The football shape was not considered practical for further development

Monday, November 16th, 2020

It always seemed to me that a hand grenade should be the size and weight of a baseball, since most (American) soldiers have — or used to have — a lot of experience throwing baseballs, but I assumed the size and weight wouldn’t work. A baseball weighs 5 to 5.25 ounces (142 to 149 g). The classic pineapple grenade weighs 1 lb. 5 oz. (595 g). But they did try to make a baseball grenade in World War 2:

During World War II, the service, together with the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, had experimented with fragmentation grenades that were the exact same size and weight as regulation baseballs…. Those grenades, designated the T-13 and nicknamed the “Beano,” never entered service owing to their use of a dangerously sensitive impact fuze that killed two people and injured 44 others in the course of testing.

The other form factor that made sense to me was, of course, a football grenade, which, apparently, the Army considered for an anti-tank grenade, well after World War 2:

Test on the football shape indicated it also had a low tendency of nose-on impact. In addition, both the spring wire and soft aluminum placed on the nose to cause the “football” to rotate upon impact, so the nose would be perpendicular to the tank surface, did not work as envisioned. The “football” would bounce away before the nose rotated any significant amount. In addition, the “football” never attained a stable trajectory. This was apparently caused by the mass of the grenade type “football” being near the longitudinal axis while a real football has all its weight in the “skin.” The football shape was not considered practical for further development.

The modern M67 grenade has a “spheroidal” shape and weighs 14 oz (400 g).


  1. Kirk says:

    None of these grenades really took off, and I’ve always questioned the idea of basing their designs on sporting “things”. I believe the Germans tried a discus-type grenade, at one time, but what’s always struck me as a little, ah… Odd, was that nobody has ever thought to leverage the handle-cable-weight idea of the modern hammer-throw hammer. You would think that someone would have tried that, but nobody has, that I’m aware of.

    Human-powered explosives throwing is a chump’s game. You want to throw weight accurately? Remove the human from the equation as much as you can. Not to mention, in order to enable a human body to transfer as much energy as possible into the device, you have to do things that are just a bit… Noticeable. Imagine doing your “anti-tank grenade based on the hammer-throw” routine in the clear view it would require. “Hans, Hans… Look! That man over there! Fire the machinegun….”.

    Then, there’s the training time to get someone up to speed and accurate with these tools. Better to just gin up something like the Panzerfaust, and be done with it all.

    Frankly, outside of urban warfare, I’m a little dubious of the value proposition provided by the hand grenade, anyway. Anywhere in the field where you’d want to employ one, you’d be way better off firing that weight of explosives out of something like a Carl Gustav or a 40mm grenade launcher.

    What I would like to see, however, is a more… Ah, shall we say, versatile sort of weapon, a polyvalent little thing with extreme adaptability. Fuse train, explosive, fragmentation component set up such that you could use it as a booby-trap (with an appropriate man-in-loop component, if you scruple to such things), hand-deployed munition, and payload add-on for your RPV assets down at the squad level. You’d get it in a kit with everything you needed, including a cute little camera setup that you could use to observe the scene where you deployed it, and detonate it when appropriate.

    Eventually, every infantryman’s kit is going to have to include this stuff, and the little bastards are going to need a lot of experience cobbling this sort of thing together in imaginative ways. Toy drones and Lego kits are the sorts of things we need to be adapting explosives to… And, robust command-and-control capabilities. Ones that can be hard-wired and which are unjammable.

  2. Paul from Canada says:

    Yes, hand thrown grenades are a dubious proposition, especially older ones where the danger zone is just about the maximum distance you can throw one. (or in WWII versions, further, so you could only throw them from within cover, or if you had cover available to take as soon as you had thrown it.

    Live grenade training is the most scary and actually dangerous thing a soldier is likely to do in training.

    More useful, is, as Kirk mentioned, their use in urban combat. Lob one over the wall into the next garden, into the room you are about to enter etc. As soon as you have grenade launchers and/or rifle grenades, throwing grenades is far less accurate and effective.

    I think instead of bigger designed to be thrown farther designs, a good idea is to go in the opposite direction. Canada briefly fielded the Dutch V-40 “mini-grenade”. Unfortunately it had serious design and safety flaws and was withdrawn after several training fatalities. but something like that, or the Argentinian golf ball grenade (can’t remember the model name/number), seems much more practical.

