Category Archives: Industry

Testing Polymer Receivers to Destruction: Factory and Printed

Here’s another embedded video from Full30.com’s InRange TV, where Ian and Karl do their level best to destroy a Cav Arms polymer lower.

They step on it, stomp on it, run it over with a Jeep, and shoot holes in it, and still it keeps on shooting. One is reminded of the old Timex ads, “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Maybe it should be “Takes a drilling and it keeps on killing (IPSC targets).”

We’re not really shocked by this. We had AKs and SKSes in the foreign weapons arms room in 10th Group that were Vietnam captures, complete with bullet and claymore holes, and they all worked. (We kind of doubt their previous owner Mr Nguyen was still in such adequate operating condition). And we’ve seen ARs take some pretty brutal treatment and keep on shooting, including carbines that would still chamber rounds after their plastic was all burned off and their magazines blown out by a helicopter post-crash fire (we didn’t shoot them, though), and an M16A1 that still functioned (albeit inaccurately) with the barrel bent 30º off axis at the FSB1 (it was under a trooper’s armpit when he executed a really craptacular PLF2, dislocating his arm and bending the rifle).

A really good design is overwrought enough that it can be degraded by wear, corrosion, or, yes, combat, a good bit before it fails to function. And a really outstanding design delivers that with the smallest weight and bulk penalty possible.

Cav Arms made quite a few of these lowers out of durable Nylon 6 before the company was singled out for destruction by the ATF, which is a long story and off this topic. (A seemingly complete technical history of the Cav Arms lower has been prepared by Russel Phagan, aka Sinistral Rifleman, who assisted in the video). A successor manufactures the lowers today. (But the most significant thing about the lower wasn’t the company’s grim fate; it was that the lower was redesigned from the ground up to be made of polymer, to take advantage of this material’s strengths, and to shore up its weaknesses).

As Ian points out towards the end of the video, a polymer lower designed to be a polymer lower is a better bet than one that is just a molding of the traditional 7075 alloy machined forging. (Conversely, a steel receiver that follows the form factor of the alloy lower is going to be overstrength and overweight). These follow from the differences in the strengths of the three materials.

Ian notes the weakness of the buffer tower if the normal lower receiver is modeled in anything other than metal, and that gibes with the results that early lower-receiver 3D printers had, substituting much weaker ABS or PLA material for the 7075. The first point of failure to be made manifest was the buffer tower area. This led to reinforced buffer towers and ultimately such heavily-reinforced lower-receiver designs as the modern Aliamanu-Phobos.

alimanu_phobos_printed_lower

Along with the reinforcements named in that slide, the massively reinforced buffer tower is evident. But even this beefy design can fail. This one started to delaminate with just 20 rounds fired. Test firing the lower:

trouble1 aliamanu-phobosHere’s the first image of the delamination. Since all the fire control group parts are above the delamination line, the weapon should still operate, but this obviously bodes ill for any probability of it surviving further testing. (Yes, these do embiggen for more of a close-up look).

trouble1 delamination 1Here’s the other side at that 20-round point:

trouble1 delamination 2

 

Firing more rounds just cause more failure, in this case it seems that the area around the grip screw also began to delaminate, releasing the grip:

trouble1 delamination 3At this point, stick a fork in it, it’s done.

Others have had much better results, including from pretty low end perimeters, and the equipment and parameters that FOSSCAD member trouble1 used didn’t seem out of step with what the successful printers did. But you can’t call this a successful print. It seems highly probable that there is some failure in the print setup or materials (moisture in the filament?) that no one has figured out yet.

That delamination is an interesting failure mode that’s fairly common in fused filament fabrication printing, is only one reason the technology is not yet ready to compete head-to-head with plastic injection molding. The much slower production of the additive process, and its higher per-unit variable cost, also argue against this for production. However, injection molding, with its generally higher fixed costs (for tooling), is unsuitable for prototyping and very short production runs. A hybrid of technologies that uses printed molds to reduce that fixed cost for short runs offers the potential of closing the gap. But a proper part is a part that is designed in conjunction with its manufacturing technology — engineered for production from Day One, with materials  chosen to meet the mission and simplify, speed up, and save money on production.

As Ian noted about the Cav Arms polymer lower (which is injection molded), it’s necessary to design the part to make best use of the materials and technology. Simply trying to reverse-engineer a popular firearm in a new material or manufacturing approach will only take you so far. It may, given enough iterations, be far enough.

Notes

  1. FSB = Front Sight Base, the triangular-shaped forging that holds up the front sight on the nose of AR-15 series rifles through the early M4A1. It also locates the gas tube and hosts the bayonet lug — a busy small part.
  2. PLF = Parachute Landing Fall, a specific roll that reduces the risk of injury when a para touches down.

