Category Archives: Weapons Technology

One of these Guns is Not Like the Others

Sing along with us, kids:

One of these guns is not like the others;
One of these guns just doesn’t belong.
Can you guess which gun is not like the others,
Before I finish my song?

(Puzzled international readers, that’s from a long-running and hell-for-saccharine TV kids’ “educational” show which everybody’s mother made him watch at least a few times). Now that we’ve had our sing-along, here’s the photo. Which one doesn’t belong?

ghanahomemadeguns

The photo ran a couple months ago in the always entertaining Impro Guns website, with this heading:

Locally produced firearms seized in Ghana

And all of the pistol-things on the table are, indeed, the sort of thing you’d expect from Ghanaian village blacksmiths — except the Luger P.08 that’s the second one back on the right.

Wonder what its story is? Unfortunately, some Ghanaian copper has probably already either thrown it into a smelter, or sold it back onto the black market.

The constant panoply of odd creations that turn up on Impro Guns illustrate many things, but one of the major ones is, “What a simple machine a gun is to build,” and another, “How universal the desire for firearms is,” Most of these improvised guns are made where strict gun control reigns, or tries to. A great many of them are made by criminals and terrorists. Others, however, seem to be the product of hobbyists, and still others, made by or for people who simply feel a need for self-defense, a need that is never met perfectly by The State.

Indeed, in most strict gun control jurisdictions, the state makes nearly no effort to step in and defend its disarmed populace. Look at LA or Chicago, with hundreds and thousands of murders respectively, most of which go unsolved even though none of them seem to be committed by criminal masterminds. So at some point, the peaceable and formerly law-abiding person breaks out and builds himself, or has built for himself, a tool of self defense.

The criminal element, meanwhile, skips simple defensive handguns and long guns, and goes right to making suppressed automatic weapons, as the police in Australia have discovered. The Australian gun ban (semi-autos and pump and lever shotguns) has not seriously inconvenienced the criminal element, which is well armed with auto weapons on the conceptual level of the Sten or Mac-10. Criminals used to avoid these weapons because of the disparity in consequences for getting caught with one, vis-a-vis a revolver. Now, a criminal is as well hung for a sheep as a lamb, and goes direct to St. Valentine’s Massacre capability.

The only consequences you can always count on are unintended consequences.

Note: we’re still running late here, over 12 hours behind schedule, for which we beg your forbearance. Your Humble Blogger has been a bit under the weather, and dealing with it by drinking plenty of fluids, skipping PT (unfortunately) and spending plenty of time snoring in the recliner with Small Dog Mk II. These are wondrous and joyful activities indeed, but they don’t get the blog written on schedule. Bear with us — Ed.

We’d Have Called it the Drone Dropper… or Drone-B-Gon

This anti-drone device is going viral. They’ve clickbaited it well by calling it the Skynet anti-drone rifle, and it can directionally jam the GPS signals a drone needs to navigate, and the wireless video downlink.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-3The two white and black “barrels” are directional antennae in two separate GHz ranges. The backpack is the necessary power source. Anyone who’s got Electronic Warfare experience will tell you jamming is a power-intensive activity.

skynet-anti-drone-rifle-1If you look at all the pictures available on the company’s website, and watch the video (below), the whole thing appears to be built on a (partial? modified?) AR-15 receiver, with a standard M4 receiver extension and stock. A bit overkill for just something to hang an arduino, a transmitter, and some highly directional (< 10º) antennae on, but it kind of makes sense to give people a familiar interface, and the AR-15 is the point and click interface for the 21st Century.

Along with this video, there’s a new one showing a live test. They claim a “suppression ratio” (difference between the range from the Skynet operator to the drone and the drone controller to the drone) of 8:1, which means (thinking of power squares here) that this jammer has vastly more power than the controller.

The two signal rangess it can jam are 1.450 GHz – 1.650 GHz and 2.380 GHz – 2.483 GHz, but it can only jam one at a time. Available hacks for, for example, the DJI Phantom drone (the one in the video) can take the drone control out of the target range, and could practically be developed for the video range.

There are a few other problems with it, to wit:

  1. As a jammer, it is almost certainly illegal to use in the USA. The Federal Communications Commission takes a dim view of jamming, and has considerable technical and legal resources it deploys to punish violators.
  2. It’s only effective against some common commercial drones and is unlikely to have any impact on a more sophisticated government or military system, which is likely to use robust, high-availability communications, and have backup onboard navigation (usually inertial) that’s immune to jamming or meaconing.
  3. It requires clear line-of-sight to the drone, ergo, it’s only useful as a point-defense weapon.
  4. It requires a human operator and visibility of the target. (How would it work in the dark, against a drone deploying LLLTV? We suppose there’s a Picatinny rail upon which you can mount an image intensifier or thermal sight).
  5. It has the scent of early prototype all over it, and is a long way from a commercial product or (alternatively) a flexible R&D platform. But even experimenting with this thing brings you back around into the sights of the FCC.

