Tag Archives: commentary

Why Revolver?

In USPSA, I shoot an elegant weapon from a more civilized age: the revolver. The most common question I get, in one form or another, is, “Why?”

Here are some of my answers.

It’s Cool

Coolness is, of course, subjective, so your mileage may vary, but I think revolvers are cool. For one, there’s the cowboy cachet. If you’ve seen my match videos, at least after I started leaning into the spaghetti western theme, I’m sure you can tell I find that compelling.

For another, a revolver is a mechanical marvel: delicate clockwork nevertheless tough enough to survive a cylinder hammering back and forth. Bunches of tiny metal parts, all interlocking perfectly, cooperating to bring the cylinder into line and the hammer down at just the right moment.

And that’s saying nothing of the internal ballistics, which rely on the notion that standard-pressure air is more or less solid to a jet of gas at 20,000 PSI, at least on the timescale needed for a bullet to cross the barrel-cylinder gap and make it out the business end of the gun.

It’s a mechanically and historically fascinating tool. If your ‘why’ was intended to mean ‘why did you get into Revolver over, say, Open or CO?’, that’s why.

It’s Esoteric

Come, reader, I have nothing to hide from you: you know I like weird hipster things. The fact that revolver is an esoteric corner of the USPSA game is a draw to me. Getting to1 work out a lot of how the wheelgun interacts with modern USPSA is an engaging mental exercise for me.

I don’t want to spoil my revolver techniques series too much2, but USPSA Revolver is a layer cake of similarity sponges and difference fillings. There are parts of the game that are the same as in semi-auto divisions, but then you look deeper and there are differences, and then you zoom in to the techniques that underpin those parts of the game and they’re the same, and then you get better at those parts of the game, and they turn different again.

It keeps the gears turning in my head, and the Revolver game has not yet fully revealed itself to me. If you want to know why I keep at it, that’s one reason why.

It Invites—And Rewards—Perfection

USPSA, fundamentally, ends up being more about speed than accuracy. There are only so many points available on a stage, but you can always go faster. Just about anyone can shoot 90% points at a USPSA match. The measure of a shooter is how fast he can do it. There are some wrinkles in that clean formulation. Maybe you shoot 85% points a little faster, or 95% points a little slower. Ultimately, though, your speed improves a whole lot more than your accuracy as you get better at the game.

Inevitably, and not incorrectly, that leads people to shoot as fast as they think they can go to get good hits. Shooters in almost every division except Revolver3 have enough ammunition in the gun to turn the dial a bit more toward speed. Even in Production, if you throw a shot off target and take a fast makeup shot, you’re still in decent shape.

The dial has to go a bit more toward accuracy in Revolver. Shooting a wheelgun, I don’t frequently find myself pulling into a position with extra bullets in the gun. Usually, my stage plan calls for eight shots, and all eight of those shots have to hit, or else there’s going to be a standing reload somewhere. Revolver is a deadeye’s game. If you want to win against solid competition, you have to be able to shoot any given USPSA position with perfect accuracy, and you have to know exactly how fast you can go while doing it.

What do I find compelling about the actual shooting in Revolver division? That.

I’m Good At It

Toward the end of 2021, after a year and a half of shooting almost exclusively revolvers4, I took a few detours into semi-automatic divisions: one day in Carry Optics, one in Open. I shot those guns, and those matches, pretty well. I’m clearly a better shooter now than I was the last time I ran my Carry Optics gun, and that was plain to see in the results.

That said, at the end of the match in Open, I donned the Revolver belt for a run at the classifier. In the aftermath of a 100% run, I remarked to a friend, “I shoot that gun like it’s an extension of my arm.” Revolver clicks for me. For the amount of practice I’ve put in, I run the revolver better compared to some hypothetical baseline skill than I would with the semi-autos. I’m shooting classifiers on a pace that should put me into Grandmaster soon, and in contention to win stages that don’t excessively handicap the wheelgun at the smaller of the two local matches I frequent.

Why revolver? Because I’m good at it, and still getting better.

