Category Archives: Crew-Served

The Past is Another Country: Objective Family of Weapons

OICW, the core of the Objective Family

You may find the attached .pdf file interesting. But then, you may find it, as we did, a curious time capsule from the recent past. Fifteen years ago, the Army was going through one of its periodic fantasies of, in that mordant phrase of savvy engineers, “scheduling an invention.” Indeed, driven by the spirit of the then-thriving dotcom bubble, the service was planning to have a whole new weapons family by, say, 2008. This didn’t happen and the so-called Objective Family of Weapons ranges from stone-cold dead to moribund to, in Monty Python parlance, “pining for the fjords.”

File: objective family of weapons NDIA 98

Before we go further, a disclaimer: this is a large and complex story, which needs its own coffee-table book. And it continues to play out. So expect the following to be a simplified version, and don’t be shocked if we let a great honking error or two in. It’s that kind of a field of research. So forewarned, onward!

The plan had its strengths. There was a master plan and a single manager, a buzzword beloved in high places, and several promising designs. But today, the grunt uses an M4 (perhaps M16 if he’s a Marine grunt), M240, or M2HB, and perhaps an M203 or Mk19, all weapons the oddly-named Objective Family were going to replace. Now, the mockups and prototypes of these weapons are discarded, or buried in the back rooms of museums, having made little contribution to history, like a single-generation cadet line of some abdicated royal family, one that died without issue and is of interest only to genealogists.

The project was born from the death of another failed project,called Advanced Combat Rifle, that was not terribly specific in what it asked of vendors when it started in 1986. It didn’t care how they got there, but it wanted 100% improvement over the issue M16A2. As a result, about a half-dozen big names in gunmaking and defense contracting submitted radical and novel weapons, including H&K’s caseless G11, flechette weapons, saboted-and-suppressed weapons, and so forth. The Colt version looked rather like a flattop M16, but the  full length optic rail sat upon a high riser and it fired an experimental duplex round with two tiny 27-grain tungsten slugs in tandem. Not only did none of these weapons beat the A2 by 100%, none of them worked all that well, some because of technical immaturity, some because of complex design, some because of concepts that were simply not workable, and some, like the G11, because of all three. After a shambolic troop test in 1989-90, the Army quietly put the 1980s ACR program out of its misery.

By then, it had a new idea. The idea that the rifle and its cartridge were at an unimprovable technological peak of perfection had taken hold at the Infantry School, and the extremely tendentious idea that lethality could only be improved over the 5.56 M855 round by replacing it with an individual weapon firing explosive shells (which would have to be much larger caliber) was a logical corollary. Thus was born the Objective Infantry Combat Weapon project, which metastasized into the Objective Family of Weapons.

The word “Objective” probably deserves a share of the blame. However beloved it was by the Chief of Staff, it didn’t really mean anything. If the new gun was an Objective Crew Served Weapon, what was an M2? Subjective? Did it mean “objective” in that sense? Or did it mean “objective” in the sense of a military goal or target? In the end, it was just another empty Pentagon buzzword, and the degree to which True Believers venerated the term was a measure of the degree to which their inner Massengale trumped their inner Damon. (When the next buzzword came down the pike, of course, these trend-suckers pounced on it, dropping “objective” like teenage girls dropping last year’s heartthrob. Winston Smith’s gang in the Ministry of Truth had nothing on Army staff weenies).

But then there was the concept: let’s take eight existing and two emerging weapons and replace them all with three flexible, adaptable  weapons systems. There were several problems with this concept. The first is that the services always try to do this, con themselves into thinking that the economic and logistical benefits of simplification of the catalog of end items will somehow justify the economic and logistical drama of replacing the current stuff. And the project that’s couched in those terms never succeeds. The Objective Family of Weapons did not buck this trend.

The 10 weapons for the chop were: M16, M4, Modular M4/M16, M203, M249, M60, M240B, M2, Mk19 and the M24 sniper weapons system. The replacements were going to be the Objective Individual Combat Weapon, the Objective Crew Served Weapon, and the Objective Sniper Weapon. Early on, there was an Objective Personal Defense Weapon or Objective Personal Weapon, meant to replace the pistols then in use (M9/M11/M1911A1) and some rifles, but by 1998 that project had been cancelled. (It did lead to development that in turn produced such weapons as the FN P90 and H&K MP7). In a development that boded ill for the whole OFW project, the end users were happy enough with their handguns and didn’t want to monkey with them, absent a quantum leap.

While the unrealistic idea of replacing many weapons that did many things with a few weapons was largely to blame, it was far from the only reason. The real knife in the OFW’s heart was the simple fact that the OFW weapons did not work as well as the weapons they replaced: they failed more often, shot less accurately, overheated sooner, and had peculiar breakdowns when they passed from the hands of the boffins to the troops.

One factor in the failure of the three weapons systems was the relative inexperience of the designers. When John Browning designed the M2, he was at the peak of his powers after a lifelong career in gun design, a career with a few failures and an increasingly steady record of success. At one time, most of the self-loading weapons in the world were built under, or violated, his patents. When Dieudonné Saïve designed the FN MAG (M240), he was at the peak of his powers at the end of a lifelong career in gun design, which included a long tour as Browning’s protegé. Gene Stoner was a young man when he designed what became the M16, but he was immersed both in gun design and in manufacturing technology and built singlemindedly towards a single conceptual goal: weight reduction for the individual weapon system (including ammunition). The designers of the OFW (and ACR beforehand) competitors were employees of large corporations who were viewed much as the Army viewed riflemen: expendable, interchangeable parts, one mechanical engineer being no better nor worse than the next.