    If you are mostly lobbing it into rooms or posting it thru bunker slits, and using it at close range, something small with a lethal radius no bigger than say a 10×10 room, especially if a half dozen can be carried in the space and weight of say, two M-67s seems to me to be the way to go.

    I like Kirk’s idea of a multi-purpose explosive device. I particularly like the camera idea. Roll it around the corner, look on your screen to see what is there. If there is nothing, go around the corner yourself and retrieve it for re-use, or command detonate if there is a threat there.

    The other nice thing is making it command detonated. Takes much of the training and self inflicted casualty danger away. If the enemy sees it and throws it back, it won’t kill you, and great, thanks for giving me back my grenade to use again while also confirming you location.

    I recall a modular grenade (German IIRC), that was essentially a “flash-bang” with just the basic body, but an HE/Frag sleeve could be slipped around it, and IIRC, a rifle grenade tail and impact fuse could also be added. Make the basic body some ball like shape that would land “upright”, add a pull or tension release tripwire adapter kit etc.etc.

    Likewise, I like the idea of a hardwired small drone, shouldn’t be hard to make something wire guided with thin wire, kind of like a TOW. Why charge across open ground to lob a grenade into the enemy machine gun pit when you can fly a small fast moving and jinking drone at them instead. Even better, you get a nice air-burst effect.

  3. Albion says:

    Grenade training is dangerous. My father was a weapons trainer in the Durham Light Infantry in WW2 (the Dirty Little Imps saw service in many theatres in WW2 and later in Korea) and the nearest he came to being killed was when a very nervous trainee dropped a live grenade at their feet instead of throwing it.

    My father hauled the man over some sandbags and saved both their lives.

    Thinking of ‘flash-bangs’ or Thunderflashes as my dad called them, he recalled a Sergeant who wore abrasive strips on his wrist so he could scrape the fuse of the Thunderflash on his wrists and toss them at the trainees to simulate an attack. The sergeant had a dozen or so of these things in his front pouches but when his hand slipped down his webbing and ignited one accidentally the man, my dad said, whipped the webbing off in record time and threw it away before diving for cover.

  4. Kirk says:


    There are two major game-changers I can see the outlines of, coming down the pike. One of them is what amounts to a ground-mount remote weapons station to replace the machine gun tripod, and the other is a cheap and robust RPV that can do recon and fun little things like fly an AT-4 munition up to a bunker slit and fire it into said bunker.

    The electronic war waged at the squad level is going to get very, very interesting. You’re going to have to have dedicated operators, much as we have machine gun crews today, and they’re likely to be the focus of what the squad is doing, rather than the riflemen.

    I repeat and reiterate: We’re on the cusp of another “revolution in military affairs”, much like the one that we underwent during WWI. The outlines are visible now, just as they were during the run-up to WWI. Final form? I can only speculate, but my guess is that you’re going to see an awful lot of entirely foreseeable “unforeseen surprises” that the hierarchy is going to do their best to make look like “nobody could have seen this coming”, just like they did with the IED campaign.

    Gee, we were only telling them back in the early 1990s, after Somalia, that that sort of thing was going to feature heavily in any conflict we got ourselves into. It’s just that they flatly denied reality, and refused to get off the “X”.

  5. Paul from Canada says:


    We pretty much got rid of all the organic air defense weapons systems because we never needed them, and every war we fought was either against an insurgency or a vastly outclassed third world opponent, and we expected to have total air superiority, if not air supremacy. But we are going to need some kind of counter air systems, even (especially!) when those systems are swarms of small cheap drones, and I am not sure we are doing more than lip service at the moment.

    We see some of this already in the current situation in Armenia/N-K. Lots of footage of Infantry who think they are hidden from view in their defilade position, out of line of sight of the enemy, but spotted and swatted like insects by the drone overhead, that they likely don’t see or hear.

    Like you said, a paradigm shift. We have had fancy sub-munition tank hunting cluster munitions for a while now, but they are eye-wateringly expensive. Small commercial drones are almost big enough already, so a small drone can do a similar thing for a fraction of the cost. Couple of thousand dollars for a small disposable drone vs. millions for a modern MBT.

    Now add AI stuff. A lot of the AI pundits are selling vapourware and I think we are a good long way from autonomous “killbots”, but things like training an AI sensor platform to recognize the enemy camouflage uniform pattern for example, seems very possible. Camouflage works by tricking the human brain, but a sensor looking for the particular uniform pattern rather than the human wearing it strikes me as a good initial and achievable project goal.

