Author Archives: parvusimperator

On 40mm Grenade Launchers

The evolution of western 40mm grenade launchers is a bit of a back-and-forth affair. Initially, we had the M79, which is a single barrel, break-action weapon with its own wooden stock. Sort of an old shotgun given a huge dose of steroids. It was proven super effective in Vietnam, launching a very reasonable amount of high explosives with a minimum of setup. Of course there were drawbacks, especially due to the low rate of fire and limited amount of rounds that could be carried.

The first approach to fix this was called the “China Lake Grenade Launcher.” Taking yet more cues from shotguns, this was a pump-action grenade launcher, with a three-shot magazine for the fat 40mm rounds. Where the M79 weighed about 6 lbs empty and 6.5 lbs loaded, the China Lake launcher weighed 8.2 lbs empty and about 10.2 lbs loaded. Usage was mostly confined to Navy SEALs, who were generally fond of the weapon. The US Army was focused on its SPIW program, which would end up going nowhere. Unfortunately, that meant that the sensible China Lake launcher also went nowhere.

The other approach was the cheap and cheerful M203, an underbarrel launcher that attached to the rifleman’s M16. It’s much lighter at 3 lbs, but has a shorter effective range and makes the rifle a bit awkward to use. Also, the sights aren’t integral with the M203, which leads to more opportunities to lose or screw up a zero. Some standalone launchers were made starting in the 90s, but they never achieved much in the way of widespread use. The original M203 attaches to an M16A1 or M4 by means of a pair of barrel brackets. Some newer variations can be attached to picatinny rails instead.

Replacements to the M203 have been concerned with fixing some of its less than desirable traits, chief among them the inability to use longer ammunition. The US Army’s replacement for the M203, the HK M3201 does this by means of a side-opening action. It also has an integrated grip to facilitate standalone usage, and has integral sights. These don’t have to be rezeroed if the launcher is moved between rifles or attached to the stock kit. However, the M320 is a bit heavier than the M203. The integrated pistol grip and included vertical folding foregrip seem to indicate that the M320 is optimized for standalone use.

The big competitor to the M320 is FN’s EGLM, which had an extension to move the trigger down where it could be fired from the rifle’s regular grip using the middle finger of the rifleman. Extensions are available for both 5.56 magazines and 7.62 NATO magazines. The EGLM can also accommodate longer rounds, but does not have integral sights. Also, like the M320, it has a double action trigger. This is marketed as giving second strike capability, but I really don’t think that’s all that important given that you aren’t using super old grenades.

So let’s get to picking. There are a bunch of other grenade launchers out there that are marketed in packages to go with various other service rifles, but that’s not a big deal to us M4 users in Borgundy. And when I go looking for fancy rounds that you can’t fit in an M203, I mostly get a bunch of “less-than-lethal” options2. Great if you’re the LAPD, but I don’t really see the utility for standard issue to the infantry. The other thing that you can load in the EGLM and the M320 is the Pike missile, which is a pretty cool laser guided mini missile with about 2,000 m of range. However, that’s quite a bit of reach for the regular grenadier in the rifle squad, given that the standard 40mm round has an effective range of about 400 m. Again, it seems kind of a niche weapon. Great for special forces. I’ve also mentioned that I’m not buying the second strike argument as anything anywhere close to necessary. The M79 and M203 don’t have that, and soldiers have been using those effectively in combat since the 1960s. And at the end of the day, the venerable M203, even with the picatinny rail adapter, is going to be way cheaper than the competition.

So we’ll go with the M203A2 (or equivalent; the M203 is a widely licensed system), which has the picatinny rail attachments. We’d want to purchase the stock kits to go with these as well, since we’d expect3 these to be used more often in the standalone configuration as long as we can keep that configuration reasonably compact and light.

We should also talk about the the Milkor MGL (M32 in US Service), which is sort of like a successor to the China Lake Launcher idea, albeit from South Africa. It has a six-round, revolver-style magazine. Clearly, it’s trading weight for capacity. An M203 in standalone configuration weighs a bit less than 5 lbs unloaded, depending on options.4 The six-shot M32 weighs 15.4 lbs unloaded. And that revolver magazine makes for a pretty bulky gun. Anyway, I’m kind of skeptical of the M32, given that the grenadier is still likely to have to carry a carbine in addition to it. At least the rounds it fires actually work, unlike the XM25. I think it would be reasonable to procure some M32s, but I’m not really sure where to put them in the TO&E. Probably in the back of a vehicle somewhere.

