Tag Archives: design

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W ‘C-Zed’ Race Gun Build

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember my two race gun proposal posts from last year, in which I justified my desire to build a USPSA Limited gun on the cheap.

You may also recall the shootout post, in which I decided that the gun to buy, between the Beretta 96 and the CZ P-09, was the CZ.

Lastly, you may recall the CZ P-09 .40 review from last summer, in which I reviewed the base model gun.

We’re now nearly to the end of the series. In this post, we’ll explore what I did to the P-09 and what supporting equipment I bought, and, at the end, come up with a cost.

Requirements

Beyond the requirements imposed by the USPSA Limited rules, there are a few requirements I gave myself, too.

  1. A decent competition holster, preferably something with drop, offset, and adjustable retention.
  2. At least 60 rounds of ammunition on the belt. That was my setup with the M9, and I didn’t want to go any lower.
  3. A sturdy belt to hold everything.

Internals

The C-Zed’s guts are all Cajun Gun Works all the way. I bought their hammer, with different spur geometry for reduced single-action trigger pull, the short reset kit, which included an extended firing pin, and a number of springs: a main spring, a reduced-strength trigger return spring, reduced springs for the firing pin plunger, and an increased-strength sear spring.

The increased-strength sear spring sounds like it’s the wrong tool for lightening a trigger, pull, doesn’t it? You would be correct. Cajun Gun Works sells them as a tool for adding weight to a dangerously light trigger. I didn’t expect to need it and didn’t use it in the end, but figured that, at $10, it was worth the money just in case.

The other items on the list all work together. The hammer reduces single-action pull, the main spring reduces the work the trigger has to do, the reduced trigger return and firing pin plunger springs reduce the spring weight you’re pulling against. The extended firing pin is necessary for the lighter main springs, because the reduced hammer impulse can cause light strikes.

I haven’t had any trouble with cheap Magtech ammo, though, with the full setup. All my primers are well-punched; none are punctured.

Everything was relatively easy to install except the trigger spring. It’s a coil spring with offset legs. The trigger has two ears and a space in the middle, and a hole for one leg of the trigger spring. You have to get one end of the spring in the hole, one end on a shelf, and the trigger ears and spring coil lined up with the holes in the frame for the pin, all while pushing the pin in. It was a four-handed job at Soapbox World HQ.

In the end, the combination of modifications resulted in a smoother 7lb double-action trigger pull, and a very crisp 2.5lb single-action trigger pull (albeit with the expected double-action takeup). Those are significant improvements over the stock 10lb double-action pull, and the stock 4.5lb single-action pull. There were also improvements in crispness, creep, and reset, thanks to the Cajun parts.

Sights

Cajun Gun Works sells Dawson Precision-made sights in traditional competition configuration: blacked-out rear sights, fiber-optic front. It comes with green and red bits of fiber, so you can pick which one you want.

These were the most annoying parts to install. The Dawson rear sight was tremendously oversized, and took about half an hour of filing before I could punch it into place. The CZ factory front sight had been glued in. Try as I might, I couldn’t even begin to loosen it. I ended up stopping by the Friendly Local Gun Shop, which has a much better heat gun; they got it in a few minutes.

Not to be outdone, the front sight from Dawson took some filing to get installed, too. Precision is not an accurate descriptor of the sights’ fit into the dovetails.

Magazines

Cajun Gun Works’ part in things completed, I turned to CZ Custom for magazines and magazine wells. The C-Zed now mounts the large CZ Custom magazine well, which makes a big difference in ease of magazine insertion.

The P-09’s magazines, with the CZ Custom 140mm base plates and spring-and-follower kits, have a claimed capacity of 21. Parvusimperator suggested I take that with a grain of salt, so I assumed 20. I decided I wanted four magazines rather than just three to give me more flexibility on reloads; at the same time, I was looking to keep the total cost of the project down. I settled on four magazines with the 140mm baseplate, but only three with the spring-and-follower kit.

The end result is three magazines which hold 20 rounds of .40 S&W, and one magazine which holds 17. The latter can be used to get a round into the chamber before loading one of the 20-rounders to start a stage, and serves as my backup.

Belt Etc.

Midway USA makes a cheap two-part belt. I’m not looking for anything super-fancy, but the two-part setup is nice. I can mount all my gear on the outer belt and just velcro it onto the inner belt come match time, without having to undo any buckles. It holds my gear just fine. (That’s 1lb, 14oz of gun for those of you keeping track, plus 77 rounds of .40 and four magazines.)

Cook’s Holsters makes a decent Kydex competition holster starting at $47.95, or $67.95 if they install the TekLok and drop/offset rig for you. I had them do so. The holster is low-cut in the front, and has adjustable retention by means of a pair of screws running through springy rubber washers. The drop and offset are nice, making the draw a good bit easier.

I’ll continue to use my ten-dollar MOLLE-strap canvas Amazon-bought triple pistol mag pouches for magazine carriage. They do the job just fine; the retention straps fold out of the way easily, and on the Midway USA belt, they’re pinned in place by the inner belt.

In Sum

Here’s what I spent.

  • $506: CZ P-09 .40, night sights, 3 magazines
  • $294.60: Cajun Gun Works internals
  • $303.20: CZ Custom magazine well and magazine parts
  • $46.53: Fourth magazine
  • $104.27: Holster and belt

In total, the cost of this race gun project was $1224.60. (Or $1254.60, if you’re buying the magazine pouches too.) Even counting a trigger scale I bought and a case of test ammunition, the project tips the scales at under $1500. Has it reached the magical point of ‘good enough’? Only match experience will tell. Check back toward the end of April for some thoughts with that in mind.

The Crossbox Studio: multiple mic podcast recording for $60 per person

If you’re a Crossbox Podcast listener, you may have noticed that we sound pretty good. Now, granted, our1 diction is poor, and we’re still figuring out the whole hosting thing. Our voices, however, come through loud and clear, with minimal noise. While we’re recording, we monitor our audio in real time. Some people will tell you quality podcast recording with features like that takes a big investment.

They’re wrong.

The Crossbox Studio is proof. We connect two USB microphones to one computer, then mix them together in post production for maximum quality and control.

In this article, I’ll show you how you can build our recording setup, starting with microphones and accessories, and moving on to software. Let’s dive in.

Hardware

We’ll start with microphones. For high-quality recording, each host has to have a separate microphone. This is a huge help both during recording and editing; being able to edit each speaker individually provides a great deal more flexibility to whoever gets stuck with the task of editing2.

For The Crossbox Podcast, we use one Blue Snowball—too pricey to hit our goal—and one CAD Audio U37. As studio-style condenser microphones go, the U37 is extremely cheap. It comes in at a hair over $39, and the sound quality and sensitivity are superb. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Next, we need to mount the microphones in such a way as to minimize the transmission of vibrations to the microphone. This means that the microphone won’t capture the sounds typing on a laptop keyboard or touching the table. First off, we’ll need a microphone boom. This one clamps to the table. You don’t need anything fancier3. To hold the microphone, you’ll want a shock mount. Shock mounts suspend the microphone in a web of elastic cord, which isolates it from vibration.

