Tag Archives: history

Resurrected Weapons: AAM-N-10 Eagle

Let’s continue our look at some vintage projects. The AAM-N-10 Eagle was a US Navy air to air missile program optimized for enemy bomber interception in the fleet air defense role from the last years of the Eisenhower administration.

The problem, evident even by the late 1950s, was that Soviet bombers could mount antiship missiles. So the bombers had to be engaged at long range, because intercepting large numbers of small, high-speed missiles is very difficult. To do so, and to get the fleet defense fighters outside the range of new surface to air missiles under development, the Navy proposed a subsonic, long endurance “fighter” and a high performance missile. This missile was the Eagle.1

The Eagle was developed by Bendix, in conjunction with Westinghouse’s big new APQ-81 radar and the Douglas F6D Missileer fighter. It was a two-stage missile, with a booster stage and a sustainer stage that would fire after a glide period. Both stages were solid-fuel rockets. The booster gave a speed of mach 3.5, and the sustainer could get the missile to peak at mach 4.5. Midcourse guidance updates were to be provided by the APQ-81, and terminal guidance would be an active radar seeker with a home-on-jam mode, much like a modern AMRAAM. AAM-N-10 flew a lofted trajectory, and had a 160 nautical mile (300 km) range.

That’s pretty impressive, but to get that performance in 1959, you needed a big, expensive missile. AAM-N-10 was 16 feet long ready to launch. The booster was 16 inches in diameter, and the second stage was 14 inches in diameter. The booster’s wings folded, and the second stage had a finspan of 34 inches. Weight was 1,284 pounds, with a 110 pound warhead.

The AAM-N-10 and the F6D were cancelled by Robert McNamarra in 1960, to free up money for other urgent programs2 and to establish the authority of him and the new Defense Department over the various services.

So what do I think of all of this?

Well, it’s hard for my opinion to not be colored by my opinion of Robert S. McNamarra, and I hate Robert McNamarra. His decision making process is suspect. And his “commonality” fetish got abused into some mind bogglingly dumb ideas.3 But he did get some good programs to completion/procurement, like the Polaris SLBMs and the M-16 (my favorite rifle). And here, I’m inclined to agree with McNamarra again. The Eagle was very specialized, and very expensive. It was useable from only one platform (Missileer), and for only one mission (engaging non-maneuvering bomber targets at extreme range). Missileer could not do any other mission either. Conceivably the AAM-N-10 could have been launched from the A-6 Intruder, but that would have required a different radar, or depending on an E-2 for all guidance updates. However, the core concept was a good one and we’ll see this become much more refined and sensible in the AIM-54 Phoenix.

Verdict: Funding request denied by the Borgundy Air Ordnance Procurement Board


  1. AAM-N-10 is the old designation system for air to air missiles developed by the Navy. 
  2. viz. the Polaris SLBM program and rebuilding the tiny and useless US Army 
  3. cf. the F-111B. 

Resurrected Weapons: A-6E Intruder

If my father’s generation wanted precision strike from the sea, they’d call up the ugly but effective Grumman A-6E Intruder. Looking like a drumstick with wings, the Intruder had a two-man crew, a radar-navigation system for night/all-weather guidance, and a FLIR system in a small turret under the nose for target identification. It was subsonic, had an approximately 600 nautical mile (a bit over 1,100 km) striking radius, and it could carry up to 18,000 lbs of bombs.

The long strike radius was a direct consequence of optimizations and the choice of subsonic speed. Grumman opted for subsonic speed, because even the big F-4 Phantom was subsonic when heavily laden with bombs. Accepting a lack of supersonic speed meant that more fuel efficient engines could be used, providing a long strike radius.

In the Intruder’s day, there were no smart weapons. The delivery vehicle was responsible for all of the precision (or lack thereof). This alternative is a lot easier, since the plane is a lot bigger and easier to fit sensors and targeting computers into. As a brief aside, this sort of precision-on-aircraft delivery of dumb munitions is still used by Russia, and was the delivery method of choice for the airstrikes in Syria.

The Intruder proved very effective in Vietnam, where it was the Navy’s most accurate bomber. It was also the primary Navy delivery platform for dropping laser guided bombs in Desert Storm, since the -E models had a laser designator in their FLIR turret.

Despite the Intruder fleet getting new wings in the early 90s and having a solid combat record, the Intruders were taken out of service in 1996. There really wasn’t a perfect replacement. It was supposed to be replaced by the A-12 Intruder II, a poster child for bad project management. This project was cancelled1 without anything new being proposed in its stead. In the late 90s, the Intruder’s role was supposed to be filled by F-14 Tomcats with LANTIRN pods, which could not match the payload capacity of the Intruder. In 2005, the Tomcats were also removed from naval service, and their roles were taken over by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. These could not match the range of the Tomcat or Intruder (both of which have a strike radius of about 600 nautical miles).

I really don’t like the loss of strike radius in the newer platforms. Super Hornets are nice otherwise, but they could really use longer legs. Yes, I know tankers have worked in recent conflicts, but the Navy shouldn’t rely on them. Or else what’s the point of naval aviation? If you can make tankers work, you can probably make land-based strike work. The whole point of naval strike is to be deployable quickly, and to come from additional vectors. In Vietnam, carriers at Yankee Station brought strikes from the east, in addition to the USAF strikes from the west out of bases in Thailand. If they required tankers, that makes life a lot more difficult for the planners, since tankers are fat and vulnerable.

