Tag Archives: design

Toxotis Self-Propelled Howitzer

Okay, so we have our new MBT, and our new Heavy IFV. Now we’ll outline our self-propelled howitzer. Again, we’re going to make logistics and crew safety a priority. We’re going to push the envelope a bit, but not too much. This will of course be a 155mm howitzer. Can we add another standard item, our stock heavy vehicle engine?

We might think no, at first. 1,500 horsepower is an awful lot of horsepower. But we’re getting pretty heavy. The Panzerhaubitze 2000 and 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV are both about 55 tonnes. That’s pretty close to the weight of our tank, and we can always govern the engine down a bit. So it will be a heavy vehicle, to no one’s great surprise. It will be able to keep up with an armored thrust, of course. The powerpack is rear-mounted.

Heavy is good though. It lets us haul plenty of ammo, which lets us sustain proper fire missions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching The Great War’s wonderful week-by-week of World War One on youtube, it’s that there’s no such thing as enough artillery shells. Artillery does the killing. Artillery is the key to success.

But, a good load of artillery shells (which are, of course, explosive) and the charges needed to launch them (more explosives, duh) is going to be dangerous in the event of an armor penetration. To maximize survivability, we will take a page out of our MBT design and completely separate the crew from the ammunition.

This means a reduction in crew, because we can’t have human loaders. We’ll need to handle loading shells and charges automatically. This is a little harder than it was in the Myrmidon, since tanks use convenient one-piece ammo. So the projectile and cartridge and primer are all in one relatively easy to handle piece. Great. But artillery is different. Artillery has a much larger range spectrum than an MBT gun, because it’s an indirect fire weapon. To make accommodating this easier, charges come separate from the projectiles, and in different sizes. Recently, rather than dealing with a whole bunch of different size charges, some have developed modular charge sets, to let you build a full charge from smaller, easier to handle bits. To no one’s great surprise, we’ll go with this. Specifically, the Bofors Uniflex-2 Modular charge system, since it’s already developed. As a bonus, Uniflex-2 charges are insensitive munitions, so they’re harder to accidentally detonate. Which is great for reducing how bad an accident gets. Electrical fires suck. Electrical fires setting off your stowed ammo load sucks more.

To maximize the potential of the Uniflex 2, we’ll have a chamber volume of 25 L on our 155mm/L52 howitzer. This is a bit bigger than the NATO standard of 23 L, but that’s not really a big issue for us. We can still use NATO standard projectiles, which is the more important bit, since that saves us some R&D money if we can just buy/license existing things like the wonderful GPS-guided Excalibur round. More on exotic and cool 155mm rounds later in this piece. Also, since I know you’re curious, it requires 6.5 Uniflex-2 charges to fill the chamber completely. There are both “full” and “half” size charges, and you need six full-size charges and one half-size charge to fill the 25 L chamber to capacity.

Speaking of capacity, you’re probably wondering how many rounds are carried. The Toxotis carries 60 rounds and associated charges (390 equivalent charge loads total) in two 30 round/195 charge magazines. The magazine subdivision, with corresponding roof blow-off panels, is designed to try to reduce the chance of one hit igniting everything. Ammunition handling, charge loading, fuze setting, and primer handling are all fully automated.

Automatic loading and a modern, computerized fire control system allows for nine-round MRSI1 capability. Toxotis can come to a halt and fire the first shot within thirty seconds of receiving a fire mission. It can get moving again in under thirty seconds.

Electronically, the Toxotis has a fully-computerized fire control system, and our standard friendly unit tracking system. It also has a highly precise navigation suite, which can compute position based on inertial references, from satellite data, or pull in positional information over the tracking system. Fire missions may be computed internally or sent via secure datalink. The radios are designed to facilitate communication with nearby infantry, armor, and aircraft to coordinate support and fire mission requests. So while it can use a fire direction system, this is not required for a fire mission. Like on the Myrmidon, the three-man crew of the Toxotis are all in the front of the hull in an armored capsule. There is, of course, less armor than on the Myrmidon. NBC protection is, of course, standard. There’s also provision for direct fire missions, with a thermal viewer and laser rangefinder mounted on the roof.

To resupply, troops can manually load projectiles and charges into loading hatches at the rear on each side of the turret. These automatically stow the munitions appropriately. For more rapid resupply, the companion reloader vehicle, the Hypaspist, can be used. This is built on a nearly identical chassis to the Toxotis, but it lacks the gun, the rotating turret, and only has a crew of two. In place of the gun is an enclosed resupply conveyor to reload the Toxotis through a hatch on the back of its turret. From here, both magazines can be reloaded. The Hypaspist carries a double-load, or 120 rounds plus associated charges and primers. All ammunition handling within the Hypaspist is fully automated.

Both the Toxotis and the Hypaspist come equipped with a Trophy active protection systems, an array of smoke-grenade dischargers, and a 12.7mm M2A1 heavy machine gun in a remote weapons station on the roof. They are designed for the highest paced shoot-and-scoot missions in mobile warfare. Each weighs approximately 60 tonnes, and the production cost for the pair is $6 million.

Let’s also talk about some off-the-shelf artillery rounds. A standard HE round weighs 43.5 kg, and carries 11.3 kg of HE filler. There’s the M549A1 rocket-assisted HE shell, which has 6.8 kg of HE filler and a rocket motor for extra range. The M110A2 White Phosphorus round, which can be used for incendiary effects or producing smoke, weighs 44 kg, of which 7.1 kg is white phosphorus filler. We have projectiles that can be used to scatter small mines. The antipersonnel variant weighs 46.7 kg, and holds 36 antipersonnel mines. Each mine weighs 0.54 kg, and contains 21.9 g of high explosive. The anti-vehicle variant also weighs 46.7 kg, and holds 9 anti-vehicle mines. Each of these mines weighs 1.8 kg and contains 0.6 kg of high explosive. There’s also a couple submunition variants available. The standard version holds 88 dual-purpose (antipersonnel/antimateriel) submunitions. The extended range version has a base-bleed shell, and holds 72 dual-purpose submunitions. The submunitions are similar to the US DPICM submunitions.

In terms of smart rounds, several more are available on the market at present. There’s the long (1.4 m), heavy (62.4 kg) M712 Copperhead, which uses laser guidance. This provides useful capabilities against quickly identified point targets, including armor. Also available for the anti-armor mission are the very similar Bofors BONUS round and the Rheinmetall SMArt 155 round. Both have a pair of smart submunitions that fall slowly in a spiral pattern. Multispectral infrared sensors and a millimeter wave radar are used to detect armor targets. If one is detected, the submunition fires an explosively-formed penetrator at the target. Finally, there’s the aforementioned M982 Excalibur, which is GPS guided. For fixed targets, this is easier to use than a laser-guided round like the copperhead, since it doesn’t require a designator, but it is not useful against moving targets.

1.) Multiple rounds, simultaneous impact. So the Toxotis can fire up to nine rounds at a target and have them all hit at the same time, totally ruining someone’s day.

So make yourself an ARK: ragging on the platform

Not very hard, I admit: I’ll grant you that the AR-15 is an excellent example of a weapon design which is easy to work on, easy to assemble, and easy to maintain. As far as building your own goes, the AR-15 is a lot like democracy: the worst system, except for all the other ones we’ve tried.