  6. Kirk says:

    Yeah, it’s going to be a mess. The major powers are going to be in for one hell of a shock when they try pushing one of the more switched-on smaller powers around. Russia vs. Turkey, anyone…?

    I rather expected it would be Latvia/Estonia/Lithuania vs. The Roooshians, but that may not come to pass. Anyone in Russia who isn’t looking at what’s going on in Armenia, right now, and then glancing over at the far more digital folks in, say, Estonia? They might want to do some extrapolation and calculations. I don’t think the Soviet Horde Red Army way of war has much future, TBH. All mass does is create waaaaaay more casualties, ones you can’t really explain away, hide, or justify anymore.

    Actually, I think China may want to re-think its whole Imperial shtick, because I can’t see that ending well under modern conditions. Sure, you may be able to manage Hong Kong, but what the hell are you going to be doing once the people on the other side determine they have nothing to lose, and they then start using their technical skills to do things from within that you never imagined as an issue?

    That whole “social credit” scheme of theirs strikes me as a really good way to destabilize the whole regime, and not even by enemy action. Imagine the incentives that must be present to suborn things, feed in false information? Who could make decisions based on that info, knowing it’s potentially false?

    The Chinese are reaching for control in a world that is essentially spinning out of control, and far past what anyone can control. Same with the Democrats, here in the US, but then, they’re Chinese proxies anyway.

    The more complex a system becomes, the less and less control you can exert over it. This is why you have to let things evolve on their own, and eschew interference with them. Trying to control something like the Chinese economy or international trade is a fool’s errand, and you’re only going to get hurt doing it.

    Same-same with the “evolution of warfare”. What you have to do, above all, is be honest with yourself, come to the table of reality with an open mind, and then try to process what you observe without any pre-conceived ideas. It is all a dance with chaos, and the more you try to control things, the more likely you are to go tipping off that knife-edge into disaster. Which is precisely what the Soviets did with their economy from the beginning, and what the French did with their military in WWI.

    Reality will never, ever conform with your wishes or fantasies. It is what it is, and you have to recognize that and cope with it as best you can.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk, it seems that what you are proposing is the need for a military establishment to be flexible and innovative, able to respond rapidly to new developments from the enemy. That sounds about right, as long as it is tied into attaining clearly-specified ultimate objectives.

    Part of that required flexibility and responsiveness lies in the minds of men, which is a real challenge. Another part lies in the hands of men, the capability to invent & manufacture new things as required. My guess is that we are coming up short on the second. If the smart bomb kits come from Switzerland and the computer chips come from China and the software comes from India, it is going to be very difficult to develop new equipment rapidly and then manufacture it on a sufficiently large scale.

    But hey! Free Trade! Best thing ever! Just look what it does for stock prices! No downsides!

  8. Kirk says:


    I wouldn’t worry about it. The US military will follow its usual path, which is to be purely reactive and wind up losing its ass in the opening battles of the next war.

    Standard operating procedure. And, those of us who pointed out the light from the oncoming train will yet again be dishonored prophets in our own land.

  9. The American Muse says:

    Th question being, what will happen on the home front when the military loses the first handful of engagements? What if a large amount are captured?

    What if the opening campaign is lost, and we must begin anew from across an ocean?

    Will we close ranks and demand sacrifice from one another?

    Recent years have convinced me otherwise.

  10. Kirk says:

    Depends on the leadership we throw up, the circumstances of the attack, and, of course, the enemy.

    Given the apparent subornation of our incoming presidential administration by the Chinese, well… Who the hell knows?

    I can, however, guarantee you one damn thing: Given the number of broken promises made to my generation of servicemen, I seriously doubt you’re going to get much in the way of “high quality recruits”. And, given the politically correct trendlines in the leadership, I doubt they’d know what to do with them if they did bother to show up.

    Social contract that was prevalent back in the day has been broken in the name of expediency and “cost savings” that somehow never get spread out to share with the rest of society. Veterans get screwed out of the promised “Free healthcare for life” promise, and the varied and sundry freeloading “X-studies” types get their college loans forgiven.

    Time comes, and they’re asking me to serve under the flag? I don’t think I’m answering that particular trumpet, assuming I’m even capable of it anymore. All y’all can figure it out for yourselves, because while I’m dumb enough to fall for it all once, twice is out of the ‘effing question.

  11. Sam J. says:

    “…What I would like to see, however, is a more… Ah, shall we say, versatile sort of weapon, a polyvalent little thing with extreme adaptability…”

    Here’s what I think would be one of these.

