Author Archives: parvusimperator

Parvusimperator Reviews: Rise of the Tomb Raider

A video game review! Yes, from me! I know, I don’t usually do these.

I picked up Rise of the Tomb Raider (20th Anniversary Edition) during a labor day weekend sale. I got it for my PS4, mostly on a lark. I figured that with all the DLC, and having a bunch of patches, I could probably get the $15 of enjoyment out of it.

I was skeptical because I am not a fan of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot by Square Enix. I hated the fact that it’s an origin story, because I loathe origin stories, and I hated the QTEs. I can’t stand QTEs. They’re one of the worst parts of modern gaming, and I wish they would die1. Give me agency or make it a cutscene, game developers. It’s not that hard. There’s nothing wrong with cutscenes. Also, in addition to being a stupid, unnecessary origin story2, the 2013 game was populated with a bunch of other characters whose job is to die to prove the situation is serious and torment Lara.3

So, with all that in mind, what did I think of the sequel? It’s great. In fact, it seemed like they fixed a lot of gripes that I had with the first one. Good on you, Square Enix. Let’s do a deeper dive.

Are there QTEs? Yes, but they’re fewer in number, more spaced out, and the “windows” for button presses seem more forgiving. Also, a lot of them come up in the dodge-and-then-melee combat bits, but many of these are easily bypassed by those of us who can pull off a good headshot. So that’s a big plus.

Combat is much improved this time around too, with more weapons and a bunch of craftable ammo options. I will say that as a guy who has played shooters for a long time, I would have liked to have seen more difficult combat that wasn’t also tied to the survival mechanisms. Mostly because I want auto-heal on for all those times that I screw up the platforming and faceplant on a rock. I found combat satisfying overall. I thought some of the ‘boss fights’ could have been tougher.4 Or maybe that’s just because I like firepower, picked up the “easy button” and got on with life.

The story is better this time too. Lara is still “developing” as a tomb raider/adventurer/badass, but she’s got some skills and drive this time around. And there’s only one friend that hangs around the story. He’s a pretty ok guy, and we get to know him a bit. More time getting to know him would have been better, but this wasn’t awful. Lara is fundamentally a loner, and it’s nice to see us getting back to that.

I think the platforming was a little better in this one compared to the last, but it’s still not as good as Uncharted. One of the things I really liked in Uncharted 4 is that Nate will reach for ledges if and only if he can jump to them. I thought this was a great subtle hint as to what I shouldn’t waste time/restarts from checkpoints trying to reach. Alas, Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t do this, and I really missed the feature. I did like that as Rise of the Tomb Raider progresses, you get some toys to let you zoom around the environment more, and that was fun. Any game that lets me make my own ziplines is welcome.

Graphicswise, we’re long past the era when games would try to blow their competition away in terms of prettiness. The game looks good. There are plenty of spectacular scenic vistas, as befits an adventuring game. And I’m not much of a sound connoisseur, so I’ll merely state that the sound was never a problem. Not noticing it seems about the highest compliment I can pay, since my noticing it usually means it’s awful. Music was also good, though it lacked a kickass theme to really stick with me.

Overall, go for it. You’ll enjoy it.

  1. While I would love to see this be an agonizingly painful death, I am not a Bond villain, and am not choosy when it comes to the manner of termination with extreme prejudice. 
  2. Highly redundant, I know. 
  3. God forbid we reduce the number of characters and build attachments to them so the player gives a shit when they die because this situation is SRS BIZNIZ. /sarcasm 
  4. Protip: Grenade launchers are your friend. 

Choosing and Buying an AEW&C Platform

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C, often colloquially called AWACS even though that’s a specific system for the role) is what separates the Serious Air Forces from the cut-rate posers. The idea is to take a large airframe, usually a jetliner, put a big radar on it, and then have a bunch of people sitting at computers to coordinate your sorties. All the benefits of GCI in a portable package!

A large part of picking a platform is determining your constraints. We’re looking for a land-based platform that’s relatively low cost to operate and can handle a good number of friendly and enemy aircraft. For this reason, we’re going to look at the larger class of AEW&C platforms.