That being said, though, no other rifle has the same reputation as the AR-15, whose marketing says that any enterprising citizen with some tools in the basement can knock one together from your various parts kits. This is technically correct, and while I’m on the record saying that technically correct is the best kind of correct, I have to throw the flag here, for two separate reasons.

First: the AR-15 in its original design does require specialist tools, to attach a pinned gas block. Fortunately for modern end users, set screw and clamp-on gas blocks are much more popular, because they, y’know, work just as well. If you build to the original spec, you need a drill press, which brings us to…

Second: the fairer comparison is an 80% AR lower against an 80% AK blank. You’ll need a drill press for the AR lower as well as the AK blank; there’s just less of a market for AK building because it doesn’t have that Lego feel.

Beyond that, the AR has a ton of annoying fiddly bits which, while still better than, say, rivets, are still a pain. Consider the barrel nut. Rather than having a single purpose and a single torque specification, it has two purposes and a massive torque range: it holds the barrel to the receiver, and it supports the gas tube through its notched flange while being locked in place by same. This is an example of too-clever-by-half thinking. The barrel nut ought to just be a regular nut, and when designing a regular nut, it’s best to rely on torque over some external device designed to inhibit the rotation of the nut. If the gas tube needs support, design a separate part for that.

Consider also the roll pin. Sure, it does its job, but at what cost? In most cases where I may want to remove a part, I prefer set screws or mechanically-retained pins. (Remember, I have c-spring retained trigger and hammer pins on my lower receiver.) I will grant that the roll pin is fine in some places. For instance, I don’t intend to ever replace the trigger guard on my lower receiver, so roll pins are fine! Similarly, I don’t plan on unpinning the gas tube from the gas block; if I have to replace one, or if I want to change one, I’ll replace them as a unit. Same deal: roll pins cool.

Parvusimperator asked me to gripe about the dust cover, but I (intelligently) bought an upper receiver which already has the dust cover installed.

The worst part is that most of these failings need not be failings! It’s dead simple to make an AR-15-compatible receiver. Upper receivers especially already exist to meet a myriad of needs. Why not improved end-user serviceability? Lowers are a harder pill to swallow, since ‘needs special parts’ is a terrible thing to see on the side of one. Then again, ambidextrous lower receivers are a thing, and most end users are only going to bother changing furniture, triggers, and maybe buffers, none of which are big offenders in the special-tools market. The same reasoning holds here. We already have specialist AR-15 lowers for the ambidextrously-interested. Why not for the bolt-catch-replacingly-interested?

So make yourself an ARK: 7.62×39 AR reliability

In a previous post, I alluded to the canonical article on AR 7.62×39. That is this article, an excellent resource by a guy who goes by Major Pandemic1. It identifies two issues with AR functioning in 7.62×39 rifles: cycling, which I will use to mean exclusively the movement of the action, and feeding, which I will use to mean the process by which ammunition is stripped from the top of the magazine and pushed forward into the chamber. These two issues are, at their base, related, and Major Pandemic hits upon the solutions pretty quickly, along with one which I believe to be superfluous. This is because he hit them in the wrong order.

It’s impossible to claim an AR-pattern rifle is unreliable without first making sure the gas system is functioning as designed. Thanks to parvusimperator’s recent book acquisitions on and general encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the scary black rifle, I have a few instances to cite. First on the list are the M16 and M16A1, where a change in powder from stick-type to ball-type yielded a change in pressure curve. The result: unreliable functioning2. Rounding out the list are your various carbines, from the CAR-15 in the 1960s and 1970s to the M4 carbine through to the super-short Mark 18/Close Quarters Battle Receiver, all of which fall prey to another issue: changing the barrel length without changing the gas system. When you shorten (or lengthen) a barrel, you decrease (or increase) the dwell time. That figure, the measure of how long a bullet stays in the barrel (and barrel pressures remain high), combines with the pressure curve to determine where the gas port should be placed, and how large the gas port ought to be.

Fortunately for 5.56 NATO shooters, the hard work has already been done, and barrel manufacturers have the sizes and locations pretty much figured out. Unfortunately for we 7.62 Russian Short shooters, the same body of work is not yet done, and shooting a different cartridge with a vastly different pressure profile is the very definition of messing around with the gas system. When doing your function tests, be prepared! If you run into cycling issues, try a lightweight buffer and/or a lightweight spring. (I believe the received wisdom is to try them in that order. Parvusimperator will correct me, if not.) If that doesn’t suffice, you may have to increase the size of your gas port. With a drill, I mean, and a bit. Don’t increase the size too fast: my 7.62 AR functions perfectly with a factory gas tube size of about 1/12″. If you get to larger than 1/8″, you’ve almost certainly done something else wrong. A bluing pen (if you’re using a blued or nitrided barrel) should give you some finish around the gas port.

Next, and obviously, get dedicated magazines. The 7.62×39 cartridge is obscenely tapered, and only magazines specifically designed for it will push your cartridges up in front of the bolt carrier proper-like. This isn’t .300 Blackout; it’s not shaped anything like a 5.56 round, and any magazine not designed to feed 7.62×39, in a word, won’t. Midway’s AR-Stoner brand works well, and they won’t break the bank.

That brings us to feeding issues. By this point, you shouldn’t have any. If you clicked through to Major Pandemic’s article, you’ll see that he decided to dremel out the divider between the feed ramps. Granted, Bushmaster’s successful, functional 7.62×39 AR took the same tack, but my suspicion is that they made the same mistake other manufacturers, plus innumerable individual builders, made: an undergassed or overbuffered gun leaving magazines insufficient time to fully feed the next cartridge before the bolt carrier returns.

If and only if you simply can’t get your rifle to function correctly, you may consider a few courses of action before breaking out the dremel. Different magazines may help. It’s a bit of a shame that you may have to match a specific brand of magazine to your rifle, but if you were expecting rock-solid reliability with any equipment you care to find, you should have bought an AK. You might also try shooting it more. There’s a break-in period to any gun, and springs and lubrication may not take at first. If you do resort to dremeling and you have a barrel with a finish, don’t forget the wee touch-up pen to get your corrosion resistance back.

I think I’ll close with one final note on barrel selection. Faxon Firearms, who I’ve mentioned before, seem to make an excellent product with a gas port able to run just about any example of our favorite Russian intermediate cartridge without issue. I recommend their product. If you ignore that recommendation, I would at least suggest you look for a nitrided/Melonited barrel. Nothing else really makes sense for 7.62×39: presumably, you’re going to want to shoot cheap steel-cased, bimetal-jacket ammo, and a harder barrel helps to offset the additional wear you get from that choice. Combine that with the much lower velocities you have to work with compared to 5.56, and you may be surprised at the barrel life you end up with.

Then again, you may not. As you may have noticed, we don’t have sponsors around here, so I’m engaging in the most rampant of rampant speculation, not being able to afford 1) a second barrel to beat up and 2) the 20,000-40,000 rounds of ammunition it would likely take to really blow the first item out. As always, we’re curious about your experiences with 7.62×39 ARs, dear reader, so leave a comment if you have any.

1. I’m hardly one to talk about strange monikers, though.
2. I found some rather morbid documented accounts of US soldiers found dead next to malfunctioned, torn-down M16s, suggesting the men were killed while trying to fix their rifles.

I would very strongly recommend messing with buffers, buffer weights, or even a reduced mass bolt carrier before touching the buffer spring. There are plenty of options out there to reduce the mass of the operating components if you want to go that route. Clipping spring coils is a good way to get plenty of malfunctions. -parvusimperator

Rampant speculation: why did the Falcon 9 blow up?

