Tag Archives: commentary

TO&E: Austere Companies

There’s an exercise that exists to get one to challenge one’s own assumptions by imposing a very difficult condition on a problem so one sees what tradeoffs come out. Let’s play with an example. Inspired by the interview with former General der Panzertruppe Hermann Balck, let’s give this sort of problem a try.

The criteria in question is that rifle companies shouldn’t number more than 70-80 men. Let’s firm this up a bit and call it a hard limit of 80 men. Arbitrarily choosing mechanized infantry as our guinea pigs, what would an 80 man mechanized infantry company look like?

Let’s start by thinking about our vehicle. Balck also postulated a 10-tank company, with 3-tanks per platoon. Let’s assume our mechanized infantry company mirrors this structure, which is pretty reasonable. We have a few simple options depending on how we want to operate our IFVs:

  1. Keep a crew of 3 men in the IFVs during mounted and dismounted operations. Have five dismounts in two of the IFVs in the platoon and six dismounts in the third, giving us two eight-man dismount squads. There are, of course, a few other ways to think about this problem, but that’s a pretty standard one.
  2. Have a crew of 3 men in the IFVs during mounted operations and a crew of two men in the IFVs during dismounted operations. Have five other dismounts per IFV, giving us two nine man squads (or three six-man squads if you prefer). Having two crew in the IFV is suboptimal but doable. We could also look into extra automation, but that brings up our next option:
  3. Have a crew of 2 men in the IFVs during mounted and dismounted operations. This gives six dismounts per IFV. Two-man crews might be as effective as three man crews given modern technological aids. Certainly the US Army wants a two-man crew for the OMFV.

My preference is for #3. I’ve read enough good test data to justify the design,1 and we’re going to want plenty of optics on our IFV anyway.

We could also consider variations that would give us two ten-man dismount squads if we preferred, but I’ll stick with those classic US Army nine-man dismount squads, that could also be reconfigured (either ad-hoc or doctrinally) into three six-man squads. That gives each platoon a total manning of 24. We’ll postulate that one of the IFVs is commanded by the platoon leader (a lieutenant), and the platoon sergeant will command another IFV or one of the squads. So we’ll have one officer and 23 enlisted personnel in our platoon.

Three platoons gives me 72 men total. Not bad so far. All we need is a company HQ. CO, XO, First Sergeant are pretty obvious. We’ll also add a supply sergeant, and we’ll stipulate that the HQ has one IFV and probably a truck. So, that’s four men in the HQ, and 76 men altogether. Done.

That was a little less hard than I thought it would be, so let’s look at those squads. As mentioned before, we can use a ‘split squad’ method to give us two 9-man squads in the pattern of the US Army. And, while the US Army has made this work, I’ve never quite been a fan of splitting squads across vehicles. Our other obvious choice is to use each six-man dismount team independently as squads. Let’s unpack that a little.

There are a bunch of ways to work with a six-man squad, but I like having a squad being able to fire and maneuver, and I like symmetrical teams, which gives us a six-man squad comprised of two three-man teams. Which should function like four-man teams, except with less ability to absorb casualties. Or so the theory goes; that was the stated reason for the marines to switch from three to four men per fireteam in the 1940s. Three men in the fireteam does mean that we’re low on riflemen, especially if we add grenadiers. We could make the teams asymmetrical, but that makes the command burden harder, and per Balck, the whole point of this was to make command burden easier.

Looking at the other configuration, two dismount squads of nine men each in a mechanized platoon has been tried before in the US Army and they found it unsatisfactory. Specifically, they didn’t like the lack of infantry, and they revised the platoon in the early 2000s to have three dismount squads of nine men each in the same four Bradley platoon, and there haven’t been much in the way of complaints about that after the Iraq war. Certainly, there are no calls to change it.

And, unlike the 10-tank company that Balck also proposed, no one has put forward a formal organization for an infantry company that’s this small. Likely because it’s pretty bare bones, and when one adds casualties, transfers, absences for leave, training assignments, and the like, the platoon never starts at full strength. It should be noted that, while on paper the US Army’s mechanized infantry platoon consists of 1 officer and 38 men, plus a few attachments, and there are only 36 seats in four Bradleys, veterans in Operation Iraqi Freedom never reported having a problem finding seats for everyone in the platoon.