And there you have it. Cheap and cheerful launchers for cheap and cheerful grenades. In terms of basis of issue, I think two per squad is a pretty reasonable choice.


  1. Under no circumstances should this be confused with the SIG P320 pistol, which is known in US Army service as the M17 pistol. 
  2. People also talk about medium velocity grenades, but I can’t seem to find anybody actually issuing any. Even the US Army. 
  3. I don’t have a ton of M203 experience either way, but the consensus at Primary & Secondary amongst those who have used them is that standalone grenade launchers are better. 
  4. LMT’s L2B weighs 4.7 lbs in standalone configuration. We can go lighter if we get their L2X with a 7″ barrel and its compact stock kit, which at 3.6 lbs all up is the lightest launcher I can find. 

Parvusimperator’s Continental Loadout

Last week we looked at our favorite guns from the John Wick movies. This week, let’s insert ourselves in a slightly different way; choosing our own firearms for crazy Hollywood multigun battles. I’m going to go for all of the maximum performance, Open/Unlimited division guns.

Shotgun: Dissident Arms KL-12 14″ NNS
Amusingly, even though I’m not much of a shotgun guy, this was the easiest choice to come up with. Per our rules, we need a shotgun. Going with box-mag fed shotgun means we can reload without worrying about deuces and quads nonsense. The most proven box-mag fed semiautos out there are the Dissident Arms Vepr 12 builds, which are almost an entirely new shotgun. The KL-12 comes with all of the fancy extras pre-selected, including a lengthened forcing cone on the barrel, left-side charging handle, threading the barrel for (internal) chokes that can be installed and swapped with a compensator still on the barrel, replacing the iron sights with picatinny rail segments, adding an AR stock adapter, tuning the action, installing a tuned ALG trigger, adding a magwell, installing an extended mag release, and installing an extended safety. We have but a few choices to make: stock, pistol grip, cerakote color(s), compensator model, keymod or mlok handguard, and barrel length. Vepr 12s come with a 19″ barrel from the factory, but Dissident arms will happily cut that down to 16″ or 14″ and then redo the threading for the compensator if you like, pinning and welding as necessary for the NFA. A shorter barrel is handier, and we don’t give up very much in terms of reduced length in a shotgun barrel.

Our chosen options are: the Custom Arms Competition grip (with a palm shelf), XLR Industries Tac Lite stock, Dissident Arms Phoenix Comp, Mlok handguard, and a barrel cut to 14″. We’ll go with a two-color cerakote finish, with Cobalt (actually a dark grey) as the primary color and USMC Red as the accent color.

For shotgun sights, we’ll take a Vortex AMG UH-1 atop the rear sight block rail, We’ll mount a Trijicon Type 2 RMR06 a 45 degree offset mount on the dust cover rail to let us take right hand corners more easily without switching shoulders. We’re going with the big Huey for primary because I kinda like holographics, and the offset RMR because it has the nicest controls of any microdot and window size really doesn’t matter for offset long gun sights.

Carbine: Cobalt Kinetics Evolve
This one was quite a bit harder, since I like to go out and build my own rifles from carefully chosen parts. Now I need someone to do it for me, but without choosing from a giant list of options so as not to break my own rules. So let’s try to find a rifle with the premium parts I love plus some special sauce that I can’t easily do myself. And it’s gotta look really good, because this is Hollywoodland. Enter Cobalt Kinetics. Their Evolve is their flagship competition model. It has a bunch of high-end parts, including a billet matched receiver set, billet handguard matched to the upper, 16 inch Proof Research carbon-fiber wrapped barrel, Cobalt’s excellent and effective Pro compensator, a gorgeous billet aluminum pistol grip, and a billet aluminum adjustable stock. The operating system is exactly what we’d expect with an adjustable gas block, low-mass bolt carrier, and a tuneable buffer setup with a weight and spring set for that perfect recoil feel. The safety is a 45-degree throw design, and the trigger is the exceptional AR Gold. All of that is cool. The real special feature is CARS, which will automatically drop magazines when empty, and automatically send the bolt home when you insert a full mag. This can be disabled if you prefer to do all of this manually, but it can give you a bit of a speed edge. I really like it. I also like the lines of the handguard, receivers, and stock. Everything else is classic high-end carbine parts.