I am not a rocket scientist, but I do like to think about engineering problems.

Here are the facts as we know them:

  • A Falcon 9 rocket blew up on the pad on September 1, 2016.
  • The rocket was undergoing a pre-launch static test, when it exploded.
  • According to SpaceX, the explosion originated in the second-stage liquid oxygen tank.
  • SpaceX uses a fancy super-cooled LOX mix, which allows more fuel in a given tank volume, which allows better performance.
  • Last summer, SpaceX had another rocket fail. The CRS-7 mission disintegrated in flight after the upper stage LOX tank burst. The internal helium tank (to maintain tank pressure) failed because of a faulty strut.

Now, for a rocket to fail during fueling, before engine firing—as the most recent Falcon failed—is very unusual. To my engineer’s mind, it suggests a materials problem in the LOX or liquid helium tanks, something failing in an unexpected way when deep-chilled. Crucially, the Falcon 9’s LOX tank experiences the coldest temperature (for a LOX tank) in the history of rocketry. Take that in combination with the failure on the CRS-7 mission: after their investigation, SpaceX switched to a new strut, which means new failure modes.

Mark my words (and feed them to me along with a heaping helping of crow, when I turn out to be wrong): this is another strut issue, be it faulty or just unsuited for the deep-cryo fuel in some other way.

Mechanized Infantry Platoon 2: Experimentation

Now that I’ve hit my monthly quota of Obvious Fishbreath Provocations, we can get back to our regularly scheduled theory posts.

I’ve talked about these before, and that was fun. Of course, that posited a CV9035 with eight man capacity. As you’ll recall, my original choice of IFV was for the Puma, with a capacity of six, and I’ve gone back and forth since. Besides, CV90s tend to get uparmored and loaded with stuff, with reduced capacities of seven or even six men. But let’s get back to the Puma. I’m still fond of it, and it’s still the best protected actual IFV in the world. It doesn’t really need to worry about RPGs of any type or DPICM-type bomblets. Yay. And it’s going to take the least amount of fussing to get the design pretty close to where I want it. At least, if I can get over the dismount capacity. So, what if we damned the cost (or accepted GAO’s estimates, which seem reasonable), and built our mechanized infantry platoon (‘Zug’ to you Germans out there) around the Puma?

We’re stuck with a six-man dismount capacity in the Puma. No changing it. We can get three eight-man squads with four Pumas. I think it might be easier to think of these as four smaller ‘squadlike units’ though, where each vehicle and its dismounts is considered a “squad.” At least for planning purposes. The infantry in the field can organize as they like. Thinking this way gives us a basis of issue of ‘per man’, ‘per vehicle’, and ‘per platoon’, which is awfully convenient. And it encourages improvisation. I’m beginning to think that on-paper squad organization doesn’t really matter too much, since there are so many good enough answers out there. And it is unlikely the platoon will be at full strength, anyway. So I’ll settle for a convenient planning conceit, and let the men in the field sort stuff out. They’ll certainly have enough firepower.

Further, there are many reasonable organizations for 24 men, and four vehicles is a nice cost/dismount balance. There are another twelve men who are vehicle crews, bringing our total platoon strength to 36 men. It is assumed by me that three of the four vehicle commanders are the platoon headquarters component1, though they can take which seats they like. I will also assume the fourth vehicle commander, plus the four gunners and the four dismount team leaders, are some flavor of NCO. The rest of the platoon can be whatever rank, but there’s our on-paper minimum NCO staffing level.

There’s a bunch of stuff that is issued on a per-man basis. Of biggest note to you, I’m sure, are: the helmet, the standard protective vest (which I’ll discuss elsewhere), and the carbine. Dismounts get a fixed-magnification optic.2, plus sling and NVG-compatible aiming laser3. Dismounts also get a night vision monocular4 and a radio (specifically the SRX 2200) to communicate amongst themselves if separated. The dismount element leader additionally gets a PRC-148 radio to communicate with other elements of the platoon, and a handheld GPS receiver (the PSN-13). Vehicle crews are issued an Aimpoint Comp M4 red dot and sling for their carbines. I won’t discuss ammo or numbers of grenades or number of rations here. There are lots. I chose a capacious IFV deliberately to let me haul things. How many? Shut uP. The P is for Plenty.

Before we get to vehicle-issued stuff for the men, let’s refresh our memory on the Puma. The Puma is armed with a 30 mm autocannon, a 5.56 mm machine gun, and a twin-tube launcher for the Spike LR. The Spike Launcher still hasn’t been seen on Pumas in the Bundeswehr, or at least, not in the pictures I’ve seen, but it is fitted to all of the various Lance turrets flavors that are out in the wild. So I’m stipulating it. The fittings are there. Additionally, the Bundeswehr Pumas have a 5.56 mm coax machine gun. Presumably this was to make weight for the A400m, and because of the stowed kills argument. Alternatively, I’ve heard space in the turret might be a problem. Anyway, I’d really like to see the stowed kills argument analysis, and if you could fit a 7.62 mm MG in the turret. I’m not convinced you couldn’t make one fit. To keep things simple, we will stipulate that the caliber of the coax match that of the dismount MG. So, for now, let’s assume it’s the 5.56 mm MG4, since that’s what’s in the design, and I’m trying not to go nuts with changes. COTS, remember? If the 7.62 mm coax is preferred after the above tests (and perhaps a blogpost of thought experimenting), give the dismounts the Negev NG7 accordingly. Of course, since the Puma does carry plenty of 30×173 mm rounds, we can use those against targets too tough for the 5.56. I think we’ll also see an increasing number of up-armored soft vehicles that would resist 7.62×51 mm just as well as the 5.56 stuff, so the difference may not be of concern in the future.

Anyway, each vehicle has an MG4 mounted in the turret as a coax weapon. Each vehicle has a second MG4 for the dismount team. Note that the dismount machine gunner also has a carbine available should he need it. This will help for building clearing. Again, each machine gun has a fixed power optic, a sling (with extra padding), and another of those night-vision-compatible laser sighting units. Note that the vehicle coax and the squad can share belts of ammo. And, only one kind of belted ammo has to be supplied to the platoon. We’re also keeping the number of belt-fed weapons down to keep the number of riflemen up in the platoon and “squad.” We still have machine guns in the vehicles. Plus, tests have shown that if a squad has multiple machine guns, it’s a lot harder to keep it in the fight as it takes casualties.

As noted above, the Puma carries a launcher for two of the excellent Spike-LR ATGMs. These are rather heavy. We’ll figure that each vehicle should carry at least two additional Spike-LRs, plus a tripod and command launch unit should the dismount team wish to use them, perhaps in an ambush. The weight of the Spike-LR and launcher is quite heavy, so we also figure that this is not going to be lugged around very much. Additional, somewhat lighter antitank capability, at ranges more in line with those of the rest of the dismount element’s weapons, is provided by a Panzerfaust 3 launcher, Dynarange sighting unit, and at least three Panzerfaust 3 rockets. Most of these should be the newer PzF3T rockets with tandem warheads, but the PzF3B demolition round is also very useful. In both cases, more rockets and missiles is better, but the above should provide a reasonable baseline. Additional disposable rockets like the M72A7 or the AT4 can be provided as needed. The Puma has plenty of storage space.

