Monthly Archives: March 2013

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Captain’s Journal

This is not entirely a weapons site, but it’s worth checking out. Herschel Smith has long been an interesting read on COIN and the long war. He was a Marine Captain when he started the Journal amidst the first flowering of milblogs.

We don’t always agree with him (or anybody else) but we often find good things on his site. The Captain’s Journal  — check it out.

Will Colt Join the Magpul Exodus?

colt_logo_mThe headline of this British article is Colt gun manufacturer threatens to abandon Connecticut if the state imposes stricter gun laws. But we’re not sure, after reading the op-ed that occasioned the article, if there was really any such threat. If it’s there, it’s veiled. First, the Daily Mail’s take:

Dennis Veilleux, CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing Co., which is based in West Hartford, warned that he would take his business elsewhere if Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy doesn’t stop pursuing a ban on semiautomatic weapons like the kind Adam Lanza used to kill 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

‘A ban of the most popular semiautomatic rifle in the United States for what are essentially cosmetic reasons would make no one safer and punish a vital Connecticut industry,’ he wrote in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant.

As we said, if you look at Veilleux’s actual words in the Courant, the threat is rather veiled.

I know one thing that the governor’s proposed ban will do: It will irreparably damage — if not destroy — the brand of any Connecticut firearms manufacturer.

Our customers are unusually brand-loyal. In many cases, they personally identify with the firearm brand they choose. Although our Connecticut heritage has historically enhanced our brand, that will change overnight if we ban the modern sporting rifle.

As a result Colt, as well as other Connecticut manufacturers such as Mossberg and Stag Arms will see immediate erosion in brand strength and market share as customers migrate to manufacturers in more supportive states. This will have consequences for dozens of Connecticut companies and thousands of workers. Connecticut will have put its firearms manufacturing industry in jeopardy: one that contributes $1.7 billion annually to the state’s economy.

Like every other precision manufacturer in Connecticut, Colt is constantly approached by other states to relocate, but our roots here are deep. Colt is and always has been an integral part of a state characterized by hard work, perseverance and ingenuity.

I know, however, that someday soon, I will again be asked why we fight to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs in Connecticut. I will be asked why we should continue to manufacture in a state where the governor would make ownership of our product a felony.

I will be asked these questions and, unlike in the past, there will be few good answers.

Does that read like a direct exit threat to you? Not to us. A veiled threat, as we said, certainly. It’s unlikely to make a dent in Governor Malloy’s intentions. (Malloy’s first name really is “Dannel” by the way — apparently he comes from a family of sixties stoners who were going for “Daniel” and missed the X-ring). After all, Magpul issued a direct threat, not veiled at all, to Colorado, and Governor Hickenlooper flipped them the bird as he signed a ban bill. (Magpul is following through, relocating first magazine production, and ultimately all operations, to welcoming states). Even with all the secondary job losses that will come when Magpul’s wages aren’t being spent in Colorado any longer, its still an inconsequential loss to Hickenlooper — he’d rather have the workers on the dole and dependent on his government, perhaps.

Colorado ElkA more serious hit in Colorado will be the loss of hunting revenue. It’s one of the state’s biggest tourism drivers, and outfitters are already reporting cancellations. (Along with the well-publicized magazine ban, the Governor’s initiatives include a ban on gun loans, which essentially criminalizes most youth hunts).

The economic impact can be calculated many different ways. These dated (but official) figures [pdf], more than a decade old, show that Colorado has almost 300,000 hunters and their direct spending runs to half a billion dollars, with nearly a billion more in indirect economic effect, supporting some 10,000 jobs and paying $24 million in direct state taxes. About half of that comes from nonresident hunters drawn primarily by big-game hunting: mule deer, elk, mountain lion. (Note that the Time article linked above says out-of-state hunters were many fewer last year, only 86,000).

The Denver Post’s “Outdoor Columnist,” whose fishing reports appear to indicate first-hand experience but who appears to have little personal involvement in hunting, and no knowledge of firearms utility beyond the blood sport, has written several excited screeds in favor of Hickenlooper’s gun bans and excoriating anyone who deviates from the Democrat line… of course, a Party Card is probably something every Post writer needs to display at his initial job interview.

