Category Archives: Weapons Education

Latest Printed AR Lower Test Fire

This is a more recent AR lower design, called the Alimanu Phobos. Here’s an image of it:

alimanu_phobos_printed_lower

And here’s the source of that image, a video showing the lower and showing it being test-fired.

Here’s what the video post says:

A test-fire video of the Aliamanu-Phobos AR-15 Lower Receiver designed and printed by ArmaDelite. Printed with ABS plastic on a XYZPrinting da Vinci 1.0 printer, this design is derived from previous designs like the FOSSCAD Phobos, Vanguard and vanguard JT lower receivers. MOAR test fire videos coming soon!

We suspect that the feeding problems may be due to the reduced rigidity of the lower compared to a standard 7075 machined forging. If the positioning of the magazine with reference to the bolt carrier is not consistent, you might get results like this.

The files can be found here:

https://www.sendspace.com/file/lkw9nm

Don’t click any of the big Download buttons. This is what the actual link will look like.

Screenshot 2015-02-22 01.12.36

Annoy a totalitarian. Share gun design files.

 

Additive Manufacturing in Defense and Aerospace

Today, we have two links for you that will expand your knowledge of what the DOD and Aerospace world is doing with additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing for Armaments

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.11The first is slightly dated, because it comes from the NDIA’s 2013 Armament conference. (Yes, 2013 was a long time ago in this rapidly developing field). It is the presentation slides of Stratasys’s John Dobstetter. Stratasys (SSYS) is one of the two large publicly traded firms in the field (the other is 3D Systems, whose ticker symbol fits: DDD).

Personally, we wouldn’t cross the street to whiz on Stratasys if they were on fire, because the company is firmly antigun and pro-gun-control, but Dobstetter’s presentation is an excellent one that starts out assuming that (1) his audience knows nothing about additive, but (2) it’s a bunch of smart people who know manufacturing and catch on quickly.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 22.56.28There’s fascinating stuff about when to use additive (see the Sweet Spot slide above) and how it can be applied to every phase or stage of manufacture (see the Lifecycle Applications slide to the right). Switched-on manufacturers, like Czech airplane manufacture Evektor, are using additive parts both as tooling and as end use parts.

There are some extremely clever uses of additive, either alone or hybridized with other tools, for composite layup tooling, producing some very interesting carbon, glass and aramid (Kevlar) parts. Likewise, end uses can be hybridized, with additive-manufactured complex ends added to shafts or beams made by winding filament or tow around a simple metal mandrel.

A .pdf of Dobstetter’s presentation is found here in the archives of the 2013 Armament conference.

Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

MIT Technology Review has an interesting article (aren’t they all? Well, in MIT Tech Review, maybe) called Additive Manufacturing Is Reshaping Aviation. In this case, they’re not talking about little piston-plane builders like Evektor or Cirrus, but the big gorillas of jet-engine production, Pratt & Whitney and GE.

prattwhitneyx299Pratt & Whitney already uses two additive manufacturing techniques to make some engine components. Instead of casting metal in a mold, the methods involve forming solid objects by partially melting a metal powder with either a laser or an electron beam.

Additive manufacturing processes can reduce waste, speed up production, and enable designs that might not be feasible with conventional production processes.

Ding ding ding… we have frequently mentioned this benefit, the ability to design things free of the shackles of traditional subtractive manufacturing.

The novel shapes and unusual material properties the technology makes possible—such as propeller blades optimized for strength at one end and flexibility at the other—could change the way airplanes are designed.

Of course, propeller blades are already optimized that way, by having taper in three dimensions. And a company named Carter Aviation Technologies has developed revolutionary propellers that use a flexible composite skin around two spars that flex like the bones in your forearm to change the delta of pitch in the propeller, whereas conventional propellers can only change the pitch itself, not its rate of change. (Hey, you could use the additive tooling that Dobstetter showed in the first cite to make all the iterations of a Carter-patent propeller that you could possibly use).

Meanwhile, engineers hold out hope for today’s amazing technology to be supplanted by better machinery — finer resolution, faster printing, better-understood statics & mechanics. Even as great as the state of the art is, the engineers must push it:

…additive manufacturing techniques need to improve to allow for higher precision. Once researchers understand the fine, molecular-scale physics of how lasers and electron beams interact with powders, [P&W engineer Frank Prelli] says, “that will lead to the ability to put in finer and finer features, and faster and faster deposition rates.”

Whatever happens with the jet engine makers and the airframers that are their major customers, we can expect more and better from additive manufacturing. While the whole thrust of the article is aerospace, it has clear applications to defense and firearms manufacturing.

And A Bonus from MIT Tech Review: Nanosteel

What happens to steel when you apply nanotechnology to it?

MIT Tech Review’s Kevin Bullis (same guy that wrote the additive article linked above) is saying things that scarcely seem possible:

An inexpensive new process can increase the strength of metals such as steel by as much as 10 times…

Can you think of a firearms application for that? Or about 100 of them? We sure can. (Saving 90% of the weight of a Browning MG in .338 LM?)