If your environment is poorly acoustically controlled (that is, if you get other sounds leaking in, or if you have a noisy furnace, say), you ought to look into dynamic microphones. (The Crossbox may switch in the future.) These Behringer units are well-reviewed. If you get XLR microphones like these, you’ll also need XLR-to-USB converters.

Lastly, you’ll need a pop filter. Clamping onto the spring arm, the pop filter prevents your plosives and sibilants4 from coming through overly loud.

Let’s put it all together. Clamp the boom arm to the table. Attach the shock mount to the threaded end. Expand the shock mount by squeezing the arms together, and put the microphone in the middle. Clamp the pop filter onto the boom arm, and move it so that it’s between you and the microphone.

Congratulations! You’ve completed the hardware setup. Now, let’s talk recording.

Software

Moving on, we’re going to follow a procedure I laid out in an earlier article. Using two USB microphones at once brings some added complexity to the table. If you want to read about why this is so, hit the link above for a deeper discussion. Here, we’re going to keep it simple and just talk about the solution.

First off, you’re going to need a decently quick laptop5. Memory isn’t important. What we want is raw processing power. The amount of processing power you have on tap determines how many individual microphones you can record from.

Next, you’re going to want a specialized operating system6. Go get the appropriately-named AV Linux. This article is written targeting AV Linux 2016.8.30. Later versions change the default audio setup, which may cause problems. Create a bootable USB stick containing the image—here’s a good how-to. Boot it and install it. If you don’t plan on using AV Linux for everyday tasks (I don’t), install it in a small partition. (As little as 20 gigabytes will do, with room to spare.) Later on, when recording, you can choose a directory for temporary files, which can be in your everyday partition7.

Let’s move on. Now we’re to the point where we can talk about recording tools. The Crossbox Podcast uses two separate tools in our process. First, we route our microphone inputs through Ardour. Ardour, a digital audio workstation program, is powerful enough to do the entire process on its own. That said, we only use it for plugins, and as a convenient way to adjust our microphone levels relative to one another. We then route the audio from Ardour to Audacity, which we use to record, make final adjustments, and add sound effects.

Setting up audio routing: JACK

Time for a quick refresher on audio in AV Linux. It starts with ALSA, the Linux hardware audio driver. AV Linux, along with many other audio-focused Linux distributions, uses JACK as its sound server. JACK focuses on low latency above all else, and AV Linux ships with a real-time kernel8 to help it along. The upshot is that two ALSA devices, like our USB microphones, can be connected to our computer, using JACK plugins to resample their input using the same clock to guarantee that they don’t go out of sync.

We’ll touch on how to set up and manage JACK later. For now, let’s briefly discuss the overall audio routing setup, in terms of the path the audio takes from the microphone to your hard drive.

First, we’re going to use some JACK utilities to set up JACK devices for each of our microphones. We’ll run audio from those JACK devices through Ardour for mixing, plugins, and volume control. Next, we’ll make a dummy JACK device which takes audio from Ardour and sends it through the ALSA loopback device on the input side. Finally, we’ll use Audacity to record audio from the ALSA loopback device output.

Setting up audio routing: microphone in

We’ll need a few scripts. (Or at least, we’ll want them to make our setup much more convenient.) Before that, we’ll need some information. First off, run the arecord -l command. You should see output sort of like this:

**** List of CAPTURE Hardware Devices ****
card 0: PCH [HDA Intel PCH], device 0: ALC295 Analog [ALC295 Analog]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

This tells me that my laptop currently has one recording device plugged in: card 0, device 0, the built-in microphone. With your USB microphones plugged in, you should see more lines starting with card and a number. For the example above, the address is hw:0,0; the first number is the card number, and the second is the device number.

For each microphone, create a file on your desktop and call it microphone<#>.sh, filling in some number for <#>9. In this file, paste the following script.

#!/bin/bash
alsa_in -j name -d hw:1 -c 1 -p 512 &
echo $! > ~/.name.pid

The first line tells Linux to execute the script with the bash shell.

The second line starts a JACK client based on an ALSA device. -j name gives the JACK device a human-readable name. (Use something memorable.) -d hw:1 tells JACK to create the JACK device based on the ALSA device hw:1. Fill in the appropriate device number. -c 1 tells JACK this is a mono device. Use -c 2 for stereo, if you have a stereo mic10. -p 512 controls buffer size for the microphone. 512 is a safe option. Don’t mess with it unless you know what you’re doing. The ampersand tells Linux to run the above program in the background.

The third line records the process ID for the microphone, so we can kill it later if need be. Change name.pid to use the name you used for -j name.

Setting up audio routing: final mix

Onward to the mix. If you look at the output to the aplay -l or arecord -l commands, you should see the ALSA Loopback devices.

card 0: Loopback [Loopback], device 0: Loopback PCM [Loopback PCM]
  Subdevices: 8/8
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
  Subdevice #1: subdevice #1
  Subdevice #2: subdevice #2
  Subdevice #3: subdevice #3
  Subdevice #4: subdevice #4
  Subdevice #5: subdevice #5
  Subdevice #6: subdevice #6
  Subdevice #7: subdevice #7
card 0: Loopback [Loopback], device 1: Loopback PCM [Loopback PCM]
  Subdevices: 8/8
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
  Subdevice #1: subdevice #1
  Subdevice #2: subdevice #2
  Subdevice #3: subdevice #3
  Subdevice #4: subdevice #4
  Subdevice #5: subdevice #5
  Subdevice #6: subdevice #6
  Subdevice #7: subdevice #7

Audio played out to a subdevice of playback device hw:Loopback,1 will be available as audio input on the corresponding subdevice of recording device hw:Loopback,0. That is, playing to hw:Loopback,1,0 will result in recordable input on hw:Loopback,0,0. We take advantage of this to record our final mix to Audacity. Make a script called loopback.sh.

#!/bin/bash
alsa_out -j loop -c 3 -d hw:Loopback,1,0 &
echo $! > ~/.loop.pid

The -c 3 option in the second line determines how many channels the loopback device will have. You need one loopback channel for each microphone channel you wish to record separately. Lastly, we’ll want a script to stop all of our audio devices. Make a new script called stopdevices.sh.

kill `cat ~/.name.pid`
kill `cat ~/.name.pid`
kill `cat ~/.loop.pid`

Replace .name.pid with the filenames from your microphone scripts. Running this script will stop the JACK ALSA clients, removing your devices.

Managing JACK with QJackCtl

By default, AVLinux starts QJackCtl at startup. It’s a little applet which will show up with the title ‘JACK Audio Connection Kit’. What you want to do is hit the Setup button to open the settings dialog, then change Frames/Period and Periods/Buffer to 256 and 2, respectively. That yields an audio latency of 10.7 milliseconds, which is close enough to real-time for podcasting work.

That’s all you need to do with QJackCtl. You should also, however, pay attention to the numbers listed, at system start, as 0 (0). Those numbers will increase if you experience buffer overruns, sometimes called xruns. These occur when JACK is unable to process audio quickly enough to keep up in real time. Try using 256/3 or even 512/2, increasing the values until you get no xruns. (A very small number may be acceptable, but note that xruns will generally be audible in audio output as skips or crackles.)

