kinds of signals it encountered and jammed, which can be accessed via ruggedized laptop or PDA.

Parvusimperator’s AIWB Experimentation

I’m not going to pretend I’m some kind of fantastic innovator. AIWB is pretty popular these days. I’m late to the party. I get it. But it’s still a decent topic, and when all of your trainer friends use it daily, it might be worth looking into. And I’m really big into experiential learning, so what the hell, right?

Let’s review our terms. AIWB (Appendix Inside the Waistband) is a mode of carry where the gun is forward of the hipbones (usually between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on your person). It has a number of advantages over traditional behind-the-hip IWB:

  • Better concealment

  • Faster draw time (generally)

  • Easier to defend against a gun grab

  • Much easier access to the gun when seated

At the same time, there’s an obvious bit of caution here. Clearly, we’re in the vicinity of some very important things. For some actual testing, and not just a bunch of nervous prattling, check out Ballistic Radio’s video on the subject HERE. As a bonus, this also includes some good AIWB reholstering technique to maximize safety.

Now that we’ve dealt with that annoying elephant in the room, let’s get on with it. I did need to get some stuff for this experiment. First, holsters. I wanted holsters designed with appendix carry in mind, so I hit up the good folks at Dark Star Gear for some AIWB holsters. Dark Star Gear is also the brand used in the cool video above, they’re the brand used by several of my instructor buddies who kicked off this shindig, and as a further bonus they’re local to me. I got a holster for my Glock 34 (which also fits the Glockblaster if I remove the weaponlight) and another for the Glock 17. While the Glock 17 will fit in the Glock 34 holster, I wanted to see if the reduced length of a Glock 17-specific holster mattered for comfort.

Key things I wanted in my holster were adjustable cant (I wanted to play with zero-cant and negative-cant options), and something to help tuck the gun in close to my body.

I also got a Wilderness Instructor Belt. I got the wilderness belt because lots of my instructor buddies recommended it. They also mentioned that having some kind of belt with the capability for lots of (possibly small) adjustments would go a long way to making my appendix carry experience good.

Also, note that I did not purchase pants with a waist size any larger than what I would wear if I did NOT have a gun tucked inside the waistband.

And now, a brief bit about me. I’m about average height and am a skinny dude. I spend most of my workday sitting. So sitting comfort is important to me, and the easier seated access is a nice plus. Also, my commute is roughly twenty minutes each way.

In terms of pistols, I tried my Glock 34, my Glockblaster sans weaponlight, and my Glock 17 with RMR. Here’s what I found:

  • All pistols were concealed much better AIWB than IWB or OWB with a cover garment. I could be quite discrete with even a light t-shirt as a cover garment. While my office is a pretty permissive environment, this made me feel better generally. Also, it’s pretty cool.

  • Both guns were comfortable seated at my desk or in my car. I had no complaints and wasn’t tempted to remove my gun to improve seated comfort.

  • The Glock 34-length holster made bending over a little uncomfortable. The Glock 17 less so. I don’t bend over much during the day, so this wasn’t a huge downside. Still worth noting.

  • My draw times from concealment are faster. I expect them to improve with practice.

  • My instructor buddies were spot-on about having a belt supporting a wide range of adjustments. The wilderness instructor belt is a lot more comfortable with an AIWB holster than my standard heavy leather belt, mostly because of the wider range of adjustments.

So my conclusion overall is that I really like appendix carry. It works well for me, my body type and the guns I like to carry. As with everything else, your mileage may vary. However, if you’re curious about AIWB, I would encourage you to try it out with some purpose-built gear.

On J-Frames

The persistent popularity of small snubnosed revolvers, typified by the J-Frame models of Smith & Wesson, for concealed carry purposes astonishes me. Back in the day, sure. Small, reliable, semiautomatic pistols in a reasonable defensive caliber did not exist. But this is Anno Domini 2018. It is not 1958. There are plenty of options if you want something really small and concealable and reliable and chambered in a reasonable defensive caliber. Off the top of my head, there’s the S&W M&P Shield, the Glock 43, and the Walther PPS, all with established track records and manufacturers with good QC. These are reliable choices. They’ve been on the market for years. They work. Really. And they provide so many advantages over the small revolver that I still am astonished that people go for the revolvers instead. And no, I also don’t know why my tactical friends keep seeking out training on the damn things. Let’s review the many ways that the small, single-stack semiautomatic is flat-out better than the old-school revolver competition.

  1. Sights
    I tend to get picky about my sights. Modern semiautomatic pistols allow me to be picky. There are a wide variety of sights available for your Glock 19, letting you pick exactly the ones that work with your eyesight. Single-stack subcompacts like the PPS, Shield, and Glock 43 are no different. They all have sight dovetails. This highly advanced technology allows you to change out the sights to something that better suits your needs and eyes. It’s amazing. And these small pistols from established manufacturers have a large aftermarket. You need dovetails, but you also need sights to put in them. But we have you covered with the choices above, whether you like 3-dots or tritium or fiber optics.

    The vast majority of J-frames have atrocious “sights” that consist of a little lump of metal on the front of the barrel and a little trough cut in the rear of the frame. Not adjustable, not high-visibility, not tritium, and certainly not interchangeable. Simply put, the stock sights are awful and you are stuck with them. There are a few J-Frame models that actually have dovetails, but they are tremendously expensive and there are few manufacturers working with this market niche. Otherwise, better hope your chosen rounds shoot someplace sensible based on a reasonable sight picture.

  2. Trigger
    I’ve gotten less picky about my trigger choice these days, though I still like good ones. Anyway, I can think of few things worse in a trigger than the average double action pull of a recently-made revolver. Long and heavy, and probably gritty too. Lots of people will advocate an Apex spring kit in your J-frame. Which helps. Or you could get one of those single-stack subcompacts that has better trigger out of the box. And these single stacks can also take trigger improvements, just like their bigger brethren. I’m sure if I grew up firing revolvers and figuring out how to make that trigger work well, a slightly-lightened wheelgun trigger would be the “bees knees”. But I didn’t, so it’s not. Comparing stock to stock or modified to modified, the semiautos will have the better triggers, and you’ll likely be more familiar with them, because most of your shooting is going to be with some full size semiautomatic pistol.

  3. That Wheel
    You get five shots in a j-frame. Six in some competitors. At which point you’re working with speed strips, probably. Maybe speedloaders, but those are bulky. This is a different and slower reload drill than the modern semiautomatic, which you probably spend most of your time shooting. And even the small single-stack pistols mentioned previously all hold more bullets. Also note that the J-Frame’s footprint matches that of the double-stack Glock 26, which holds twice as many bullets and can accept magazines from other, larger Glock pistols.

Just about everybody is going to be better suited to buying a small semiautomatic these days. And you’re not giving anything up on size either. Here’s an overlay from the late Todd Green, who is also firmly in the more bullets camp, where we can see that a J-frame and a Glock 26 are both about the same size.

Glock 26 j frame

Oh, and one more thing. J-frames with the locking hole in the side of the frame above the cylinder release have been known to have this lock break, jamming up the gun. Just what you want.