Playing The Star-Spangled Banner with a Gun

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Do you hear that? It sounds like freedom!

The Canadian Parliament Active Killer

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

When the active killer in Canada turned active, events happened quickly:

Look at the surveillance video again.  Do you see how fast the killer is running?  The entire event including the assassination of Cpl. Cirillo, the carjacking of a government minister, the struggle with an unarmed security guard and exchanging shots with armed security staff and police likely took less than five minutes.  If your only plan is “wait for the police,” you won’t be a player in a scenario like this.  It is likely to be over by the time the cops arrive.

The RCMP witnessed the car jacking and were in pursuit of the killer as he entered the Parliament Building.  They still didn’t get there in time to protect the legislators!  You will be on your own for some time if you find yourself in the middle of something like this.

One other comment I should make is that the killer was running FAST.  If you are thinking “I’ll just run away,” you should probably rethink that plan as well.  Make an honest assessment of your abilities.  Could you outrun the killer?  I know I couldn’t.

New from TrackingPoint

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

TrackingPoint recently introduced the Shotglass:

The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell.

Tracking Point Shotglass

The company now offers three ARs, including a .300 WinMag model:

Tracking Point AR in 300 WinMag

Lone Survivor

Friday, October 24th, 2014

When the Lone Survivor movie came out, I read up on Operation Red Wings, but I only just got around to watching the movie.

The original plan kicked off with a six-man team of Marine Scout Snipers walking in under cover of darkness, but, because SOF air elements were going to be involved in later stages, that turned into a four-man team of SEALs inserting by helicopter — something the original planners thought would compromise the mission by revealing coalition presence in this area.

The movie depicts all the SEALs as fully kitted out and visibly encumbered, but they’re not wearing helmets, and it’s not clear that they’re wearing body armor, either. Two are armed with suppressed sniper rifles, while the other two have carbines with grenade launchers.

They make their way to a decent vantage point from which they can spot and indentify their (surveillance) target, Ahmad Shah, and his surprisingly large “army” of fighters.

They’re just out of rifle range and aren’t on a mission to take out Shah themselves. One of the spotters asks, “You make that shot?” and the sniper replies, “Negative. Wouldn’t have authority anyway.”

(I couldn’t help but wonder, what could four designated marksmen, all armed with higher-caliber semi-auto rifles, do to a few dozen insurgents caught in the open like that, before they could respond?)

In the mountainous, wooded terrain, the SEALs have “comms” problems and can’t report back their findings, call in support, or request an extraction — but they came expecting comms problems, so they don’t panic. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling the local situation without support.

In particular, they don’t seem to have a solid plan for handling a few locals stumbling upon their position. No one on the team speaks the local language, and no one has a plan for dealing with semi-hostile locals. When you don’t have a plan, you don’t make good decisions. I’m not sure what a good decision would have been, but both shooting the locals and letting them go have obvious downsides. I suppose they didn’t bring zip-ties? Paracord? A few extra hours could have made a big difference. Letting the enemy know you’re there, and that there are only four of you, seems like something you should put off as long as possible.

By the time the pursuers catch up to them, the SEALs are deep in rough, wooded terrain — where they do not have clear lines of sight for long-range shots.

One thing the movie drives home is just how physical modern combat can be. The SEALs take a beating from scrambling through the rocky, wooded terrain, take some terrible falls, and then, on top of that, get cut to pieces by fragments from RPGs, mortar bombs, ricochets, etc. And then they actually get shot. The through-and-through shots to the arms and legs don’t seem to slow them down much, but it all adds up.

If the film starts to feel more “Hollywood” by the end, that’s because it diverges from the book — and reality.

If you “enjoyed” Black Hawk Down, you should see Lone Survivor, too.

Get There First

Friday, October 24th, 2014

It took five or six Shermans to take out a single Tiger tank — or did it?

Examining 98 engagements in the Ardennes, Army researchers discovered something rather interesting.