Ensure QJackCtl is running before starting Ardour. Also, connect your microphones and run your microphone scripts.

Mixing with Ardour

Ardour is a free, open-source digital audio workstation application. It is ridiculously full-featured, and could easily do everything needed for a podcast and more. Since we have an established workflow with Audacity as our final editing tool, we use Ardour as a mixing board. In the Crossbox studio, Ardour takes input from two (or more) microphones whose input arrives through JACK, evens out recording levels, and runs output to a single JACK device corresponding to the ALSA loopback device. We then record the ALSA loopback device, which has a separate channel for each microphone we’re recording11.

How do we set Ardour to do this? It turns out that it’s complicated. Start Ardour and make a new session. (Since we’re using Ardour as a mixing board rather than a recording tool, we’ll reuse this session every time we want to record something.) For each microphone, make a new track. (That’s Shift+Ctrl+N, or Tracks->Add a new track or bus.)

Once you’ve done that, select the ‘Mixer’ button on the top bar. You should see a column for each of your tracks. You can use these to adjust volumes individually; you can also apply plugins or filters to each one.

Open up the Audio Connections window (under the Window menu, or by hitting Alt-P). We’ll want to do three things here.

Connect microphones to tracks

On the left side of the Audio Connections window, select Other as the source. (All devices which use the alsa_in and alsa_out JACK devices show up in the Other tab.) On the bottom of the Audio Connections window, select Ardour Tracks as the destination.

Connect each microphone to its track by clicking on the cell where its row and column intersect. You’ll see a green dot show up. Now the microphones are connected to Ardour tracks, and we don’t need to worry about microphone hardware anymore.

Connect microphone tracks to loopback device

Select Ardour Tracks as the source and Other as the destination. Connect each microphone track to one channel of the loopback device. (If recording in stereo, each microphone track channel needs its own loopback channel. If recording in mono, connect the left and right channels from one microphone to one loopback channel.)

Audio from the microphone tracks will now be routed to the ALSA loopback device, where we can record it with Audacity.

Connect microphone tracks to Ardour monitor bus

Select Ardour Tracks as the source and Ardour Busses as the destination. Connect each microphone to the Master bus. (Whether recording in stereo or mono, connect the left channel of each track to the Master left channel, and the right channel of each track to the Master right channel.)

By default, Ardour connects the Master bus to the system audio output. When you connect your microphone tracks to the Master bus, you should be able to hear yourself in headphones attached to your headphone jack. If you’re connecting more than two sets of headphones, you may need to get yourself an amplifier. This one seems nice enough. If you don’t have 1/4-inch headphones, you can use these converters.

Recording with Audacity

One more piece to the puzzle. Open Audacity. Select ALSA as the sound framework. Select the Loopback: PCM(hw:0,0) device. When recording, audio from one microphone should show up in each Audacity channel.

Adjusting hardware volumes

In AVLinux, you can use the applications Volti or Audio Mixer to provide a GUI to adjust hardware volumes. Volti is a tray volume control; right-click on it to get a view of the mixer. In either tool, to adjust the input volume of a microphone, select it (either in the dropdown or the tab bar) and adjust its mic level. To adjust the monitor output volume, adjust the output volume for your built-in soundcard. To adjust the recording output volume, adjust the volumes for the Loopback device.

Podcast recording shopping list

And that’s that. You now have all the information you need to replicate our studio setup. Please feel free to leave questions in the comments; I’m not much good at this sort of thing, but I may be able to point you to someone who can help you out. Below, I’ve included a shopping list for your perusal.

Buy one

Per person (non-microphone)

Per person (condensers)

Per person (XLR dynamic mics)

XLR connections are the industry standard for microphones. If you’re planning to expand to a true mixing board, you’re probably best off getting XLR mics so you don’t have to buy new ones when you make the switch. On the other hand, you’ll need an XLR-to-USB interface for each microphone to connect it to your computer, which pushes the price up somewhat.

Per person (USB dynamic mics)

If, like the Crossbox, you’re unlikely ever to proceed past two hosts with USB microphones, you should look into USB dynamic microphones. Like the USB condenser microphones above, they plug directly into a computer, doing the digitization internally. They are, however, less future-proof.

Cost breakdown

  • USB dynamic microphone: $30
  • Shock mount: $10
  • Mic boom: $9
  • Pop filter: $8
  • Total: $57

  1. Okay, my. 
  2. That’s me. 
  3. We, however, clamp our mic booms to spare chairs at our broadcast table. This means we can bump the table without jostling the mount, which makes for much cleaner recordings given our typical amount of movement. 
  4. P, B, T, S, Z, etc. 
  5. I realize this pushes the price well above $70 per person, but I figure it’s reasonable to assume you probably have a laptop of acceptable specifications. 
  6. Yes, it’s possible to do low-latency monitoring and USB microphone resampling/synchronization with Windows and ASIO, or your Linux distribution of choice with a low-latency kernel, but (at least in the latter case) why on earth would you want to? 
  7. If this paragraph made no sense to you, try this how-to guide. In the partitioning step, you may have to choose your current partition and select ‘resize’, shrinking it to make a little bit of room for AV Linux. 
  8. For the uninitiated, it means that JACK is always able to take CPU time whenever it needs it with no waiting. 
  9. Or, if you like, call it something else. Makes no difference to me. 
  10. The recommended CAD U37 is a mono mic, but has stereo output. We run it with mono input. 
  11. The astute reader will note that this may impose a limit on the number of simultaneous channels you can record. That reader, being more astute than me, could probably tell you how many channels that is. I figure it’s at least eight, since ALSA supports 7.1 output. If you need more than eight, you should probably look into recording directly in Ardour. 

USASOC’s URG-I for the M4

Thanks to SHOT Show and the good folks at Brownells, we can see what the US Army’s Special Operations Command is doing to improve their M4s. Let’s take a look. First, the product page.

Now, there are a bunch of things to note here. The upper receiver is unchanged. Still has that forward assist and that dust cover. The 14.5″ barrel is made by Daniel Defense, who have some excellent cold hammer forges for such things. The barrel has some unspecified improvements to work better with M855A1 ammunition, which has an exposed, hardened steel tip. I would expect these changes to be to the geometry of the feed ramp in the barrel extension, but I can’t confirm this yet. And I don’t know if there are other changes. The rest of the barrel is pretty boring. 1:7 twist rate, that government profile,1 and a midlength gas system. The midlength gas system is a noticeable difference, being somewhat longer than the standard carbine length. A midlength gas system is somewhat softer recoiling, and probably leads to improved reliability when using a suppressor (which increases the gas pressure in the system). Note that they did not specify the medium-weight “Socom” profile barrel. Overkill for expected uses? Not proven? Weight Conscious? I’m honestly not sure.

The handguard is Geissele’s Mk 16, and is 13″ long and free floated. It has a picatinny rail at the top and Mlok slots all around2. This is a big improvement over the usual plastic handguard or the KAC RAS system, which has picatinny rails and isn’t free floated. Plus a longer rail means more room for one’s hand as well as accessories. The older handguards had room for lights and lasers or your hand, but not both. Geissele handguards are very nice, and have a well-designed attachment system.