It’s rare that a committee, commission, or bureaucracy has birthed a revolutionary weapons system, and in assigning that mission to itself, the Army weapons procurement bureaucracy and the Joint Service Small Arms Project, however honorable their intentions and diligent their efforts, probably set themselves up for failure.

Objective Individual Combat Weapon

An early OICW mockup.

The Objective Individual Combat Weapon was usually called by its almost-as-painful acronym OICW, each letter’s name pronounced: “oh I see double-u”. Whoever named it did not remark the redundancy in its name: what is a weapon for if not for combat?

The OICW was an attempt to graft a semi-automatic grenade launcher on to a selective-fire carbine. This kind of Frankenstein monster was long beloved by Army Ordnance leaders seeking to schedule a revolution, going back to the SPIW of 1962 or so. This time around, the concept died of many wounds, not least the fact that the end product was compromised as a grenade launcher by its need for rifle capability, compromised as a rifle by its massive grenade launcher, bulky and awkward and clearly designed by boffins in lab coats who were unsullied by acquaintance with grunts in muddy boots.

The OICW was two weapons in one so-so, compromised package. But promoted as the “Perfect Infantry Weapon!”

There were a number of early concepts, but the final version was the XM29, which mated a grenade launcher and carbine with an optic that contained an integrated electronic brain for controlling the grenade launcher’s smart projectiles. In paper studies, the XM29 was 500% better than the extant rifles and carbines and infantry grenade launchers. Those paper studies were not done by combat-experienced infantrymen.

In the OICW, the two modules were field-separable and individually-operable, a clever concept but one whose execution further added to the weapon’s impractical bulk, weight and complexity.

The carbine bit was one of H&K’s many abortive entries in US military design competitions, the XM8, that after all the hype, couldn’t match M16 performance. It was a fiddly, flimsy and unreliable weapon. The grenade launcher bit, from longtime grenade-launcher innovator AAI, was more promising, but smart or not, the 20mm grenades fell far short of the lethality promised. Expanding the grenades to 25mm in a new 25 x 40mm casing came closer to the promised capability, but only at such an impractical weight and bulk that even the project’s boosters were discouraged.

At this point, they decided to separate the carbine and “smart” grenade launcher projects, and then to combine them at some mythical future date when all their problems were solved. This day was not long in not coming, and the XM8, undone by reliability issues that included polymer parts melting and setting themselves afire in testing, went off to the “it seems like a good idea at the time” bin.

The OICW’s intelligent-grenade-launcher component, once separated from the albatross of the XM8, did lead to the XM25 stand-alone grenade launcher, a 25mm weapon which made it as far as a combat test in Afghanistan. The test was inconclusive: the troops carrying it liked it well enough, but it didn’t deliver the combat advantages its inventors imagined, and seems to have been used only occasionally, for suppressive fire. The XM25, then, is looking like a dead end at this writing.

The grenade launcher’s strength was to be (and the XM29’s and later XM25’s clearly was) in the electronic sight and smart ammo, allowing, for example, a precisely located airburst over an enemy position in frontal defilade.

The JSSAP and Army planned that the OICW would be aggressively fielded: as of this 1998 presentation, in the hands of troops for testing in 1999 and in general issue on a unit-by-unit basis from 2006. Reality intervened (in, among other things, the shape of testing, which revealed a weapon ready to face neither our enemies nor our grunts).

Low-level RDT&E continued, particularly with the grenade launcher — the XM8, which never could have done any more than match M16 capabilities even if it, too, had decades of iterative development, was retired, and the Army and Marines breathed a sigh of relief. (H&K continued its evolution into the G36, but began hedging with its own AR-15 variant, the 416). And engineers in the industry continue to pull at some of the technological threads that once made up the OICW garment. But the program petered out with none of the flash and drama of its launch.

Objective Crew Served Weapon

The Objective Crew-Served Weapon did not acquire a trendy acronym like the OICW, but did lead to a number of “missed-it-by-that-much” concepts and designs, including the XM307 and XM806. The original idea was to have a single design with a great deal of parts commonality between versions that would replace all tripod-mounted and vehicle-mounted flexible machine guns, from the M60/240 to the M2Hb and Mk19, and with an increase in capability over either. They did this by going to a high-velocity 25mm shell with a unique 25 x 59mm casing. This was a lightly tapered, belted brass case producing considerably higher velocities than the 25 x 40mm casing used in the XM25, but capable of longer range.

These are more recent ATK versions of the 25 x 59mm belted round. They’re “dumb” rounds compared to the XM25’s.

With interchangeable barrels and other conversion parts, the weapon could be converted to fire these shells (replacing the medium velocity 40mm of the Mk19) or ordinary machine gun bullets. At least initially, the OCSW ammunition was not going to be “smart,” it was essentially a Mk19 replacement with a flatter trajectory and better range.

It is possible that smart ammo would have been developed for the weapon, had it actually been procured and the gun proven in combat, but these conditions did not occur.