The Intruder was cancelled to reduce the number of airframe types in the fleet. Understandable, but likely premature. The limited wars of the 2000s and 2010s would have been a good match for the capabilities of the Intruder. The A-6E isn’t very survivable in a high-threat environment, but Al Qaeda doesn’t have any serious SAMs. Long range would also make for long loiter time, and adapting a plane for JDAMs isn’t exactly hard.

On the one hand, restarting A-6 production would be silly. On the other, they were taken out of service way too early, and there’s no real replacement out there.


  1. The A-12 is a program that even I think deserved to get cancelled. 

Book (Series) Review: The U.S. Army in World War II — European Theater of Operations

I have a number of these volumes. They are published by the Whitman Publishing Company, though the originals were published by the US Army’s Military History Department. They are a staff-officer level view of the war. They provide an excellent battalion-and-above level perspective. Discussion of command decisions, command reasoning, politics, and large scale maneuvers is handled well. The author, Martin Blumenson, is also good at covering logistical matters, which is a very important side of war that few bother with.

As fitting a staff level account, the maps in the text are first rate. They are very clear and carefully reproduced. These are not crude, cheaply printed duplicates. However, the maps within chapters are somewhat sparse. We might expect more within the text, but the back of the book has something better: color gatefold maps.

That’s not a delusion or an ungodly typo. I’ll write it again.

COLOR. GATEFOLD. MAPS.

I’ve never seen any other book do this. Each volume in the set has approximately twenty (20! That’s Two-Zero!) full-color, fold-out maps at the back for your analytical pleasure. Now you feel like you’re sitting in a warmer, nicer version of SHAEF. You can see terrain features and force depositions like never before. It’s spectacular. And yes, the text has inline references to the maps, which are numbered for your convenience. This is the best way to get a great mental image of the campaigns of the European Theater of Operations.

All that said, these are very much in the old-school of history writing. Unless someone gets a mention in dispatches, individual soldiers on the front line do not get called out. And we do not get the perspective of individual soldiers at the front lines. That is not the objective of these works. As I mentioned before, they’re oriented to the staff level, and they do not deviate from that.

The series comes highly recommended, whether they are list price or on sale.

On Squad Automatic Weapons

When equipping that base unit of infantry, the squad, with automatic weapons for support fires, there are two schools of thought. These are the magazine-fed ‘automatic rifle’ vs. the belt-fed ‘light machine gun’. In World War 2 terms, this might be seen as the BAR/Bren vs the MG-42. We can see the same question being asked today, with the US Marine Corps using the M27 IAR, and the US Army using the M249. Let’s look at these options.

First, the M249. Made by FN, this is a belt-fed weapon. Unlike the M240, the M249 is chambered for the same 5.56×45 mm round as the squad’s M4s. It is also generally considered to be operable by one man. No assistant gunner required. It has a quick-change barrel to facilitate sustained fire and help deal with heat buildup. It can be operated from 100 or 200 round belts. It weighs 17 lbs empty and 24 lbs loaded with a 200 round belt in a plastic box (sans optics). It has an integral bipod, and is most effective when fired from the prone position with the bipod for stability and support.

Second, the M27. Made by HK, this is a magazine-fed weapon. It is also intended to be operated by one man. While it has a relatively heavy barrel profile, it lacks a quick change barrel. It can only be loaded with standard detachable box magazines. While there are some higher capacity magazines on the market1, the US Marines currently only issue the standard 30 round box magazines. These are the same as what the rest of the squad uses for their M4s, so there’s some commonality there. Weight is 7.9 lbs empty, and a bit less than 9 lbs loaded with a 30 round box magazine (again, sans optics or other accessories).

Note that both weapons fire the same 5.56 mm round. So effective range and lethality are roughly equivalent. Specifics will depend on the skill of the shooter and the round being fired. I will not discuss this further.

It is also true that the M249 has a greater capacity for sustained fire than the M27. Even the M27’s proponents agree there.

A more useful question is “Is the greater suppressive capability of the M249 outweighed by what you give up?” The M27 is less than half the weight of the M249 (even after we add appropriate optics and other accessories to each weapon). The M27 is a more accurate weapon than the M249. The M27 can be used in a stack for room clearing, whereas the M249 cannot due to safety concerns stemming from its open bolt mechanism and the bulk of the weapon. Weight and bulk also means that the M249 gunner is harder pressed to keep up with the other members of his squad.

Let’s also briefly talk ammo weight. The basic load of a SAW gunner is 1,000 rounds, or five 200 round boxes, which comes out to about 35 lbs. It takes thirty four 30 round magazines to get about the same number of rounds,2 and that weighs about 34 pounds. Note that by-the-book loads for the M27 IAR gunners in a USMC squad vary from 16 to 21 magazines (480-630 rounds). Variance due to the weapon being new, and TTPs being worked out. That’s 16-21 lbs of ammo. This neatly side steps the question of weight of the spare barrel assembly for the M249, but I can’t find its weight. Assume several more pounds of weight for the barrel assembly, if it is carried. If it is not carried, then the quick-change barrel feature is not useable, and sustainable rates of fire will be lower. However, they will still be significantly higher than those of the M27.