But wait! It turns out it doesn’t just strengthen the steel… it also makes it much more corrosion-resistant. It works by electroplating nanometer-thing material onto a part in nano-engineered layers. It has the effect of changing the apparent properties of the now-hybridized part.

And it’s not significantly more expensive than current plating and coating processes.

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.

Is it Time to Scope Out Scopes?

its dead jimIron sights are obsolete. Britain saw this one, and acted on it, before the United States did. (So did Germany, even earlier; but then they backed off). The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible.

They’re dead, Jim.

As a shooter, you should still understand and be able to use the many kinds of iron sights that have been used on rifles, pistols, and machine guns over the last few centuries. The shooting fundamentals work the same (with the self-evident exception of sight picture and sight alignment) regardless of what kind of sight you’re using, but the iron sight imposes physical, temporal and human factors obstacles that optical sights do not.

The most important of these factors is that an optical sight, whether it’s a traditional telescope, a red-dot, or a holographic sight, puts the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane. How important is this? It’s vital. It reduces the time spent to align the shot (more than compensating for the initial delay imposed by a magnified sight with a limited field of view, it lightens the shooters neurocognitive load, and it reduces hit dispersion downrange.

It’s the nature of a human eye that, unlike a camera, its an extremely complicated piece of hardware that is normally used in pairs to collect a dynamic and changing amount of light that is resolved, not upon the focal plane of a retina, but by the software of a brain resolving, merging and interpolating light data.

Unlike a camera, where the focal plane is just that, a plane, a retina is curved. Unlike a camera, where one pixel receptor of a charge-coupled device (or traditionally, one chemical grain of film coating) resolves the same shades or colors and responds the same to a given amount of light towards the periphery as its companion does at the center, our retinal cells are not all the same. The different kinds, which respond differently to light and color, are distributed unevenly. Unlike a camera, the human visual mechanism with its two eyes, brain, and “software”-driven focus is, at once, a wide-angle lens (with pretty lousy off-axis resolution, but good for movement) and a telephoto (which can perceive great detail, but only straight on).

And unlike a camera, human depth of field is not variable, although the location of focus is. What this means is that you can’t simultaneously focus on the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. Well the most important of those three items is the target, with iron sights you’re likely to miss it if you don’t focus on the front sight. Shooters must be trained (and must practice) to focus on the front sight like that.

So the eye is an awesome piece of engineering (or engineered hardware/software integrated system, really). But it has its limits. In optic land, your aiming point (whether it’s a dot or a crosshair) is superimposed on your target, in a single focal plane. Again, you must train for this, but it takes less training, and it leads to a more rapidly acquired sight.

The aiming point can be a crosshair, another reticle, or an illuminated dot. Each has its pros and cons. For rapid training it’s very difficult to beat the red dot. For distance shooting, numerous compensated reticles are available. Some sights try to provide both: any sight with a complicated reticle rewards study, understanding, and practice.

ballistic_cqreticle_dia

The military forces of the world have been slow in seeing this and issuing optics on a general, wide-scale basis. In fact, it’s taken most of a century for them to catch on worldwide. Before they were able to do so, of course, optics needed to improve: first they needed to be weather-sealed and fog-resistant (first achieved just before WWII), then needed coated optics for improved light transmission, and finally they needed to be ruggedized, or grunt-proofed, if you will. This last is not a small task, as the grunts of any army you could name take a perverse pride in their ability to destroy flimsy gear, and their definition of “flimsy” is eye-opening, if you are not a grunt.

Now, the armies of the world understood the benefits of optics for various artillery, aviation, and even machine-gun uses. (The US issued a dreadful Warner & Swasey telescopic sight for the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle of 1909; the Imperial Japanese Army had scopes for the Type 92 (1932) medium and Type 96 (1936) light machine guns.

Germany started to do it in World War II, but they lost the war before they could universalize their general-purpose infantry optic, the ZF41. (ZF41, seen here on an FG42, was more common on G.43 and MP/STG.44 type weapons).

FG42-2

After the war, the Federal Republic was slow to adopt optics again, but by the 1960s was issuing a Hensoldt scope to designated marksmen. The current G.36 has its issues, but is optics-ready and issued with a range of optical sights.

Britain, bruised by international opinion, introduced a low-magnification, lighted-reticle optic in 1973, first in Northern Ireland for designated marksmen, then throuhgout the British Army. It never achieved universal issue, but its successor, the SUSAT for the problematical SA.80 rifle, did.

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the  UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

 

Meanwhile, in 1977 the Austrian Army adopted the revolutionary Stg.77, known to the world as the AUG (Armee Universal-Gewehr), its trade name. The AUG was a bullpup design with a 1.5 power optic in an M16-like carrying handle, with rude backup sights on top of the scope housing. (Later AUGs used standard, rail-mounted modular optics).

Steyr AUG A1

In the 1980s, Canada issued the domestic Elcan C79 as standard on their new rifle, the Diemaco (later Colt Canada) C7, and the C9 general purpose machine gun. The US Army, whose motto in small arms sometimes seems to be “First? Us? Never!” adopted this sight as the M145 Machine Gun Optic (MGO). US SOF drove the adoption of optics in the 1990s, formalizing what had been a lot of single-unit experiments with the circa 2000 SOPMOD initiative. SOPMOD I saw the first version of the Aimpoint M68 and the Trijicon ACOG adopted. (General purpose forces adopted these optics, or improvements on them, very quickly thereafter).

