Category Archives: Industry

Additive Manufacturing in Defense and Aerospace

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

Additive Manufacturing for Armaments

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

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

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

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

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

Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And A Bonus from MIT Tech Review: Nanosteel

What happens to steel when you apply nanotechnology to it?

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

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

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

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

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

Improved 7.62 x 39 PTR-32

We’re way, way behind on this, because the company slipped it into their line at SHOT, promoted it heavily at SHOT, and is shipping several versions in quantity. This is the PTR-32 Generation II, of which, the company seems not to have good photos (Call Oleg Volk!)


The original HK32, the PTR’s conceptual daddy, seems to have been a “catalog” weapon that was promoted, displayed, demonstrated, but never manufactured in quantity, unlike the Hk31 series (G3), which was the third most popular 7.62 NATO rifle, issued to a couple dozen countries, or the HK33, the 5.56 version which was adopted by Thailand (and possibly others?).


The above image is from HKPro, which has a brief writeup on the HK32. More recently, The Firearm Blog notes that an HKPro forum member found an instance of HK32 in the field, in service with Mexican Policia. But the weapons were very rare, and used an oddball proprietary magazine. According to HKPro, Bill Fleming (most renowned now for his pre-86 full-auto conversions of HK firearms) gunsmithed some custom HK32s, and Special Weapons supposedly made a run of what they called the SW32, which should be avoided (Special Weapons was one of the Todd Bailey companies — Special Weapons, Bobcat, Coharie, more names that the bottom-of-the-line Chevy and for the same reason, because each name got poisoned by the crap products and worse service) so there has always been plenty of demand for a roller-lock in the 7.62 x 39mm M43 cartridge.

HK promoted and promoted it, back in their roller lock days before they raised the white flag and started cloning the AR. From the 70s through the 80s it was a staple of every HK full-line catalog, and featured in every HK article in the trades, in Small Arms of the World. But it never was a production item, probably because if you were shooting AK ammo you couldn’t beat the economics of AKs. Heck, if you were a communist or terrorist, the KGB would make sure someone gave them to you. So there never emerged large military sales for the HK rifle in Russian intermediate-cartridge form.

PTR Industries, which is back in full production (and has made up 2014 layoffs with new hiring in its new location in Aynor, SC) has made a sort-of HK32 clone with one very significant improvement: it takes the cheap, available, reliable AK magazine. We say sort-of because the PTR guys did not have an HK 32 to work with, and knew from the start they wanted to use AK mags, so they basically re-designed the G3 platform for 7.62 x 39, just as HK did. (HK used the HK33/93 receiver for its start point on the 32, while PTR used the larger and heavier HK31/91 receiver).

Incidentally, the “PTR” stands for Precision Target Rifles. The rifles were originally made under the name JLD with the PTR being the product name, but the names were harmonized years ago. If you find an HK clone from JLD Enterprises, it’s simply an older PTR and should be equal quality (it may have more imported parts than newer PTRs).

The firearm is made in a confusing array of versions, including gelded versions for ban states like Massachusetts and Californistan.

The principal division between versions is:

  • Early PTR,-32, now retroactively named the Generation I,  made from 2009-2013, maybe ’14. This version was extremely picky about the AK mags it worked with, especially the first production ones.

This is a Gen I PTR-32. Most of the changes needed to make the Gen II take more varied AK mags are internal.



  • Generation II PTR-32, supposedly more eclectic in its acceptance of AK mags.

The very first, experimental PTR-32s were not released to the public. They used a proprietary magazine that did not interchange with AKs (or, presumably, with the rare-to-nonexistent HK 32s). The GIs were, as noted, magazine finicky. Note also that to make AK drums fit in the PTR-32, the traditional approach has been to cut away the magwell. (Talk about voiding the warranty!)

Post-number letters tell you what features the gun has. As we’ve broken them out (we couldn’t find a breakout, but there has to be one somewhere), K stands for 16″ (versus 18″) barrel, C is a ban-compliant gun for MA and NJ with subcapacity magazine and no muzzle threads or device, R stands for a welded-on Picatinny rail, and F we think stands for a railed fore-end, but it may just be for the PTR machined-alloy fore-end. This part looks at a glance like a G3 standard slimline handguard, but when you handle it you can see that it is machines from aluminum and has holes for attaching Picatinny rails for accessories. It’s a nice feature. In addition, versions that accept M4 style sliding stocks are always shipped with rails, and include “M4R” in the model name.