    Fly-K mortar

    Make something like this. It’s quiet because it’s a spigot motor. It rides a tube handle for launching instead of riding in a tub like a regular mortar. It traps the launching gasses in the tube. Make a small one of these and then you could launch it from it’s launcher, place it up against a wall to launch in cities and have a mode that you could grab it by it’s tube and throw it or have it as a booby trap. The goal would not be the ultimate weapon but a weapon a squad could use to fire off grenade power in many conditions. You could make this really light with S-glass (stronger than carbon fiber and a lot cheaper but more stretchy). Spigot rounds weigh slightly more than grenades but would be much more versatile.

  12. Kirk says:

    Actually, not. Something like the Fly-K, which I’ve known about since back when it was invented during the 1970s, would be a useful tool to have in the arsenal, but it’s not what I’m talking about. At. All. Although, I suppose that with enough networking or wire, you could wire it in and use it as a part of what I’m thinking about.

    The Russian 82mm version of it probably carries more payload, though there is the expense of the launch tubes which are not exactly disposable.

    The thing I’m getting at is more along the lines of a Lego murder kit, with sensors, control modules, and explosive components in a kit, which can be adapted to create whatever the soldiers in contact decide they need. Hard wire control, wireless, whatever suits the situation–You get a big bag or box full of parts, and then adapt as needed, creating local security, observation, and man-in-loop weaponry. Also, stuff adaptable to use on whatever little RPV assets you might happen to have. It would be nice to be able to rig up some sort of landmine-that-follows-you-home, for those naughty little enemy patrols that penetrate their defense zones.

  13. VXXC says:

    You seriously can’t tell the US MIL anything, they’re too busy in meetings. You literally go to meetings about the meetings, I mean the pre-meetings for the big meeting [the briefing of the general] and then the post meetings, on to the next cycle of meetings.

    This was the 90s. It didn’t get better for 20 years of war, we just shed more bitter or disgusted people and promoted the stay at home/get schooling to get promoted leadership.

    There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up administratively alone with meetings, briefings and reports, that any training or maintenance happens at all is due to the sense of duty and patriotism of the people who don’t go to meetings; which is increasingly just junior enlisted and whatever NCO skips the meetings because he DGAF about his career. @Kirk: now that we have ‘professional’ NCO’s the SPC is the new NCO in so many cases. After E5 you are increasingly lost in the sauce above.

    The smart ones are going for the money if they stay in – contracting $$$ – or getting out if honest.

    We shed the combat experience. Believe it.
    There were 2/70 in my unit, now after ah recent events there’s about 20 more;….and…and…of the blooded newbies aka newly blooded… THEY’RE WALKING. AS FAST AS THEY CAN. OR RUNNING.

    I don’t blame them, I am on my 3d stretch with 2 multi-year breaks in between.

    It isn’t danger, or deployments, or hardship.

    It’s the Bullshit. To be fair it simply reflects the American government and managerial class overall, the problem is the consequences are real in the military.

  14. Paul from Canada says:

    “It isn’t danger, or deployments, or hardship…
    It’s the Bullshit…”

    Not just the army. The airforce has a huge problem with retention as well, for similar reasons. Pilots want to fly, not make powerpoints and attend meetings and diversity briefings.

    The only consolation is that it is just as bad elsewhere. We are now feeling the efficiency destroying atmosphere that our Warsaw Pact adversaries always had to put up with. Where politics and bullshit took priority over the actual job. If you think we have it bad, be of good cheer, the Chinese army has it worse and it is harder to avoid or ignore their bullshit.

    I remember someone in a paper bashing the South African army during the bushwar, and how the East German advisors to the Angolans were so much better, having a staff college course that was over twice as long. It was pointed out to them that (a) the South Africans tended to win more often, and (b) an extra three months of political indoctrination does not make an officer a better, more professional staff officer, just a more politicized and indoctrinated one.

  15. Kirk says:


    RE: The South African/East German “thing”…

    What I’ve noticed about the staff officers writing those turgid think-pieces to justify their existence and check yet another block on their cursus honorum path to higher rank is that a.) They usually don’t know squat about the realities in either of the armies they’re criticizing, and b.) They have no more self-awareness than a gnat, considering where they usually are when they write these things, and what led them to be writing them in the first damn place.

    Good staff work and the officers to do it are a necessity; what isn’t a necessity is about 90% of the crap they’ll find to occupy their time in the military. The most dangerous thing in the world, after a Chief Warrant Officer who says “Watch this…” is a bored staff officer with an agenda.