Russian and Chinese forces are seen more and more frequently with optics and with modular sighting equipment.

If you’re still aiming with a peep or open rear sight and a bead or post up front, good for you. It’s great for marksmanship basics. But small arms history is leaving you behind. It’s time to scope out some scopes.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Sturmgewehr.com

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.06.34Today’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Sturmgewehr.com, is a sales site. It’s a sales site that is, in our view, narrowcast to, well, the sort of folks that read this board.

Want an assault rifle? (Oh, wait, a “Modern Sporting Rifle”?) Or some other recent military or military-like firearm? How about an NFA weapon, a rare machine gun or destructive device?

Or maybe you have such an item, a rare one, where the buyers are few and widely distributed around the world?

We’re constantly referencing GunBroker.com here, and that’s because it is, in our opinion, the go-to auction site for rare and exotic weapons. We also like to keep tabs on two top physical brick-and-mortar-auction houses for 20th and 21st-Century small arms, James D. Julia and Rock Island Auctions. (We will concede this: Ian at Forgotten Weapons does better at this than we do. But gun blogging is his day job, and sometimes the weapons we like are far from forgotten). An auction is, by definition, the best way to find out what something is really worth to the world market.

But suppose you don’t want to auction your weapon. Maybe you have a very clear idea of what it’s worth, or at least, what it’s worth to you. Maybe you’re totally confident you can set the price high enough to maximize your recovery, and low enough to make the sale happen on your schedule. Maybe you want a trade: Jim Julia would be glad to get rid of your XM110 sniper system for you, but he isn’t going to get you a transferable MP.38 for it. YOYO for that. And maybe the economics of an auction, where you either must pay for a listing, or must pay a percentage, are not congenial. Likewise, maybe you, as a buyer, don’t want to monkey with an auction with all the attendant risk of losing your Precious to a last-minute sniper.

If that’s you, then you need to spend some quality time at Sturmgewehr.com. It’s a simple, free market board where literally anyone can post any firearm or related collectors item in a narrowcast board. Here’s a snippet of the NFA board:

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.14.48

It’s not going to win any prizes for physical beauty, but man, is it ever dense with usable information. When you open a listing, most of them tell you a few more details and terms, some link to images, and some have an embedded image or two, but most don’t. This is Jack Webb approved MG sales: “Just the facts.”

The boards are clearly delineated:

Screenshot 2015-02-19 07.06.07

There are relatively few rules but owner Buddy Hinton enforces them with a firm hand, which is why Sturm has managed to retain a high value for the dedicated collector and dealer of rare military arms. Every day, many postings by the gentlemen who didn’t read the rules (or by Unique and Special Snowflakes™ who thought the rules didn’t apply to them) get dispatched to the bit bucket. Every two weeks, your sell or buy ad gets dropped. This assures you that the postings on the site are germane, current and available. There is no distinction between dealer posts and buyer posts.

One warning: because there are high-value items on here that are being sold interstate for cash, there are scammers on here. Buddy flags them when he sees them, but he can’t see them all. Be leery of emails that track back to a free service. Don’t send a money order to an address that has not just a street name but also an inmate number. Use your judgment; we always establish two-way communications first. (Many of the sellers here are reputable dealers that you’ll recognize from other sales modes, and many are honest individuals).

Take great care to comply with Federal and state laws. While we’re not aware of anyone being entrapped by law enforcement here, they’re certainly aware of and monitor the board. The best way to make sure that you don’t wind up in the back seat where the door handles don’t work is to know and not to violate any of the laws governing gun sales

Water Balloons vs. Bullet

Here’s Sumdood from National Geographic, asking that question: How many water balloons does it take to stop a bullet — a .44 Magnum from a Smith Model 629, to be specific?

If you’re enough of a gun nut to read this site regularly, you’ll be pretty close to the answer, having seen other instances of firing into water. (In fact, it’s how bullets are recovered in crime labs, for forensic ballistics). But you’ll seldom see it given so much of a reality-TV build-up, with the payoff coming in slow-motion video.

The key bit is the slo-mo at the end, where they’re showing the bullet speed in fps as it declerates through each balloon. After the second balloon, the mighty .44 Mag is down to airsoft levels of fps, and it only goes downhill from there.

So why don’t they use water balloons as armor? Well, the first shot lets all the water out, and nobody fires one shot at you these days. Plus, it’s about as heavy as armor gets.

Developments in Steel Armor

Some time ago we covered the types of Armor available to vehicle designers through World War II and explained why penetration of Rolled Homogeneous Armor, then state-of-the-art, is still routinely used as a standard measuring stick for armor penetration. But while RHA was the tank skin of choice in 1945 (with cast armor used for specific purposes, and face- (aka flame-) hardened armor on the way out), armor developments didn’t stand still then.