The full length handguard means the standard triangular front sight block has to go. It’s been replaced by the Geissele Super Gas Block, which is low profile, and held in place by two setscrews and a taper pin. I like pinned gasblocks. They’re sturdier. Good choice here.

Geissele also makes the charging handle. It’s bigger, sturdier, and better suited to just grabbing or pulling at one side, like lots of modern guys do. It’s a fine choice.

The other difference in play is the muzzle device. The Brownells version (for civvies) has the Surefire S3F, which is a three-pronged flash hider that also serves as an adapter for the quick-detach mechanism used in Surefire’s silencers. The military is probably getting the S4F (with four prongs). I don’t know why the difference there. It’s still a suppressor adapter, and remember, Surefire’s silencers won the SOCOM testing.

Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty solid set of improvements, and results in a gun better than the previous PIP proposal. I would like to see more if it were up to me, namely a better barrel profile and some bolt carrier group improvements. Both Lewis Machine and Tool and Knights Armament have some available improvements there, and I’d like to see some evaluations. Especially if suppressors are going to be used a lot.

Will I buy one? No. I don’t have much use for factory uppers these days. Building my own isn’t hard, and then I get to make all of the parts choices, and get things suited for me and my uses. And I don’t do clone builds. But it’s a solid upper if you’re in the market for one.

Finally, let’s do a quick weight comparison with the upper for a standard M4. The lower is separate, and needs no changing provided it has the safe/semi-/full-auto trigger group. Some of these weights are approximate because of what is and isn’t available on the market yet, but I wouldn’t expect them to change too much. I’ll update these as I get better numbers.

PartM4Weight (lbs)URG-IWeight (lbs)
Barrel14.5″ gov’t. carbine gas1.614.5 gov’t. mid gas1.5
Upper receiverA30.6A30.6
Handguarddouble shield0.72Geissele Mk 16 (13″)0.92
Gas BlockFSB0.33Geissele sgb0.1
Gas Tubecarbine0.04midlength0.05
BCGstandard0.72standard0.72
Muzzle DeviceA2 Birdcage0.14SF4P0.28
Charging Handlestandard0.08geissele sch0.09
TOTALM44.23URG-I4.26

Notes: Upper receiver weight includes the dust cover and forward assist. Listed handguard weights include all mounting hardware. The Mk. 14 only has Mlok slots at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00.

Not bad. Despite the stupid government profile barrel, only a little weight was gained. At least according to my back of the envelope calculations, and that’s a win More capability without a lot more weight.

Edited 09/12/18 to use correct weights for the Daniel Defense 14.5″ CHF Government profile midlength gas barrel, Geissele Mk 16 handguard, and Surefire SF4P flash hider.


  1. Which I hate. A lot. It’s profoundly stupid, but that’s probably why it’s called the “government” profile. I guess we can’t expect them to fix everything at once. 
  2. “All around” being 1:30, 3:00, 4:30, 6:00, 7:30, 9:00, and 10:30. Also, Mlok is lighter than picatinny rails, woo. And some study found it tougher than the rival keymod. 

On Glock Safeties

A few weeks ago, Fishbreath and I were looking at another striker-fired pistol1 being found to be not drop safe. Fishbreath commented that he’d really like to see these barrel-up-at-30-degrees drop tests done to the Glock 43 and the M&P Shield. I promptly obliged him with a video. Glocks have three safeties designed to work together to prevent firing when dropped at any angle. Let’s take a look at how they work. An understanding of the trigger mechanism and the safeties it employs is also useful when attempting to modify that trigger system.
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A Cruiser By Any Other Name

I’ve discussed before that the Arleigh Burke-class is the best destroyer afloat today. It’s got a good radar, plenty of missile capacity, and comes at a pretty reasonable price due to its large production run. Competitors like the Daring class cost entirely too much and deliver entirely too little. Let’s look at a a follow on. Nothing lasts forever, and something newer, with newer systems, will be fun to sketch. This will be my version of something like the Zumwalt class. Though, because I prefer things evolutionary, it will be rather less ambitious. Admiral Zumwalt would have wanted it that way, anyway.

We’re not going to compete directly with the Burkes in terms of size, because that makes it really hard to justify the changes. And we’ve already sketched smaller. In case the title didn’t give the game up, we’re going bigger.

As always, we must first define our mission. Being a large cruiser, we’d like it to focus on air defense and air control, with plenty of land attack capability (i.e. plenty of missile tubes). We’d also like reasonable antiship capability and some antisubmarine capability, though this last is negotiable. I’ll pencil in some nice, off-the-shelf sonar systems now, with the understanding that designers can make adjustments as needed for cost reasons there.

On to the sketch! First thing to do is to forget about the stealth nonsense baked into the DDG-1000 design. Some low-observability features are a good thing, but the excessive stealth optimization of the Zumwalts with their special superstructure and ridiculous tumblehome hull is silly. A more normal hull design, bow raked forward, has far better seakeeping, and that’s much more important. Not only is it a patently obvious ship if one bothers to look out their windows, but we’d expect it to be able to handle Air Defense and Air Control, which means the radars have to be on, which means it will be pumping out electrons like the Las Vegas strip. And if we don’t turn on the radars, what exactly is protecting the carriers? Accepting that not every new design has to be a ghost’s shadow will help keep costs down. We need to limit the use of new technologies in new designs so the costs don’t explode. Nobody bats 1,000 with new designs. Some will fail, and we need to be resilient about this. Also, a more conservative design means we’ll be able to reuse some things from existing designs. Or, test out some new stuff elsewhere. Like we used to.

There you have it. Some gentle angles, avoid corner reflectors, keep the nice clipper bow. As a side effect, that’s a lot prettier.

Next: radars. I really like the original, un-neutered suite planned for the Zumwalts, namely the SPY-3 and the SPY-4. The SPY-3 is an X-band AESA radar, optimized for best tracking accuracy. The SPY-4, deleted from the DDG-1000s to save costs and still fitted on the Ford-class Carriers, is an S-band AESA radar optimized for high volume search. This split of functionality mirrors what NATO testing found to be best in the late 90s. These were integrated into a dual-band array system, which is some pretty revolutionary stuff. I’m fine with that as one of the key new technologies embarked, though the emitters could also be separated. The overall concept is right though. And, of course Aegis-type integrated fire control and combat management systems.

As a bonus, from an emissions perspective, a cruiser with a dual band radar looks a lot like a carrier with a dual band radar. Or maybe that other contact is another cruiser and the carrier is somewhere else. Or has its radars off. Emissions doesn’t tell you. With the right ECM and radar signature management, your active radar won’t help you either at range. Better go look, and hope you can radio your buddies back before you eat a missile.

On to missiles, and the tubes that launch them. The Mk. 57 can handle a greater volume of exhaust gasses than the Mk. 41, but the sheer number of deployed Mk. 41 tubes means missiles will be developed for that. Also, while the Mk. 57 is a bigger tube, it’s not much bigger, and there’s no missile around that would not fit in a Mk. 41 but would fit in a Mk. 57. Plus, the Mk. 57 modules are rather bulkier than those of the Mk. 41. So Mk. 41 it is! And we’d like to pack her with missiles. To hell with 80 missiles on nearly 15,000 tons. If we can’t do better than the 128 cells of a Ticonderoga, we should go home. Ideally we’d fit four of the big 64-missile clusters off the Ticonderogas for a total of 256 missile tubes. This gives us plenty of space for SAMs, including ballistic missile defense capable ones, LRASMs, Tomahawks, and VL-ASROCs.