    The problem you run into is that it’s difficult to strike that balance between staff and line, and then hold to it. It’s my considered opinion that it’s much like that rule of thumb about the fanciest uniforms losing the war; take a long, hard look at the amount of paper generated by the staff, weigh the value of it in terms of contact with reality, and then predict the winners based on who creates less of a paperwork tsunami.

    I’d love to really know, through personal experience, just what the differences are between the various armies. I know what it looked like from within the beast of the US Army, but I’ve got no idea what it looked like to a similarly mid-grade NCO in the Wehrmacht. I’ve read autobiographies and accounts of things, but there’s a lot of detail that is missing from those, and you really don’t “get” a military until you’ve lived in it, having your nose ground into the reality of it all.

    In some ways, I suspect that the US Army has always been a bureaucratic nightmare filled with inefficiencies. I remember reading about Braxton Bragg’s time on the frontier, and thinking “Jesus… This could have happened in my own unit…”.

    From the Wiki:

    “Bragg had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and one who adhered to regulations literally. There is a famous, apocryphal story, included in Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, about Bragg as a company commander at a frontier post where he also served as quartermaster. He submitted a requisition for supplies for his company, then as quartermaster declined to fill it. As company commander, he resubmitted the requisition, giving additional reasons for his requirements, but as the quartermaster he denied the request again. Realizing that he was at a personal impasse, he referred the matter to the post commandant, who exclaimed, “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”"

    We’ve always been like this, I’m afraid. Probably laid down in the organizational DNA, ineradicably.

  16. Paul from Canada says:

    I have just finished reading the third volume of a fiction series revolving around WWI, involving several Royal Navy Midshipmen who finish their training and start their careers on the cusp of the war, and what happens to them and their career arcs as a result. Good series, thoroughly enjoying it and waiting impatiently for the next installment.

    One of the characters ends up attached to the hired trawlers used as minesweepers in the Dardanelles, later for embryonic anti-submarine ops. The “duration only” CO of the flotilla of converted trawlers has a serious culture shock dealing with bureaucracy, and our main character explains with dripping sarcasm;

    “The games you bloody navy types play, Adams! Couldn’t you just get on with winning the war?”

    “Don’t be silly, sir! The war is a minor interruption in one’s career. A boy entering Dartmouth at thirteen or so will hope to serve for forty years. A war of four or five years duration is no more than an incident. It provides the opportunity for promotion, perhaps, but it is more important to ensure that one does not tread on superiors’ toes by being too overtly heroic or efficient. Wiser far to proceed cautiously, sir, and above all, do nothing wrong. You saw what happened at the Dardanelles, after all. A bit of a risk and perhaps a modern battleship lost, and the campaign could have been won. The admiral chose to withdraw rather than risk Queen Elisabeth, newest of the fleet. The Navy without exception believes he was right. More important not to lose a new ship than to win a battle!”

    Wareham, Andrew. End To Illusion (The War to End All Wars Book 3) (p. 202). PublishNation. Kindle Edition.

    The German armed forces are currently going thru a crisis, not enough spares to keep the fighter fleet operating, no submarines currently seaworthy, etc. etc., but they had a press conference with great fanfare to show off one of their officers who has mid career become the first trans-female officer.

    Like you said, probably laid down in the DNA.

    I too have come across the quartermaster who won’t issue a needed item because “It is the last one I have and if I issue it, I will be out of stock, and then I won’t be able to issue it if it is needed”, neglecting that he is refusing to issue it NOW, and I needed it urgently. Fortunately for me, higher authority was not so stupid, so I did get my needed item.

    On the other hand, I have seen amazing things done to get COTS equipment in an emergency. In Gulf War one, Canada sent a destroyer to conduct anti-smuggling/ant-sanctions busting operations. The aging destroyer was designed initially for ASW in the North Atlantic, and lacked all sorts of modern weapons and equipment, and the on board helicopters were equipped only for anti-sub work.

    In less than a week, the choppers were equipped with door guns, the ASW gear removed, a commercial stabilized extremely powerful TV camera installed and a military thermal image system adapted for attachment to said camera. Custom made cooling suits were designed and manufactured for the crew to wear under NBC suits to keep from cooking, since chemical weapons were anticipated as a threat.

    The ship, in about the same time frame, got a CWIS, chaff and a whole pile of sensors added and integrated that it was not designed for, simply taken from the shipyard where they were intended to be installed in a new frigate still on the stocks.