We’re not blind HK fans here (the only HK on hand is a 416, actually), but the roller-locked system is the sort of ingenious mechanism that tickles our fancy, and it has one theoretical, and occasionally practical, advantage over the more common gas guns: it adapts really well to a wide range of loads. So we suspect that this PTR-32 would make a wicked good suppressor host with some downloaded 7.62 x 39… kind of like the .300 Whisper/.300 Blackout in the AR platform, with the possibility to change mags and go supersonic if crowd-control becomes a more urgent matter than minimizing signature. And also, of course, the possibility to fire cheap practice ammo — at least, until some minion at ATF hikes up his jackboots and bans it.

The PTR does have a stiff trigger. This is characteristic of the HK design, and a trigger pull in the double-digits is possible on an ordinary production piece. If you’re used to an AR, or to the long, smooth, and light trigger of an AK, you have some adjusting to do.

Here’s what PTR says about this firearm:

  • Made with match grade bull barrels
  • Chambered for 7.62×39
  • Rate of twist: 1 in 9
  • 15mm x 1mm right handed threading for attachments (flash hider, compensator etc.)
  • Barrel diameter: .70”

The muzzle threads fit HK stuff, but not AR or AK muzzle devices, so that’s something to bear in mind. The mag that PTR ships the gun with is a Bulgarian polymer AK mag, and that’s what they recommend; for steel magazines, they recommend Chinese and Korean over others.

PTR’s receivers are made, as they say, “on original H&K machinery to German military specifications,” of .059″ steel. In fact, they acquired the Portuguese PMP G3 production machinery, which was set up by HK back in the 1960s. The PTR-32 is available with a standard receiver which accepts HK / Hensoldt claw mounts, or a receiver with an integral (welded on) Picatinny rail, which accepts modern scope mounts. Likewise, there are handguard options that offer rails, for the inveterate gadgeteer.

For us, the PTR-32 doesn’t fill a need, but for some people it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. (Enough that PTR has reportedly increased production). We’re more inclined to the GI PTR-91 versions, ourselves.

We’re waiting for the 9mm version. PTR has gotten to the point where they make almost everything in house… a PTR-94 would be a win, but it would be a major tooling investment — we don’t imagine them doing it until the 91 and 32 momentum is completely spent.

Developments in Steel Armor

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Customizing your Carbine: Pro and Con

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

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

CAR-15 Family


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Up in the 3D Printed Gun World?

Time for an update, eh?

WarFairy Lower Banner

We’ve been seeing really creative AR lowers for a while now. A lot of the greatest ingenuity, like the FN-inspired creations above, come from the innovator who calls himself Shanrilivan and his creative entity WarFairy Arms. Watching his Twitter feed, or @FOSSCAD’s, is a good way to keep up with what’s coming from the community. (Coming soon: AR and AK fire control groups, for example):

AR fire control group

If you think there’s no innovation happening in firearms, you’re not tapped into the maker community inside the gun community — or is it, the gun community inside the maker community?

Some Words about Development

These lowers are not being “engineered” in any real sense of the word. Instead they’re being designed, and are then being tested, in a very tight closed-loop development cycle. From lowers that busted in a couple of shots, we’ve got lowers that have endured thousands of rounds. And that look stylish. This pastel AR has a printed lower and printed magazine.

printed lower and mag

It’s ready for its close-up, Mr De Mille:

printed lower and mag closeup

To see about 15 more pictures of printed-gun developments, including magazines, a 7.62mm lower, a revolver, and more, click the “More” button.

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Smart Guns and Dumb Activists

smartgunsymposiumJoe Huffman attended the anti-gunners’ Smart Gun Symposium in Seattle and saw some surprising things, if we read him right. The presenters were a mixed bag of gun-ban seeking activists and technology nerds. And what they were seeking diverged. Most of the nerds focused solely on the unauthorized-child use prevention case, and admitted that their technology was not even potentially useful for the prevention of crime, or protection of a police officer from a criminal who got hold of his or her gun. Only one, by Joe’s recollection, wanted to see this technology mandated (while all the activists do). No critics of the technology were presented. No spokesman for the gun industry or gun rights was put on. This sham symposium (shamposium?) was sponsored by Washington Cease Fire, a group that has historically sought the banning of all guns, and that demonizes gun owners routinely.

In other words, it was a bunch of Nazis getting together at the Wannsee, full of the love of their brother man and anxious to finally solve the thorny problem of the Jews.

Here are Joe’s reports.