Finally, this is, we think, the firm’s first video, from May.

All in all, it smells to us like a gimmick. And within the range of this thing, there are other ways to take out a drone (one lady pestered by paparazzi drones seeking spy shots of a celebrity neighbor demonstrated her wingshooting skills and blew the drone to Kingdom Come. The paparazzi boarded their Range Rover — apparently invading privacy pays well — and were last seen heading back for Gawker HQ or whatever glutinous sump whence they emerged).

This is not the only anti-drone product out there. As well as other jammers, there are counter-drone drones that ram them or drop nets or cables onto their rotors. All of them are similarly immature at present, and no one knows if they represent a real market segment or just hobbyists tinkering.

New 3D Printed Revolver Design: Imura Works Supreme Revolver

This revolver has some unique features, including provision for detachable cylinders. It has .38 caliber chambers that can work with the .38 S&W Special round or the older .38 S&W (.380/200 to ancient Britons, who could have own it, unlike their modern descendants). Files for 4-inch and 8-inch barrel versions are available on GrabCad. These files are at 80% scale; if you can’t get from 80% to 100% before printing, maybe home gunsmithing is not for you. In its 8-inch iteration, it’s a huge hogleg:

imura-supreme-01

Unlike, say, the Liberator, it is not 100% printed. It uses commercial springs and common metric sized screws, and it is designed to have its screw holes printed undersized and threads cut with a proper tap. Its lockwork is unique with a roller follower, and an interesting DAO trip release. And there’s that cylinder catch, something that was never really practical with steel revolvers, but might just work with hybrid steel/plastic ones.

imura-cyl-change

The design is credited to Yoshitomo Imura, the incarcerated Japanese 3D gun pioneer. Imura himself is unlikely to have access to the internet at present; this is just an example of the Streisand effect. When they struck him down, they just made him more powerful than they could ever imagine.

There’s also a 4-inch-barrel version, here in the assembly drawing:

imura-assembly-4inch

Here is a video which unfortunately doesn’t show the parts moving.  On all these videos the music is an acquired taste that may make the mute button more to your taste.

That builds on Imura Works’ earlier Marvel revolver…

These designs are Zig Zag revolvers, which updated lockwork concepts from the old Mauser of the same nickname, also used in the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver (probably best known from the abominable Sean Connery film Zardoz).

The files of the Marvel revolver at 80% size can also be found on GrabCad.

And here is an Imura Works video of historic Zig Zag revolver types, back to the percussion black powder era, and culminating in their Zig Zag and some other 3D variants like James Patrick’s:

Old technology is new again — thanks to new technology.

Imura Works is named for the first martyr of the 3D gun community, which seems entirely suitable. We may not all be Spartacus, but we all are Yoshitomo Imura.

 

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

They’re not just working on a real world Invisibility Cloak. They’re working to make the message the shadowy IMF sent Jim Phelps back in 1966 a reality:

And not only messages that self-destruct in five seconds. Things that do.

DARPA is working on two separate programs here. One of them is called VAPR, or Vanishing Programmable Resources, and, as the agency itself tells the story, it…

…seeks electronic systems capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner. These transient electronics should have performance comparable to commercial-off-the-shelf electronics, but with limited device persistence that can be programmed, adjusted in real-time, triggered, and/or be sensitive to the deployment environment.

This is not just a way of ensuring the non-propagation of the boss’s message to Jim Phelps, here, but also:

Transient electronics may enable a number of revolutionary military capabilities including degradable environmental sensors or medical devices for diagnosis, treatment and health monitoring in the field. Large-area distributed networks of sensors that can decompose in the natural environment (eco-resorbable) could provide critical data for a specified duration, but no longer. Alternatively, devices that resorb into the body may aid in continuous health monitoring and treatment in the field.

Any imaginative person interested in military and intelligence affairs can think of some uses for such a thing. Imagine, for instance, a cryptological device that self-destructs if it doesn’t exchange a “proof of life” heartbeat signal from its encrypted network at intervals. Losing a crypto unit would no longer require a wholesale rekeying of an entire unit or operation. By the time it’s on an enemy cryptologist’s bench, it’s an inert lump — or, even, completely vanished — VAPR-ized, you might say. There are more sinister and kinetic applications as well. How do you put someone on trial for a shooting if his gun vanishes from the evidence locker? Or, you could secure a flank with scatterable mines, secure in the knowledge that they will evanesce before your counterattack.

DARPA has been working on this kind of technology since 2013.

VAPR has shown products — no-kidding vanishing materials — that a follow-on article describes as:

…small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use.

(Prince Rupert called. He likes what you’re doing with his Drops).