The weapon was also much lighter than some of the guns it replaced, notably the M2. Even in prototype form, the weapon was less than half the weight of the M2 and was shorter and more compact. General Dynamics was able to achieve these light weights through a novel recoil management system that also made the weapon less jarring to fire and increased hit probability.

As this weapon offered some real advantages, it died a more lingering death than the impractical-from-the-start OICW. It evolved into the XM307 25mm MG (the illustration here is actually an XM307) which could be converted with a replacement bolt head, barrel and some feed parts to an XM312 in .50 caliber. When the 25 x 59mm ammo was abandoned, a revised .50 version, still bringing the weight and recoil benefits, was evaluated. This was the XM806.

In the end, the Army stuck with the M2, in the “new” A1 quick-change barrel format. Meanwhile, ATK continues to develop the 25 x 59mm round, in a chain-gun variant.

Objective Sniper Weapon

The Objective Sniper Weapon was a much less “developmental” weapon than the other Objective weapons. It was, in essence, a Barrett M82 sniper rifle with a new upper receiver that fired the 25 x 59mm round used by the OCSW.

Barrett called this weapon the “Payload rifle,” a term which has stuck after the demise of the Objective Family program. This 25mm rifle project was a pre-existing one sponsored by SOCOM to provide a more effective anti-material weapon than the existing M82 (later, M107) .50 caliber rifle. While the demise of the OCSW may make ammo production impractical, the project has continued on as the XM109.

The weapon not only offers advantages against SOF targets like, for instance, SCUD launchers in the enemy rear area, it increases the range and halves the rounds required to disable light armored vehicles. While it is an interesting weapon and a potentially useful capability, the idea that this is a replacement for the M24 — the idea under which this project was incorporated in the Objective Family — is laughable. A 40-lb monster for shooting big equipment is no substitute for an eight pound rifle for shooting people. Sweeping this weapon into the Objective Family was probably the high point of the buzzword, and it’s fortunate that the weapon survived the detour — as we’ve seen, some of the other Objective brainstorms didn’t.

Thus, while the “Objective” family of weapons is no longer an objective of the Joint Services Small Arms Program or of Army ordnance, the 25 x 59mm round (which has performed well in tests, with hundreds of thousands of rounds fired) is extremely likely to rise from the dead.

 Why did this project fail?

The first reason is that the designers tried to do too much in one shot. You can’t replace an M2HB, an M240 and a Mk 19 with the same machine, if you truly understand the tactical place wash weapon is in.

The second reason is that war came and when feedback came from the field, what Joe was asking for was not what prewar technicians were preparing to make for him.

A third and possibly dispositive reason is that the new weapons had a hard time offering quantum advantages over the extant ones, not because the new weapons were objectively (no pun intended) bad, but because the old weapons were extremely well sorted-out. Consider that those basic weapons date from the 1950s (M16, M60, m240), 60s (M4, Mk19) or even earlier (M2Hb, 1920s). They are quite well-understood and have been refined by decades of combat and hundreds of millions of rounds downrange, in the hands of millions of soldiers: officers, men, volunteers, draftees, heroes and goats alike. You can’t replace weapons like these with raw potential.

And then, there is our defense procurement system, and the external pressures upon t. It may be impossible to sell a new weapon or system to managers without making unrealistic promises in the conceptual stage, leading to disappointment when the transition from NDIA PowerPoint deck to Private Joe Snuffy’s hands takes place.

And so ends the story of the Objective Family of Weapons, as the Family itself ended, leaving you, dear reader, to adduce your own moral thereto.

The Death Knell of Headspace and Timing

The M2A1 (formerly M2E2) in a bucolic New England setting.

General Dynamics’ Saco, Maine plant (formerly Saco Defense) is digging into a new Army contract for M2A1 .50 caliber machine gun conversion kits. It’s a nice contract: $28 million worth, and news was withheld until it could give the max bump to the local congresswoman seeking reelection last week (she, bringer of $28m in Obama candy, won handily).

But this gun is something new — the M2A1, the first big change to hit the Army since the M2HB was type-standardized in 1933, as a product-improved version of John M. Browning’s last completed gun design. (Browning passed away in 1926, but he did live to see the Army adopt his .50 for air and ground use, just as they had adopted his M1917 and M1919 .30 caliber machine guns.

The .50 is essentially a scaled-up .30, but because of the limits of early 20th-Century manufacturing, it lacks a common feature on later guns, rapidly interchangeable barrels. These are a factor for sustained fire in ground combat, but changing the barrel on an M2HB is an involved process, involving setting headspace (the gap/tolerance between the barrel face and bolt face) and timing (precisely when the weapon fires as the bolt closes. All Browning MGs fire from an open bolt for cooling and safety). Headspace and timing can be set by using gages Browning designed — this is indeed the textbook way to do it — or, by an experienced gunner, by touch (for headspace) and sound (timing). Likewise, even with this added requirement for barrel change, a professional crew can execute a barrel change quite rapidly. But with every other machine gun since the MG42 offering quick no-fiddling barrel changes, and manufacturing precision having improved substantially since 1933, a quick-change barrel was a natural improvement.

And so it was. FN Herstal developed the first version of an M2 with a QCB in the 1970s, but the US Army wasn’t interested — they were going to replace the old Browning dinosaur. At least, that was the plan. That was a whole bunch of plans, actually.