Lost PLA Based 10/22 – From Data to Print to Cast Aluminum

We have mentioned before that the great benefits of 3-D printing include not only the direct printing of parts, but the printing of tooling, models, and patterns. It was inevitable that sooner or later someone was going to 3D print a PLA (polylactic acid, the easiest and most common plastic for 3-D printing) pattern for a firearm receiver, and then make an aluminum alloy casting using the Lost PLA process, essentially identical to the lost wax process used by jewelers and dentists for millennia. And now someone has done it, yielding this receiver, which builds up into a clone of the popular Ruger 10/22.

lost_pla_10-22_complete

The 10/22 is a good choice, as a vast quantity of aftermarket parts are available for this rifle, and the original receiver was designed to be produced by investment casting in the first place.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

In Lost PLA, the pattern begins as a 3D dimensional file.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

The receiver is printed (allowing for a shrinkage percentage), then rods of PLA or wax are attached to form sprues, runners, fillers, and risers (sprues attach multiple parts; runners direct molten metal to parts or to areas of parts; fillers are used to pour the metal in, in most cases there should be only one per sprue; and risers allow air to escape, and signal the completion of the pour).

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Then the assembly is invested with high-temperature plaster or plaster and sand mixture. The wax / plastic pattern is then burned out of the mold, and the metal is heated and poured in to the investment.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

After the pour has had time to solidify, the casting is removed and any risers and screws are cut off.

Another thermoplastic like ABS can be substituted for PLA, but not a thermosetting (for obvious reasons). We expect PLA to be superior on castability.

In this case, the casting looks like it needed some cleanup (here’s a close-up) before it was built into an actual firearm. That’s not uncommon for investment castings, although industrial investment castings get nearer and nearer to net shape all the time.

lost_pla_10-22_closeup

 

You want tutorials? We got tutorials.

Here’s an Instructable in which a series of lost-ABS Yoda heads (people want Yoda heads? Takes all kinds to make a world…) are attached to a wax sprue, invested and cast. You could easily see this done with small parts and some other metal (although most home and small foundries aren’t going to be casting iron or steel due to the temps required). There are many practical tips for insuring casting success in this one, and an 11-minute at the end that ties it together (mute the sound). Read the comments too; the guy has decided PLA is better than ABS for this purpose.

Here’s a walk-through of another lost-PLA art project. Note that burnout temperatures are specific to materials and, especially, investments. Follow the instructions of the investment maker.

Here’s the original lost-PLA project we first cited some years ago, but it’s still valid.

And a Hackaday they’re hacking lost-PLA in a pair of Microwave Ovens. Here’s a quick overview with many links, and here’s the actual project. One Microwave is a standard one, and uses a susceptor (think metal, focusing the energy) for burning out the PLA. The other is converted, removing the rotisserie and using a top emitter to melt aluminum. Of course, this is limited in size/volume/weight of part it can do.

We would give them a safety thumbs down on their cardboard-box flask. Cheap, yes, but… and they don’t disclose much about their aluminum melting mod to the microwave.

And finally, in Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing in 2014, they showed a couple of other ways to make metal parts, some decorative (like low-temp bismuth alloy).

 

 

A Sad Gunsmith Story — And How to Avoid One

A guy on Reddit has a pretty sad gunsmith story. In Reddit tradition, in memory of the martyred Chairman Pao, we’ll give you the tl;dr version first:

tl;dr: guy brings three gun parts to shop for smith work. Never meets with or talks to smith. Parts are on budget but are late and low quality. 

OK, here’s the way he put it:

I was referred to Williams Gun Works by a local Wichitan. I wanted to have a factory 10/22 barrel threaded and a Beretta Neos 6″ barrel threaded. I also wanted my Glock 17 slide milled for an RMR and cerakoted to match.
I contacted them and they told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR. I dropped everything off on June 4th and noted one scratch on the 10/22 barrel so we were on the same page as far as cosmetic defects. They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know. They told me it should be done in about 2 weeks give or take.
6 weeks later (7/15) I get the call to pick up my barrels. The slide still wasn’t done though. Still waiting on Cerakote. They told me to bring my can to make sure the threads were good. I decided it would be best to check the threads with a nut first, just in case they were fucked up. I specified the exact length/type of threads I needed for that can, though.
I take off work to go pick up the barrels and I immediately notice a good amount of surface rust on the 10/22 barrel. They rubbed it with an oily cloth and called it good. Threads were ok though.
The Neos barrel had some surface rust that was new as well, but also had really fucked up starting threads and wouldn’t catch a thread at all. This was a surprise to them (implying they had even looked at it before calling me).
They ran a die over the threads and I was able to thread the nut. I took both home and cleaned up the threads further with my own die, and removed all the surface rust.
Today (7/20) I get the call to pick up my slide. I take off work again. They had already mounted the RMR. Cerakote looked good. The extractor plunger wouldn’t go in its hole.

Did you guys see the red flag we did? Let’s rewind:

They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know.

So, despite the fact that someone recommended this gun shop, they send their machine work out. (Not unusual). And they don’t even know enough to talk about something that is, frankly, a pretty common request. (That is unusual). How common? Well, Glock made flat, optic slides a factory option because enough people were doing it that it began to make sense in mass production. A slide already set up like that is a phone call away. And the explosive growth in NFA registrations in recent years is predominantly in suppressors, which need threaded hosts — again, something so common that vendors are series- if not mass-producing the barrels and selling them on GunBroker. It should have been a red flag that the shop’s guys couldn’t talk intelligently about these two simple procedures, and didn’t pass him off to someone who could. (Sure, a simple sales clerk might not know, but can’t he say, “Willie’s in Tuesday, and he understands all this stuff. Can you come in to see him?”)