Each vehicle is also provided with a 40 mm underbarrel-type grenade launcher (e.g. the M320) and some grenades. I do love high explosives. Field reports seem to indicate that soldiers prefer having these with the little stock units attached, so their rifle isn’t super heavy most of the time. So let’s provide a stock unit with each grenade launcher. The option for independent use is there.

On to things issued at the platoon level. Distributed amongst the platoon is the following supplemental hardware: the PRC-150 manpack radio, two LGI F1 spigot commando mortars, and two 7.62 mm marksman rifles.5 The manpack radio provides a backup option for communication, useful if separated from the vehicles. The LGI F1s are easy for a single man to use, and give us some indirect fire options. Much cheaper and more convenient than that lame XM25. Plus, it actually works. Finally, the marksman rifles give us an option for a bit of precision at range. These items can be divvied up amongst the vehicles as desired.

So there we have it. I like this. I didn’t specify a table of equipment in my previous platoon post, so let’s compare with some real-world examples. I’m giving up two machine guns when compared to the standard US Army Mech platoon, and three 40mm grenade launchers. I have the three Panzerfaust 3s and two LGIs, which gives me some platoon level indirect fire and some very heavy HE projection. Coordination abilities should be similar. I also have the 7.62 mm rifles at the platoon level, which give some extra reach if desired. I’m taking a page or two out of a Russian Motorized Rifle Platoon book. The American squad has a Javelin, plus the Bradley has some TOW missiles. I’ve got a similar long range guided antitank punch in the Spike LR missiles. And I’m similarly high tech, with plenty of comms in the above table. One other thing I like is that the above TO&E is pretty adaptable to any other IFV I might choose to design around, including the Bradley, the CV90 (even the versions with fewer dismounts), or the ASCOD.

1.) I.e. Platoon Leader (a lieutenant), Platoon Sergeant, and Platoon Guide (another sergeant).
2.) E.g. an ACOG. I might go with a HAMR or SpecterOS though. Regardless, fixed 4x optic. I should write a blog post on this.
3.) E.g. PEQ-15, but I might find one I like more.
4.) E.g. PVS-14. I’ll probably go PVS-14 here.
5.) It occurs to me I haven’t picked a heavy rifle. It will be select fire (not that full auto with 7.62×51 mm rounds will be used much), and have some optic and a night vision laser. The optic might have more than 4x magnification. Basically something to fill a ‘modern Dragunov’ role.

Reports From The Range: Light Rifle Trials

When last we left Parvusimperator’s Rifle Works, we had a rifle built to a concept. Perhaps a somewhat vague and nebulous hodgepodge of a concept, but a concept nonetheless. So let’s get her to the range and talk Trials, see how she fared, and how we liked her.

But first, a name! Because the name seems to suit her, and for a bunch of personal reasons I won’t go into here, I’m going to call my light rifle Bridget. Say hello, Bridget.

Second, Bridget needs an optic. As built, she has no sights at all. So I needed an optic. I have a bunch of nice optics sitting around, but not one really suited to competition. Plus, I really like optics on my pistols. I usually carry one, and I almost always take a red dot equipped pistol with me to the range if I’m going to be shooting pistols. And a red dot puts me firmly into the Open1 division of any two- or three-gun competition. So, I shouldn’t really compromise on my optic in terms of close-in performance or performance at range. Which made my choice obvious: the SpecterDR 1.5x/6x.

Let’s look at this optic. It’s made by Elcan, a division of Raytheon. And it’s huge. It’s also unique in that it has a mechanically-operated prism system internally, giving it exactly two magnification levels. This is the bigger SpecterDR model, so those two levels are 1.5x and 6x. There is nothing in between, and switching between the magnifications is super fast. The conceit here is that for variable power optics, nearly all of the time is spent at either the lowest available or the highest available magnification. The SpecterDR gets rid of the others. It also features a massive 42mm objective lens, which is great for low light, or just getting a really clear sight picture. And if you’re a glass snob, the engineers at Elcan have you covered with some phenomenally clear European-grade glass. The reticle is a lot like a TA01 Acog: a big crosshair with bullet drop compensation markings for useful ranges. You can get a reticle calibrated for 5.56 or 7.62 as is your preference. Mine is calibrated for 5.56. The reticle also has a range estimator scale. You can illuminate either the center dot of the reticle or the entire reticle. If you’re illuminating the center dot only, you can get Aimpoint-grade brightness out of the Elcan. You won’t have an issue with that washing out. It’s rated for an average battery life of 3,000 hours, which is really good for a variable-power optic. Or, really, anything not made by Aimpoint. Plus, this thing is built like a brick shithouse. It’s not gonna break on me. It’s probably good for anything short of getting shot or having C4 strapped to it. It satisfies the MIL-STD-810F standards for durability, in case you like looking up technical descriptions.

Now for the downsides. Remember how this thing is built stupid tough? And it has a giant, Illuminati-approved, all-seeing objective lens? Well, it’s also a heavy beast of an optic, tipping the scales at 700 g (1.54 lbs.). This is a lot, but bear in mind that it includes a mount. So if you’re comparing it to a more conventional optic design, add in the weight of a mount and then get back to me. It’s a bit lighter than the super popular Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x on it’s own, and rather lighter once you add a mount to the Vortex. Downside two is the price. MSRP is painful. And, downside number three is that Elcan is a division of Raytheon. They are a military contractor. This optic has an NSN. Having a super good warranty isn’t high on their features list. Nor is having a customer service department that can be there to hold your hand and reassure you that you are a special snowflake. They don’t care. If you object, feel free to take your business elsewhere. I don’t really care, so I ponied up the cash and bought one.2 Oh, the one other thing to be aware of is that the integral mount uses ARMS levers. Some people don’t like those because they’re not adjustable and don’t work if the rails on your upper aren’t in spec. There are better clamping designs now, but these work. Plus, I can’t change them out. Hardly a dealbreaker.

Enough of me babbling about the optic. Let’s mount it up! Even with the Elcan beast mounted on the rail, Bridget weights in at 7.53 lbs., which is lighter than Kat without her optic. It’s also about as much as Maryanne, my SCAR 16S, weighs without her optic.

Range trials proceeded without too much drama. That gas system runs great. No problems in rifle operation were found. Though, I didn’t run a ton of rounds through Bridget yet at this stage. In terms of handling though, I’m super impressed. Bridget isn’t front-heavy like most other ARs, and she’s not rear-heavy like a bullpup. The vast majority of the weight is concentrated right around the magwell, where your strong hand is. So she’s not tiring to hold up and maneuvers super easy. That long handguard is actually quite nice with the weight distributed this way. It makes transitions really easy.

What else did we notice? Bridget is loud. Very loud. And the blast is obnoxious. How obnoxious? Well, two lanes over, Fishbreath remarked “Holy cow that’s obnoxious!” And he’s not one given to profanity. Translating to something a bit more colloquial gives us “Fucking ow!” Fishbreath has also mentioned the sensation of getting blasted in the face with the particles that come out of the business end of a rifle is a lot like getting pepper sprayed.

That said, after understanding that Bridget is going to helpfully try to get you some extra shooting space so that you both can get comfortable, she’s a remarkably flat shooting gun. I’m no expert in recoil control, but that little M4-72 brake is amazing at keeping the muzzle where you pointed it. No jumping, no nonsense. Plus, even less recoil than you’d expect from a 5.56. Bridget feels like shooting a .22 that someone made heavy, but somehow is being magically supported. Oh, and you’re right behind a cannon that’s synchronized to you. Because roar.

