Two Colt 1917 revolvers (one repark’d for WWII), from an excellent article in
One of the most remarkable and unique improvisations in American military history was the M1917 .45 caliber revolver. There were actually two: one made by Colt, and one by Smith & Wesson. The Colt was quite close to the Model 1909 that the company had made for the Army in cal. .45 Long Colt; the Smith was based on the company’s large-framed revolvers. But both were chambered for a first among revolvers: a rimless cartridge, using the then-novel, now-routine improvisation of a “half-moon clip.” It was the success of the M1917 that made the idea possible.
Reviewing a period (1918) source on this weapon’s development, the 7 Nov 1918 issue of American Machinist1, some things jump out at us:
The mechanics of the day had a remarkable can-do spirit;
Even then, there was a tendency for some people to condemn service weapons; the purchase of revolvers, “led to the circulation of the gross fallacy that the 45-caliber Government Colt automatic was a failure and that it was given up by the Government in favor of a new type of double action revolver.” (In almost everything written postwar by an Ordnance man, whether members of the tiny prewar cadre of 100 officers and 750 men, or one of the many thousands of engineers and workmen called to the colors, you can expect to find reference to unfair press criticism). Plus ça changé, plus c’est la même chose;
The Army made plans for a certain level of handgun issue, but the demand for handguns on the front was much higher, leading to a doubling of the order of Colt pistols, and still leaving unmet demand even after Colt upped production “200 percent in six months.” That was the impetus for the 1917;
Institutional memories of ammo mismatches in the Spanish-American War made Ordnance peremptorily rule out reissue of stored .38 Colt M1904 revolvers. (The article does not mention stocks of .45 LC revolvers, so they may have already been through disposition by the time the US entered the war);
Here’s a Colt 1917, one of many now for sale on GunBroker.
The article, which was “Passed by the office of the Chief Military Censor, Washington, DC on 16 Oct 1918,” was lighter in technical depth than we’d have liked to see. Whether those two facts were related, we can only speculate.
The article contains some errors, many of them small: “Smith-Wesson” instead of “Smith & Wesson”, etc. The mere contemporaneous nature of a source is no guarantor of accuracy, it just removes one potential cause of inaccuracy.
And here’s a “Smith-Wesson” — heh.
Some errors are larger, like the suggestion that the velocity lost by gas leakage in the revolver’s cylinder/barrel gap was “balanced by that used in the operation of the automatic pistol.” But the revolver’s gap comes before the barrel exits the bore; most of the auto’s use of the shot’s energy comes after the bullet exits the bore, and after the bullet exits the bore it has all the energy and velocity it’s ever going to get. As a simple matter of physics, Mr MacKenzie should have caught this.
This may also be an error, but the article suggests that Winchester was about to begin producing M1911 pistols. Fascinating if true; imagine the collector enthusiasm for them, if the programmed half-million Winchester 1911s had been made.
One of the keys to the success of the 1917 was the three-cartridge half-moon clip. Colt and S&W revolvers both accepted the same clips, and the ammunition was supplied to the front like that, in clips.
The initial 1917 revolvers were made from revolvers and parts that were in inventory at Colt and Smith.
An Army pistolero was supposed to be content with 24 rounds of ammunition, back in those days!
By December 7, 1918, the US Army Ordnance Department had accepted 417,275 “Pistols, cal 0.45, Model 1911″ from “Colt and Remington, Bridgeport.” (We’re not sure whether that means that the pistols were made or inspected there), and an additional 289,211 “Revolvers, caliber 0.45, Model 1917 (Colt and Smith & Wesson)2. We are not sure whether production stopped at that time, but we know rifle production, at least, continued into 1919, so it’s possible that revolver production was continued to fulfill new contracts. However, the November, 1918 article only described contracts for 250,000 revolvers; there must have been another order beyond those noted by MacKenzie.
The text of MacKenzie’s article is attached, after the jump.
1. MacKenzie, Paul Allen. Using Rimless Cartridges in New Service Revolvers. American Machinist, Volume 49, No. 19. 7 Nov 1918. Contained in Volume XLIX, July 1 to December 31, 1918, p. 366. Retrieved from Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=EMJLAQAAIAAJ
2. Colvin, Fred H. How Ordnance is Inspected. American Machinist, Volume 50, No. 7. 13 Feb 1919. Contained in Volume L, January 1 to June 30, 1919, p. 312. Retrieved from Google Books.
In Part 1, we describe the pistol and the principles of troubleshooting it. In Part 2, we do some mechanical training with the firearm, and learn something’s not right about it. What? Read on.
Kid’s Naïve Observations of Luger Design
It was interesting and rewarding to see how this firearm looked through a new set of eyes, coming to it with no preconceptions. In the first place, he was amazed at some of the good features of the design, considering that the gun he held in his hands was quite literally 100 years old. Georg Luger’s design has a nearly perfect grip angle, is practically compact and well-balanced, points naturally in large hands or small, and its important controls fall near enough to hand. The magazine release is of a type that Browning also used, and that has become the modern standard: the push-button set where the bow of the trigger guard joins the magazine well. True, the safety is awkwardly placed for single-handed operation. But contrary to the practice on a range, a military pistol in the field in those days was generally left on safe until combat is joined, and only taken off safe on emerging from the other end of the dark tunnel of combat alive.
Many Luger features would become standards, such as the clearly labeled safety (which says”Gesichert,” or “safe,” when activated) and the loaded chamber indicator which has visual and tactile signals of a loaded firearm. These were both novelties in 1900, when the first Lugers began to be noticed worldwide. (Luger the man had been working on improving the Borchardt action since 1895 or so).
Kid made no comments about the weapon’s secondary weakness, its sights. We expect those will come when we get the range renewal unscrewed.
But he did zero in on the gun’s achilles’s heel: its complexity. He marveled at the design decisions Georg Luger made, many of which seemed to complicate the firearm. Not knowing, yet, the Borchardt and the Luger’s prototype history, he’s in the dark about just how evolved the Luger really was. Every single change from the Borchardt to the P.08 made a gun that was more compact, more reliable, easier (although not easy) to manufacture, and better suited to the rigors of military service. The Borchardt today is a collector’s item because of its position in history, which was largely assured by the Luger, and by its rarity, which resulted, frankly, from all its problems as a practical pistol. (Remember the buyer of a Borchardt wasn’t operating in a vacuum — even on its introduction in 1893, he had many less expensive, more robust, well-proven revolvers to choose instead, and in a few years he had Mauser’s C96 as an autopistol alternative). The Luger is a collectors’ itembecause of its position in history, and despite its mass production and the survival of many thousands of examples.