Part 1: Some encounters with Ralph Fascitelli, il Duce of Washington Cease FIre; New Jersey ban writer Loretta Weinberg (who airily promised that the technology promoted by the firms here could have prevented the Sandy Hook and Charlie Hebdo shootings); and Alan Boinus, the CEO of Allied Biometrix, who promised test data validating his system, licensed from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Part 2: More Fascitelli. (Why couldn’t he make Skype run on time?) Also King County Sheriff Urquhart, and Allied Biometrix CEO Alan Boinus. Fascitelli wants to ban guns, magazines and ammunition and sees “smart guns” as a sort of gateway drug to the ban he really wants — “like e-cigarettes.” Urquhart was a politician with an essentially empty statement. Boinus opposed legislation mandating smart gun because, frankly, they don’t work: “We can’t afford to 404.” Instead he thought supporters should make cops use them. He said his technology adds, along with unreliability, $200 to $300 to the price of a gun, most of which was his marketing and profit (essentially doubling the price of a cop Glock).

Highly unsafe, Trigger Smart technology is trivially jammed.

Highly unsafe, Trigger Smart technology is trivially jammed.

Part 3. Robert MacNamara, Trigger Smart. Also Loretta Weinberg, Democrat, leader of the New Jersey Senate, and Judith Leftwitch, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (a ban group). MacNamara is an Irishman, no apparent relation to the worst Secretary of Defense, and appears to be completely ignorant of both firearms and technology (his background is in real estate, but he’ll take grant money from Uncle Sam). When asked about the jam threat to his system he indicated that it works on radio frequency energy, which can’t be jammed, a complete error suggesting a lack of even interest in his own product. “Trigger Smart” is more like “Trigger Retarded” and also would double the price of a cop Glock, if cops really want guns that are trivially jammed. Weinberg and Leftwitch just want to ban guns.

Part 4: Margot Hirsch, Smart Tech Challenges Foundation. Mark Burles, Penn Schoen Berland (Democratic/liberal public relations firm employed by Washington Cease Fire). Hirsch is a former saleswoman who now heads this shadowy foundation, whose shadowy sources of funding are undisclosed — the foundation has never published its Form 990s, even — but seem to be anti-gun activists who won big at Silicon Valley startup lotto. Hirsch is high on smart guns — and gun bans. Her immediate former employer, Blackboard Inc, made an extremely unreliable web-based software suite used by for-profit online schools to, essentially, rook people out of .gov money via student loans. Burles presented what appears to have been an online push poll crafted to push Cease Fire’s positions

Symposium in the news, in which Joe posts links to three stories, one a single-sided hack job (typing for il Duce Fascitelli) and one of the other two essentially putting a sheen of editorial polish on the press release.

Armatix isn't officially dead yet, but it is pining for the fjords. Beautiful plumage....

Armatix isn’t officially dead yet, just pining for the fjords.

The Future of Dynamic Grip Recognition, in which Joe unearths from all the activism the only one of the mere two presented technologies that might work. Apparently Ernst “because you suck and we hate you” Mauch’s Armatix, which used unreliable RFID from a watch, is out of money, leaving just “Trigger Smart” and Allied Biometrix at the symposium, and with Trigger Smart being laugh-out-loud levels of lame, only Allied’s preliminary efforts to commercialize fifteen years of dead ends at the NJIT have any hope at all. Joe tries to find what hope there is in it, but it’s very scant indeed. Basically, there’s a lot of 404 in this technology.

This is the image NJIT/Allied Bioscience like to show of their 50% reliable technology...

This is the image NJIT/Allied Biometrix like to show of their 50% reliable technology… showing 8 of the several dozen single points of failure added to the gun itself, alone.

But you do need the battery box. (It's been reduced in size, but not in criticality, since this 2005 version). Note the connector on the newer photo.

But you do need the battery box. (It’s been reduced in size, but not in criticality, since this version). Note the connector on the newer photo. The Biometrix are on you.

In addition, here is Dave Workman’s report on the symposium’s press conference (via Joe) which partly failed because all these free-range fascists who want to design the innards of your guns couldn’t get a Skype connection working. “There are some people who want to define safety as something that never goes bang,” SAAMI’s Rick Patterson, the guy who the nerds couldn’t hook up, told Workman (who apparently had no problem reaching him). Of course, the sponsors of this shaminar are exactly those people.

None of the technology appears safe or reliable now, nor in the foreseeable future. Joe, who is more willing than we are to give these various New Jersey and California creeps the benefit of the doubt, sees a small potential market. Perhaps, for someone who wants to keep a varmint or defense gun loaded while interdicting curious children; we see that market coming only in ten or fifteen years, assuming the .gov funds unlimited research. (So far the government appears to have funded all the research, and the furtive foundation primarily funds activism, Bloomberg-style). This slice of the market might add up to a quarter to a half percent of gun sales, under those circumstances.

