Tag Archives: militariana

Lewis and Clark Class Dry Cargo Resupply

Warships are cool. Warships are sexy. But if you want those warships to project power beyond your shores, you have to keep them resupplied. Let’s look at some of the ways the US Navy keeps its ships supplied. We’ll start with the Lewis and Clark class Dry Cargo Resupply ships, known by the hull code T-AKE.

The Lewis and Clark class are 689 feet long, 105.6 feet in beam, and have a design draft of 29.9 feet. They displace 41,000 tons and are designed to handle up to 6,005 tonnes or 783,000 cubic feet of dry cargo, plus 2,390 tonnes or 18,000 barrels of fuel. of the 6,005 tonnes of dry cargo, 1,557 tonnes are refrigerated storage. Dry cargo can include ammunition, frozen and dry food, consumables, and spare parts. The T-AKEs are equipped with US Navy Underway Replenishment equipment, and can resupply any US or allied vessel that is equipped with same.

The T-AKEs are all-electric ships, generating power with four diesel generators. They have one electrically-driven screw, plus a bow thruster for maneuvering in port. The electric drive system can propel the Lewis and Clark class ships at speeds of up to 20 knots. Electric power is also used to run the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS). ASRS can work with any standard container, will retrieve containers in weather up to sea state 5, and will survive undamaged in weather up to sea state 9.

The Lewis and Clark class have a crew of 124 civilians and 11 naval personnel. A mostly civilian crew is what gives the ships the “T-” prefix on the hull type classification. At present, the T-AKEs do not have any active means of self defense, but there is space and topweight available for CIWS if this is desired in the future.

Also of note is that the T-AKEs are generally built to civilian standards, with some additions for increased survivability. This was to reduce costs, bypass any potential bottlenecks, and to produce a design that would also have a lot of marketability to the civilian merchant marine.

NSWC Crane Likes Midlength Gas Systems

These days the US miltary favors M4s with 14.5″ barrels and carbine-length gas systems, which is to say, a gas port located approximately 7.8″ in front of the bolt face. It works. On the civilian market, lots of companies are offering (usually pinned) 14.5″ barrels with the midlength gas system, i.e. gas port about 9.8″ ahead of the bolt face. Civilian shooters will tell you the midlength gas system is a softer shooting system. But is it more reliable? We could make arguments about it, but NSWC Crane decided to put it to the test.

Barrel Wear: Accuracy Degradation
In a normal, carbine-length gas system, a degradation of accuracy can be seen after about 6,000 rounds. Crane’s testing found that after 12,000 rounds, the midlength barrels did not suffer appreciable accuracy degradation.

Muzzle Velocity
Does the midlength gas system cause any loss in velocity? In the unsuppressed case, the carbine had a mean muzzle velocity of 2,905.4 feet per second, and the midlength had a muzzle velocity of 2,906.4 feet per second. The difference in means is -1.0 feet per second, or 0.04%.

In the suppressed case, average muzzle velocity was 2,989.7 feet per second for the carbine system and 2,983.0 feet per second for the midelength. Here the difference is 6.7 feet per second, or 0.23%. In either case, muzzle velocity is negligible.

Terminal Velocity (100 yards)
Given the negligible difference in velocity at the muzzle between the carbine length and midlength gas systems, we would expect the difference at 100 yards to be similarly negligible. And it is. In the unsuppressed case, carbine-length gas system yields a terminal velocity of 2,635.9 feet per second and the midlength gives 2,677.6 feet per second for a difference of 41.6 feet per second or 1.57%.

The suppressed case is similar, with the carbine-length gas system providing 2,654.1 fps and the midlength providing 2,686.7 fps, for a difference of 32.6 fps or 1.22%. Overall, there’s not much of a performance difference. Midlength is actually slightly better. Of course, we wouldn’t expect much of a difference in velocities from changing the gas system length.

Cyclic Rate
We might expect a change in cyclic rate from altering the gas system length (and hence the gas pressure in the system). Also, small reductions in cyclic rate tend to be good from a parts-life standpoint as well as a controllability standpoint. So what do we get? Again, we have the suppressed and unsuppressed cases. In the unsuppressed case, we see a reduction of 127.2 rounds per minute or 15.9% going from a carbine-length 864.8 rpm to a midlength 737.6 rpm. The suppressed case gives us a reduction of 62.7 rounds per minute or 6.9% when we go from a carbine-length 944.2 rpm to a midlength 881.5 rpm.