But there is something Heath Robinson about the Luger’s intricate toggle, about the way its mainspring works through a system of levers and a bellcrank, about its very indirect trigger mechanism. Let’s describe that, so you get a feel for it:
The trigger moves the short arm of a lever that pivots on an axis parallel to the bore down, which moves the long arm of the lever in towards the lateral centerline of the pistol. The bearing surface of that long arm presses on a spring-loaded pin that protrudes from the nose of the sear, which is pivoted at its center on a pin arranged vertically. If the safety is on, i.e., gesichert, the sear is blocked from pivoting. If the safety is not on, the nose of the sear pivots in towards the centerline, and the tail of the sear pivots out, disengaging the bearing surface of the sear from the engagement lug on the firing pin, and releasing the firing pin to race forward under the power of its spring.
After the weapon fires, the slide and toggle recoil together until the mechanical advantage of the toggle is broken by contact with the frame’s opening ramp. As the toggle opens, a protrusion on its nose withdraws the firing pin, recompressing the spring. The spring-loaded pin in the nose of the sear acts as the disconnector.
Hey, don’t feel bad if you can’t visualize it from that. Just visualize it from this:
Yes, that’s an awesome animation. Here’s another one by the same guy. They’re over with pretty quick, so you may want to play them a few times:
There are a number of other animated Lugers out there on YouTube, thanks to the engineering drawings of the gun long having been available. (Hey, SolidConcepts, 3D Print that!).
Simple Takedown — and a Discovery
As anyone who’s handled one extensively knows, the Luger is pretty easy to take down and field strips with no tools into six mostly good-sized parts: barrel & slide unit; toggle assembly; toggle pin (best reinserted in the toggle or slide immediately, when disassembling in the field, as this is the smallest part); frame; sideplate assembly; and magazine. Assembly can be more difficult; as aircraft mechanics say, it comes apart a thousand ways, and there’s a thousand ways to put it together, but only one of those thousand methods of assembly is right. In particular, it can be tricky to get the “handlebars of the trapeze” (part 9 in the illustration below) caught just right under the “hands of the acrobat” (the bellcrank, part 23 in the illustration below).
In time, though, Kid mastered it and was happily assembling and disassembling the Luger. He knows that if you want to learn how to do something, the best way by far is by doing it — by drill. (This is part of why so many colleges do better at producing athletes than thinkers: the coaches, unlike the professors, have not lost sight of the utility of drill in human education).
(Aside: it’s amazing how the human mind works. Kid is bright, but badly dyslexic. He struggles to read, which is a challenge he’ll face all his life — they teach him some coping mechanisms, but we can’t just hand him the Sturgess book and say, “Study this.” Yet he instantly grasps the purpose and orientation of each part, and while there’s something awry in the part of his mind that tells “W” from “V”, he can look at a Luger part a year from now and say, “oh, that’s a Luger toggle pin” without the slightest difficulty, or identify a Smith from a Colt by its shape — the same shapes that bedevil him when trying to turn them into words. Hell of a thing).
Then, disaster struck. Or at least that’s what it looked like on his face. “It won’t come out!” After several frantic attempts to remove the toggle pin (part 20 in the illustration), he reluctantly handed the gun over. Didn’t want to give up. We almost hated to show him up.
But — we couldn’t get it out, either. The Luger had come apart normally. Then it went together — normally. Several times. All was copacetic. But now, it wouldn’t come apart at all. After attempting to do it with fingers, and to do it with inertia (swinging the gun by the barrel, landing a light tap on an upholstered chair arm, which should have sent the toggle pin flying), we looked around for a non-marring tool and tried the cap of a Sharpie. No joy. We actually broke the cap of the Sharpie. Ruh-roh.
OK, lets get serious. Support the receiver, orient the flanged end of the pin down, line up an unsharpened pencil (serving as a dowel) on the opposite end, and whack it.
Whack it with a mallet.
Still no joy. Even swearing at it in its native German isn’t helping. That sucker isn’t coming out. We’ve come as far as we can in the living room. (What, there are no mallets in your living room?)
Kid has a sick “I broke it” look on his face. But he didn’t; he didn’t do anything wrong. We tell him this. He does not believe, and still looks stricken.
Down to the machine shop. Teachable moment about wood in vise jaws, when to use soft and hard wood, when to use rubber (“Ah, that’s why you don’t throw away inner tubes from the bikes but bring them down here”). Teachable moment on shop philosophy. “Don’t be Bubba, we’re only custodians of these guns during our short lives on earth.” Align pin with the lasers on the drill press. (One excellent feature on an otherwise el cheapo press). Insert a dowel in the chuck and press the pin out.
We could have done it with the big press, but there’s a bunch of stuff piled on that, so we bent the “right tool for the right job” rule a little bit, but didn’t bend the Luger, which is the important thing.
One gentle cycle of the downfeed lever, and out it comes. Mechanical advantage FTW.
Minute eyeball examination of the pin. Nothing the least bit unusual about it. Nothing unusual in the holes in the receiver or toggle. A quick look with some measuring tools found nothing out of alignment (despite the bozo stunt with the chair arm).
Luger parts tend to be a very tight fit and the toggle pin is no exception. (When it is in place in the receiver, the line that separate the two is barely visible to the naked eye).
Placing the pin in the receiver and rotating it gave us our first clue: there was one point in its 360º travel where it froze up. Either the pin, or the holes, is out of round enough to be dragging, both in rotation and in attempts to withdraw the pin. Force-rotate it away from the “sticky” spot and it slides right out.
Could this intermittently sticky toggle pin be responsible for our maddeningly intermittent failures to feed in the Artillery Luger? What’s causing it, and how do we fix it without leaving Bubba prints for some future gun blogger to mock us for?
Looks like there’s going to be a Part 3. Sorry about that!