The study concluded that the single most important factor in tank-versus-tank fighting was which side spotted the enemy first, engaged first and hit first. This gave the defender a distinct advantage, since the defending tanks were typically stationary in a well-chosen ambush position. …

The side that saw first and hit first usually had the advantage in the first critical minute … the overall record suggests that the Sherman was 3.6 times more effective than the Panther … popular myths that that Panthers enjoyed a 5-to-1 kill ratio against Shermans or that it took five Shermans to knock out a Panther have no basis in historical records. The outcome of tank-versus-tank fighting was more often determined by the tactical situation than the technical situation.

Since the Shermans were more numerous and mechanically reliable, they typically got to the key terrain first. They kept going whereas the Panthers and Tigers could only road march short distances from their transporters and railheads. Thus, in most engagements the Shermans could get set up because there were so many of them and they tended to run reliably.

If there was a hill to be grabbed, a road to be blocked, the Shermans would get there first. By contrast, the German tanks were mechanically fragile. For all their power they were on average, late to the party. Therefore, on a fluid battlefield the Shermans would almost always arrive first on the key terrain and bushwhack the panzers.

It’s Impossible to Build on Failure

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

It’s impossible to build on failure, Tony Robbins says:

You build only on success. I turned around the United States Army pistol shooting program. I made certain that the first time someone shot a pistol, instead of shooting the .45 caliber pistol from 50 feet away — which is what they were starting these guys out at — I brought the target literally five feet in front of the students. I wouldn’t let them fire the gun until they had rehearsed over and over again the exact perfect shooting form for two hours. By the time they held the gun, they had every technique perfected, so when they fired, they succeeded. BAM!

At first the Army thought it was stupid, but it put ignition into the students’ brain — “WOW! I’ve succeeded!” — versus shooting bullets into the ceiling or floor the first few times. It created an initial sense of certainty.

I believe in setting people up to win. Many instructors believe in setting them up to fail so they stay humble and they are more motivated. I disagree radically. There is a time for that but not in the beginning. People’s actions are very limited when they think they have limited potential. If you have limited belief, you are going to use limited potential, and you are going to take limited action.

Projected Recoilless Improvised Grenade

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The Projected Recoilless Improvised Grenade (PRIG) was a shoulder fired weapon developed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) for use against lightly armored vehicles:

The launcher consisted of a length of steel tube adapted to accept a charge of black powder in the middle by way of a capped off perforated pipe welded in place. The charge is wired to a simple circuit, often utilizing a light bulb holder as an arming switch and fired by a long arm micro-switch which serves as a trigger.

PRIG Diagram

The warhead itself consists of a standard food tin filled with 600g of Semtex, complete with a frontal explosive lens to create an armor piercing shaped charge. This round was designed to explode on impact, being an adaption of an earlier used improvised stick-grenade known as a ‘drogue bomb’ which was sometimes fitted with a trash bag to act as a guide parachute.

PRIG Round

To the rear of the launcher was placed the ‘counter-shot’, incorporated to utilize the recoilless principle (Reduced to as little as a .22lr rifle’s, according to some!). This consisted of two packets of digestive tea biscuits, wrapped in j-cloth.

PRIG Counter-Shot Digestive Biscuits

Welcome to Our Reality

Friday, October 17th, 2014

How do the Swedes recruit soldiers? Like this:

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Scott Alexander reviews Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche Indians:

When Mexico took over from Spain and tried to colonize Texas, the Comanches beat them so soundly that they decided to get some “help” by inviting Anglo-Americans to come in and colonize, leading to the Texas revolt, the Mexican War, and so on. Through the first thirty years or so of American Texas, American control only extended through the eastern half of the state, with the western half being totally Comanche and almost totally unexplored. The border was so feared that places like Fort Worth, Texas were originally a line of actual forts intended to protect the Texans from Comanche raids.

These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. Sometimes people were scalped alive. The women would usually be gang-raped dozens of times, and then enslaved, carried off to Comanche territory, and gang-raped some more. Children were forced to watch as their parents were raped and tortured and killed, or vice versa.

Their favorite pastime was to find a remote farm somewhere, ride in dressed in full war gear, communicate some version of “Oh, hi, I know what this looks like but actually we’re just stopping by, mind giving us a bite to eat?”, enjoying a lavish feast put on by extremely nervous settlers, and then saying “Very good, in exchange for this feast we give you a five minute head start”, then giving them five minutes to run away before riding them down and torture-killing the entire family in the manner described earlier.