Given the reduced cyclic rate for the midlength, does this translate into more reliability? The tests showed that it did. The carbine length gas system had 65 stoppages, and the midlength gas system had 30. The high temperature (160 F) testing phase accounted for 5/65 stoppages in the carbine-length gas systems and 1/30 stoppages in the midlength gas systems. Low temperature testing (-60 F) accounted for 27/65 stoppages in the carbine-length gas systems and 15/30 stoppages in the midlength gas systems. All other stoppages occurred in ambient-temperature testing.

So now we have some hard data proving that midlength gas systems are better on 14.5″ barreled weapons. Great! This gets more interesting because the USAF is looking at buying 50,000 improved M4s for security forces, battlefield airmen and OSI. That’s the kind of significant buy that can have an impact on what kind of weapons the rest of the US armed forces use. Remember, the Air Force were the first to embrace the M16.


Despite being designed in 1960, the M113 has remained popular. It’s a big, tracked aluminum box. So it’s easy to fit stuff in. And lots of things can be put in a nice aluminum box. Lots of these, like command vehicles, mortar carriers, ambulances, and the like aren’t frontline vehicles. So the M113’s increasingly marginal protection wasn’t that much of a concern. It’s adaptable and low cost. But there’s not a lot of weight capacity for more protection if the vehicle is to be used in urban operations, and the powerplant is pretty old.

Enter FFG. FFG cut their teeth upgrading old M113s, and they finally figured they might be able to offer something better. This is the PMMC G5, seen below.


The G5 is actually somewhat larger than the M113, having a payload capacity of 14.5 cubic meters, as opposed to the M113’s 8.3 cubic meters. Where the M113 can handle 2.4 tonnes of payload, the G5 can handle up to 8.5 tonnes of payload. Gross vehicle weight of the G5 is 26.5 tonnes.

The G5 also has a semimodular design. The modules have a floor and roof, plus internal stuff, and can be switched out with a crane. It’s not quite as modular as Boxer MRAV, but it’s still a solid feature.

The G5 faces stiff competition, being somewhere in between a full-featured, turretless derivative of an IFV like the CV90 Armadillo or simpler M113 refits. The PMMC G5 has only been entered into one procurement contest, in Denmark, where it lost out to the Mowag Piranha V.

As for what I think, I am a fan of the concept. Whether or not I’d go with it for Borgundy really depends on cost compared to some other options, and the sort of boring details of proposals that never gets leaked. Specifically, how the cost of a cheap additional vehicle plus spares compares to additional variants of more expensive vehicles (plus more of the spares that you’re already ordering).

Reconsidering the LCS

Editor’s note: Fishbreath and I aren’t fans of the LCS, but he asked me to defend it and I can hardly resist such a challenge…

The LCS is a curious sort of ship. There are two classes, the Freedom-class and the Independence-class, and I’m going to group them together for the purposes of this discussion. They are both very fast, lightly armed, and carry a helicopter. They have some swappable mission modules to enable them to carry things like Hellfire missiles. Their only air defense system is a launcher for the RIM-116; a close-in weapon.

One is immediately struck by what the LCS don’t have. They don’t have a fancy towed sonar array. They don’t have a fancy bow sonar array. They don’t have a bunch of lightweight torpedo tubes. They don’t have antiship missiles. They don’t have a “proper” SAM system like SM-2/3/6, Aster, or ESSM. One might think of them as stripped down Oliver Hazard Perry-class analogues, but this might be frustrating. The Perrys are the quintessential Cold-war era multirole frigate. One might also look at all of the other ships called frigates these days and despair about the LCSes. They are underarmed!

Or are they? Let us first ask what mission we might have for the LCSes. Mission ought to drive the ship design. The Perrys were designed as escorts. Second-rate escorts: intended to protect the anticipated convoys running supplies and war materiel from North America to Europe in the event of a Cold War gone hot. As such, they have an antiaircraft armament of one Mk. 13 single-arm launcher for the SM-1. They also have a towed sonar array and some lightweight torpedo launchers, plus hangar facilities for two helicopters. On paper they’re much more capable ships.

However, one of the things we note is that from 2004 to 2005, the US Navy removed the Mark 13 launchers from the Perrys that remained in service. Why? Well, clearly removing the system reduces ongoing support and maintenance costs. Plus, it’s not really all that useful. The SM-1 missile and Mark 92 fire control system is grossly inadequate against modern threats. The CIWS is going to be able to (probably) handle a single inbound antiship missile fine, and anything serious attack is going to get past SM-1 and CIWS.