It’s a pity. A Colorado-based friend had us this close to an elk-hunting trip this year. (Truth to tell, it was an excuse to buy a longer-range, harder-hitting rifle than a mere 7.62… maybe even drop the money on a TrackingPoint rig, which was made to nail big game at mountain-state ranges).

But that’s Colorado, still part of the West despite the Massachusetts-style governor. the Colorado laws are certain to be revised and likely to be completely overthrown within two years. Connecticut, on the other hand, once the cradle of gun innovation in the USA, has become a strange amalgam of bedroom communities for New York’s wealthy, driven out of the city by the violence and abominable schools, and collapsing communities like Bridgeport: Beirut on Long Island Sound, where the only remaining industry is multi-level marketing of recreational pharmaceuticals. To a tail-end, hyper-urban baby boomer like “Dannel” Malloy, the state’s gun industry is not something to be proud of, but a source of shame.

Colt probably won’t move, but they’d be well-advised to do so.

More or less Off Topic: Goats in Trees

Moroccan Goats - 011Things are a bit busy in the analog domain right now, so we’re offering our digital friends these goats in trees.

The nimble animals are not a special species, just normal goats that have learnt to adapt to the country’s [Morocco’s — ed.] arid environment, where their main source of nutrition comes from the tiny berries that grow on the Aragan tree.

Since the trees are sometimes as high as 30 feet, the only way the goats can get to the berries, is by scaling up. Over the years, they have not only figured out how to climb, but also prance  around nimbly from branch to branch like ballerinas.

Goats have a long and tangled relationship with Special Forces. Since the end of Dog Lab, they’ve been the animals sacrificed in live tissue training (something that Congressional animal-rights extremists have been trying to ban, so that your SF medic’s first arterial bleeder or pneumothorax experience is on a critically wounded American, instead).

They’re also on the menu in way too many places where our guys go, from North Africa (where they’re low-end protein) to the Caribbean (where they’re considered a delicacy in some places… try the Jerked Goat in Jamaica, if you take your life in your hands by getting off the tourist track. Just so you can say you did). For more images of the arboreal goats, and some rather grim news about what the locals do with the post-goat-processed seeds, go to Ritemail: Moroccan Goats Graze on Trees.

It’s going to be a bit slow…

Due to various adventures in the analog domain, we’ll be a bit slow in getting to stuff in the digital domain, including this blog. It’s all good (but, alas, there are relatively few firearms, swords, artillery pieces or warplanes involved. C’est dommage).

Meanwhile, there’s always something good over at Forgotten Weapons.

“We killed him. We shot Rich. He’s gonna die.”

With that, we had to get a repeat from the guy on the phone. He was crying. “Wait, what? Say again?”

“We shot him, one of us shot him. During live fire. We just came from the hospital. He’s not gonna make it, man.” Another broken voice joined in, saying the same essential thing.

It was hard to make out what they were saying. They were our two team medics, and they and a third doc from another team had rendered first aid. One also thought he might have fired the fatal shot, but he couldn’t be sure.

“How the *&%&#$(!! did that happen?”

Of course, if anyone understood how Richie got shot, he probably wouldn’t have been shot. Over time it was possible to to wring some details out of the weeping, distraught medics. They had a long drive back from the hospital where Rich was in an ICU with a hugely swollen head and a bad prognosis. Both docs were tough men, one of whom would retire as a team sergeant and one as a first sergeant and acting command sergeant major. Both earned the CIB and CMB before retiring  (which you could do, on separate tours, Back In The Day™, although you could only wear one at a time). And both would serve in a “where’s where” of the world’s badlands. But right now, they were probably too emotional to be driving or talking on the phone, but they were doing both because they thought we needed to know. And they needed to talk.

Each detail of the accident scene was worse than the previous one. There was Rich, conscious but brain-damaged, begging them to remove the helmet that was squeezing his head — but his helmet had long since been taken off. There was Rich asking what happened, and marveling at the fact that he had been shot; and then asking the question again minutes later, his damaged brain having fomed no memory of the first conversation. There was the aftermath, where pimply CID privates in polyester PX shirts and pants tried transparent and amateurish “gotcha” interrogation techniques.

Against guys who, first, had nothing to hide, and second, had all had resistance to interrogation training. It would have been comical if it wasn’t for the buddy in the ICU. That took the mirth right out of things.