    The system can still surprise one.

    As I said before, we are fortunate in that the staff and bureaucratic foibles that we despair of are not unique to our militaries, but seem to be universal, part of the human condition, and more often than not, our adversaries are more gravely afflicted.

  17. Kirk says:


    Hardest thing for me to realize as a mid-career NCO looking on the idiocy of it all was grasping the idea that it’s not the best military that wins the war, but the one that is the least f**ked-up. There is no “best”, just varying degrees of dysfunctional.

    Not to mention, the inherent dysfunction of it all during peacetime is a useful simulacrum for the nature of war itself; if you can survive and thrive in the atmosphere of daily chaos which is garrison military life in general, you may be well-suited to function in a combat theater.

    Alternatively, you’ll be so thoroughly enraged by it all that the opportunity to shoot strangers will come as a welcome relief, and you’ll do so with fearsome joy and alacrity.

    Either explanation works, I suppose.

  18. Kirk says:

    Paul, again…

    Re: The refusal to issue equipment/parts… I’ve experienced the following syndrome, wherein the idiot managing the issuance of same refuses to issue said equipment/parts ‘cos, “Last of…”. Which leads to the following cascade of issues, in that the fact that the stupid bastard won’t issue the equipment/part in question means that the automated analysis done at higher levels fails to pick up on the fact that the stuff is needed, and does not procure the necessary. Which means that when the time comes to actually get the weapon up and running for wartime deployment comes, the quantity of parts in the system do not come even close to meeting the need. This was one of the root problems with the M60 MG in latter-day US service–The stupid bastards would not spend the money to get us the parts to keep them all running, and because of that, the demand was never established which would have justified keeping the parts stocks up at the levels we’d need them in an actual shooting war. Had WWIII ever happened in Europe during the 1980s, odds are pretty good that a lot of the guns would have gone down and stayed down due to “no parts on hand to effect repairs”, both in the units and depots. They’d artificially depressed the feedback loop that was supposed to keep the system informed about actual requirements, and as a result… Yeah. It would have been uuuuuuugly.

    The small arms repair warrant officer I knew from my first assignment followed me to Europe, and I ran into him and buttonholed him about why it was my armorer couldn’t get our guns fixed up at Third Shop. The 20-minute diatribe I got from him about the idiot managing the Proscribed Load List for small arms in Europe left me with a very queasy feeling in my stomach, and a commitment to steal the first unattended MG3 or MAG58 I ran across. He was not a happy camper about that, having spent his formative years in Vietnam in a constant struggle to keep the M60s across an entire Corps operating. His opinion on the gun was verbose, filthy, and consisted mostly of profanity–He was actually the first guy I heard who wanted to take the M240 from the coax role it had, and make it the ground gun, and he was “suggesting” that idea in 1985, about ten years before it actually happened.

  19. Paul from Canada says:


    re: “it’s not the best military that wins the war, but the one that is the least f**ked-up. There is no “best”, just varying degrees of dysfunctional….”

    I too had some difficulty accepting that realization, but once I made peace with it, and I applied it to life in general, it made life FAR less stressful. I call it “Paul’s 80% theory”. 80% of all businesses, policies, products etc. will be screwed up in some way. This is unavoidable, since at some level, a human is involved,and humans are inherently subject to confirmation bias, emotional, subject to all sorts of logical fallacies, inter-personal squabbles, perverse incentives etc. etc. etc.

    Many times in discussion I expressed the idea that the Falkland’s war was really lost by Argentina, rather than won by the British. Professional and amazing as the British campaign was, they did make mistakes, and if the Argentinians had done an even half way competent job, given the distances and logistics involved for the British, they would have won. Only they wouldn’t have, because their incompetence, politicization, infighting within the Junta and absolute miscalculation of British attitudes is why they invaded in the first place.

  20. Paul from Canada says:

    Regarding the M-60, it is interesting what you say about early ideas to steal co-ax guns, I have heard that this is almost exactly how Canada ended up fielding the FN-MAG as an infantry gun. We issued the C5, which was an M1919A4 converted to use 7.62 NATO in M13 link. We called it a GPMG, but it really wasn’t. We still really used it as an MMG, WWII style. There are lots of pictures of Infantry at the platoon level carrying it, but that was usually a team from the battalion’s support company attached, it was not organic to the section(squad).