On the other hand, the Comanches fit the classic pattern of hunter-gatherer civilizations of simultaneously being really mean to people outside the tribe while showing deep and heartfelt kindness to everyone within. We know this because sometimes if there were very young children, and the Comanches were feeling a bit low on headcount, they would capture the children and adopt them as full Comanches (after torture-killing the parents, of course) and some of these children would later grow up to write English-language books about their experience. But this practice definitely led to some awkward situations, and the book centers around one of them: the last great chief of the Comanches, Quanah, was half-white, the son of a Comanche chief and a Texan woman who had been captured when she was nine years old.

So there was a bit of traffic back and forth between America and Comancheria in the 19th century. White people being captured and raised by Comanches. The captives being recaptured years later and taken back into normal white society. Indians being defeated and settled on reservations and taught to adopt white lifestyles. And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:

All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.

There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did; the Comanche men were probably the best archers and horsemen in the history of history, and even women and children had wilderness survival and tracking skills that put even the best white frontiersmen to shame. It sounds like a life of leisure, strong traditions, excellence, and enjoyment of nature, and it doesn’t surprise me that people liked it better than the awful white frontier life of backbreaking farming and endless religious sermons.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

From 2004 to 2011, American troops repeatedly encountered chemical weapons remaining from earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule, C.J. Chivers reports:

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

Sandworm

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

The Russians have been spying on foreign powers — shocking, I know — using software that researchers have dubbed Sandworm:

Although iSight only has a small view of the number of victims targeted in the campaign, the victims include among others, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ukrainian and European Union governments, energy and telecommunications firms, defense companies, as well as at least one academic in the US who was singled out for his focus on Ukrainian issues. The attackers also targeted attendees of this year’s GlobSec conference, a high-level national security gathering that attracts foreign ministers and other top leaders from Europe and elsewhere each year.

It appears Sandworm is focused on nabbing documents and emails containing intelligence and diplomatic information about Ukraine, Russia and other topics of importance in the region. But it also attempts to steal SSL keys and code-signing certificates, which iSight says the attackers probably use to further their campaign and breach other systems.

The researchers dubbed the operation “Sandworm” because the attackers make multiple references to the science fiction series Dune in their code. [...] It was encoded references to Dune — which appear in URLs for the attackers’ command-and-control servers — that helped tie some of the attacks together. The URLs include base64 strings that when decoded translate to “arrakis02,” “houseatreides94,” and “epsiloneridani0,” among others.

“Some of the references were very obscure so whoever was writing the malware was a big Dune geek,” says John Hultquist, senior manager for iSight’s Cyber Espionage Threat Intelligence team.

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Great Martian War

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The Great Martian War mixes authentic (and inauthentic) World War I footage with SFX War of the Worlds tripods — and a not-at-all-period soundtrack:

The History Channel has a two-hour special planned:

We made the decision from the start not to use WWI archive footage that showed real casualties or troops fighting. Though we strongly believe our show honours the veterans of WWI and seeks to look at the war afresh through a science fiction story we recognised the need to be sensitive to the original archive material and the people in it.

As well as the untreated period archive that illustrates our story we had in some cases to insert realistic computer graphics into that archive. That was a complex process of creating super realistic Alien war machines animating and rendering them then match compositing them into archive that was often hugely distressed and degraded. The modern animated elements then had to be similarly degraded so that they bedded into the period archive. No two pieces of original archive are alike so each shot presented a very complex set of issues for the teams involved.

On top of that we created a number of shots using live action of extras in detailed period costume on a purpose built trench system, (the same one used for the WWI scenes in ‘Downton Abbey’!), and on location. Our Aliens were then composited into this footage and the whole thing retro treated with pops, scratches, grain and distress to sit alongside original war footage, hopefully invisibly.

We also co-opted real archive from the years around the war and re-interpreted it to help illustrate our story. We don’t pretend to bring to our fake documentary the kind of rigour necessary in real documentary. We needed to re-interpret archive to tell our fictional story. So for instance our footage of riots around the Whitehouse is real but took place after WWI… And in a world where Germany, France and Britain fought on the same side against a single Alien invader our uniforms and kit do not always strictly chronologically match the timeline of the real war!