  1. Yes, I know Chieftain doesn’t like it. He’s entitled to his opinion. I disagree with him based on test data showing it works that goes back to the early 90s. All successful. 

Suppressor Vindication

A couple years ago, I wrote an article talking about how suppressors should be general issue for the modern infantryman. At the time, I thought this idea was good but a little out there, since it was the only one of my force multipliers not adopted by a major military. A little while later, I discovered that someone at the US Marine Corps had a similar idea, and they were putting it to the test.

Now, it appears this testing has produced some results, and these results have been analyzed. The United States Marine Corps has announced that they’ll be issuing suppressors to every infantryman. Check out the full story here, courtesy of Task & Purpose.

I think that’s awesome. Better communication. Hearing protection works better. More effective infantry. Fewer hearing issues for the soldier after he musters out. But you already gathered that. It’s nice to see the Corps coming to the same conclusions.

Let’s talk a little bit about how they plan to implement that in the short term. They’ve got a contract with Knight’s Armament for NT4 suppressors. The NT4 is an older suppressor, with the design dating back to 1998.

This is not a state of the art suppressor, but it’s a known one. It’s in the system already. It’s pretty durable as far as suppressors go. And the mounting is super cheap: the NT4 just requires replacing the crush washer behind a standard A2-type flash hider with a shim kit. So an existing rifle is ready to get quieter for less than $5. And all M27s already have a venting gas block to bleed off excess gas from the suppressor. It’s not the suppressor I would choose if I had to buy a new general issue setup right now, but given the system as it is, the choice is a reasonable one.

It’s great to see this idea get some serious traction. Bravo Zulu, Devil Dogs!

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Design Goals

It occurred to me that I should probably pull some specific points into their own article, so I’m not repeating myself over and over. Let’s get on with it.

When choosing parts for one’s custom carbine, one ought to first conceive of the carbine’s purpose. What are you going to do with it? And why do the characteristics you plan to add help this? Admittedly, this requires some degree of maturity. It is not possible to do everything well. Purpose drives the build. Or at least it should.

Light for light’s own sake doesn’t make sense to me. Lightness is best for a gun that is carried much and shot a little. Competitors shoot their guns a lot, and the rest of the time the gun sits in a rack, a bag, or a cart. Even militaries optimize the gun for being actually used. The US Army went to a medium-profile barrel in the M4A1 for better shooting characteristics on full auto. Ditto the Marine Corps in the M27 (which also has an op-rod). And both services will load the rifle up with bipods, day optics, thermal optics, infrared lasers and, at least for special operations, suppressors. All of that is added weight, but all of that is added capability.

What of the historical exercise? Well, CONARC doesn’t exist anymore, and designing a weapon to fit in between the M1/M2 Carbine and the M14 rifle doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: neither are common service weapons of the US Army. Now, we could think about ‘can we make the infantryman’s carbine lighter,’ but then we should probably think about durability and reliability too. And some notion of acceptable accuracy. In other words, all of the things we’re going to do from before.

Those excessively nostalgic about some imagined past, like Pierre Sprey, conveniently ignore all of the innovations universally added to improve capabilities at the cost of weight. For Mr. Sprey, modern radars and computer systems make the F-16 able to do many more missions than the LWF was originally envisioned to do. Similarly, the M16/M4 has gained capabilities at the cost of weight. Everyone who can afford the added capability has gone for it.

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Lowers

Fishbreath hasn’t finished up the usual WWRW for today, so I’m running this instead

It occurred to Fishbreath and I that, while we have chatted at length about the What Would Stoner Do (WWSD) project of the good folks at Inrange, I haven’t written about it. And, with Inrange revisiting it, it’s a good time to shamelessly piggyback and comment on it.

The name for my series, of course, is a play on what Stoner actually did after working on the AR-15: go work for Cadillac Gage.1 As a firearms engineer, the real answer to the question “What would Stoner Do?” is that Mr. Stoner would design what you paid him to design. Were he still alive, and still designing things, I would love to see his take on an NGSW proposal.

Snark aside, let’s get to the project. I do love building AR-15s and working out parts lists. The first part they are talking about is the lower. And they chose the GWACS Mk. II polymer lower originally. They now have KE Arms making an improved Mk. III, which is good as GWACS is no longer a going concern.