It turned out the CID guys had built such a towering theory that they were trying to determine which one of the guys was having an affair with Rich’s wife and had conveniently offed him. (It never occurred to them that the men in our unit came from a region 250 miles wide and 500 high, and some of them flew to drill. It was usually impractical to get together with the other guys, let alone to hit on their women, even if we were so inclined).

Paradoxically, our reputation — “SF guys are too well trained to screw up like that” — was one of CID’ most powerful reasons for seeking a criminal explanation.

But, yeah. We screwed up like that.

One powerful feeling was terrible guilt for not being there and not sharing that misery drill with the guys. One problem with being a Reserve or Guard SF guy is that drills will conflict with civilian life. Sometimes drill wins; sometimes you’re a member of a corporate board and have to make the annual meeting. So there was a profound feeling of guilt in the air as the horrifying details of Rich’s wound tumbled out.

Later, Rich’s helmet would be sent back when the 51-3 investigation was over. We signed for it and put it in the company safe. A test coupon had been cut out for analysis, and we could see where the M855 round penetrated the back of his helmet, and how some fragments had peppered the opposite inside after scrambling his brain. Other fragments stayed inside his head. It was a fatal wound; that much was obvious.

To everyone but Rich. He didn’t die.

We never determined conclusively who fired the shot. It was a difficult, night, live-fire evolution where the team had to transition from firing and maneuvering in one direction to react to being ambushed on the flank. The team has to transition and engage the new threat. Rich, a pugnacious Ranger Bat alumnus who prided himself on his fieldcraft, was point as usual. When the team secured from the drill, they were one man short. Someone found Rich and asked him to get up. He didn’t move, so the guy kicked him, thinking he was being a smart ass. Rich mumbled something, and moaned. That’s when it was obvious something had gone drastically wrong.

While it was never clear who fired the shot — not to us, not to the safety investigators, not to the junior G-men of CID who did their best job on an investigation, once they figured out it wasn’t a TV show murder plot — every man on the team was afraid it was him. One member took it particularly hard, and soon left the unit. He drank a lot, a real lot. He died young.

It was Rich who called this time to talk about his friend. “I never talked to him after the accident. I wish I could have. I would have told him it’s OK, I’m OK.”

And considering that he took a lethal round through the brain housing group at point-blank range, Rich is OK. We suppose his MICH helmet helped; maybe the delta-V that came from going through all those Kevlar layers that the test engineers so carefully delaminated to inspect was enough. Maybe it was just the path the round took through his grey matter — brain injuries are weird like that. Maybe God has stuff for him to do — we’re not ruling anything out here.

Sure, he had consequences. He lost some field of vision, he had to learn a lot of motor skills (like walking) all over again. He had to retire, medically, from his civilian job in the law and order field as well as from the unit. His wife left him. Most painfully, he had to sit in a wheelchair and watch his buddies — his old team — go off to war without him. They could have used him, you know.

But when they came back, he had a trick to show them — he came to the homecoming party, and stood up out of the wheelchair. Every man in the unit felt momentarily beatified. We bought him enough drinks, and he bought them for us, that we all needed wheelchairs before we stumbled back to our hotel rooms (nobody was driving that night. Wouldn’t have been wise).

Rich didn’t lose a point off his intelligence, and his personality didn’t shift at all (both common in brain injuries). His sense of humor — another frequent head-wound casualty — was untainted. When we got back from the board meeting, and got in to see him, his first comment was, “well, if a guy on the team had to be shot in the head, it’s lucky it was slow ole Ranger me. A bullet in your head might have hit something! In mine, it just went clean through. Whooosh!

So, yeah, we’re hard on NDs here. What was going on was an extremely hazardous, advanced evolution that required men to cross in front of other men, at night, under NVGs. But the bottom line is, we blew it — guys that knew our weapons, sights, and NODs, and fire thousands and thousands of rounds a year.