There was another clue that they sent this work out, also:

[T]hey told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR

Now, having the barrels stripped does make threading easier, but disassembly is a pretty trivial thing on these two firearms. They’re both designed with assembly and maintenance in mind. But the shop’s insistence on stripping suggests it’s going to a shop that doesn’t have an FFL and probably doesn’t do much gun work.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gun work was at the cutting edge of machine shop practice 150 years ago, but today a lot of shops routinely work on ultra-high-precision tools and dies and aerospace parts. They should be able to set up and thread a gun barrel sleepwalking.

But working through a shop that sends their stuff out means you’re trying to communicate what you want done through intermediaries. And in this case, the intermediaries sound unprepared for and unfamiliar with the work in question, even if the shop (from whose knowledge the second-hand nature of this job insulates the customer) isn’t.

In our limited experience gunshop clerks run the gamut from real experts to complete bozos. The best of them know their products and the market, and know everything they’re likely to see as a trade-in, too. They can talk gun history and manufacturing processes with the best of us. The worst of them? Should probably wear a hockey helmet while out in public. But they all think they’re experts, except for the real experts, who are paradoxically more humble than their station should demand. But the particular experts at this store never told the machinist about the importance of corrosion control and deburring (and then, there’s a little voice that tells me if you don’t understand corrosion control or deburring, you’re probably not a real machinist, either).

It sounds like nobody took ownership of the rust on barrels. That’s a double red flag, first that the barrels were allowed to get that way, and secondly that it was received with blasé indifference. It’s like going to a plastic surgeon for a nose job and getting that, and a bonus Teutonic saber-dueling scar.

This guy wound up spending $500 for work that was never QCd adequately by anybody and having three guns down for a month and a half. Work that he needed, in some cases, to do over. The shop did offer to blast and restore the Cerakote on the Glock slide, as removing enough of the burrs to assemble the pistol left bald spots on the slide. The seller chose not to give them a second at-bat with his pistol; he’s still so POd that he’s talking about a credit card chargeback (something merchants really abhor).

Even without having seen their side of the story, it’s a dead certainty that the shop, too, is unhappy with this transaction all around.

The guy could have bought a Glock slide cut for RMR and a threaded 10/22 barrel from almost anywhere, like Brownells, One Source Tactical or Lone Wolf (at least for the Glock part), and had overnight delivery. He’d have spent a little more money; the slide goes for $250-300 finished while the milling job is done by many production smiths for $120-160 plus shipping. We’re not sure about the Neos barrel, that’s a bit of a rara avis at this time, at least compared to Glocks and 10/22s which have an ultra-robust aftermarket.

How do you avoid this predicament?

There are several things  we recommend.

  1. You may not want to use a local shop. There are shops that solicit your business and that do business nationwide.
  2. If you can’t talk to the guy who’s going to cut your metal in a local shop, they send it out to some generic job shop where it gets treated like generic machined tractor parts or whatever.
  3. If the guy says they don’t know how to do something, don’t browbeat him into trying it and then regret it when he fails. Instead, take his word for it. This is not the smith you are looking for.
  4. Don’t pay 100% in advance. In fact, withhold something until the job proves out. Think of those dollars as your hostages to a successful transaction.
  5. What’s the point in dealing locally if you don’t deal face to face with the actual smith? A lot of people today seem terrified of communication by phone or face-to-face with actual humans, but this guy didn’t have that problem, he just communicated with the wrong guys.

From the Dealer’s Point of View

  1. If you send work out, be up front about it. (“Hey, that’s a milling job, we don’t have the machine tools for that, but we do have a good shop that does work for us.”) Nobody will hold it against you, you’re a small business that needs to interface with other small businesses to please your customers.
  2. Don’t let a customer talk you into work that you’re not sure you or your guy can do.
  3. Never, ever, take a job you don’t understand completely.
  4. Never, ever, release a job without inspecting it to ensure it met what you quoted. (What, no quote? See next item).
  5. Quote in writing and in detail. This protects everybody, yeah, even the merchant.
  6. Consider hiring (or teaming with) a real smith if your market will support it. If you’re really small, see if you can get a guy to come in one evening a week (most of your customers work day jobs) or make a weekend presentation on what he can do. It is not the walk-in repair and modification business that will pay for the smith, but the impulse purchases of the guys who come to see him. You can also use him to raise the profile of some of your plain-jane used guns.
  7. Don’t oversell your smith. We watched an alleged smith fail miserably at reassembling a customer’s common-as-dirt Winchester .22. He didn’t have the humility to go to YouTube for an answer, and the old standby of using two screwdrivers to compress a long spring into a short hole didn’t occur to him, probably because he got rattled by several failures. If a guy isn’t a real gunsmith, don’t call him that, call him a technician, armorer or repairman.
  8. If you’re the smith, be humble. There’s no harm in asking if you can look at something, check some references, and then quote.