As a stylistic choice, I would have preferred a sort of Battle Royale where they look at competing options, so we can better gauge why they went with what they did, and what things they didn’t consider. But that would also lead to fewer questions from yours truly so perhaps I should be grateful that they didn’t play it like I did.

In terms of weight reduction in Anno Domini 20202, we can go lower with a standard forged lower and a carbon fiber stock like the one from Smoke Composites. We can also get even more weight reduction with an aluminum-lithium alloy receiver, such as those made by V7 systems or Hodge Defense Systems Inc. Those are expensive, but the WWSD project didn’t set a budget ceiling.

Anyway, I don’t like the whole integrated grip and stock thing3. I grew up in a ban state and purchased my first AR in “Ban compliant” format with a pinned stock. So maybe I have an irrational aversion to a fixed-length assembly. But I like to be able to adjust my stock. I like to be able to choose a stock with adjustable comb height if I so choose. I even like stocks like the Odin Works Zulu or the Tacmod that let me change the angle of the stock’s recoil pad. This is America. We like choices.

And frankly, the stock should be something that works with the optic, not the other way around. Unless you have a very peculiar parts list, your optic cost more than your stock. Which means that if one of the two parts has to give, it ought to be the stock. Not that adjustable is a compromise, frankly.

We also like choices about our grips. And I realize that grip choice is at once very personal and probably doesn’t matter a whole lot on the clock. But a comfortable grip that Joe Civilian likes helps him to practice with his rifle, since he lacks a sergeant to yell at him to do so.

My choice would not be the CAV-15 polymer lower. The AR-15 is as popular as it is in large part because of its massive aftermarket, and I don’t like closing off large parts of that aftermarket. I like picking the grips that I like, and changing them as my tastes change. I like choosing a stock to suit the intended purpose of my builds and to get the balance where I want it. But my goals and priorities are not necessarily those of Ian and Karl, and they may or may not match up with yours. Purchase your lowers accordingly.

Were I picking a lower for another build, I would choose a nice forged lower from a reputable company with a rollmark that I liked. If I wanted to save weight in my lower, and didn’t care about paying through the nose for the privilege, I would purchase a fancy aluminum-lithium lower.


  1. Obvious disclaimer: this post series and this blog are in no way affiliated with Textron Marine and Land Systems, the former Cadillac Gage. Duh. But I’m writing this anyway in case you had any doubt. 
  2. I don’t recall if these were available in 2017. But it doesn’t matter thanks to the revisit. 
  3. Yes I recognize that’s what makes the GWACS/CAV-15 a viable polymer lower. No, I still don’t like it. You might think that this means I don’t like the core concept, and you’d be right. 

Some brief thoughts on game design: make the player earn it

Among the many things parvusimperator and I chat about on our coffee breaks at work are video games, and in particular those we’re playing at any given moment. For me, for now, that’s BattleTech, the recent turn-based entry by BattleTech (the miniatures wargame) creator Jordan Weisman. For parvusimperator, it’s been Resident Evil 2 2, PS4 boogaloo. That is, the recent Resident Evil 2 remake1. The two are very different games, but in the end, they do make the player earn it.

BattleTech: mercenary life, paycheck-to-paycheck edition

In BattleTech-the-setting, mercenary companies are undisputably the coolest way to play. The meta-story around the battles writes itself—dragging damaged mechs back to the dropship, patching them up as best you can, sending them out again to pay the bills.

A lot of BattleTech-the-setting PC games have only partially delivered on this promise in the past. The majority of them have been mech-piloting games rather than mech-management games, which makes it more difficult to come up with an AI that properly challenges the players. Too, it takes a more serious masochist to pilot a degraded mech in first-person than it does to manage some other poor shmuck doing the driving.

BattleTech, on the other hand, leads hard into the mercenary-life-is-painful trope. Not quite as much as Battle Brothers, but not too far behind it, either. In particular, early in the game, you’ll find yourself barely getting by, scrabbling for easy money wherever you can come across it, and cursing the moments when your intel misses some key piece of information about the strength of the opposition.