We don’t have much in the way of options for the Evolve: the gunsmiths at Cobalt Kinetics have already put all of their magic into it. All we get to pick are our cerakote finish colors. Again, we’ll go with Cobalt as the primary and USMC Red as the accent color. Now our longarms are color coordinated.

Sights time. This is pretty easy. While I love my Vortex, the Swarovski Z8I-BRTi 1-8×24 has two more magnification levels, has fantastic FOV and glass clarity, and even has a bright dot. We’ll grab that and mount it with Geissele’s mount, because I’m pretty fond of that mount. We’ll grab another Trijicon Type 2 RMRO6 in a 45 degree offset mount for those hard cover leans, the occasional rapid transition, and maybe as a bit of a backup.

Pistol: Limcat Stormcat
Saving the hardest for last. Of course, I wanted a fancy Open-division ready 2011 with all of the optional extras. These tend to be custom guns made to order, which is not what my rules allowed. Sigh. Limcat makes some excellent pistols that have been used by some fantastic shooters to win a whole bunch of competitions. They’ll make you something custom, or you can order a preset model. The Stormcat is Scott Greene’s model for Unlimited Division 3-gun, which we pick for its awesome features that are compatible with minor power factor (i.e factory) ammo. We have a few options to choose here. We’ll pick a caliber of 9mm, midlength “HBar” barrel, which has a tungsten sleeve, steel grip, and a medium, flat, red SVI Trigger. I do like a heavy pistol. Heavy is good. It’s a sign of reliability. And if you ever run out of bullets, you can always hit people with it.

On to the sights. We’re going with a frame mount, of course. I’m not entirely satisfied with any of the current red dot sights on the market for pistol use. I think the best choice as far as balancing durability with window size and overall mass is the Leupold Deltapoint Pro, though I’m not a big fan of its control setup. Still, it’s a really nice dot. That gives us our heavy, really high-capacity pistol with a fantastic trigger and a cool guy compensator. Plus, plenty of fancy slide cuts and a nice finish.

Backup Pistol: Glock 26 Gen 5 with TTI Combat Carry package
I really like that John Wick carries a backup pistol, so I’m gonna get one too, by Awerbuck. I’m going with the Glock 26 Gen 5 for my backup. There are smaller backups, but I like the Glock 26’s size to balance concealment and shootability. Also the Glock 26 has a solid history of reliability. I like to stick with more proven options. The Glock 26 also allows us to use the larger Glock magazines if we like, or if we find some. The Gen 5s are pretty fantastic, and I could make do with them as they come from the factory, especially given that the excellent high-visibility Ameriglo Bold sights are a factory option. But that’s not really our style. So we’ll get a complete TTI Combat Carry package. And, since an RMR cut is an option, we’ll go with that too, and a Type 2 RMR06 for our sights. Done and done.

Knife: Ban Tang Double-Edge Clinch Pick
My grandfather gave me a pocket knife for my eighth birthday, saying that every little boy should have a pocket knife. I still like knives, and I’ve spent some time studying their use. In this context, I want something for the close in fight, something that’s easy to deploy, something to give you that extra edge1 in a grappling engagement. The Clinch Pick is designed for exactly that purpose by Craig Douglas, and it fits well with his style of knife employment. Ban Tang makes a nicer version, available in single or double edge. We’ll take the double edge model.

There we have it. Super fancy guns, and they’ll look great on camera, which is important for Hollywood. They’re also gonna be really fun to shoot our way through various stag–er, Hollywood Gunfights with.

We’ve also earned ourselves the following achievements:
ONLY SHOOT OPEN
IRONS DEFICIENCY
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUNS


  1. Pun intended. 

Choosing Your Own Continental Loadout

You probably know, dear reader, that I love the John Wick movies. Well, what if I was a cool assassin working at the Continental? What would I request from the sommelier for three-gun the movie all kinds of crazy Hollywood shootouts?