For everybody, meet the other party half way, and try to be sensitive to their expectations. We actually think the shop in this case did that with their offer to re-coat the slide; we think the customer’s being unreasonable if he wants a full refund. But the shop really blew it by returning uninspected work to a customer. Now the guy has lost faith in you, and, he’s dropped the Reddit bomb on you, which is on the net forever, or until Reddit management finally kills the site, whichever comes first.

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:

schatz_slide_overmatch_now

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.

schatz_slide_overmatch_future

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.

Notes

  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.

Sources:

Daniau, Emeric. Toward a 600 M Lightweight General Purpose Cartridge. September 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Toward%20a%20600%20m%20GP%20round.pdf ; 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: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2015smallarms/17354_Schatz.pdf

Williams, Anthony. Assault Rifles and Ammunition: History and Prospects. Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm

Williams, Anthony. The Case for a General-Purpose Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridge (GPC). Nov 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/The%20Next%20Generation.htm ; an earlier version was presented at NDIA in 2010: http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2010armament/WednesdayLandmarkBAnthonyWilliams.pdf

(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).

 

GunLab’s Reverse Engineering

We haven’t been over there (GunLab.net) in a while, and Chuck is always up to something cool. Recently he had something nice to say about us, in a longer post on reverse-engineering; to be explicit, reverse-engineering the MP44 trunnion. But forget what he says about WeaponsMan.com, how cool is it to be making an MP.44 trunnion for (almost) the first time since a T-34 did a pivot turn on the ruins of the factory?

MP44 reverse-engineered trunnions

Here at Gun Lab we do a fair amount of reverse engineering, most of what we like to make have no drawings. However when there are drawings or solid models available we will use them. With this said I have found that most of what is available on the internet or in books is just not correct.

A case in point is the MP-44 trunnion. I have all the drawings that I have been able to find on this part, a number of different sets are out there, and when compared with the actual part have found them to be lacking. Some are just wrong and in some cases I don’t think the person has actually looked at a part.

Now, we have a set of MP.44 drawings here. We’ve actually been meaning to show a few of them to illustrate how MP.44 design features migrated into the AR-10 and thence to all its descendants. They’re terribly reproduced, no longer to scale, but they are dimensioned MP.44 drawings.

Say “Thank you,” class:

MP44_Zeichnungen.pdf

Now, you might wonder how it can be possible with apparently original (even if lousy), dimensioned drawings, you can’t just poke the numbers in and try to run the part. There are a number of reasons that you could expect drawings to diverge from shop practice. In the real world, in fact, it’s a constant battle to keep the drawings and the processes both aligned properly on the same part. In the 20th Century this got particularly bad because of engineer/draftsman/master machinist/machine operator job specialization and social stratification. Those could be four different guys whose only workshop interactions were with the adjacent guy in the org chart, and whose contacts were all correct.

There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without the engineers going out on the shop floor, but some are loath to do that, and some shop staff are loath to have an engineer looking over their shoulders. There’s no way you produce stuff efficiently without a steel-cutter being able to walk back into the engineering spaces with a part and a problem, right to the guy who drew the drawings — but that is forbidden more often than it is allowed! So even in the best, cleanest, and least disrupted shops, lines got crossed, things fell apart, the center did not hold… wait, we got carried away there for a bit. But communications were imperfect, even in a perfect factory.

Then, add into the mix, we’re talking about the Third Reich in 1944-45. If the Germans had perfect factories, the Allies bombed them. Meanwhile, the gaping maw of the Eastern Front demanded endless human sacrifices, and in each successive draft call manufacturers could protect fewer and fewer key workers. The “fix” the government proposed for this was that they would provide labor, but that labor was at best displaced refugees from the ill-fated German settlements in the East, but more commonly slave labor from occupied nations.

Something had to go, and one of the things that went was correcting and updating drawings. Seriously, if you compare surviving German drawings to the M1 drawings, your mental picture of “German efficiency” will never recover. (Well, maybe a little when you realize that two large air forces were gamely trying to reduce German industry to the state of the Germans’ forebears in the Neander valley).

Now back to the MP-44 trunnion. We were contracted a while back with making a limited number of new trunnions for the MP-44. He sent us a very good original one and we had a poor copy of one at the shop. Using these two pieces we started the project of reverse engineering it. The easiest thing to do was look for engineer drawings off the web. These are the ones that I found.

His look like they’re from the same set we’ve got here. He has stripped them of dimensions, perhaps because he’s not working with SI (metric) dimensions, but more likely because the dimensions were not “on” compared to the physical parts he had to measure.

The measurements have been removed from these copies, however you can find them on the internet. I did use the basic drawing as a starting point. The sheets were cleaned and measurements were taken using a cmm, micrometers and pin gauges. Tolerances were set using not only the trunnion but also matching parts. When there was a doubt other parts were located to increase the measurement standards. This allowed us to come up with a reasonable solid model that we felt was accurate enough to start programing.

A CMM is a coordinate measuring machine. Think of it as a sort of 3D scanner that touches off against a part and records that position in 3D space. These can be used to gather a cloud of points, or more efficiently, to capture key dimensions.