Plans for the next heavy MG

The US has had a hell of a time replacing the .50. They started way back in the 1950s with a series of abortive arsenal developments (one of which, the M85, served without distinction as a commander’s cupola gun in the original M60 tank). Then there were several prototype-only variants of short-receiver, light-weight improved .50s. Most of these used a push-out link like American light machine guns use, rather than the pull-out link that the Browning designs — or Russian 7.62 x 54mm guns — use (which is basically a metal reimagining of the original cloth belts, which were designed to deal with rimmed cartridges). None of them matched the Browning for accuracy or reliability. The very large, heavy parts that comprise an M2 are its reliability engine, it turns out, and making them lighter narrows the parameters in which the gun is reliable.

There were several knock-offs of German designs that all turned out to have issues in the broad range of uses the M2 is put to. There was the new MG project of 1950 or so that led to the T175 and T176, separate designs that shared several characteristics, including inferiority to the M2 in functionality. There was the M85, which was bad enough the whole turret-in-a-turret idea died with the M60 tank. GE made a tankers’ .50 that was externally powered like the company’s miniguns. An arsenal developed the gas-operated Dover Devil, which was way better than the .50, except for the not being quite as good part (Chartered Industries of Singapore evolved it into a better weapon after the US gave up). There was the XM307 Objective Crew Served Weapon, made during an Army infatuation with teh buzzword “Objective” and ill-thought-out weapons projects, which was a scaled down version of a 25mm cannon. And now, they’re working on the clean-sheet XM806, which is meant to be a much lighter gun in the M2HB class.

GE suggested a 3-barrel lighter variation of the externally-powered minigun, but the problem with external power is that it’s really bad to need it and not have it. Joe does not jump from a C-17 with a really long extension cord. The M2 needs no power but what’s in its cartridges. It works at all angles and in any atmosphere.

The XM806 has reduced weight, recoil… and rate of fire.

The story of the XM307 and XM806 reminds us of the story of the advertising manager for a dog food brand who found none of his promotional brainstorms could overcome one limitation of his product: the dogs wouldn’t eat the stuff. In this case, the dogfaces don’t care for some features of the new wonder guns. In particular, their low-low cyclic rates of fire cement in concrete the Army’s proud assumption that American forces will never, ever be attacked by aircraft. (Has anyone been paying attention to Air Force and Navy end strength numbers?). Light is nice, but more of these guns are schlepped by trucks than shank’s mare. The new features, like dual feed trays for instant ammo changes, are nice, but not at the price of reliability.

The alternative: a better M2

Meanwhile, the various firms that make the .50 all wanted to improve their product, and a quick-change barrel was a very logical product improvement. As mentioned above, FN Herstal brought the first version of the M2HB with quick-change barrels to the markets some 35 or so years ago, and met an indifferent response. (They also tried a radical new 15.5 mm heavy MG with many new features, but the 120-lb monster never made it out of prototype stage before FN managers pulled the plug). Several other M2 builders, including Saco Defense (later absorbed into General Dynamics Land Systems)

The problem was not just that world armies were rather content with their M2HBs — it was also that peacetime armies shoot crew-served weapons seldom, if ever, and don’t lose weapons in combat. Given proper storage, very occasional barrel replacements and even more rare arsenal IRAN (Inspect and Replace As Necessary) overhauls, an M2HB has the durability of the steel bars from which it’s machined: the thing lasts approximately forever. The gun that Audie Murphy fired from the deck of a flaming tank destroyer in the process of earning the Medal of Honor is probably sitting in the arms room of some combat arms battalion in the Texas National Guard or somewhere like that. Some of these guns are veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Making wear-out replacements for things that never wear out is a bad business.

Improvements in the M2A1

The M2A1’s changes are few. The quick-change barrel is a welcome improvement, increasing combat uptime a tick and reducing crew training and drill time significantly. But as we mentioned above, it’s only a slight, incremental improvement. But the Army finally took the plunge and type-standardized the M2A1, the Saco version which also includes a manual safety and a flash hider.

And now they’re actually buying some of them. Some of them as new guns, and some, like this latest batch, delivered in kits for field installation. Wonder if these’ll be in use still eighty years from now?

Eighty years is a long time. But it wouldn’t be wise to bet against the M2. You could make a museum wing just from all the Guns of Tomorrow that were going to replace it since 1933. So far, the only thing they’ve found that can reliably replace an M2 is another M2.

For the Advanced German WWII collector

We mean, really advanced.

Not many collectors have a 75mm AT/multipurpose gun. Much less, mounted in an iconic and exotically rare armored vehicle with combat provenance.

German Stug IV ( Sturmgeschütz IV ), WW2. in Military Vehicles | eBay Motors.

There are a few problems with this wonder weapon. For one, they want a hell of a lot of money for it. For another, it appears to be missing its drivetrain (that’s our takeaway from the posting, presumably made by a Latvian in unfamiliar English).

Finally, it’s in Riga, Latvia, so you can’t just fly in and drive it home (well, the no motor thing militates against that, anyway).

Here’s the listing’s description of the assault gun’s history, prior to its 2006 rediscovery and (partial?) restoration:

Manufactured in Germany in September – October 1944.

