Author Archives: parvusimperator

Bradley Advanced Survivability Test Bed

We’ve known that crew survivability can be enhanced by isolating crew from the ammo, and providing blow-out panels to direct any cook-offs away from the crew. These features are usually designed in from the beginning, as in the M1 Abrams or T-14. Let’s look at a test bed designed to add these features after the fact.

The M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle carry an awful lot of ammunition, and aren’t super well protected. US Army studies indicated that an infantry carrier like the Bradley was likely to be targeted by anything on the battlefield, including the antitank weapons that it really wasn’t designed to resist. While explosive reactive armor could be added to supplement existing armor, this wouldn’t do very much against APFSDS rounds.

The Bradley Advanced Survivability Test Bed (ASTB) implemented a pretty extensive redesign of stowage. Most of the TOW missiles were moved to hull stowage racks outside of the crew compartment, with three missiles in an external compartment in addition to the two in the launcher. Two more were stored low on the floor of the crew compartment, although these could be replaced with Dragon missiles that were of more use to the dismounts. This limited amount of stowage in the crew compartment was intended to allow the vehicle to fight if the external stowage was not immediately accessible. Reserve 25mm ammunition was compartmentalized, with blow-off panels and separation for the rounds provided in the compartments. As a result, reserve ammunition capacity was reduced from 600 rounds in a regular M2 to 588 rounds in the ASTB.

Fuel was also mostly moved to large, external tanks at the back of the vehicle to prevent fires in the crew compartment. A 30 gallon “get home” reserve tank was provided internally.

The ASTB was also fitted with spall liners, additional applique armor, and protection for the sights. These features would get rolled into production models of the Bradley after live-fire testing of several models, including the ASTB, in 1987.

As for the rest of the features, I do not know why more were not adopted.

On the BMP

Let’s talk about the BMP, specifically the BMP-1 and BMP-2. The BMP-1 was pretty revolutionary when it first appeared, and was extremely influential. Interestingly, the design requirements go back to the early 1960s, when Soviet Doctrine came to embrace tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons. This led to a desire for a vehicle that would be highly mobile and allow infantry to fight from inside in order to minimize exposure to the expected hostile battlefield environment. By 1967, Soviet interest in heavy use of tactical nuclear and chemical weapons had waned, but the design requirements were set (go figure).

The BMP-1 used the powertrain from the PT-76, came with amphibious capability, and provided NBC protection for the crew of three plus the eight dismountable infantry inside. The infantry were provided with NBC-sealed firing ports for their Kalashnikov assault rifles and machine guns, and had roof hatches to operate weapons with a backblast, like RPGs. These ports were arranged four per side and two aft. The turret of the BMP-1 had a 73mm smoothbore gun that fired the same projectiles as the standard infantry recoilless rifle, a coaxial machine gun, and a rail for Malyutka ATGMs. The turret distributed some platoon/company level support weapons down to the carrier vehicle. This turret was a one-man affair, as Soviet doctrine of the time had the commander dismount with the rest of the infantry in the back to lead them.

The BMP-1 had a number of notable shortcomings. The lack of armor is one, and the small size meant that any hit would strike important, flammable things. The commander-outside-the-turret arrangement made fire control difficult, and forced the gunner to work as an ersatz vehicle commander when the squad dismounted. Wartime experience in the 1973 Yom Kippur war was decidedly mixed. The Egyptians were satisfied with their BMP-1s, which were used to support missile-equipped antitank infantry teams. The Syrians used their BMP-1s in head-on attacks that left them to be smashed by Israeli antitank guns.

The effectiveness and widespread use of antitank missiles in the Yom Kippur War was also a problem, since even the most rudimentary missiles outranged the 73mm gun on the BMP-1. A quick response to suppress an antitank missile team (and screw up their command-guidance concentration) would also be hindered by the separation of commander and gunner. Hence, the BMP-2 received a two-man turret with a 30mm gun that had a much more reasonable trajectory.

Overanalyzing John Wick’s TTI Combat Master 2011

The trailer for John Wick Chapter 3 dropped some weeks ago. You can bet I’m super excited. With the trailer out, we see Keanu Reeves with some cool new hardware. And the NDAs on said hardware got lifted. John Wick has a snazzy new sidearm: a collaboration between STI and TTI to make a cool, tricked out 2011. Since I love John Wick, custom1 guns, and 2011s, I thought I’d take a crack at it.

