Category Archives: Future Weapons

“Impossible” Alloys of the Near Future

Steel-Aluminum alloy? Any metallurgist would tag you as a n00b for bringing it up. “Can’t do it. Incompatible. It’s the metallurgical equivalent of dogs and cats lying down together. Winds up with crystallized, embrittled aluminum weakening the steel.” Three Korean scientists, all stereotypically named Kim, from the Pohang University of Science and Technology have almost managed to pull it off — after many years of theory, trial, and error, and standing on the shoulders of previous researchers, as always. The lead investigator is Hansoo Kim.

The resulting material has properties that sound like Ayn Rand’s fictional Rearden Metal — light, strong, potentially cheap. It exceeds titanium alloys, hitherto the lightest and strongest alloys known, for lightness and strength. Yet the aluminum that lightens the alloy doesn’t embrittle it — it leaves it ductile, or workable. That’s why this research has potential outside of the metallurgist’s lab.

The secret appears to be accepting that Fe-Al “intermetallic compound” inclusions (they call this compound B2)  within the metal will be somewhat brittle, and managing their size and dispersion so that they lighten the resulting steel without embrittling it. They did this by adding nickel, which “catalyses the precipitation of nanometre-sized B2 particles in the face-centred cubic matrix of high-aluminium low-density steel during heat treatment of cold-rolled sheet steel.” In much the way that windows don’t break and make a skyscraper fall because they’re not load-bearing structures, these fracture-prone B2 particles are individually so small and so widely and evenly dispersed that a crack has no pathway to propagate. Think of it as rip-stop steel at the nanometer scale.

This work is evolutionary as much as it is revolutionary. It builds on previous work on TRIPLEX steels, which are steels with significant amounts of manganese, aluminum and carbon serving to modify iron’s physical properties (and that in turn builds on 1970s research in the USSR). Previous TRIPLEX research by Springer and Raabe (details linked below) found that while holding manganese and carbon content constant at 30% and 1.2% respectively, strength went up as up to 8% aluminum displaced some of the iron in the balance.

steel strength with aluminum

strength with various levels of aluminum in alloy (Springer & Raabe).

Springer and Raabe, and others, built on Soviet work that developed high-strength but very brittle iron-aluminum steels.

How can a material be strong and brittle? They’re separate properties. Strong suggests how far you have to go to make the metal fail. Brittle suggests a material that then fails abruptly by breaking. It doesn’t deform. (Imagine a car that, crashed into a tree, shattered into shards rather than got dented). But that’s not just a problem for designers: it’s a hell of a problem for manufacturers, for many of our steel-processing approaches expect steel to be ductile. We bend it on anvils or stamp it in dies; we shear it with cutting tools; we curve pipes around; we hydroform it. All of those processes depend on the ductility of the metal.

The tables and graphs in the paper in Nature (one of the two most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in the world) suggests that this novel aluminum-bearing steel alloy not only has superior balance of strength and ductility to TRIPLEX, but also offers real ductility advantages over typical titanium-aluminum-vanadium alloy. (If you’ve ever worked with titanium, you know ductility is not its strong point).

nature steel-AL alloy figure 1

What do alloys like this mean for firearms? The three Dr Kims are excited about automotive and aviation applications, because those are the primary users of large quantities of lightweight alloys (and have been turning increasingly to more exotic materials, like carbon fiber, carbon-carbon, and lithium alloys, in pursuit of lighter strong materials). But the technology that shows up on the auto line and in the aerospace factory does make it to firearms, especially as every firearms designer now alive is alert to how 1940s aviation technology enabled Stoner, Sullivan et. al. to revolutionize firearms design in the 1950s and early 60s. If nobody in your engineering shop is getting SAE’s Aerospace Engineering, you’re either committed to traditional materials and processes, or a me-too design shop.

While the material itself is of great interest, the scientists think that the process will be, in the long run, far more important because it will allow the invention of entire classes of previously “impossible” alloys.

The process has one major hurdle before it can be commercialized: a method must be found to prevent the oxidation of the steel, in-process. Technologies used on conventional steels won’t work, and building the foundry on an airless asteroid solves the oxidation problem, but leaves you with the steel somewhere other than the planet where it’s required.

And right about now, perhaps in some unexpected corner of the world, a grad student is mulling this problem, and sometime soon a light will go on in his head….

For more information

Popular Mechanics article for laymen:

Nature article (abstract, references and tables only w/o subscription):

Information on TRIPLEX steel-AL alloys (Forerunner of this research):

Inside the T-14 Armata

People have been wondering exactly how the crew is laid out and works together in the new Russian T-14 Armata tank. Here is an answer, as what appears to be a pick-up crew (test crew? journalists?) sets up and fires the Armata’s main armament. Some comments after the brief video.