  1. An uncharitable soul might phrase this ‘having to’, instead. 
  2. A series, I might add, that doesn’t take quite as much hedging now that I’ve shot my way into Master class. 
  3. Single Stack shooters running major power factor have the same concerns as Revolver here. 
  4. There are 25 matches on my record since the start of 2020, of which three, all in 2021, were semi-auto matches. 

Revolver belongs in USPSA

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a number of high-level shooters express the thought that Revolver is an anachronism with no place in the modern USPSA1—perhaps not in so many words, but it’s fairly clear from their comments how they feel about wheelguns in our sport. As a Revolver competitor myself (although not at all a distinguished one, as of this writing), I’d like to offer some counterweight to those opinions.

First, and most pernicious: the idea that revolver doesn’t belong in USPSA because it’s unpopular. Unpopularity is not a crime. 1911s (in narrow and widebody form) are unpopular, by the standard of ownership numbers. .40 S&W is unpopular. We shoot those anyway, because the rules either allow them (in the case of Single Stack) or encourage them (in the case of Limited Major) in spite of their unpopularity.

But, even beyond that, we ought to answer a question about what USPSA is, and what it ought to be. It is the big leagues for competition handgun shooting in the US, full stop. Depending on where you are in the country, it’s either the best option for practical handgun shooting, or the monopoly player in the field. What it ought to be is more or less what it already is: the sanctioning body for the top level of pistol competition in the United States.

In both of those cases, the arguments for excluding revolver are on shaky ground. If USPSA is the sanctioning body for the top level of handgun competition, how can it justify withdrawing its support for fully half of the pistol taxonomy2?

If the USPSA is the monopoly provider for high-level handgun competition, and it preaches competitive equity, how does forcing revolvers—which are nothing if not very different than semi-autos—into Limited3 fit that aim? Make no mistake, that would happen, because USPSA is the only option for a great many people with philosophical disagreements with IDPA4. I can get to the entire USPSA Western PA section and a few Ohio clubs in a shorter drive than it would take me to reach the nearest ICORE club.

You can’t say USPSA shouldn’t have a carve-out for revolvers without also saying that USPSA ought not be the last word in top-level pistol competition. If you are saying that, you should be clear that you are. Further, you can’t say that there shouldn’t be a Revolver division while also saying USPSA should be about competitive equity and the division system should be about pitting like against like. Making wheelguns shoot against semi-autos is in fundamental opposition to the ideal of competitive equity.

I mentioned ICORE just now, which leads me to anti-Revolver assertion number two: USPSA doesn’t adequately or accurately test revolver skills.

The existence and nature of ICORE argues very strongly against that claim. ICORE is pretty much USPSA, except with time-plus scoring5, D1 targets instead of the silhouettes and octagons, some revolver-specific divisions for those people who want to shoot optic-and-compensator guns or six-shooters, and six-round neutrality instead of eight for the six-shooter-shooters. Those are, to within a rounding error, the meaningful distinctions between USPSA and the sport revolver enthusiasts designed specifically for testing revolver shooters.

USPSA is an entirely valid test of revolver shooters and revolver skills.

The final line of reasoning I’ll address is that the existence of Revolver somehow cheapens other divisions. The logic goes that because Revolver has fewer participants, it has less heat. It’s easier to reach the top of the heap, and therefore being Revolver national champion is less meaningful than, say, being Limited national champion.

For one, and to be entirely frank, I find this complaint to be rooted in ego: “I finished 20th in Production, and my percentage is comparable to the revolver guy in 10th! How unfair!” This is not a problem with the system, or with Revolver—it’s a problem with you. Do you care about how your raw score stacks up against Open or PCC? If no, then why do you care how your percentages stack up against Revolver? Divisions are not directly comparable in raw hit factors or stage times, but they’re also not directly comparable in per-division match percentages and placements. That’s one of the best things about this sport: it’s like automotive endurance racing. Multiple divisions get to compete on the same track, speak the same language, and see each other perform, even if they aren’t scoring themselves directly against each other.

