Hat-wearers have no equals in the art of firing their artillery and musquetry, with both order and rapidity

Sunday, March 26th, 2023

William Dalrymple describes (in The Anarchy) how Clive and his troops were caught off-guard, outnumbered and in danger of being surrounded — but they kept their powder dry:

Then, towards noon, the skies began to darken, thunder boomed and a torrential monsoon storm broke over the battlefield, soaking the men and turning the ground instantly into a muddy swamp. The Company troops made sure to keep their powder and fuses dry under tarpaulins; but the Mughals did not. Within ten minutes of the commencement of the downpour, and by the time Clive had reappeared on the roof of the hunting lodge having changed into a dry uniform, all Siraj’s guns had fallen completely silent.

Imagining that the Company’s guns would also be disabled, the Nawab’s cavalry commander, Mir Madan, gave the order to advance, and 5,000 of his elite Afghan horse charged forward to the Company’s right: ‘the fire of battle and slaughter, that had hitherto been kept alive under a heap of embers, now blazed out into flames,’ wrote Ghulam Hussain Khan.

But as the nation of Hat-wearers have no equals in the art of firing their artillery and musquetry, with both order and rapidity, there commenced such an incessant rain of balls and bullets, and such a hot-endless firing, that the spectators themselves were amazed and confounded; and those in the battle had their hearing deafened by the continual thunder, and their eyesight dimmed by the endless flashing of the execution.

Among those killed was Mir Madan himself, ‘who made great efforts to push to the front, but was hit by a cannon ball in his stomach and died’.


At this point, Clive’s deputy, Major Kilpatrick, seeing several Mughal batteries being abandoned, in defiance of orders and without permission, advanced to hold the abandoned positions. Clive sent angry messages forward, threatening to arrest Kilpatrick for insubordination; but the act of disobedience won the battle.

Russia’s Zircon hypersonic missile can do two things

Saturday, March 25th, 2023

Russia’s Zircon hypersonic missile can do two things, Michael Peck notes, fly at almost 7,000 mph, or hit a moving ship:

The problem is that objects traveling at hypersonic speeds — Mach 5 and beyond — ionize the air around them, creating a sheath of plasma around the object that blocks radar signals.

Yet radar is precisely how many guided missiles home in on their targets.


Against targets that are fixed, like buildings on land, it’s not necessary to slow down. But when hunting ships, the Zircon would probably have to slow down to supersonic speed to use its radar. If that’s the case, then as it nears the target, the Zircon would not be moving any faster than earlier Russian anti-ship missiles such as the P-800 Oniks, which has a speed of about Mach 2.5, or 1,900 mph.

Supersonic missiles can be intercepted by shipboard defenses such as the US Navy’s SeaRAM gun/missile system.

In addition, when the Zircon is launched, a rocket boosts it to high altitude and supersonic speed, which is necessary for the Zircon’s scramjet engine to kick in and reach hypersonic velocity. The disadvantage is that unlike supersonic anti-ship missiles that can skim just above the water to avoid radar detection, the Zircon will have to stay at an altitude of about 12 miles until it gets relatively close to the target. Flying higher for longer makes it more visible to radar.

“The missile can either be hypersonic or low observable but not both in tandem,” wrote Kaushal.

Two-thirds of the Company servants who came out never made it back

Friday, March 24th, 2023

Serving with the East India Company was extremely dangerous, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy):

Death, from disease or excess, was a commonplace, and two-thirds of the Company servants who came out never made it back — fewer still in the Company’s army, where 25 per cent of European soldiers died each year.

His son was too morose and difficult for the Church, and far too hot-headed and impatient for the law

Monday, March 20th, 2023

Robert Clive first went out to India as a humble accountant, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), but proved to have unexpected talents in a quite different sphere:

With no military training and no formal commission, and still only in his mid-twenties, the curt, withdrawn and socially awkward young accountant had been the surprise star of the Carnatic Wars, and the man who as much as anyone had prevented Dupleix from realising his dreams of expelling the EIC from India and establishing the French Compagnie in its place.


Robert Clive was born on 29 September 1725 at Styche Hall in the Shropshire village of Moreton Say, into a family of minor provincial country gentry. He had quickly gained a reputation as an unusually unruly and violent child: by the age of seven he had become ‘out of all measure addicted to fightin’’, according to his worried uncle, ‘which gives his temper a fierceness and imperiousness, so that he flies out upon every trifling occasion … I do what I can,’ he added, ‘to suppress the hero, that I may help forward the more valuable qualities of meekness, benevolence and patience.’


By the time Clive turned seventeen, his father Richard recognised that his son was too morose and difficult for the Church, and far too hot-headed and impatient for the law. Luckily, Richard Clive happened to know a director of the EIC.