They’re going to have to go a lot faster than this in combat, but see comments on the crew above the video. A well-drilled crew, comfortable with live-firing the tank, should slam through this. These guys are leisurely, relaxed. “Ogon?” (Fire). (pause) “Ogon!” (pause). FOOM. Those pauses go away with practice.

The high level of automation in the Armata is evident here. It’s a well-thought out tank, and with the whole crew in the same can, crew coordination is simplified. In the flight-training world, there’s a general consensus that it’s easier and more effective to teach in a side-by-side environment. Curtis LeMay himself threw a wobbler when Boeing prepared a jet for him (the XB-52) with a tandem crew as in the previous jet (B-47), and he made Boeing change it for the production jets. Putting the TC, gunner and driver side-by-side has the same benefits in a tank that it does in a jet bomber.

We’re a little concerned about the idea of touch screens in a combat vehicle. Again in aviation, we’ve discovered that two things are problems with touch-screens in aircraft. In turbulent conditions, it can be hard to hit the button you want. And worse, it’s possible to hit a button you don’t want. Now, this is not an insuperable problem. The avionics makers have worked out some solutions and/or work-arounds, including backup manual knobs, user-controllable delays on keys (i.e. you have to hold it for a half-second to activate it), and even environmentally adaptive delays (the delay increases if the accelerometers in the Air Data and Altitude/Heading Reference System see accelerations characteristic of turbulence). So if they can solve it for an airplane moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour through three-dimensionally through a moving, changing medium, the Russians can solve it for a tank juddering over the ground at a max of dozens of K and taking the occasional hit.

The touch screens of the Armata look like COTS computers running application, not a bespoke interface. This has both pros and cons, something the Russian engineers certainly understand.

Tanks normally operate best opened up and lose considerable situational awareness when combat forces them to button up. NATO tankers in particular like to fight their tanks from open cupola. But the Armata seems designed to give its TC best situational awareness when he’s reclining in his couch, not head up out of the turret. This is in keeping with Russian/Soviet tank doctrine that expects tanks to operate on a battlefield swept not only by small arms, tank, and mortar and indirect fire, but also by billowing clouds of chemical and biological weapons. In that environment, the TC in an climate-controlled compartment with the rest of his crew is miles ahead of the guy who might be out of his turret, but sweating in a MOPP4 suit and squinting through a gas mask, or in any US tank where NBC protection is an afterthought.

Finally, this is a tank that exists in platoon or maybe company strength. It’s still a test article. It could evolve in other directions. The Russians are not going to send these to their sheep-dipped units in eastern Ukraine, let alone their “USA is nutless, so we might as well” expeditionary force in Syria. When they do sell them to allies that might use them in combat — probably, Iran, and probably, soon, because they want foreign sales to subsidize Russian Army production — the allies will not get the full version. Of course, a tank that is so very dependent on software makes the production of what Soviet guys back in the day used to call their “monkey model” for export relatively easy.

It also enables a couple of logistic things that haven’t been done quite this way before. For example, Russian Army tanks could be very quickly reconfigured and flown to an ally in extremis, as the USA did with Israel in 1973, and also, Russian crews could be rapidly airlifted and fall in on an ally’s monkey-model tanks, flashing them to full Russian Army standard with a firmware upgrade. This would be an improvement on the US’s Cold War REFORGER prepositioned unit sets, by getting the allies to store, maintain and exercise the unit sets unless and until Ivan needs them.

Even if this tank is never produced in more than limited quantities, it is a revolutionary tank that must be taken seriously. We expect to see some of these concepts influencing future Western developments.

BREAKING: Tracking Point is Back!

TrackingPoint ARWe received minutes ago the word that Tracking Point, last seen nearing belly-up in bankruptcy protection, is back in business, accepting orders, shipping product, and resuming development. In fact, founder and new CEO John McHale is so enthusiastic about the relaunch that we’ve received, if we’re counting right, (3) releases in a matter of minutes around 0930 Eastern Daylight Savings Time (including one link that 404’d. Patience, John).

Rather than plus up McHale’s comments with our opinions, and further delay getting this up (and thereby getting beaten by our friends at TFB, which we probably will anyway because there’s a small army of them), here’s the release:

TrackingPoint Emerges From Restructuring a Leaner and Stronger Company
Founding Management Team Returns To Lead TrackingPoint Forward

Pflugerville, Texas (September 15, 2015) – TrackingPoint announced today the successful completion of a financial and operational restructuring. The company is accepting new orders while fulfilling its backlog of existing orders. In the spring of 2015, TrackingPoint temporarily suspended production and deliveries in order to put the company back on a strong financial footing. TrackingPoint previously announced 2014 year-on-year unit growth of 281%, and its management indicated that the rapid growth subsequently outstripped the company’s ability to manage its operations.