As ever, let’s define some rules to keep us honest. And so that you can play along at home if you like.

1) Your loadout must include a pistol, a shotgun, and a carbine.
2) Carbines may be of pistol or rifle caliber.
3) You may include (1) backup pistol if you wish.
4) You may include (1) knife if you wish.
5) No custom weapons. As in no full house custom builds; nothing with some giant option list. Semi-custom is permitted. E.g. an Atlas Custom Pistol build is not allowed, but an Atlas Titan would be permissible.
6) The Sommelier won’t build you anything. He has better things to do.
7) You may add whatever sights you like, given that the appropriate mount is there from the factory (e.g. sight dovetails, Picatinny rail) or is being added by your specified semi-custom modder (e.g. you’ve opted for a TTI Combat Master with red dot cut for your specified sight)
8) Everything must be currently in production.

Note that I haven’t defined what constitutes a backup gun. To paraphrase Potter Stewart, I know one when I see one, and so do you. Don’t try to slip in a Glock 17 as your backup–because I’ll know.

Some bonus achievements for you to unlock: (probably more to come)
(Note that for the firearms set achievements, these only apply to your three principal weapons, not your backup gun or knife)
HIPSTER: No standard competition choices (So no Glocks, 2011s, AR-15s, Benelli shotguns)
EUROTRASH: All guns made in Europe
BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN: All guns made in former Soviet Bloc countries
REAL AMERICAN: All guns made in USA
IRONS DEFICIENCY: All firearms have electronic sights with no backup irons on any of them
ONLY SHOOT OPEN: All firearms are only allowed in Open/Unlimited Division competition
LEATHERSLAP: All firearms have iron sights only.
HEAVY METAL: Pistol caliber: .45 ACP, carbine caliber: .308 or similar, 12 gauge pump shotgun.
PINCHING KRUGERRANDS: Total MSRP of weapons and sights does not exceed $2,000.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUNS: Total MSRP of weapons and sights exceeds $25,000.

Comparative Red Dot Areas and Prices

I thought I’d pull this out for reference/expansion. Original data courtesy of Fishbreath’s great post on his P-09 Carry Optics Build. It’s still sorted by mm height/$100, but it’s also a handy reference of window sizes. I’m adding data as we get some new sights available like the Trijicon SRO and (soon) the SIG Romeo 3MAX.

For the area column, the sights are assumed to be rectangular (except for the C-More SlideRide, which is circular), which is an invalid assumption, but you get what you pay for.

Sight NameWidth (mm)Height (mm)Area (mm2)Street Pricemm height/$100
C-More SlideRide29.029.0660.52 (circle)$300 (aluminum)9.667
Vortex Viper24.017.5420.00$2307.608
Vortex Venom26.316.3428.69$2307.087
Lucid LITL MO28.019.0532.00$2806.785
Burris FastFire III21.015.0315.00$2306.522
JP JPoint21.515.0322.50$2855.263
Sig Romeo 325.021.0525.00$4005.250
C-More RTS225.022.0550.00$4205.238
Sig Romeo 130.016.0480.00$3254.923
Leupold DeltaPoint Pro25.717.5449.75$3704.730
Vortex Razor27.817.4483.72$4004.350
Trijicon SRO25.022.5562.50$5504.090
Trijicon RMR22.016.0352.00$5003.200

The Guns of John Wick: Which Are Best?

Inspired by a post by TTI over on Instagram, let’s look at the guns of the John Wick movies. All three of them. We’re going to compare (primary) pistols, carbines, and shotguns across all three movies. We’ll pick best by category and best movie set overall.

First, let’s talk through our ground rules. We’ll be picking as if we work at The Continental. Therefore these guns are chosen for “assassinations” (read: epic, awesome movie gunfights) and not to fit in any particular competition ruleset. Also, we pay in Magic Assassin Gold Coins, so we don’t really care what the list prices are. We also don’t get to make any changes to the guns as we see them in the movies. What the sommelier has is what we can pick from.