Now, let’s talk about the gun. DDG-1000 originally had an ambitious vertical gun with guided shells, but this was shelved. The impact of development costs remains on the final design. I am not sold at all on ambitious gun projects that aren’t railguns, and those are nowhere near ready. The best estimates on the range of the Advanced Gun System put the ships entirely too close to shore. I’m fine with 155 mm, but 155 mm without being able to share shells (and shell development projects) with the army is patently absurd. And I’m still not entirely sold on the need these days, given how many other options there are for getting firepower on the beach, and how nasty coastal defenses can be. For my design, I’m quite satisfied with the 127mm/64 LW gun from Oto Melara. 127mm is a pretty standard naval gun caliber, and there are plenty of guided shells in that caliber under development.

There’s no need for extra antiship missile launchers given plenty of VLS cells and LRASM, so we don’t need to worry about those.

Point defense duties will be handled by at least two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, mounted, well, wherever there’s room. Possibly amidships. Possibly fore and aft, which is rather more traditional.

Since we’re not obsessing over stealth, we can throw in some remote weapons stations and pintle mounted heavy machine guns to hose down any suicide bombers. Who will have no trouble finding a stealth boat because they use their eyeballs, not radar.

For propulsion, we’re going to go for Integrated Electric Propulsion, which has also been done on the Zumwalts. And could have been tested somewhere else. There’s no reason why it should be hard. Generators are run by diesel engines and gas turbines, and electric motors drive the screws. I’d like to take some time on a demonstrator to explore steerable propulsion pods for the electric motors in a military context, specifically focusing on cost, agility, and noise.

Helicopter fit is the usual hangar for two SH-60-size birds and beartrap-equipped deck. No reason to change it. Though, given the size, we should probably expand the hangar a bit to accommodate several drones.

Antisubmarine warfare is not our focus, but we should make a bit of effort to be prepared. A nice bow sonar and variable-depth towed array will do nicely, as will the usual pair of triple 325mm torpedo tubes amidships. Something like the Thales UMS 4110 CL sonar for the bow and a Captas 4 in the towed role.

Project LSAT

When you look at the soldier’s load, ammo is a natural place to consider weight reductions. Less weight means more ammo. To deal with ammo weight, we can make the bullets smaller, or change their composition. We’ve tried Caseless Ammo, and that proved to have some significant technical challenges. What if we kept the case, but made it from something else?

Enter the LSAT project.

The idea behind LSAT was to create lighter cartridges using polymer cases and telescoped1 cartridge construction, and compare those to using caseless ammo based on the G-11 project. Of course, polymer isn’t brass, and this presents some design challenges. With a brass case, you can make a sturdy rim2 that an extractor claw can grab. You can then pull the case, spent or live, out of the chamber. This doesn’t work for polymer cases. A polymer rim of similar design isn’t strong enough for an extractor claw to pull the round out. You can only push the polymer case, which makes ejection a challenge.

To deal with this problem, the LSAT light machine gun uses a swinging chamber. When the chamber swings down to feed a round, the previous round is pushed forward into the ejection chute. The chamber then swings up to interface with the barrel for firing.

The focus of LSAT was a Light Machine Gun first setup, since the current US Army LMG, the M249, is considerably heavier than an M4. There’s more weight savings to be had there. The end result was a weapon prototype that weighed 9.4 lbs for the polymer-cased telescoped ammo version3. The version firing caseless ammo weighed a little more because of the need for extra components to provide an adequate chamber seal. Polymer-cased telescoped ammo is 40% lighter and takes up 12% less volume than conventional brass-cased ammo, so a belt of 100 rounds of 5.56 mm LSAT ammo weighs about 2 pounds, rather than the roughly 3.3 lbs for a 100 round belt of 5.56 mm NATO.

Let’s briefly talk about the LSAT rifle before getting into some analysis. The LSAT rifle is much less further along designwise than the LSAT LMG. Much of this is due to the fact that the US Army’s existing rifle, the M4, is already really lightweight. It’s an excellent weapon, and weight savings from ammo changes will be less noticeable with a 30 round magazine than with a 100 or 200 round belt. Further weight savings here are likely going to require materials changes.

Recently, the LSAT program started looking at the development of 6.5 mm cased telescoped ammunition, and weapons to fire them.

And now for the breakdown. First, I like the idea of continuing research into small arms development. And I like the idea of trying to keep it evolutionary rather than trying to force a revolution like with Project SPIW or the OICW. I like the LSAT LMG and the 5.56 mm LSAT round best. I’m a big fan of weight reduction, and the weight reduction in both weapon and ammo weight are big wins for the infantryman. I also like that combination for really only having one variable being played with. We’re still using the same 5.56 mm rounds, with the 5.56 mm bullets that we know, but we’re trying to use new materials to reduce the weight burden.

I’m also fine with the 5.56 mm LSAT rifle being put on the back burner. Weight savings from lighter bullets is less attractive here because we’re dealing with significantly fewer bullets. Plus, we already have a solid, lightweight rifle. Weight reductions there are probably going to come from rifle materials, not bullet design. I’m also ok with having a different round for the belt-fed infantry support weapons and the carbines. Linked and loose ammo are basically two different things anyway.

What about the new 6.5 mm projects? That really depends on the goal of those projects. If they’re looking to replace 7.62 mm NATO with a 6.5 mm LSAT round, I’d be okay with that. Or at least, I’d be fine with looking into that and testing the daylights out of that concept. And I would also be fine with a DMR-type ‘heavy rifle’ that fired the same round, in the same vein as the Dragunov rifle.

I would not be happy with any kind of effort to switch the general issue carbine from 5.56 mm anything to 6.5 mm anything. I do not approve of the extra load. I do not approve of adding a whole bunch of extra range that the average grunt can’t use. I do not approve of ignoring a mountain of historical evidence across multiple wars that most infantry combat occurs at relatively short ranges of less than 300 meters. I do not approve of excessively optimizing to fight in Afghanistan. I do not approve of small arms solutions to problems of rules of engagement and airspace deconfliction. I do not approve of any deviation from the classic solution to the sniper problem of mortars and artillery and airstrikes.

Any effort to make the standard infantry rifle a morbidly obese4 affair with a fat, overly energetic cartridge is a return to 1950s US Army Ordnance Department thinking. That nonsense brought us the M-14, which is a piece of junk. Let’s not make the same mistakes of the past. History teaches us what our parents and grandparents did wrong so we can make our own mistakes, not steal theirs.

I’m happy to debate the merits of a different cartridge for the medium/general purpose machine gun role, but that’s a very separate question. And trying for a ‘single cartridge’ means compromising too many ways. Since the SCHV rounds are the least bad present compromise, I’m happy to try out polymer cased telescoped rounds there, where at least the projectile itself can be kept constant.