TrackingPoint’s founding team of John Lupher and John McHale has returned to manage the company going forward. John Lupher reassumes his founding role as Vice President of Engineering, while John McHale, formerly Chairman, returns to his original role as CEO. “We were successful early on, so John Lupher and I decided to go back to our roots and take TrackingPoint to the next level”, said McHale. Frank Bruno, Chief Operation Officer, and Richard Wierzbicki, Chief Financial Officer, bolster the team to ensure the company operates efficiently going forward.

The company has a five person board of directors that includes Eric Olson, the first Navy Seal to rise to the rank of four-star Admiral. Olson, a Navy Seal for 38 years and retired former Commander of the US Special Operations Forces, helps lead TrackingPoint’s defense strategy and initiatives. “I’m glad to see TrackPoint moving forward with renewed focus on law enforcement and the military. “This is innovation at its best, with a real and meaningful purpose for security forces and war fighters”, said Olson.

“This is a new beginning for TrackingPoint,” said McHale. “We will focus intently on the consumer, continue to innovate, and operate in a way that ensures long term success.” The company’s investors include the Friedkin Group, Goff Capital Partners, and McHale Labs.

About TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint is based in Austin, Texas, and created the first Precision-Guided Firearm, a revolutionary new shooting system that puts fighter jet lock-and-launch technology in small arms, enabling shooters to make shots previously considered beyond human ability. For more information, please visit

tracking_point_advanced_modeWe’ll be digging further into this, but in our opinion this is good technology; a glimpse of the future for hunters, snipers, and in time, combat troops; and innovation that deserves to be rewarded in the marketplace.


The biggest obstacle to wider adoption of the TP technology is price (they have a lot of RDT&E to amortize). McHale has made a small nod in the direction of affordability with the announcement of a $500 discount on any TP precision-guided firearm system purchased between now and year’s end.

New Army Pistol Solicitation Padded, Targeted at Large Contractors

On the way out? Beretta M9

On the way out? Beretta M9

At the end of August, a new solicitation for the Army’s new XM17 Modular Pistol project came out. The usual suspects are competing for it, including Beretta, SIG Sauer, Springfield, and Smith & Wesson  among others, and the S&W contender is claimed by the company (in a stock-analysts’ conference call) to be in very good shape, but the tests are a long way from completion — in fact, they’re not yet underway.

The solicitation is 315 pages long, most of it bureaucratic boilerplate. The real statement of work begins on Page 188, and it looks like the one thing they don’t want to do is buy a handgun from a handgun manufacturer. Instead, they aim to throw the contract to a large, high-overhead defense/aerospace prime contractor who will assemble the package with components from many disparate vendors, each one marked up obscenely.

Some points that caught our eyes included these:

  • They have 150 days from 28 August, 2015 to submit their proposals, so the deadline is 25 January 2016 — conveniently, three days after the end of the SHOT Show.
  • It’s not just for a gun, but for every associated accessory (holsters, mag pouches, cleaning kits), training, “blue barrels” for simunitions training, and all kinds of other cruft. What this does is (1) pad the hell out of the contract — suggesting someone is getting a kickback, and (2) exclude small contractors, firearms-only manufacturers,
  • Vendors can offer two firearms,  “full-size” and “compact,” or they can offer one firearm that can apply to both requirements, perhaps through modularity. But they also have to provide dummy guns, training cutaways, and high-touch VIP guns . Again, this contract padding helps exclude small contractors and favor the General Dynamics type  bloated aerospace prime.
  • Vendors must offer suppressors (if they offer regular and compact guns, they have to offer regular and compact suppressors). Nothing suggests anyone in Ordnance has the experience or ability to evaluate these devices, and nothing suggests there’s any advantage to buying these rarely-used devices from the pistol vendor — this is just more contract padding. Somebody’s setting himself up a nice retirement.
  • The solicitation does not specify caliber, nor does it specify ammunition type. So something like JHP ammo or Russian-style ultra-high-velocity projectiles are not ruled out.
  • The selected vendor must be willing to provide a technical data package and licensing to USG.
  • The selected vendor must provide handgun and ammunition. This means the contract is deliberately slanted to large defense primes like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
  • The ammunition for this pistol will receive a new designation: ball will be XM1152, special purpose XM1153, dummy XM1156 and blank XM1157.
  • “Special Purpose” is an alternative to ball with improved terminal performance, in other words, probably a JHP, but they don’t specify hollow point or anything else.
  • Terminal performance of ball and SP rounds will be evaluated compared to M882 9mm ball from the M9 pistol (current standards).
  • While this is not a standard article of military kit, Ordnance Corps hate loading mags as much as anybody, so the mags for the new pistols must be compatible with the UpLULA p/n UP60B loader — or, if the vendor’s mags are incompatible, or he prefers a different mag loader, the vendor must supply three dozen loaders that work with his mags. However, UpLULAs are the one accessory that isn’t jammed into this padded contract.
  • Reliability counts. The objective is 2,000 Mean Rounds Between Stoppages (MRBS) at a 90% confidence level.