As a brief aside, the smaller platforms are the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, and a number of business jet derivatives. The Hawkeye is the only decent carrierborne AEW&C platform available, so if we were looking to build a naval air arm, that’s what we’d pick for the purpose.

The obvious large AEW&C platform is the E-3 Sentry. However, it is built on a Boeing 707-derived airframe, and these are no longer in production. No luck there. This problem also presented itself to the Japanese when they were looking for a larger platform to supplement their Hawkeyes in the 1990s.

Boeing obliged with the E-767, which puts the radar and computers from the E-3 onto a 767-200 airframe. The resulting widebody has space for up to 19 controller consoles, though I couldn’t find a great source on how many the JASDF use. It still uses the same radar as on the Sentry, albeit with upgrades. Also, as presently configured, it has no aerial refueling capability.

About a decade later, Boeing responded to an Australian RFP with a new design: the E-7A Wedgetail. This aircraft is based on the 737-700 airframe, and mounts Northrop Grumman’s Multirole Electronically Scanned Array radar. This is an actively scanned array, so it doesn’t need to rotate. It does posses aerial refueling capability, and is capable of mounting up to twelve controller consoles. At present, Australia has fitted ten consoles.

In terms of bigger platforms, these are the contenders. More consoles on the E-767 means it can coordinate more friendly aircraft. The more advanced MESA radar on the Wedgetail lets it refresh scans of regions faster and adjust power to focus on particular sectors with longer-ranged scans. It’s also able to handle simultaneous air and surface search. and the actively scanned array should be better at ECCM.

You can probably see where this is going. We’re opting for the E-7A Wedgetail. It’s even the cheaper option of the two. It’s telling that Wedgetail has had several export successes since being sold to the Australians. It’s also telling that the E-767 is absent from most of Boeing’s current marketing materials.

Choosing a Tanker Aircraft

Tanker aircraft are a requirement for any serious projection of airpower. And no one ever has enough of them. So let’s go get some.

Previously, the standard in aerial refueling was the KC-135, a close relative of the classic Boeing 707. Today, there are two different airframes available for tankers. There is the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330. The 767 has two tanker derivatives: the KC-767, which is derived from the 767-200ER and is in use by Italy and Japan; and the KC-46A, which is based on the 767-200LRF1 and is in use by the United States and Japan. Note that the KC-46A is bigger than the KC-767, and carries more fuel. The A330-MRTT is the tanker derivative of the A330, and it is bigger than the KC-46A.

Now on to the choices. We know from the USAF tanker proposals that the 767 options have a lower projected life cycle cost than the A330-MRTT. For many export customers, this is outweighed by the greater fuel and cargo capacity of the Airbus. On the other hand, the 767s smaller size means it can operate out of smaller airfields. It is closer in size to the KC-135R, for those looking for a direct replacement, or just trying to picture sizes.

For us, we’d also point out the massive USAF buy of KC-46As as points in its favor, since that will mean the type will get more future upgrades and development money, if only to keep the US fleet going. Further, 767s are Boeing aircraft, and have a flight envelope not restricted by the flight computer. We prefer this.

So we’re going with the KC-46A. It’ll get the upgrades, and Boeing is still making 767s for the civilian market, which is a plus. We expect to be able to cannibalize ex-civilian airliners for parts and airframes for years after the type is formally retired (as was done with the KC-135), but the longer we can go before having to do this the better.

  1. Which is actually quite a bit different from the 767-200ER. 

Errata: URG-I updates

Earlier this year I wrote a post on the URG-I upgrade kit for USASOC’s M4s. This is a pretty simple set of drop-in parts to improve the functionality of the M4 by using a low-profile gas block, barrel with a midlength gas system, improved flash hider that can also mount a suppressor, and a new, longer, free-float handguard with mlok slots instead of picatinny rails.

When I first wrote the article, I compared it to a “stock” M4 upper. To do so I had to make some guesses as to the weights of the new parts. I have since been able to find the correct weights, and the article has been updated with those.

If you just want the correct weights without re-reading the article, they are as follows:
Geissele Mk 16 13″ handguard, 14.7 oz.
Surefire SF4P flash hider, 4.48 oz.
Daniel Defense 14.5″ CHF Midlength, Gov’t profile barrel, 24 oz.