The other assertion backing this line of argument—that it’s easier to climb the ladder to the top of Revolver because there are fewer competitors—I consider unlikely. There’s a video floating around of Michael Poggie, reigning revolver champion in the post-Miculek years, putting about a 1.3-second reload on the clock. I urge you to try to hit that mark, or even to get under 1.56. Now do it on the move.

Suffice it to say, it’s not easy to match the top dogs. If you look at the odds of me winning a Revolver national championship and compare it to the odds of me winning, say, Production7, they’re similar, and they’re both long shots.

Of course, you can always prove me wrong. Strap on your wheelgun and climb the ladder! If it’s easier than your semi-auto division of choice, it shouldn’t take you very long, right?

  1. Curiously, the two I’m thinking of are either Production-first shooters (Ben Berry, in a blog post from a few months back), or recently successful in Production (Mason Lane, on the 2021 Locap Nationals episode of the Shoot Fast Podcast). You’d think people in what’s pretty clearly going to be next Single Stack/L10 would have a bit more self-awareness in calling for the end of an unpopular division, but let it pass—this footnote notwithstanding, I’m more interested in sniping at bad ideas than the good eggs who sometimes end up proposing them. 
  2. Granted, not by participation, but none of the anti-Revolver voices are calling for the end of Single Stack division, and despite their prevalence in competition, 1911s and 1911-derived guns are a much smaller branch of the modern family tree of handguns than revolvers. 
  3. Revolvers are technically allowed in Production, but Production-legal holsters for N-frames and Redhawk-size guns are not readily available. 
  4. Even if I didn’t think IDPA’s rules make it a less serious competition than USPSA, I’m not exactly drowning in IDPA matches around here, either. 
  5. The Soapbox has always been at least half in favor of hit factor scoring, but now I believe we’re entirely in favor—parvusimperator came around on it, at least as of the last time we talked about it. 
  6. A year and a half of fairly focused practice has me into the one-point-fives, but not yet close enough to call it a second and a half. 
  7. Caveat: if I took it as seriously as I’m taking Revolver. 

Notes from the USPSA Offseason: A Fishy Winter Break

I don’t know if I mentioned it anywhere else, but I ended up taking a deliberate offseason from USPSA competition this winter. From about November 15 to the end of this week, I haven’t (won’t have) done any live-fire practice or any deliberate dry-fire practice. Beyond that, I’ve barely even touched my competition gun.

Why an Offseason?

Partially to give myself time for other big projects, partially to break myself of bad habits. The benefit to taking time entirely off from shooting pursuits is the brief period, upon returning, where previously unconscious things take conscious thought, and thus are malleable in a way they aren’t midseason.

In particular, it’s a good time to change equipment, and to make any tweaks to gun handling skills you want to make. And, having gotten a season of Revolver experience under my belt, there were some things I wanted to change.


The Ruger Super GP100 I shoot in competition came with Hogue hardwood monogrips. They have that Miculek-approved, sharply vertical grip angle, and look so stunning on the gun that grown men have cried1.

And I had to give them up. You see, the Hogue grips, unlike Mr. Miculek’s, are opinionated. That is to say, there are contours and swells on the grip that push your hands in certain directions, and they push my hands places I don’t want them to go. Namely, they swell about midway up, then narrow, then swell again at the top. That means you can’t get an extra-high grip without the wood digging into your hand and bashing your palm in recoil.

I replaced them with a set of Altamont grips. They’re more along traditional lines of revolver grip design in two ways. One, they’re simply shaped. They’re slightly fatter at the base, and taper to a narrower profile at the top, which lets me get my strong hand high while leaving plenty of real estate at the bottom. Two, they’re a rubber center core with grip panels. The grip panels are, alas, not gorgeous, lustrous, almost luminous hardwood. They’re fairly pedestrian walnut-dyed birch laminate. I did at least hold out for a little fleur-de-lis pattern on the grips.

To really belabor the point, they aren’t as pretty as the Hogue grips, but my suspicion is that they’ll be substantially better competition grip. A bit of shock absorption from the rubber, combined with minor power factor loads out of a 45oz gun, means they should sting my hands an awful lot less than wood grips which punish holding the gun how I want to. They have a bit of texture, too, and put my thumb closer to the controls, which opens up some interesting possibilities.