In every firearm, this technology will decrease reliability by some nonzero amount. Anything else is only possible if it literally does nothing. Therefore it has zero future in police use (where Boinus would like it mandated) or home or personal defense (something MacNamara apparently thought people shouldn’t have guns for anyway, to the delight of the ban-happy audience).

Ever notice how the people who burn with the fire to run your life for you, generally couldn’t organize a towel rack?

State of The Art(illery): 1884

This cannon wasn't made at Watervliet, though. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

Watervliet Arsenal, where this cannon was once displayed, comes up in this story. But this cannon wasn’t made at Watervliet. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

In the last quarter of the 19th century, it sank in to the American military that important advances in gun manufacture had been taking place in Europe, while the US is heavy gun development and stagnated since the Civil War. The War Between the States was the last war in which the United States had needed a lot of artillery, and not surprisingly, it had been the last time the Army and Navy had spent significant money on artillery technological development. Since 1865, most fighting had taken place against Indian tribes, and these light, mobile counterinsurgency battles didn’t implicate heavy weaponry. After all, Custer had famously left his cannon — and Gatlings — behind, making a judgment that gave priority to the mobility of his cavalry force. That it is now one of the more thoroughly second-guessed judgments of all military history is small consolation to Yellow Hair: as he would no doubt say if we could interview him, “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”

Of course, the heavy weapons that Custer had in 1873, and that his successors would have had a decade later, were little improved from those of the Civil War. The Artillery Branch’s focus had been on development of heavy artillery for siege and especially for coastal use, and if one attended the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, VA in this period, he’d learn, along with a heavy dose of theory, the following guns: 3-inch, 8-inch, and 21-pounder, along with the 4.5 inch siege gun and a couple of Seacoast Mortars.1

Meanwhile, the Germans and Austrians (actually, the Austrians’ Czech gunmakers) had invented the recoiling gun carriage and the armies of Europe were rearming with a new generation of highly accurate breechloaders, made of steel and not iron.

So our Army and Navy thought it best to take a systematic look at their needs for artillery, how the Europeans had met similar needs, and how the US might equal them. This required an act of Congress in 1883, and a report to the President (do you know who was President? Neither did we. Chester A. Arthur) in the next year. One copy of that report, which was approved by Arthur in February, 1884, was filed in the library of the Infantry and Cavalry School in October of that year, and is now available in .pdf from the school’s successor, the Combined Arms Reference Library.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report's recommendations.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report’s recommendations.

The board comprised six officers who traveled to government arsenals and private factories in England, France and Russia. They also corresponded at length with Friedrich Krupp, who in the end declined to host them at his plant in Essen. The original book contains the Krupp correspondence in its appendices, all of which unfortunately are missing from the truncated .pdf version available in Sources below.

The report noted the parlous state of US Artillery at the time. After listing the arsenals and contractors that produced the Union’s artillery in the Civil War, then nearly 20 years in the past, it noted how scant American postwar developments had been:

Since the termination of the war the Fort Pitt Foundry has ceased to exist. The South Boston Iron Works Company has manufactured a few experimental guns, and with the West Point Foundry has executed some small orders of the Government in the conversion of cast-iron smooth-bores into rifle guns by inserting and rifling a coiled wrought iron tube.

None of the companies mentioned above have ever made steel guns, and virtually the United States is destitute of a source from which such, an armament as the age demands can be supplied.

Before the introduction of rifled cannon and the use of steel as the material for their construction, the United States boasted of her Dahlgren and Rodman cast-iron guns, which were the models for imitation and the standards for comparison of all nations.

While the rest of the world has advanced with the progress of the age, the artillery of the United States has made no step forwards. Its present condition of inferiority is only the natural result of such want of action.2

The report describes with remarkable concision the economics, location, and process of manufacturing artillery in the nations that cooperated, and goes on to describe the guns themselves and their technology in great detail.

Whitworth’s Works

Other English firms reported that Sir Joseph Whitworth, the eminent inventor and engineer, was quite as secretive a Krupp himself, but Whitworth invited the officers to visit his factory — under the condition that they only do so after seeing all the others. That seemed like a small enough concession, and so they did just that, only to find that Whitworth really was doing something remarkable.