Whence Cometh PMAGs?

It occurred to me that there are plenty of folks who don’t understand how and why Magpul’s fantastic PMAGs became the standard magazine for AR-15 users both civilian and military. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In terms of product, Magpul’s PMAGs1 hit a solid mix of reasonable price, reasonable quality, reasonable durability, and reasonable reliability of feeding (which is to say, function). They’re also pretty ubiquitous. Easy to find almost anywhere. While you can buy more durable magazines, they will cost you more. And mags that are cheaper by a large enough margin to care about don’t work as well.

Magpul wasn’t the first to come to market with a polymer magazine. Their first prototypes were made in 2006. They were among the first to come out with a polymer magazine that worked well, and they had built a customer base with some of their other quality products, like their magazine pulls (hence the company name).

Of course, the AR-15’s original magazines were made from thin aluminum. They were originally intended to be disposable after a single use, and this allowed the Armalite design team to make them very lightweight. However, the military did not go for that, and reissued magazines. Civilian shooters would also not treat aluminum magazines as disposable items either. However, the Armalite design team was not given a chance to redesign the magazines to make them more durable.

One of the things that will crop up with ‘USGI’ aluminum magazines is that the feed lips can deform, whether from being dropped or being smacked or whatever. And a property of metal is that when deformed with enough force, you’ll get “plastic deformation,” i.e. it will stay bent. If the feed lips get messed up, your mag isn’t going to work. These can be subtle problems. Your eye won’t know, but your rifle will. Like the princess and the pea.

Now, the military hates to throw things out, so mags that get bad from use and abuse (or stupid, stupid boots) are going to stick around. And civilians aren’t very likely to throw out bad mags either. They paid good money for those! That’s not to mention the affect of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which allowed the sale to non-law enforcement civilians of standard capacity magazines made before 1994. So those aluminum mags were going nowhere. And those old mags were now worth a premium, so whatever crappy mag that a guy could dig up could be resold at a significant profit. Even if the mag was beat to hell.

I still have a folder of data on my hard drive of proper feed lip dimensions and instructions for retuning feed lips to get them close to original spec so that they wouldn’t induce double feeds. Ugh. Bad memories.

After the sunset of the ban in 2004, the market exploded with manufacturers making standard capacity magazines. Of course, the nature of the aluminum USGI magazines meant that it was pretty hard for the layman to tell if the magazine was made by anyone who knew what they were doing. Substandard materials or construction methods could lead to more problems. Or more rapid onset of problems. Or not; you could just get lucky.

Enter Magpul’s PMAG. Magpul hit the market with a good design, good materials (finally–remember this wasn’t the first attempt at a polymer AR-15 magazine), and good quality control. If you bought a Magpul PMAG, it would work, unlike previous polymer magazine efforts. And you didn’t find PMAGs in a box with a bunch of other curbstomped mags at a gunshow. Even if you did, they looked distinctive. Plus, they were cheap enough to buy a lot of.

Once they got the polymer magazines working well, Magpul’s choice of material brought other benefits. Polymer doesn’t deform like aluminum does; ironically it doesn’t do “plastic deformation”. It’ll either spring back to its original shape (elastic deformation) or break. And when it breaks it’s obvious. Maybe there’s a chunk of feedlip missing. Maybe there’s a big crack down the back of the magazine. Maybe the weld split. And it’s probably going to vomit bullets all over the floor when you try to fill it.

There you have it. Why we love our PMAGs.

  1. All caps, because Magpul spells it that way. And when I say PMAG, I do mean “Magpul’s PMAG” not something else. Not the imitators. And I like Magpul a lot, so I’ll happily oblige them on their branding. 

Choosing a Jet Trainer

While not glamorous, jet trainers are an important part of an air force’s inventory. And with the US Air Force looking for a replacement for its venerable T-38s, I thought I might do likewise. As always, we’re looking for something off the shelf, which is doubly important for a trainer. A trainer’s most important evaluation criterion is cost; it should be cheap to buy and cheap to operate. It should, however, have a reasonably sophisticated cockpit so students can start learning on the sorts of instruments they’ll see on your front line fighters, as this will reduce training time there.