None of his letters from Madras contain a word about the wonders of India, and he gives no hint of the sights he saw; nor does he seem to have made any attempt to learn the languages. He had no interest in the country, no eye for its beauty, no inquisitiveness about its history, religions and ancient civilisations, and not the slightest curiosity about its people whom he dismissed as universally ‘indolent, luxurious, ignorant and cowardly’. ‘I think only of my dear Native England,’ he wrote home in 1745.


What he did have, from the beginning, was a streetfighter’s eye for sizing up an opponent, a talent at seizing the opportunities presented by happenchance, a willingness to take great risks and a breathtaking audacity. He was also blessed with a reckless bravery; and, when he chose to exercise it, a dark personal magnetism that gave him power over men.


On 26 August 1751, Clive first made his name when he volunteered to march through torrential monsoon rains to relieve the siege of Arcot, the capital of the Nawabs of the Carnatic, with only a small force of 200 Europeans and 300 sepoys. Clive surprised the French and their allies by attacking in the middle of a thunderstorm, and soon raised the Nawab’s Mughal colours from the gates.


The use of speed and surprise was to remain his favourite strategy as a soldier. War in eighteenth-century India was often a slow, gentlemanly and formal affair, as much a sophisticated chess game as an act of aggression: bribes and negotiation usually played a more important role than formal assaults; armies could be bought off, or generals turned and made to break with their paymasters. Clive was happy to play these games when it suited him, but as often as not broke with these conventions, attacking when least expected and with as much ruthlessness and offensive force as possible, making forced marches in monsoon rains, laying down unexpected ambushes and attacking at night or in thick fog.


As a reward for his success he was given the lucrative position of Quartermaster in the Commissary, a post which earned him the huge sum of £40,000 in commissions in a very short period.


‘Calcutta,’ wrote Clive a few years later, ‘is one of the most wicked places in the Universe … Rapacious and Luxurious beyond conception.’


Indeed, 60 per cent of all EIC exports from Asia were now passing through Calcutta.


To pay for these exports, the EIC sent out annually to Bengal £180,000, 74 per cent of it in the form of gold and silver bullion.


Calcutta probably now contained around 200,000 people — though some wilder estimates put the figure at almost double that — of whom around a thousand were Europeans.


The profits from Calcutta’s trade were huge and still growing, but what really attracted Indians to this foreign-owned Company town was the sense that it was safe and secure.


Against artillery and cities defended by the trained musketeers of the European powers, the Maratha cavalry was ineffective.


Already Calcutta had become a haven of private enterprise, drawing in not just Bengali textile merchants and moneylenders, but also Parsis, Gujaratis and Marwari entrepreneurs and business houses who found it a safe and sheltered environment in which to make their fortunes.


This large Indian population also included many wealthy merchants who simply wanted to live out of the reach of the Nawab’s taxation net.


The city’s legal system, and the availability of a framework of English commercial law and formal commercial contracts, enforceable by the state, all contributed to making it increasingly the destination of choice for merchants and bankers from across Asia.


As a result, by 1756 the city had a fabulously diverse and polyglot population: as well as Bengalis, and Hindu and Jain Marwari bankers, there were Portuguese, Armenians, Persians, Germans, Swedes and Dutch, some – judging by an early census – with sophisticated and sometimes bizarre skills: watch- and clockmakers, painters, pastry cooks, goldsmiths, undertakers and wig fabricators.


Whatever their many vices, wrote Shushtari, the English welcomed and rewarded talent: ‘the English have no arbitrary dismissal,’ he noted, ‘and every competent person keeps his job until he writes his own request for retirement or resignation. More remarkable still is that they take part in most of the festivals and ceremonies of Muslims and Hindus, mixing with the people. They pay great respect to accomplished scholars of whatever sect.’

One was later scalped and another ceremonially boiled and the most delicious parts of his body eaten

Saturday, March 18th, 2023

What Americans call the French and Indian War, William Dalrymple reminds us (in The Anarchy), was a global conflict known elsewhere as the Seven Years War:

On 21 June 1752, a party of French Indians led by the French adventurer Charles Langlade, who had a Huron wife and was also influential among the Seneca, Iroquois and Micmac, led a war party of 240 warriors down Lake Huron, across Lake Erie and into the newly settled farmlands of British Ohio. Tomahawks at the ready, they fell on the British settlement of Pickawillany, achieving complete surprise. Only twenty British settlers managed to muster at the stockade. Of those, one was later scalped and another ceremonially boiled and the most delicious parts of his body eaten.


It would carry European arms and warfare from the Ohio to the Philippines, from Cuba to the coast of Nigeria, and from the Heights of Abraham outside Quebec to the marshy flatlands and mango groves of Plassey.