Since this accident is still so imperfectly understood, it’s hard to determine what lessons we can learn from it, specifically. Here are a few:

  • We would suggest that you should concentrate 90% of your training time on basics and 10% or less on advanced elements. Work on the few things you always need. A Special Forces team has to do some hairy live fires, but you probably don’t.
  • You don’t have to go any further than YouTube to see instructors — often, largely self-taught self-promoters — doing things that are designed to look cool but that add risk without adding training value. Don’t be that guy. SOF do some advanced shooting, but every thing we do is taught painstakingly on the crawl, walk, run basis. Even then, we sometimes blow it. Ask Rich.
  • Stress inoculation works. As horrifying as the experience was for all concerned, the many gut checks of SFQC, 300F1 (medic school), and Ranger school meant that when things went pear-shaped, everybody acted. They didn’t freak out until the drive home, after the CID kids finally let them go, and it was OK to freak out.
  • Rapid and proper medical action saves lives, even lives thought forfeit. Control the bleeding, maintain the airway. It’s not brain surgery… at least, not unless you do the right things to get him to the operating theater, and then the brain surgeons can take it from there. If you don’t know combat first aid, learn some. And put a med kit in your range bag and your trunk.

And one last thought: you’re not dead, even when both your team medics have mentally written you off, until you give yourself up for dead. (Of course, the docs maintained a positive attitude whilst treating Rich, even as they calculated his odds as nil — fortunately, mistakenly. So he never knew they wrote him off until they talked much later). Rich never quit which is the single most necessary ingredient in coming home with your tab, or trident… or life. Many years later, Rich is doing better than ever.

Effect of Smaller Mags on Rounds Fired

It’s become conventional wisdom, but do larger magazines really affect your ability to fire X number of aimed shots in period Y? Here’s an experiment, with Sheriff Ken Campbell refereeing as an experienced shooter (Jim) and an inexperienced one (Christy) fire with several magazine configurations. The results are eye-opening. Jim and Christy each tried putting 30 rounds downrange from a bog-standard Glock — first as two 15-round magazines, then as three 10-rounders, and finally as five 6-round magazines, a configuration that only Andrew Cuomo (D-Apalachin Summit) could love. Here’s what it looks like:

As you might expect, the experienced shooter outperforms the novice — by a couple of seconds, which is also the difference between the most convenient (two mags) and least (five) reload situations. In terms of real, practical, difference… there isn’t any. It’s simply a matter of convenience, not necessity.

The video also demonstrates AR-15 10-versus-20-round mag performance, and how the “New York Reload” (brainchild, as you may know, of fabled NYPD marksman and gunfighter Detective Jim Cirillo, of the legendary Stakeout Squad) means you can put equivalent lead on target even if your weapon is a 6-shot revolver, simply by using an array of pistols instead of just one.

You can quibble with some facets of the video — it looks like the pro shooter in particular is firing more rapidly when he’s shooting from the smaller mags — but one thing it does show is how fast even a relatively inexperienced shooter can reload. And like most physical activities, most humans can do it faster with practice.

They also don’t make it entirely clear why a home defender might want a larger mag, especially in a tactical carbine; they just assert that he does, while an opponent might argue that their own video disproves that. Let’s take a moment to explain what we think they meant.

In the military, there were times when we had a limited supply of larger standard-capacity mags (30) or even high-capacity mags (40, 90, 100 rounds – we tried them all) while most of our mags were still the Vietnam era 20s. We used larger mags for an initial burst of fire to achieve fire superiority if ambushed, or to lay down “to whom it may concern” suppressive fire, for example, in order to break contact. And we also took advantage of the larger mags when dealing with multiple targets — the classic example is in the shoot house with several shoot and several no-shoot targets (hostages and hostage-takers, for example). The private citizen’s version of this nightmare is the multiple-offender home invasion. Having access to standard-capacity mags increases his chances of survival and success.

Hat tip: Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. The video was produced with funding from Armalite.

NYPD marksmanship improving

NYPDIn the town that really could use Superman to fight its crime, if only he was real, comes a tale of simple mortals — NYPD plainclothes officers — confronted on the street by what appears to have been a young gangbanger, 16-year-old Kimani Gray. They fired 11 shots when Gray produced a handgun.

Good news: they didn’t hit any bystanders, this time.

Better news: 7 of the 11 shots hit Gray, sparing him a trip to Riker’s Island and sending him express to Hades instead. The WSJ blogs:

Authorities have said two plainclothes police officers fired 11 shots at Gray after he allegedly pointed a revolver at them. Family and friends of the teenager have disputed that he had a gun.