Cost is always a hard thing for the armchair strategist to analyze, however recently Poland sought a new trainer. Looking at their tender, we can get an excellent idea of relative costs, since Poland makes none of the three leading contenders. They compared the current model of BAE’s Hawk trainer, Alenia’s M-346, and Korean Aerospace’s T-50. All three are new-build aircraft, complete with modern comforts like glass cockpits. Costs for the bid (for a fixed initial number of aircraft) broke down as follows: M-346: 1.168 billion złoty, Hawk: 1.754 billion złoty, and T-50: 1.803 billion złoty. The M-346 won in Poland. It has also won a similar comparison in Singapore, but I don’t have their competitive bids to examine.

We might next ask if we ask anything more of our trainer. Some smaller air forces have trainers that are tasked to also be light attack aircraft. Were this the case, like any other tender we’d start discussing payload and compatible weapons fit. However, since we do not have such a role in mind for our trainer, we do not need to make such comparisons.

Since the M-346 is our lowest-cost option that meets our capability requirements, the M-346 is our choice.

Retro Air Force Procurement II: Lightweight Fighter Edition

It’s time for another classic showdown. Let’s look at two competing lightweight fighters. Specifically, the F-16 Viper and the F/A-18 Hornet. We’re going to keep this fair, so we’re generally looking at older Vipers, from back when both were in production. For a mid 90s procurement challenge, we’re going to have the F/A-18C/D Hornets go up against the F-16C/D Block 50/52 Vipers.

The F-16 was the fighter that (re)popularized the light fighter concept. It’s relatively small, has one engine, and a reasonable amount of capability. For a western fighter, it’s pretty cheap too. One engine means that the maintenance and support costs are going to be lower. Plus, it’s engine is common with that of the F-15, which is awesome if you operate the bigger type. It has possibly the most cockpit visibility ever. It can do any mission you please. It’s great.

The F/A-18 Hornet brings something a little different to the table. It’s got two engines, a navy-grade undercarriage, and some really fancy avionics for the time. The Hornet was small and advanced, but it cost more both to buy and to maintain. It’s also multirole, and was the first aircraft to shoot down enemy aircraft with missiles and complete a bombing mission on the same sortie in the Persian Gulf War. It’s also got great cockpit visibility.

So let’s break this down:

  • Cost: Viper. Duh. Viper is cheaper to buy, cheaper to fly. Has just the one engine. And it’s the same engine used in the F-15, which is a big bonus if you also operate Eagles, because then you don’t need to add another engine’s parts to the support list. And we do operate Eagles.

Looking at FY98 prices for both (using total program cost for each, because that’s what I happened to find), Vipers will run $26.9M and Hornets will run $39.5M.

  • Cockpit Systems: Hornet. The Hornet has three displays compared to the Viper’s two, and they’re bigger displays at that. The Hornet can run a moving map display too, which is really cool.

  • Engine Power: Viper. Even though it only has one engine compared to the Hornet’s two, the Viper has a lot more thrust, and a pilot can use this thrust to get out of trouble. Or take off quickly.

  • Low-Speed Handling: Hornet. The Hornet is a fantastically high-alpha jet. It performs well at low speeds and high angles of attack, so it’s a great turning dogfighter.

These two previous points mean that while the two aircraft fight very differently, they’re both very capable machines. Practical dogfight capability is a draw.

  • Targeting Pods: Viper. Both aircraft have access to the full range of NATO FLIR targeting pods like LITENING, which use infrared-spectrum cameras and lasers to identify targets. However, the Viper can also mount the ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System pod, which allows for identification of type, bearing, and most importantly range of enemy radars. Accurate range data allows the AGM-88 HARM to be used more effectively.

  • Weapons Fit: Tie. Both aircraft can operate a wide variety of ordinance, with no significant differences between the two.

  • Jamming Systems: Tie. Mostly because both can mount modern ECM pod options, and those are a pain to compare with unclassified data. So we’ll call it a wash.

  • Towed Decoys: Viper. The Viper can be equipped with the ALE-50 towed decoy system. While the bigger Super Hornet can also be so equipped, the standard Hornet cannot.