But the part of the globe it would transform most lastingly was India.

Europeans had long suspected they were superior to the Mughals in tactical prowess

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

In anarchic India, William Dalrymple explains (in The Anarchy), the English weren’t the only European power:

In Pondicherry and Madras, two rival European trading companies, alerted to Mughal weakness and the now deeply divided and fragmented nature of authority in India, began to recruit their own private security forces and to train and give generous wages to locally recruited infantry troops.


It was not until 1664 that they had set up a rival to the EIC; eight years later, they had founded Pondicherry, successfully bribing the Marathas to leave it alone on their periodic raids into the Carnatic.


In its first incarnation, the Compagnie lost substantial amounts of money and in 1719 it had to be refounded by the brilliant Lowland Scots financier John Law de Lauriston, who had fled from London to France after a duel and rose to become an adviser to the Regent Orléans. Law combined two small insolvent French Indies companies and raised enough money to make it a going concern. But the Compagnie des Indes remained permanently underfunded. Unlike the EIC, which was owned by its shareholders, from the beginning the French Compagnie was partially a royal concern, run by aristocrats who, like their king, tended to be more interested in politics than trade; Dupleix was relatively unusual in that he was interested in both


As one of his first acts he got De Volton, his representative at the Mughal court, to petition the Emperor to make him a Nawab with the rank of 5,000 horse, and to give the French in Pondicherry the right to mint coins. When both wishes were instantly granted, Dupleix began to understand how far Mughal authority had been weakened by Nader Shah’s invasion.


He made immediate plans to increase the Compagnie’s military capability, and for the first time took the initiative to begin training up locally recruited Tamil-, Malayali- and Telugu-speaking warriors in modern European infantry tactics.149 By 1746, two regiments of ‘cypahes’ (sepoys) had been formed, drilled, uniformed, armed and paid in the French manner.


France in the 1740s had by far the larger economy, double that of Britain; it also had three times the population and the largest army in Europe. Britain, however, had a much larger navy and was the dominant power on the seas; moreover, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it had more advanced financial institutions built with Dutch expertise, and capable of raising large amounts of war finance very quickly. Both sides therefore had reason to believe that they could win a war against the other.


Morse would personally have been happy to agree to such a pact of neutrality, but he knew what Dupleix did not: that a Royal Navy squadron had already been despatched eastwards and that it was expected any day. He therefore equivocated and told Dupleix he had no authority to make such a pact. The squadron arrived in February 1745, and promptly attacked and seized a number of French ships, among them one in which Dupleix had a large financial interest.


His reinforcements – around 4,000-strong and including several battalions of highly trained African slave troops and some state-of-the-art siege artillery – arrived in early September. Immediately, Dupleix took the initiative. His new regiments of sepoys and the African and French reinforcements from Mauritius were all sent north on troop transports overnight, supported by eight men-of-war. Landing just to the south of Madras, near St Thomas Mount, they then marched quickly north, moving in to invest the city from the opposite direction to that from which they were expected. In this way they appeared without warning behind the British lines and to the rear of the EIC defences. The siege began on 18 September with such an immense bombardment of mortars that the EIC’s nervous chief gunner, Mr Smith, died there and then of a heart attack.


Within three days, having lost many of his troops to desertion, Governor Morse sought terms. On 20 September, after the loss of only six EIC lives and no French casualties at all, Madras surrendered to the French.


On 24 October 1746, on the estuary of the Adyar River, Mahfuz Khan tried to block the passage of 700 French sepoy reinforcements under Paradis. The French beat off an attack by the 10,000 Mughal troopers with the help of sustained musketry, their infantry drawn up in ranks, file-firing and using grapeshot at close quarters in a way that had never before been seen in India.


Only two French sepoys were killed, while Mughal casualties were over 300.


Europeans had long suspected they were superior to the Mughals in tactical prowess, but they had not appreciated how great this advantage had become due to military developments in the previous half-century since 1687 when the pike-wielding Jacobean troops of Sir Josiah Child were quickly overwhelmed by Aurangzeb’s Mughal troopers. But the wars of late seventeenth-century Europe had seen rapid development in military tactics, particularly the widespread introduction of flintlock muskets and socket bayonets to replace pikes. The organisation of the infantry into battalions, regiments and brigades made continuous firing and complex battlefield manoeuvres by infantry a possibility. The standard infantry tactic was now a bayonet charge after devastating volley firing, supported by mobile and accurate field artillery. The invention of screws for elevating the guns gave the artillery greater precision and increased the firepower of the foot soldiers, giving them an edge in battle against cavalry.


Selling the services of his trained and disciplined troops, he soon realised, was an infinitely more profitable business than dealing in cotton textiles.