By the 1970s, British research had produced composite armors that were more effective, especially against Monroe effect shaped charges, than RHA. The British armor and its American derivatives (British government researchers shared their discoveries freely with US Army engineers and contractors on the M1 Tank and M2 Bradley contracts) were developed under conditions of great secrecy and remain, in detail, classified. You can find generalities about how they work online and in specialty books.

But the development even of steel armor did not stop with RHA. Since the end of World War II, steel makers and AFV engineers have pursued harder armors, called in English High Hardness Armor (HHA) and Dual Hardness Armor. These armors are challenging to produce, because increasing armor hardness risks embrittlement of the metal. Recently, a Swedish steelmaker has gone further in developing Ultra High Hardness Armor (UHH).

HHA is described by the military standard MIL-DTL-46100E, and offers a hardness range of 477–534 Brinell hardness number (BHN).

DHA is described by the military standard MIL-A-46099C. DHA is produced by roll bonding a 601–712 BHN front plate to a 461–534 BHN back plate; this gives the armor an extremely hard layer bonded to a hard-but-tougher layer. (That is, of course, reminiscent of WWI and early WWII face-hardened armor, where a more ductile, less hard, metal panel would be hardened to 500-700 BHN, but just a few millimeters deep). By fusing two different hardnesses of steel into a single plate, they produce a heterogeneous armor plate with both the ability to resist penetration by a hit (which comes from hardness) but also, without cracking (which comes from ductility).

UHH describes monolithic (probably. homogeneous) armor plate of greater than 600 BHN. The Swedish firm, SSAB Oxelosund AB, has developed two commercial grades of UHH, one, Armox 600T, offering Brinell 600 hardness, and an even harder plate called Armox 600 Advance offering an extrapolated BHN of over 650. (For those of you comfortable with the Rockwell hardness scale, Armox 600 Advance equates to RC 58-63. The armor production process for Armox seems, to the limited extent the Swedes have released it, conventional.

ssab_hha_armor_production

Despite their conventional-appearing production process, these armors are remarkable. To achieve penetration half the time, of 8mm (!) of Armox 600 Advance set at a 30º angle, a .30 caliber AP projectile must be traveling ~860 m/s — which is faster than the muzzle velocity of most .30 firearms (a 7.62 x 54 mm PKM is about 820-825 m/s). It protects against a .50, half the time, to about fps; to protect against .50 AP to 820 fps you need to step up to 12mm (.465″) plate. These are WWI tank and WWII light-tank thicknesses of armor, with much better defensive performance than the RHA and FHA of that period.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds from any penetration, and the other three’s penrtration was nugatory.

 

Another way of taking a broad view of the performance of UHH is that across the board, there is an advantage of about 120 m/s or 400 fps difference in the velocity of impact that this armor will shrug off, vs. the MIL-STD for HHA.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T -- half the time.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T — half the time.

There is an excellent report from 2008 on DTIC (clicking downloads .pdf) on the evaluation of Armox 600T and Armox Advance, Ballistic Testing of SSAB Ultra-High-Hardness Steel for Armor Applications. The purpose of this evaluation was to help set up a MIL-STD for Ultra High Hardness Armor; one outcome of that is the detail standard, MIL-DTL-32332 (MR) 24 July 2009. Detail Specification: Armor Plate, Steel, Wrought, Ultra-High-Hardness (link to everyspec.com).

Note spalling on Armox Advance. It was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren't properly dressed.

Note spalling on Armox Advance, which would create secondary fragmentation in an armored vehicle. Advance was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren’t properly dressed.

Customizing your Carbine: Pro and Con

1959 ChevyIn 1959, a General Motors executive boasted that there were so many options available to buyers of the 1959 Chevrolet, that it was theoretically possible for no two of the hundreds of thousands of Chevies delivered that year to be alike. (In fact, many popular configurations were made in vast quantity, and many theoretical combinations of options made no practical sense and were never built). It’s quite a difference from today, when you have red, white, black, silver, and Option Package A or Option Package B. The new way of doing things substitutes soulless modern efficiency for funky 20th-Century soul.

Sometimes it seems like there are more ways to customize an AR type carbine than there were for that ’59 Chevy buyer. Oddly enough, the AR and the ’59 Chev are near-contemporaries, too; but initially, there was nothing but factory standard parts for the rifle. The military was offered an evolutionary/revolutionary  CAR-15 “system” with submachine-gun, rifle, carbine, and LMG versions, and apart from 10,000 SMGs for special purpose units, they didn’t buy.  Civilians could buy a Colt SP1 Sporter until the 1980s, when they got the option of a CAR-15 inspired SP1 Carbine, and they could customize either only with surplus parts or knockoffs of them.

CAR-15 Family

 

The first real mods that tried to extend the gun came in the 1970s, with things like the Rhino gas piston conversion, and the 6x45mm round. Both are forgotten now, but led the way for many subsequent attempts to pistonize the AR and to fit it with alternative components. That was 40 years ago. The AR is now recognized not as a single rifle or even as a CAR-15-style “family” but as a highly modular shelf full of

ar15newsdotcomNow, there are so many new AR parts all the time there’s even a website devoted to the announcements, AR15News.com. A quick look at the parts being promoted there suggests that even today, add-on parts fall into two categories:

  1. Personalizations that modify the gun in a way that pleases its owner; and
  2. Modifications that are meant to change the basic function of the gun.