The same project manager who is in charge of the more general program, DARPA’s Troy Olsson, runs a specific instantiation of the idea as well. Project ICARUS (Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems) is spending some millions on delivery vehicles that would be based on the vanishing polymer technology developed under VAPR, such as drones or parachutes. The “Inbound” means they’re initially working at a way to deliver things to individuals or groups in denied areas, such as agents, guerillas, etc., so at this point the vanishing drones and chutes are meant to go into friendly areas.

darpa icarus comic

They held a proposer’s day in 2015 for Icarus (and here); the contract was awarded to MORSE Corp. in June.

The specific contract (Amendment 2) says that its object is this:

DARPA seeks proposals for the design and prototyping of vanishing air delivery vehicles capable of precise, gentle drops of small payloads. These precision vehicles must be guaranteed to rapidly physically disappear following safe payload delivery. Proposed efforts must integrate engineered vanishing materials into advanced aerodynamic designs to produce an autonomously vanishing, field- testable prototype vehicle by the end of the two-year program.

DARPA goes on to explain the problem at some length.

Precise air delivery to resupply operators or humanitarian teams on the ground requires disposable, low-cost, systems capable of carrying small payloads. This capability does not currently exist as the state-of-the-art systems are expensive (UAVs) or require pack-out of the system by the recipients (parachute-based systems). To resolve this capability gap for the nation, DARPA seeks innovative research proposals in the area of vanishing, precision air delivery vehicles capable of carrying small (up to ~3 lbs.) payloads. These systems should be capable of release from high altitude and must vanish while safely delivering their payload. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.

That last line is classic DARPA. They don’t want incremental or evolutionary, they want moon shots. Here’s how they explain the mission (one mission) at an UNCLAS level, and identify the credibility gap:

Supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in difficult to access territory currently requires the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed-out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns. Small items including additional batteries, communications devices, or medical supplies – especially those requiring cold storage – could be supplied/resupplied using low-cost, disposable aircraft to sniper or Special Forces teams operating in difficult to access areas. These small teams aggressively minimize their loads and carry only the most critical supplies. Often extenuating circumstances warrants emergency supply such as critical combat casualty care in remote locations where medical evacuation is delayed. Even the availability of a small, 10 lbs. ventilator could significantly improve critical care outcomes downrange. The medical supply problem can be especially problematic in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions where the storage requirements of insulin, anti-venom treatments, and blood/plasma products limit their availability in remote locations or infrastructure-poor regions. For operators and even HADR personnel, delivery vehicles that do not require pack-out can simplify their operations and limit the environmental impact of a widespread response. Finally, operators in hostile territories require protection of their team’s location. As such, maintaining operational security forbids leaving behind supply vehicles. Weighed against the load concerns of pack-out this presents a logistical conundrum.

A critical capability gap exists in eliminating the leave-behind of air vehicles used to deliver supplies to personnel on the ground without requiring pack-out. Such pack-out of these systems is cumbersome, time-consuming, and adds significant weight to the individuals’ loads. DARPA is seeking to develop autonomous, precision, air delivery vehicles that both safely deliver their package(s) and physically vanish, i.e. the vehicle’s physical disappearance is part of its mission specification. Such a system would enable efficient resupply to teams in distributed locations, eliminate the need to repack/pack-out delivery parachutes resupplying small operating forces downrange, and create a capability to safely, and without detritus, deliver time-critical humanitarian supplies (e.g. food, perishable medical supplies) to civilian/NGO personnel serving in remote or dangerous areas.

Challenging, isn’t it? Wait till they get to specifics:

The Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program (ICARUS) aims to develop a core capability to fill this gap for the DoD and nation through the development of vanishing, precision, air delivery vehicles for small (< 3 lb.) packages. These systems should:

  1. Fully vanish within four hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes of morning civil twilight (assuming a night drop), whichever is earlier.

    "I don't understand... it was here five minutes ago!"

    “I don’t understand… it was here five minutes ago!”

  2. Precisely drop an up to 3 lb. payload within 10 m of the target landing spot programmed prior to air release.
  3. Exert < 100 G (1 ms peak, half sine wave) on the payload throughout its delivery.
  4. Cover a lateral distance of > 150 km when released from a stationary balloon at 35,000 feet.
  5. Span fewer than 3 m in its longest dimension.

#4 seems to exclude most traditional air-delivery parachutes, as well as unpowered gyrogliders (too low a glide ratio, approximately 4:1 in the case of the unpowered gyro). So you’re looking at an improvement in the capability of that technology of a very great degree, or you’re looking at a fixed or ram air wing, probably with significant on-board thrust of some kind.