Manufacturer: KRUPP – GRUSON WERK AG, Magdeburg – Buckau

This tank took part in operations in 2.WW, in the 912-th Sturmgeschutz

Abteilung, 2 Batarie,on the territory of Latvia, Courland Pocket.

In March, 1945, was hit by anti-tank artillery at the edge of the swamp

in the western part of Courland Pocket.

Crew evacuated.

Engine and transmission dismantled repaired by squadron.

No motor and gearbox on the tank.

During the retreat of the German units had been undermined.

This model, the Sturmgeschutz IV, was a result of production delays with the obsolete Panzer III hulls needed for the standard StG III. (The production delays came about when the 8th Air Force and/or RAF Bomber Command blew up the plant).  So StG III superstructures were fitted to Pz IV chassis, yielding the StG IV at the end of 1943. This particular example was one of 1,139 produced, is one of three known survivors (the other two are in Poland), and was probably made in 1944.

Sturmgeschütze were a uniquely German weapon, meant to provide tracked, armored artillery that could match tanks for speed,  mobility, and survivability, by being built on the same chassis. The Russians liked the idea enough to copy it in their SU series weapons. The western allies did make SP artillery on tank chassis, but for a very different reason: they had a ton of tank chassis on hand. The western SPs, of which the M7 “Priest” was typical, didn’t have the heavy frontal armor, low profile, and overhead armor of the German Sturmgeschütze or their Soviet descendants.

After the war, the concept died a fairly natural death. Armies could build enough tanks for reduced peacetime requirements, so they didn’t need assault guns as tank substitutes or supplements. And they could design purpose-built artillery pieces and build as many as reduced peacetime tables of organization and equipment demanded.

With only three examples extant, and two of them held by museums, this is a truly unique military vehicle. This is not its first rodeo with eBay — it was offered in 2011, at an even higher price, and did not sell then.

For more information:


Forgotten Weapons’ Machine Gun Archive

Such a deal we have for you!

Go on over to Forgotten Weapons where they’ve got more vintage machine gun manuals than you can shake a stick at. All the manuals together (including many not yet posted on line) are available on DVD  for a reasonable price (for us it was about $45 including shipping). Yes, we eat our own dog food around here — if we tell you to buy it, we usually already bought it.

According to Ian, this contains “all the interesting machine gun manuals” from the FW Archive, which is large and multinational. There are 10 different BAR manuals, for example, including maintenance stuff and manuals for the FN Model D BAR as well as for the “common” American version. There are five Bren Gun manuals (not counting ZB manuals, which are there too). For us polyglots, there are manuals in a number of European languages, containing helpful illustrations even if, say, French is Greek to you. (Worth noting: the more technical most European languages are, the more words they borrow from English or vice versa. Also,

Here’s a complete list of the contents.

Best of all? This is Volume I, which means a plan for Volume II … and beyond… must be lurking under all that hair. (We’re just, shall we say, baldly envious, that’s all).

Sorry the AM post is up a bit late. Slight cold, fire in the kitchen, bit of smoke inhalation. Never a dull moment in the weapons shed.

For the ammo collector who has everything

Bet you haven’t got one of these. It’s an inerted, intact 16″ battleship main gun round. This was nearly the absolute pinnacle of artillery power (a few railroad guns, an unwieldy Atomic Cannon of the 1950s, and the guns on two Japanese superbattleships that now rest in Davy Jones’s Locker, were larger) and was the largest gun ever put to sea — or used in combat — by the United States.

The 16″ Mark VII guns were used in Iowa class battleships; earlier marks were used in earlier battlewagons. Earlier variants were also used in coastal artillery installations in the US (for example, at Battery Seaman in Portsmouth, NH, guarding the approaches to the midriver island naval base, there were two 16″ guns in individual casemates) and around the world. The coastal artillery tubes were built for battleships that were never laid down due to interwar disarmament treaties.

After World War II almost all these guns, and the ships that were armed with them, tumbled into the smelters of postwar productivity to reemerge as car parts and household appliances. The guns in land installations were uprooted and met the same end even as the concrete casemates, too strong for economical demolition, still stand. Only a handful of these big guns remained in service in the Navy, as battleship admirals fought a rear-guard action against, first, naval air power and then, strategic nuclear air power as the cure for all possible threats.

In the Korean War we learned that atomic near-monopoly didn’t equate to eternal peace, and the surviving Iowa Class battleships were back on the line shelling Godless communists, an act that one of the ships, New Jersey, would reprise in the Vietnam War. (New Jersey returned to mothballs because of these actual guns.  It fired so much naval gunfire support to Marine forces in I Corps that the barrels needed maintenance. The Navy discovered that it had no more barrel liners for the guns, the barrel liner being a wear part that is meant to be routinely replaced. Manufacturing new liners for 16″ barrels was beyond the ability of Naval arsenals or, for that matter, US industry by 1968. By the time a Navy clerk discovered an overlooked stash of liners at China Lake, the members of the ship’s company had all been ordered to new billets elsewhere at sea or ashore, and the mothballing process was too far along to reverse).

Three of the ships were taken out of mothballs in the 1980s, and updated. For the gunnery system, the update included a pulse doppler radar system that sensed the velocity made good of each departing round and made fine adjustments to the computerized fire control for subsequent rounds. That gave the weapon 150-meter accuracy at an extreme range of over 30 kilometers (!) — and the ships could deliver a fifteen-round broadside, twice every minute. It was the last flowering of the capital surface ship, but apart from a few desultory rounds meant to punctuate diplomatic messaging in Lebanon, and some interesting fire missions in the early days of Desert Storm, they never fired a shot in anger again.