  1. Telescoped like the 40mm CTAS rounds, but way smaller of course. 
  2. Even on ‘rimless’ cases like 7.62 NATO. 
  3. This unloaded weapon weight is very nearly replicated in 5.56 mm NATO caliber by the Knights Armament Stoner 96 LMG. 
  4. Projected weight for an empty, opticless 6.5 mm LSAT ‘carbine’ is 8 lbs, which is about 33% heavier than an empty, opticless M4 carbine. It would make a good DMR. 

Parvusimperator Designs A Frigate

I’ve talked about frigates before, and while I settled on the F100, it’s not ideal. Plus, designing things is fun. So I’m going to work up a frigate design sketch, and get exactly what I want. Unlike some of my other design sketches, this one will have requirements and some open questions. Consider it more of an RFP solicitation, because I don’t have the naval architecture skills to place components and be sure the ship is stable.

As with any good design, we’ll start with the mission first. We want a Frigate. Alas, that has become a rather nebulous concept these days, so permit me to resurrect an older, more appropriate term: destroyer escort. We want a relatively small1 ship geared toward the antisubmarine and antiaircraft2 missions. A token antiship armament will suffice.

For the antisubmarine mission, we want the following:

  1. Hangar space for two (2) LAMPS III[^helo] helicopters. These are critical. Helicopters allow for more coverage of the sea and rapid prosecution of contacts. I’m extremely disappointed with how few frigates accommodate two helicopters.

  2. A modern, variable-depth towed sonar array. This gives the best performance, and a modern towed array is a very useful and effective tool for hunting subs.

  3. A modern bow sonar. We’re looking for a good, effective bow sonar, that can accommodate future upgrades. Something reasonably sized and reasonably priced. This is less important than the towed array, so we’re open to savings here.

  4. A ‘beartrap’ hauldown device on the helicopter pad, to enable flight operations in a wider range of weather conditions.

For the Antiaircraft mission, we want the following:

  1. The Aegis Combat System, with NTDS datalinks and Cooperative Engagement Capability. This is the thing that’s going to hurt our budget, but we need it. This is the best integrated battlespace engagement system afloat. And it’s scaleable. We won’t want ballistic missile defense capability on these.

  2. Four multifunction PESA radar arrays, either SPY-1D(V) or SPY-1F(V). Here’s something that I’d need more information to choose from. I don’t know the weight, cost, and capability differences here, and frigates have gone either way on these3. I’m inclined to think the -1F is the way to go, but I won’t sell the bigger -D model short without data.

  3. A 3D Air Search radar to complement the SPY-1 array. Again, lacking the relevant comparison data on effectiveness and price, I can’t specify one. Offhand the SMART-L might fit the bill, but we might also have something smaller available that would be a reasonable cost compromise.

  4. Forty Eight (48) VLS tubes. No less. We want the American Mk. 41 or Mk. 57 tubes, since they can carry a wider variety of missile types. We’ll need to carry VL-ASROC or similar in addition to SM-2, SM-6, and ESSM SAMs. We’re not too particular as to layout though, and it may work better to use the peripheral mounting capability of the Mk. 57 tubes to place some on either side of the helicopter hangar, in addition to the usual forward mounting position on the bow.

  5. Two (2) Mk. 49 Rolling Airframe Missile Launchers. CIWS is important. Ask the USS Stark. Two launchers provide excellent coverage. And we’re going with missiles instead of Phalanx or Goalkeeper because the missiles are the more effective system.

  6. Three (3) Mk. 99 Fire Control System radars for terminal illumination. ESSM and SM-2 both feature terminal semi-active radar homing guidance, at least at present. These provide the radar.

That covers the key points. Let’s talk a few others.

As mentioned before, a token antiship missile armament will suffice. We’ll take eight Naval Strike Missiles4 in two quad launchers mounted amidships. Good enough for dealing with trouble if it shows up unexpectedly.

To save space and weight (and cost), we’re only requiring a 76 mm gun. Probably the Oto-Melara 76mm/62 Super Rapido. We’re also not too particular as to where it goes. We’d expect it to be in the ‘A’ turret (forwardmost) position, but it might work better in the ‘Q’ turret (amidships) position, as on the Oliver Hazard Perry-class. Make it work, that’s all we ask.

Lightweight torpedoes have long been standard equipment for prosecuting close submarine contacts. We won’t argue. A pair of triple-tube launchers for 324 mm torpedoes will do nicely.

We’ll also want some smaller guns to take out small attack craft or suicide bombers. We’ll go with a pair of M242 25mm autocannons in remote weapon stations, mounted amidships. Also a few 12.7mm M2 machine guns amidships, and a few more Ma Deuces on the fantail.

I’m not going to comment on ECM and decoys beyond specifying modern suites of both. Open source data on ECM system effectiveness is basically nonexistent, so I won’t comment further.

Now, let’s talk propulsion. We would expect some kind of combined diesel/gas turbine system5 with two screws. We would also like a maximum speed of at least 28 knots, and a range of 4,500 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 20 knots. A 20 knot cruising speed will enable her to keep up with just about any task force you please, and 4,500 nautical miles will do a good job of getting you from friendly base to friendly base, and refueling at sea is something we know how to do.

We would guesstimate a crew compliment, including officers and men for the ship as well as flight personnel, to be about 250. By modern standards, this is probably a little heavy, but that’s ok. We want to be sure there are enough men for proper damage control drills.

As for the hull and superstructure, we’d like good internal subdivision in the hull, and we won’t sweat an overabundance of low observability features beyond a bit of angling and avoiding corner reflectors. We’ll keep everything pretty conventional in terms of hull shape in order to keep the costs down. Also to keep stability up.


  1. Guesstimating based on other designs, 5,700 tons or so. Nothing set in stone, of course. 
  2. Okay, anti-antiship missile. 
  3. SPY-1D is used on destroyers like the Arleigh Burke and derivatives, as well as the F100. SPY-1F is used on the Fridtjof Nansens. If the F100 can accommodate the -1D, so can we, but the -1F might be a better buy. More data is required. 
  4. We would also accept, and very much like, eight HF-3s, but NSMs are smaller and cheaper, so they’re what’s required. 
  5. i.e. CODOG or CODAG depending on the economics of the engines and gearboxes in question. Again, I don’t have those numbers, so I’m not going to sweat picking one. I would also not say no to COGAG. 

Tesla Motors: Ignoring Facts of Human-Machine Interaction Since 2014

Okay, I’ve had about enough of Tesla’s zombie legion of brainwashed fans reflexively and ignorantly defending them on autopilot grounds, so it’s time for a good old fashioned rant. I have two targets.

First: autopilot itself. Tesla’s autopilot is a nifty technological achievement. In its current state, though, it’s dangerous, and it disregards seventy years of research into how humans interact with machines. This book, on the specific topic of human reliability in transit systems, cites just over two hundred sources. In the world of trains, locomotive cabs usually feature a device called an alerter. If the driver doesn’t flip a switch or press a button every so often, the locomotive automatically stops.

The locomotive, actually, is a good analogue for the specific sort of cognitive load imposed by driving with an assisted cruise control system. If you read my Train Simulator review, you have some idea what I mean. For the benefit of you who did not read it, let me sum up.