  • Naval Capability: Hornet. If you want to operate your fighters off of carriers, the Hornet is CATOBAR capable and the Viper isn’t.

  • Twin Engines: Hornet. Lots of Hornet export customers like the twin-engine reliability, since they have big, foreboding, sparsely-populated regions. Like with Naval capability, if this is important to you, the Hornet gains points.

  • Radar Range, Track Fighters: Viper. Based on totally shady open-source materials, I’ve found the maximum radar range to track a small fighter to be 80 km for the Block 50/52 Viper (with the APG-68(V)7 radar) and 72 km for the F/A-18C Hornet.

  • Radar Range, Track Bombers: Hornet. The same source gives the F/A-18C Hornet a maximum radar range to track bombers to be 150 km and the Block 50/52 Viper with APG-68(V)7 radar a maximum tracking range of 140 km.

  • Recon: Hornet. The Viper requires a camera pod for reconnaissance missions. The Hornet can replace the gun and ammo package with a reconnaissance camera package,

  • Pending Upgrades: Viper. In the above, I’ve compared what was flying in 1998 for both aircraft. However, both Greece and Israel were looking to buy some Vipers, and a number of improvements were offered. Specifically, the Apg-68(V)9 radar and removable conformal fuel tanks were available for F-16s ordered in 1998, and both of these features were purchased by the Israelis.

Okay, so where do we come down for Borgundy? We’re going to go with the Viper. The Viper provides excellent multirole capability while also being relatively low cost to purchase and operate. As a bonus, it can have common engines with our Eagle/Strike Eagle fleet. In the late 90s, the Viper is not only super popular in the export market, but it also continued to see development. It does a good enough job at everything we’d like it to do, while also being cheaper than the competition. It’s superior SEAD functionality is a bonus, as we take that mission seriously.

Note that while I picked 1998 as the year for this, mostly because I had price data for that year, the conclusion is similar for other Hornet/Viper matchups of similar vintage. The key differentiators that would push for a Hornet buy are naval aviation (or a naval/land common fighter project) or large remote spaces that would lead to a favoring of a twin-engine design. Neither of which applies for Borgundy, unless the United States wanted to sell one of their (likely conventional powered) carriers to us as well.

Mythbusting: The US Army and Autoloaders

Let’s tackle a persistent myth. The myth is that the US Army does not like autoloader systems for tanks. Proponents can point to the M60 having a human loader and the Abrams having a human loader, and then cite all of the nice things about having a fourth man in the tank when it comes time to post guards or do labor-intensive maintenance like fixing/swapping tracks, and ipso facto, the US Army loves human loaders. Clearly autoloaders are only for godless commie scum and cheese-eating surrender monkeys!

Of course, when we actually bother to look into the matter, those meddlesome facts get in the way of our carefully crafted myth. The US Army actually loves autoloaders. Let us examine the evidence.

Exhibit A is the MBT-70. This ill-fated project was a joint effort between the Americans and the Germans. It would end up being doomed by cost overruns and an inability to come to agreements on a number of key systems, including the gun and engine. However, one thing the Germans and Americans did agree on was that it should use an autoloader. Yes, that’s right, the wondertank of the 1970s embraced new ideas like an adjustable, hydropneumatic suspension and a fancy mechanical loader, just like the T-64. Since I like arguments supported by sources, and we’re busting myths here, one might consult a good source like Hunnicutt’s Abrams volume for details of the MBT-70’s design.

Exhibit B is the early design sketches of what would become the M1 Abrams. Again, we’re looking at Hunnicutt’s excellent work on the subject. The US Army originally wanted an autoloader for the Abrams, but then had it deleted to try to help sell Congress on the idea that the notional Abrams was economized and not a high-risk, gold-plated project like the MBT-70.

Exhibit C is the Abrams follow-on plans. Autoloaders galore. TTB had an autoloader. CATTB had an autoloader. The Abrams Block III proposals all had autoloaders. Want to upgun? That needs an autoloader. Want to isolate the ammo and the crew and reduce the turret profile? Gonna need an autoloader. Want to try to pretend you’re keeping the weight down as you add armor to deal with the relentless improvement of tank guns? Autoloader.

So there you have it. The US Army actually likes autoloaders.