There’s also a temptation we should avoid when considering infantry tactics. While it is easiest to ponder loadouts one organizational level at a time and build from the smaller levels to the bigger ones, we should remember that the smaller ones don’t fight alone. A squad is not going to be running around the battlefield on its own. Ad hoc room-clearing units can be assembled from the manpower from a few squads in a platoon without difficulty. If flexibility is desired, additional carbines can be stowed aboard the squad’s organic transport.3 We have lots of assault rifles already, which look an awful lot like the automatic rifles in question.

The most important matter, whether the greater sustained fire rate of the M249 means it is a more effective suppression weapon than the M27, is not something I have the means to test. I would question most tests of suppression on the grounds of failing to adequately simulate combat. Setting aside the intangibles, not having a belt-fed weapon in the squad does not have a good historical record for staying power. Let’s review it:

  • In World War 2, the US Army and US Marine Corps both had BARs as their squad-level automatic weapon. They considered a new Automatic Rifle version of the M14, but declined, and switched to the belt-fed M60 (and later the M249).
  • In World War 2, the British Army had the Bren gun, which is also more or less an automatic rifle, being fed from a magazine. The replacement for the Bren Gun was the L7, which is a licensed version of the FN MAG.4
  • In the 1980s, the British attempted to put a new 5.56 mm automatic rifle, the L86, into service to compliment their new 5.56 mm assault rifle. Caliber commonality. They were dissatisfied with the loss of firepower in the squad, and switched to using the FN Minimi as the squad automatic weapon.
  • The Germans had plenty of experience fighting American troops equipped with BARs in World War 2. The German soldiers were armed with the MG42. The American soldiers wanted MG42s instead of their BARs. The German soldiers agreed with them. They did not think the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, and stuck with the MG42 (rechambered for 7.62×51 mm NATO as the MG3).
  • The Russians built a belt-fed 7.62×39 mm machine gun, the RPD, to compliment the AK-47. It lacked a quick-change barrel, and proved to be unsatisfactory. They replaced it with the RPK, an automatic rifle version of the AK-47. They stuck with it through the caliber change to 5.45×39 mm. The Russians are very doctrinally disciplined. Once the Russians hit actual combat in Afghanistan, again the automatic rifle proved unsatisfactory and soldiers exchanged their RPK-74s for belt-fed PKMs (chambered in 7.62x54R mm). This happened again in combat in Chechnya. The belt-fed weapon was favored over the magazine-fed weapon for support purposes, even though it was heavier and bulkier. Russia is moving (albeit slowly, for want of money) towards equipping mechanized forces with PKP machine guns as squad support weapons. In the meantime, the PKM sees lots of service in that role.

There is a clear trend towards real combat driving the use and purchase of belt-fed weapons at the squad level. The US Marine Corps is bucking the historical trend, which gives me pause. The US Marine Corps tends to favor large, 13-man squads, and doesn’t fight mechanized. This might influence their decision somehow. The US Army, which uses 9 man squads (more similar to other powers at present), and does fight mechanized, has not followed the Corps in switching out M249s for M27s. Given the firepower and limited dismount capacity of the M2 Bradley, this switch would seem attractive for them. Perhaps they don’t agree with the conclusion of the USMC tests which said the M27 was better at suppression.

Without knowing the details, I could not possibly comment on the tests. Offhand, we’d want to make sure we weren’t favoring the M27s in test parameters, or putting new M27s against old, well-used, and worn-out M249s.

Here the Corps and I part ways. I much prefer a belt-fed machine gun or two at the squad level. Given the choice between the M27 and the M249 to support a squad, I’ll take the M249 every time. Belts all the way. Sometimes heavy is best.

1.) Magpul makes a 40 round box and a 60 round drum magazine, and Surefire makes a 60 round and a 100 round quad-stack box magazine. There are a bunch of others, but these come to mind first for being quality. That said, when the M27 was adopted, the USMC did not find any existing 100 round magazines to be reliable. I am unsure of their test protocol or which magazines were tested (or if 40/50/60 round magazines were considered).
2.) This works out to 1,020 rounds, but mais n’enculons pas des mouches.
3.) Admittedly I’m a big fan of mechanized infantry, but is there any army worth talking about that doesn’t provide some form of motorized transport for its infantry units?
4.) The American M240 is also a licensed FN MAG.

Remember the 7th

Seventy five years ago today, the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan.

I could say a lot more on the matter, but I am merely an amateur analyst. Instead, listen to the stories of some men who were there, courtesy of C-SPAN.

Stories, Part 1

Stories, Part 2

Perhaps they are the lucky ones to have survived. Perhaps not–they lost a lot of friends that day.

Let’s spare a thought and a prayer for the men who gave their lives that day. And for those who had to wait so long to see their brothers in arms again.

CAS Aircraft Throwdown: A-10C vs. Su-25T

Fishbreath and I have spent lots of time studying these aircraft and flying them in DCS. They represent two different philosophies for air support, the clash between ‘push’ from the top and ‘pull’ from the bottom. Plus, they represent some different design philosophies. We’ve talked about these two planes already, but let’s break everything down and see how they compare directly. Features are in no particular order.