Eventually, things get better. You hire a few more mech pilots, so that losing one to injury doesn’t put you so far behind the curve. You salvage a few more mechs2, so you can field more weapons or sub in a B lance if your A lance is in for repairs. I’m in the early midgame now, and have a few months of salary cushion and close to a second lance. Things are still tight, though, and unlikely to get very much less tight until I can bulldoze missions with maximum firepower. One or two bad drops, and I’ll be right back where I was, only getting along by the skin of my teeth.

What you get over time is resilience—the game itself doesn’t get any easier, but setbacks get smaller proportional to what you’ve attained.

Resident Evil 2: the cool toys are for closers

My thoughts on this one are less my own and more parvusimperator’s transcribed, but he’s working on defense commentary articles, and we all want him to keep working on those, so here we are.

I’d wager that many of the people playing the Resident Evil 2 remake have fond memories of Resident Evil 2 the original. The other side of the coin is that those same people remember how Resident Evil 2 went. So, in addition to the variations present in the original (that you can play from the perspective of both main characters), it adds a few more wrinkles, which I’ll leave parvusimperator to expand upon in a comment, if he wants3.

Eventually, after you’ve beaten the game with a given character in a given manner, you can go back and play with all the toys from the get-go, infinite ammo, and suchlike things. You know, how you would approach a zombie thing if you knew one was coming, rather than (like the characters) you’re surprised by it.

What you get over time is ease—the game gives you tools to beat it more readily.

Conclusion: winning easily is more fun if it was hard at first

In both games, the end result is positive feedback loops. Play well? The game makes it easier for you to win later. Put another way, the difficulty curve is a hill: it starts on an upslope and ends on a downslope.

“I should make my game easier just as people are getting better at it” sounds like a questionable design choice, but it makes a lot of sense in both cases. In BattleTech, the change in difficulty curve is subtler, but important nevertheless. If the game was so finely tuned that no matter how impressive a mercenary company you put together, you’re always just barely getting by, it wouldn’t feel at all rewarding.

In Resident Evil 2, the change is more obvious. “Here’s infinite ammo!” is not sneaky. At the same time, though, it makes sense. Why are you replaying the game? Because you enjoyed it the first time through, and want to see it again. Do you want to do things the survival horror way? Maybe you don’t. After you’ve seen it how you were supposed to, the game ceases to care if you want to play outside the boundaries.

So there you have it4. Make your game get harder at first, then sneakily (or not, depending on your goals) easier later on, so that your players can properly experience gaining mastery.


  1. I’m going to bury this tidbit to see how closely he reads my articles: Resident Evil 3 is reportedly getting the same treatment
  2. And that’s your only option. Nobody sells fully-functioning mechs—why would they? They’re difficult or impossible to make. If you have a working one, you keep it. If it breaks down and you can’t fix it, you sell the bits on and use the money to buy bits to repair your other mechs. 
  3. There’s a lot of creativity in how many New Game+ options you have. 
  4. It’s something I’ve been thinking about with respect to tabletop RPG design, too, and why perfect balance is not necessarily desirable. If you get more powerful, but your foes also do at exactly the same rate, what have you accomplished but for reskinning the fight against six rats at the very start of the campaign? 

LAND 400 Downselect

Australia has announced the downselect results for the LAND 400 IFV competition. They chose Rheinmetall’s KF41 Lynx and Hanwha’s AS21 Redback to proceed to the next phase of competition. This means of course that the General Dynamics ASCOD 2/Ajax derivative and BAE’s CV90 are out.

This means that the two proposals derived from vehicles that are in service somewhere are out. While the LAND 400 requirements wanted something relatively ‘low risk’ it seems that new designs that share components with in service vehicles suffices. It also helps that the Lynx and the Redback were both designed with what the Australian army actually wanted in mind. Funny how that works. I’m glad they prioritized capabilities.

I’m not surprised the CV90 didn’t make the cut, since that’s an older design and it wasn’t very cutting edge when new. The ASCOD 2/Ajax proposal rejection was a little more surprising, as the Australians tend to have a lot of commonality with the UK. Anyway, it should be good to see how the two newer designs shake out.

Vignettes from the 2019 USCCA Concealed Carry Expo

This past weekend I got to attend the USCCA Concealed Carry Expo. I had a great time! I got to talk to lots of vendor reps, handle things, attend lectures, and even test fire some guns!