Second, let’s review our weapons. In the first movie, Mr. Wick is armed with an HK P30L with compensator as his primary handgun, an HK 416 clone with EoTech sight as his carbine, and a Kel-Tec KSG with EoTech sight as his shotgun. In John Wick 2, our hero has a Glock 34 that’s been tricked out by TTI as his main pistol, a TTI built custom AR-15 carbine (the TR-1) with a Trijicon Accupoint 1-6x scope and offset RMR, and a TTI customized Benelli M4 as his shotgun. His arsenal in John Wick 3 is an STI 2011 pistol that’s been customized by TTI, a SIG MPX that’s been tricked out by TTI with a Trijicon MRO red dot sight, and a Benelli M2 that (you guessed it) has been customized by TTI.

Carbine
We’ll start with carbines because that’s the easiest, and because I’m quite fond of carbines. First, we can rule out the MPX. It’s a pistol-caliber carbine, which is great for USPSA’s PCC division, but much less so combatively. 9mm is less potent than 5.56mm, and will have much more trouble dealing with armor. The MPX also has a long, NFA-compliant barrel, so we can’t even take advantage of the pistol caliber to get us something PDW-sized. Plus, the MPX has a reputation for eating parts and needing frequent cleaning. It’s in its third revision from SIG, and I don’t trust them to not beta test things on their customers. We’re left with a pair of carbines in 5.56mm. We can eliminate the HK 416 clone, because it’s got lame old quadrails, is entirely too heavy for what it is (since it has a piston and the aforementioned fat quadrails), and has the least nice sights of the three. EoTechs have that annoying tendancy to shift zero in the heat. The piston does literally nothing for us in the current configuration, and it’s probably got some stock, untuned, garbage trigger. Lame. That leaves us with the TR-1, which is also my favorite configuration of the three. It’s got a low-power variable, is reasonably light, comes in 5.56mm, and has a tuned trigger (and probably gas system/bolt carrier too).

Winner: TTI TR-1

Shotgun
The KSG is a pretty easy out, because I don’t like it, because it’s the only non-autoloader, and because Benelli’s QC and reliability are light years better than that of Kel-Tec. Also, no tuned trigger and reloads are a pain. After that, we’re looking at a tuned Benelli M4 v. a tuned Benelli M2. Were I buying the guns stock, the Benelli M2 would be the clear winner since it’s way cheaper and has a much larger aftermarket. In this case, we have them already customized. The big advantage to the M2 is some very long magazine tube extensions, but those haven’t been mounted here. Given similar capacities (and our payment in Killer Krugerrands), the differences are going to be that the M2 is somewhat lighter, being recoil operated, and that the M4 is going to be softer shooting, being gas operated (and heavier). I’m not much of a shotgun guy, so this is a toss-up. I’ll take the M4 because I’ve always wanted one and because it should shoot softer.

Winner: TTI Benelli M4

Pistol
The P30L is another easy out, because it’s got the lowest capacity and worst trigger by far of the bunch, though I do like the compensator. After that, it gets tricky because neither the TTI Combat Master Glock 34 nor the TTI Combat Master 2011 are customized in the way I’d like. But you do your job with the weapons the sommelier has. Of the two, the 2011 will have the better trigger, and will probably be a little more pleasant to shoot. So we’ll go with that. We shouldn’t really be in a position to take advantage of the Glock’s famous reliability, to the extend that it hasn’t been compromised by modifications.

Winner: TTI Combat Master 2011

Movie Winner
While we could do this as a “total up the wins” exercise, it’s more interesting to look at the weapons sets as a whole and compare them. I trust my readers can add. In terms of weapons sets, the original doesn’t have much in the way of cool custom stuff. Between the sequels, I think the shotguns are a toss up, the TR-1 is better than the MPX and the 2011 is better than the Glock. All that said, I think you’re getting more if you go with the TR-1 over the MPX than you lose with taking the custom Glock instead of the custom 2011. So my overall choice is the arsenal from John Wick 2.

Winner: John Wick 2

Honorable Mention: Backup Glock 26
No word yet on whether or not the Glock 26 backup gun has made it into John Wick 3. But it’s been his backup for two movies, with some slide work done for John Wick 2. I like when a character like John Wick actually goes to the trouble of carrying a backup gun, and the Glock 26 is an excellent choice.