The problem with using a CMM against a part you are re-engineering is that you’re working off one part, and you don’t know where in the tolerances that part was. (That’s also our beef with David Findlay’s excellent Firearms Anatomy books — for practical reasons, Findlay worked off a single sample of the firearm).

Given enough parts to measure, you can develop a degree of statistical certainty about where the original measurement was supposed to be. Working with most non-US products, you can also cheat a bit by knowing that engineers like to spec things in fairly round millimetric measures — dimensions that end in X.0 or X.5 millimeters, most of the time.

Anyway, here is the first post on re-engineering the MP.44 trunnion, and here is a follow-up post (in which the model turns out to need some improvement). Meanwhile lots of work improving the shop and working on GunLab’s other projects, such as the VG1-5 limited production run.

Note on an Unpleasant Subject

Technical posts like this and GunLab’s would be banned under a gag order slipped into the Federal Register by the State Department — yes, the very people who negotiated the deal to accelerate the nuclear armament of the hostage-taking terror state of Iran this week. The deadline for comments is 3rd August. As we previously wrote (more background there, at the end of a barrel-heating post):

Comments go here at Regulations.gov or by email to: DDTCPublicComments@state.govwith the subject: “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage”. Ceteris paribus, this link should open in your email application with the correct subject header.

Again, there’s more at that previous post on how to comment, but at this time it’s crucial that you comment. A State Department than can censor the Internet is a State Department that has lost touch with America.

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).

Update

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.”

Geissele (ALG Defense) AK Trigger

Bill Geissele’s wife’s company, ALG Defense, makes products for more of a mass-market than the very sweet, fairly simple, Geissele AR-15 triggers that live in more than a few SOF M4s and Mk. 11/12/18s, etc. (Indeed, sometimes the Geisele triggers are authorized MFP 11 or unit purchases, and sometimes they are installed on a catch-me-F-me basis by unit weapons men or armorers). Along with the triggers for full-on M4s and HK416s, Geissele makes improved triggers in both single-stage and two-stage variants for a wide range of semi ARs. They’re not cheap, they’re not always in stock, but they’re good.

ALG Defense makes simpler AR triggers — and now, an AK trigger, imaginatively coded AKT. In this video Bill explains the objectives this trigger meets and talks about some of the challenges involved in designing it.

The AK, Bill says, “has a ton of sear engagement.” That’s what you, the shooter, perceive as the very long and very smooth takeup of the typical AK trigger.  (The SKS trigger has a similarly long, smooth engagement, suggesting that this may have been a standing Soviet / Russian design objective).

The result is an AK trigger that fits a variety of common receivers on domestic, imported, and kit-built AKs, and that reduces the trigger pull force and duration (including that all important very long sear dwell) significantly.

For example, Bill shows a graph of a stock AK trigger versus the ALG AKT; the stock trigger moves about 0.150″/4mm and takes about 4.5-5 lb. of pressure during that sear dwell period. The AKT takes up the slack more quickly and seems to come in about 0.065″ and just under 3.5 lb.

At about 8:30 he shows a 3D model (in Autodesk Inventor) of the trigger and walks through its function.

It fits some AKs with no fitting, but because of the wide variation in AK safeties, some AKs need a roll pin positioned so as to contact the safety. It’s explained in the video and in the AKT’s instructions.

 

“Socially Managed” Teachers Out Of Remington (and Money)

CalSTRSThe California (where else?) State Teachers’ Retirement System, CalSTRS, has long wanted to be free of the position it holds in icky-poo gunmaker Remington Outdoor, thanks to an investment in the Cerberus hedge fund that holds Remington.

The same teachers who are doing a really, really crappy job teaching Johnny (these days, Juanito) to read (but at least they’re bilingualilliterate!) have been protesting, picketing, marching, singing off-key, drumming in drum circles and bitching and moaning and generally carrying on to get the fund out of the evil, evil position of owning gun makers. Let’s check in with the hometown paper of Californistan’s dysfunctional one-party state government, the Sacramento Bee:

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System said it has unloaded its holdings in Remington Outdoor, formerly known as Freedom Group, the maker of the assault rifle used at the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Remington Outdoor Logo

CalSTRS said it was precluded, for legal reasons, from disclosing the financial terms of the deal.

Translation of that last one-sentence paragraph: CalSTRS took a bath on a typical CalSTRS investment: buy high, sell low under self-imposed distress, get submarket returns, pay everybody in management a big bonus, expect the taxpayers to bail you out when the music stops and nobody has a chair.

The announcement came three weeks after Remington’s owner, New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, offered to let CalSTRS and other investors cash out of their investments in the gun maker. Cerberus will place its investment in Remington in a separate investment vehicle.

Translation: Hedgies: “We’ll buy that position back from you at pennies on the dollar.” CalSTRS: “Oh thank you mightily!”

Ehlers

Why is this man smiling? He has gotten stinking rich on extremely poor results, and no one holds him accontable for anything.

As of last spring, Jack Ehlers’s brilliant management had made Ehlers extremely wealthy, but the fund admitted that it was under-reserved by $75 million.