The other factories were well ahead of the Americans’ home industries: they were casting breech-loading gun tubes, and making hoops for them, of steel. But what Whitworth was doing blew the Americans’ minds:

In speaking of the Whitworth establishment at Manchester as unique, and of the process of manufacture at that place as a revelation, reference is specially made to the operation of forging. As to the assorting of ores, and the treatment of metal in the furnaces, there is no intention to draw distinctions; but as to the treatment of the metal after casting there can be no doubt of the superiority of the system adopted by Sir Joseph Whitworth over that of all other manufacturers in the world. The process here adopted has been kept singularly exempt from scrutiny. Even in the offices of the chiefs of artillery there can be found no information, within the knowledge of the Board, which is at all satisfactory upon the subject. Whatever knowledge there is seems to come from hearsay—-none from personal observation—and it is only from personal observation that the merits of the system can be fully appreciated.

The system of forging consists in compressing the liquid metal in the mould immediately after casting, and in substituting a hydraulic press for the hammer, in the subsequent forging of the metal.3

The exact details of the process follow, and then the conclusion:

The Board witnessed the operations of casting followed by that of liquid compression, the enlarging of hoops, the drawing out of cylinders, and the forging of a solid ingot. The unanimous opinion of the mem­bers is that the system of Sir Joseph Whitworth surpasses all other methods of forging, and that it gives better promise than any other of securing that uniformity so indispensable in good gun metal.

The latest exhibition of the wonderful character of the Whitworth steel has attracted great attention, and may be stated as indicating the present culmination of his success. From a Whitworth 9-inch gun, lately constructed for the Brazilian Government, there was fired a steel shell, which, after perforating an armor-plate of 18 inches of wrought iron, still retained considerable energy. The weight of the shell was 403 pounds, the charge of powder 197 pounds, and the velocity about 2,000 feet. The shell is but slightly distorted. The tests of the metal of which it was made show a tensile strength of 98 tons per square inch and a ductility of 9 per cent.4

They were very favorably impressed by the Russian factories, which seemed to borrow eclectically from Whitworth and Krupp alike, and relied on excellent Russian ores. They noted an accident that demonstrated the strength of Russian artillery design:

A recent accident gave a severe test to the system of construction adopted for Russian artillery. In experimenting with gun-cotton for use in shells, one of the latter, containing 40 pounds, exploded in the chamber of an 11-inch gun when the charge of gunpowder (128 pounds) was fired. The rear part of the breech was blown off at the weak point of the Krupp system. The trunnion-band was broken, throwing off a fragment; and the diameter of the chamber was enlarged 1 inch. The admirable quality of the metal, and the good adjustment of the strength of the several parts is evident from this statement.5

That would have been unpleasant for the gun crew, we suspect.

The Russian guns were also unique in being designed with a thin liner that allowed artillery to be rapidly and economically overhauled.

The operation of inserting one of these lining tubes in a field gun was witnessed at Aboukhoff. The difference of their diameters was very small. The fitting of the slightly conical surfaces by measurement be­fore insertion was done with precision.

When ready for insertion the lining tube was lubricated and intro­ duced by hand. It was forced by hand levers until the end was nearly flush with the breech; hydraulic power then applied by a hand-pump was gradually increased to a pressure of 180 atmospheres, although no motion was apparent after it had reached 100 atmospheres. The rear end of the lining tube forms the recess for the Broadwell ring.

The Russian officers claim that these tubes can be renewed in the field, and cited instances of two 9-inch mortars, weighing 5½ tons each, needed for use on the Danube during the late war. Being too heavy for the available means of transportation they were forwarded in three pieces— a tube, a breech-jacket and a muzzle-jacket. The two latter were screwed together, and the tube was inserted by a jack on the spot; both mortars did excellent service.6.

Consequences of the Report

The Report made several recommendations:

  1. That the Government build its own artillery, rather than purchase it or enter into a public-private partnership, or, as they put it, “The Government should establish on its own territory a plant for the fabrica­tion of cannon, and should contract with private parties to such amounts as would enable them to supply from the private industries of the country the forged and tem­pered material.” The officers thought that the provision of private profit increased Government costs. (They might have been artillerists, but they weren’t economists).
  2. That the Army and Navy have separate facilities. “This has al­ ways been the custom in France, producing good results; the reverse has been the practice in England, producing bad results.”
  3. That the Army construct its factory for artillery tubes at Watervliet, New York, where plentiful hydraulic power would enable manufacturing.7
  4. That the Navy build theirs in the Washington Navy Yard.
  5. And of course, the officers asked for money:

The facts that the United States is destitute of the means of fabri­cating the modern guns so urgently needed for national defense, and that at least three years will be required to complete the tools, construct the shops and establish the plant, would seem to demand an immedi­ate appropriation of the amount ($1,800,000) estimated for the estab­lishment of the proposed gun factories.8

So it was written; and, quite remarkably, so it was, more or less, done. The US still makes its artillery tubes at Watervliet Arsenal!