Here’s an example of the former: the DS Arms “bufferloc” kit. (And here’s it’s press release on the aforementioned AR15News). It claims a number of benefits, but the one we see as real is that a nose-heavy upper doesn’t swing sharply open when the rear pin is pushed out. This is a minor aggravation, but a real one. Some of the other claims seem to use to either be (1) theoretical, not data-based’ and (2) beneficial only if the gun is not made right in the first place. (For example, they claim to prevent carrier tilt, something that’s not a problem in ordinary direct impingement ARs, if they’re built to spec).

We don’t mean to bag on DSA. They’ve been around for a while, and build some high-quality products. We can vouch for their RPDs and FALs, for instance. But their latest accessory got us thinking about accessories, period.

Accessories: everybody loves ‘em. AR gadgets are to guys (and some gals) like high heels are to many other gals’ closets (and some guys’, probably; it’s a free country, but we really don’t want to know). Gun folk no more explain to shoe folk the difference between our AR uppers than they can explain the difference between this year’s and last year’s Manolos.

If you want an accessory, by all means get it, and try it out. If it’s your gun, you only use it by yourself, and it makes you happy, that’s the only criterion you need to meet. But if you work with a team, or if you’re buying for a department, unit or agency, there are a number of reasons to go slow on buying cool AR stuff.

  1. Uniformity of weapons has its benefits. If one of you is out of the fight, perhaps because he’s wounded, performing a specialty task (medic, breacher) or communicating with higher, interoperability of weapons with the shooters actually shooting means the non-fighting guy’s guns and ammo become a potential New York reload for the fighting guy. (One combat duty of NCOs in the US forces is accountability and cross-leveling of weapons and ammo). There is no feeling so stupid as holding a strange gun and looking at a strange optic, unsure which button turns the illuminated reticle on (and worse, what turns it on on the NVG setting as opposed to the one that lights up your face for the enemy).
  2. Personalization limits resale appeal. While you can sell a generic M4 knockoff to anyone looking for a generic AR, your potential buyer pool shrinks with each add-on, proportional to the distance of that add-on from the norm. Fewer buyers = less demand = less support for a premium price. Paradoxically, spending thousands to accessorize a gun may decrease the prospects, and economics, of selling it.
  3. Accessories never add their own value to a gun. It’s strange the way that works, but a $2,000 AR with $2,000 in premium accessories changes hands for $2,100 all the time. A $1,500 gun with a $100 ambi selector and a $300 drop-in match trigger is a $1,500 gun. You’re never going to get the price of that Larue mount for your ACOG back. So do you buy the Larue or stick with the factory two-knob job? Depends. If your mission means optics are on-again, off-again, you’re going to love the Larue. If you set-it-and-forget-it (for instance, if you use other NODS tandem with the ACOG, and don’t have to swap on and off), then the Larue is of small benefit to you.
  4. Odd calibers make great stories, but we’ve learned some things from the 2012-13 ammo shortage. In a panic, common calibers disappear first as hoarders grab them. But much larger quantities of common calibers are kept on hand. At the peak of the empty-shelves period, the oddball rounds that were available varied widely from one shop to another. In one geographical area, you could still find .300 Blackout and 6.8 SPC; in another, you could find no “near-military” calibers like that, but only hunting ammo for such rounds as .243 Winchester. An odd caliber is, unless you’re standardizing it across an agency, a  permanent supply and interoperability problem.

So can we boil it down to one pithy phrase? As it happens, we can. For “hobby” ARs, suit yourself. For combat-oriented ARs, figure out where the center of the unit/team/market is, and deviate from that point only after careful consideration.

If you are that guy who wants to run an EOTech when everyone else is running an Aimpoint, that’s OK, but it’s on you to make sure the other guys are comfortable with your holographic sight — and that you have spare batteries at hand. An illuminated optic that isn’t subject to frequent preventive-maintenance inspections is nothing but a device for storing dead batteries.

Soviet ATGMs and October, 1973 (Long)

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the development of US and Western European anti-tank guided missiles, from their origins in a German WWII design program to their introduction to combat — just in time to encounter Russian missiles designed along similar lines — in the Vietnam War. (The Russian missiles got the first kill, by a couple of weeks). Today we’ll extend the story of early ATGMs by discussing how the Russians developed their missiles, and how Russian missiles figured in Arab planning for in the Yom Kippur War (the Ramadan War, to the Arabs, and the October War to the strictly neutral) of 1973. Unlike the Vietnam offensive of 1972, where they were only locally decisive, the robotic tank-killers decided battles and nearly won the war. We’ll have more about the war in a future installment (this one is already over 2500 words — oversized for a web post).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy with a much larger, stabilized sight and SACLOS guidance).