Much of the available ‘real’ archive WWI footage of frontline ‘combat’ was actually reconstructed during and after the war well away from the front line for propaganda and dramatic purpose, but where we had any doubt we avoided that archive and made our own. We did this from scratch, painstakingly constructing our shots with reference to photos and footage from the war and deliberately tried to confine ourselves to angles and camera technology available in 1913- 17. Cameras then were hand cranked at an irregular frame rate locked onto a tripod and rarely mounted in anything moving.

Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector

Friday, September 26th, 2014

The US Marine Corps recently showed off a half-scale prototype of its Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector (UHAC):

The tracks, which are made of what the Marines call “captured-air foam blocks,” extend like flippers to propel the craft through the water. When it hits the beach, the foam flattens to become like the tracks on a tank or a bulldozer, only much softer, according to a report from Stars and Stripes.

Last week, the UHAC prototype, which is about half the size of envisioned production models, carried an assault vehicle from the Rushmore to the beach. The Marine Corps says a full-size UHAC would be able to carry much more.

“The full-scale model should be able to carry at least three tanks and a HMMVW (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle),” Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Perera, the Warfighting Lab’s Infantry Weapons Project officer, said in a statement. That’s about three times the load that the Corps’ current craft assigned to the task, called a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), can handle.

It also will be able to surmount bigger obstacles. While an LCAC can only get over a 4-foot-high sea wall, a full-size UHAC will be able to get over sea walls as high as 10, 12 or even 16 feet, according to the Corps.

The UHAC prototype type is not armored or armed, but Perera said production models would have armor plating and a .50-caliber machine guns for protection.
They also would be much faster. The prototype could only go 5 mph on the water, but a full-size UHAC should do 25 mph, Gen. Kevin Killea, commander of the Corps’ Warfighting Lab, told Stars and Stripes.

The UHAC prototype used last week is the third in the program, built upon a concept originally proposed by the Hawaii-based shipbuilding and research firm Navatek, Ltd.

“There has been a one-fifth scale model, then a one-quarter scale model and this is a half-scale model, so we have been progressing,” Frank Leban, program officer at the Office of Naval Research, said in a statement. “Every vehicle has incorporated more features and technology to help get us to the full scale.”

Pig Carcass Wound Ballistics Lab

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Two (humanely killed) pig carcasses were shot with various weapons in order to take a look at the accompanying tissue damage:

Blunt injury to the base of the skull and chest with a pipe left insignificant visible damage. Although the skulls were not dissected, no obvious fractures or depression of the skulls were noted on external exam. Blunt impact to the chest wall did not result in any broken ribs. This may be a testament to the elasticity of the ribs in these relatively young animals. Conclusions: blunt trauma may indeed be an effective strategy through pain compliance (and may potentially be deadly force) but a large amount of force is required to cause significant tissue damage.

A single slash wound to the lateral chest wall with a small (~2.5 in) blade easily cut through the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and muscle. A single stab wound to the abdomen with the same blade penetrated through skin, muscle, peritoneum, and nicked the large bowel. A Special Circumstances, Inc. custom push dagger effortlessly punched through skin, muscle and rib into the chest cavity. Conclusion: a small, fixed-blade edged weapon provides an ideal balance between concealable and effective.

There was essentially no discernible difference between the Federal HST .40 and 9mm wound channel. Both rounds penetrated through chest and pelvic cavities leaving small but ragged wound channels. Both penetrated through interceding bone leaving comminuted fractures (to include sturdy structures such as scapula and pelvis.) Neither round exited the opposite side of the carcass. The 9mm round that had gone through the chest cavity was found under the skin of the opposite shoulder and retrieved. The round appeared intact and had fully mushroomed. Conclusion: “9 is fine.” Users of a high quality 9mm round should not feel outgunned.