Police said the shooting unfolded after Gray was behaving suspiciously and fiddling with his waistband, suggesting to the officers that he was concealing a weapon. After the plainclothes officers identified themselves, police allege that Gray pulled out a revolver and aimed it in the direction of the officers.

Investigators determined Gray was struck once in the back of his left shoulder, once in back of each thigh, twice in the front right thigh, once in the left rib cage and once in the left forearm. A spokeswoman for the city’s chief medical examiner said the coroner was still investigating which of the bullets killed the teenager.

via Brooklyn Teen Hit by Seven Police Bullets – Metropolis – WSJ.

That bullet sequence sounds to me like the first shots were the ones that struck Gray’s thigh, turning him to the right, and the left side and back wounds went into him as he spun around and fell. The fatal hit was probably the left rib or the left shoulder hit.

Assuming the report is correct, and Gray had a gun (or something that resembled a gun), this is a good shoot. It would have been better without the four stray rounds off in the city air, but it’s a lot better than the display in Midtown a while ago.

Of course the kid’s friends and family say he didn’t have a gun. Repeat after me: it was not in his character. He wasn’t like that. He had made a few mistakes, but he was turning his life around. He was an aspiring (rap star, basketball player, anything but someone who worked for a living like other New Yorkers). But the family couldn’t find a picture for the paper except one with the kid’s hat turned around and him trying to look all grown up and tough.

Pulling a gun on armed men is an IQ test. Gray just failed.

More vital than GI education? $600k hotel bill. One night.

VP Joe Biden and his entourage: over 100 various security gnomes, equerries, knob-polishers, horse-holders, chai boys, praise bestowers and a food taster — spent une nuit à Paris in the celebrated Hotel Intercontental. One-night bill: Almost $600k. ($585,000.50, to be precise..50?).

This is vital, essential government spending. According to Obama and Biden, not to mention Panetta and Hagel, the money promised to GIs in order to recruit them to risk their lives for the Beltway ingrates is wasteful and was the first thing chopped when budget sequestration forced a reduction in the rate of growth of Defense Department spending.

The VP got a much better deal for the taxpayers the night before in London. He only blew $458,388.65. (Actual bills at the two links).

Update 26 March:

A Canadian blog plays a related game of sequester juxtaposition.

How accurate was a .50 in WWII?

aircraft-machine-guns-armament-ordnanceWe’re familiar with the feats of marksmanship pulled off by snipers using scope-equipped .50 machine guns in Vietnam (this was also done in Korea, but less has been written about it). The Vietnam successes, particularly the late GySgt. Carlos Hathcock’s, paved the way for the development of purpose-built .50 sniper rifles (it’s no coincidence that the M82 Barrett came to fruition at the exact time that the word of Hathcock’s then-15-year-old-feats spread far and wide among serving soldiers and Marines).

With all the ingenuity that was displayed in World War II, why wasn’t the M2HB used as a sniper weapon? A look at some wartime data from the Heavy Barrel’s close cousin, the aerial M2, might be instructive. The interesting website LoneSentry (which was this week’s W4) has a relevant document. They seem to alternate publishing press releases of new kits for modelers with fascinating original documents from the World War II era. And they’ve reprinted numerous excerpts from a 20th Air Force set of B-29 crew notes, which we’ll snag a short excerpt of:

There are several factors to consider in arriving at an answer to the question of how long a burst it is practical to fire. The ammunition has a high degree of accuracy. At 600 yards, when fired from an accuracy rifle held in a V-block, it will group in a circle 18″ in diameter. When fired single shot, using an aircraft machine gun on a tripod mount, tests have shown a 20″ circle of fire.

This is a Mann accuracy device, used for ammunition testing by the Army (this particular one is in 7.62 NATO on a Springfield acton). These were made in all calibers, and ammunition lots had to pass an accuracy test for acceptance.

This is a Mann accuracy device, used for ammunition testing by the Army (this particular one is in 7.62 NATO on a Springfield acton). These were made in all calibers, and ammunition lots had to pass an accuracy test for acceptance.  Image: CMP (which has some of these for sale as collector curiosities).