We’ll get to those later, though. The next item on the list is the holster.

To get started quickly and at relatively low cost, I bought the SpeedBeez Kydex holster. At the time, it was the only one in stock which I could guarantee would fit the GP100. It was perfectly serviceable, and cut down low enough in the front so it didn’t interfere with fast draws. It probably wasn’t holding me back in any way, and I still think it’s a good product, which is why I’m keeping it in my box-o-shooting-stuff.

But Revolver is a race division in USPSA, so I’m allowed whatever kind of crazy holster I want, as long as it covers the trigger guard and holds the gun so that it points less than three feet away from my feet. It just so happens that our very own parvusimperator was looking to ditch his Double Alpha Alpha-X2, and let it go at a very reasonable price. I sold the the Phoenix Trinity insert block he bought it with, got a Smith and Wesson N-frame block (the DAA website now lists the GP100 as compatible with that one), and added the muzzle rest kit for good measure, along with a 3D-printed muzzle support adapter.

The holster works well. Parvusimperator’s quarrel with it is that it can lock up on the gun if it’s pulled at a bad angle, which can happen under stress. The muzzle rest, which I got mostly because guns with round trigger guards, like my revolver, can rotate forward and back slightly in the holster, ended up solving the problem. Since the muzzle sits on a little peg, the muzzle rest constrains the angles at which you can pull the gun free, preventing it from binding before the insert block lets go. Plus, the muzzle rest gives me a target to aim at when reholstering, saving me the embarrassment of fishing around for the right angle after a stage.

Is it faster? Maybe incrementally. The best draw I’ve ever put on the dry fire timer is 0.78s, shooting at a target at a scale distance of about two yards, which is about a tenth faster than I could manage with the SpeedBeez holster. Drawing to a shot that poses even the slightest challenge, I’m up around between 1.0 and 1.2 depending on the shot and the draw, which is exactly where I was with the SpeedBeez one.

The Triple Alpha X, as one of those trigger-guard-only holsters, has nothing around the cylinder or non-trigger controls. This freed me to tackle another project that’s been on my mind.

Cylinder Release

Either I have short thumbs, or the people who design magazine and cylinder catches have extra-long ones. I don’t think I’ve owned a single handgun where I can reliably hit the ‘add more ammo’ button without breaking my grip in some way.

You’d think this wouldn’t be a big deal, given my preferred revolver reload technique, which involves letting go with my strong hand altogether. We’ll circle back to that. I still wanted a big fat paddle cylinder release.

Nobody makes one. I mean, certain gunsmiths do (David Olhasso, out in eastern PA, will do one for you, if you can get the gun out to him), but there’s no drop-in replacement, which was tremendously vexing. Or it was, before I bought a 3D printer. After that purchase, the lack of a part I could buy ceased to be a vexation and became instead an item of unfinished business.

A few hours with calipers and CAD led to my banging out in a weekend what Hogue, Ruger, et al. haven’t managed to do in a few decades: a functioning extended cylinder release for GP100s3. The one in my gun right now is printed in pretty bog-standard PLA+, and surprisingly, that’s proven enough to stand up to relatively intense dry fire. It took a dozen and a half prototypes, but I finally have one which is both functional and ergonomic.

There’s a lot that went into the design, which might get a post of its own, but on ergonomics, suffice it to say that I can hit the cylinder release with my strong thumb without moving my hand at all. This is obviously a vast improvement.

On function, I’ll leave it at this: I think a plastic part, though it might seem a bit chintzy, is actually going to be sufficiently strong to stand up to real use. The only thing that touches the cylinder release during the firing cycle is the spring-loaded pin that runs through the cylinder to unlock the front latch. All it has to do is bear that impact, from endshake, with a spring to help out. PLA might have heat problems, and it might be a bit too brittle around the pivot, depending on how hard the cylinder hits it. All that being said, I think some kind of engineering nylon will probably be perfectly adequate, and I have a sample or two on the way soon, hopefully.