In case it’s not obvious from the above, I like Bridget very much. She’s lots of fun to shoot. Having a light, well-balanced rifle is pretty awesome, and it’s a solid validation of my part selection. I’m quite happy with her as is. I was a little concerned that the heavy Elcan would ruin everything, but because of the balance, I don’t have any complaints. I might swap to something else in the future, but I’m happy with the Elcan for the time being. I’m also quite happy with my choice of stock and handguard. Thanks, BCM! I do need to remember a glove for sustained shooting, since the handguard heats up quick. The Geissele SSA-E is a good trigger, but I might like to try something different given my expected uses. We’ll see–I’ve got a match coming up on the 10th, and I’ll take note if any conclusions shake out of that match, other than I need more practice.

1.) Or “Un-Limit-ed” now, I guess. Name changes, ugh. Maybe I’ll call it Ultd. Anyway, same great nearly-no limits as Open, brand new name.
2.) I got mine from CS Tactical. They do have great customer service.

Parvusimperator’s Light Rifle

As per usual, I wanted to do another AR-15 build, which of course, needed a concept. I decided to try for a Light-ish rifle. I’m gonna pick some parts on the lighter side of things and see how I like the result. There are some exceptions, which I’ll get into below. Also, if possible, I wanted to give one of those long handguard things a try, see why everybody likes them. And I’m going to make this a nice, generally high-end race-ish build. So let’s cue the music.

Receivers: Mega Arms NiB-coated billet set
Well, that ended quick. Just kidding. Really though, I bought these because they look freaking cool. NiB (Nickel Boron) finish is pretty, and Mega Arms makes nice receivers. Billet receivers are heavier than forged, in general. Oh darn. Let’s look at the receivers themselves in detail:

Upper Receiver:
Well, it’s NiB coated, which looks cool. Internally, this should be pretty slick. Otherwise, it’s mostly adding a bit of bling that we can pretend is something vaguely resembling practical. This is a pretty typical billet upper, with some details particular to the manufacturer to make it look cool, and provision for a forward assist and dust cover.

Lower Receiver:
It’s also NiB coated. Plus, matched billet set, so the design is supposed to flow nicely. Blending and all that. Woo. There are a couple other things of note here that are nonstandard. First, there’s a small setscrew at the back to control fit of the upper and the lower and remove any wobble. Not that the wobble matters, but it’s nice to be able to take it out, get that custom gun feel. We also have an extra bit on the right side–a southpaw bolt release! There’s a button on the right and a longer guide rod so that a southpaw shooter can release the bolt easily with his support hand when he reloads. Cool. Note that there’s no way for him to lock the bolt back with this particular gubbin, but that’s okay. Bolt lockback is nearly always an administrative thing; it doesn’t matter if it’s awkward. Also, the bolt catch is to be held in place with an included setscrew, not a roll pin. Great! Roll pins are of the devil anyway, especially that one, which is about the most awkward thing to install.

Barrel: Daniel Defense 16″ Lightweight Profile CL
That’s more like it. It even says lightweight in the name. Anyway, I went with Daniel Defense because they have a good history of making quality AR barrels, 16″ because I don’t want to bother with pinning the muzzle device or NFA paperwork, and chrome lining (“CL”) because duh, chrome line that barrel for best barrel life results. The lightweight profile is what was originally called for by Stoner in the basic AR-15/M-16A1 design, so we’re in good stead here. Plus, I’m not a benchrest shooter, so I don’t want a barrel that weighs as much as a Camaro. Light rifle, lightweight barrel profile. Perfect for the Run ‘n’ gun.

Handguard: BCM KMR 13″
Oughta make up for all those places I opted not to cut weight. Note that this is not the KMR-Alpha. This is Original KMR, made with BCM’s fancy, proprietary, and apparently hard-to-find aluminum-magnesium alloy. Just like a fancy racing engine block. And it’s laughably light. Holding the handguard in your hand is like holding nothing at all. It’s stupid light. There’s basically nothing to it given that it’s over a foot long. Why 13″? Because I wanted to have a long handguard to see what all the fuss was about. But I still wanted a bit of barrel at the end for the narrow firing port drills you sometimes see at matches. This fits the bill for both. Plus, it’s got the modular keymod interface. Is keymod better than Mlok? I have no idea. I just like this handguard design. I figure both will be around for a long time, because people hang on to guns for a while.

Muzzle Device: Precision Armaments M4-72
I could probably have gotten a lighter muzzle device. I don’t care.1 The M4-72 is universally acclaimed as a super effective muzzle device, coming in at or near the top in several effectiveness tests. It is also apparently horrifically loud. I do not care about this either. Ridiculous race gun comps are always something I’ve been interested in trying. So here it is. One of the baddest of the bad, if you can take the abuse. Or, I guess if people around you can take the abuse.

Gas Block: BCM low profile .625″
Not much to say here. It’s a gas block. It attaches via setscrew, mostly because I lack a drill press to pin it properly. Oh well. .625″ because that’s the diameter of my barrel at the gas port. It is not adjustable, because I don’t really want to fiddle with gas systems too much. I don’t tweak rifles to shoot as light as possible for some custom load. I like my rifle to run with any reasonable factory load.

Gas tube: BCM midlength
Yes, I bought a gas tube. No, there’s nothing special about it. Makes rifle do that autoloader thing.

Bolt Carrier Group: WMD Guns NiB-X coated M16 BCG
Here’s another place where I could have saved some weight, but didn’t. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of low-mass components in the operating system, because I like unfussy, reliable rifles. This is one of the few places where there is mass in an AR-15, so of course someone is gonna try to cut weight here. If you go with a reduced-mass BCG, you nearly always need to tune your gas system for correct functioning. Since I’m not the biggest fan of fiddle-farting around with the gas system, and I have no capacity to do so on this rifle as designed, I kept the stock-dimensioned BCG for reliability. I don’t like fussy, high maintenance guns. NiB coated because my upper is NiB coated, and NiB on NiB is going to give me maximum lubricity. Plus, it looks really cool.

Buffer system: BCM milspec buffer tube, castle nut, receiver end plate, carbine buffer, carbine buffer spring
Not much interesting here. I need a buffer system to make the rifle one correctly. So I got one. It’s all pretty standard stuff. Milspec buffer tube, though it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s consistent with your stock. Castle nut and receiver end plate are also needed, and stock parts, and boring. Nothing fancy here. The buffer is carbine weight, mostly because that’s what came in the kit. I may tinker with that a bit, but Obsessive Buffer Tweaking Syndrome has screwed up many perfectly good guns. So…maybe not.

Stock BCM Gunfighter FDE
This stock is a good balance between weight, comfort, and durability. It’s one of the lighter stocks on the market, among the strongest in abuse/drop tests, and is pretty comfortable as far as cheek weld goes. There’s a rubber pad on it too, not that a 5.56 AR is abusive at all. There are lighter stocks, but most of them are less comfortable. Or I could have just gotten a backplate for the buffer, but that wouldn’t be adjustable. And I refuse to be that silly. Plus I like having features that were on the ban list for the ’94 “assault weapons” ban. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Oh, and I picked Flat Dark Earth (FDE to the cool kids, tan to everyone else) because it looks cool, and I’ve got a sort of two-tone look going on.