The warfare that followed, which usually involved very small Company armies, was often incoherent and inconclusive, but it confirmed that the Europeans now had a clear and consistent military edge over Indian cavalry, and that small numbers of them were capable of altering the balance of power in the newly fractured political landscape that had followed the fall of the Mughal Empire.

The Carnatic Wars that rumbled on over the next decade might have had few conclusive or permanent strategic results, but they witnessed the transformation of the character of the two Companies from trading concerns to increasingly belligerent and militarised entities, part-textile exporters, part-pepper traders, part-revenue-collecting land-holding businesses, and now, most profitably of all, state-of-the-art mercenary outfits.

Within a few minutes, the flower of Mughal chivalry lay dead on the ground

Tuesday, March 14th, 2023

William Dalrymple titled his book The Anarchy, because India was torn apart just as the East India Company started to grow:

On 21 May, Nader Shah with a force of 80,000 fighting men crossed the border into the Mughal Empire, heading for the summer capital of Kabul, so beginning the first invasion of India for two centuries.


Less than three months later, at Karnal, one hundred miles north of Delhi, he defeated three merged Mughal armies — around a million men, some half of whom were fighters — with a relatively small but strictly disciplined force of 150,000 musketeers and Qizilbash horsemen armed with the latest military technology of the day: armour-penetrating, horse-mounted jazair, or swivel guns.


Nader Shah lured Sa’adat Khan’s old-fashioned heavy Mughal cavalry — armoured cuirassiers fighting with long swords — into making a massed frontal charge. As they neared the Persian lines, Nader’s light cavalry parted like a curtain, leaving the Mughals facing a long line of mounted musketeers, each of whom was armed with swivel guns. They fired at point-blank range. Within a few minutes, the flower of Mughal chivalry lay dead on the ground. As a Kashmiri observer, Abdul Karim Sharistani, put it, ‘the army of Hindustan fought with bravery. But one cannot fight musket balls with arrows.’


Having defeated the Mughals in an initial engagement, Nader Shah then managed to capture the Emperor himself by the simple ruse of inviting him to dinner, then refusing to let him leave.


On 29 March, a week after Nader Shah’s forces had entered the Mughal capital, a newswriter for the Dutch VOC sent a report in which he described Nader Shah’s bloody massacre of the people of Delhi: ‘the Iranians have behaved like animals,’ he wrote. ‘At least 100,000 people were killed. Nader Shah gave orders to kill anyone who defended himself. As a result it seemed as if it were raining blood, for the drains were streaming with it.’135 Ghulam Hussain Khan recorded how, ‘In an instant the soldiers getting on the tops of the houses commenced killing, slaughtering and plundering people’s property, and carrying away their wives and daughters. Numbers of houses were set on fire and ruined.’


The massacre continued until the Nizam went bareheaded, his hands tied with his turban, and begged Nader on his knees to spare the inhabitants and instead to take revenge on him. Nader Shah ordered his troops to stop the killing; they obeyed immediately. He did so, however, on the condition that the Nizam would give him 100 crore (1 billion) rupees before he would agree to leave Delhi. ‘The robbing, torture and plundering still continues,’ noted a Dutch observer, ‘but not, thankfully, the killing.’


‘Now commenced the work of spoliation,’ remarked Anand Ram Mukhlis, ‘watered by the tears of the people… Not only was their money taken, but whole families were ruined. Many swallowed poison, and others ended their days with the stab of a knife… In short the accumulated wealth of 348 years changed masters in a moment.’


Among the sequestered objects was the Peacock Throne whose imperial jewels were unrivalled even by the treasures of ancient kings: in the time of earlier Emperors of India, two crores worth of jewels were used as encrustation to inlay this throne: the rarest spinels and rubies, the most brilliant diamonds, without parallel in any of the treasure of past or present kings, were transferred to Nader Shah’s government treasury.


Nader never wished to rule India, just to plunder it for resources to fight his real enemies, the Russians and the Ottomans. Fifty-seven days later, he returned to Persia carrying the pick of the treasures the Mughal Empire had amassed over its 200 years of sovereignty and conquest: a caravan of riches that included Jahangir’s magnificent Peacock Throne, embedded in which was both the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the great Timur ruby. Nader Shah also took with him the Great Mughal Diamond, reputedly the largest in the world, along with the Koh-i-Noor’s slightly larger, pinker ‘sister’, the Daria-i-Noor, and ‘700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones’, worth in total an estimated £ 87.5 million in the currency of the time.


Many observers, like the nobleman Shakir Khan, put the blame on the corruption and decadence of society under Muhammad Shah, and turned to a more austere form of Islam in reaction to the Emperor’s careless hedonism: ‘At the beginning of this period,’ he wrote, ‘there was music and drinking, noisy entertainers and crowds of prostitutes, a time of foolery and joking, effeminacy, and chasing after transvestites.’