So that’s the purpose of their investigation — how long a burst makes sense for an aerial gunner to fire. And the first thing they establish is that the theoretical accuracy of the ammunition, fired from a (presumably Mann) accuracy rifle, as roughly 2.87 MoA. (Angular calculation from here, using values of 1800 feet [600 yd] and 1.5 ft [18″]). Using the same calculator to solve angle for longer ranges, using that theoretical accuracy established at 600 yards, we get about a yard dispersion at 1200 yards and 43 inches and change at 1500. Again, this is the theoretical accuracy of the ammunition. Using single shots from an actual MG on a ground tripod (presumably with T&E, although the record doesn’t say) we see a slight degradation which makes that 1200 and 1500 yard shot on a man-sized target problematical (and with iron sights, functionally impossible). In single-shot mode, the differences between the ANM2 aerial machine gun (several variations of which are seen here) and its M2HB ground counterpart are not telling.

The information file goes on to address burst fire, of less interest vis-a-vis sniping but interesting in its own right.

In a burst of 10 or 12 on the same mount the group was approximately five feet. When longer bursts were fired, it was observed that the gun soon lost accuracy, even though it remained relatively stationary in the mount. When over fifty rounds were fired, in one burst, the projectiles tumbled in flight and dispersed over a 75 foot area at 600 yards.

Why is that? Does the barrel get “shot out” that quickly? Not exactly.

When the barrel has been overheated, it will be found that it cannot be relied upon for further accuracy even though the lands and grooves measure up well and the barrel, to all appearances, seems good. If the exterior of the barrel has a burned appearance, it should be tested by ordnance before further use. When a barrel becomes over-heated it expands to such an extent that the muzzle velocity decreases several hundred feet per second. This decrease continues as the barrel continues to expand, until a point is reached where tumbling of the projectiles takes place and controlled fire is reduced to a few hundred feet.

B29Attacks1If an enemy flew his plane to within “a few hundred feet” of a B-29, self-preservation was not high on his agenda. Pilots — German and Japanese alike — who excelled at attacking 4-engined day bombers tended to make fast, slashing, attacks from straight ahead — ahead high, if they could get up there (most of the Japanese fighters were doing well to get to the B-29’s bombing altitude). Pilots who settled in at short range to shoot the four engines out one at a time were in the convergence zone of several guns from that bomber and his cell mates, and their careers tended to the truncated.

The gunner instructors who wrote the document reached this conclusion:

The accuracy of the fire delivered, therefore, depends not only on how steadily the gun is held, but also on the length of the burst, and the condition of the barrel. If a gunner fires short bursts of three to five rounds, constantly using his sights, he will have a tight group and a high degree of accuracy. This is the most effective method of firing your machine guns.

Now, this has always been the advice for ground gunners using air-cooled guns, but it’s enlightening to see aerial gunners getting the same instruction. The ANM2’s principal differences with the M2HB were: a lighter barrel and a ventilated, full-length barrel shroud, on the theory that an aerial gun would be bathed in fast-flowing cooling air. (And, at bomber altitudes, cold air: 50 to 60 degrees below zero F). But they still suffered extreme accuracy degradation, and bullet tumbling, when long bursts were fired.

Many a Japanese fighter pilot's last sight on Earth. Note the upper turret is trained forward, the lower, aft. And yes, it embiggens.  Bill Crump photo (CAF).

Many a Japanese fighter pilot’s last sight on Earth, although this photo, of the only surviving airworthy B-29, was taken at far lower altitude. Note that the upper turret is trained forward, the lower, aft; they can both be controlled by the bombardier in the nose. And yes, the picture embiggens. Bill Crump photo (CAF).

The 20th Air Force was the one that operated B-29s against Japan, first from Chinese bases and then, after the successful Marianas campaign, from Saipan and Tinian. To bring it full circle, its commander was General Curtis LeMay, who was an absolute gun nut, and as Chief of Staff of the Air Force would drive the US adoption of its longest-serving small arm: the M16 series.

A Sunday of Travel

It’s the usual drill of a car and TSA gropage and a jet and a car and a new location for a few days. Blogging should not be interrupted, but comment handling may be slow.

Be that as it may, first few Monday posts are already queued up and the first one is both technical and historical, answering “how accurate was a .50 Back In The Day™” and “why do they tell you to fire short bursts… what happens if you don’t?”