The proposal shows signs of being ineptly edited, beyond having every pistol accessory up to the kitchen sink thrown in. For example, from the Executive Summary of the Proposal (the only thing that anyone who isn’t competing is likely to have had time to read):

The MHS procurement is intended to be an open caliber competition, which means the choice of caliber is left to the discretion of the Offeror. Offerors are permitted to submit up to two (2) proposals configured to the specific caliber it chooses for evaluation. If an Offeror chooses to submit two (2) proposals, their submissions must each be chambered in a different cartridge of the Offeror’s choosing. In addition, each proposal must be submitted independently from each other.

Note that that paragraph, above, is self-contradictory. You can submit two proposals for your specific caliber, it says here — but only if there are two different calibers. Well, that’s Army Ordnance for you: the guys who examined the smokeless Mauser and bought the .30-40 Krag. (Well, until Mauser-toting Spaniards made a believer out of the combat arms, and Ordnance belatedly discovered enough good in Mauser’s design to copy it slavishly).

Each proposal will consist of either a two (2) handgun solution (one full size and one compact), or one (1) handgun solution that meets requirements for both a full size and compact weapon, plus the following ammunition: ball, special purpose, and dummy drilled inert (DDI), as well as, accessories (to include spare parts).

It is when you look at all the accessories that are swept into the contract, that you realize something is not on the up-and-up. This contract was either written by someone used to writing big-ticket contracts for things like jet fighters to Boeing or Lockheed Martin, or by some big contractor like Boeing or Lockheed Martin themselves.

Gee, why would they do that?

Exercises for the reader:

  • When was the last time you bought the same ammo brand for your pistol as the pistol is itself?
  • Do you seek out Toyota brand gasoline for your car?
  • What are the odds that a firm that makes a superior handgun is also the one that makes the most superior suppressor and best possible ammo pouch?

Some Straight Talk About Handguns

Everyone goes nuts about handguns, but in fact, they’re of nugatory military value. They add, slightly, to a special operator’s combat value, principally by boosting his confidence that he can stay in the fight if his long gun goes down. Most non-SOF combat arms troops don’t carry handguns (weapons crews, officers, senior NCOs do) and the number of enemy killed with handguns by non-SOF in nearly 15 years of war is probably in the single digits. Add SOF kills, and you’re in the double digits. (Not because we’re all awesome pistoleros but we do carry the sonofabitches).

Then, there’s the combat power of the handgun, which is by design low. Even a scroungy, anemic rifle (M1 Carbine, say) is going to give you more hits on target and more terminal effect than any pistol you have any reasonable hope of training GI Joe and GI Jane to shoot. We currently issue a good and well-accessorized carbine.

For what pistols are useful for, they might as well buy more M9s (or 1911s, for crying out loud). Yes, a rail for a light or laser is nice, but who will issue the lights and lasers? And do we want to make suppressor capability, something that is very, very, very rarely used even by the troops that have it now, a mandatory part of the cost of every pistol in the inventory?

At a time of dwindling resources, this padded, bloated contract is the wrong thing at the wrong time. It blows mass quantities of money on something that’s of marginal military utility, and by so doing starves other programs that can improved combat results.

Indeed, whoever wrote this is not working for the United States (even though we taxpaying chumps are paying him), but for one or more contractors. Finding the office that this came from and making all the heads there roll will improve our combat capability and our financial stewardship of public funds.

Plastic Homemade Lowers Under the Hammer

These tests have been on the net for a while, “a while” ranging from 3 months ago to a couple of days. We thought it would be a public service to collect them in a single post.

Note that “impact resistance” is only one type of strength. Here the material must resist both compression and shock, mostly. However, there are some ways of testing the part (even with a hammer) that can cause compression failures. Torsion is mostly not an issue with these parts. Shear comes into play especially with the printed parts, which tend to fail along print-layer lines.

Part I: Printed Lowers: ABS vs Hammer, vs PLA vs Hammer.

Part II: Printed vs Hammer, vs. Cast vs Hammer.

And, Part III: Multiple cast lowers of different materials, vs. printed lowers.

We hope these tests made an impact on you!

And who else is thinking… hmmm. What about a polymer part with a tough internal structure, and an overmold of the rubbery stuff? If you did the overmold when the inner part was still hot-out-of-the-mold fresh, the exotherm from the overmold would probably go a long way to mechanically join the two “layers.”


Do We Need A Bigger Bullet?

Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.

Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:

Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.

To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:


As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.

As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?

Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown  an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.


The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.

Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.

Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.

Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).

Some current contenders --  M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out the historical context.

Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).

This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).

If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.

We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).

In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.


  1. NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.


Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: ; this is a uniquely French view of this same challenge, hosted online by Anthony Williams.