Mauro Baudino, an Italian who lives in Belgium nowadays, is an expert on the very beast we’re currently wrangling; he’s written a book on the Artillery Luger, although his book is aimed more at collectors and historians than on our current role, poor beggars trying to make the thing run like Kaiser Bill intended it to. So Mauro’s website on the Artillery, LugerLP08.com, is of great interest.
At the very beginning, it has a graphic in which a commemorative Artillery photo fades into a cut-away four-color drawing, which then cycles, and you can see the intricacies of the action — which all appear correct.
Baudino also co-wrote (with Gerben Van Vlimmeren) a book on postwar Parabellums, The Parabellum is Back: 1945-2000. There is a website with information on this book including errata, like drawings of the magazines developed by Haenel for the French. Here’s a review of the book by Ian from Forgotten Weapons:
Unfortunately, his Artillery Luger book, which is available direct from the author, is primarily in the Italian language, albeit with bilingual (Italian/English) photo captions. But the website is all in English, and quite entertaining to explore.
The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.
File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08
(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).
So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)
First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.
“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.
The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.
(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).
Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.
While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.
Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.
On to Troubleshooting
There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:
All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.
And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)
It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.
With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.
We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.
So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.
And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!
Beretta presented a novel smart-gun concept at a recent defense expo overseas, which they called iProtect. This video shows how it works, using an RF-enabled gun with multiple sensors.
Here’s another video, with Beretta executive explaining how the gun works with the Robocop t-shirt.
You don’t have to be Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to be a little creeped out by that.
Supposedly, the Beretta technology provides comprehensive surveillance but not control of the firearm, at least at this time. One consequence of that is that it is fail-safe: if the central office drops off the net (anyone remember the first responder commo chaos of 9/11?) the nifty features don’t work, but the gun just reverts to being a plain-vanilla PX4 Storm. This PX4i is, in fact, a PX4 with some minituarized sensors deployed in it:
Many gun vendors and writers are appalled by this idea, but the iProtect needs to be understood, both in terms of its intended niche, and its likelihood of succeeding there. Neither indicates that Beretta intends (or has produced) a threat to civilian gun owners with this technology. More realistically, this is a technology demonstration for future potential developments in law enforcement and military weapons, rather than a practical product in 2014.
Here’s Beretta’s brochure on the technology, to give you more depth than is available in the videos, although the videos are probably a better overview of this complex and interdependent system.
Although the concept of a “smart gun” or “personalized gun” has received public attention recently, we believe that careful consideration has not been given to potentially dangerous risks associated with these concepts. In our opinion, such technology is undeveloped and unproven. In addition, Beretta strongly believes that “smart gun” technology or “personalized” guns (hereinafter also referred to as “smart gun” technology) could actually increase the number of fatal accidents involving handguns.
But that was then, this is now.
Back in the bad old 90s, the anti-gun Clinton administration and their allies in Congress and in state legislatures were pushing hard for smart guns as a means to disarm citizens and centrally control armed police. (Some officials then and now believe that cops should lock their guns in a station arms room at shift’s end, and a few PDs actually do this). The policymakers pushing this saw technology in the automotive and computer worlds (we dunno, like the chip-in-the-key in our ’89 Corvette that used to occasionally turn on the alarm for no particular reason? that they imagined would adapt to guns, no problem. They disregarded many things, like the different volumetric envelope in a car and a gun, and made no bones about their nominal “safetyt” push really being all about citizen disarmament. A key problem with the high-tech push was that politicians have never successfully scheduled an inventiuon in the past, and they didn’t this time, either. By the time quasi-working “smart guns” were going bang six times out of ten, the would-be launch customers — various anti-gun officials of the Clinton Administration — had moved on to K Street at the change of administrations.
SIG’s late-90s entry, the SIG P229 EPLS, illustrated some of the problems with these arms. To be set to fire, a PIN had to be entered on a keypad on the gun’s nose, and a time period entered. So, for example, policemen would have their guns enabled only for the duration of their shifts. The pistol was not fail-safe in any way: the failure mode was that, if the electronics borked, the gun remained on the last setting indefinitely, whatever it was.
The 229 EPLS was unreliable and never went into series production; 15 or so prototypes and pre-production test articles were made, some of which may have been released to collectors according to this article at Guns and Ammo.
Colt made an effort to spin off a smart-gun subsidiary, called, we are not making this up, iColt. There is no sign of it today; Colt’s perennial dance with the threat of bankruptcy was mortal to any engineering resource-suck with such an uncertain path to returns.
The “Smart Gun” that’s in the news: Armatix iP1
Beretta’s plan for intelligent duty firearms, iProtect, is radically different from the publicity-focused smart-gun maker, Armatix. Armatix’s designer is Ernst Mauch, the prime mover of HK during its decades-long phase of HK: Because You Suck, and We Hate You hostility to nongovernmental customers, and he brings his superior, anti-customer attitude to Armatix. The company’s strategy is to have its gun mandated by authorities: it has come close in New Jersey, and one candidate in the Democrats’ Sep. 9th primary for Attorney General of Massachusetts (Warren Tolman) has promised to ban all other handguns if elected. (Yes, Massachusetts law and case law does give that official this power. No word on whether he has a stake in Armatix).
The gun itself is a poor design, kind of like some of Mauch’s later HK abortions (UMP, M8). Its reliability approaches 19th-Century lows: few reviewers have gotten through a 10-shot magazine without a failure to feed, some of which seem to relate to the magazine and in some of which the slide does not go into battery. Armatix’s idea of fail-safe electronics is this: if the electronics fail, they brick the gun, therefore it’s safe.
Because the fragile Made in Germany electronics aren’t ready for centerfire prime time, the gun will be available only in .22 long rifle for the foreseeable future. For a .22 it’s bulky, and it has only average accuracy.
Pity it doesn’t have the red HK on it. Then, at least the fanboys would buy it.
The iProtect system is not like the Armatix, or other Smart Guns
Like SIG in the 90s, Beretta began with a decent pistol and then added the electronics to it, in Beretta’s case the underrated Px4 Storm. Like SIG, there’s a bulky “light” on the rail that contains the brain. The gun is truly fail-safe: if the electronics go paws up, the gun doesn’t. In fact, the operator can dismount the “brain” at any time.
Unlike Armatix, iProtect has not been launched with noises about the authorities having an ability to remotely brick the firearm. And it does not brick itself if the battery runs down. Beretta also addressed another weakness (or at least, inconvenience) of battery-powered gear by making the black box’s battery wireless rechargeable.