No system currently exists that fulfills the complete specifications described above. State-of-the- art precision delivery using Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery Systems (TORDS), Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS), or civilian quadcopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) typically require complex materials and/or controllers to meet the aerodynamic requirements, but simply cannot vanish. Furthermore, precision notwithstanding, no air delivery vehicles have been fielded with a disappearing or transience capability. Recent advances produced in both DARPA’s Vanishing, Programmable Resources (VAPR) program and in the wider materials science literature indicate the potential for triggered, transient structural materials that may be applied to the aeronautics problem posed herein. DARPA defines transience as full and complete physical disappearance (to the naked eye) of a complete system and its constituent materials – independent of the surrounding environment. As such, any remnants must be < 100 μm on the longest dimension. Implementation of the transient materials in the VAPR program has advanced the transience characteristics (e.g., rate, triggering) while simultaneously improving the structural properties (e.g., Young’s modulus) for their application to various types of electronic packaging and substrates. The VAPR program has partially de-risked the main materials tradeoffs between transience rate, stability and modulus. Further innovations in materials engineering, subsequent materials scale-up, and incorporation into a high-precision aerodynamic design will require cohesive, multidisciplinary teams working in a well-integrated fashion to produce a working design and fabricate a field-testable prototype.

DARPA is interested in the fundamental question of whether a large, functional structure can be made transient. This will have impact in many different core areas where a leave behind will have environmental and/or unintended logistical consequence. There is a potential future where systems can be made cheap enough to be disposable limiting the logistics trail, and maximizing range for a given flight system.

We’ll give you one more block-o-text from the DARPA proposal Amendment 2, but there’s more there:

ICARUS seeks to design, prototype, and demonstrate an autonomous, guided, precision, vanishing air delivery vehicle capable of delivering a small package (up to 3 lbs.) to a GPS-programmed location (10 m accuracy). Following a night drop, the air delivery vehicle must completely, physically disappear within 4 hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes after morning civil twilight, whichever is earlier. To be considered not visible to the naked eye, DARPA nominally quantifies physical disappearance, or transience, as producing remnants not exceeding 100 μm on the longest dimension. Preferably, the orientation of the payload with respect to the ground will be maintained after delivery (i.e. the payload will be delivered right side up). Since transient electronic microsystems are currently under development in the VAPR program, this BAA allows for the proposed vehicles to carry a guidance/control system exempt from the transience requirements provided it is housed in a package no larger than a tennis ball (max. volume 146 cm3) with a maximum ellipsoidal aspect ratio of 3:1. Any components of the vehicle existing outside of the tennis ball package must be transient. Camouflaging schemes, removal or departure of the vehicle, and other approaches that would be described as “technically disappeared” are not of interest to DARPA and are considered non-responsive. Delivery vehicles may land with the payload at the landing zone (LZ) or proceed to a different location after safely dropping the payload. In both cases, the vehicle must be completely transient. Multi-stage implementations (analogous to multi-stage rockets) are within scope, again provided all stages are fully transient regardless of whether initial stages land at a distance from the payload LZ. Simply put, if the proposed delivery system does not fully vanish it will be deemed non-responsive – transience is the highest priority design requirement. Prototypes developed under ICARUS must be field- testable in the specified environmental conditions by program end. As such, while ICARUS will include some limited fundamental research, the program’s overall objective is to demonstrate a field-testable prototype by the end of its second year and is not considered a fundamental research program.

They want applied research, not lab tomfoolery. But man, it definitely is a moonshot.

Along with MORSE, the Bettinger Group and the Matyjaszewski Polymer Group (ventures of two Carnegie-Mellon University engineering professors) are working on ICARUS technologies. Both have experience with degradable and time-limited materials. CMU calls it “sci-fi tech.” A contract has also been awarded to DZYNE Technologies of Fairfax, VA and Irvine, California.

Faster, please!

Czechoslovak vz. 22 Picture Post

We recently discussed the Czechoslovak Model (vzor) 22 semi-automatic pistol, the first handgun produced by the state arsenal at Brno, and showed a couple of pictures of an example in our collection. Fine and good, but let’s do like we did with the Praga of similar vintage and look in some depth at the vz. 22.

cz_22-06

The look of this series of guns, which begins with some Mauser experimentals in 1903 and runs through many prototypes and the production M1910 and 1910/14 to the Czech vz. 22, 24 and 27 is a matter of taste; some people like them, and some think they look “blocky” and awkward. Of the series, the vz. 22 probably has the best lines.

cz_22-01

This pistol is a very good condition, late example of the type. As all were, it is chambered for the Czechoslovak Naboj vz. 22, which is functionally the Browning 9 x 17 aka .380 ACP. This particular pistol was accepted by the Czechoslovak Army in 1923, and seems to have lived a mostly indoor life. The external finish is generally smooth, deep and beautiful, as befits a gun made in an arsenal created in the image of the Mauser-Werke, but internally there are signs of extensive handwork.

cz_22-12

The parts all fit extremely well — too well for machine production only, circa 1920 — and all seem to be marked with full or partial serial numbers, which reminds us of the reports in the literature that these guns were hand-fitted and that the Czechoslovak authorities found the parts not to be interchangeable. (Without more vz. 22s on hand, unlikely considering what we paid Rock Island got for this one, we haven’t yet confirmed that the parts are not interchangeable).