The Falklands War showed all manner of problems with the Type 42 destroyers. These were built for air defense, but they suffered badly at the hands of the Argentine air force. The Argentine air force used Exocet antiship missiles and the sort of unsophisticated, low-level, unguided bombing attacks one might see in the Korean War. There were problems with target prioritization, being sure that no target was left unengaged by the multiple firing ships, and ships fouling each other’s radar fixes. The Perrys were even less optimized for anti-air warfare than the Type 42s.

Anyway, the LCS-as-frigate comparison seems to be assuming implicitly that we have to have nice, simple ship types: cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, and proper navies have all three. We have Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which are built on Spruance-class destroyer hulls and are smaller than Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Let’s unpack those a little more. There are currently 22 active Ticos, each with the Aegis combat system and 122 VLS tubes. There are 65 active Burkes with three under repair, four under construction, and five more on order. Each Burke has an Aegis combat system and 90 or 96 VLS missile tubes. Taking active hulls only, that’s a total of 87 Burkes and Ticos, which I’ll collectively (and imprecisely) refer to as “Aegis ships” for simplicity.

The Aegis ships are fantastic escorts, since they all have powerful radars, computer coordinating systems, communication networks to chat amongst themselves, and lots of missiles. Each VLS tube can hold one of the Standard family of SAMs or four ESSM SAMs. In terms of dealing with air or missile attack, they are the best ships available. They can protect themselves and something nearby. Like a carrier. We have 11 supercarriers, plus nine more straight-deck “Baby Carriers” of the USMC. So if they all were at sea at once, and all operating separately we’d have about four Aegis ships per flattop. That’s pretty good. The Royal Navy would like to be able to do that, and we’d have way more missile tubes per flattop than they would, even if they could manage four escorts per flattop.

Of course, the Mk. 41 VLS tubes on the Aegis ships can carry other missiles as well, including Tomahawk Cruise missiles and LRASMs, giving the ships a potent land attack or surface strike capability. It’s pretty easy for a task force commander to lob an awe-inspiring number of cruise missiles at some tin-plate dictator we hate while having enough SAMs to protect the fleet. For comparison, look at the positively lame ground attacks from the Russian navy deployed to Syria. They wish they had “Aegisski” ships with tons of VLS tubes to lob cruise missiles at their enemies.

In the Aegis ships, the USN has a large number of highly capable surface ships that are truly “Do-everything” ships. They can do any mission you please, and can be configured to do all of them reasonably well at once. No 4-5,000 ton frigate can do likewise. They tend to have 16-32 VLS tubes and a much less powerful radar. These ships tend to carry a mix of quadpacked ESSMs and standard missiles, or foreign equivalent systems. They can do some amount of air defense, but mostly just of themselves. It’s not clear what adding a bunch of ESSMs is going to do to the already formidable air defense umbrella in a US Navy carrier battle group.

Lets also stress that, while we could argue about the most cost-effective mix of ships, the 87 Aegis ships mentioned earlier are already purchased. We have them. They’re ours. Spending a bunch of money on redundant capabilities is silly, and that seems to be what most want to advocate for.

What the Aegis ships aren’t is cheap. They have high operating costs, and there’s plenty of flagwaving missions or antipiracy operations that could be done by a ship without all the fancy, expensive bells and whistles. Playing “Plane guard” and fishing pilots who had to eject from a botched carrier landing doesn’t require a fancy radar or lots of missiles. Hunting pirates off the horn of Africa doesn’t require any fancy systems either, just seakeeping. So the best compliment for a big fleet of highly-capable Aegis ships is a bunch of austere, cheap-to-operate corvettes with good seakeeping.

Good seakeeping is important, and is the major cost driver. Seakeeping is a function of structure, and I’m being imprecise and lumping in range as well. America, as you probably know, is separated from regions of trouble by large oceans, and anything sent to those troublesome regions has to first cross those pesky oceans. And yes, seakeeping eats up space that could be otherwise filled with weapons. If our ships could sail ten miles from our coast and find trouble, we could pack them to the gills with weapons and not care how stable they are. But that’s not the situation we find ourselves in. So no, we can’t just build a few Pegasus-class fast attack craft and call it a day.