Oh, wait, our bad. Not $75, only $73.7… but wait one… that’s billion, not million. Ehlers has so bungled the fund’s financial management that it’s under water by over $2,000 for every teacher, student, and every other man, woman and child (and Mexican cartel sicario) in the Golden State.  They’d have to double the $5-6 Billion the state puts in the system every year to get ahead of it, and they haven’t got the money.

But wait… that’s using Ehlers’s numbers, and we’re starting to get a sense that maybe numbers are not his bag, as a Californian of a certain vintage might say.  Sure enough, “CalSTRS solvency” is a thing on Google (5,150 hits, appropriately enough). As is, “Is CalSTRS broke?” (We’ll cut the suspense for you: by any honest accounting, yes).

Here’s a particularly good one, at Dropout Nation by Rishawn Biddle:

Even among the nation’s busted defined-benefit teachers’ pensions, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System stands out for its fiscal morass. The nation’s most-insolvent teachers’ pension, CalSTRS has become a tremendous burden on Golden State taxpayers; in fact, nearly all of the revenues from new taxes raised as a result of the passage of Prop. 30 two years ago has gone toward paying down the pension’s insolvency as well as fund quality-blind traditional teacher compensation.

Biddle says the pension is more than $93 billion in the hole.

Let’s throw a little of Biddle’s methodology up on the blackboard, shall we?

This time around, CalSTRS officially reports a pension deficit of $74 billion in its defined-benefit program for 2012-2013, the latest year available. Based on the officially-reported numbers, the pension’s insolvency increased by four percent between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. But the officially-reported deficit doesn’t reflect reality.

As we’ve mentioned before, private pensions have to use realistic rate of return expectations, while government pensions can pull any old number out of their fourth point of contact, and call it their “secret sauce,” and bend the balance sheet into a fictional shade of black ink. Is that a factor here? Biddle, again:

One reason: Because CalSTRS uses an assumed rate of return of 7.5 percent, which allows for the pension (and ultimately, the state government, which sets the rate of return) to present a rosier picture than reality. This is because if investments are increasing in value at a healthy clip, it can help reduce the level of unfunded liabilities on the pension’s balance sheet. Not only is the assumed rate of return higher than the 5.2 percent five-year rate experienced in the market, according to Wilshire Associates, it is even higher than the 3.7 percent rate of return the pension admits in its comprehensive annual financial report that it has experienced over the past five years.

Got that. We’ll break it out for you. CalSTRS says it will get 7.5% returns on its investments going forward. The market in general is returning 5.2 percent over five years, so Ehlers is saying his stock and bond and private investment is so good that CalSTRS will do half again better than all the other financial managers out there, on average. He is also saying he will do twice as good as he’s done. Here’s the numbers in a table for you:

Rate of Return Predictions % of market % of claimed % of actual
CalSTRS claimed rate % 7.50% 144.00% 100.00% 203.00%
Market 5-year actual rate % 5.20% 100.00% 69.00% 140.54%
CalSTRS 5-yr actual rate % 3.70% 71.00% 49.00% 100.00%

Even though he’s picking investments based on politics and grade-school teachers’ feels. And even though he’s actually only been getting less than half the return he claims he’ll get going forward. (The similarly “socially managed” CalPERS state employee fund is even worse. One year (2012) they actually brought in 0.14%).

And did he claim he was going to get 3.7%, or did he claim 7.5%? Ah, trick question. Before the recent years’ returns came in, the CalSTRS managers forecast 8.5%, then 8%, then 7.75%, then 7.5%, any of which numbers would probably get them indicted if they tried using it on a private firm’s pension plan in light of their piss-poor investment performance.

But wait! One more thing. Biddle’s using last spring’s numbers, and even CalSTRS admits it’s fallen behind another $7B or so since then.

Now, CalSTRS is not actually losing money. It’s making money, almost four percent over five years of a bull market (before, of course, the expenses of Ehlers and his army of below-average “experts”). But it’s not making money fast enough to stay ahead of its growing liabilities. It’s got Baby Boomer teachers aging out and taking pensions, and the population — especially the school-age population — not growing fast enough for revenues to keep pace. And the benefits are pretty good for those that are getting them now (not so good for those that will be screwed when the system goes under).

It’s bailing 3.7 gallons out of the lifeboat as more than that comes in, every year, and its way of correcting the problem always is to say that next year some miracle will cause them to overfulfill the Stakhanovite 5-year Plan miraculously make 8, or 8.5, or maybe only 7.5% in a market with a zero Fed Funds Rate, even though they historically have not done half of that that.

When the mutual fund company tells you “past results are no guarantee of future performance,” they’ve usually just got through showing you historic positive results. Ehlers wants you to believe (and the teachers, and the Legislature, and papers like the Sacramento Bee really appear to believe) that they can promise future results that are double their recent past results, while they keep doing the same old thing, and are competing in a market by people who are not constrained by political investments.

We’re sure that picking investments because of the feels of activists who were mentally maxed out going through a lowbrow teacher training program for room-temp IQs has nothing to do with it.

Breaking: Colt Defense Bankruptcy

colt_logo_mThis week may be will be the week It looks like today is the day that sees Colt Defense throw in the bankruptcy towel. A Google search on the scary term “Colt bankruptcy” finds dozens of stories.