The Hornady TAP 5.56 rifle round penetrated deeply into the chest and pelvic cavities. There was a large permanent wound cavity of macerated tissue. Both ribs and pelvic bones were fractured. Tiny fragments of metal jacket were recovered from the wounds, but the rounds otherwise appeared to have completely fragmented prior to stopping. Neither round penetrated through the opposite side of the carcass, although tissue deficits on the opposite side could be palpated through the intact skin. Conclusion: rifle rounds create devastating wounds due to significantly higher velocities than handgun rounds. The TAP round performed as advertised, creating a large permanent wound channel with massive tissue damage, dumping all energy into the target without exiting the opposite side. Again of note: there were no interceding barriers such as clothing, glass, or drywall.

Shotgun wounds were delivered to the lower extremities at what I believe would be the equivalent of the human equivalent of the lower leg near the ankle. Both bird- and buckshot left large diameter soft tissue wounds, and penetrated to and fractured the underlying bone. However, the birdshot penetrated no further than the bone. All buckshot pellets penetrated through the bone, out the opposite side of the limb, and into the contralateral limb, again fracturing bone. Several of the pellets penetrated completely through the contralateral limb, with one moderately deformed buckshot pellet being recovered deep in the tissue. Conclusion: for defensive purposes, buckshot is the way to go. Indeed, birdshot at close range left a devastating wound channel and fractured the underlying bone, but that was all. A shot to center mass with birdshot, even at close range, could stop short prior to contact with any vital structures and fail to stop.

Cannon Fodder

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The great European armies relied on cannon fodder, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) explains:

Often the best cannon fodder came from ethnic groups that were systematically crushed by the empire, then groomed as cannon fodder, where their desperation made them easy marks for flattery for “bravery” in the service of the empire that had destroyed their people. The Prussian Army recruited heavily among the Poles, Belarussians, Lithuanians and other Slavic groups. Slavs were excluded from Prussian institutions, which worked out very nicely, guaranteeing recruiters a steady supply of men of military age with no other option. And if they didn’t speak German, they could be taught by the rod.

That’s the horrible logic of recruiting the lowest of the low: The worse their lives become, the easier it is to sign them up as cannon fodder. If you look into the history of the most famous, illustrious military units, you find their origin in a minority ethnic group that’s been brutalized, walled off from the civilian economy, and then offered a chance to take the king’s shilling. Since European armies loved elaborate uniforms, these units would be “honored” with headgear or some other ethnic marker. And sure enough, whip-sawed by desperation and flattery, these units performed heroically, generating more flattery and a tradition of joining up, making the recruiter’s job even easier.

Which is why certain highly-decorated British regiments wear kilts. The Highland Scots, now extinct, scared the life out of Britain in 1745 by wading through better-equipped regular-army units staffed by English soldiers at Prestonpans. The Highlanders weren’t cute, quaint, or beloved in the minds of the London elite, when they heard how the Scots had charged out of the fog, swinging huge broadswords and screaming in Gaelic. The Highlanders were alien monsters — and Papists to boot, the worst crime of all in 18th-c. Britain.

After the inevitable defeat of the small, disorganized, half-armed Scottish invaders, the Empire pursued a classic two-phase plan. First, the extinction of the Highland Scots’ culture. The Earl of Cumberland, in charge of this phase, issued a classic “No prisoners!” order covering all Gaelic-speaking men of military age, armed or not. Anything associated with the rebel ethnic group was banned. Wearing tartan and playing the bagpipes were capital offenses in Scotland in 1746.

So how did it happen that this brutalized ethnic minority ended up marching in the Empire’s parades, decked out in tartan, with the pipes blaring, all through Victoria’s long century? That was phase two, and it worked very well, as it usually does. Once the insurgent ethnic group has been destroyed, it can be made quaint. Its markers — tartan, the pipes — can be used to flatter young Highland men into taking the king’s shilling. And best of all, the utter devastation of their homeland gives them no other options. And that’s always been the bottom line for getting good-quality cannon fodder: Make sure they have no other options.

You’ll find that grim sequence behind every military unit recruited from a crushed ethnic group.

Americans, fixated on skin color as a “racial” marker, tend to understand what the empires did (and do) to non-European groups like the Sikhs but miss how the technique — crush’em, then recruit’em and flatter’em — worked on other “white” European minorities just as well.