Reloads (technique)

Earlier, I hinted at some changes to reloading technique, and here we are.

I have hitherto been an advocate of the strong hand reload, favored by one Miculek, as well as about half of the top 20 on the USPSA Revolver leaderboard4 and the current champ. Let’s assume you’re right-handed for the rest of this section, so I don’t get my strong and weak hands confused.

The strong hand reload starts with moving your left hand up to the cylinder, while your right hand hits the cylinder release. Your left fingers push the cylinder open into your left palm, and your left thumb hits the cylinder release. Meanwhile, your right hand goes to get a new moon clip. Your left hand brings the gun down to your belt, your right hand drops the clip in, and you rebuild your grip on the way up.

The strong hand reload has a major advantage amidst all the gun-tossing between hands: both hands are pretty much always occupied. There’s no dead time. It’s also relatively easy to do (though sometimes in compromised fashion) no matter which direction you’re moving.

I have more or less decided to switch to a weak hand reload, favored by the other half of the top 20, for this season. First, a description; then, my reasoning.

The way I’m doing it, the weak hand reload starts the same as the strong hand: my left hand moves forward to the cylinder. At the same time, my right thumb hits the cylinder release, but my right hand otherwise stays put. My left fingers pop the cylinder out while I tilt the muzzle slightly upward, and my left thumb hits the cylinder release while my right hand starts to bring the gun down. My left hand leaves the gun and goes for a moon clip. By the time I have the moon clip in hand, the gun is directly in front of it, and the cylinder is at the same height. My left hand lifts the moon clip off the peg, moves it forward a hair, and drops it directly into the cylinder. On the way back up, my left thumb closes the cylinder, and my left hand rejoins my right on the grip. Here’s an example.

This method has one serious downside. Watch the example closely, and you’ll see that the gun is stationary for an instant, waiting for the moon clip. There’s only so much I can do about that.

Is it really such a serious downside, though? By my reckoning, the split time in the video above is about 2.5 seconds, and it’s not the fastest I can go. I’ve hit 2.0 a few times already, which is pretty sporty by wheelgun standards, and certainly unlikely to hold me back.

Suppose you aren’t convinced. There are some positives, too. First: it’s a very simple set of motions. Unlike the strong hand reload, there’s very little gun dancing to it. Gun tilts, gun comes down, gun goes up. Parvusimperator remarked to me that he doesn’t think about going fast, he thinks about doing things efficiently and with urgency. (It’s not his formulation, but I forget who he got it from. Scott someone? Steve someone? Ah, there it is. Scott Jedlinski.)

Second: access to the cylinder is clearer. The strong hand reload puts the grip in the way. Sometimes that causes trouble getting the ammunition in, and the path from the moon clip rack to the cylinder is necessarily a bit more twisty.

Third: I just seem to do it better. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Clearer access to the cylinder helps make the worst case bobble not so bad. My left hand has direct access to the cylinder, and can more easily solve problems there. Another contributing factor is probably the cylinder chamfer job I had done5. The mechanics of the reload, with the moon clip being so close to the cylinder, probably help too. My moon clips are relatively wobbly, which means they have the potential to flop as they drop from above the cylinder, and the weak hand reload drops them from closer. It’s also easier to see the positions of the chambers and align the moon clip correctly, since there’s no gun in between my sight line and the cylinder.

Or maybe I find the motions easier to pull off under pressure. The strong hand reload involves a lot of delicate manipulation of the gun, for the payoff that the strong hand gets to do the final positioning of the moon clip. The weak hand reload involves two or three big, simple movements, and one small one (the actual loading) that’s only moderately difficult. Whatever it is, I like this reload more, and so I think I’ll stick with it.

Reloads (ammunition)

Thanks to the fine gentlemen at the r/reloading subreddit’s Discord server, I came by a stock of 6,000 small pistol primers, which ought to be enough to get me through the 2021 season.

With components being scarce, I decided to get my bullets in bulk. A kind soul from the Brian Enos revolver forum sent me a little sample pack of Ibejiheads 160-grain coated numbers, and the Ruger likes them just fine. This was, I should note, back in October, and they’ve only just arrived. Components are, like I said, scarce.