Russian Missile Development

Compared to Germany, which was  working on them in 1945, and France and the USA, which were in development from the earliest 1950s, the Soviets were a little late to wire-guided ATGM development, beginning only in the late 1950s. It’s unknown whether they had as a basis any foreign technology. Certainly they could have used captured German technology, French or American technology acquired by espionage, or they simply could have applied robust Russian engineering to problem solutions that they knew their Western rivals had already accomplished. It’s probable that all three were part of missile R&D, with the heavy lifting being done by Russian engineers. The Russian product, by 1973, was a missile that was combat-ready and had several advantages over its Western counterparts.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

As with SAMs, Russian engineers passed through numerous experimental iterations of ATGMs (Anti Tank Guided Missiles), and they delivered to their Arab friends the first and third version that they operationalized. The first missile was a bit of a turkey; fired from a converted GAZ-69 jeep, the 3M6 Shmel (NATO coded, AT-1 Snapper) flew fairly slowly, had an enormous launch signature, and was vulnerable to the obvious countermeasure of blowing away the jeep and its crew, including the missile aimer who could not fire from a remote or dismounted position, but sat in a seat facing backwards looking at the target through a periscopic sight. The gunner had to continue to aim at the tank and steer the missile throughout its flight, which could be 15-20 seconds — a lifetime, literally, in armored combat.

It is very hazardous being on a tank battlefield wearing less than a tank. A cotton Army shirt, or a sheet-metal jeep, provide no protection and if that’s what you have, cover and concealment are vital. The Snapper couldn’t be fired from cover (except in its BRDM version, which put a bare 15mm of armor between the operators and the great outdoors), and it negated its own concealment by launching from the control station.

The third missile, though, the 9M14 Malyutka, better known by its NATO reporting code AT-3 Sagger was a hit, no pun intended. The Sagger, while having a great resemblance to the French missiles the Israelis had played with and a family resemblance to the Snapper, was small. It came packed in a plastic “suitcase” half of which served as the base for its simple rail launcher, and the other half as a base for its reusable sight. One man could carry one all day on his back, and two, suitcase-style, in his hands for short spurts. In true Russian tradition, the missile was sturdy and reliable, and made no superhuman demands on its operator. True, it was a MCLOS (Manual Command to Line of Sight) missile, at least in these early versions, and operator training was vital, but along with the missiles, the Soviets had developed operator and maintenance training, including mobile missile simulators that could travel with divisional logistics elements and keep operators sharp. These they furnished freely to the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces (among others). It was the Egyptians who would make the best use of these missiles.

The Sagger and the Tank Sack

Soviet doctrine had long taught the anti-tank ambush under various terms (the image-rich “tank sack” is one that springs to mind), and they’d used it deftly against the Germans, whose armored warfare worked splendidly against Russian tanks, and not so well against concealed AT guns attacking the Panzers’ vulnerable flanks.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

The modern variation of the use of AT guns was to follow leading tanks closely with infantry antitank teams. Soviet tanks would have their flanks guarded by infantry, something comforting for any tanker, but these infantry would be well-equipped with AT weapons, principally long-range Saggers and short-range RPGs. A Sagger crewman needed intensive initial and recurrent training, and the Russians developed an innovative series of portable simulators to keep their missileers sharp without expending vast quantities of costly missiles. The well-trained Sagger crews dug in and/or located on reverse slopes, with their missiles displaced to the limit of their cords (about 15m) and only their periscopes showing. This protected them better than their unlucky mates in the Snapper jeeps.

The Soviet-designed weapons had a minimum effective range, but more to the point their maximum effective range was 3,000 meters, on the ragged edge of the effective range of the West’s 105mm tank gun. Moreover, a tank gun’s accuracy against a moving target depends on accurately ranging and leading the target, and so, a tank gun’s accuracy declines with range, and declines precipitously with range on fast-moving targets. This period US chart NOTE 2 brags up the improvement in a pH from Sherman to Pershing to M60A1 days:

post_wwii_tank_cannon_improvement

But a missile under human guidance, like the Sagger, can track a moving target even if the target changes direction or speed. The general rule of thumb is that the first hit decides a tank fight; Sagger had a near 90% probability of hit at all ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 meters.

sagger_first_round_ph_small

 

A hit gave the Sagger a very high pK as well: the warhead was among the most effective in the world at the time, penetrating the equivalent of 17″ of rolled homogeneous armor at 0º obliquity (engineering speak for “square on”). US testing of captured Saggers and computer probability analyses assigned the Sagger a .67 pK at a mean engagement range of 2,500 meters.

Combined with the T-62’s 5000+ fps tank guns for the midrange and RPGs for the knife fight, the Sagger meant a Soviet-style (including Egyptian or Syrian) antitank ambush was potentially lethal from 3,000 meters to zero.

soviet_weapons_ph_all_weapons

American soldiers and engineers were very impressed with that graph.