The TTI Combat Master 2011 is built on a 2011 platform. It’s single action only and appears to have a government-length barrel (i.e. a 5″ barrel). The barrel is an “island” barrel, with a large milled rib on top, and a corresponding area milled out of the slide. This rib contains the front sight. Since the front sight doesn’t move, it’s easier to track through recoil. It also means there’s less slide mass, which means less reciprocating weight, which reduces felt recoil. The slide has also been “tri-topped”, which means it has a trapezoidal top cross section instead of the usual round one. This reduces weight and looks cool. There are also aggressive looking front and rear slide cocking serrations, plus some slide windows to show off the barrel finish, reduce weight, and look cool.2

The grip is a standard plastic model from STI with Taran Tactical’s excellent stippling applied all around. I would also expect it to have a tuned trigger. There’s also TTI’s 2011 magwell at the bottom for faster reloads.

One more thing to note is that, according to Taran himself, the TTI Combat Master is designed to shoot 9mm Major. Or, 9x19mm rounds where the muzzle velocity times bullet weight in grains divided by 1000 is greater than 165.

Let’s talk about caliber first. I like 9x19mm. 9mm Major is hot stuff. Really hot stuff. Hotter than most +P+ loads. In fact, it’s really hard to find commercial 9mm rounds from large manufacturers that make Major power factor. And it’s a really niche thing. Most of the people interested in 9mm Major shoot in USPSA Open Division, which is the only division where you can permissibly use rounds with a caliber of at least 0.354 inches (9mm) in diameter to make Major. And we open guys like shooting 9mm Major to get those power factor points and get gas to work the compensators and barrel ports you see in open guns. Gas is good. Those guns are based around lots of gas. Mr. Wick’s latest gun has no compensator and no barrel ports. In limited division, where iron sighted guns play, major power factor rounds must be at least 0.40 inches (10mm) in diameter. And, of course, from a “tactical” standpoint, pistol rounds that make major power factor don’t really perform any better than ones that don’t as far as defeating bad guys. Pistol rounds suck at that. Major power factor ones still do. You can pass the FBI standards with well-made 9mm rounds, and nobody sees much benefit to going hotter in the people-stopping department. At least, to the best of modern ballistics science.

I look forward to a fun movie explanation of why he’s rocking the major power factor ammo, of course.

Honestly, the biggest thing that confuses me here is the plastic grip. I know, that’s STI’s marketing campaign, some nonsense about “transmitting less recoil” or somesuch. I don’t know why it would “transmit” less recoil. Maybe it’s that notion of “polymer flex” that comes up sometimes when talking about recoil characteristics of polymer-framed handguns. I have no idea to what extent “polymer flex” is a thing, and frankly, I don’t care. I do know that competitive shooters love weight low in the gun. Like in the grip. Steel grips are super popular on 2011s that people modify/have built for them. SVI, Phoenix Trinity, and CK seem to have no trouble selling steel grips despite the added cost. Since I follow the top USPSA Open Division guys, I can say that the top 10 shooters at 2018 Open Nationals all had steel grips. And that’s in a division with compensators. From a shootability standpoint, steel grips are better, full stop.

Now, there are reasons you could argue to go with a polymer grip, like that it’s less annoying to carry (because it’s lighter) or because some people like them. But I’m betting this is STI marketing. At least it has a nice stipple job.

My one other big gripe is with the lack of red dot support. At this price point, it really should give you the option for a slide-mounted dot. Most other 2011s in this price bracket have such an option available, and dots are better. Some rules (e.g. Limited) don’t allow them, but it really ought to be something the end user can request. For 3-gun. Or for fighting one’s way through an army of angry assassins from the Continental.

It is a small thing, but the lack of even minor customization options is lame. No options for different trigger shoes? Seriously? This isn’t a 1980s Colt. Again, in this price bracket, lots of other places will let you pick trigger shoe length/color for no extra charge.

Overall, it’s a really nice gun, but it’s kinda overpriced for what it is: a pistol with zero options. If its set up the way you want, go for it. Rock on with your bad self. Otherwise, you can do better for just shy of four grand.

  1. Actual, properly custom guns. If you can’t specify every detail down to the screws of your gun, it’s not really custom. You just have some marketing-speak for “fancy”. 
  2. There are other ways to reduce slide weight and make it look cool. Consult your custom smith for details. If you can’t specify your own slide cuts, you aren’t at a custom shop. You’ve been had by the marketing guys. 

Retro Procurement: Carrier On Wayward Son

Back in the early 90s, Brazil was looking to get a carrier. And supposedly, they were offered one of the Forrestals but turned it down in favor of the smaller, cheaper Foch. Well, we’ll take that deal, Uncle Sam. So, let’s go buy a Forrestal or two and wholeheartedly embrace naval aviation, power projection, and all those good things. This will let us develop some serious force projection capability, and provide lessons for future posts procurement projects.