The “brain” is not really the key to the system, though: the key is the Black Box’s networked communications abilities. First, it talks to the sensors on the gun itself, monitoring the position of the gun and its controls much the same way a Digital Flight Data Recorder monitors the position of an airplane’s control surfaces and flight control inputs. The brain transmits that information to a central control console. Since all of the smarts are in firmware and software, they can be updated more or less on the fly to add new capabilities (and, no doubt, to squash bugs. It’s practically impossible to write a program more useful than “Hello, world!” without introducing bugs).
But the gun’s communication with the central office is only part of it, because it’s also networked to a smartphone or other communications device, and to a special t-shirt that monitor’s the officer’s position, activity, and health status of the carrier (if you’ve ever worn a chest strap when exercising, you’ll get the general idea).
And a key feature of iProtect, absent from other smart guns, is geolocation. The gun knows where it is — and tells the office, many times a second. This complicates things for those criminals who would murder a cop for his gun (like Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnayev did after they bombed the Boston Marathon finish line). It’s one thing to have a gun that’s so hot it’s radioactive, but it’s a whole other game to have one that’s constantly phoning home and otherwise subject to electronic track & trace.
Of course, it also complicates things for cops who would spend their shift cooping behind a strip mall, or unofficially 10-7 at Krispy Kreme. If you’re That Guy, the relative smartness of your gun is not going to affect your police work in any way, anyway.
Problems with iProtect?
Unlike Armatix, iProtect is not a play to disarm the public; it’s a play to increase the information flow in police dispatch offices. There it runs into a problem, in US law enforcement: the Beretta system is best used by intelligent cops and intelligent, expert even, dispatchers. But many large metro departments in the USA — exactly the target market for iProtect — have upper as well as lower bounds for cop IQ. (These departments also tend to have low closure rates on cases requiring in-depth, imaginative investigations, oddly enough). But at least the typical cop is a man or woman of average smarts. The dispatchers are a different thing. It the USA it’s a low-paid, low-status occupation, and it tends to attract people who are a half-step above the welfare lines: the same sort of people who work, if that’s the word, in the DMV or other menial clerical jobs in local government. One consequence of this is the periodic dispatch scandals like this one, a rather trivial violation that went, as usual, unpunished; or this more serious one that ended with a dead caller, a fired dispatcher, and one more illustration of the sad fact that when seconds count, police are minutes away. Literally none of the dispatchers at a modern urban police department has a place in the high-tech, high-demand dispatch center envisioned by iProtect.
The 80-IQ dispatcher is a mountain that iProtect must climb if it is going to sell here in the USA — and it’s a mountain it probably can’t summit. But even the dispatcher problem is secondary to the real Achilles Heel of iProtect: it’s a proprietary, closed system. It not only works with the PX4i, it only works with the PX4i. It only works with Beretta’s own high-tech undershirt. It only works with the Beretta communications and dispatch system. It requires the agency to recapitalize everything at once. Line cops don’t think of budgetary and logistical problems, but chiefs and commissioners spend most of their time on them.
It’s also self-evident that iProtect has no real utility at this time for the private or individual owner, or even to the rural sheriff’s office or small-town PD: it’s only of interest to large police departments, the only users that can resource it properly. (In the long run, the sheriffs of sparsely populated counties might really like the geolocation capability, though; it goes beyond geolocating the police car, something modern tech already can do,and tracks both the officer and his or her sidearm. That’s a big deal for situational awareness if you’ve got a wide open range and very few sworn officers).
So what’s the verdict?
In sum, the iProtect system is an ingenious adaptation of modern communications technology to the police defensive-firearm sphere. It poses no direct threat to gun rights, although cops may find being monitored all the time a little creepy. (Welcome to the pilot’s world, pal). But as it sits there are obstacles to its adoption. These obstacles are organizational, cultural and financial — we don’t yet know how well the system works, but assuming arguendo that all Beretta’s claims about it are true, there don’t seem to be technical obstacles holding it back.
Like the plain old dumb guns that just sit there until animated by human will, the good or evil of a smart gun is in the intent of the mind behind it.
Recently, the gang at Small Arms of the World posted a World War II vintage German language weapons manual (subscription required) that focused mostly on German service submachine guns.1 The manual was developed by a retired officer, Colonel Schmitt. Col. Schmitt was a prolific author of small arms and military manuals (of the sort that might be popular with earnest young soldiers, and youth looking forward to military service). He was also the editor of a range of war maps. His materials appeared though the publishing house of R. Eisenschmidt, located on Mittelstraße 18 in Berlin NW7.
At first we thought so the introductory material would be useful in an ongoing research project on early submachineguns. Even though this is not a primary source on early SMG’s, it’s an earlier secondary source than many of the documents we’ve been working with. So we thought it might be authoritative. Indeed, it starts off making sense, and it’s chock full of interesting material; but there are enough errors to give us considerable pause. Let’s start with the sensible bit (our translation):
General Information for all MPs Found in Units
The MP is a weapon that is particularly suited for close combat.
Due to the weapon’s stability in automatic fire, a tight grouping of bursts of fire is enabled. Small targets can be engaged with good success at distances to 100 meters, and larger targets up to 200 m. Beyond 200 m distance, ammunition expenditure is unlikely to meet with success.
The low number of cartridges that can be carried by troopers, and the heavy ammunition demand in the front line, constrain the employment of the MP to snap missions at short distance and to close combat.
This is good, interesting information. But can we trust it, about the MPs that were carried in the first world war? Certainly, we want to trust it; Colonel Schmitt must surely know what he’s talking about, mustn’t he?
Very soon, we come upon information that turns out to be less than trustworthy, on the same page of this same document:
The following models are currently employed:
MP 18I (System Bergmann)
MP 28II (System Schmeisser),
MP Erma (System Vollmer),
MP 38 (smooth receiver),
MP 40 (receiver with flutes), and
MP 34 (with mounted bayonet M.95).
The MPs only fire the pistol cartridge 08 (cal. 9 mm) except the MP 34 which to date only fires the Steyr cartridge (9mm). 2
(The unusual use of superscript Roman numerals in the MP 18 and MP 28 designators is like that in Schmitt’s original).