Soviet technology made the combined arms army of 1970 very different from the victorious horde of 1945, Unlike the Western Allies, who had advanced under an umbrella of air power, the Soviets chose not to depend on their powerful Air Forces and Frontal Aviation, but to give their tank and motorized rifle units an umbrella of surface-to-air missiles overhead and a screen of anti-tank missiles to the front. They equipped every tank with night vision, choosing to spend now on active infrared rather than wait for the costs of image intensification to come down (the West, mostly, made the other choice, to delay purchases now and skip a generation of night equipment). This would also shock Israel, when her enemies (especially the Syrians, who had trained with the night sights and lights very extensively) could see at night, and their army could not. The IDF was heir to a tradition of night-fighting from 1948, and its leaders firmly believed that Arabs were too frightened and superstitious to fight at night, just as they believed that Arabs couldn’t operate and maintain sophisticated missiles.

The Sagger Countermeasures of 1973

Before the war, the Israelis didn’t take the Sagger seriously. They knew about it from desultory US reports and from occasional firings during Suez skirmishes — inconsequential firings that encouraged them to disrespect the missile. It was just one more anti-tank weapon, and when their own forces wanted anti-tank weapons, the Deputy Chief of Staff told them, “You already have the best one: a tank!” The qualitative change in the battlefield produced by a long-range, accurate, tank-killing weapon was completely unexpected.

[Military Intelligence] printed booklets about the Sagger’s characteristics based on information received from the United States, which had encountered the missile in Vietnam in 1971. The armored corps command had even developed tactics for dealing with the missile. But neither the booklets nor the suggested tactics had yet filtered down and few tank men were even aware of the Sagger’s existence.NOTE 3

How to answer the Sagger attack would become a major question for the Israelis (and by extension, for anyone who might have to fight Soviet-style forces). The US also studied this, before and after the war. While defenders worked out some countermeasures, they were imperfect; but a decade later, American tankers were still using “Sagger drills” developed by surviving Israeli tankers after their counterattack of 7 October 73 was savaged by infantry anti-tank teams using Saggers and RPGs.

Reshef’s operations officer, Lt. Pinhas Bar, who had accompanied Bardash’s force, assembled the tank commanders and explained the techniques developed in the past few hours for coping with the Sagger. Such impromptu lessons would be going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tankers who had survived the day.

The Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took at least ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red light on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the light. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile,” the tanks were to begin moving back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. Movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tank should fire in his presumed direction, which itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

It was clear to the tank crews that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields for half a century like antedeluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time, in some cases days, before the implications of this extraordinary development would be grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers would have to figure out for themselves how to survive. NOTE 4

Most of the countermeasures relied on spotting the backblast of the launch and directing fire in that area. The US noted with alarm that the M60A1 tank needed to close to 1000-1500 meters to get its pH up to 50%, and by that point it was well within the range fan of the Sagger. 

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the "suitcase" halves for scale.

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the “suitcase” halves for scale.

Other Sagger countermeasures included laying suppressive fire on likely lurking spots, something the US Army had forgotten since World War II and Korea; exploiting terrain, or as the Army put it, “every fold of ground”; keeping formations loose and non-geometric in order to complicate a Sagger gunner’s second-choice if he lost his first target; keeping moving, or firing from hull defilade; and using infantry for close-in protection of tanks. The US had a few advantages, too: its similar suite of missiles, guns and unguided rocket AT weapons had fewer minimum-range problems and generally superior accuracy and reduced training demands.

Even after the war, the Israelis struggled to find countermeasures. Uzi Eliam remembers:

Egyptian infantry infantry forces with Saturn missiles constituted a serious threat to our tanks. Maj. Gen. Albert Mendler, commander of the Southern division (the 252nd) in the Sinai Peninsula, was hit by a Egyptian antitank missile and died of his injuries…. NOTE 5

[Deputy CGS Israel] Tal was extremely concerned about the threat of the Sagger missiles which he himself had not completely understood before the war. During the years of the War of Attrition along the Canal, our observation posts had observed closed train cars arriving at the front lines. Each time such a train car reached the position of an Egyptian military unit, a long line of soldiers would form near the door, and the soldiers would enter the car one at a time. At first, we made jokes about the train cars, referring to them as mobile sexual service units similar to the kind operated by the Syrian army before the Six-Day War. However, we quickly realized that the train cars contained training simulators for Sagger missile operators.

At R&D, we thought about different ways of addressing the threat with the American developed Mk19 40 mm grenade machine gun. This machine gun was vehicle mounted, and had a firing rate of 350 grenades a minute and a range of 1500 m. … The proposal to add the system to our armored vehicles was decisively rejected by Operations Branch Chief Tal. According to his dogma, what he called “foreign elements” could not be introduced into tank battles.

Although we started searching for a technological solution to the SAG or missile about 10 days after the outbreak of the war the moment the first missiles fell into our hands, we were unable to find a shortcut or a quick solution…. Tal now invoked his authority as Deputy CGS… [with others]… he put all his energy into finding a solution to the problem. The solution he selected involved positioning net fences and coiled barbed wire around tank encampments in order to cause early detonation of fired Sagger missiles before they hit the tanks themselves. NOTE 6.

Despite our best efforts it took more time to develop responses to the Sagger missile. Many ideas were tried… including the possibility of disrupting the missile command system in midflight, misdirecting the missile navigator, and physically obstructing the missile with a steel net in close proximity of the target. The simple Russian missile was not susceptible to our disruption efforts, and we only found a proper solution to the threat posed by the Sagger missile years later. NOTE 7.