Lectures

I attended talks from John Correia (Active Self Protection), Chris Cerino (Cerino Consulting and Training Group), and John Lovell (Warrior Poet Society). These talks were all 90 minutes or so and were pretty densely packed with information. I went away happy with all of the talks and wanting to spend more time with the speakers. So I’d call this a success. Plenty of takeaways, possibly for future articles here. Also, Lovell looks eerily like my brother from another mother.

Product Floor: What Stood Out

Shadow Arms MR918
This is sort of a factory customized Glock. It’s got a lot of popular tweaks to the Glock design already applied. I expect this to be successful, as Kimber used the same business model to establish their bona fides back when the 1911 market consisted of GI-style Colts and GI-style Springfields. This one had a good texture, grip reduction, trigger tweaks, and a milled slide. The milled slide had all the serrations people like up front, plus an RMR cut. What stands out there is that the RMR cut is low enough that standard height sights will cowitness with an installed RMR, which is pretty cool. The grip felt much shorter than a usual Glock grip, but more blocky because it still has to fit around the Glock magazine. I’ve never had a problem with trigger reach on a Glock, but it’s not an uncommon issue, and this might be worth a look for you if you have small hands. Unfortunately there were no MR918s to test at the Demo Range. More on that in a bit.

Ameriglo FBI Contract Sights
The Ameriglo booth had a ton of dummy “slides” mounted on plates so you could play around and compare sight pictures. This meant I got to take a look at the FBI contract sights, which was pretty cool. These are three-dot tritium sights with a high-visibility front sight and a U-notch rear, with nothing around the rear tritium vials. I rather like them. If you’re looking for some excellent iron sights, these deserve a look. And really, more places should have demo plates like these.

Crimson Trace LS-250 LaserSaddle
At the Mossberg booth, they had a shotgun set up with the Lasersaddle. It’s a saddle-looking laser sight that goes over the receiver of a 500/590 series shotgun. This gives you a laser that’s really close to the bore and some super convenient switchology. I like laser sights and I like aiming my shotguns. This is a neat product.

Ruger Super GP100
This is new, and I know Fishbreath is always looking at speedy revolvers. Anyway, I thought the grips were very comfortable, and the trigger was nice and smooth. Unfortunately, S&W didn’t have a booth for me to compare things to, so I can only say that it was the nicest revolver trigger by far in the Ruger booth. Sights looked really precise and excellent. I’m kinda lukewarm on the styling, but if the cuts on the barrel shroud get the balance right (and I couldn’t really swing a tethered booth model around much to check this) then they’re worth it.

SIG Tango6 1-6×24 Scope
I love low power variables. SIG’s offering got picked by SOCOM and the US Army. Taking a look at this guy, I thought they did a really good job on the reticle. It was actually pretty useful on 1x, 3x, and 6x. The show model had the horseshoe-dot reticle with BDC in it. Comparing with others in the 1-6x space, it’s still kind of a pig of a scope, and it did not have the forgiving eyebox that I’ve come to love on my Vortex Razor Gen 2-E. I can’t comment on glass clarity without something known for comparison.

Cabot Guns: Everything
Cabot makes some absolutely beautiful custom 1911s. If you’re in the market, you should go talk to them. Be prepared to drop real coin. They also have a more affordable offshoot called Alchemy Custom Weaponry, which makes some slick 1911s that look good, are a whole lot less custom, and cost a lot less.

Stumping the Sales Reps: Asking the Unanswerable

To Mossberg: “Are you aware of any plans to put the new detachable box magazines on the 930 or another semi-automatic shotgun design?”
Rep: “I’m aware of no such plans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re not working on it. Just that I don’t have a product to tell you about.”

To SIG: “Do you have a release date for the Romeo3Max or Romeo3XL red dots?”
Rep: “I do not. Sorry. I wish we (SIG) were better at timely release dates after new product announcements.”

The Demo Range

At the expo, there was a Range-In-A-Trailer, which was a pretty nice pistol range inside a large trailer. Sound proofing, ventilation, and cooling were pretty good for an indoor range. Definitely up there with some of the nicer indoor ranges I’ve been to. Attendees could fire any of a number of ready demo pistols for free. You only got five shots, but that’s a decent way to give something a try, especially a hard to find or weird something. Here’s my report on what I got to shoot.