Driving a car manually is a task with relatively evenly-distributed (low) difficulty. It takes constant attention to keep from hitting something or driving off the road. It may take more attention at times, but there’s a certain minimum cognitive load below which you can no longer drive a car. Sure, it’s no helicopter, but you do have to be paying at least a little bit of attention. This is materially different from driving a train or a semi-automatic car.

Piloting those two forms of transit requires so nearly zero input from the driver as to be indistinguishable therefrom. In both cases, the vehicle handles the moment-to-moment input required to keep itself from crashing into things1. The driver has no ongoing task to keep his mind focused. A quick sampling of Wikipedia articles on train crashes shows, broadly speaking, two sorts of accident which capture almost every incident: equipment failures causing derailment, and driver inattentiveness causing a train to run into another train2. In fact, the trend with trains is increasing computerization and automation, because—shocker—it turns out that humans are very bad at watching nothing happen with boring predictability for dozens or hundreds of hours, then leaping into action the moment something begins to go wrong. This article, by a self-proclaimed UI expert3 goes into great detail on the problem, using Google’s experience with testing self-driving cars as an example. The train industry knows it’s a problem, too, hence the use of the alerter system I mentioned earlier.

“Well then, you ought to love what Tesla is doing!” I hear you say. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re making intriguing products4, and the technology which goes into even the limited autopilot available to Tesla drivers is amazing stuff. That said, there’s a twofold problem.

First, no self-driving system—not even Google’s more advanced fleet of research vehicles—is perfect. Nor will they ever be. Computerizing a train is trivial in comparison. There’s very little control to be done, and even less at the train itself. (Mostly, it happens at the switching and signaling level, and nowadays that’s done from a centralized control room.) There are very few instances driving a train where you can see an obstacle soon enough to stop before hitting it, and very few instances where it’s worth stopping to avoid hitting the thing you might hit. Again, though, hitting a deer with a train is materially different than hitting a deer with a luxury sedan. More generally, there’s a lot more to hit with a car, a lot more of it is dangerous, and it’s a lot more difficult to tell into which category—dangerous or no—a certain piece of stuff falls.

Second, there’s a problem with both driver alertness systems and marketing. To the first point, requiring that you have your hands on the wheel is not enough. There’s a reason a locomotive alerter system requires a conscious action every minute or so. Without that constant requirement for cognition, the system turns into another thing you just forget about. To the second, calling something which clearly does not drive the car automatically an ‘autopilot’ is the height of stupidity5. Which brings me to the second rant I mentioned at the start of the article.

Tesla fans.

You see, whenever anyone says, “Maybe Tesla shouldn’t call their assisted driving system Autopilot, because that means something which pilots automatically,” an enormous gaggle of geeks push their glasses up their noses and say, “Actually…”6

I’m going to stop you right there, strawman7 in a Tesla polo. If your argument starts with “Actually” and hinges on quibbling over the definition of words, it’s a bad argument. Tesla Autopilot is not an autopilot. “What about airplane autopilots?” you may ask. “Those are pilot assistance devices. They don’t fly the airplane from start to finish.” Precisely. The pilot still has lots to do8, even to the point of changing speeds and headings by hand at times. More to the point, it’s almost impossible to hit another plane with a plane unless you’re actively trying9. Not so with cars. Cars exist in an environment where the obstacles are thick and ever-present. A dozing pilot is usually a recipe for egg on his face and a stiff reprimand. A dozing driver is a recipe for someone dying.

I also sometimes hear Tesla fans (and owners) saying, in effect, “Just pay attention like I do.” The hubris there is incredible. No, you are not unlike the rest of the human race. You suffer from the same attention deficit when monitoring a process which mostly works but sometimes fails catastrophically as does the remainder of the human race. It is overwhelmingly more likely that you overestimate your own capability than that you’re some specially talented attention-payer.

To quote Lenin, “What is to be done?” Fortunately, we have seventy years of research on this sort of thing to dip into. If your system is going to require occasional human intervention by design, it has to require conscious action on the same time scale on which intervention will be required. Trains can get away with a button to push every minute because things happen so slowly. Planes have very little to hit and lots to do even when the plane is flying itself. Cars have neither luxury. To safely drive an Autopilot-equipped car, you have to be paying attention all the time. Therefore, you have to be doing something all the time.

I say that thing ought to be steering. I’m fine with adaptive speed, and I’m also fine with all kinds of driver aids. Lane-keeping assist? Shake the wheel and display a warning if I’m doing something wrong. Automatic emergency braking? By all means. These are things computers are good at, and which humans can’t do: seeing a specific set of circumstances and reacting faster than humans. Until the day when a car can drive me from my house to my office with no input from me—a day further away than most people think—the only safe way for me, or anyone, to drive is to be forced to pay attention.

Update 04/21/17
I’m not usually one to revisit already-posted articles, but this is just too much. In this Ars Technica comment, a Tesla owner describes “multiple uncommanded braking events” since the last software update. In the very same post, he calls his Tesla “the best car I’ve ever owned”.

If you needed further proof of the Tesla fan’s mindset, there it is.


  1. Whether by advanced computer systems and machine vision, or by the way flanged steel wheels on top of steel rails stay coupled in ordinary circumstances. 
  2. Sometimes, driver inattentiveness causes derailments, too, as when a driver fails to slow to the appropriate speed for a certain stretch of track. 
  3. I like his use of a topical top-level domain. We over here at .press salute you, sir! 
  4. Electric cars weren’t cool five years ago. Now they’re kind of cool10
  5. In a stroke of genius, Cadillac called a similar system ‘Super Cruise’. I’ll be frank with you: when a salesman is going down the list of options for your new Caddy, and he says, “Do you want to add Super Cruise?” your answer is definitely going to be, “Heck yes. What’s Super Cruise?” It just sounds that cool. Also, it has a better, though not quite ideal, solution to the driver attentiveness problem. There’s a little IR camera on the steering column which tracks your gaze and requires you to look at the road. 
  6. Yes, I realize that also describes me and this article. I also just fixed my glasses. 
  7. Never let it be said that our qualities do not include self-awareness and self-deprecation! 
  8. The occasional embarrassed dozing pilot story notwithstanding. 
  9. That’s why it’s always news on the exceedingly rare occasions when it happens, and frequently news when it doesn’t, but merely almost happens. 
  10. If poorly built, but Tesla say they’re working on that. 

Rampant Armata Speculation

Let’s have some fun with rumors, speculation, and armchair analysis, shall we?

We don’t know very much about Russia’s new tank, the T-14. In my review, I made the tacit (and completely groundless) assumption that the turret shell concealed some heavy protection for the gun. Something tank-like, i.e. that the frontal armor of the gun could be expected to withstand APFSDS rounds as well as big, high end ATGMs. Like the front of the turret of a Leopard 2A6/-A7/-E or an M1A2.

Let’s try to poke at this assumption a little, shall we?

First off, let’s forget about side protection. No tank in existence can take a modern sabot round to the turret flank and not care. Focus on the front. Clearly, the outer “shell” has negligible protective value. It does hold a lot of systems, most of which are fragile. Of course, there’s nothing else behind the turret face, so hits there will probably tear straight through the fragile sensors and APS effectors. The gun mantlet is not readily apparent, and the outer shell seems to be in the way. Compare the M1A2 and the Leopard 2A6, both of which have big, thick mantlet armor atop and around the main gun. This is curiously absent from the T-14.