On Light Machine Guns

The US Army has decided that they might could replace the M249 with something. Possibly. Or maybe it’s just Lucy Van Pelt with her football. Anyway, the US Army claims it wants “Overmatch”. Or something.

Overmatch

The fear is, of course, Russians (or Chinese or whoever) with level IV-equivalent body armor. Let’s think about this for a minute. Level IV hard plates are rated to stop the .30-06 M2 AP round, which is a pretty darn good steel-core AP round. And no existing round short of .50 BMG is significantly better at penetrating armor than .30-06 M2 AP; it’s actually better at penetration than both Russian 7.62x54mmR B-32 API and 7.62x51mm M61. I’m not sure how a new 6.8 mm cased telescoped round is supposed to be massively better at armor penetration than .30-06 M2 AP, unless it’s supposed to use a tungsten core. Tungsten becomes problematic once you look at the cost and where most of the world’s tungsten is mined.

It could also be some sort of Magnum 6.8mm CT round with tons of velocity, but then managing recoil becomes a huge problem. After all, steel core .30-06 is not enough, so we need more energy. More energy means more recoil, because physics is a real jerk sometimes.

Let’s also recall my usual criticisms of some sort of radically new and unproven small arms technology, which is exactly polymer-cased telescoped ammo is. We’re talking about completely new ammunition manufacturing techniques, completely new cartridges, plus massive changes in how a firearm operates. We’ll let the US Army put up and prove the stuff or shut up. Come back and talk to us in five to seven years, and then we’ll know if it’s more than the next SPIW.

Okay, so that should deal with all the WONDERCALIBER advocates. Don’t trust Big Army to buy crazy new stuff. Wait for ambitious programs to come to a conclusion. Don’t be a beta tester. Wait for bugs to get worked out. And there will be bugs.

If we’re sticking with conventional calibers and known solutions, that makes our lives a lot easier. Let’s take a brief look at squads to see how we might use the LMG. I’ve been on record before that I don’t think squad size matters too much, and I still don’t. Picking the Namer as our (Heavy) IFV of choice lets me have a nice big dismount element of nine, which makes life easy. Nine men is a pretty classical dismounted infantry squad size. Squad leader, two fireteams of four men, and one LMG per fireteam. Two LMGs in the squad is a lot of firepower, and lets either team cover the other for fire and movement if desired.

Had we gone with a smaller, more conventional IFV with a dismount team of six or seven men, I would have copied the Australians and gone with two fireteams of three men each (plus a leader in the seven-man case) and kept the two LMGs per squad. Again, fire and movement. Also, it allows for better implementation of parapet foxholes.

And now, a brief word on command. In general we’d expect the IFV commander to be in overall command, and to remain in the vehicle when the troops get out. The vehicle commander would be senior to the dismount commander.

There is the pressing matter of caliber, configuration (i.e. mag fed or belt fed), and model. Let’s take those in order. Caliber is pretty easy. It should be our usual 5.56mm to maximize bullets per pound of loadout and (therefore) volume of fire capability. It’s also a lot easier to carry, since most GPMGs aren’t workable with a single gunner (i.e. without an assistant gunner).1

And we’re going belt-fed, because we want that big ammo reserve for suppression and sustained rates of fire. Large capacity drums are bulky, heavy, annoying, and generally unreliable. They also usually have to be stowed when empty. Screw that. Belts it is, by God and John Rambo!

Belt-fed 5.56mm light machine guns. They’re super fun to shoot. We just have to pick one. For the most part, they’re all pretty similar. The one that stands out weight-wise is Knight’s LAMG, which is significantly lighter than all the rest. Which should make it a slam dunk, except that no one else has bought them. And such a massive weight savings has me nervous, since there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I have some concerns about durability, and since no one has issued them on a wide scale, no one has worked the bugs out. Again, we don’t do beta tests. So we’ll pass too. Which basically leaves a whole bunch of equivalents in FN’s Minimi/M249, HK’s MG4, IWI’s Negev, and some others that I’m forgetting. They’re all pretty much the same, and I don’t think you can go wrong. Of course, this also means that there’s not much of a reason to switch, unless you wanted to beef up your local firearms industry. Since I hate wishy-washy conclusions, I’ll go with the proven M249, mostly because it’s the only one I have any time on. It’s also been licensed to a number of other countries.