In just a few months, the Mughal Empire, built up over 150 years, shattered and fragmented like a mirror thrown from a first-storey window, leaving in its place glinting shards of a mosaic of smaller and more vulnerable successor states.

The days of huge imperial armies, financed by an overflowing treasury, had ended for ever. Instead, as authority disintegrated, everyone took measures for their own protection and India became a decentralised and disjointed but profoundly militarised society. Almost everybody now carried weapons. Almost everybody was potentially a soldier. A military labour market sprang up across Hindustan — one of the most thriving free markets of fighting men anywhere in the world — all up for sale to the highest bidder. Indeed, warfare came to be regarded as a sort of business enterprise.143 By the end of the eighteenth century, substantial sections of the peasantry were armed and spent part of their year as mercenaries serving in distant locations.

Suspects were scouting cars for visible valuables

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

The last beat Spencer Blue worked prior to making detective was a primarily commercial district:

There were several gyms near the county line, and just on the other side of the county line was a large apartment complex that housed more than its share of criminals. As a result, I was taking multiple vehicle break-in reports every day at the gyms, sometimes in the double digits.

After talking to so many victims, seeing where the cars were in the parking lot, and gathering information on what was taken and from where, one fact jumped out. From victim interviews and surveillance tape, it became clear the suspects were scouting cars for visible valuables. So, I created a little flier that looked like a parking ticket, and I would walk the parking lot looking in cars. When I noticed valuables visible in the car, I filled out the blanks on the “ticket”. It would then read something like “Ptl. Blue conducted an anti-theft patrol in this parking lot. He noticed the following unsecured valuables in your vehicle _____. Had a thief noticed it, he would have broken your window and, within seconds, stolen your items. Please secure your items in the locker room or hide them from view.”

It amazed me how often purses, laptop bags, and expensive electronics were visible from outside the car. But with the “ticket” reminders, I saw fewer and fewer exposed valuables. Break-ins at the gym plummeted dramatically, so I continued the practice at other locations and solved the problem for my beat until a covert unit could become available and catch the thieves in the act elsewhere. This experience caught my interest, and I spent quite a bit of time learning how to thwart the thieves.

He brings this up in the context of discussing handgun thefts. NPR recently summarized a new ATF report on the topic:

The ATF found that 54% of traced crime guns were recovered by law enforcement more than three years after their purchase. Those guns were legally purchased, but were later used in crimes, the report indicated.


A huge way those legally purchased firearms get into the hands of criminals is through theft, the ATF said. In five years, there were more than 1 million firearms stolen from private citizens and reported to authorities.

There’s a caveat here, however. Federal law doesn’t require individual gun owners to report the loss or theft of their firearm to police.


The percentage of these handguns recovered in crimes and submitted for tracing by law enforcement agencies increased from 62% in 2017 to 75% in 2020. And of the more than 1.3 million pistols used in crimes traced between 2017 and 2021, the majority were manufactured by Glock.

AR-15s are mindbogglingly safe

Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

AR-15s are mindbogglingly safe:

All told, in 2019 there were 364 rifle murders, out of a total of 10,258 firearm murders, accounting for approximately 3.5% of total firearm murders. Nobody uses rifles to murder people because they’re big, bulky, difficult to conceal, and a handgun can do the job just as well.

But that’s all rifles, not specifically AR-15s. What percentage of all privately owned rifles are semiautomatic with detachable box magazines, what the NSSF calls Modern Sporting Rifles and the gun controllers call Assault Weapons? It’s hard to say.

According to NSSF estimates, there are approximately 24.4 million MSRs in circulation today. That’s quite a lot, accounting for around 6% of all privately owned firearms in the country. They’re very common. How many total rifles are there? I can’t find a clean estimate. The NSSF probably knows, but I can’t find any published data on the subject more recent than 2009, where Gunpolicy.org estimates that there were 110 million total rifles out of 310 million total guns at that time. In 2009, 35% of all firearms in private domestic circulation were some kind of rifle. If we presume the ratio today stays the same, then we should have around 150 million rifles in 2019, meaning 16% of all rifles at that snapshot in time were AR-15s or similar.

How many of those 364 rifle murders were from AR-15s or similar? If we presume rifle murders are evenly distributed among rifles owned, we get 60 murders with a MSR / “Assault Weapon.” I don’t know of a better way to do it. Even if the rates were double an even distribution, it’s still only 120 murders. How do we visualize 60 murders in a country of 340 million people?