The stocks are made of walnut and have shallow checkering (this is a good first-glance discriminator between the rare vz. 22 and the merely uncommon vz. 24). The finish is deep blue with some parts finished in a heat-straw finish, as was common on Mitteleuropäische pistols of the period. As on Lugers, probably the pistol that is most familiar to collectors and uses such a straw finish on trigger, safety, etc, the straw generally fades long before the blue goes. Our impression, which is subject to change as we see more examples, is that the CZ-Strakonice factory that took the project over (for vz. 24 production) later used fire blue instead. Both are beautiful but not well-wearing finishes.

More pictures after the jump!

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The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch… was a Thing?

One of the more entertaining scenes, at least for a WeaponsMan, in the old cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, involves the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

For decades we’ve believed it to be a fiction, but it turns out that it might have been a real thing. Fox News reports on donations to an Israeli museum from a powerplant worker who collected artifacts that washed up on the beach,for his hobby. He passed away, and his survivors donated the items — which turned out to be older than anyone expected:

A centuries-old hand grenade that may date back to the time of the crusaders is among a host of treasures retrieved from the sea in Israel.

Some of the artifacts. The 'nade is the heart-shaped object at center.

Some of the artifacts. The ‘nade is the heart-shaped object at center. The needle and knife blade at bottom center date to the Bronze Age.

The metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were found over a period of years by the late Marcel Mazliah, a worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel.

Mazliah’s family recently presented the treasures to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Experts, who were surprised by the haul, think that the objects probably fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

The hand grenade was a common weapon in Israel during the Crusader era, which began in the 11th century and lasted until the 13thcentury, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Grenades were also used 12th and 13th century Ayyubid period and the Mamluk era, which ran from the 13th to the 16thcentury, experts say.

Haaretz reports that early grenades were often used to disperse burning flammable liquid. However, some experts believe that so-called ancient grenades were actually used to contain perfume.

The Haaretz story that Fox links is unfortunately off limits to goys and other nonsubscribers.

Sam Bostrom at Ancient-Origins.net tried to provide some technical background on the little bundle of joy illustrated here.

Close up of the 'nade.

Close up of the ‘nade.

One of the most striking gems the family had hung onto is a beautifully decorated hand grenade, of a type commonly used during the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.

Hand grenades filled with Greek fire (burning naphta) was a Byzantine invention that spread to the Muslim armies in the Near East.

They were filled with Greek fire and sealed so that all a soldier needed to do was throw the grenade toward the enemy to eliminate him. Characteristics that made it singular include its ability to burn on water and stick onto surfaces, extinguishable with sand, vinegar, or–bizarrely–old urine. Some historians believe it could be ignited using water.

Although the technology has changed over the centuries, the concept remains that all the soldier need to do was to hurl the grenade toward the enemy and it´s disseminate burning naphtha at impact. The hand grenades we have now are a direct descendent of these contraptions; we’ve just updated the concept by using explosives instead.

Here’s a worker with the Israeli antiquities office, holding the milennium-old weapon.

Grenade-Authority-employee

Bottom line: Three is the number you shalt count. Five is right out. And perhaps your enemies will snuff it.

Non-Factory Cutaway AR (Semi M16A2 Clone)

You don’t see many cutaways. Here’s a shot of a Colt M16A1 cutaway:

Colt M16A1 in Museum

This one was done by a little shop called Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company — you may have heard of them — for a retiring worker, and resides in the Cody Museum — you may have heard of it.

So one of the ARFCOM retro heads, “Trimdad” of Oklahoma, got it into his head to do a cutaway of this: M16A2 clone with M203. By himself. With a Dremel tool. Here’s the thread.

A2 Cutaway 01

Here’s a shot to compare with the Cody Museum Colt:

A2 Cutaway 09Here’s an overview:

A2 Cutaway 03

And some close-ups. The receiver:

A2 Cutaway 04

The bolt and gas subsystem:

A2 Cutaway 05

The trigger group (note that this lacks the auto sear of the factory gun):

A2 Cutaway 07

The business end:A2 Cutaway 08

And the buttstock and its features:

A2 Cutaway 06

It all came about because he had parts for an A2 build, but not for an authentic A2 build (kind of a big deal in the retro world). As he puts it:

This one started because I had some A2 parts I was saving for a clone, but they weren’t Colt parts do I decided to sacrifice them . The upper is a dpms with a strange texture on it. The lower was a 80% A2 that braceman couldn’t sell.  The barrel is a FN that was rusted and shot out. The 203 is a Colt licensed airsoft and the rest was laying at the bottom of the parts box.

The airsoft nature of the 203 is evident on close up of its left side — you can see the circular marks from the ejector pins used in injection molding.