I’m sure the Wondercaliber advocates are going to ask about body armor. Well, okay. Fine. Shoot them more. It’s a belt fed. Ceramic plates are only good for a few hits. Even the multihit rated ones. You have 200 rounds in the belt. Use ’em. Also, the real killer is and always has been high explosives. 40mm grenade launchers, rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, mortars, and especially artillery. More on that in a few days.


  1. I think this might be a change from the last time I wrote on squad support weapons. It happens. 

On Sailless Submarines

Per the WWRW report this week, the Chinese have made a sailless submarine prototype. This is not a new idea; the United States, the Soviet Union, and France have kicked this idea around in the past. Let’s look into why one might want to delete the sail, and what tradeoffs that brings.

Why would one want to delete a sail? That’s simple: speed. US Navy sub designers reckoned that deleting the sail (and the drag from it) would gain you about 1.5 knots of speed, all other things being equal. It also removes the problem of inducing a snap roll tendency in turns.

Like everything else, it’s not without its tradeoffs. Clearly, we still need masts and some way for the crew to enter and leave the submarine. We also are going to need some sort of conning tower facility to steer the sub when it’s surfaced. Prior designs tend to accomplish the first by folding masts and periscopes down into a fairing, and having a retractable conning tower for steering and crew access, retracting again into a fairing. That fairing will add some drag back. Bureau of Ships actually figured that a fairing capable of handling all of the relevant systems would be about as draggy as a well-designed, small sail.

Having a sail allows the submarine to be a bit deeper at periscope depth, which helps with stability in rougher sea states. The sail itself is also an aid to stability, and means that the rear fins don’t have to be as large.

The US Navy actually gave serious consideration to the sailless concept twice, going as far as to make some models of the concept when designing what would become the Los Angeles-class. However, this ran into opposition from Hyman Rickover, who wanted fast submarines now, and did not want to do a bunch of hullform comparisons when he could simply design aroudn a larger reactor and call it a day. Rickover managed to kill the concept, and the Los Angeles boats all had a traditional (albeit small) sail.

Parvusimperator Reviews: Marvel’s Spider-Man

I am sick to the back teeth of giant ensemble cast superhero movies, and I’ve played a ton of bad superhero games in my youth. For a game to stand out, it needs to be amazing. Spectacular, even. Insomniac Games has stepped up with their take on everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero in Marvel’s Spider-Man.

Things the game does right: damn near everything. First, pitfalls avoided. It’s not a rehash of the origin story, thank God and Stan Lee. We’ve got a somewhat-experienced Peter Parker here who doesn’t have to “learn how to be Spider-Man” for the millionth time. It’s not a redo of any other story either. They’ve gone and made their own story for you to enjoy.

Let’s talk about that story some more. It is brand new, but it checks all of the boxes that you would expect from a Spider-Man story. We’ve got complications. We’ve got good characters who are going to TURN BAD. We’ve got touching moments with MJ. We’ve got financial woes. We’ve got perpetual tardiness. We’ve got Spidey Quips. We’ve got famous villains that you know and love to hate. We’ve got J. Jonah Jameson (now with a radio show) calling you a MENACE and accusing you of being in cahoots with various evildoers. We even have a cameo appearance from the late Stan Lee himself. And there’s a brassy, awesome soundtrack that feels very ‘comic book movie’.

Being a Spider-Man game, this is set in New York City, and the devs at Insomniac did a great job of giving you a lovingly recreated Manhattan to play in. Thanks to modern processing power, you can web swing from Harlem to Wall Street without any loading screens. There are tons of recognizable New York City landmarks for you to see, plus a whole bunch of appropriate Marvel landmarks, like Avengers Tower. And you get around via web-swinging, which is the right mix of simple controls, dynamism, and just a bit of imprecision to be tremendous fun. It’s very easy to get the hang of, and it looks right out of a good Spider-Man movie.

On to combat! Combat feels like a somewhat more refined version of what we see in the Arkham games. More refined in the sense that Spidey’s gadgets are a lot better integrated into the fighting. It’s a lot easier to select gadgets, and they fit into your other attack and evasion work really nicely. Another nice feature is the combo bar. Fill it, and you get a finishing move, but you can also use it to replenish your health.