Update: Starting at about 2100 last night EDT, the stories were saying that Colt was filing for Chapter 11 Reorganization — a form of bankruptcy protection that shields a firm from creditors while giving it time and funds to reorganize.

In Chapter 11, creditors and owners normally take losses. The owners are often zeroed out, and unsecured creditors may be, also.

Colt’s most valuable properties, its intellectual property (designs, trademarks and patents) are essentially mortgaged, greatly reducing the cash value of the business, which the managers propose selling at auction.

After Colt defaulted on an interest payment last month, its managers, hedge fund Sciens Capital, initially tried to press bondholders into accepting a 95% haircut and a six-year stretch in bond terms. Only 5.1% of the bondholders were willing to take a chance at getting 5% six years later ($50 per $1000 of bonds’ face value), even with the firm threatening to go bankrupt and zero them out. Colt managed to negotiate some breathing space with the bondholders, and managed to raise the participation to a still-anemic 5.9%, even after offering them a less sour 45% of old bond face value in the new bonds.

The managers’ second choice, a prepackaged bankruptcy like the one used in the notorious Government Motors bankruptcies, also did not attract enough creditor support.

The Wall Street Journal (if this link paywalls you, go back to the Google search above) calls the company’s problems, “business-execution issues and a heavy debt burden.” If you’re a WeaponsMan.com reader, you knew that already. (The Journal article is very good, but even it has its limits. It traces the 150-plus-year-old firm to “17th Century New England,” where, what? Some Colt forebear presumably made Miles Standish’s matchlock? Layers and layers of editors!)

Some creditors were willing to provide debtor-in-possession financing to allow Colt to continue operating in Chapter 11. Assuming court approval, their plan is to sell the entire business as a going concern at auction.

Colt has struggled in recent years with supply-chain and working capital issues, a slowdown in rifle sales and its 2013 loss of a key contract to supply the U.S. Army with the M4. As a result of some of its operational issues, the company has had accounting problems that caused it to revise prior years’ reported financial results and miss a creditor’s initial filing deadline for an annual report, according to regulatory filings.

Colt plans to try to reduce its $355 million debt burden via a court-supervised auction of its business, to generate proceeds to repay some of its lenders, the people familiar with the plans said.

Note exactly what that said: “repay some of its lenders.” (Emphasis ours, of course – Ed.) That implies that others of its lenders will not be repaid — and creditors who are, unlike the lenders, unsecured? They’re probably SOL.

Colt has selected its private-equity backer, Sciens Management LLC, as the “stalking horse”—or lead bidder—in the sale, some of the people said.

So much for the hope that the auction was going to be on the up-and-up.

Here’s how the Journal describes Colt’s Annus Horribilis: 

As its cash dwindled, Colt spent much of the past year seeking financing and angling for better terms and restructuring-plan support from creditors.

It tried to win bondholders’ backing for a debt-for-debt exchange or a “prepackaged bankruptcy” filing that could have smoothed its trip through chapter 11. But bondholders balked at the deals, either of which would have slashed the amount the company owed them. As of June 1, just 5.9% of bondholders had registered their support for Colt’s proposal, according to the company.

Colt borrowed $70 million from Morgan Stanley last year to pay interest on its bonds, and in February it warned it might not have enough cash to make an interest payment by a June 15 deadline. This year it struck a $33 million refinancing deal with hedge fund Marblegate Asset Management LLC that also freed up some additional liquidity, according to filings.

Every time some liquidity got refloated, some portion of it was siphoned off by Sciens (or the previous hedgies), and now it looks like they’re going to take another shot at draining this company’s cash lifeblood. And the Journal notes another coincidence: the building that Colt leases in West Hartford, CT, is owned by some of Sciens’s insider managers.

We’re sure there’s no rake-off happening there.

Other stories:

Update:

Amazing. Per a press release that is posted to Nathaniel’s story at TFB, Sciens Capital, the owners of Colt Defense, are going to buy the company with new borrowed money, zeroing out the bondholders and some of the lenders (notably the participants in that $33M round led by Morgan Stanley — MS itself is not exposed to the risk, but took a management fee for organizing the round, per our MS guy).

As part of this deal, Colt will extend its lease on the building leased to it by its own owners. One more way the Sciens Capital hedgies make Colt into the gift that keeps on giving — to them.

Normally a company emerges from bankruptcy either stronger (as Colt did from its last Chapter 11 bout just over 20 years ago) or mortally wounded, just a shuffle away from the elephant’s graveyard. The plan here is for the successor company to be managed by the same guys who ran this one into the ground (after putting their mitts on everything but the third rail), which doesn’t bode well for the future of the company, let alone for the poor chumps who provided the capital, only to find out that the future was an iceberg and they didn’t have a seat in the lifeboat.

Update II:

Here are the filings, again thanks to Nathaniel.

http://www.kccllc.net/coltdefense

All Colt firms are included in this bankruptcy, including Colt Canada (ex-Diemaco), a finance arm, and other domestic and international branches of the firm. The bankruptcy petition is filed in Colt’s paper home jurisdiction, Delaware.