So that is how we get to the LCS, more or less. It has a deck gun, a SeaRAM installation, and a helicopter hangar. It can accept a few other mission modules. It can handle a number of basic tasks, including to sail to not-so-hot regions flying an American flag. The one thing I don’t get is the overly high top speed of the ships. I wouldn’t have designed that in, since it drives costs up. Even so, they’re good ships for what they’re designed for: complimenting the rest of our highly-capable surface fleet.

VLQ-12 CREW Duke

IEDs proved to be a persistent and deadly threat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They’re pretty easy to make with cheap, off-the-shelf electronics and existing warstocks, and are pretty easy to scale to deal with whatever armored vehicle you fancy. What is a modern high-tech army to do? When you consider that IEDs tend to be remote-detonated, an obvious answer is to jam them. Enter the VLQ-12 CREW Duke.

The VLQ-12 Counter RCIED Electronic Warfare (CREW) system, was designed to meet the threat of radio command detonated roadside bombs in Iraq. It is designed to be mounted to a wide variety of vehicles from the simple HMMWV to the mighty Abrams tank. Originally, CREW systems were placed in bustle racks of armored vehicles. CREW V3 is integrated into the Bradley M2A4 and Abrams SEPv3 upgrade packages in an under-armor installation. Clearly, cargo and utility vehicles have plenty of space available for the system.

crew duke v3 primary and secondary units

CREW Duke V3 comes with two major components, plus a controller, antennas, and related cabling. The primary unit weighs 70 lbs and measures 12.8″ x 12.8″ x 16.1″. The secondary unit weighs about 40 lbs and measures 14.4″ x 7.0″ x 11.7″. The secondary unit is one of the added components separating the Duke V3 from the Duke V2. The secondary unit also requires a directional antenna, the PRC-119. The PRC-119 weighs 5 lbs. and measures 23″ x 10.5″ x 1.5″.

One other useful capability is threat event logging. CREW Duke can store information on the kinds of signals it encountered and jammed, which can be accessed via ruggedized laptop or PDA.

Resurrected Weapons: Project Babylon

Back in the 1950s, when rocketry was extraordinarily difficult, and TV was full of videos of NASA rocket tests failing miserably, Gerald Bull had an alternative idea: Use a giant gun to put a payload in orbit. This led to Project HARP, which got a lot of great research done. By the 1960s, we had figured out (mostly) how to make rockets that work. It was still hard, but now we could generally expect launches to work. And so the plug was pulled on HARP, but Gerald Bull still dreamed of using a giant gun to put a satellite in orbit. Eventually, in the 1980s, he found someone with money willing to back his dream once more. That man was Saddam Hussein.

Project Babylon came in two phases. Stage one was “Baby Babylon”, a proof of concept model with a 350mm bore and a barrel length of 46 meters. This was initially used for horizontal testing, and was then erected on the side of a mountain. The full size “Big Babylon” would have been the biggest gun ever, with a one-meter bore and a barrel length of 156 meters. The original design was intended to be suspended from a steel framework by a system of cables.

Testing of the Baby Babylon cannon showed issues in dealing with seals between the barrel sections. While these were being fixed, Gerald Bull was assassinated outside of his Belgian apartment on March 22, 1990, which crippled the project. It would not be resumed after the First Gulf War.

Bull’s assassination was almost certainly not due to his work on Project Babylon. The superguns were massive, fixed targets. Easy to spot with aerial or satellite reconnaissance, easy to destroy. But Bull was also working on improving the range of Saddam’s Scud missiles. Those are much more effective than a giant gun. This was the project that most likely angered Saddam’s enemies enough to get an assassination. The most likely candidates are Israel or Iran, both of whom have intelligence agencies with lots of experience in liquidating potential problems.

Project Babylon itself is also extremely problematic. It’s a lousy weapon, as we’ve mentioned before. But I’m also extremely skeptical of their utility as a launch system. Even with a 156 meter barrel, the acceleration is going to be absolutely brutal. This is going to seriously restrict the payloads you can launch. A rocket is going to be far gentler on the payload, and much less likely to wreck a satellite. Plus, rockets can accept oversize shrouds to handle larger payloads, or be clustered to lift more weight. You’re pretty stuck with the weight capacity and payload diameter restriction here.

Verdict: Funding Request Denied by the Borgundy Ordnance Board

Super Multihit Body Armor from RMA Defense

Those of you who have a good memory for the history of body armor will recall the issues that the now-defunct Pinnacle Armor ran into with its Dragon Skin product. Dragon Skin body armor was supposed to be a revolution in personal protection. The concept was to replace the monolithic plate of regular body armor plates with an array of overlapping ceramic discs. Having multiple discs would prevent the propagation of cracks across the whole plate. In 2006, the US military found Dragon Skin to be unsatisfactory as a replacement for the hard plates used in the Interceptor body armor system. Pinnacle claimed the tests were biased, and sued. The lawsuit found in favor of the US Government. The arguments continued, especially on various internet forums, but Pinnacle Armor eventually went out of business in 2010.