Various Upper and Lower Parts:
I’m going to list these out, grouped by function, because a bunch are decidedly not standard parts. I rolled my own lower parts kit for this one.

Forward assist: BCM forward assist and spring
Well, the upper receiver has a slot for one, so I got one. It’s a stock part. Moving on.

Dust Cover: Strike Industries Enhanced Ultimate Dust Cover
I got this because installing a dust cover is really annoying. This one is much less so.

Charging handle: Mega Arms Grip Charging Handle
This one came with my upper. It’s got some more grippiness, and it’s a billet part, but otherwise it’s a stock design. I’m fine with that for now. I haven’t had one of my guns jam up real bad, so I haven’t had to really abuse a charging handle. Maybe in the future I’ll get a fancy one.

Mag Release: Colt mag release spring, colt mag button, Norgon ambi mag catch
I got the Norgon ambi mag catch because I figured it’d be pretty silly to have an ambi bolt release but no ambi mag release. I got the Norgon one because it’s well made, puts the mag release in the same place for southpaws and even has an NSN. Other small parts are Colt because I like Colt stuff. They make good small parts.

Bolt release: Colt spring, Seekins Bolt Release Catch
These are added to the already-supplied extended guide rod to enable the southpaw-friendly release functionality. Colt spring because I still like Colt. Seekins catch because it’s a little bigger, and I like the look. Plus bigger is easier to smack when you’re in a hurry.

Safety: Battle Arms Development Ambi Safety
Again, ambi makes more sense as an all-or-nothing thing. Plus, I like ambi safeties in general, and I’m not sacrificing anything. Battle arms makes a really nice one that lets you choose from several different shapes of lever that they make. They come with a safety detent and safety detent spring.

Grip: TangoDown BG-17 FDE
FDE because two-tone. TangoDown BG-17 because it’s a really comfortable grip. It’s my favorite from testing several. And no, I don’t like the ‘more verticaler’ grips they have now. TangoDown’s grip is also shaped to keep your hand high, and a high grip is a better grip. Also, TangoDown actually makes grips in sizes for people who have big, manly hands. The BG-17 is the larger size, the BG-16 is the smaller size. Same great comfortable shape. Since I have relatively large hands, I went BG-17. Interestingly, all the goofy vertical grips seem to be made tiny. No idea why, but it’s another reason for me to not like them

Buffer retainer: Colt buffer retainer detent, Colt buffer retainer spring
Really, there’s nothing to see here. These parts are required so your gun works right. There’s nothing special about them. I like Colt, so I got ones made by Colt.

Receiver Pins: Battle Arms Development Enhanced Pin Set
These hold your receivers together. You need some pins, and the corresponding pin retaining detents and pin retaining springs. I like the Battle Arms set because they shape the pins a bit more to make them easier to push and pull with your fingers. It’s the little things. They also include a little magnet to hold the detents while you install the pins. It’s the little things.

Trigger: Geissele SSA-E
If you thought I was going to put a stock trigger in this gun, you should go play in traffic. I like Bill Geissele’s triggers, and his SSA is pretty much my go-to trigger. I went with the SSA-E for a little bit of match-ness. I might go with a more competition trigger once I get a feel for this one and run it. That trigger might be the Geissele SD-E trigger, or maybe the Hiperfire 24C that I’ve heard so much about. I’ll keep you posted.

There she is, though she still needs a name and an optic. And then it’s off to the range! Watch this space for more details.

Oh, and in case your curious, she weighs 5.975 lbs unloaded, with no optic. A hair under six pounds is pretty good, I thought. Especially because I didn’t get too obsessive.

1.) Technically, I could also have gone with no muzzle device. But that’s just silly. If you seriously considered this, then you’re dumb. Or too weight obsessed. Possibly both.

Kat’s new furniture: when a stock is not stock

Last time, I said I would open this post with my precise optics choice. Here’s why I tried to put it off: my optic is an Aim Sports 4×32 ACOGalike. (ACOGalike is not the brand name; that’s just my description.) A quick note on Chinese-built optics: if it doesn’t have Primary Arms on it, you can’t trust it. If you roll a 12 or greater on a d20, it’s probably worth using; if you roll a 20 and 12 or greater on a second roll, then you might have a hidden gem. I hit about an 18 on mine: it doesn’t show the same issues as some other Chinese optics in my possession, but it’s inferior to parvusimperator’s proper ACOG in terms of optical clarity and low-light performance. So it goes. I can buy ten cheapo Chinese optics for the price of his one ACOG; at least one of mine is going to be usable.

Anyway, same optical characteristics as a Real ACOG, which means limited eye relief. Originally, Kat had a polymer stock in the same vein as the stock AK stock, except lengthened a bit for parvusimperator’s monkey arms1. You can see the issue if you look at a picture of an AK stock: it slopes somewhat downward, and my cheek weld, for a relatively high-mounted scope with short eye, ends up being a beard weld, since you find yourself in front of the actual comb. This is not ideal.

The solution? A stock with a higher comb. There are varied and sundry options here. After looking at several options, I chose the Magpul Zhukov-S. “A Magpul?” you ask. “Fishbreath, aren’t you a massive cheapskate?” Yes, yes I am, but at the same time, I recognize quality when I see it. Let’s count the ways the Zhukov-S is a good choice.

Number one: the comb is straight back from the receiver. This fixes my chin weld issue: the comb is high enough that I can properly place my cheek against it, while being low enough that it doesn’t interfere with over-the-ear hearing protection.

Number two: it’s a side-folder. This is not of critical importance, but there’s something about folding stocks on AKs that just feels right.

Number three: the build quality is superb. The folding mechanism feels durable and has positive locking in the folded position; in the extended position, there is zero rattle. It may as well be a fixed stock.

Number four: the attachment mechanism. Magpul has solved probably the largest open problem in AK customization. This one requires some further explanation.

An AK stock is secured to the receiver by two screws: one through the tang poking out the back of the receiver, and one through an internal tang in the receiver a little bit further forward. These are not for precision alignment: they’re there for retention only. The stocks are precision-fit2 to wedge into the receiver, which prevents them from wiggling. This requires a good bit of force, and a good bit of fitting on initial installation.

Magpul decided this was a terrible idea. They came up with two innovations to make the whole process almost painless. The first is their so-called ‘wedge block’. Looking at the stock from the side, the forward bit which slides into the receiver is cut diagonally, longer at the top and shorter at the bottom. The wedge block is cut the opposite way; putting the wedge block against the forward bit of the stock makes a square. A bolt holds them together, and when you tighten the bolt, the wedge block slides downward. This pushes the stock upward, and eventually, the wedge block and the stock have wedged themselves against the receiver, securing themselves against it without having to be made the same size as the receiver.

The second innovation is a keyed nut: oval-shaped instead of circular, it fits into a cut beneath the tang screw hole in the stock. Magpul provides a machine screw to fit the nut, so when you tighten the machine screw, it ends up centered over the nut, which is positioned at a defined point in the stock, yielding correct side-to-side orientation. So, unlike most AK stocks, the Zhukov-S goes on painlessly. All you have to do is tighten a few screws to hold things in place; no mallet required, and the end result is just as solid.