A2 Cutaway 02

Since these live, mostly, on the “inside” of the firearm, as it’s displayed (and it is a firearm — the lower would actually function, with a functional upper), the giveaway doesn’t really matter.

Moral of story: a Dremel does not turn you into Bubba, any more than a Glock turns you into some cop killer from Black Criminals’ Lives Matter. The tool is fine and good, but it’s what a man does with it that cements his place in the universe.

Well done, Trimdad.

He’s also done an A1. Next? Maybe an M4… complete with a sectioned ACOG, or maybe a Chinese Fake-COG. We’re guessing it’ll be awesome.

Why Were Little Cartridges Ever Good Enough?

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious. Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious (Both are Browning designs). Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Today the defensive caliber argument seems to have devolved into two warring camps: those who like a small .380 or 9mm, and those who sniff at anything whose Imperial measurement does not begin at .4. So the older pocket pistols of the 20th Century, and even the police revolvers and some military pistols of the early 20th, seem inexplicable to a modern shooter.

Sure, they’re small, but so is a Seecamp .380 or a Micro Desert Eagle (both of which, completely off topic, have Czech antecedents. We’ll get back on topic, now). And the standing joke, which we believe may have originated with .45 aficionado and 10mm impresario Jeff Cooper, is, “Never shoot a man with a .32. It might make him angry, and then he’ll want to fight.”

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century. Why?

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century, mostly for defense. Why?

Yet, who ever thought it was okay for cops to walk the mean streets of New York and Chicago with a .32 Police Positive, Official Police, or M&P? Why did European cops cling to the .32 ACP well into the 1980s? Why did the Wehrmacht, of all things, reopen a conscientious objector’s closed factory so that his product, a tiny .25, could be produced — 117,000 of them — for sale to German officials?

More generally, why were micro .25s and compact .32s made and sold in the tens of millions worldwide?

First, the small size of these firearms (and their ammunition) is not just a disadvantage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a boon: you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it. In this nation of 330 million citizens and probably 3 million legitimately armed law officers and everyday concealed carriers, there are almost certainly under 300 police officers and Federal Agents who have fired their guns at suspects in more than one situation. (There wouldn’t be that many, if not for the emergence of tactical teams). The civilian who’s been involved in two defensive shootings is rare enough that we can’t think of an example — maybe you can.

Second, a small gun encourages carry. A gun that’s small and light inclines you to include it in your pocket litter or slip its holster onto your belt or waistband. Remember the first rule of gunfights: bring a gun. A small gun is, ceteris paribus, more likely to “get brung” than a big hogleg.

Third, for ex officio gun carriers, if not constrained by regulations, any gun will do. That’s why the Germans wanted all those .25s and .32s. Most cops were never going to shoot anybody, but the pistol in its flap holster was a mark of authority, like the badge. While that’s true for the National Railway Police riding the trains under Hitler, it’s also true for the large amount of American and worldwide cops who have a house-mouse assignment or are promoted to management rank.

Likewise, an officer of the vaunted German General Staff was supposed to have a pistol, but he had no serious plans to go down guns blazing like a Karl May hero, in front of a Red Army assault. The gun was a badge of office. It’s possible more officers killed themselves with their small pistols than killed a Russian, Brit or American enemy.

Fourth, there was historical precedent for small guns. As far back as a before the Civil War, Colt made its revolvers available in small and large caliber (.36 and .45). Others made .32s at this time. When Colt came out with its cartridge .32 in the 1890s, it had actually made a small, spur-trigger .22 some 20 years before that. Some people wanted a big gun, some wanted to trade off that gun’s advantages for the advantages of a small gun, and the market responded.

Fifth, the small guns were thought adequate at the time. The advent of the much more powerful smokeless powders in the late 19th Century made it possible to pack more power into a smaller gun. The NYPD did not adopt the Colt .32 at the behest of some berk ignorant of guns: Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, a lifelong gun enthusiast, drove the 1896 adoption of the New Police, a longer-barreled and square-butt version of the 1893 New Pocket revolver chambered for the .32 Colt. (Later, an improved version became the .32 Police Positive, chambered for the slightly less awful .32 S&W Long, which Colt called “.32 Police” because they wouldn’t say the two initials of their despised competitor upriver).

Colt New Pocket 32Why was a .32 adequate in 1896 but not by 1996? Certainly there have been many improvements in firearms since those beautiful little Colts left Hartford 120 years ago. Some of it may just be that more powerful handguns are available.

But another possibility is that human beings have changed. Anyone who has observed collections, for instance, of WWII uniforms notes that, compared to modern soldiers, midcentury guys were small. They were shorter and much leaner. Statistics bear this out.

The Union Army in the Civil War:

The average height of the Federal soldier was put at 5 feet, 8¼ inches.  …  Incomplete records indicate the average weight was 143¼ pounds.