  1. Daugherty, p. 13.
  2. Foundry Board Report, p. 39.
  3. Foundry Board Report, pp. 14-15.
  4. Foundry Board Report, p. 16.
  5. Foundry Board Report, pp. 37-38.
  6. Foundry Board Report, p. 38.
  7. Watervliet once had a decent museum on base, but it closed in 2013 in a Provost Marshal’s blind security panic, and will never reopen; the exhibits are to be shipped to distant Army museums, stored and forgotten, or, in the case of heavy and bulky exhibits the Army Center for Military History doesn’t want to pay to ship or store, scrapped.
  8. Foundry Board Report, pp. 50-51.



Daugherty, Leo J. III. Pioneers of Amphibious Warfare, 1898-1945: Profiles of Fourteen American Military Strategists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Simpson, et. al. Report of the Gun Foundry Board: Organized by The President in Accordance With the Act of Congress, Approved March 3, 1883. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884. Available at or here at WeaponsMan: Report of the Gun Foundry Board 1884.pdf (10.5 mb PDF).

“Smart” Guns: Potemkin Safety

space invadersThis dumb idea keeps regenerating itself like respawning enemies in a zombie game, or, given the age and technology behind this dumb old idea, like the bad guys in Space Invaders, the ancient arcade video game (if you recognize the screen on the left, “the hill” is something you’re officially “over”).

Fortunately, not everyone is as weary of battling this issue as we are, and comes Herschel Smith with what it would take to convince him, or any of us, that these things work:

[L]et’s talk yet again about smart gun technology.  I am a registered professional engineer, and I spend all day analyzing things and performing calculations.  Let’s not speak in broad generalities and murky platitudes (such as “good enough”).  That doesn’t work with me.  By education, training and experience, I reject such things out of hand.  Perform a fault tree analysis of smart guns.  Use highly respected guidance like the NRC fault tree handbook.

Armatix iP1: bulky, underpowered, and unreliable. And they say it's the wave of the future -- if their coin-op politicians command it so.

Armatix iP1: bulky, underpowered, and unreliable. And they say it’s the wave of the future — if their coin-op politicians command it so.

He’s got a good point there. If you run an Ishikawa diagram of potential faults in a Glock 17, there are not a hell of a lot of branches on your fault tree. There are more on the venerable 1911 (and the 1911’s general reliability illustrates how dogged engineering can sometimes overcome baroque design). Now imagine the fault tree diagram for an Armatix iP1. Don’t forget the various modes of battery failures, radio frequency interference, need to use a weapon weak-hand or by a third party, etc. (The diagrams may suggest why the failed iP1 never seemed to exceed about 90% reliability, failing at a rate of about one round per magazine, and that may suggest why Armatix’s honcho, Ernst Mauch of HK’s you-suck-and-we-hate-you days, tried to get governments to order people to buy the piece of dung. But we digress).

Assess the reliability of one of my semi-automatic handguns as the first state point, and then add smart gun technology to it, and assess it again.  Compare the state points.  Then do that again with a revolver.  Be honest.  Assign a failure probability of greater than zero (0) to the smart technology, because you know that each additional electronic and mechanical component has a failure probability of greater than zero.

Get a PE to seal the work to demonstrate thorough and independent review.  If you can prove that so-called “smart guns” are as reliable as my guns, I’ll pour ketchup on my hard hat, eat it, and post video for everyone to see.  If you lose, you buy me the gun of my choice.  No one will take the challenge because you will lose that challenge.  I’ll win.

Yep. What he is asking the Smart Gun proponents to do is resolve an asymptote to zero, which is mathematically impossible, and probably, in this non-mathematical but real-world-physical case, functionally impossible. If you want to know why adding “Safety Technology” to firearms has never banished mishaps, a good book is Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents.

Now, Perrow wrote the book as an anti-nuclear jeremiad, which may turn off some readers, especially those aware that a nuclear-power reactor control room is historically a safer environment than a Senator’s Oldsmobile, but he notes a very interesting thing: when you get the low-hanging fruit all plucked, that is, say, when the Air Force addressed items in the 1950s flying culture that had them pranging 1000 planes a year, you get a safety system that’s so optimized that adding anything more to it produces new, unintended and unanticipated points of failure.