The goal of trying to gain resistance to more hits by stopping the propagation of cracks lingered, and I’ve recently found someone else who is tackling the basic concept.

Enter RMA Defense’s Model 1189 Level IV plate.

RMA Defense is claiming, and has the all-important third-party tests to back up, that their plate will stop 5-7 rounds of .30-06 M2AP. This is pretty impressive when you consider that all that’s required for a Level IV rating is to stop one round of M2AP. “Multi-hit” generally means three rounds of M2AP. Having a third party lab verify that you stopped six rounds is awesome.

We can get some notion of how the armor works from their patent. The key bit is a series of tiles, joined with structural adhesive. Think of a set of bathroom tiles, only made of silicon carbide. Then, cracks from a hit on one of the tiles will only propagate as far as the joints, leaving most of the rest of the array intact. This ceramic array is mounted over a plate of UHMWPE and wrapped in a fancy aramid. It’s pretty cool.

Price per plate is pretty reasonable for ceramics at $299 a piece. Weight of 6.9 lbs is on the heavy side for ceramics, and is similar to that of the similarly-sized, high-end steel TAC3S plate. Also, the 1189s are single-curve plates, and that’s pretty old school. Triple curve is the current standard, and will fit you a lot better. That said, it’s still an innovative product. Personally, we’d wait for the future generation model.

Soldiers’ Gadgets: Geissele High Speed Selector

The AR-15 selector is a pretty standard component. There are a few variations on the lever shape, some including an ambi part for lefties, but it’s worked the same way since the 1960s: Point the lever forward (“0 degrees”) for Safe, point the lever straight up (90 degrees) for semiautomatic, and point the lever back (180 degrees) for full automatic. Or burst. Pretty simple.

One innovation seen occasionally on competition guns is the ‘short-throw’ safety lever. This is a safety lever where semiauto requires less than a quarter-turn of the lever. Usually it’s about a 45-55 degree range of travel that will switch the rifle to semiautomatic.

Something like this has also been seen on some military rifles, including the FN SCAR. On the SCAR’s safety lever, the 45 degree position is semiautomatic and 90 degrees is fully automatic. It’s definitely easier and faster than the standard AR lever, but it’s not really worth fussing about. Unless you’re a competition shooter where every tenth of a second counts, in which case, you can mod your heart out. That said, it’s not a super popular mod on the competition circuit. Usually money gets spent elsewhere.

It becomes a little more interesting when combined with a recent Marine Corps study. The Corps appears to have (re)discovered that fully automatic fire is more effective on moving targets than semiautomatic fire. This is no surprise. We’ve known this for a while now. Recall that the original demand for the rate of fire on the MG-42 came from wanting to maximize hit probability for a target moving from cover to cover at range. And Project SALVO and SPIW were all about increasing hit probability by getting more bullets downrange.

All that said, let’s look at the specific formulation, since we have it for this study. Numbers are always good. To simulate an enemy soldier moving from cover to cover, the marines looked at a man-size target moving at a speed of about 10 miles per hour, at a range of 50-150 yards, and assumed a 2.2 second exposure. They worked out that if a soldier was firing on semi-automatic, the hit probability was about 0.4. This hit probability went up to 0.6 simply by switching over to full automatic.

Anyway, the Marines were a little concerned that by the time the soldier saw the moving target, flipped the selector to automatic, took aim, and fired, the target would be gone. Remember, there’s only a 2.2 second exposure time. So they reached out to Geissele to help. While they were wishing, they also wanted the transition in and out of full-auto to be as easy as possible.

Geissele’s high speed selector starts with a 45-degree position for semi-automatic, and a 90-degree position for fully automatic. Just like the SCAR. What’s new is that the selector is spring loaded. So the marine holds the selector in the 90-degree position with his thumb to fire on full-automatic and lets go when he wants to go back to semi-automatic.

I like the shorter throw, but I’m not entirely sold on the spring-loading. It seems to me like this is the sort of thing that one ought to be able to handle with doctrine and drill. A technological solution in search of a problem. And I really don’t think the short throw is worth the bother.