Is it perfect? No, not quite. I’d love some storage, especially since my optic’s illumination is powered by watch batteries, not radioactivity or natural light, and as far as I can tell, my options are limited to duct taping things to the outside of the stock. Nor does it have the classic looks I usually go for: it’s a tacticool accessory through and through. Although it has sling swivel points, it doesn’t come with any of the push-button sling swivels they accept, and for the money, I feel like a swivel would have been a nice extra. Finally, it is a little bit on the expensive side; at about $100, it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a firearms accessory which is not an optic.

Don’t let those critiques take away from the product, though: it’s certainly worth the money.

1. This isn’t entirely fair. The stock is NATO length. I just don’t like ’em that long.
2. In AK Land, this means they’re cut a little large, and you bang ’em into place.

Glass for Kat: picking an AK optic

As is so often the case, choice of optic dictates other firearms setup questions, and, since Kat did not come with an optic, I had some choices to make right off the bat.

Choice one: skip optics altogether, shoot irons like real man, da? This is not a particularly compelling choice, although it is made very slightly more compelling by my colleague’s admittedly effective sight mods (painting the front sight white, and filing the rear notch a little bigger). In Standard Two-Gun Rules, I’m allowed one (1) rifle optic in the Practical Division in which I plan to compete, so I don’t want to handicap myself unnecessarily.

Choice two: bog-standard Americanski-style micro red dot on a railed gas tube. This is one of those indisputable choices: I can’t really fault someone for going this direction. You get a nice, easy-to-acquire sight low to the bore, you get cowitnessing for free, and you get all the benefits of red dots: good-enough precision for battle rifles, durability, and all that tasty, tasty red-dot ease of use. Nor will they break the bank.

That said, I don’t think it’s quite for me. A micro dot far forward on a rifle has a very, very small apparent size, and that makes rapid transitions and fast acquisition harder, robbing the red dot of its main advantage over a magnified optic. It’s also impossible to magnify: even if you could find a magnifier with a foot and a half of eye relief, you’d be hard-pressed to fit it on the rail, and even if you could fit it on the rail, you’d be wrecking the balance of a rifle which is already a little nose heavy.

Choice three: red dot or holo sight on one of those AK side-rail Picatinny mounts. This is the first one I seriously considered. For one, your top-of-the-line red dots and holo sights (your Aimpoint Micros and EOTechs) come to about $500 or $600, which is much cheaper than high-end glass1. The mounting position solves some of the issues I have with the forward red dot: it’s right there, next to your eye, so picking up the sight is easy. You lose cowitnessing, but I don’t care about that much anyway. Without having to worry about putting weight way up by your front hand, you can also go a little bigger on the sight, moving up to full-size red dots or holo sights, and on the larger side-rail mounts, you could even fit a magnifier. Perfect, right?

Well, not quite. A red dot and magnifier are two parts to fail, and neither is useful without the other2. Nor are you gaining anything in weight, really: you’re up at a pound or so with a 3x magnifier and micro dot, and that’s getting up toward the weight of our eventual winner.

Choice four: ACOG-style compact, low-eye-relief scope
This is the one I ended up going with. It isn’t an ACOG, but it fits the pattern: we’ll call it a nayCOG. First: limited eye relief doesn’t bother me. If it’s whacking you in the face, you’re doing it wrong3. Second: I like magnification, especially with a reticle smaller than the target I’m likely shooting at (which may or may not be the case with a magnified red dot). Magnification buys you better precision straight up, and also better target discrimination at range. Third: a nayCOG is only a few ounces heaver than alternative options at most4, and all of that weight is at the back of the rail, owing to the scope’s small size.

Why not a simple, variable-power 1-4x tactical scope, say? Because at 4x, the field of view for such a scope is a little more than half the field of view of a fixed-power 4x nayCOG. Field of view at range helps maintain situational awareness and eases target acquisition; at close range, a good field of view helps with rapid acquisition of a target and both-eyes-open aiming, though on both fronts it obviously loses to a proper reflex sight.

Finally, you may object that I just said difficult acquisition pushed me to drop the forward micro dot; that, though, is a fundamentally different sighting system. I don’t mind the extra work if it means I have access to magnification.

So, having decided all these things, I was at a gun show a few weeks ago, and came across what is turning out to be just about the perfect optic. Tune in next time to find out exactly what I bought, and how it’s turned out so far.

1. I was just talking to parvusimperator about his next rifle build, and he could end up spending four times as much for a high-end 1-6x variable-power scope.
2. This is not ordinarily an issue, if you’re buying things of moderate quality, but I am nothing if not a cheapskate!
3. Next time, you’ll see that this is an ironic tack for me to take here.
4. The one I got weighs 16 ounces with an integral mount. A 1-4x tactical scope is probably a little lighter, but a red dot, magnifier, and flip-aside magnifier mount are just as weighty.

Armata Response 2: Hoplon IFV

Okay, so we’ve got our new MBT to meet the T-14 Armata anytime, anywhere. What about the IFV? Well, last year’s Victory Day parade showcased both the T-15 Heavy IFV and the Kurganets regular IFV. Which leaves us with a lot of questions. I’ve already vetoed the family nonsense, and talked a little bit about heavy IFVs, but now is a good time to elaborate on that as we look to design our new IFV, the Hoplon.

We can see that regular IFVs have been steadily increasing in weight. BMP-1, BMP-2, and early models of Bradley were all at least sort of amphibious, and under 25 tonnes. Bradley has grown into the 33-35 tonne range, which is about where CV9035 is. And the big Puma gets all the way up to 42 tonnes once you kit it out. How heavy should our IFV be? In Syria and Lebanon, the Israelis discovered that if your enemy has modern ATGMs, like Hezbollah does, then you really need heavy armor on your vehicles for them to be survivable. Before fighting all of these ATGMs, the Israelis thought the relatively lightweight M113 was more than enough for infantry transport purposes. Afterwards, they sought tank-level protection and got it in a number of conversions of old tanks, finally culminating in the purpose-built Namer HAPC.

The Russians reached a similar conclusion after their experiences in Chechnya. BMPs are all under 20 tonnes, all amphibious, and all lightly protected. In Chechnya, they were found to be extremely vulnerable to the Soviet-era weapons used by the separatists. These separatists had often served in the Soviet Army, and they tended to target the known weaknesses in the BMPs: the sides and roof, inflicting heavy casualties. The Russians came to the same conclusion as the Israelis, and the T-15 Armata IFV is big, heavy, and well armored.

What about the experiences of the Bradley in the Iraq wars? Well, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bradleys were seldom used in cities. The primary threat was IEDs, and even the M2A3 Bradley didn’t have much protection against IEDs. They were roughly equivalent to an up-armored humvee in terms of IED resistance. Instead, coalition forces in Iraq used MRAPs, which were much more protected against IEDs than either humvees or Bradleys. Also, the GCV, which was intended to replace the Bradley was very heavily protected. Interestingly, and possibly due to asinine rules of engagement, the absence of the 25mm cannon on the Bradley was not felt much on the streets of Iraq.

So, it will be a heavy vehicle. I can hear Fishbreath groaning already. The price, Parvusimperator! Yes yes, I’m aware. And I haven’t forgotten. And a massive vehicle is going to be more expensive. Now, we’ll talk about some ways to reduce costs as we discuss the configuration. Clearly, we’re going to put the engine and transmission up front, and a ramp at the back for ingress and egress. We’ll use the same LV100-5 engine and associated transmission system that we deployed on the Myrmidon. We’re trying to reduce logistical complexity here. The LV100-5 gas turbine is our standard heavy vehicle engine, and we don’t have to worry about stocking parts for another engine.