The 16″ gun was a model of its technology. It was 50 calibres long and fired a very heavy projectile, compared to other large battleship guns, that put it on a range and striking power par with the mighty 18″ of Yamato and Musashi. Rather than repeat all the technological data found on the excellent, we’ll just link to the site.

So why are we even talking about this? Because of the projo that’s for sale on GunBroker, naturally. Five feet of steel with a copper/brass driving band, it would look great in our gun room (we’re not sure the floor would hold it, though. It weighs a ton — literally. We probably have  more ammo than that, but it’s not concentrated on a 16″ base). The guy also wants more than $2,500 for it, and that’s FOB Paris. Paris, Tennessee, of course.

We’re pretty sure putting this puppy in the back of the pickup would void the truck’s warranty.

Anyway, here’s the blurb, and go here for more pictures (and, perhaps, to bid).

Original US Navy 16″ inert high explosive projectile. This projectile would have been fired from the US Navy’s Iowa Class battleships and symbolizes the pinnacle of naval firepower. To be in the presence of the projectile is extremely impressive, as it stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs almost 2,000 pounds!!! And to try and wrap your brain around its ballistic performance is a hard thing to do…….this is a 1,900 pound “bullet” traveling at a speed of 2,700 feet per second….which means its muzzle energy was around 215 MILLION foot pounds!!! On top of all that kinetic energy it carried 153 pounds of high explosive to its target…..up to 20 MILES AWAY…..using 660 pounds of gunpowder!!!

via US Navy 16″ Iowa class BATTLESHIP projectile shell : Large Bore, Inert & Cannon Ammo at

The more you learn about these old warship weapons the more two things occur to us: (1) the guys who invented this stuff were really good, and (2) there isn’t enough incentive in the hemisphere to get us into the Navy. While launching these things might have been a blast, being on the receiving end, not so much. And they were far from the biggest thing launched at your quivering pink body and its thin grey armored boat. (Ask the few Indianapolis survivors what they think about the performance of the 24″ Long Lance torpedo).

And for those of you who miss these weapons: the world’s navies retired them, even though they were the pinnacle of the naval ordnancer’s art,  because they now have better stuff. It just isn’t all about guns any more.

The Curtain Falls on [Stolen Valor] Ken Aden’s Candidacy

We’ve previously covered phony Special Forces soldier (but real infantry soldier!) Ken Aden, who stood by his lies even as they crumbled around him. Aden might have succeeded woofing his SF $#!+ to anyone who would listen, if he hadn’t invited media scrutiny with a variety of stunts leading up to his shooting star of a campaign for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports on Aden’s departure from the race. Good use of alliteration in the hed, we approve. Aden, we don’t approve. Boy’s got some growing up to do.

We didn’t even get to an Assclown of the Ides this month, and it’s a pity, as in Aden we had a pearl of a candidate. And he wasn’t the only one! He never is. These guys are like the weeds in your lawn.

Hat Tip:  Congressional Candidate Claiming to be SF. – Page 10 – SOCNET: The Special Operations Community Network.

The bottom line is this: lie about your military service, we will catch you. If we catch you, you will wish you hadn’t lied. That is all.

Guardsman + Movie Prop + Boffins = more effective MGs

"Ironman" as reconceived and updated by Natick Labs

In combat, a machine gun is a system comprising the gun itself, the gunner, and the other crew members who carry ammo and, sometimes, a tripod and traversing and elevation mechanism. The problem is this: on a fluid battlefield, it’s hard to keep those crew members together. Then the gunner finds himself in a fight with only the short belt (usually less than 50 rounds) that he has in his gun.

Bob Reinert at SpaceWar has a report on a remarkable rapid fielding initiative, in which a single National Guardsman, inspired by a cartoonish movie character,  solved that tactical problem. He did it Guard fashion, using an obsolete rucksack, a piece of a weapons station from a destroyed vehicle, and a talent for fabrication. Then the Army R&D system took that successful field improvisation and took it to the next level. Over to Bob:

It all began during an intense 2 1/2-hour firefight with the enemy earlier this year in Afghanistan. As members of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa National Guard, sat around later at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam and discussed the engagement, they talked about how three-man teams manning crew-served weapons struggled to stay together over difficult terrain in fluid battles.

Someone mentioned actor Jesse Ventura in the movie “Predator.” His character brandished an M-134 Mini-gun [sic] fed by an ammo box on his back.

Natick's developed version of Winkowski's system.

SSG Vincent Winkowski knew the Minigun was purest Hollywood, but he thought there might be something in the back ammo box. He wasn’t the only or the first one — unbeknownst to Winkowski, one of the principal designers of the Armalite weapons that became the M16 series, attorney (!) Gordon Sullivan, had envisioned the same thing in the 1950s. But unlike Sullivan, Winkowski was really motivated to find a working solution.

“When we first arrived in theater in late October (2010), we were issued the Mk 48 7.62 mm machine guns,” Winkowski said. “This was a new piece of equipment for us, and we struggled to come up with a solution for carrying and employing ammunition for it due to our small size and the inability to have a designated ammo bearer, as is common doctrine with the M240B.