Now, the world of early German MPs is grey enough that we can let the distinction between “System Bergmann” and “System Schmeisser” slide. (As we understand it, Schmeisser was the primary designer of both, and the magazine housings were generally marked with “Schmeissers Patent” for the double-column, single-feed magazine, but the guns were made by Bergmann).
But notice, that the good Colonel has the MP.38 and MP.40 exactly backwards. While there were many other changes between the 38 and 40, and additional running changes in production (like the two-part “safety” bolt-handle, sometimes called an MP.40 feature but actually introduced as a running change in the MP.38), one of the key improvements in the MP.40 was the lack of fluting, which allowed more rapid, less costly manufacture.
It wasn’t just a single error, for if you skip ahead to where Schmitt treats the MP.38 and .40 (as a single section of his book, which makes perfect sense given the guns’ near-identical nature)3, he makes the same error:
The footnote (with asterisk) refers to a reference to the receiver, higher on the page, and reads, “On the MP.38, the receiver is smooth; on the MP.40 it is provided with flutes.”
We assume that Colonel Schmitt was truly an expert, and that he took good care with his manuals, which he knew would be bought and read by Wehrmacht troopers and those soon to be Wehrmacht men. But here’s an example of a mistake he made on a simple thing. It reinforces the importance or critical reading of sources, even of period sources (and even primary sources).
It’s also important to weigh the expertise of a source with the left and right limits of his knowledge… his expertise’s “range fan,” if you will. Combat soldiers may have their heads full of mistaken ideas about the development and manufacture of their weapons, and design engineers, contract managers, and hands-on manufacturing workers may be in the dark about how their products are employed in the field.
And everybody’s human, and makes mistakes. Nicht wahr, Oberst Schmitt?
This is one place where 21st Century scholarship has an edge. If poor old Schmitt made an error, by the time he heard about it R. Eisenschmidt could have printed 20,000 copies of the booklet with the error. If a blogger makes an error, he’s called out on it in the comments forthwith (don’t ask us how we know this).
1. Schmitt, Colonel. Maschinenpistolen 18I/28II/Erma/38/40/34; Leucht-Pistole, 2er Auflage: Beschreibung und Zusammenwirken der Teile, Beseitigung von hemmungine; Ausinandernehmen und Zusammensetzen; Schulschießübung. Leuchtpistole mit Munition. (English: Submachine guns MP 18-I, MP28-II, Erma, MP 38, 40, and 34; Flare guns; 2nd Edition: Description ). Berlin, R. Eisenschmidt: 1940. Retrieved from Small Arms of the World archive (subscription required): https://www.smallarmsoftheworld.com/archive/September.2013/5dgdbf7fhpdf/R00221.pdf
One gimmick of the new Taurus 85VTA View, as the last word in its model name suggests, is transparency: the tiny, ultralight personal defense revolver has a clear plastic sideplate letting you see what goes on inside. The other gimmick is size and weight: it has barely any of either, thanks to judicious selection of materials and relentless trimming of its barrel and grip.
Nope, not actual size. And if you click to embiggen, that’s way bigger than actual size….
“Trimming” may not be the word. It’s more like what’s-his-name the chain-saw movie guy was turned loose on one of Taurus’s Chief’s-Special-sized five-shot .38s, hacking off a half inch of barrel and an inch of grip.
The barrel is a mere 1.41 inches of titanium, and the cylinder is made of the same material, for some of the same reasons it made up most of the structure of the SR-71. The frame is aluminum alloy. The hammer is bobbed — the gun is double-action only — and plated with a gold-colored metal; the trigger is polished stainless steel. The sideplate, made of the same polycarbonate that’s best known by its DuPont trademark name, Lexan, seems to be more a marketing gimmick than an effort at weight reduction. The gun has no sharp or even crisp edges to flag its shape or snag on anything. The exotic materials and expected low-rate production of the revolver make for a pretty high price: an SRP of $600, and they’re trickling into shops and to online retailers with asks from a low of $500 to $585. (These may ease once the gun becomes more common),
One 85VTA View feature that doesn’t show up in any other Taurus (yet) and can’t be seen in the factory pictures is the asymmetrical curve of the gun’s Manx-cat grip. Looked at from nose- or tail-on, the grip has a bend to the left to assist concealment for a right-handed carrier. It looks awkward, but isn’t; you don’t really notice it when drawing or firing the revolver.
As a pocket pistol, it can’t be imported from Taurus’s Brazilian homeland under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Instead, it’s made in the USA, in Miami.
Taurus revolvers have a reputation for being prone to wear and difficult to service when they develop the timing problems that all worn revolvers eventually do. Compounding the company’s reputation for so-so quality, Taurus has earned a poor reputation for warranty service. But no one will put thousands of rounds through one of these.
For one thing, it’s too unpleasant to shoot. The DAO trigger is okay, and the gun is more accurate than a belly gun really needs, but the barely-over-a-half-pound weight (9.4 ounces to a Chief’s Special’s 19.5) and ultra-short barrel (even the Chief’s got 1.875″ to the Taurus’s 1.4″) produce hand-hammering recoil and impressive fireballs when fired at night.
(Like a Chief’s Special, the 85VTA is not approved for .38 Special +P rounds. The Taurus manual, which is shared among all Taurus revolvers and not specific to the model, contains dire warnings of the hazards of +P ammunition, and outright forbids the use of so-called +P+ in all Taurus revolvers. Unlike the Chief’s Special, where we know of many people who have blithely ignored this restriction, we can’t imagine anyone stuffing +Ps in the featherweight Taurus).
Also, the short grip leaves you with a couple fingers of your gun hand dangling in the air, like a self-conscious bricklayer at a tea party. Not optimum when the .38 Special’s recoil slams the little Taurus into your hand whilst snapping it urgently skyward. This is one bull that has a spectacular kick on the opposite end of its horns.
If you want to develop calluses on your palms, firing a half-dozen boxes of ammo out of this in one session may or may not be easier than hard manual labor. But if you want to develop a flinch, that’s just the ticket.
So, if it’s an unpleasant beast to shoot, why make it? Ah, because someone at Taurus understands some basic home truths about carry guns:
One you don’t carry is no damn good to you.
The smaller and lighter, the easier it is to carry.
The simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong.