We see this in aviation safety. American Airlines was concerned about loss-of-control accidents and so encouraged its pilots to seek “upset training” in aerobatic competition airplanes. One such pilot then tried the control inputs that worked in an Extra 300 (stressed to ± 12G in all directions, IIRC), in an Airbus whose tailfin was stressed to ± 1.5G. The result was a disaster, one caused by trying to increase the airline’s already very-high levels of safety!

Likewise, attempting to add safety features to firearms has led to fatalities and injuries. A classic example is the Glock “New York Trigger,” unquestionably a factor in several recent incidents of dreadful cop marksmanship, including incidents where bystanders were shot in addition to and even instead of armed criminals. The NY and NY2 triggers can be shot accurately by experts, but they greatly increase the dispersion of shots fired by average cops, and mandating them is tantamount to ordering your cops to shoot a few random citizens over the next decade or so.

But it looks like safety, to a superficial view (journalism, anyone?), and therefore it’s likely to spread. The “Smart Gun” is another example of this Potemkin safety. If it is discussed in your legislator (or, God forbid, your local police consider something like it), real experts need to come forward to counter the antis’ and interested manufacturers’ paid pushers.

Kalashnikov, Made in USA

That news has the gunosphere going nuts. For the range of comment, you can look at this thread on Reddit — sane and sensible commentary scattered like gold nuggets in a poor vein of, well, the more usual kind of comments. But to the delight of gunnies, the main thrust of the article is that “real Kalashnikovs” will now be made in the USA. That sets the Redditors, particularly, off on jags and spasms of hope and longing for SVDs, SVD-M, Groza, Val and on and on and on.

A Facebook fan site, the AK Operators Union, put it this way:

AK News BOMB!!!! Kalashnikov concern is in process of opening production here in USA. If everything will go well, we will see first, made in USA Kalashnikov Concern AKs later this year!!! All calibers will be produced, including Saiga 9 in 9mm.

(That’s a good site for new AK products at SHOT, by the way). Kalashnikov Concern, a renaming of long-struggling Izmash, is not one of the success stories of the Russian economy right now, thanks to sanctions. We haven’t seen 2014 numbers yet, but even in pre-sanctions 2013, the company lost almost $3 Billion (yes, with a B).

The firm’s US importer, or perhaps we should say, former importer, put a brave face on it at SHOT.

Kalashnikov USA

No idea whether she’s domestic or imported. But if you look closely, there’s a rifle in the picture, and it’s an interesting one, despite our usual disdain for “tacticool AKs”. Because it looks left-handed. We found the pic linked on Reddit.


It’s a nice imaginary parade and it must be nice to beat a drum in it.

Well, there’s nothing we like more than a parade. So here we come to rain on it.

What’s really going on here is simple: the US importer of Concern Kalashnikov arms, RWC Group, of Tullytown, PA, has the US rights to the name and to sell the guns, but RWC’s boss, Tom McCrossin, enjoined from importing anything from Russia, and even from contact with CK or Izmash under the latest sanctions. It can sell the guns it already had warehoused and approved before the sanctions hit, but anything in Russia, stays in Russia.

Russian guns stay in Russia. Russian tooling stays in Russia. Russian ideas and concepts stay in Russia. So the only possibility is for them to be reverse-engineered here, unless RWC got hold of that information antes de the sanctions declaration.

There’s no political solution to this

The US is unlikely to end sanctions on Russia, with Russia still occupying Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia is even less likely to depart from what they do not consider an occupation, but rather a correction of a historical error.  Looking at the Russian point of view, Khrushchev’s assignment of territory from one administrative republic to another in a monolithic, Russian-dominated Soviet Union wound up with long-Russian territories departing when the Republics grabbed their independence. The Donbass area and the Crimea have long been ethnically Russian (especially since Stalin ethnically cleansed the Crimea, but that’s another story). These policies, especially when sold as protection of ethnic Russians minorities ill-treated by locals in the Near Abroad, are enormously popular in Russia.

Russian demo dollies show off new Kalashnikov branding -- in Moscow. Here, it's contraband.

Russian demo dollies show off new Kalashnikov branding — in Moscow. Here, it’s contraband.

It’s much like the situation with Chinese imports, where an anti-gun Administration (In this case, GHW Bush) took the opportunity to get a twofer and punish the “gun nuts” and the Chinese at once for Tienanmen Square. Over a quarter-century later, those sanctions still stand and are not even an irritant in Sino-American relations. Nope, the Russian import ban is probably for good.