Anyway, there are a few nice things about these particular bullets, but the most important one is that they’re the most tapered 160gr bullets I’ve been able to find, which makes them easy-loading. I’m fond of the ultra-heavy bullets: they only need to go about 800 feet per second to make minor power factor, which takes just a hair over three grains of Alliant Bullseye.

They’re still going in the same Starline .38 Short Colt cases, which I expect to last me years, and the load generally (heavy bullet, low velocity) has been my preference for the admittedly short time I’ve been competing with a revolver. The selection of the Ibejiheads bullets is just finalizing things. In the future, I might investigate a non-Bullseye powder—I’ve heard good things about Alliant Sport Pistol, especially with coated bullets.


There are two components to this. The first is a change I’m trying to train. The second is an observation.

The change is this: I need to be looser when I shoot. It’s very easy for me to get tense, which leads to jerky motions, which means my reloads fall apart. I’ve been listening to a few podcasts on practical shooting of late, and one of them (the Shoot Fast Podcast, with Cody Axon and Joel Park) goes after the ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ saying. I’m convinced that the saying is correct in some domains, but for shooting, I like the one the Shoot Fast guys allude to without ever outright saying: fast is smooth and smooth is fast.

I’ve verified this the only way I know how: experiments with the timer. The more I tell myself that a drill doesn’t matter, that I don’t care about the time, the better the time generally is, as long as I’m doing it at pace. With those results in mind, I invented a drill to try and burn the low-tension6 sensation into my shooting. I have my timer give me a start beep and do something fast (a draw, a reload, a double on a dry fire target). After I do the thing, I freeze, inspect my posture, and consciously relax and adjust how I’m standing or gripping, if needed, repeating until I’m relaxed while doing the thing.

Surprisingly, timed and regimented drills to enhance relaxation seem to be working, and fairly quickly. In combination with that, I decided to skip the par timer unless I’m actively working on speed. I still use a timer and still compare my times to the par times, I just have it set to shot-timing mode, to prevent getting in front of my skis while trying to beat the beeps.

And now for the observation, a closing thought for these almost-3000 words. Spend much time in practical shooting circles, and you’ll find a lot of big egos, and a lot of people correspondingly easily shaken by bad performances. At least, that’s what I take away from practical shooting podcasts. The ones I listen to put a lot of emphasis on the mental aspect of the game. I suppose that’s one of the advantages to being even-keeled by nature, and actively adhering to a faith that treats humility as just about the highest virtue. Those episodes are always slightly alien to me, which is to my advantage. It’s much easier to practice the shooting than it is to practice the mind games.


I wrote some about my goals in a previous post, and I can give updates on two of my 2021 goals already.

Short-term goal #3: end 2020 with a one-year stockpile of reloading supplies. I mostly did this. I have or can make about 3200 rounds of competition ammo, with the limiting factors being powder and bullets. Those are among the easier reloading supplies to find, so I’m not too concerned about my ability to use the primers that I have.

Short-term goal #4: work and shoot two majors. I’m on the list for Battle for the North Coast already, and may aim for the Buckeye Blast in June (if I want an earlier one) or the Virginia state championship in October.

And that’s about where things stand. I’m looking forward to getting this year rolling.

  1. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but people have commented on how good they look. 
  2. Triple Alpha X? Triple Alpha X. 
  3. I’ve pretty much made up my mind to sell them, once I work out some manufacturing errata. Unfortunately for my profit margins and the metallicity of the likely final parts, I can’t buy them from a Chinese factory and ship them here, because that would make me an international arms dealer according to ITAR, and just reading about the paperwork for that gave me a headache. 
  4. Well, the ones I could find footage of, anyway, which was about ten. 
  5. Oops, forgot to mention that one. I sent the gun off to Mr. Olhasso, who ground a chamfer into the non-business end of each chamber, so to make bullets drop more readily. 
  6. Or maybe focused tension is a better way of putting it. I want a tight grip on the gun, but I don’t want that tension to spread all the way through my arms and torso. 