Most people don’t drill much with their carry or backup piece.
Gee, those imperatives almost look like they’re drawing a set of design parameters for an ultra-small, ultra-light .38 revolver, one with a simple manual of arms, and few protrusions to snag on anything. The sights are rudimentary, but this gun was not made for pursuing X-rings, even though it’s surprisingly accurate, shot from a rest, something it will never have if it is called on to do its duty. It was meant to solve pressing social problems at contact range, and to be borne throughout the activities of daily living for 10,000 hours without intruding on the carrier’s lifestyle for even a moment.
The 85VTA View is, even to a lover of the sort of mechanism the polycarbonate sideplate displays, not an aesthete’s firearm. It is optimized for the role of daily carry (or daily backup) firearm, and the bob job applied to it, along with the homely plastic grips and industrial-grade finish, invite you to neglect it like a red-headed stepchild. Its form follows its function, and it has all the eye appeal of a garden trowel, floor jack, or Sawzall: it’s a tool.
But What’s That in the Punchbowl?
For all that, there is one detractor from Taurus’s purposeful design, and that is the lawyer-designed Taurus Security System, a key-operated hammer lock that prevents the weapon from firing when engaged. While we’ve only heard one credible report of a Taurus revolver’s lock failing, we consider any lock a Really Bad Idea. Taurus’s lock has taken a lot of criticism because S&W’s lock is really, really bad; if you spend one day a week at a range, you’ll see a Smith lock fail at least once a year, sometimes in really hazardous ways. No one should ever carry a S&W revolver with the S&W internal revolver lock for self-defense. We will faintly praise the Taurus lock in that, unlike Smith, whose then-owners had lawyers design their lock without engineering input as a wet kiss to the Clinton Administration, Taurus seems to have run their lock brainstorm through Engineering before cutting metal, making Taurus’s “rare failures” actually, you know, rare.
The locks appeal to customers as a (pseudo) method of child-proofing guns, and are required in some anti-gun jurisdictions. One serious problem is that the locks can apply themselves (the design of the Smith lock almost guarantees this will happen in high-recoil revolvers). Again, this is rare on Tauruses, but has happened. Note that Taurus’s lawyers, the same soulless drones who injected this bit of legal CYA into gun design, take pains to disclaim any promise that the lock will actually work. From the manual (p.14):
Never fully rely on any safety or security mechanism. It is not a substitute for safe and cautious gun handling. No safety or security mechanism, however positive or well designed, should be totally trusted. Like all mechanical devices, the safety or security system is subject to breakage or malfunction and can be adversely affected by wear, abuse, dirt, corrosion, incorrect assembly, improper adjustment, repair, or lack of maintenance.
Moreover, there is no such thing as a safety which is “childproof” or which can completely prevent accidental discharge from improper usage, carelessness or “horseplay”.
That is the company saying, “we don’t guarantee our lock will work, and we sure don’t stand behind it.” It makes you wonder what they know that you don’t know.
So, given that even Taurus doesn’t trust their lock, what use is it? We would leave that as an exercise for the reader, but first, we note that while actual failure of the lock, either “open” or “closed,” is a serious problem and one that Taurus takes pains, as we’ve just seen, to disclaim any responsibility for, it’s not the most serious or the most likely failure mode with such a lock. The most likely failure mode is either of the two human-factors failure modes that result from having the human in the loop: either leaving the gun available when you want it locked (i.e. to prevent child access) or leaving the gun locked when you want it available (in a defensive situation). Taurus wants no piece of that responsibility, either. From the manual, p. 10:
Securing your firearm may inhibit access to it in a defense situation and result in injury or death.
So, what good is the lock?
Fortunately, it can be easily removed (and unlike the S&W abortion of a lock, which leaves an unsightly hole in the sideplate, it can be done with little trace the lock was ever there).
Note that this may become in issue if you ever find yourself in a civil suit after a defensive gun use, or especially in civil or criminal cases you may face consequent to an accidental discharge. This is very much a case where Big Boy Rules are in effect, and removing a locking mechanism, even an unsafe one like the Smith version, is one of those “catch-me, f*** me” rules: if circumstances lead some to catch you, they may well you-know-what you with the proverbial barbed-wire condom. (A healthy fear of our litigious society is why many smiths will now no longer do the once-standard safety improvements of removing the cavalry-mandated grip safety on the 1911, and brain-damaged European magazine safety on the Browning Hi-Power). Here’s Massad Ayoob on just this:
I did not remove the internal lock, for the simple reason that I’ve seen a prosecutor raise hell about a deactivated safety device when trying to establish the element of recklessness that is a key ingredient in a manslaughter conviction. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant was so reckless that he DEACTIVATED A SAFETY DEVICE ON A LETHAL WEAPON, and so arrogant that he thought he knew more about the gun than the factory that made it!” That’s a mountain I’d rather not have to climb in court, nor debate in front of twelve jurors selected in part by opposing counsel for their lack of knowledge of firearms.
Ayoob recommends that, if you do disable a lock, you save all the information you can find on lock failures in case you ever need to defend against that kind of thing. (If Ayoob’s case is the one I’m thinking of, it was a blocked grip safety on a 1911, but he clearly sees the same risk coming up if someone removes one of these bad revolver locks).
Apart from the lock, which at least is not as bad as Smith’s My First Gun Design version, the Taurus 85VTA View is a pretty good set-it-and-forget-it carry gun. If it did not have the lock we would recommend it for a carry or backup gun, with decent (non +P!) .38 HP loads. We would insist on the proviso that it be fired for familiarization annually and an analogous but heavier and less punishing gun be used for regular practice. We cannot recommend any firearm with a key or combination lock of any kind as a defensive weapon: it’s false security.
For more on just how craptastic the Smith lock is, even giving all possible sympathy to Smith, read this thorough exploration by Chris at LuckyGunner. We’re much more willing to call an Arc Light on the S&W revolver lock than Chris is, but he does hit the high points and links to some pretty credible guys (Michael Bane, Grant Cunningham, etc.) who’ve seen Smith locks do that thing they do.
“Ah, Banzai, ha hah! Nothing to it, man, a good day on the range.”
“I dunno what you think, but a 9mm at 1000 yards is a hard shot.” With a revolver, his own reloads with Hornady 147 grain XTP bullets, and a red-dot sight. “Hard shot?” Yeah, you could say that.