Still of the AR-10 version from a grainy 1959 Fairchild Armalite promo film. Sorry about quality!

The Mk48 was initially developed with MFP-11 funds for Special Operations Forces, and is essentially the FNH M249 Minimi scaled up to 7.62 x 51mm NATO caliber. It gives the squad machine gunner increased range, important in Afghanistan; but the ammunition is much heavier than the 249’s linked 5.56mm, and it’s not conveniently boxed.

“The ammunition sacks that came with it made it too cumbersome and heavy to carry over long, dismounted patrols and especially when climbing mountains. Initially, we came up with using 50-round belts and just reloading constantly, which led to lulls of fire and inefficiency.”

So Winkowski grabbed an old ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) frame, welded two ammunition cans together – one atop the other after cutting the bottom out of the top can – and strapped the fused cans to the frame. To that he added a MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) pouch to carry other equipment.

“We wondered why there wasn’t some type of dismounted  CROWS (Common Remote Operating Weapons Station) that fed our machine guns instead of a mini-gun as portrayed in the movie,” Winkowski said.

Winkowski took the intricate feed chute from a CROWS, which is a fiendishly expensive remote-operated, computer controlled turret for military vehicles. Natick Labs, where the Army develops a variety of soldier-support gear, took it and developed it further, as recounted in the Space War article and in this press release from Natick.

But it turns out, as innovative as the “Ironman” is, it’s not the first, or even the first since Sullivan’s backpack ammo-box. SF was there first, informally tasking Tyr Tactical with producing much the same device, according to a post at Kit Up which was subsequently confirmed to KitUp by a Tyr executive. Tyr has been showing their version at trade shows since 2010.

Tyr's MG Pack clearly is a close relation, conceptually, of Natick's, which appears to have been developed independently. Great minds cut their antennas to the same wavclength.

The Tyr guy is a class act, telling KitUP:

I have not been contacted from anyone at NATICK asking about our COTs product and, yes I wished we would have had a chance to receive a call to show our system, especially since we have a fully developed system that we designed specifically for the SOF community, but again my feelings are if the guys are getting the right gear then honestly in the long run, that is really all that matters.

Gee, with an attitude like that, it makes us want one, and we’re officially retired and out of the shooting-people business.

It looks like the Tyr pack, the Natick pack, and Winkowski’s original homebrew pack all do the same thing in roughly the same way, although the Tyr ammo chute (which for some reason — Freudian slip? — they insist on calling a “shoot”) appears to be a different design than the aircraft-flexible-gun-mount derived CROWS chute used in the other designs.

For contractors jonesing for the Natick rig for your belt-fed, or well-heeled amm0-burners looking to accessorize your Ohio Ordnance M240 semi, the Tyr rig is here. It’s not cheap, but what price an ammo bearer who’s never separated from you? (And if your two ammo bearers had the same packs, you would have 1575 ready rounds in the three-man crew. Now that’s being ready to talk to a crowd!)

One last thought: that a National Guard unit cooked up an idea no different, really, from what an SF guy cooked up, is not surprising if you’ve been paying attention for the last ten years. Our conventional units are closer than ever to the combat performance of SOF units, and Guard units are closer than ever to the performance of Active units. Ten years of war has upped everybody’s game, at least everybody that engages in ground combat. The trick will be transitioning to a peacetime Army without losing that edge — in the full and the part-time forces.

WWWW: United States Army Fact Files

The Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week is the United States Army Fact Files. There’s nothing fancy here, just the Army’s basic weapons systems and their speeds and feeds and other general statistics. Need to know what a Javelin missile weighs and how far out it threatens tanks? Or what the crew sizes of the Army’s mortars and artillery are? It’s all here, just the basic stuff.

And it’s just about the most common systems. Don’t look for sniper rifles, the new XM25 system or SOP (special-operations-peculiar) MFP-11 systems. Not here. It doesn’t even have the Army’s standard pistols (M9 and M11).

Still, it comes in handy. The reason is this: you tend to have the best knowledge of the demands and effects of the weapons you have worked most with. So an infantryman will only have a rudimentary knowledge of artillery requirements and capabilities, and vice versa.

Also, once one retires, one’s information basis begins getting stale pretty quickly, especially in wartime when the Army is frantically fielding new stuff. So giving Army Fact Files the hairy eyeball now and again can keep one’s information-storage wetware from going stale.

Ever wonder why… the Coast Guard has guns on their ships?

Ryou-Un Maru (l.) engaged by 25mm fire from USCGC Anacapa (r.). Image: Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard doesn’t fire a lot of shots in anger these days, although there are times in its history that it has done so. (Coasties served in Vietnam on riverine and littoral craft, and crewed many of the landing craft that landed troops on D-day, but nowadays they mostly deal with maritime safety and navigation). Thing is, sometimes you need that gun even for the maritime-safety mission, and when you need it, you better have it.

From the AP story at

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter unleashed cannon fire on the abandoned 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending a journey that began when last year’s tsunami dislodged it and set it adrift across the Pacific Ocean.

It sank into waters more than 6,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Alaska, about 180 miles west of the southeast Alaska coast, the Coast Guard said.