    War stock spares of FN-MAG guns were in inventory in Germany for our Leopard tanks against “der tag”, and since we used one on a pintle by the commander’s cupola for flex and AA use rather than a .50, we didn’t even have to convert them, being in ground gun configuration already, complete with bi-pod and butt-stock. After a bunch of those were”borrowed”, “acquired” for “locally authorized experiments”, more were officially procured.

    As for the cycle of futility with maintaining old systems and so on…Ah yes! I got to see a bit more of the why and how as an officer, and it has a certain logic. No less frustrating, but at least somewhat understandable It applies equally (or even more so) to bigger more expensive systems. The US Navy is currently struggling with this over their ships, the German Airforce (and many others), with their planes, and I can no doubt find lots of other examples.

    The system gets old, it is no longer in current production, spares are running out, and the cost of getting production of at least some more spares is expensive and difficult. “Besides, we are planning to replace -X- with a new system any year now, it would be a waste to spend all that money on an obsolete legacy system”.

    The new system to replace the old one is years behind schedule, and mired in the usual delays, mission creep and changing specs. So the old system needs to be babied along “just a little longer”.

    The military needs the new system, but hasn’t got any extra money for it, so cuts the O&M (operations and maintenance) budget to try and free up some more money for capital acquisition. This results in even more wear and tear on the legacy system, and even more demand for spares, and the “limp it along for another five years” turns into ten, but there is no budget for enough spares, so cannibalization starts, rinse and repeat.

    Then you get the ludicrous situation where the old system cannot be supported any longer. So for example, you get a system where the old valves for the ancient radios or avionics just simply CANNOT be obtained anymore, so an expensive project is launched to upgrade the ancient system on the old obsolete equipment (which is still obsolete, not really fit for purpose and scheduled for replacement) to something less old and still supportable, or worse, new and even more expensive one.

    This money was not in the budget, so it has to be found somewhere, so we have new working and supportable radios, but even LESS running spares, and since this was not factored into the current procurement “five year plan”, the new system is now going to be delayed even more, and the old system limped along even longer, and more money needs to be found (by cutting O&M again).

    I would tell the entire tale of Canada’s Sea King replacement project, but I am likely to stroke out in rage if I do. Briefly, they were old, at the end of their service life and wayyyy overdue for replacement when I joined in 1990. We have finally got a replacement that is just now starting to join the fleet in small numbers, but we have already lost one with all hands in an accident. The aircraft the military wanted was cancelled by a previous government for politics, and any plane but that one was to be procured. We ended up being the launch customer of a new unproven design and technology, which rumour has it may be the cause of the crash……

    But like I said, no matter how screwed up our particular system is, most of our adversaries are even worse off (Chinese jet engines for example).

  21. Bruce Purcell says:

    This is a good thread.

  22. Scott says:

    Minor hijack? Major hijack?

    This discussion of obsolete systems being forced to limp along for decades past obsolescence is a massive thorn in my side at the moment. I’ve been thinking about what is wrong with these systems that incentivizes this behavior, and what if anything could be done to change those incentives. I’m learning pretty quickly that no one really wants to talk about that. I’m in a corporate setting rather than a military one, but it sounds like the situation is virtually the same regardless of the context.

    I have no answer yet, but I think I have put my finger on the root of the problem at least: a rapid cycle of decision making focused on short term goals. What needs to change for medium and long term investment to be incentivized?

  23. Paul from Canada says:


    “I have no answer yet, but I think I have put my finger on the root of the problem at least: a rapid cycle of decision making focused on short term goals. What needs to change for medium and long term investment to be incentivized?”….

    That is EXACTLY the problem.

    Tim Worstal, a British Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, who comments on politics and economics, made a comment to the effect that all economics can be boiled down to one phrase, never mind supply and demand, Austrian economic theory etc etc.

    All economics is encompassed in the phrase “People respond to incentives”. That’s it! What you subsidize or otherwise incentivize, you get more of, what you punish or dis-incentivize, you get less of, end of story.

    The problem is to incentivize without unconsciously creating perverse incentives. Stock options for executives are supposed to incentivize the executive to create success for the company, since his interest is now supposed to be tied to the success of the company. Unfortunately, in most cases, HIS best interests are served by a short term boost in the stock price, so he can dump his options at a favorable price, regardless of the effect on the long term prospects of the company.

    Likewise, I recall reading of an ill-fated idea at a software company to pay programmers a bounty any bugs they found, which created a black market in bugs to be planted, (and then found), for the bonus money.