Schatz, Jim. Where to Now? 3 June 2015. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from:

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010:

(Note that Williams’s work on this matter was sponsored by H&K, a fact that is not invariably disclosed in all documents but that Williams publicly discloses on his website).


It’s About Time: Army Looking at JHP Ammo

9mm_124grain_jhpThis week industry contenders met with Army evaluators in the final Industry Day for the XM17 Modular Handgun Program, and the most interesting news is that the JAGs are finally on board with using jacketed hollow point ammunition in the new pistol.

This has several consequences, assuming that these lawyers are overruled by other lawyers somewhere down the line:

  1. It increases the defensive utility of the firearm against unarmored enemies, although not nearly to the level of a rifle or rifle-caliber carbine.
  2. It just about guarantees that, modular or not, our next service pistol will be firing the 9mm. The 9mm is as effective — with modern JHPs — and much easier to shoot than .40 S&W or .45 ACP, and it offers greater magazine capacity. (See Loose Rounds’ repop of the FBI report that justified the Bureau’s return to 9mm from .40).
  3. It means that most of the “modular” advantages the XM17 proposal wants are kind of pointless. The Army wants a service pistol and a max-commonality concealment/compact pistol. Since users seldom go from requiring one to requiring the other and back — the set of concealment/compact pistol users is small, as M11 procurement numbers show — the whole “modular” theme of the procurement is a bagatelle.

Bob says these are the criteria, apart from improved ergonomics relative to current service pistols.

  • non-caliber specific
  • modular grips
  • grip that accepts a wide-range of hand-sizes (5th to 95th percentile)
  • ability to accept different fire-control devices/action types
  • ability to accept various magazine sizes
  • suppressor compatible
  • ability to mount “target enablers” (lights, lasers, etc) on a picatinny rail
  • match-grade accuracy (90% or better chance 4″ circle at 50 meters)
  • low felt recoil impulse

Not all of these are widely useful (explain to us why a military unit will need their pistols “to accept different fire-control devices/action types”?) but some clearly are. The ones that are most clearly useful, of course, are widespread in modern handguns.

As far as the pistols go, according to Owens, the interesting contenders are the STI/Detonics, the SIG P320, and the Beretta APX. We find it hard to believe that the 1911-based STI/D is seriously in the game, or that the brand-new APX is sufficiently developed. The 320 (with a safety) does seem to meet all the requirements. Unlike Owens, we’re not ready to write Glock and S&W off, and would be very surprised if both of them didn’t  make serious and credible proposals.

Here’s Bob’s story on the JHP reveal at the briefing, and here’s his story on what he considers the leaders of the modular handgun competition. Note that there is one small error or oversight in his JHP story, and that’s his statement that US SOF have used 9mm and .45 JHPs. To that, we’d add .40s. (Certain specific units use this caliber). The Gun Zone’s Dean Speir wrote a post years ago on the legalities as observed by SOF since 1985.

Don’t Get Too Excited

Given the marginal role handguns play in combat, the adequate supply of current M9 and M11 service pistols (as well as non-standard pistols in some units), and given the rampant downsizing of the Army (it has less than half the combat power it did in Cold War days, and is scheduled to lose another 40,000 men, mostly “tooth” not “tail”), this entire program is a waste of time and money. If the contract goes forward, the Army will buy about a half-million service pistols plus some tens of thousands of compact variants for all services. The Air Force and Navy are accustomed to having the Army do their small-arms purchasing. The Army plans to force-feed the new modular pistol to the Marines, who are explicit about their lack of interest in it.

We’d be very surprised if this proposed procurement came to pass. If the Army doesn’t kill it, Congress will.

But the final approval of JHP ammunition for non-SOF pistol users is long overdue. In fact, it’s the single biggest thing they can do to improve the utility of current service pistols, and it can be done without out tests and contract disputes (hollow-points are already in the supply system for DOD police).


Soldier Systems Daily has the PEO Soldier press release with direct quotes from Richard Jackson, Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War.

Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier spokeswoman, also noted that by “modular” the Army means “allows adjustments to fit all hand sizes.”

What’s After Tracking Point?

We’ve been pretty high on precision guided weapons technology since the first time we saw a TOW do its thing. (And Javelin and other current weapons have answered most of the complaints about TOW since then). But in recent years, the promise of PGWs has migrated down into the small arms world, thanks to the same combination of Moore’s Law, free-flying science and nitty-gritty engineering that gives us everything from rapid genome sequencing to haptics and 3D printing.

We’ve been pretty impressed with the precision-guided rifles and Tag / Track / XACT technology of Tracking Point. So what comes after that? DARPA says: precision-guided, steerable bullets. They call the program, in a felicitous acronym, EXACTO, Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance. Like the Javelin and the Tracking Point PGW, it seems to tag a target and then pursue it relentlessly.