That’s definitely a lot leaner (and a little shorter) than today’s median GI.

And here’s a table showing the gradual but real growth of the American soldier to 1984. (The Civil War numbers here are better supported than those in the link above). We submit that this growth has accelerated since (and note the small of the 1984 study suggests it may produce a less reliable mean than the earlier ones). Also, the Civil War measurements were taken clothed, WWI and up naked, so the differences were probably greater. Source.

Table 3-1Comparison of Some Anthropometric Characteristics of Male Soldiers in 1864, 1919, 1946, and 1984
Year of Study (n)*
Anthropometric Characteristic 1864 (23,624) 1919 (99,449) 1946 (85,000) 1984 (869)
Height (inches) 67.2 67.7 68.4 68.6
Weight (pounds) 141.4 144.9 154.8 166.8
Age (years) 25.7 24.9 24.3 26.3
Neck girth (inches) 13.6 14.2 14.5 14.5
Chest girth (inches) 34.5 34.9 36.4† 35.5
Waist girth (inches) 31.5 31.4‡ 31.3‡ 32.7
Estimated body fat (percent) 16.9 15.7 14.4 17.3
Fat-free mass (pounds) 117 122 133 138

Source: Table 3-1 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235960/

As you see, not only the overall mass of the soldier had increased by over 25 lbs, but also, over 20 of that was fat-free mass — presumably, stronger bones and thicker muscle. A 15% or more increase in musculature on the average young man makes him harder to stop and to kill, once again all other things being equal. Scientists ascribe this in part to improved nutrition as civilization’s benefits came to include refrigeration, rail transport and industrial-scale farming.

The people police may engage with, criminals, are also likely to be obese, unlike soldiers.

In Conclusion

In the last 120 years, more powerful cartridges (and more of them) have been a trend in pistols. We identify several possible reasons for this trend. But when you break it down, they basically fall into two categories:

  1. More powerful pistols are possible now, given technology’s advances in powder chemistry, metallurgy, etc.
  2. More powerful pistols are necessary now, given the increased robustness of the mean and median human target.

In addition, there’s a third factor that may outweigh these two practicalities: fashion. We won’t raise it with reference to the present time — we’ll just point out that Roosevelt’s adoption of the .32 New Police for his New York coppers in 1896 set off a preference cascade that led many big cities to .32 Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers within 10-20 years.

No sooner had the .32s graced police holsters than clamor for more powerful cartridges would set in. This led to a step up to .38, until S&W were finally convinced they had put the police firepower issue to rest for all time with the new .38 S&W Special cartridge.

But that’s another story.

Rifles and Reliability — 70 Years of Progress

Let's play with found data, shall we?

Let’s play with found data, shall we?

In an interesting commentary that accompanies the third in an ongoing series of videos he did on Winchester’s also-ran G30M rifle and related prototypes, Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons reports these results from the 1940 Marine Corps tests of then state-of-the-art M1 Garand and Johnson semi-automatic rifles.

Ultimately the trials were won by the Garand, with the G30M placing third in total malfunctions and broken parts. This had involved 37 different tests and more than 12,000 rounds through each rifle. The Garand had 1,480 total malfunctions and 49 parts broken, replaced, or repaired. The Johnson had 1,547 and 72 respectively, and the G30M 2,864 and 97 (roughly double the number of problems as the Garand).

These numbers are indicative of just how far we’ve come in firearms reliability in ¾ of a century. This table shows (assuming 12,000 rounds as our denominator, which is close enough because our purpose here is comparison) that as reliable as those rifles were for their day, hey were pretty buggy by today’s standards. Looking at the percentages really makes the data pop.

Assuming a “malfunction” equals a stoppage, we’ll label those percentage of stoppages and we’ll label the parts breakages “failures.”

USMC Rifle Test 1940

Rifle

Stoppages

Failures

#

% #

%

Garand

1480 12.3% 49 0.4%

Johnson

1547 12.9% 74 0.6%
Winchester 2864 23.9% 97

0.8%

Now, those numbers are good for the era! As you might expect, the Garand, which had had the most development, was the most reliable, with the Johnson closely behind. The Winchester prototype, designed by Ed Browning and updated by David Marshall Williams, was about twice as prone to stoppage and breakage as the Garand, but as you can see if you watch Ian’s video of these rare prototypes at the Cody Center, they were pretty raw, hand-tooled prototypes and probably could have been further improved with more time. Like the Johnson, though, they were out of time, pursuing the pretty-darn-good M1 Garand in an adoption stern chase in which they had no chance of overtaking the leader, unless they were really strikingly better at something. But the advantages of the Johnson and Winchester designs were small, and on key reliability numbers they were at a disadvantage.