The carriers themselves are early fleet carrier designs, but are still quite useful. There’s not any upgrades we’d want to apply; the biggest issue is one of placement of the portside elevator, which isn’t easily fixable. The issue was corrected on the later Kitty Hawk class, and if Uncle Sam is willing to sell us some of those instead, we’d oblige. Otherwise, the Forrestals will do. They have Sea Sparrows and Phalanxes and that is all the close-in defense that they need.

Carriers are useless without an air wing, so what would we put in our new flattops? The Forrestals are big enough to carry just about anything we might want that is carrier-capable, unlike the earlier Midways. We’ll start our air wing off in the Danger Zone: two fighter squadrons of Grumman Tomcats, each with twelve of the big planes. The latest model is the F-14D, with glass cockpit, APG-71 radar, and most importantly, GE F110-400 engines instead of the awful TF30s.

Next, we’ll take two light attack squadrons, each with 12 A-7E Corsair IIs. This offsets the cost of the Tomcats mentioned earlier, especially since the US Navy had mostly replaced their A-7s with Hornets by this point. While we could also use Hornets here, the greater range of the Corsair IIs makes them our preferred choice. Our attack aircraft load continues with a “Medium Attack” squadron of 10 A-6E Intruders, plus four KA-6D Intruder tankers. The Intruder is a great attack aircraft, capable of hauling a large bombload over a good distance. Having a tanker variant is also useful for long-range strikes so as to be less dependent on land-based tankers. While I could relax the desired tankers, the US Navy’s retirement of the A-6 Intruder fleet in the 90s means that I’d go for both at the ‘used aircraft’ discount. Intruders would be also useful operating from land bases.

For antisubmarine operations, we’ll add a squadron of 10 S-3B Vikings and another of six SH-60Fs. Pretty typical.

AEW&C is super important, since that gives us radar higher up and allows us to separate the radar signature from the carrier location. For that, the only real option is the E-2C Hawkeye. We’ll take a half dozen of those. We’ll also want some electronic warfare support, so we’ll add four EA-6B Prowlers for electronic attack.

And that about covers our air wing, give or take a couple C-2 Greyhounds for resupply. But those as often as not are at a shore base.

New Life for an Old Police Magnum

When we last looked at my old 870, it had been through a ringer, and I changed a few things. I got a cool magpul stock and a magazine tube extension. Class notes gave me a few more things I wanted to change.

First: the sights, which entailed a new barrel with (bonus) fresh parkerizing. Basically, I wanted some sort of rear sight. I found myself dissatisfied with a bead (and no sight rib for the bead to sit on). I settled on a barrel set up for rifle sights that came from the factory with XS Express-style rifle sights. Perfect! These sights were originally designed for quick acquisition at close ranges while threatened by dangerous game on the African Savannah, and I can’t think of something more appropriate to what I want this shotgun to do. Plus, being barrel-mounted, they require exactly no gunsmithing of the receiver. Now I have a rear reference to avoid making elevation errors at range.

I could have gone with ghost ring sights, but those end up needing gunsmithing (to drill and tap the receiver), and I didn’t feel like doing that. A red dot would also have been a good choice, but that would have cost much more, and I didn’t feel like spending the money here. It would also probably have needed a gunsmithing trip.

Sights sorted, I next wanted to deal with the problem of illumination. I’m a firm believer of defensive weapons needing a light to identify targets. There are a bunch of ways to do this, and I settled on the most turnkey: the Surefire DSF-870 forend. It replaces the factory forend, and has a light and controls for said light built right in. Controls include momentary and constant on buttons, as well as a lockout switch so your batteries don’t run down in the safe. This solution isn’t the lightest or the cheapest, but it stands up to recoil pretty well and tends not to smash hands up.

So that’s that. And my shotgun is more or less done, aside from a likely future trip for some cerakote to refinish the receiver. Let’s take a brief moment to talk about something that isn’t on the gun: ammo saddles. There’s no cuff on the stock for ammo either.

For my purpose, I question the need for ammo on the gun. I’m not a law enforcement officer. I currently have a capacity of 6+1 shells. I really can’t see myself needing more than that in a defensive encounter. Shotgun shells are pretty good at making people stop doing whatever it is that they’re doing. Given that, plus the size of recorded home defensive encounters, plus the complete lack of relevant1 encounters where people run the shotgun dry has led me to skip the bother, cost, and weight of playing around with sidesaddles.