DARPA recently released the above video, along with this blurb:

DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, which developed a self-steering bullet to increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots, completed in February its most successful round of live-fire tests to date. An experienced shooter using the technology demonstration system repeatedly hit moving and evading targets. Additionally, a novice shooter using the system for the first time hit a moving target.

This is not too different from what TrackingPoint does now, in terms of results. What is different is how the EXACTO round functions.

This video shows EXACTO rounds maneuvering in flight to hit targets that are moving and accelerating. EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that can impede successful hits.

You can see from the video that they’re getting hits on their e-type silhouette, but they don’t appear to be getting center of mass hits. Still, it’s an admirable case of the dog walking on his hind legs, and this suggests that the science is licked, and what remains from here on out is simply engineering. (Not trivial, engineering, but once the science has shown that something is possible, it’s up to the engineers to find elegant and practical ways of doing it).

One significant difference between this and Tracking Point’s technology (so far) is that TP uses a bespoke or customized weapon; according to DARPA, EXACTO works with an ordinary rifle, only the optoelectronics and ammunition are changed.

It’s not rifle-caliber, as usually designated, yet; this demo is with a .50 caliber smart projectile.

“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager. “This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

The EXACTO program developed new approaches and advanced capabilities to improve the range and accuracy of sniper systems beyond the current state of the art. The program sought to improve sniper effectiveness and enhance troop safety by allowing greater shooter standoff range and reduction in target engagement timelines. For more information, please visit the program page.

via 2015/04/27 EXACTO Guided Bullet Demonstrates Repeatable Performance against Moving Targets.

OK, so let’s visit the program page, shall we?

Turns out, there’s not all that much there. We do get an uninformative 3D rendering of an EXACTO projectile, but that’s about it. There is a suggestion that the steering of the bullet is aerodynamic in principle.

exacto projectile_fullThere is this brief update on where the project stands:

The EXACTO 50- caliber round and optical sighting technology was developed to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems. The system combined a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track and deliver the projectile to the target, allowing the bullet to change path during flight to compensate for any unexpected factors that may drive it off course.

Technology development in Phase II included the design, integration and demonstration of aero-actuation controls, power sources, optical guidance systems, and sensors. The program concluded with a system-level live-fire test.

In 2009, the project was described as follows [.pdf]:

Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO)* *Formerly Laser Guided Bullet.

(U) The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program is developing a system that provides sniper teams with the ability to identify and engage targets with heretofore unobtainable range and accuracy against stationary and moving targets under difficult environmental conditions, either day or night. The system uses a combination of a maneuverable bullet and a real-time guidance system to track the target and deliver the projectile to target. Technology development includes the design and integration of aero-actuation controls, power sources, and sensors. The components must fit into the limited volume (2cm to the third power) of a 50-caliber projectile and be designed to withstand a high acceleration environment. When integrated and tested, this system will greatly increase the effectiveness of two-man sniper teams, regardless of the environmental conditions and the time of day. The EXACTO technology is planned for transition to the Army by FY 2012.

FY 2009 Plans:

– Design guidance system.
– Design maneuverable projectile.
– Construct all novel 1x scale components.
– Measure component and subsystem performance in appropriate environments.

An Air University paper said this of EXACTO, comparing it to aviation precision guided munitions programs:

Foot soldiers are often left out of consideration when money is spent on precision weapons. The DARPA Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) is a command-guided .50 Cal sniper round designed to put long range, pinpoint precision in the hands of a common soldier. The system works by tracking a target with an infrared spotter’s scope that doubles as a command- guidance tracker. The .50 Cal bullet is fired and responds to trajectory commands sent by the scope (which tracks the target and bullet). The system accounts for wind, moving targets, and provides accuracy at range that normally requires years of sniper training to achieve. The EXACTO program not only gives sniper capabilities to common foot soldiers, it ensures a kill on the first shot, and enables moving target capabilities that have until now only been available to tactical aircraft and UAVs. In this case, the range is far shorter than HTV-21 or T32, but the strategic implications of super-sniper-battalions may prove even more deterring to an enemy force. For years, the real practical advantage US soldiers held over adversary soldiers came in the form of the air power watching over. EXACTO aims to enable America’s soldiers to enjoy technological advantages its airmen have enjoyed for decades.3

Although EXACTO was indeed scheduled to conclude in 2012 [.pdf], and some DARPA pages refer to it in the past tense, but the live fire test video shown here was shot in 2015 and only released in April (in-house, 10 Apr 15, to the public, 27 Apr 15).