AR-15 murders are somewhere between “Death By Bucket” and “Death By Lawnmower” in the United States. They’re a little bit more common than getting struck by lightning, a little over half as common as “Death By Bees,” and less than a tenth as likely as “Death By Falling Out Of Bed.” Over twice as many people kill themselves during masturbation as die from AR-15 murders, and triple the number of people die by hitting errant deer with their cars at night as are murdered by AR-15. Feel free to check the sources, they’re in the graph. I have never yet heard a politician claim we were experiencing an Epidemic of Death By Lawnmower.

These weapons are mindbogglingly safe. We have over 24 million of them in circulation, and only 60 deaths a year. This has to be one of the safest consumer products in the marketplace. Way safer than cars.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)

History is littered with examples of how service identity diverted attention away from munitions

Friday, March 3rd, 2023

The Ukrainians’ success highlights weaknesses in the U.S. arsenal:

Production lines for weapons like the Javelin and the Stinger were all but shut down. The GLSDB received a hard pass from the U.S. military services. To launch the Harpoon from land, the Department of Defense had to draft a whole new emergency requirement.

As analysts Stacie Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser concluded, the U.S. has been underinvesting in many munitions, including “anti-ship and area-effects weapons,” and is “not buying enough of these weapons” or “stockpiling enough precision-guided munitions (PGMs) for a protracted war.”

Why doesn’t the U.S. focus more on munitions? A large factor is armed force service identity — or how the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines and Space Force associate weapons with their organizations’ identity.

The Navy identity, for example, centers on tradition and independent command at sea with a focus on aircraft carriers and submarines. In contrast, the Air Force, a relatively young service, is insecure about its independence and therefore advocates technology that emphasizes strategic air power, including bombers and (more recently) fighters.

The Army is often a late adopter of technology, advocating for personnel-heavy doctrine and armored platforms like tanks. In general, these service identities create a bias towards platforms (tanks, planes, ships) over munitions (missiles, bombs, rockets).

History is littered with examples of how service identity diverted attention away from munitions — both unintentionally and intentionally. For example, despite a proven combat record during World War I, an interwar U.S. Navy de-prioritized torpedoes and decimated their industrial capacity to produce the munitions. When World War II began, the Navy had only a limited number of outdated systems available.
The Air Force also famously sabotaged cruise missile testing during the 1970s, fearful it would jeopardize the B-1.

The Liberty Lifter X-plane project aims to deliver a long-range, low-cost X-plane using a wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) ekranoplan-like concept

Tuesday, February 28th, 2023

Aurora Flight Sciences and General Atomics have been chosen to compete to design and possibly build the gigantic Liberty Lifter X-plane:

The Liberty Lifter X-plane project aims to deliver a long-range, low-cost X-plane using a wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) ekranoplan-like concept. Artwork released by DARPA shows that the Aurora Flight Sciences concept, which has not been seen before, resembles a more traditional flying boat. The concept features a single hull, high wing and eight turboprops for propulsion. It also looks somewhat similar to Boeing Phantom Works’ Pelican WIG concept from two decades ago.


General Atomics, on the other hand, has selected a twin-hull, mid-wing design – some concept images of which have previously been released by DARPA.


The planned Liberty Lifter X-plane will be similar in capacity, at least, to the C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft. The vehicle will also include the ability to takeoff and land in Sea State 4 – characterized by wind speeds of 11-16 knots with wave heights ranging from 3-5 feet – as well as perform “sustained on-water operation” up to Sea State 5. The vehicle will also need to be able to fly close to the water in ground effect, with the ability to fly out of ground effect at altitudes up to 10,000 feet above sea level at speeds faster than current sea lift platforms.


Having a strategic airlift capability that can service virtually any spot in the vast stretches of the Pacific could be a boon for U.S. and allied forces. Its low-altitude flight profile could also provide better survivability in a combat environment that can go from uncontested to contested without warning. In addition, it would not be vulnerable to submarine or traditional anti-ship missile attacks like normal logistics ships.

Accuracy is important for two reasons

Monday, February 27th, 2023

The M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) provided to Ukraine have decisively shaped the battlefield by engaging Russia’s logistics, command and control (C2) nodes, and troop concentrations:

This has prevented the RuAF from concentrating and massing artillery fire in a way that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) could not match, disrupted RuAF attempts to concentrate forces for offensives, and made command of Russian units a risky endeavour.


The HIMARS and MLRS launchers are armed with six and twelve M31A1 220mm missiles respectively. The missile guidance kits enable them to strike within 15 m of a target, although US Army tests indicate that they can strike within 2 m. They have a range of 70 km and carry a 90 kg high explosive unitary warhead.