Walther Q5 SF
I really, really like this thing. It’s got that great Walther trigger, plus a relatively heavy steel frame to soak up recoil. It was an absolute joy to shoot. I’m sold on it, and I’m not surprised Walther is having trouble keeping these in stock.

Walther Q5 (And comparison!)
I also wanted to give this a try, since this is a decent test of the steel frame in the SF. No, it’s not perfect, it’s an indoor range, and I can’t run these through a match or get great timed drills. For what it’s worth, the triggers seemed extremely similar and easy to run, but the steel frame model seemed a lot easier to control. If you asked me which I’d want, I’d go for the SF model.

Walther PPK/S (.380 ACP)
It’s not technically James Bond’s gun (he shoots the 7.65mm PPK), but what the heck, right? It’s iconic, even if it’s no longer the best small gun choice for a master spy. The PPK/S has a longer grip, so this one actually sort of fit my hand. The controls are still weird, the sights are still tiny, and it’s kind of jumpy. Fun to shoot a few rounds through, but there was another small gun that really, really stood out.

SIG P365
This little gun has been a great seller for SIG. It also seems to have had some early troubles, but those appear to be worked out now. It’s a very small gun, narrow like a single stack, but having ten rounds in the staggered-column magazine. For a small gun, it shot remarkably well. Still not quite as nice as a service size polymer gun, but definitely nicer than you would expect given how small it is. This was probably the biggest surprise. I expected to love the Q5 SF, but the P365 being shootable and fun was a shock. Congratulations on being an exception to the “I hate small guns” rule, P365.

FN 509 Tactical
FN has had a devil of a time breaking into the pistol market in any serious way. The FN 509 has a reduced grip circumference compared to their previous FNS, and it has nice texture that goes all the way up the side of the grip. You know, where I actually want to grab the gun. The 509 handled pretty well in the demo. The tactical model also comes with a number of optional extras installed, including suppressor-height sights, an optic cutout, and a threaded barrel. The trigger was good but nothing to write home about.

SIG P320 X-Carry
Another solid gun with some desirable improvements built in from the factory. Alas, I didn’t have a regular P320 Carry to take to the Demo Trailer, so I can’t do a mini-comparison for you. I do prefer the “feel” of the X-Carry grip over the regular grip, and I much prefer the flat trigger that they’ve put in it.

Of the above pistols, I’m sold on the Walther Q5 SF and the SIG P365.

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 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.

Re-evaluating leaders of the Civil War

It’s still Tuesday, so we haven’t missed a day.

Having finished Foote’s Civil War magnum opus, I find my opinion of some Civil War figures changing. Let’s take a look at how. I’ve noted changes of opinion in an upward direction with a plus sign, of downward direction with a minus sign, and no change (where some commentary is required to justify the choice) with an o.

Lincoln: +

Honest Abe, even in his own day, has (had) about him a sort of mythic status. The epithet ‘The Great Emancipator’ came about during Lincoln’s life. That’s the sort of thing that can go to a man’s head.

And yet it never did for Lincoln. Foote portrays him as an extremely human figure, warm to his family, fond of bad jokes, and distressed by the human cost of the war. He comes across as a genuinely good man, and one entirely equal to the task thrust upon him, no matter what his critics at the time said.

He only gets one plus because I had a high opinion of him before.

Jeff Davis: —

Ol’ Jeff Davis was not equal to the task before him.

Leaving aside the moral component of the war and any discussion of its secondary and tertiary reasons, Davis was simply not a great man. You couldn’t ask for a better parable: Lincoln, humble in the face of the many and varied slings and arrows thrown his way, led the Union successfully; Davis, uptight and concerned for his personal honor, never forgot a slight and drove away a number of capable subordinates over the course of the war.

Two minuses, because I went from a neutral opinion of him to a very negative one.

Grant: o

Grant goes up in my estimation in some ways and down in others.

The downsides first: Grant didn’t have very many battles where he wowed me with his tactical prowess. Once forces were engaged, he strikes me as a fairly conventional commander, buoyed by an unflappable confidence, good subordinates, and a willingness to improvise.