Parvusimperator Opines on the Knight’s Armament LAMG

Shortly after I last looked at light machine guns and squad automatic weapons, Ian and Karl got some hands-on time with Knight’s Armament’s Light Assault Machine Gun, or LAMG. Let’s take a look at it.

The LAMG is a result of the continued development of Gene Stoner’s Stoner 86 machine gun design. It sports a number of modern improvements, but they’re all in the same spirit of the original, and Gene Stoner’s design principles. It’s number one claim to fame is a shockingly low weight. It’s a belt fed 5.56mm gun, and it weighs 11.4 lbs unloaded (per Knight’s website at the time I write this). Some other, lighter weights have been listed, so you can cut that down more depending on your configuration. That’s a super lightweight gun for a beltfed. For comparison, the M249 weighs 17 lbs unloaded (per FN’s website at the time I wrote this).

Light weight is the first thing that catches the eye on the spec sheet, but it isn’t the only nice new thing on the LAMG. To keep the gun controllable, there’s a low rate of fire, a long receiver, and a constant-recoil system. This should help the receiver life, since the bolt never slams into the back end. The receiver itself is an aluminum extrusion, which simplifies construction and doesn’t require a ton of rivets or welds to assemble.

Since the rate of fire is low, Knight’s Armament decided to not rip off the MG 42 feed mechanism, unlike the vast majority of modern machine gun makers. That mechanism may be combat proven and a popular choice of homework to copy, but it was originally designed to keep up with the MG 42’s extremely high rate of fire. Knowing that the significantly lower rate of fire of their machine gun was a lot easier for a feed system to work with, Knight’s went with a much simpler feed system that uses a significantly shorter cover. Simpler means fewer parts, which is generally preferable from a weight, manufacturing, and reliability standpoint, and it also allows them to mount a reasonably sized sight rail behind the short feed tray cover. This means optics aren’t on a moving tray cover, so they hold zero better. Also, it means worn hinges and latches don’t affect optics and their zero.

Knight’s Armament has also made quite a bit of provision for suppressed use, having both an available suppressor ready to mount on the gun, as well as a barrel assembly with integrated suppressor. I’m a big fan of general issue suppressors for military applications, so this is very nice to see.

Reliability and durability remain outstanding questions. We know what sort of abuse an M249 can take. We know what the design receiver life is. We can also track down some MRBS numbers. I haven’t been able to find anything like that for the LAMG, which is a damn shame. And in the videos Ian and Karl did, they kept insisting that the LAMG “wasn’t intended for sustained fire.” I wish they had actually gone into that, because I don’t know what that means. The barrel profile looks reasonably heavy. There’s a quick-change mechanism for that barrel. And there’s a belt, usually in a 1-200 round box or soft pack, so there’s plenty of bullets. Silly marketing aside, it hasn’t actually gone through the abuse of some troop trials, so while it’s seen a bunch of development time and money, I’d hesitate to call it “mature,” even if it has gone through a number of revisions.

Speaking of ammunition, the LAMG has no provision to feed from rifle magazines, which is a good thing. Those mechanisms never seem to work right. Plus they add weight and complexity all for the off chance that supply might not be able to get the frontline infantry linked 5.56mm in addition to 5.56mm in magazines. Which ignores all the times that they did, or that they supplied link 7.62mm and magazines of 5.56mm in past wars. Or .30-06 and .30 Carbine, and .45 ACP. We can safely skip the mag feed.

So what do we think? Is the LAMG better than the competition for 5.56mm squad automatic weapons? Yes, yes it is. The weight is pretty crazy. There were IAR entrants that weigh more. The LAMG loaded with a 200 round belt weighs about as much as an M249 unloaded, and that’s pretty significant weight savings. I’m a big fan of general-issue suppressors, and the LAMG can be readily configured to run with a suppressor and a suppressor-friendly gas system so the weapon doesn’t wear more or become less reliable over time from the extra pressure. And the constant recoil system makes it super controllable, even when fired from the shoulder. We’re willing to take a chance and deal with having to work out a few bugs to deal with a better machine gun.

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.