On Army Shotguns

Shotguns are curious weapons. While they are possessed of limited capacity and are a pain to reload with any kind of speed, they have a number of useful features. While they were terrifyingly deadly in the trenches of World War 1, these days they tend to be specialized weapons, often using breaching rounds. Let’s talk about some of the different kinds of rounds one might want to shoot through a shotgun in a military context, and then we’ll talk models of boomstick.

Everyone’s favorite close-range manstopping load. Contrary to popular belief, you do need to aim with buckshot, and it will not send a man flying. Seeing as it consists of 9 pellets, each about .33″ in diameter, it will do an excellent job of ruining a man’s day.

Hunters know there are a lot of fancy slugs out there for specialized purposes. The military guys tend to stick with pretty boring slugs. They’re still 0.72″ in diameter, and they’re absolutely great for wrecking stuff.

Breaching rounds
While buckshot and slugs can be used to smash the daylights out of hinges and locks, there’s a significant ricochet hazard. Breaching rounds are made from sintered metal pressed together, and are designed to safely destroy door hinges or locks with no risk of ricochet injuries.

Now, let’s get on to the guns themselves, and bring up Questions of Procurement. Let’s first note the obvious absence above: there are no “less lethal” rounds listed. This is notable mostly because it drives the constraints on our firearms. “Less lethal” rounds like beanbag rounds and rubber bullets don’t have enough of a propellant charge to reliably cycle most semiautomatic shotguns. The semiautomatic shotgun would then have to be manually cycled. While this is doable, if this is a key consideration then a pump-action shotgun is going to work better.

With any manually-operated shotgun, the onus is on the operator to not screw it up, and this is annoyingly easy to do. In general, absent a strong need to run less-lethal loads or a very severe budget restriction, the semiauto shotgun is the better choice, because it means there’s one less thing for the shooter to think about. There are few enough shotguns on the market that it suffices to ask a few more features questions, and that will determine our weapon.

First, let’s look at operating systems. Semiautomatic shotguns are either inertia-driven or gas-operated. Both can be reliable if well made. The simplicity and lighter weight of the inertia-driven options make them extremely popular with sportsmen. However, inertia-driven shotguns have the weight of the gun as one of the key parameters for their operation. So, adding weight to that gun, say by adding the lights, lasers, and optics that usually come on military weapons, can make them less reliable. For this reason, we’ll stick to gas-operated models.

Let’s next talk of magazines. Due to the nature of the (usually plastic) shotgun shells, making a reliable detachable box magazine fed shotgun is tricky. There are some who do it right now, namely Saiga and Molot.1 Both of these are Russian, and we run into the usual issues of NATO and politics. We might also expect Remington and Mossberg to introduce some new models of their respective Versamax and 930 shotguns to take advantage of the detachable box magazines which they have introduced on their respective model 870 and 590 pump-action shotguns. However, these are not yet out, and we in the Borgundian War department do not like to be beta testers. I would also honestly wonder if a more traditional, integral, tubular magazine fed shotgun would not be preferred for its extra handiness, since the shotgun is a specialized secondary weapon in military service.

Given the above, the choice is pretty obvious: the Benelli M4 (known in US Service as the M1014). It is highly reliable and tolerates long firing schedules and the general abuse of service well. We will make a few further catalog stipulations. Specifically, we’d like to opt for the M4 Entry model and the factory, three-position, collapsible stock. The three-position stock allows for easier use for those wearing body armor. The Entry model has a 14″ barrel, instead of the 18.5″ barrel on the standard model. Given that the shotgun is a secondary weapon, and the breacher also carries a carbine, we would expect the reduced weight and length to be preferable. Postulating a magazine tube of equal length to the barrel, this will also reduce capacity from 7+1 to 5+1. Again, because this is a secondary weapon used for special purposes, the loss of capacity is not a major issue.

  1. Of the two, Molot seems to have better QC. In both cases, competition shooters tend to tune the guns extensively, though a good deal of that is due to wanting to run their shotguns with the cheapest ammunition in Walmart. 