The upsides next: Grant was an excellent strategist, and very hard to discourage. In both the Vicksburg Campaign and the Overland Campaign, he parlayed repeated failure into ultimate success. On the Mississippi, he had the hardest of times getting below Vicksburg, kept trying, and eventually penned Pemberton in and stopped Johnston from getting there with reinforcements. North of Richmond, he correctly realized that his side had a natural supply line from the sea and a much larger army, and that Lee couldn’t abandon his capital. A few leftward sidles and a long siege later, and Grant had his victory.

Sherman: +++

Sherman is an interesting one, and the only man to get three pluses in this article.

Why? Because I think Sherman was probably the best Union commander of the war. He was an able battlefield leader, as he demonstrated under Grant, but he was also a superb strategist in his own right. The campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta features Sherman waltzing around Johnston, who found himself turned out of strong position after strong position. Sherman’s superpower was looking at a map, pondering for a bit, then deciding exactly where to march to make an enemy fortification useless.

Sherman gets three pluses instead of one or two because I’d previously thought of him as Grant’s shadow, when he might have been the better general in the final reckoning. I would have loved to see a Lee vs. Sherman campaign.

Lee: +

Lee had a superpower, too, in which he would say, out of nowhere, “I think those people will march to Location So-and-So,” and be one hundred percent spot-on correct, sometimes before the Union line officers even knew where they were going.

Lee has a bit of a mythical reputation already, but the fact that he was right so many times earns him a plus.

Beauregard: –

Beauregard was widely beloved and effective on the rare occasions he actually had some men to command, but spent so much of his time cooling his heels away from battle, planning insane long-shot schemes for Confederate victory, that I find his prominence in history is not commensurate to his prominence in fact.

Johnston (Joe): –

Given half a chance, Johnston would have retreated all the way to Tampa Bay.

Stuart (Jeb): –

Jeb Stuart loses a plus for abandoning Lee on the way to Gettysburg, and hence causing Gettysburg.

Lee might have lost some points for Gettysburg if he had his cavalry at hand, too.

Rosencrans: +

Rosencrans is my first pick against the spread, as it were. He was extremely slow to get moving, but I have a hard time arguing with his results. The Tullahoma Campaign, unlike many of the large-scale, multi-column plans in the war, went off pretty much without a hitch. Largely bloodless, it allowed for the capture of Chattanooga and enabled later victories on the road to Atlanta. Unlike Sherman’s campaign, Rosencrans conducted it against an enemy who had roughly equivalent forces, even if that enemy was Braxton Bragg.

Rosencrans did lose Chickamauga in rather embarrassing fashion, and bears a good deal of responsibility for it. Had he shown a bit more battlefield spine, he might have gone down in history as one of the Union’s best.

Burnside: +

Burnside knew the Army of the Potomac was a job above his competence, said so, and did his best not to lose the army after he was appointed over his own protests.

His plan for Fredericksburg was sound at heart, and in fact Burnside is in rarefied company as one of the few men to steal a march on Lee. He doesn’t get full marks for it, however, because ensuring you have adequate bridging material is part of your job as general.

Meade: ++

Meade was a workaday commander who was perfectly effective under Grant, and Grant had confidence enough in him to leave the Army of the Potomac under his control when Grant had other places to be.

He gets some extra credit for taking over the army in the midst of its pursuit of Lee toward Gettysburg, and reacting quickly enough to news of the developing battle to get his entire army on the field. Most generals looked bad facing Lee. Meade merely looked average.

Sheridan: –

Sheridan gets a lot of credit as one of the Union’s only reasonably competent cavalry commanders. I think he gets a bit too much. He never really faced a peer cavalry force and won, most of his great victories were won against weakened enemies. Against better opposition, his aggression might have gotten him into trouble.

J.B. Hood: +

Hood was an aggressive, competent commander hamstrung by the fact that his side was badly deficient in providing men and matériel. Had he been a Union general, I suspect he might have been one of Grant’s favorite corps commanders.

He wasn’t really cut out for command of an army, though, easily frustrated as he was; he needed a superior to draw rein now and then. After his well-planned first sortie from Atlanta met with failure due to bad luck and bad subordinates, he planned a bunch of less likely sorties. Later, on the road to Nashville, his attack against Franklin was an ill-considered disaster.

He’s the nega-Grant, in a sense—pretty good at tactics, not very good at all at strategy.