How’d he do it? We’d guess hold-over (he says, 75-80 yards worth at one point, and at another he says 150 feet, so were’s guessing he’s using the uncalibrated eyeball of experience) and lots of practice.
We were impressed as hell, back in the day, with Paul Poole’s 100-metershots with a tuned 1911 out at the Mott Lake Compound range. Poole’s secret was the same: he learned how much drop that issue .45 ball had through long experience, and he learned to pick a holdover point.
The thing is, the normal “effective” range of a pistol or rifle is no such thing. It’s a somewhat arbitrary figure. Some ordnance bureaucrat sets it based on an average shooter with an average weapon on a sort of best-three-of-five basis. Or it gets handed down in a firearm specification, and never tested. The US Army, for instance, records the effective range of every one of the world’s pistols as 50m, and every rifle as 480m (which originally was supposed to be a conversion from the old every-rifle-effective-range of 500 yards). This is probably a mistake, because using high-angle firing techniques you can score hits far beyond the book-value “effective” range.
The real problem with the issue 5.56 rounds at ranges over 500 yards is weak terminal ballistics, not accuracy. While the Army’s accuracy standards for accepting a rifle are pretty low (and the standards for keeping one in service are even lower, 7 MOA!), most service rifles are well made and will far outperform the minimum military specification.
We doubt that Jerry Miculek ever had a chance to meet Paul Poole, who has long been feasting with the other heroes at the long tables in the halls of Valhalla. And that’s a crying shame, because who knows what those two good ol’ boys would have gotten up to together?
Several of you have pointed out that Jerry undoubtedly burned a lot of rounds before hitting the plate (since the hit in the plate, which he shows, was not in line with the location of the balloon, it was probably jacket spalling that popped the balloon. Still, it was a pistol shot at sniper rifle range).
It really set off the IDPA gameshooters at Triangle Tactical. They vented a little intramural spleen (post 1; post 2; post 3) at Miculek and one another, and refer you to, of all things, some reality show on TV for “real” shooting. (Really?) One of them does admit:
It shows that guns aren’t scary, we aren’t all tacticool nut jobs, and that shooting is fun. I like the videos, even if they are cut to only show the entertaining parts.
And even the most critical of the posts includes this bit, that one hopes we can all agree on:
Long-range shooting is also an exercise in consistency. Sight the target the same way, hold your breath the same way, pull the trigger the same way, follow through the same way. Assess the result and adjust your point of aim and try again. I actually agree that a decent shooter could probably hit that shot as well.
Jerry Miculek is not Superman. He’s simply a guy who’s dedicated himself to a craft — and found a talent for entertaining as well as instructing. There’s a reason we feature Jerry’s videos, and not the ones by boring windbags who spend a half hour conveying 30 seconds’ worth of information, or the ones by “tacticool” beardos who parlayed zero days in service and a single bad tour as a contractor into YouTube stardom.
French 1935A pistols are uncommon, not “rare” — except in this condition, and with an Indochina period rig. In stock at Pre98.com.
There are lots of dealers of 20th Century guns, but Scotty Benedict makes a business of selling the sort of guns you usually only see at national auctions: mint, rare, and mint and rare guns are the bulk of his offerings. His website is the slightly misleading URL, Pre98.com (as most of his inventory is 20th Century). The online catalog of goodies is at shop.pre98.com. Inventory is updated extremely often.
We have been around since 1989 dealing mostly in WW2 arms and militaria. Our specialties are mint condition firearms and very nice holsters….. We decided to open this web site to give you exclusive access to what we have in stock in the way of firearms and accessories. We will continue to improve the site and hope you will visit often to see what we have dredged up.
There will also be some rare and desirable commercial guns. This site gives you exclusive access to the firearms and accessories that made it into my inventory. Now you don’t have to wait for a gun show to see what I have found.
Gathering the best items is too big of a job for one person to handle. I have a virtual army of collectors who regularly channel new goodies into the pipeline. As a very serious and advanced collector myself, my eye is trained to be quite discerning about what we pick up. I take great pride in the herd that we bring to market. I personally guarantee the authenticity of each item and the accuracy of its description.
Since most of my customers are serious collectors, almost all of our business is with Curio and Relics (C&R) licensees and FFL transfers. When you find that special gun you’ve been looking for, we’ll work with you to make the buying process as painless as possible while complying with all applicable firearms regulations.
One of the neat things about Scotty is that he keeps records of some of the best pieces he has sold in the past, so you can not only jones over the guns you can’t afford now, you can jones over the ones you couldn’t afford last year (but some other lucky fellow did).
We have not personally bought from Scotty, but we just looked at literally every item in his inventory. Nothing is cheap, but he is correct in noting that he has among the best examples of both common (think 1911 or Garand) and uncommon (Broomhandle, French 1935A, VIS Radom, etc.) firearms on the market. For example, this mint commercial Broomhandle comes with the original stock:
Price? We’ve bought cars for less. Here’s Scotty’s description:
In 98% original very crisp condition, we have a very rare Model 1896 flatside large ring C96 Mauser Broomhandle pistol that is still with the factory original matching numbered stock. This pistol was manufactured in the middle of 1900 and was exported to America and sold by the famed New York firearms firm Von Lengerke & Detmold and is so marked. This pistol has a mint bore and is in exceptional condition, you just do not see these early Broomhandles that look this good and never with a matching stock. This is one of the most sought after and difficult Broomhandles to obtain. These flat side large ring C96’s are very interesting pistols. The firm marking will make an highly sought after pistol like this even more desirable,.
Scotty calls it good-plus, original, and has priced it just a nudge above an average carbine at $1,450. So there are some within reach of t he working man; the others, he must plan to sell to VA managers or something. But they sure are beautiful to look at.
If you like what you see at Scotty’s site, his friend Jim has similar quality stuff at LegacyCollectibles.com, too.
So, we saw this at Miguel’s, which led us to Fox News, which led us to the Washington Times, which still didn’t give up the primary source document. We wanted the primary source document because the numbers in the Times’s story didn’t add up.
The essential claims in these media versions of the story are:
The Afghans have lost or sold off tens of thousands of the guns we gave them; and,
The databases are poisoned with many duplicates; and,
Most or many of the US-provided weapons were never entered in the database; therefore:
Accountability for weapons in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANA/ANP) is nonexistent.