WEAPONS:
We’ll break these down by type, and then tally up an overall score for this section.

GUN: A-10C
This is no contest. The A-10C has the GAU-8A, which is the most powerful flying gun around. It’s got better AP rounds than the GSh-30-2, and more than five times as many rounds in the magazine (1,174 rounds as opposed to 250). The A-10C has some nifty pilot aids to stabilize the aircraft on a gun run too, but the Su-25T just leaves you to your own lack of skill. Interestingly, the Su-25T also doesn’t have enough dispersion built into it’s gun. The A-10’s designers recognized that being exactly on target is very hard, so the gun has some built in dispersion to give you a margin of error, which makes it a lot easier to hit things.

ROCKETS: Su-25T
This is also no contest. The Russians like their rockets, and have a wider variety of sizes available. Even if we restrict to the standard small rockets (Russian 80mm S-8 and American 70mm Hydra 70), the Russians have a wider variety of warheads available, including exotics like thermobarics.

UNITARY BOMBS: A-10C
Both have the ability to drop laser guided bombs, plus plenty of dumb bombs. The A-10C can drop JDAMs (GPS guidance). The Su-25T can’t drop Russian GLONASS-guided bombs, but they do have the ability to drop bombs with the Electro-optical guidance system (they have a -Kr suffix). That said, the A-10C has glide bomb options, and the Su-25T doesn’t, giving the ‘Hog some excellent cheap standoff attack options. Glide bombs rock.

CLUSTER BOMBS: A-10C
Both have a lot of cluster bomb options, but (for now, at least), the Americans do cluster bombs better. The CBU-87 doesn’t really care at what altitude/airspeed it’s dropped at, and drops bomblets that combine antipersonnel, anti-armor, and incendiary effects in each bomblet. That’s pretty cool, and is a big logistics simplifier. It’s compatible with the wind-corrected munitions dispenser add-on kit, which isn’t really guidance, but it does ensure that the bomb dumps the submunitions where you intended, rather than get all mucked up by the wind. The CBU-97 Sensor fused weapon is also pretty sweet. It’s designed to scatter smart anti-tank munitions that will search for a tank beneath them as they fall, and then fire an explosively-formed penetrator at it if a tank is detected. The Russians don’t have such fancy anti-armor measures, and they don’t have fancy wind correction kits. They also don’t combine effects frequently in their bomblets. And altitude matters for the dispensers.

MISSILES: Su-25T
Given how much tech the Americans like to fight with, this might be a shock. Both aircraft can carry older WVR AAMs on the outermost pylons that can’t do much else. The A-10C can also carry a bunch of Mavericks, and that’s about it. The Maverick is a great air to ground missile, with a variety of guidance options. The Su-25T can carry the Kh-25 “Maverickski”, and the Kh-29, which is something like a bigger Maverick with a bigger warhead. It can also carry 16 9K121 Vikhrs ATGMs, so it ends up with more anti-tank capable missile capacity. You can also add an ELINT Pod and antiradiation missiles for SEAD missions. The A-10C has no such capability. The A-10C would certainly benefit from being able to sling Hellfires.

WEAPONS SCORE:
A-10C: 3
Su-25T: 2

MOBILITY: TIE
I’m not actually going to break this one down. Either way you look at it, it’s a tie. The Su-25T is faster. The A-10C has more range. The Su-25T was designed to be sent out from a forward airbase towards a given concentration of enemies. So it’s superior speed is more useful in that doctrinal role. It’s designed to go out, kill some stuff, and go home. Loitering is not called for, so plenty of range isn’t needed. The A-10C was intended to loiter near the battlefield until called for or it’s out of ammo. So range is good, because range translates into loiter time. Since it’s supposed to start in the air close to where the action is, it’s inferior speed isn’t a great handicap. Each does one thing better, and each has an attack doctrine built around its strengths.

DURABILITY: TIE
Both have a whole bunch of design features to make them tougher. Absent some kind of common destructive testing, this one is too close to call.

OTHER:
The category for random things that I can’t think of another place for.

LOCATING TARGETS: A-10C
This one’s almost not fair. The A-10C has a bubble canopy to provide good, all-around visibility. Plus, the A-10C has the LITENING pod, and this makes the Shkval look like a cardboard tube duct-taped to the cockpit. The LITENING has way more zoom, more resolution, a nearly-all-around field of view, and remembers what you were looking at if you have to make some turns, or if some part of the plane gets in the way during a turn.

SCORE TALLY:
A-10C: 6
Su-25T: 4

So the A-10C is better.

Or at least, in this simplified metric evaluation, the A-10C is the better plane. Really, the more relevant question is “Which doctrine do you prefer/buy into?” and to a lesser extent “Whose weapons are you buying?” since those questions will determine which will work for you, and if you’ll have to pay a bunch of annoying weapons integration costs and do some testing. Better electronics would go a long way toward improving the Su-25T, especially in the target acquisition phase.

Resurrected Weapons: YAGM-169

You may have noticed some logistical inefficiencies in current missile procurement. I’ll use Western examples, but there are similar Russian ones. We have several missiles that are about the same size and have about the same role: engagement of a visually (possibly with the help of infrared) acquired target. These missiles include the BGM-71 TOW, which might be launched from helicopters or ground vehicles; the AGM-114 Hellfire, which might be launched from helicopters or UAVs; and the AGM-65 Maverick, which might be launched from fixed wing aircraft or fixed wing aircraft. The Maverick’s warhead is quite a bit bigger, which contributes to its larger size. Otherwise, they’re all used for about the same sort of fire mission. Could we replace all three with a single missile?