    I remember reading somewhere about a conversation between Dr. David Suzuki, a well known and (in)famous environmental activist and TV celebrity up here in Canada, and one of our previous Prime Ministers. Suzuki basically told him that a switch to a more environmentally friendly energy policy would produce economic benefits of fantastic scope, besides the environmental benefits. The P.M. responded, with the question “How long would it take to ralize these benefits”. “Twenty years” was the answer. To which the P.M. responded, that it was no use, since politically, no matter how good, no policy that took more than an election cycle to produce results was politically possible, no matter how good or beneficial it may have been.

    The French are often criticized for the Maginot Line. How fixed fortifications never work etc.etc. The French knew that. They weren’t stupid. Their doctrine, (which cost them the war), was logical, and based on sound reasoning. It was wrong, but still logical and consistent.

    The Maginot Line was never meant to be the one and only defense. Rather, it was meant to buy time while the new mechanized brigades invaded Germany thru Belgium. The Maginot Line was forced on the French army by circumstances.

    Remember, that most of WWI was fought in northern France, on some of the most productive farm land and their main industrial region. They also lost horrendous numbers of men. One of the reasons they needed the Maginot Line was that they simply didn’t have enough men. The class of 1932 was far smaller than every previous conscription class, simply because dad was killed in the war before he got a chance to father the potential recruit of 1932.

    Combine that with the politics of France at the time, where the social democrat republican politicians didn’t trust the army, since most officers (with perhaps some justification), were considered to be reactionary monarchists, just itching for the chance to stage a coup and restore the monarchy or empire.

    Besides this, the army had to contend with uncertain funding and support because of the fractured political environment of the time. You got a commitment for funding of the Maginot Line, but six months later, you get a new, politically different government, and you have to sell the whole thing all over again!

    This sort of thing drives everything. All concerned know that a better long term plan is desirable, but all are trapped in the circumstances and revert to short term gains, because that is the only kind they will realistically get.

    So what often seems to be incompetence or even malevolence is simply well meaning and intelligent people making a clear eyed and well thought out decision to chose the least bad option.

  24. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Paul from Canada — That is a brilliant comment! Thank you.

    Another factor in “People respond to incentives”: an electric utility CEO once commented that we under-estimate the role of peer-pressure in major decisions.

    There was a time when a utility CEO could not hold his head up in public unless his utility was investing in nuclear power — and then a time when the opposite was the case. If that impact of peer-pressure sounds improbable, just look at oil company CEOs today rushing out fanciful Carbon Zero plans.

    Of course, that does not explain what causes peer-pressure in the first place.

  25. Paul from Canada says:


    “…Of course, that does not explain what causes peer-pressure in the first place.”

    THAT is a fascinating subject. Some of the game theory stuff touches on this, and it is weird! For example, a group of people are given a simple math problem to solve, and state their answer verbally in front of the group. The researchers salt the group with a majority of fake participants who will all give the same wrong answer, and a surprising number of people will change their answer to the incorrect one, despite knowing it is incorrect, because of group dynamics and peer pressure.

    You get a similar thing in the military, academia and business, where participants will all complain to each other that this particular thing/policy or whatever, is bullsh!t, but support it publicly because the boss does.

    Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame), did an experiment once. He got one of his friends, who was a high power CEO, to bring him in to give a talk, but in disguise. He wore a fake mustache, and gave a presentation on some made up nonsense about use of the senses in developing marketing plans and ad campaigns.

    He instructed his friend to be in front of the room, and nod approvingly at whatever he said, no matter how ridiculous. He then did a long rambling presentation with stuff like, when selling laundry detergent for example, you need to engage all of your senses, so you should taste the product when developing your plan.

    Afterwards, he pulled off the mustache, revealed the deception and started a discussion on it. Many participants admitted that they knew it was all bullsh!t but participated anyway because the boss was obviously sold, and, that it was only slightly more outrageous than some actual sales programs they had been subjected to.

    I would also point out the fall of East Germany and the communist regime in Romania. With public affirmations of the politically correct position, the dissident either suspects he is alone in his dissent, or if not alone, that he is part of a small minority. Once something happens to pop the bubble, and he realizes that he is in fact part of the majority, the system collapses.

    There is also another economic concept to mention, and that is revealed preference. A person will tell a pollster what they think the pollster wants to hear, or what they think safe, but will behave based on what they actually believe when they get into the voting booth. Same with things like a carbon tax. The majority supports it until they actually have to pay it.

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