Resurrected Weapons: XM2001 Crusader

Crusader was a program to replace the M109 Paladin self propelled howitzer in US Army service. It had a number of innovative features, but development issues and changing army requirements would doom the project. It also happens to be one of my favorites, so let’s take a look.

Crusader was originally a part of the Armored Systems Modernization (ASM) program, as the Advanced Field Artillery System (AFAS), with its companion Future Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (FARV). These were two fifths of the ASM program, with the other three parts being the Block III MBT, the Future Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and a Combat Mobility Vehicle. The fall of the Soviet Union led to ASM being restructured, and only the AFAS and FARV components would get significant development funding in the 90s.

The most important part of any artillery piece is the gun, and Crusader’s was unique. Originally (around 1991), the US Army had settled on using an innovative liquid propellant gun, but this had considerable and persistent teething problems. This gun was (clearly) an entirely different beast than previous systems and by 1996, the delays were becoming intolerable. Tired of the issues, the US Army re-engineered Crusader to use a conventional, solid-propellant gun, albeit one with modular propellant charges. This would be the first major revision that would drive the program costs through the roof.

The new gun used relatively conventional modular (solid) propellant charges, but still had some fancy new features. It had a very long L56 barrel and a liquid cooling system. The barrel had a jacket for isopropyl glycol, and there were a pair of heat exchangers in the turret to keep the gun cool. This would allow for higher rates of fire and better accuracy, since the gun wouldn’t have to deal with as much thermal expansion. As a result, Crusader could fire up to 8 rounds in a MRSI1 fire mission, and be capable of sustained rates of fire of 10-12 rounds per minute. Both of these figures are class-leading.

An additional feature helping Crusader get this rate of fire was the ammunition handling system. The crew of three men were completely isolated from the ammunition. Loading shells, setting fuses, loading propellant charges, and setting primers were all accomplished by an automatic loader system. The Crusader prototypes had two 30-round magazines, and each magazine carried its own set of propellant charges.

Resupply was handled by the XM2002 (the FARV). This vehicle could refuel and rearm XM2001 with a full set of 60 shells and 270 charges in under twelve minutes. Each XM2002 carried a double load of shells and charges. Fuel was transferred at a rate of 29.5 gallons per minute. The reloading port on the XM2001 could also handle manual loading of shells and propellant charges.

Crusader also had a new gas turbine engine. This was the LV100-5, which was also intended to be used to re-engine the US Army’s Abrams fleet. The LV100-5 had 25% less fuel consumption than the AGT-1500 while moving, and 50% less fuel consumption when idling. It was, of course, less fuel efficient than a diesel engine of similar power and vintage like the MTU 883.

Originally, Crusader weighed in at 60 tonnes. By the early 2000s, the US Army’s “Ever Lighter” fetish was in full force, and Crusader would be redesigned again with the goal of making it more air transportable. The goal was an air-transportable weight of 40 tonnes. To accomplish this, the XM2001 was redesigned to have a pair of 25 round magazines instead of a pair of 30s, with a corresponding reduction in propellant charge module storage. The armor was redesigned to be lighter, and to be an easily-removable set of modules like what was on the Puma. The power pack was also redesigned. This yielded a combat weight of 50 tonnes and the target air-transportable weight. But while a C-5B could now carry two Crusaders, Congress balked at the ridiculous unit cost. The program was eventually terminated in favor of the self-propelled howitzer portion of the Future Combat System, which would be no more successful.2

And now, what do I think? Well, I really like the Crusader, even if it is a classic American attempt to pack too much innovation into one can. The core concept of fully automated ammunition handling, isolated from the crew, is a great one, and one that I buy into. I could even get behind the liquid-cooled gun, though I would be just as happy if the “A0” version had a conventional gun, with plans to add the liquid cooling later. I also kinda like the LV100-5 engine, though again I would be content with an MTU 883. I think the version of choice is what the early 2000s prototypes were: 60 tonne beasts that could outgun anything on the battlefield. I have no desire to cut any weight from the program.

Verdict: Funding Approved by the Borgundy Army Armor Development Board

  1. Multiple Rounds Simultaneous Impact. 
  2. Thanks a lot, Shinseki and Rumsfeld. /sarcasm I really, really hate the “super light future army” nonsense, but that is a rant for another time.