Here are the numbers as we pulled them from the report, and as the media spun ‘em:
The narrative is that the Afghan National Army has lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of small arms, and that as a result We Are Doomed. It took some doing (anyone who thinks Obamacare’s website was uniquely mishandled has spent no time among the web gardens of the .gov or .mil) but we did unearth the document.
Two Databases Stood Back-to-Back, Refusing to Say a Word…
The problem is at once more complex, more nuanced, and more interesting than that. And for gloom and doom fans, we’re probably still doomed. The bottom line is that the US’s incredibly complex and inefficient inventory systems, which famously do not talk to one another, also don’t mesh with the inventory system we provided to Afghanistan. Three completely different (and fundamentally incompatible) IT systems track US-provided small arms in OEF. Those systems include:
SCIP, the Security Cooperation Information Portal, used in the USA by logisticians supplying materiel to American allies worldwide.
OVERLORD, the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, developed in-country by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the latest of several names for the US training HQ in-country.
CoreIMS, the Core Inventory Management System, a US-spec COTS inventory database that has been foisted off on our valiant Afghan allies.
Here’s a graphic from that famous primary source document that the Times and Fox wouldn’t show you, preferring to predigest your informational meal. (Here’s a link to the document: SIGAR 14-84.pdf. We’ve saved a copy in case the link goes tango uniform). This shows what the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction thinks the process is:
So what we have turns out to be, not vast numbers of guns vanishing as they take each step along the pipeline, but three different and incompatible databases having data that are at odds with one another.
Which database is right? Who knows? Could be any of them. Or none of them! In fact, all three databases could have wide discrepancies, and yet none of them have totals close to what actually exists in inventory.
But it turns out, if you actually read the SIGAR report instead of act like a Media Luminary and Skim Until Shocked, the auditors did that, and as it turns out, some of the numbers are before they deep-dove the data, and some of the numbers don’t represent what they appear to represent. Yes, Afghan inventories are a mess, but they’re not the mess the news stories describe. A spot check of weapons in storage at the ANA Kandahar depot, for example, found the weapons in the crates the database said they’d be in, and traced every weapon back in inventories that matched the weapons on site. A similar exercise at the ANP 22 Bunkers Depot appeared to have similar results, but the inspectors didn’t have time to complete the inspection. True, other depots and units had more fragmentary records, and the ANA Central Supply Depot’s records were far off from what was inventoried on site. But by Afghan standards, it wasn’t all that bad.
Remember that the idea of weapons inventories was something that Afghans have never done, except when compelled by Soviet or NATO allies. That they don’t do it as well as the US DOD, while using a stack of incompatible and user-hostile systems imposed from outside, shouldn’t shock anybody.
If you’re an old Afghan hand, one fundamental error in this whole process will have jumped out at you from the very beginning: trying to impose a sophisticated Western computer system (actually, multiple systems; a fourth incompatible database called ULTRA, Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting, is under construction for the ANP) on a nation of Iron Age illiterates. Illiteracy was 94% to 97% when we first went into Afghanistan (the Taliban had closed all schools except madrassas). Illiterates make weak computer operators, something that American loggies never considered for a minute before deciding to spin up the Afghans in Microsoft World. Results predictable:
According to CSTC-A officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.
Gee, there’s a shocker. We impose US-style personnel turbulence and military bureaucracy on an ally where most of the population is illiterate and borderline innumerate, and as Wilkins Micawber might say, “results, misery.”
The Duplicate Serials Problem: Not Such a Big Deal
Then, there’s the duplicate serial numbers problem , which comes to rise for two reasons:
The procurers, developers and operators of the system did not understand that different weapon makes and models may indeed use the same serial numbers, and different manufacturers may use the same serial numbers for their versions of the same firearm, and so they erred in trying to use serial number by itself as a unique key;
Lack of communication between databases
Even the authors of the report don’t seem to find that their discovery of some duplicate numbers is meaningless. Here’s their table from the report:
¡Ay, Chihuahua! (Old Afghan phrase). Yes, it’s not just an Afghan thing to have two weapons with the same serial number. Heck, the USA did it:
Someone who knows weapons can clear these three discrepancies in about two tenths of a second. Like this:
DX2383 needs to be reconciled by eyes-on physical inventory, because it’s possible that this represents two different guns, but because an AMD-65 is a variant of AK-47, it’s equally possible that this is one gun described two ways. Several manufacturers made AK variants using serial numbers of this pattern, so only physical inventory can establish whether we’re talking about one gun or two here.
178203 is obviously two different weapons, and a properly constructed database would not confuse an M203 with an M249 of the same serial number.
A598 is the very same problem, Russian-designed-weapons style.
As anyone who’s ever accounted for any significant quantity of firearms can tell you, serial numbers are only likely to be unique on a single type (i.e. make/model/caliber) of weapon made for a single customer by a single manufacturer. Now, we’re not sure what other US arms have duped serial numbers like the M1 example above. (We know M16A1 rifles and XM177 “submachine guns” had absolutely unique numbers because manufacturers had independent sN blocks).
But this duplication is spun by SIGAR, in their ignorance of firearms, as a major problem, and it is spun in turn by the media as a Chicken Little sky-is-falling moment. It’s only a problem because the database designers and auditors are ignorant of the limits of serial numbering.
We certainly admit that the SIGAR report does identify some real challenges facing Afghan services on weapons-inventory issues, and it points up the poor visibility into those issues that US service elements, including CSTC-A, have into Afghan inventories. As far as the weaknesses of Afghan inventory controls are concerned, this is news to us in which way? We were pleasantly surprised to see that some Afghan National Police elements are tracking their assigned weapons using Microsoft Excel. This means they have some literate cops, who can even use computers — that’s miles ahead of 2002, let us tell you. But the SIGAR is shocked by this, and by the fact they’re not using some high-dollar, centralized, fiddly data management system instead of Excel.
Crawl, walk, run, people. Trying to drop Afghans into RDBMS management when they not only haven’t got the hang of Excel, but are largely utterly unlettered, is asking for trouble.
One is reminded of Lawrence’s maxim not to do things for the locals, but to let them do it themselves, however imperfectly.