The range and accuracy of HIMARS and MLRS are critical to understanding their ability to shape the totality of the battlefield in Ukraine. The 70 km range of the rockets effectively places them beyond the reach of frontline Russian tube artillery systems and enables them to move on roads parallel to the frontline in response to identified targets. It also means that they are able to engage targets such as logistics and ammo dumps in Russia’s operational depth which are beyond the reach of Ukraine’s own conventional tube artillery.

Accuracy is important for two reasons. The first is that it reduces the number of rockets needed to achieve effects on targets, which is a critical consideration given that Ukraine and the West are facing constraints in their ability to meet the AFU’s demand for ammunition. The second is that it means vehicles can quickly relocate after firing and avoid counter-battery fire or attempts to locate them, which improves survivability — as evidenced by Russia’s difficulties in locating and destroying them.

However, this is likely due in part to Russia’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) gap. A Russian commander has complained that the RuAF has limited abilities to locate and engage targets beyond the immediate frontline, which allows the MLRS and HIMARS launchers to operate with relative impunity. Furthermore, the Russian air force faces difficulties in operating in Ukraine’s operational depth — where the launchers are present — because it has found suppression of Ukraine’s air defences difficult. In short, the range of MLRS and HIMARS, combined with Russia’s inability to generate targeting information or fly sorties at appropriate altitudes in the areas where the launchers operate, has conferred survivability upon them and enabled them to continue impacting the Russian forces.

The range of the M30A1 missile would account for little without the software and ISR that are used to provide targeting data. From the available information, the AFU uses a variety of reconnaissance tools to locate and identify suitable Russian targets. An innovative method is the use of mobile phone software that enables Ukrainian citizens to report the location of Russian troops using an app. This information is often shared with artillery systems or through the chain of command using applications like Google Meets. It is then shared with a US base in Europe, where operators provide precise targeting data from satellites and other assets, as well as target mensuration, which is necessary for the launchers to conduct an engagement and to shorten the targeting chain. This is fed into the missiles and then they are launched — the whole process takes only a few seconds. The speed of targeting decisions, and in some cases the target location, is reliant upon the use of software, which provides rapid communication and data sharing between Ukrainian operators and US analysts.

The period from 6000 BC to 2000 BC may be a high point in conflict and violence

Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

Of the skeletal remains of more than 2300 early farmers from 180 sites dating from 8,000 to 4,000 years ago, more than one in ten displayed weapon injuries:

Contrary to the view that the Neolithic era was marked by peaceful cooperation, the team of international researchers say that in some regions the period from 6000BC to 2000BC may be a high point in conflict and violence with the destruction of entire communities.

The findings also suggest the rise of growing crops and herding animals as a way of life, replacing hunting and gathering, may have laid the foundations for formalised warfare.

Researchers used bioarchaeological techniques to study human skeletal remains from sites in Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain and Sweden.

The team collated the findings to map, for the first time, evidence of violence across Neolithic Northwestern Europe, which has the greatest concentration of excavated Neolithic sites in the world,

The team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Bournemouth and Lund in Sweden, and the OsteoArchaeological Research Centre in Germany examined the remains for evidence of injuries caused predominantly by blunt force to the skull.

More than ten per cent showed damage potentially caused by frequent blows to the head by blunt instruments or stone axes. Several examples of penetrative injuries, thought to be from arrows, were also found.

Some of the injuries were linked to mass burials, which could suggest the destruction of entire communities, the researchers say.

Officials feared the incident might cause a devastating increase of tensions and possibly ignite World War Three

Monday, February 20th, 2023

On November 18, 1952, naval aviator Royce Williams was flying his F9F Panther, the US Navy’s first jet fighter, when he shot down four Soviet fighter jets:

The now 97-year-old former naval aviator was presented with the Navy Cross, the service’s second-highest military honor at a ceremony Friday in California.


He took off from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, which was operating with three other carriers in a task force in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, 100 miles off the coast of North Korea.

Williams, then age 27, and three other fighter pilots were ordered on a combat air patrol over the most northern part of the Korean Peninsula, near the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. To the northeast is Russia, then part of the Soviet Union, which supported North Korea in the conflict.

As the four US Navy jets flew their patrol, the group’s leader suffered mechanical problems and with his wingman, headed back to the task force off the coast.

That left Williams and his wingman alone on the mission.

Then, to their surprise, seven Soviet MiG-15 fighter jets were identified heading toward the US task force.

“They just didn’t come out of Russia and engage us in any way before,” Williams said in a 2021 interview with the American Veterans Center.

Wary commanders in the task force ordered the two US Navy jets to put themselves between the MiGs and the US warships.

While doing this, four of the Soviet MiGs turned toward Williams and opened fire, he recalled.

He said he fired on the tail MiG, which then dropped out of the four-plane Soviet formation, with Williams’ wingman following the Soviet jet down.