The crew pummeled the ghost ship with high explosive ammunition, and the Ryou-Un Maru soon burst into flames, took on water and began listing, officials said.

via Coast Guard cannon fire sinks Japanese ghost ship – Yahoo! News.

More at the link, of course. The New York Post has its own story, as does the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian (UK), and many other media sites. Most of them don’t name the weapons the USCG used to sink the derelict, which had been awaiting scrapping in Hokkaido, Japan when it was set adrift by the tsunami that struck norther Japan in March, 2011. Like the Flying Dutchman of legend, the Ryou-Un Maru crossed the Pacific under the observation of mariners and coast guardsmen, until it was clear it was drifting, at about one nautical mile an hour, into heavily trafficked sea lanes.

In fact, most of the news stories didn’t identify the Coast Guard units participating, but went direct to the Coast Guard on the matter, so we can tell you there was an (unarmed) HC-130 from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, and the USCGC Anacapa, WPB-1335, homeported in Petersburg, Alaska.

Mk38 Maritime Machine Cannon on a US Navy vessel.Same mount is used by the Coast Guard. Image: US Navy.

Anacapa is one of a class of 110-foot cutters, patrol boats really, named after coastal islands. It’s armed with a Mk38 25mm chain gun — the same “Bushmaster” chain gun that’s used in the Bradley IFV and the LAV-25, but in a maritime mounting — a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, and a number of M2HB .50 caliber machine guns and other small arms.

The captain made a training exercise out of the need to destroy the derelict Ryou-Un Maru, and the crew enthusiastically fired up the target… literally, as the API-T ammunition for the Chain Gun (so called because the bolt is driven by a chain) set fuel in the derelict’s bunkers afire. But the ship did not sink. The 25mm can be devastating against small, close-in threats, but it may not have been the right thing to sink an unmanned, unpowered, steel fishing boat.

Finally the 40mm was called on, and after a number of hits punctured its tired old hull, the long career of the Ryou-Un Maru came to an end and it slipped beneath the waves to rest eternally in 1000 feet of water.

“Responsible Reset” = Army spin for “wasteful bug-out”

Acres of HMMWVs need to be cleaned,repaired, and sent home to a smaller Army -- or scrapped. Click to expand. Army photo.

The military is the most efficient activity of the Federal government. So, any can tell you in a tirade larded — pun intended — with examples, it only wastes about 70% of its money.

Responsible Reset Task Force, come on down.

The RRTF is, pace the Washington Times, charged with triaging the thousands of vehicles that Big Green dragged along to the desert. Some vehicles and mobile weapons (Tanks, APCs, SP Artillery, etc) will come home as the craven bug-out brilliant retrograde operation contiuues. Those that are useful to the kinder, gentler and much smaller Army envisioned in the President’s and SecDef’s budget proposals get refurbished and shipped home. Those that might have utility in a future Mid-East scenario will get refurbed and mothballed in situ. And those that would cost more to move than the Army feels like spending get scrapped in place.

This may irritate people who consider the millions upon millions we spent on these vehicles, which will now go to China as scrap metal — or to form a Han version of the Btandenberg Division for future use, pick one), but there’s real business sense behind it. Compared to the future cost stream of maintaining mothballed vehicles, and the immediate cost of moving them, past costs are “sunk costs” and have no impact on future budgets. In other words, the money’s already wasted, so the objective at this point is not to waste more.

The Army is responsible for about 15,000 vehicles at four U.S. military bases in Kuwait, some with a dozen lots. About 9,000 vehicles will stay with the U.S. forces in Kuwait, but up to 6,000 will be shipped home, Col. Carra said.

They include Humvees, trucks, trailers, cranes, bulldozers, tanks, personnel carriers and howitzers. One Humvee can cost more than $1 million, and a tank, a couple of million.

“I’m sure it’s over a billion dollars,” Col. Carra [former RRTF operations officer] said of the value of the military vehicles in Kuwait.

The Army wants its howitzers back. Clean. And green; the brass are anxious to forget the deserts. Army photo.

One thing they do — emphasis added — is reminiscent of an aspect of the Vietnam War bug-out drawdown:

Before a vehicle can come stateside, it needs to stripped of extra equipment, washed, sterilized and brought to a port. It will spend more than a month at sea before arriving in the United States. Roughly 5,000 vehicles that came out of Iraq are now en route to the United States.

via Army overwhelmed by massive lots of waiting vehicles – Washington Times.

In Vietnam, the Army discovered that the standard M59 and M113 APCs were death-traps that couldn’t defend themselves against enemy dismounted infantry, armed with the RPG rocket-grenade launcher. This led to development of the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle in due course, but in Vietnam it produced a locally-developed kit that protected the track commander and his .50 MG, and added two armor-shielded light machine guns on the flanks of the track. As part of its deliberately self-inflicted institutional amnesia about the  Vietnam war, those ACAV kits were ruthlessly stripped off the Army’s M113s, and for 20 more years troops prepared to go to war in the crummy, defenseless vehicles, the inadequacies of which were exposed in 1962 already.

That last quoted example makes it clear that the successful improvisations and all memory of them are destined for the same physical and informational knacker’s yard, as the conventional Army returns to its usual peacetime rhythms and “prepares” to be caught utterly unprepared for the next war.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants some used military vehicles, some hastily cut-off combat improvements to same, and the reputation of the Army, maybe RRTF will be putting them up on ebay Motors.