  1. For law-abiding civilians who are non-LEO. 

San Antonio-class BMD Ship

Ballistic Missile Defense is tricky. It requires lots of radar power and plenty of missiles. Right now, you can use your Aegis-equipped ships like the Arleigh Burke-class for the job. But those weren’t designed for the role, and the current state of the art SPY-6 radar is as big as you can fit on one. That is still not ideal for BMD work. Could we do better? Could we make a big air/missile defense ship, preferably on an existing, proven hull? Huntingon-Ingalls has some thoughts on the matter. They currently make the excellent San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, and think it would be a great candidate for conversion. Let’s look at their proposal.

The San Antonio-class is a large, modern ship for amphibious operations. They are 684 feet long, 105 feet wide, and displace 25,300 tons. They have a large helipad aft for operating MV-22s and have a well deck to launch and recover landing craft or amphibious vehicles like the LCAC. They’re currently in production too. At present, armament is limited to two RIM-116 launchers and two 30mm cannons. They also have provision for a 16-cell Mk 41 suite, but are not fitted with those at present.

HII’s proposed conversion ditches the well deck and and sports a redesigned superstructure capable of mounting four 25’x35′ (WxH) S-Band AESA arrays for better search and discrimination of ballistic missile targets. Four X-Band Arrays would be fitted above the S-Band arrays for tracking and fire control. The large hull of the San Antonios allows the BMD variant to carry no fewer than 288 Mk. 41 launch tubes.

The large hull of the San Antonios allows for plenty of extra power generation and cooling equipment, so that won’t be a problem. The large hull also allows for a higher radar mount without compromising stability. One currently noteworthy limitation is that the San Antonio-class LPDs are only capable of about 22 knots. For the role it’s designed for, that’s not a huge limitation, but they’d slow a task force down if included in one. And the number of tubes would make them tempting to include in a task force.

Finally, let’s talk cost. To the good is that the San Antonio-class production line is hot. An existing hull is no small savings. On the down side, a fancy Aegis-type suite plus big radar that isn’t going to be cheap, and I know of no appropriately-sized radar offhand that would do the job. Radar development isn’t cheap. Overall, I’d say it’s a good idea if you’re really dedicated to BMD, but without actual price numbers, I can’t really give it a great thumbs up/thumbs down. My gut is that it’s a bit too expensive for what it is, given current budget priorities.

Parvusimperator and the Attack of the Pistol Caliber Carbines

When first introduced, I, like many others, was not a fan of the PCC Division in USPSA. Frankly, I thought it was rather silly to shoot a carbine at a pistol match, even if the “P” in USPSA stands for Practical. Given some time, I’ve come to reconsider the division. And frankly, I could do with some carbine practice, even if that carbine is firing 9mm rounds. I love shooting carbines. It’s my first shooting love, if I’m to wax romantic for a bit. Anyway, this is an opportunity to get some carbine practice in, with the benefit that I don’t need a rifle-rated backstop. This allows me to get some close-in practice on pistol ranges, which are a bit easier to find in my current area. Plus they’re fun to shoot.

With my goals of ‘fun carbine practice’ in mind, let’s see what I’ll end up getting. I do need a competition-worthy PCC. Since I explicitly want this to drill carbine handling and shooting up close, I can ignore all of the faux-SBR “pistols” out there. I don’t have a desire to fill out a Form 1 on this. My goal, strangely enough, is to buy my PCC, add a red-dot sight of some sort, and get shooting. For once, I’m not looking to build or tinker my way to a solution.

So. Ignore the faux-SBRs and just about anything that isn’t intended as a turnkey-competition gun. And, non-SBR barrels are going to get me closer to the handling of my carbines, which are also not SBRs. I’m also going to require my PCC to use Glock magazines, because those are cheap and good and I already have a lot of them (yes, I have some of the 33-round mags). That disqualifies a lot of perfectly good guns, but I don’t care. These are my criteria.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I’m getting a JP GMR-15. It’s AR-15 based, so the feel and controls are the same. JP makes really nice stuff, and their 9mm carbines ‘just work’. Like their other carbines. It takes Glock mags, and it even has a functional last round bolt hold open. Not that it matters for a competition gun, but it’s nice to have. Oh, and it can be had with a sweet trigger.

The GMR-15 is a blowback-operated gun, like most other 9mm AR conversions. Technically speaking, a gas-operated gun would be softer. But we’re talking about a 9x19mm round fired from about seven pounds of carbine. Recoil is not going to be an issue. We’re principally concerned with movement of the dot, which can be controlled by adjusting the weights of the buffer and carrier. If we want to.

All that it’s going to need is a dot.