Enter the YAGM-169. Quit snickering in the back. This missile weighs 49 kg and is 177.5 cm long. This matches the weight, but is a bit longer than the Hellfire missile, which is 163 cm long. This is, however, smaller and lighter than the Maverick. The big difference between the Hellfire and the Maverick, aside from platform-induced range variations, is the larger warhead. Here is where some compromises come in. The standard target for the Maverick and the Hellfire is an armored vehicle. The toughest armored vehicle is the MBT. If a Hellfire can kill any tank you please, why have the heavier warhead? The Hellfire can get this done with a large and powerful tandem shaped-charge warhead, delivered from above. Adding a fragmentation jacket provides some measure of multipurpose capability. We have our warhead, and hence, our Hellfire-like size.

What about heavier targets? Since the development of the Maverick, we’ve developed a number of precision-guidance kits for conventional bombs. Combine with a glide bomb kit and some altitude, gives us equivalent range. Alternatively, for well-defended targets, we can get significantly better standoff range from a longer range cruise missile like the AGM-158. Plus, we can carry more of the lighter YAGM-169s.

Okay. So we’ve perhaps accepted the smaller warhead size. What about range? Well, we have more advanced rocket motors, plus it’s hard to compare the range of the Hellfire and the Maverick, since the aircraft that launch the Maverick do so from a higher altitude and higher airspeed than that of the helicopter launching the Hellfire. Still, we can improve the range with a variable-thrust solid-fuel rocket motor.

What about guidance? Well, the TOW uses an old school SACLOS wire guidance system. Which is outmoded, and will be difficult to integrate onto a fast-moving aircraft. So forget it. Beyond that, the Hellfire has a couple different guidance options: a semi-active laser homing seeker and an active millimeter-wave radar seeker. The Maverick is currently available with a semi-active laser homing seeker, an imaging infrared seeker, or an optical CCD seeker. You might expect different versions of YAGM-169 with different seekers, but you’d be wrong.

YAGM-169 was designed with a triple-mode seeker that combined imaging infrared. semi-active laser homing, and active millimeter-wave radar homing in one unit. This is the one part of the missile that I’m concerned about, at least as far as cost. Still, it’s easy enough to build versions with separate seekers if cost becomes an issue.

That said, the YAGM-169 was (shockingly) on time and on budget. But the US cancelled it during Operation Iraqi Freedom because of budget pressures.

So what do we think? YAGM-169 was on budget, and tested from both fixed- and rotary-wing platforms. Awesome. Large production runs should help keep costs down. I’m wondering if it can also replace the TOW as a missile on e.g. Bradley, but we could press Spike LR or Javelin into this role, and those would be much easier for troops to reload in the field, being lighter.

Veridct: Approved for immediate production by the Borgundy Ordnance Procurement Board

Lessons from Wargame: Airland Battle

Fishbreath and I are big fans of Wargame: Airland battle (which I will abbreviate as WALB, for I am a lazy typist). Now, I won’t pretend that it’s a perfect simulation, but it’s a solid one which should be relatively consistent in it’s assumptions/errors. So I thought it would be a good place to test some ideas, at least until I finally buy Steel Beasts (which also doesn’t do airpower). I have rather less time in Red Dragon, but I’ll add notes where appropriate.

I tend to roll with tank-heavy decks, with a good amount of airpower. So I’m usually rolling with America for NATO (because USAF) or USSR for Pact (because duh). Some observations and conclusions, in no particular order:

Observation:
If we’re talking tanks alone, the T-80U is tops, followed by the Leopard 2A4 and then the M1A1. The T-80U has a marginally better gun, and gun-launched ATGMs, which gives it a bunch more range. Flank armor is weak, so hit it there. The Leopard 2A4 and M1A1 are pretty similar, and both are noticeably less good than the T-80U. Though numbers even things up.

Conclusion:
Gun launched ATGMs are cool, because they give you more range. Puts the priority on seeing the other guy first of course. Though, that’s really important all the time, as we’ll see. Note that tank optics are a little nerfed in the game, to make you use recon units. Which is fine, but does deprive the Abrams of things that the US Army got right before everyone else, namely high end thermals. Otherwise, this one’s all about the gun. As for the numbers game, Uncle Joe said it best.

Observation:
Of course, this isn’t a straight-up tank sim (like Steel Beasts). So when playing NATO, I’ll go with America. The M1A1 is almost as good as the Leopard 2A4, with the biggest deficiency being that you have to gas it up more frequently. This happens to me a lot. But playing America gets you a much, much better air force, better attack helicopters, and Bradleys.

Conclusion:
It’s all about the combined arms, shock. No big surprise here. Games like this tend to strongly encourage playing as the bigger powers who give you more options. This was one of the few things improved in Wargame: Red Dragon–they allowed you to group lesser powers to get a well-rounded unit set.