History:

For all WeaponsMan.com reporting on Colt (products as well as finances), this is a Google search.

Previous WeaponsMan.com reporting on Colt Defense’s situation (newest on top):

28 May 2015: Colt Defense LLC Kicks the Can, Again.

23 May 2015: In Any Colt Bankruptcy, Its Patents are Already Gone

20 May 2015: S&P Drops Colt Defense Below Junk to “D for Default.”

19 May 2015: Industry News: TrackingPoint winks out; Colt, ?; ATF Raids Stag

18 May 2015: Breaking: Colt Kicks the Can One Week Forward, Again.

12 May 2014: Colt Past Financial Deadline, Extends Deadline

05 May 2015: Is Colt Toast?

12 Dec 2014: Pythons Can’t Save Colt

20 Nov 2014: No, Colt Didn’t Default  (Hey, it was true then). 

17 Nov 2014: Is Colt Going Paws Up? Why? An Analysis.

Administration, Chinese Screwed 14-20 Million Defense Workers

secret1Now, we can’t really blame the Chinese for this. Hacking foreign networks is what every secret service is supposed to do, ours, theirs, and Karjackistan’s alike.

But we do have an Administration that made it easy for them.

Since this series of breaches have been exposed all they’ve done is lie about it, obfuscate lines of responsibility, and cover bureaucratic asses. No one has been held accountable in any way. Not one head has rolled.

Indeed, nothing has rolled but the Presidential golf ball.

Why hasn’t the head of the head of OPM rolled? Because the President cares about his golf ball. He cares about the security concerns of Chine, or Iran, or Russia, or some gang of Palestinian terrorists. He doesn’t care about military and defense workers. Neither does anybody else in power in DC. They’re more concerned that the failed head of OPM might miss a Maserati payment — he’s somebody they see over wine and cheese in Georgetown.

You, peasant, are not.

The Chinese breach of the Office of Personnel Management network was wider than first acknowledged, and officials said Friday that a database holding sensitive security clearance information on millions of federal employees and contractors also was compromised.

Yeah, the Friday night bad-news release strikes again.

In an announcement, OPM said that investigators concluded this week with “a high degree of confidence” that the agency’s systems containing information related to the background investigations of “current, former and prospective” federal employees, and others for whom a background check was conducted, were breached.

OPM is assessing how many people were affected, spokesman Samuel Schumach said. “Once we have conclusive information about the breach, we will announce a notification plan for individuals whose information is determined to have been compromised,” he said.

Well, we know who it is: everybody who applied for a security clearance investigation or periodic reinvestigation, some 14.9 million, and everyone else who was mentioned in those applications, including references, family members, friends and neighbors, and other individuals whose identities were developed by OPM special agents during the investigation process for military Top Secret and Department of Energy Q Clearances.

The announcement of the hack of the security-clearance database comes a week after OPM disclosed that another personnel system had been compromised. The discovery of the first breach led investigators to find the second — all part of one campaign by the Chinese, U.S. officials say, evidently to obtain information valuable to counter­espionage.

And what they haven’t mentioned is, despite having a small army of IT drones who are paid well-above-market pay and benefits and who worry about their imported-car payments and their kids’ private schools and college funds, it wasn’t any of their IT underachievers or slumbering counterintelligence chair-weights that discovered the breach.

It was a jeezly salesman trying to sell OPM an over-the-counter malware and intrusion detection and assessment software package who found it during his demo.

Not only did they not hire that guy and fire all the drones who have presided over a year of threat exploitation of a poorly secured network, they didn’t even buy his ever-lovin’ software!

It gets better. Because they didn’t just get the clearance files of cleared personnel, they got the files of denied personnel. They got the files of cleared personnel who were cleared only after extra adjudicative effort as a consequence of derogatory information in their files. To have the names and details of all cleared personnel is a coup. To have that, plus their vulnerabilities?

“This is potentially devastating from a counter­intelligence point of view,” said Joel Brenner, a former top counter­intelligence official for the U.S. government, speaking about the latest revelation. “These forums contain decades of personal information about people with clearances . . . which makes them easier to recruit for foreign espionage on behalf of a foreign country.”

via Chinese hack of federal personnel files included security-clearance database – The Washington Post.

This is, in fact, a Pearl Harbor-level thrashing in the clandestine area.

Imagine yourself head of Espionage for, shall we say, Country C.

Someone on your staff brings you a list of everybody in Country A who has, officially, access to secrets. Including the files of people whose clearances have been suspended or not renewed, for, say, financial problems. Or legal problems. Or questions of divided loyalty, or contact with foreign personnel. Including your country’s personnel.

Do you:

  1. Despair of ever penetrating Country A’s secret projects? or,
  2. Immediately set an army of intelligence officers to work finding potential recruitment targets?
  3. Add all the nationals of your own Country C who have contact with cleared Country A personnel to your “tab ’em or grab ’em” lists?
  4. Kiss that staffer no matter how ugly he is, and blow another kiss to Country A’s somnolent guardians of the family jewels?

We knew there were powerful supporters of international trade in Washington DC, we just didn’t know they’d outsourced national security to China.

Hat tip, Ace, where he’s about as pissed off as we are.