Borgundy’s Helicopter for All Seasons

Time to do a procurement post for something I have been putting off: Utility Helicopters. This is a really crowded market, and the fact that we can probably get rid of anything on the really large end as being to similar to the CH-47 that we’ve already bought doesn’t help us very much. Since there are so many plausible options, let’s look at what we need, and then throw on some nice-to-haves that could hopefully narrow the field. That’s a lot more interesting than a deep dive into costs, and much more practicable for me (in that I’m actually willing to write it and I don’t need to track down pricing data).

First, just to simplify things a little, we want a fully combat-ready helicopter that’s been purchased by at least one other nation. Probably obvious, but it needs saying. No reinventing the rotor for this.

Next, we want a capacity of about a squad’s worth of men. As I write this, it occurs to me that I haven’t talked as much as I should about organization, and I certainly haven’t talked much about light infantry. We’ll pick ten combat-laden men as the minimum required capacity. Somewhat arbitrary, but that should cover most squad options. Note the emphasis on combat-laden; this is not a question of overall passenger capacity, but immediately usable passenger capacity for men ready to go into the fight.

Cargo capacity isn’t a huge deal, mostly because we already have CH-47s. I have no particular requirements for cargo capacity, other than there should be some. Certainly anything that meets the troop requirement above will have sufficient cargo capacity for our purposes.

We would also require medevac capability, but that is also no great burden, as most utility helicopter models available already have the capability to be easily reconfigured for stretchers.

Clearly, our utility helicopter should also have the ability to mount door guns, but again, this is no great burden. That’s a pretty standard utility helicopter feature. It would also be nice if we could mount pylons with some rockets for some extra support/attack capability. Also no great burden.

Now, let’s get on to some actual, difficult requirements. We’d like versions available with an aerial refueling probe. Specifically, we’d like this to facilitate longer-range search and rescue operations as well as long range special operations deployments. Fulfilling this is actually quite the tall order by the rules of our procurement game.

That gets us nicely to the UH-60 Blackhawk as our overall utility helicopter choice. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s also not the most expensive, and it has the variants we want, namely the HH-60 with the refueling boom. And yes, that variant has been exported to South Korea. The Blackhawk is a proven choice, with plenty of export buys as well as good combat service. It also has an available gunship variant. As we’ll see in another post, it’s also one of the few utility helicopters to have an actual production electronic warfare variant. The Blackhawk is available with a bunch of integrated FLIR options (again, thanks HH-60), and there’s even a couple naval versions, should we want them.

Deploying the 6.8 mm SPC 2 Cartridge

The 6.8 mm SPC cartridge was designed to improve the firepower of US special operations forces without requiring the issuing of an entirely brand new rifle. It’s one of many alternative calibers for the AR-15. While it had the backing of Remington, and was designed with the help of some active special operations forces, a number of issues have come up to get in the way of its popularity. These include (in no particular order) two different SAAMI specifications for the cartridge, more effective 5.56 mm cartridges, ready availability of 7.62x51mm carbines, a whole bunch of other important gear that’s not going to pay for itself, and the round not being a non-NATO standard has mean that it hasn’t been adopted by the organizations that worked to develop it. However, a middle eastern special forces unit has adopted the weapon as a compact carbine. Let’s take a look.

This unit contracted with LWRC for the gun, with the goal of having a very short barrel (8.5″) and plenty of firepower. Given a relatively large order of more than 30,000 carbines, LWRC decided to make some changes. To ensure reliable feeding, they worked with Magpul to design 6.8-specific magazines. These are wider than standard AR-15 magazines, and the magwell on the new guns was widened to accept them. The new magazines have that same great windowed PMAG design, hold 30 rounds, and weigh 1.32 lbs fully loaded.

Other than the aforementioned 8.5″ barrel, the rifle has a quadrail handguard, pistol-length buffer tube, PDW-length stock, and a short-stroke gas piston system. The top rail of the handguard is removable to clean or service the gas piston. The rifle is the SIX8-UCIW. A version with a longer barrel, as well as an SBR version are available for civilian purchase, though obviously without select fire capability.

LWRC also worked with ATK (the parent company of Speer) to get a round that would function well in a rather short barrel. ATK obliged with a special round that will do the job, even with military flash suppressants. And yes, it’s SPC II spec.

Ok, what do we think? Well, it’s a solid execution of the “PDW” concept for a protective detail rather than for rear echelon troops. A short, relatively light package with plenty of firepower is exactly what this will deliver. I’m not a big fan of ‘nonstandard’ cartridges for general issue (who, admittedly are not expected to have super-short 8.5″ barrels), but I like the thought process here. Another tool in the toolbox, and one that fills a useful niche at that.