But the think that really struck us is, how much less reliable these 1940 weapons were than a modern AR or AK. While many other things have been improved in service rifles since the 1940s, rifle reliability is probably the greatest. Yes, you can seize up an M4 pretty good if you burn through hundreds of rounds on cyclic rate, but you’d be doing immediate action a lot more often on a World War II era rifle.

This is borne out by data from the many, many M16 and M4 tests. For example, in the worst M4 test ever, the notorious and outlying 2007 extreme dust test, ten M4s fired 6,000 rounds per rifle with 1.4% stoppages. (You can download the .ppt of the test results at this post at The Firearm Blog).

m4_dust_test_results

And this number was over 4x the number of failures in an earlier iteration of the same test, a result the Army Research Lab has never explained insofar as we know.

Now we can’t compare the 1940 and 2007 tests directly and say that the M4 is nearly ten times more reliable than the M1. But we are pretty confident that an apples to apples test would show the new rifle as significantly more reliable.

It is also our experience, although we can’t back it up with bench data, that the current rifles like the M4 and the AK-74 are substantially more reliable than 1950s and 1960s rifles like the FN-FAL, H&K G3, and M16A1.

Of course, if you want reliable cycling, it’s hard to beat the rifle the Marines used as a control in the 1940 tests — the US Rifle Cal. .30 M1903, your basic turn-bolt Mauser action.

This is completely aside from the points Ian was making in his great series of videos. Certainly the Marines, like every armed service, tried their best to give their servicemen a rifle that was the State of the Art, and their combat performance with that rifle bears out the judgment of their ordnance officers and the Commandant at the time. That the Marines no longer carry the once-beloved M1 just proves that today’s ordnance officers and Commandant are still trying to  give their servicemen (and now, -women) a rifle that is the State of the Art.

In monarchies, the passing of a monarch is often announced with a cry: “The King is dead. Long live the King!” Maybe that’s how we should think about service rifles? The 1903, M1, M14, M16 and now M4 have all worn the crown. One day, the M4 will pass on to the museums and some future counterpart of Ian will study it, but a new King shall sit upon the rifle throne.

via Forgotten Weapons, which you guys are reading every day… right?

“Black Spot” and Night Battlefield Dominance

NC-123k period 2In 1967, the Air Commandos began to develop a night special operations gunship capability called Project Black Spot. They leveraged the capabilities of primitive imagery intensifiers to create an aircraft that could defeat the darkness and interdict enemy movement in areas where the threat situation was too “hot” for a low-and-slow-flying fixed-wing gunship. While a couple of these areas were obviously the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, the ship was also used to hunt clandesting agent-landing boats off the coasts of South Korea.

nc123k

The airframe selected was the Fairchild C-123K Provider, which after modification was called the NC-123 (formal name) or AC-123 (as used by crews). Instead of side-firing guns, the Black Spot birds had cluster bomb unit (CBU) dispensers and carried a war load of over 6,000 1-lb dual-purpose CBUs, of which 24 could be delivered (2 x 12-unit racks) in a single pass. The CBU racks could then be in-flight reloaded by the crew.

Some sources say three airframes were modified, but only two show up in most references: 54-691 and 54-698.

NC-123k period photo

The key to the system was the sensors: X-Band Radar, Doppler terrain-following radar, night-vision Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), night-vision Low Light Level TV (LLLTV), a Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) countermeasures device, and a laser range-finder/illuminator.  Some of these systems were new, and some had been developed for strategic bombers, but taken together they greatly improved the situational awareness of the crew.

In a harbinger of what was to come, the the TFR, FLIR and LLLTC were housed in a gimbaling “ball” in the nose.

c-123k pod

The outcome of the Korean tests is unknown. The Vietnam theater tests were successful, despite the aircraft having gross weight and density altitude limitations. In addition, a limitation of the cluster bomb dispenser required the pilots to fly the plane at 4,800 feet — no more, no less.

At the end of the test, the NC-123s were converted back to ordinary C-123K trash haulers. All of the sensors proven on the NC-123 were used in subsequent gunships.

Not all experimental sensors from this period went forward. Black Crow, for example, was a truck-ignition detector that zeroed in on the ignition “noise” produced by unshielded wires in the typical Otto-cycle gasoline engine’s spark-ignition system. It was deadly effective on the trucks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but wouldn’t work on newer trucks. Black Crow was only installed on -698, but did become standard on the AC-130s for a time.

Proving this technology on large airplanes like transports and bombers was necessary and laid fundamental groundwork for US dominance in low-light sensing systems in present years. It is a matter of some concern that, while we continue to exploit, miniaturize and field these 1960s technologies, the rate of development has slowed, and we’re resting on our, sometimes 1960s-vintage, laurels.

Sources

Chinnery, Philip D. Air Commando: Inside The Air Force Special Operations Command. London: Airlife Press, 2008. pp. 210-218. 

Johnson, E.R. American Attack Aircraft Since 1926. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008. pp. 210-211.

Images found here and there on the internet.