Remember, composite armors trade weight for thickness especially when compared to an equivalent mass of steel. So if we want to stop sabot rounds from a tank, we’re going to need a bunch of bulk. And since we’d like to be able to elevate and depress our gun, we’re going to expect to see quite a bit of exposed, movable bulk.

We can also find some images showing a T-14 turret mounted on the relatively light (28-30 tonne) Kurganets APC hull. So there’s at least one lightweight version of the turret out there. Of course, the shell could hide more armor on the T-14 version, maybe. We can’t rule out two versions. Now, it’s hard to figure out how one could hide bulky composites under the shell, given its shape and attachment methods, but we really can’t be sure about anything. The Kurganets hull is a little unusual if only because this idea has gotten very little traction elsewhere. The Swedes have a CV90 version with a low-pressure 120 mm gun prototyped, but have not ordered it and have not achieved any sales. The US Army has a version of the Stryker with a 105 mm gun and autoloader, but this version hasn’t been too popular. The US Army has moved to add more conventional autocannon firepower to some Stryker APCs to get more firepower in the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. So no one else really likes this concept.

We should also note that T-14 has a lot of active protection system effectors. There are ten tubes for the Afghanit hard-kill APS, five on each side of the turret. Additionally, there are two boxes of twelve soft-kill (likely some kind of obscurant) effectors facing outward, one box on each side of the turret, and another twenty-four soft kill effectors in a vertically configured box to protect the roof. That is an awful lot of active protection.

For comparison, the Merkava IV has a Trophy (hard-kill) APS launcher on each side of the turret. Each launcher holds three effectors. No additional soft-kill system is mounted on Merkava. Of course, Merkava IV is also heavily armored, and Trophy is seen as a supplement for flank protection against high-end ATGMs (e.g. Kornet).

So what might this mean? Well, we know that the T-14 has a bigger hull than T-72. Scaling comparisons will tell us this. Also, we know that we have to fit all three crewmen up front, so that front compartment must be significantly bigger to accomodate the three crewmen plus all of the displays and computers. Also, loads of hull armor, since the front appears to be quite thick (it’s sloped, and likely some kind of composite or composite + ERA, all of which takes space). We don’t actually save all that much room in the turret basket, since we still have to have some sort of (probably vertical) carousel for enough rounds to make all this worthwhile. And while the engine is a weird X-configuration model, it’s quite a bit more powerful than the one on T-72, and it still needs a radiator, transmission, and of course fuel. So we’d expect the hull to be noticeably bigger, and this agrees with what we can see from playing with scaling.

We also know that while the T-14 is heavier than the T-72, it’s still a light MBT. While it’s hard to draw comparisons to Western analogues, we do note the large hull and thick glacis armor would eat up a lot of mass.

Historically, the Russians have been quite strict about the weight of their tanks, simply because their infrastructure can’t take the weight of big Western tanks.1 For this reason, they pioneered the autoloader in the 1960s, and made heavier use of ERA than anyone else. Both are lighter than their respective alternatives. It’s quite possible that something had to give to keep the weight within tolerances, and the designers chose to accept a less well protected gun. Active protection systems are pretty good at defeating ATGMs, and they’ve made sure to have something for both direct-attack and top-attack weapons. In the current small wars, they’re not likely worried about sabots.

Further, the roof seems like it would blow-out in the event the ammunition storage compartment is compromised, and there are a pair of blow-out panels on the T-14’s belly. So ammunition cook-off will not likely kill the crew. Further, the Russians have put an escape hatch on the floor of the crew compartment. Good for them.

Could Afghanit be effective against sabot rounds? Specifically, the kind of APFSDS rounds fired by a modern tank gun (120 or 125 mm). Again, we can’t know for sure. It might be possible. But I’m disinclined to believe the present statements about it. Afghanit looks to shoot some kind of fragmentation or mini-EFP warhead to damage incoming projectiles. It’s simple and cheap, and works great against RPGs and ATGMs. But these are relatively fragile. An APFSDS round is a solid rod of some dense alloy (based on depleted uranium or tungsten), and it’s moving a lot faster than a missile.

It’s certainly not impossible to intercept an APFSDS round, but it’s a lot more difficult than intercepting a rocket. And the extent to which you disrupt it is important. You intercepted it. Great. What’s the effect? Is it destroyed? Damaged? Destabilized? If the round is still incoming, how much armor is needed to stop it? And what was the incoming speed and penetrator design? Test details are, naturally, hard to find. So color me skeptical that Afghanit can reduce the effectiveness of modern APFSDS rounds2 sufficiently for a lightly armored turret3 to be able to stop them.

Okay. So what do we think? Given the large amount of active protection systems, the reported wait, the size of the hull, and the nature of the turret shell, I think it’s quite possible the Russians are taking the T-14 in a new direction with a less protected main gun. They’ve pushed the envelope before. Some things have caught on, some things haven’t. This isn’t a notion I’m overly fond of, but that’s ok. The proof is in the combat, and the Russians will likely get into some before too long4. The keen observer might then be able to learn something as to whether or not these ideas work.


  1. I pick on Leopard 2 and Abrams enough, so let’s talk Challenger 2. Wouldn’t want the British to feel left out. With their “Streetfighter” Urban Warfare supplemental armor kit, the Challenger 2 tips the scales at 75 tonnes. 
  2. To be clear, I mean M829A3 or M829A4 depleted uranium APFSDS rounds fired from the M256 gun on an Abrams or the DM63 round from the Rheinmetall 120 mm/L55 gun on the Leopard 2A6 and subsequent models. Modern rounds, modern guns, no reduced-power charges. We never know what ad copy means, but that’s what you think of when I say “tank rounds shot at Russian tanks,” da? 
  3. Supposing the T-14 turret is lightly armored, that. But I suppose we should still define things, so something meeting STANAG 4569 level 5 or 6. In plain english, something ‘resistant to 30 mm APFSDS rounds”. 
  4. Unlike some other countries, the Russians are likely to get into a fight and test their new stuff. 

Armored Vehicle Fuel Capacities

I’ve found these to be quite hard to find on the net. All do not include supplementary drop tank options. Except where specified, variants have the same capacity of the original.

VehicleFuel (US Gal)Fuel (L)
M15051,907.6
M1 with UAAPU4501,703.4
Leopard 2317.01,200
Challenger 2420.61,592
Leclerc343.41,300
K2342.41,296
Namer369.81,400
Merkava IV369.81,400
T-72264.21,000
T-80B486.11,840
T-80U467.61,770
T-90317.01,200
T-14426.61,615
M2197745.7
CV9030/CV9035221.9840
SPz Puma237.8900
Boxer MRAV145.3550
BMP-1122.0462
BMP-2122.0460
BMP-3184.9700
M11380302.8
M113A195359.6
Stryker52.8200
BTR-8079.3300
BTR-9079.3300
M270163617.0
M109135511
2S1145.3550
Panzerhaubitze 2000264.21,000
K9 Thunder224.5850
Centauro137.4520