  1. HTV-2: Hypersonic Test Vehicle-2.
  2. T3: Triple Target Terminator-3, an experimental missile that combined a ramjet sustainer with a rocket booster in the form factor of a pre-existing missile.
  3. Nielsen, Michael B. (Maj., USAF). Addressing Future Technology Challenges through Innovation and Investment . March, 2012: Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

Ghost Gunner is Shipping

Cody Wilson sent an update to Ghost Gunner buyers, along with this atmospheric video:

The Defense Distributed email says:

Today [24 April] the first wave of orders has finally shipped for our pre-order campaign that began all the way back in October! It’s difficult to even count the obstacles we’ve faced since almost that very month, but by your patience and support we are today able to announce our product’s shipment and the release of its design files and operation software to the public. We thank you immensely.

Over 100 units are shipping/will have shipped since the end of last week. Our output is at such a pace that we estimate current backorders from the original campaign will all be fulfilled within six to ten weeks’ time. Our manufacturing processes were difficult to engineer and perfect since December because of our troubled part stream, but we now realize our capacity and are doubling our work force to increase throughput even more than in the past two weeks.

They’ve also opened up orders for the first 200 of those on the wait list, as opposed to those who already paid and are in the queue (wait list members paid a small sum for a place on the list).

The biggest news, perhaps, is the release of the design files, software and manual.  These files are contained in a .zip that can be downloaded from here or here. (Note: this does not work with the Safari browser; Safari users will need a Plan B). The manual looks like this:


It is 30 pages long, although you only need the first six of them if all you plan to do is run .DD files created by others. The rest of the manual is an intro to creating .DD files and otherwise using Grbl to control the machine.

And we strongly urge you to read it now if you have a GG coming. It contains several things you’ll want to know before unboxing, like system requirements (in this initial version, “it’s complicated”), and what not to use as a handhold when pulling the machine from its box (the stepper motors!).

The machine’s planned cross-platform promise is not delivered yet, with the initial version of DDCut software, the automated software that runs a .DD file off on the router, initially live only on Windows 7 (and, if you’re brain-dead or your computer is, Windows 8). They still plan to make this work on Linux and MacOS, but it’s not there yet.

Users of the unix-like systems are not completely out in the cold, however. You can run g-code on these computers, controlling the mill by using GRBL. There’s much more of a learning code than that.

One of the problems with relying on someone else to write your DD file is that g-code is extremely powerful. A miscreant, then, could, if not exactly brick a Ghost Gunner, at least cause a head or spindle crash — not a good thing. Fortunately, Wilson and his merry men have included a short set of instructions about what g-code commands are usually safe and which are potentially hazardous, allowing any user to evaluate a .DD file’s safety. For better security yet, they suggest using only files from trusted sources.

We’ve been following this for a while (and yes, we have one on order, but we’re well down the list). We see real potential in g-code and .DD files.

UPDATE 0930R 20150425

This post was written rather rapidly last night when we came in from a long drive at 2300 with no 0600 post in the queue, so we have a few more points (both ours, and Cody’s) to get across to you.

How are the machines shipping? The answer seems to be, via US Mail.

When we say we see real potential in g-code and .DD files, here are some of the things we could see people developing and sharing:

  • Profiling files, for converting an M16A2-profile lower to an A1 profile for a vintage/retro repro.
  • Engraving files, to duplicate retro markings or to make custom designs.
  • Lightening files, to remove metal and skeletonize a lower (which, we must stress, saves no significant weight; it’s a style thing. Imagine a steampunk AR… now it can be done, and the design shared).
  • Things we can’t even imagine yet. If that doesn’t make you squee, what will?

Wilson sees that, too, maybe clearer than we do. Re the closed forum for owners only, he says:

As you receive your machine in the mail, you will find in your package a card with credentials to give you access to the Ghost Gunner forums. We expect this will be a place of exchange and development that will quickly travel more adventurously afield of DD to see just the range and extent of Ghost Gunner’s capabilities.

We note that Ghost Gunner does not require internet access to run, unlike some other modern manufacturing technologies. (MarkForged, we’re lookin’ at you, although we’ve been told they will be selling an extension to their software that will let MarkOne buyers opt out of the MarkForged cloud and run their own servers, in that pungent Silicon Valleyism, “Real Soon Now”). Yes, there is a forum for  Ghost Gunner users, but you don’t ever need to go there. You bought the machine, you own it. What you do with it is your business. (We suspect Wilson shares our loathing for hardware and software involuntary “licenses”).

[F]orum membership is not a must! Everything you need to operate the machine comes in the box, software and guide included. No need to connect to the internet to access what you’ve purchased.

And, in a very important and (to us) unanticapated update, the Ghost Gunner will now be offered Internationally, outside the USA as well. Release of the software was held up for months because:

[T]he Feds literally took until last week to give GG a commodity classification.

It’s anyone’s guess where the hold-up was. It could have been Fed animus towards Wilson personally, but Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s just Feds moving at their usual snail’s pace. But an aside of the classification and approval is this:

[W]e will begin selling and shipping Ghost Gunner outside of the United States. Many of you are not from the US and have inquired for months about access to the machine. Well, we now have the clearance to ship to over 30 countries, of which you are likely a citizen. Our international backers will be reached out to individually at this time, but you will note a separate path to get on the wait list if you’re outside the US when you now visit

Finally, it seems meet to close with Cody’s own elegiac closing, expressing as it does gratitude to those of us who have waited through all the Ghost Gunner drama.