Observation:
I love Bradleys. One of my favorite combos is the M3(A1) recon vehicles with some M1(A1) Abramses. This gives me a long range sight with the good recon optics, plus a long range missile punch from the Bradley TOW-2 missiles. It does take a little micro to keep the Bradleys alive. I probably don’t have to remind you to put the big tanks with the heavy armor out in front.

Conclusion:
ATGMs are useful on IFVs, who knew? It’s more that this armament set of smallish autocannon with lots of ammo + ATGMs on IFVs is useful for just about any target I encounter. I try to bypass towns, personally. Other loadout decisions might also work for your intended use case. I will say that the Bradleys are also quite formidable on the defensive, again, as long as you can keep them from being hit too much. The 25 mm gun with large ammo reserves and good fire control is pretty good against aircraft. Not much to be done about IFV survivability except go heavier. That seems familiar…

Observation:
In that same vein, I’m big on American-style aggressive reconnaissance. Recon vehicles alone seem to have a nasty habit of dying. As part of an armored spearhead, they live longer.

Conclusion:
There are two schools of thought on recon: recon by stealth and recon by force. I like the latter. It fits with my tactical conceptions. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do recon, but understand your role and the vehicles. Bradley’s ain’t stealthy. Something like the SPz 11-2 Kurz doesn’t bring a ton of firepower to a fight. And the American school fits me better, so I like it more. Glad to see it can actually work too.

Observation:
The Soviets have some great SHORAD in Tunguska. That thing is amazing. Interestingly, my favorite from the NATO perspective it the cheap and cheerful M1097 Avenger, which was a surprise to me. It is not as obviously amazing, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it if I didn’t desperately need to make do while I wait for Eagles to swat things out of the air.

Conclusion:
You knew the Tunguska was great. Guns, missiles, mobile like a tank. Love it. It is sometimes advisable to order it to shut down its autocannons so that it doesn’t announce its presence to enemy armor. The success of the M1097 was a surprise to me. It’s a HMMWV with a big rack of stingers on the back in a turret. But Stingers are excellent MANPADS, and it’s a great thing to hide and use to ambush marauding aircraft and helicopters. And then move to a new hiding spot before the inevitable counterstrike. It’s the kind of SHORAD you could really load up on. Maybe load some WVRAAMs to for a bit more range.

Observation:
My Soviet decks, and especially my American decks tend to lack a lot of infantry. Especially the well armed ‘shock infantry’ that a lot of the other European powers have. A bunch of this is because I prefer armored thrusts and ripostes to slugging it out. This basically means I’m gonna have a hard time dealing with built-up areas. That’s the price I pay for my builds. Also, Fishbreath likes the infantry-defensive type fight (maybe he’s got a British character to his tactics?), and so I usually leave that to him. Instead, I’ll take the deep Thunder Run any day of the week.

Conclusion:
Specialization is good. Urban combat sucks. Bring infantry if you’re stuck there. Or avoid it entirely. You can get a lot of success with deep thrusts. Especially if you’ve used some probing moves and skirmisher-type engagements to figure out where the enemy isn’t. Protip: that’s where you should be striking.

Observation:
I’ve got some good rounds with a German armored deck that comes with their excellent Panzergrenadier shock infantry. If you’re gonna storm a town, go heavy. In Red Dragon, Panzergrenadiers ’90 are awesome.

Conclusion:
If I’m gonna go infantry, I’m going with infantry that bring stuff. All the stuff. The bigger rocket launchers the better. Oh, and that buzzsaw that is the MG3. Cue the Panzerlied. Maybe I should build a Castle Iter Rules deck. It’s also in Red Dragon that you can get Marder 2s, a formidable IFV with staying power. You still don’t quite have the Death From Above air support that is the USAF though.

Observation:
Okay, let’s get to it. The USAF is the best AF, hands down. Want air superiority? They’ll get it. Want something to die? You got it.

Conclusion:
Airpower rocks, news at 11. Von Rundstedt’s ghost is yelling “Duh!” over my shoulder as I type this, I’m sure. If you can see it, you can bomb it. And if you can bomb it, it’s gonna die. The USAF even has plenty of SEAD to take out those pesky Soviet SAMs. Or you can use the F-117A. I’m pretty sure it was never intended to be used like some kind of stealth stuka, but I don’t care. It’s my go to if I want to get rid of some pesky command vehicle. Also, can I say napalm and cluster weapons rock? Because they totally do. I love you, Dow Chemical.

Observation:
The Soviets have the best overall air defenses around with the aforementioned Tunguska and the excellent medium-range Buk. They really need it given the mighty USAF, plus several other NATO members that have decent air forces that are good at bringing pain. Beware Tornadoes.

Conclusion:
Nothing new here. The Russians invested heavily in SAMs, and it shows. Also, cluster bombs are super effective. Shocker. Defense in depth is helpful. Tornadoes and similar are especially problematic because they come in low and fast, giving minimal time to react. The big vulnerabilities are against fighters, and against widely-deployed AAA, but I’ve usually spent my points on other things by then.

Observation:
The F-14 Tomcat/Phoenix combo is stupid awesome. It’s my go-to American fighter, despite the availability of the F-15C.