So here’s what’s possible

CK branding can apply to American-made Kalashnikov clones. This will be a delight of the sort of fanboy who thinks that an Armalite brand AR-10 is somehow the most “authentic,” because the company making it bought Armalite’s brands, whereas it’s likely that not a single part interchanges from an original Armalite-licensed AR-10. It’s a bit like a guy, behind the times in 1957, buying a badge-engineered Studebaker from his Packard dealer because he always bought Packards.

What determines whether these AKs are good is not the brand that goes on, but the construction that goes in. In the short term, the way for them to maximize profit is to build an el cheapo AK and slap Kalashnikov’s name all over it. Presumably they have some arrangement with CK for royalties, in which case they’ll have to escrow the money. Probably forever. This means they probably can’t be the low-cost provider in the legendarily price-sensitive US AK market. But they can market their clone with the, “Everything else is just a clone,” tagline and see how that works.

In the long term, they might build a better and more sustainable business by taking care to make premium AKs with processes as near to the Russian firm as they can reasonably replicate; this also would leave them in better shape if or when the sanctions regime falls, but we just don’t see it falling. And the market for premium AKs is some small subset of the market for generic AKs.

What’s not happening, and why

Here’s what’s not coming: US-made SVDs, Krinkov SBRs, and other exotics that the already-got-the-easy-stuff collectors of AK-pattern rifles are jonesing for. The business case for these weapons is unchanged since before sanctions, and the business case did not support manufacture beforehand. (Some specialists make a few Krinkovs up from parts kits, but the annual demand for these may be in the single digits of units, at least at the prices the specialists must charge, $3k and up). The regulatory compliance regime (and months-long delays involved) kneecap SBR sales already.

The only reason that the US plant is happening is because the importer has been regulatorily dropkicked out of the import market. They have to do something other than import Russian guns, or fold when their stocks run down. Their way out is to attempt domestic manufacture. We wish them luck; we’re among those guys who have enough basic AKs but if they make a good product, we can always make room for one more.

Are Smiths “Engineered?”

10x10_SmithWesson-Logo_V01This is a tale of Smith and Smith — Smith & Wesson, the 150-odd-year-old Western Massachusetts gunmaker, and Herschel Smith, noted gunblogger and friend of vets (and of this blog). Herschel noted this in his Captain’s Journal blog:

On another issue related to S&W, I received an e-mail notification today from S&W on new products for 2015.  It mainly looks like more variants of the M&P.  The e-mail said, and I quote, “Smith & Wesson Corp. announced today that the company has expanded its award-winning line of professionally engineered M&P Series firearms with new offerings for 2015.”  S&W may want to rethink this language.

When you use the words “professional engineer,” “engineer,” “engineering” or “professionally engineered,” you invoke all sorts of legal stipulations that the service or product was designed and specified by a registered professional engineer.  In the past, companies who have done this without having a registered professional engineer on staff with the work being performed under his responsible charge were fined and issued cease and desist letters from the attorney general’s office of the state in which the company does business.  Perhaps they don’t know this, but you can’t just throw around the words professional engineer, any more than you can throw around the words doctor or lawyer.  Moreover, the legal burden such language places on the product manufacturer (for product liability) is rather onerous.

While Herschel’s dead right about the significance of PE and degreed-engineer credentials (two separate things), we’re aware that Smith & Wesson  employs numerous engineers with these qualifications. We’ve been told that VP Mark P. Smith is a PE, for instance, and the company occasional advertises PE job openings. David S. Findlay, author of the Firearms Anatomy series of books (M1A1 Thompson; Mk II Sten) is an engineer and engineering manager who worked at Remington and H&R 1871 before joining Smith. We could probably find a lot more if we were to start with those guys’ LinkedIn pages.

Not everybody in an engineering management job there came out of a college of engineering, though. Dan Fontaine, director of manufacturing, has a bachelor’s degree but he came up starting as a high-school-educated shop foreman. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, as anyone, engineer or worker, who’s spent time on a factory floor can attest.

The bottom line: yes, Smith & Wesson’s weapons are designed and their designs substantiated by professional engineers, including Professional Engineers with capital letters. This is actually the standard among the large firms in the industry these days. The small, agile startups often have designers who are not engineers, but even they hire engineers when they’ve grown enough to support them: there are great advantages to having someone fluent in the language and arts of engineering on your design team, which is why graduates of engineering colleges are more sanguine about their student loans than their cohorts clutching liberal arts sheepskins.

Herschel Smith’s comment was not the main thrust of his blog post, so you owe it to yourself to click on over and Read The Whole Thing™. He was responding, as we’ve been meaning to do, to news stories stemming from a financial analyst’s statement that SWHC has the inside track in the Army’s Modular Handgun competition. We hope to address that in a separate post soon.