Above all else, THANK YOU for your support. We’re a small shop of friends and relative kids from Texas (and parts) around who had no business opening a manufacturing operation. But we wanted to see this concept succeed, and we wanted it to succeed on bold and defiant terms.

Though it will still be some weeks before we’re caught up with orders, we know it was you, our backers, with your patience and good will that allowed us to get to this moment.

I for one will not forget it.

It’s unclear from the email when ours will ship. It looks like the first hundred is well in hand, but we’re just barely into the third hundred.

Jets (and Vehicles) with Frickin’ Lasers on They Heads

Doctor Evil’s technological dreams, not to mention Auric Goldfinger’s and Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s, are inching closer to reality. That’s the only possible conclusion an avid movie-goer will draw from a fascinating Bill Sweetman article in Aviation Week. 

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon that doesn't need to "lead" a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

Today, on an armored vehicle as an air defense weapon with a functional MV of infinity, so it doesn’t need to “lead” a target; tomorrow, an aerial precision-strike capability? (Bill Sweetman AWST photo).

In fact, Sweetman deploys a bunch of pungent prose that sounds like something out of The Strategy Page, but with the essential difference that Sweetman knows what he’s talking about and has been wired into defense RDT&E since the second coming of laser weaponry (and the first serious, non-Bond-villain one) in the 1980s. Sweetman starts with a dismissive swipe at US and USSR laser weapons programs of the 1980s (“The only thing of consequence that any of them destroyed was confidence in laser weapons”), and then leaps into “that was then, this is now”-ville.

New HEL [High-Energy Laser] weapons are smaller than the 1980s monsters, with a goal of 100-150 kw, and powered by electricity rather than rocket-like chemical systems. Modest power permits more precise optics and—in some cases—the use of commercial off-the-shelf fiber-laser sources, improving beam quality (that is, focus) and reducing cost.

Star Wars lasers were intended to hit things that missiles could not touch. The new generation exploits different characteristics: a magazine as deep and easily replenished as the fuel tank, and a low cost per shot (about $1, says Rheinmetall). The idea is to deal with targets that missiles cannot engage affordably.

A mini-UAV is a threat because it can target ground forces for artillery. It is cheaper than any surface-to-air missile, but a laser can blind it, destroy its payload or shoot it down. Rocket and mortar defense is another application. Rafael’s Iron Beam laser is a logical follow-on to Iron Dome, which is practical and affordable only because it ignores rockets that will fall on open ground; that will no longer work when weapons are guided.

Hmmm. Thinking about the implications of what Sweetman is saying here, there are several paths around Iron Dome which the Palestinian terrorists may choose to adopt: they could try overwhelming it with quality, overwhelming it with accuracy (by guidance, as he suggests, or simply by increased ballistic accuracy and precision of aim), or overwhelming it with speed by using gun artillery instead of relatively-slow rockets.

Wile-E-Coyote-Genius-Business-CardNo doubt the cagey Israelis (has any nation’s paranoia ever been more justified?) have already thought this through and have counter-countermeasures in development (one of which certainly is a laser system). The Palestinians, in their ongoing attempts to outsmart the smarter Israelis, are the Wile E. Coyote of weapons development.

Anyway, let’s return to Sweetman’s rundown of current and very-near-future directed energy weaponry.

Close behind the systems already shown by Rheinmetall, Rafael and MBDA—certainly not a technological leap away—is the new Gen 3 HEL being developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to fit on an Avenger unmanned air vehicle (AW&ST Feb. 16-March 1, p. 30). If what we hear is correct, it combines an output as high as 300 kw with high beam quality; it can fire 10 times between 3-min. recharges; and a version might fit in the 3,400-lb. pod that Boeing designed for the Advanced Super Hornet (see photo). A bomber or a special-operations C-130 could carry it easily.

This is a tipping point, because what you can do with 300 kw also depends on what you are trying to protect. If the goal is to knock down a supersonic antiship cruise missile (ASCM), there are two problems: water in the atmosphere (which attenuates laser energy) and the fact that a damaged ASCM can still hit the target. But if the target is an evasively maneuvering aircraft, it will often be in clear, dry air; and it is enough to destroy the missile’s seeker, put a hole in the radome, even at well-sub-kilometer range or weaken the motor tube to cause a miss, even at well-sub-kilometer range.

This is one where you’ll find it rewarding, we think, to open the mind and  Read The Whole Thing™. Sweetman is no more infallible than any of us, but he is a more informed aerospace analyst than almost any of us, and bears close watching.