Conclusion:
This is an interesting function of some in-game limitations. Given the smallish size of the battlefield and lack of early warning from ground based radar or AWACS (and thus no early interception opportunities), my options are to have fighters loiter over the battlefield on patrol, or scramble to intercept. I’ve found loitering to lead to a bunch of annoying ambushes from enemy fighters or medium range SAMs, and it almost always means I don’t have air cover when I need it because of fuel concerns. If I’m intercepting, then the long range of the Phoenix missile makes up for all other shortcomings of it and the Tomcat. The Tomcat was built as an interceptor and it’s quite good at this. Being able to launch first even gives it a good shot against Flankers. So even though the F-15 is the better air superiority fighter, the F-14 is better in Wargame. Although its much less famous, similar conclusions apply to the MiG-31 Foxhound for the USSR (which is much more of a pure interceptor design than the Tomcat).

Retro Review: Parvusimperator Looks at the M16A2

Let’s have some fun with an old review. I’m a huge fan of the M16, as you well know. There was a pretty comprehensive set of changes put in from the M16A1 of my father’s Vietnam-era generation to my generation’s M16A2 (and M16A4, though that’s mostly an M16A2 with a picatinny-rail equipped flattop upper). Let’s look at them one by one, and I’ll tell you what I think. We’re starting from the muzzle end, of course.

Muzzle Device Changes
This is the later “birdcage” flash suppressor with the bottom ports not cut. Meh. I could take these or leave these. I suppose it’s a little better, because it’ll blow less dirt back in the face of the shooter when prone, but that’s hardly a big deal on the M16A1. I guess I’m okay with this, but I’m going to be looking at the price very closely. This isn’t worth a lot to me.

Front sight Changes
This one is really subtle. There were five detents for the M16A1 front sight as you adjust it for elevation. There are four on the M16A2. Because…better? Something about glare and flat faces, I don’t know. I don’t think this one matters.

Barrel Changes
That profile. It’s now fatter…in front of the gas block. The rest of the barrel is unchanged. There is literally no good reason for this. It’s beyond stupid. There were some dumb soldiers using their M16A1 as a prybar. Apparently this was the fix, not discipline. Is there any wonder we’re in such a sorry state now?

There were also some questions of barrel flex, especially under prolonged fire. Well, all that flex is going to happen between the chamber and the gas block. But that part of the barrel was left alone so they didn’t have to make new M203 brackets. A thicker muzzle end won’t do shit besides balance stupid. If this was an actual concern (and I strongly doubt it, but I’m not staring at the data) then they should have added notches or made new M203 brackets.1

There’s also the subtle matter of new barrel twist. The M16A2 was designed to work with the new SS109/M855 round. The NATO standard 5.56 mm. The Belgians, who developed that round, called for a 1 in 7 twist. Some experts think a 1 in 9 twist would work better. But the Belgians also wanted to make the barrel stabilize the associated tracer round, which was quite a bit longer. So they called for 1 in 7. I can’t blame anyone involved in the M16A2 design for choosing the manufacturer-specified twist rate for the new round.

New Handguards
Okay, these I like. I like these a lot. Way better than the old triangular-type ones. They’re more comfortable. They don’t have those “teeth” things at the top that break. There’s only one kind of part to stock in the inventory instead of two. And they’re better ventilated. Fun for the whole family.

Delta Ring
Colt angled the ring holding the handguards on. The new slip ring (now called the “Delta ring”) was designed to be easier to grab and pull down to remove or replace the handguards. A small change, but a good one.

Brass Deflector
I guess if you shoot rifles wrong-handed, you probably oughtn’t get brass in the face for your trouble. Pretty small change, doesn’t actually impact anything.

Range adjustable sights
Another feature I hate. Unlike the barrel profile, I understand the reasoning. It’s just wrong. These were added because the USMC has a focus on long range rifle marksmanship on known-distance ranges, and also because they wanted something that would do well in high power matches. The sight is better for this. However, the two apertures aren’t very well designed (the big one is too small for its intended use, and the small one is too big for its intended use). Further, I categorically disagree with the train of thought here. Range estimation is hard. Range estimation when you’re getting shot at is very, very hard. Studies have shown that soldiers are really, really bad at range estimation. And the whole point of SCHV rounds is that you have a large point-blank zone. So for the most part, put the sights on target, pull the trigger2, and the error should be small enough not to matter. Remember, these are iron sights, and Ivan or Charlie or Haji isn’t going to obligingly stand still at 500 yards and wait for you to shoot him. The original -A1 type sights were better.

Various Lower Receiver Reinforcements
The lower receiver got beefed up a bit in some critical areas. Apparently they were breaking. Anyway, I’m all for stronger, but soldiers can break anything. So I’d really like to see some data on this, in terms of breaking strength and what standard abuse modes will do to it.

New Pistol Grip
You were so close, Colt. So very close. The shape and size are the same as the old grip. But this one is made from a tougher plastic and it has more texture. I like textured grips, and yay tougher. What went wrong? The nub on the front. This is why finger grooves suck. If they fit your hand, they feel good. If they don’t, you’re gonna have a bad time. Because my hands aren’t like the dude that called for the nub, it doesn’t fit my hand right. I’d grind it off, except there are even better grips on the aftermarket. The best of breed are currently the TangoDown Battlegrips.