But of course, the Russians were not sleeping, and they had better weapons on the drawing board, already. But that’s another story, perhaps for some other day.

Meanwhile their 1973-vintage missiles were a key to the Arab nations’ hopes to recover territory, and pride, lost in the calamitous defeat of 1967. That’s the next, and we think last, installment of this story, the story of early ATGMs.

Notes

  1. Eilam disagrees with this, noting that US policy was only to provide new technology to Israel once the Israelis had shown themselves capable of producing their own, in order to discourage “escalation” and an “arms race.” These are diplomatic (i.e., State Department) terms; while the US DOD then strongly slanted towards Israel, State was then (as now) a hotbed of antisemitism and anti-Israeli feeling.
  2. All these charts come from US Army, TRADOC Bulletin 1u, and were originally prepared as briefing view-graphs (powerpoint before there was powerpoint).
  3. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 653-655
  4. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 2092-2108.
  5. Eilam, p. 108.
  6. Eilam, pp. 138-139.
  7. Eilam, p. 148.

Sources

Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone: The Story of the M1, America’s Super Tank. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1989.

Eliam, Uzi. Eliam’s Arc: How Israel Became a Military Technology Powerhouse. Sussex University Press, 2011.

Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

US Army, Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC Bulletin 1u: Range and Lethality of US and Soviet Anti-Armor Weapons. Ft. Monroe, VA: TRADOC, 30 September 1975. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a392784.pdf

Medal For Sale… Unfortunately

Harkess RackThe headline and subheds of this Daily Mail story pretty much say it all. A Brit career soldier is in the awkward financial position where his only real asset is the medal rack he earned in his years of service.

He’s not even guaranteed the money; he’s putting the medals up for auction, and that’s what the auctioneer estimates. (I hope the auctioneer lowballed the estimate, as is common at gun auctions. Which reminds us we need to write about a couple of those coming up, but we digress). Anyway, back to the story of the temporarily down-and-out Color Sergeant, Retired, James Harkess, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment:

Hero of Iraq war who helped wipe out 50 enemy in one of the conflict’s bloodiest battles to sell bravery medal for £120,000
Colour Sgt James Harkess was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
Sgt Harkess was awarded the medal for three acts of inspiring bravery
But he is to sell cross after his declining health stopped him from working
The 46-year-old helped wipe out 50 enemy soldiers during battle in Iraq
He put himself at risk on three separate occasions to save his soldiers

via Hero of Iraq war James Harkess who helped wipe out 50 enemy to sell bravery medal | Daily Mail Online.

The mech infantry regiment — their Warrior vehicle is analogous to our Bradley IFV — is called “The Tigers,” and was formed by the amalgamation of the Queen’s Regiment and the Royal Hampshires in 1992. It is the most senior infantry regiment in the British Army, with battle honors that date to the 17th Century. (That’s older than any active US Army regiment, but the 181st, 182nd and 104th Infantry Regiments of the Massachusetts Army National Guard date to 1632, 1636, and 1639, vice the PWRR’s Johnny-come-lately 1661 — although the 104th recently fell to budget cuts. We blame Cromwell for costing the cousins their precedence, here. Or maybe George III, because these were British units before Lexington).

James HarkessIn one [battle], he and his Warrior armoured vehicle crew were lucky to survive a six-hour battle on June 11, 2006, fighting off 200 Mahdi Army soldiers in Al Amarah. The four-man team was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, sniper fire and blast bombs.

Sergeant Harkess, who spent much of the battle exposed from the turret, said: ‘It was constant. There was no let-up, and I was firing all through. My crew took down 50 enemy in total easily. They were coming at us in waves – you could see bodies stacked up where we’d been killing them.

Anybody who performed retroactive selective termination on 50 Mahdi Army geeks is a true pillar of civilization in our book.

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is a relatively new medal, created in 1993 as a more egalitarian valor award to replace three valor awards that were junior to the Victoria Cross, the Distunguished Service Order (for Gallantry), the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Each award entitles a British hero to postnominal letters, so formal address for Harkess is Color Sergeant Harkesss, CGC, Retired.

The DSO was strictly for officers; a non-gallantry version for exceptional service still exists.  The DCM and CGM were strictly for enlisted men; in historic British precedence, all medals earned as enlisted men were subordinate to those awarded as officers, which created some imbalanced racks as historic class stratification in the military yielded to rank mobility, as early as World War II (in the RAF; the Army and the Senior Service were not as quick to bestow commissions on exceptional “enlisted swine”).

As with any change to military tradition, there are service members who are against it. It will be interesting to see if, over time, the old British system of de jure class stratification in awards is replaced by the classless system its designers intended, or something more like the American system where the same act earns a lieutenant colonel a Bronze Star, a lieutenant an Army Commendation Medal, and a corporal a, “Not bad, Jack!”

It would be nice if someone who had an extra couple hundred grand lying around could buy the medals and give them back, or donate them to the regimental museum (a 400-year-old regiment ought to have one, oughtn’t it?) Maybe some clever English kid can start a Kickstarter for that purpose. We’d throw in.