Let’s talk armament for a bit. This might also be a place to save, since MBT-grade fire control systems and optics are rather expensive. The gun armament is for supporting infantry. Fix that firmly in your mind, and say it with me. The gun armament on an IFV is for supporting infantry. This is important because of the armor race I mentioned earlier. IFVs are getting tougher. MBTs are already super tough. This demands a bigger and bigger gun. But the IFV must also carry troops. So we end up with a partial squad and not a lot of ammo. And for what? Is a 40mm gun all that much better than a 30mm gun? You still have to run from tanks. You may or may not be able to kill other armored vehicles. And then we’re getting into the classic question of quantity of rounds or quality of rounds.

Let us consider some more combat experience. Specifically, the First Persian Gulf war. Operation Desert Storm. This is quite possibly the best argument in favor of a heavy IFV armament, where the Bradleys racked up tremendous numbers of kills with their 25mm M242 cannons and TOW missiles. Bradleys killed more tanks than the Abramses. Of course, the Iraqi tanks and other armored vehicles were used incompetently. But we should be careful about drawing too strong a conclusion here. Recall that the Bradley cannot fire missiles on the move. It also cannot guide those missiles on the move for fear of fouling the wires. So the Bradley must remain stationary for the entire flight time of the missile, which can be up to twenty seconds at longer ranges. Against a reasonably competent tank crew, their only chance is if the tank fails to spot them or the launch. It’s also good to consider what the Bradley had that made it effective, namely a stabilized gun. The sights on the earlier Bradleys are not particularly advanced, but they were good enough, and a stabilized gun made shooting on the move doable. This was considered an overly expensive luxury by just about everyone else until they saw the results of Desert Storm.

Let’s also look at the Bradley use in Operation Iraqi Freedom. There, as I’ve mentioned before, the quantity of 25mm ammunition available proved invaluable in the engagements where it was permitted. 300 rounds of autocannon fire is quite a lot, and allows the Bradley to support troops for quite some time.

So, proven uses for the autocannon include supporting an infantry assault on fortifications and shooting up lightly armored vehicles.1 What we don’t want to do is to get caught up in an arms race with other medium armored vehicles, and certainly not the heavy armored vehicles. An excess of fancy electrics is a significant portion of what drove the Puma’s high cost. So to hell with that. We’re going to mount an autocannon in a relatively simple remote weapon station and call it a day. We’ll have night vision capability, some limited zoom, and stabilization. But we needn’t spend too much on this. It’s for supporting the infantry and striking targets of opportunity, and maybe taking potshots at attack helicopters. Elbit makes a nice autocannon turret that comes with all of the above, plus a Mk. 44 Bushmaster II 30mm chaingun and 200 rounds of ammunition.

Why 30mm? Wouldn’t 25mm be better? At least, better from a “more rounds” and “good enough” perspective? Perhaps. We can get about half again as many 25mm rounds as 30mm rounds in a given volume. On the face of it, probably. Depleted Uranium 25mm rounds are about as good at armor penetration as 30mm ones. But, the 25mm round isn’t getting any more development effort. Much as I hate it, the move is to bigger rounds with airburst capability, and 25mm is too small for this. Plus, there’s still some growth left in the 30mm round, seeing as it doesn’t have a depleted uranium APFSDS round yet. Both rounds are currently popular, but the 25mm guns are increasingly being replaced. A pity.

A few other notes on our turret. The Elbit remote turret comes with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun mount, which is fine by us. It’s also capable of high-angle fire, which is perfect for those urban scenarios, or wandering helicopters. It isn’t well protected, and that’s okay too. This weapon system is not critical, and it keeps cost down. We’ll add a second, smaller remote weapon system that will double as the commander’s sight. Again, modest zoom, thermal camera, stabilization are all we need. This will add a second 7.62mm machine gun. More suppression and will give the commander every reason to keep his head down. Both machine guns are heavy-barreled FN MAGs.

The commander will have eight periscopes, with optional night-vision attachments, around his hatch for observation. We expect his primary observing to be either through his sight/RWS or the gunner’s sight/RWS, which he can also view on his monitor. Again, we’re trying to keep costs down, so these aren’t super fancy sights, but they should be good enough. We will have to put in some fancy electrics, specifically the fancy force tracking datalink systems mentioned in the Myrmidon write up2 and the radios to get data. Radios are also fitted to allow communication with other vehicles, aircraft, and nearby troops on the various frequencies that they might use. There’s a repeater display for the troops in the back to see the force tracking information as well so they don’t all have to huddle around the commander’s station.

The gunner has five vision blocks for auxiliary observation, again, with night-viewing options. The driver, who is on the left side of the hull, has five vision blocks, as well as a forward 1x/4x thermal camera, side cameras, and a rear camera. We’re using the same displays and cameras that we used on the Myrmidon, so we can get them in (greater) bulk, and so we only need to stock one set of spares.

The crew sit at the front of the main compartment, with the driver on the left, commander in the middle, and gunner on the right. The commander’s and gunner’s stations are further back from the driver to accommodate the engine compartment. Behind the crew is the space for dismounts. There are seats for nine dismounts, plus space for a stretcher case or a lot of kit. Remember, this is a roughly tank-sized chassis. Additional storage space is available behind the seats and under the floor panels. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have explosive stuff in the passenger compartment, but then we’d have to put it out where the armor is, and the armor would get in the way of accessing the stuff. Armor is heavy. So, the stuff has to be mostly inside. There is external provision for attaching packs and earthmoving tools (picks, mattocks, spades, etc) to the outside of the vehicle.

The crew compartment is provided with a spall liner all around. It’s also NBC protected (assuming hatches are closed), and has heating and air conditioning. Provision is made for an electric kettle for boiling water and assisting in cooking meals. There are also battery rechargers to keep electrical devices going.

We’ve already mentioned that the Hoplon is one heavy beast, having tank-grade armor. It also is fitted with the Trophy active protection system, and a number of hull-mounted smoke grenade dischargers. The commander has a hatch, as does the driver. Another, larger hatch is provided to allow roof egress if needed, or access to the primary remote weapons station for reloading. Normally, the crew and use a door-ramp at the back for entry and exit. The door-ramp, as well as all roof hatches, have power-assisted opening, due to the great weight of the roof armor.

The Hoplon’s suspension system is hydropneumatic, but not adjustable like that of the Myrmidon. This will keep costs down, but also maximize common spares/tools/training. There are seven road wheels per side, and tracks are protected with heavy composite skirts. Like on the Myrmidon, the skirts of the Hoplon can be detached to facilitate transport. This is as good a time as any to talk transportability. The Hoplon is big, and has similar mobility characteristics as the Myrmidon, as far as ground-pressure and bridging requirements go. While this makes them more difficult to deploy on some damn-fool peacekeeping exercise, it also means that some idiot general is less likely to commit his IFVs alone without tank support. That’s not how this is supposed to work, so the size of the Hoplon ends up being an advantage from a doctrinal perspective.

Now, let’s do a little bit of reckoning. The Hoplon is 7.97 meters long, 3.657 meters wide without the skirts, and about 2 meters tall (to the top of the hull, not counting the RWSes). It weighs about 60 tonnes. With a good large order, we reckon we’ll have a unit cost of about $4 million.

1.) Yes, I’m including BMP-1s in the “lightly armored” category .
2.) Heavily influenced by the US Army’s FBCB2 system