Burst trigger
I hate hate hate hate hate the burst trigger. Hate it. I hate the conceit that soldiers are too dumb to be trained to use autofire correctly. I hate the conceit that three is the only correct burst size. I hate the notion that the psychological aspect of carrying your own fully automatic rifle in your hands to respond to the enemy’s in kind isn’t worth having. I hate that it means you get three super crappy trigger pulls instead of one mediocre trigger pull. I hate that you never know how many rounds are going to come out, because it doesn’t reset. So, if you have one round in the magazine, the gun will fire the chambered round, plus the one in the mag. You reload. You pull the trigger again. Only one bullet comes out, because the system “remembers” where it left off. You want suppression? Do you need to break contact right fucking now? Automatic fire. Accept no substitutes. I’m so glad this “feature” is dying a much deserved death these days. Probably the worst feature on the gun.

New Stock
I’m split on this. On the one hand, yay tougher. On the other, it’s longer. It’s a great length for prone shooting on a known distance range, slung up with your rifle. It’s less good in combat when you’re using all kinds of positions. Especially if you’re not tall.

Overall, meh. Honestly, the best thing here are the new handguards, and you could easily put those on an M16A1. Also of note is the Diemaco/Colt Canada C7 rifle. Which is an M16A2, but with A1 sights, a safe/semi/auto trigger, and various spacers to adjust the stocks. That’s pretty good. Way better than the M16A2. Sigh.

Now, of course, just buy an M4. Duh. Or M4A1 if you want a barrel that’s in a heavier but sensibly-cut profile. Both are available with a proper safe/semi/auto trigger. The M4 has always been available this way in the catalog. It’s not Colt’s fault some stupid colonels didn’t buy the right triggers.

1.) This issue was finally fixed in the newest M4A1 builds, which use a nice, medium-profile barrel. It’s thicker under the handguards, and there are notches cut in the sides to accommodate the M203 mounting brackets. And, to the surprise of exactly no one, this barrel actually works as intended, holding up to lots of full auto better. There’s a separate question of whether or not this is needed for general issue…
2.) This is why red dot sights work so well on the AR-15 and other SCHV rifles. Modern technology has fixed this issue. Now, everybody uses an optic, whether an Aimpoint or an ACOG. Which is a separate discussion, but any optic will beat good irons, let alone stupid ones like these.

Parvusimperator Reviews the M1 Garand

I hit up the gunshow and finally am able to cross a gun off my list: the legendary M1 Garand.

I ended up picking this one up for a bit less than $1,200. It’s in great shape with matching parts and parkerizing, and a stock in good shape. The bore and breech score highly on the gauges. I was going to just get a CMP rifle, but I moved recently, and their stock is drying up. Plus, there’s a several month wait. And a quick gunbroker check showed that I wouldn’t save much there for rifles in comparable condition. Once I factored in shipping and transfer fees, the difference in price wasn’t much. Maybe $50 or so. Screw that. I’ll take Garand in hand. This one even came with the cool CMP hard case, which is well made and lockable. So it’ll work for airline travel, should I want to fly somewhere with a rifle.

The Garand probably needs no introduction, but I’ll review it anyway. This was the standard American service rifle in World War 2 and the Korean War. It was the frontline rifle from 1936-1960 or so. It soldiered on quite a bit longer in the National Guard (some units went directly from the M1 Garand to the M16), and was also widely used by many American allies. South Korea was a particularly heavy user of the type. General Patton himself described it (perhaps a trifle hyperbolically) as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” It fires the .30-06 cartridge from an eight-round en-bloc clip and weighs about 10 lbs, depending on example. It also spent decades dominating service rifle competitions.

Mine was made by Harrington and Richardson in February of 1956. Production would stop in 1957. On the one hand, I’m a little sad that my rifle didn’t see combat service. On the other hand, this also means it’s in absolutely superb condition. It’s just as good a touchstone this way, and now the only one who’s going to be putting wear on it is me. And make no mistake, I got it because it’s a touchstone. Both of my grandfathers served in the Second World War, and this is a nice way for me to have a connection to them, and the rest of the members of the greatest generation. Plus, it’s a nice companion for my Mauser Kar 98k and my Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. I. Also, did I mention it’s pretty? Because it is absolutely gorgeous.

The lines of the M1 Garand are just right. That said, it’s also on the heavy side. 10 lbs is hefty. Of course, it’s also firing a full power rifle cartridge in the .30-06 (7.62×63 mm). You probably don’t want to go too much lighter. And again, this is a military rifle. Weight means strength, which means abuse resistance. And recoil absorption. Carrying it, I notice the weight. Shooting it, I’m very happy for the weight.

For a traditional layout rifle, the Garand has pretty good ergonomics. The trigger is a little gritty, but otherwise a solid mil-type trigger. This isn’t a match trigger, and that’s okay. The sights on the Garand are absolutely amazing, especially for the time period. It’s a great sight picture that would be directly copied to the M14, and used with minor mechanical tweaks (but the same fundamental picture) on the M16A1 and M16A2. It’s great.

How does it shoot? Wonderfully. It is not abusive. It is very precise, and the iron sights are fantastic. Even more so when you consider that these sights were designed in the 1930s. Compared to its contemporaries, the Garand is amazing. Today, it’s still a super fun rifle for blasting. Plenty accurate. And I love the ping of the ejected clip. Hear that? That’s the Ping of Freedom.