I would also like to praise the randomized minor crime mechanic. In each section of Manhattan, there are various factions who might do some crimes like try to hijack an armored truck. And, of course, you can go stop them. The timers are such that I never felt that I was overwhelmed by crime, or had somehow gone back to pre-Giuliani New York. Plus, after you stop a set number of crimes (five per faction, usually) those stop. Which is nice, because I get really sick when those become never-ending like the dragon encounters in Skyrim.

And now, things I don’t like. Happily, it’s a short list. First, there are sidequests that seem to require more precision in the web-swinging than the system is capable of delivering, which makes them a giant pain. Those quests were both frustrating and verisimilitude-breaking, as I felt like some sort of useless tetherball, not an amazing superhero. Happily, those quests are both few and number and entirely optional. The other annoying bits are the parts where you’re playing as Peter Parker (i.e. not costumed) and you have to walk around between cutscenes. With the exception of the bits in the lab, where there are plenty of things to mess around with, these felt entirely superfluous. Just work it into one cutscene, guys. It’s ok.

Overall though, it’s a great game. Highly recommended.

On Split Squads

One of the things that has always confused me is why the US Army mechanized infantry platoon features split squads. It features four Bradleys and dismounts organized into three squads of nine men each. Since each Bradley holds six or seven dismounts, this means squads have to be split to be reconstituted later. While this matches light infantry practice, it always stuck me as needlessly complicated.

It wasn’t always this way. Originally, the Bradley and its six dismounts were considered as a “squad”, with the Bradley acting as a big, tracked, fire support unit. There were problems with the execution. The first was the question of squad leader. There is always the question of whether or not the squad leader should lead the dismount team or act as vehicle commander. The US Army said, BOTH! As a result, the Bradley commander would dismount along with everyone in the back. But this would lead to a suboptimal arrangement with the gunner having to perform double duty as the vehicle commander. So one of the dismount members would be cross-trained as vehicle commander, and he would climb up and take the place of the Squad Leader as vehicle commander.

That’s needlessly complicated, and for once the Army agreed. They decided that while they were in there revising the platoon org chart, they would work for more homogeneity. The Bradley Platoon of four Bradleys got rethought into two pairs. This mirrored U.S. Army thinking in the tank platoon, where four tanks were thought of as operating as two pairs of tanks. Each Bradley pair would get a squad of nine men to account for. Given that early Bradleys had six seats for dismounts, the Army split them into a fireteam of four per Bradley, and one of the two Bradleys in each pair got a (dismount) squad leader. Now, Bradley vehicle commanders could be just vehicle commanders, dismount squad leaders could be just dismount squad leaders, a dismounted squad could perform fire and maneuver on its own, and the dismounted squad was identical to the light infantry squad. The US Army has tended to like the idea that each infantry squad can be capable of fire and maneuver by itself. This also left six empty seats per platoon, which was sufficient for the platoon commander, XO, and any attached extras like radiotelephone operator or medic.

The next step to get us to today happened with revisions to the Bradley itself. A desire for more protection and the realization that the firing ports were useless led to them being plated over as part of the changes for the M2A2 version. Since the troops no longer needed to shoot out of gunports, the seats could be rearranged into more conventional benches along the sides of the vehicle, and the designers were able to squeeze in one more dismount, for a capacity of seven. Applying these to the previous organization chart meant that there were now ten empty seats, or room enough for another squad. This brings us to the platoon of four Bradleys and three dismount squads of nine men each that we know today. The careful reader will note that there is now no longer space for much of a command group or attached extras, but that’s something that the Army has not been bothered by.

Personally, I don’t like it. I’d much prefer to take the original concept of six (or seven) man dismount element and Bradley fighting vehicle as the squad, and skip the place-switching. That’s a lot simpler, removes the requirement of fireteams to “form up” to become squads, and would still allow for a bit of fire and maneuver on its own if we relax the desire to always have four-man fireteams. Australia is going exactly this way in their latest reorganization. I would also point out that while homogeneity is nice, different sorts of units have tended towards different organizations. No one is trying to organize a heavy weapons squad or platoon like the regular rifle squad or platoon over in light infantry-land.

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.