At that point, US commanders on the carrier ordered him not to engage the Soviets, he said.

“I said, ‘I am engaged,’” Williams recalled in the interview.

Williams said he also knew that because the Soviet jets were faster than his, if he tried to break off they’d catch and kill him.

“At that time the MiG-15 was the best fighter airplane in the world,” faster and able to climb and dive quicker than the American jets, he said in the interview.

His plane was suited to air-to-ground combat, not aerial dogfights, he said.

But now he was in one, with not just one, but six Soviet jets as the other three MiGs that broke off earlier returned.

What ensued was more than a half-hour of aerial combat, with Williams constantly turning and weaving — the one area where the F9F could compete with the Soviet aircraft — to not let the superior MiGs get their guns fixed on him.

“I was on automatic, I was doing as trained,” he said.

So were the Soviets.

“But on some occasions … they made mistakes,” Williams said.

One flew at him, but then stopped firing and dipped under him. Williams figured its pilot was killed by his gunfire.

And he described how another MiG got right in front of him, he hit it with his gunfire, and it disintegrated, causing Williams to maneuver sharply to avoid the wreckage and its pilot as the plane came apart.

Over the course of the fight, Williams fired all 760 rounds of 20mm cannon shells the F9F carried, according to an account of the engagement from the US Navy Memorial’s website.

But the Soviets scored hits on Williams, too, disabling his rudder and wing control surfaces, leaving only the elevators in the rear of the plane viable for him to move the jet up and down.

Luckily, he said, at this point he was heading in the direction of the US task force off the coast. But one of the remaining Soviet jets was still on his tail.

He said he flew in an up-and-down roller coaster pattern, with bullets flying above and below him as he moved, the Soviet pilot trying to get a clear shot.

Williams’ wingman rejoined the fight at this point, getting on the Soviet’s tail and scaring him off, according to the Navy Memorial account.

But Williams still had some difficult flying to do to get the damaged jet back on board the carrier.

First, with the task force wary of Soviet warplanes possibly attacking it, its heightened air defenses initially thought Williams’ F9F was a MiG, and destroyers guarding the American carriers opened fire on him.

Williams said his commander quickly put a stop to that, eliminating one danger.

Still, Williams had to get his jet on the deck on the carrier, something he’d usually do at an airspeed of 105 knots (120 mph). But he already knew if he went lower than 170 knots (195 mph), his aircraft would stall and plunge into the icy sea.

And he couldn’t turn to line up with the carrier. So the ship’s captain decided to take the extraordinary step of turning the carrier to line up with Williams.

It worked. He slammed onto the deck and caught the third and final arresting wire.

On the deck on the carrier, Navy crew counted 263 holes in Williams’ plane. It was in such poor shape, it was pushed off the ship into the sea, according to the Navy Memorial account.

But as the plane disappeared below the waves, something else had to also — the fact that the US-Soviet aerial combat happened at all.

News of Williams’ heroics went all the way to the top, with then-President Dwight Eisenhower among the senior US officials eager to speak to the pilot, according to the Navy Memorial’s website.

“Following the battle, Williams was personally interviewed by several high-ranking Navy admirals, the Secretary of Defense, and also the President, after which he was instructed to not talk about his engagement as officials feared the incident might cause a devastating increase of tensions between the US and Soviet Union, and possibly ignite World War Three,” the website says.

A US Defense Department account of the incident also notes that US forces were trying out new communications intercept equipment that day. It was feared that revealing the Soviet role in the combat would have compromised that US’ advantage.

At Mach 5 and beyond, things heat up pretty fast

Sunday, February 19th, 2023

The U.S. might be slipping behind Russia, or even China, in the race to develop hypersonic missiles, but that might be because the U.S. military has its sights set on a bigger prize, a hypersonic bomber:

Meet the Air Force’s secret hypersonic bomber: the Expendable Hypersonic Multi-mission ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and Strike program, a.k.a. Project Mayhem.

The mighty bomber would have a few advantages over its missile-based adversaries, but the big one would be usability. Where missiles like the Kinzhal, Zircon, and China’s Dongfeng-17 are expensive (around $100 million) one-shots, a hypersonic plane traveling in excess of Mach 5 — Project Mayhem would reportedly travel Mach 10 — could be refueled and used again, and again, and again.

The idea of a hypersonic plane dates back to the Space Race, culminating in the North American X-15A-2 record-breaking Mach 6.7 flight in 1967. Further aerospace advancements created mechanical wonders like the supersonic SR-71. Project Mayhem would likely use a multi-cycle propulsion system, employing a jet engine to reach Mach 3 before transitioning to an air-breathing scramjet for hypersonic speeds. But designing a reusable plane at such speeds comes with serious limitations.

At Mach 5 and beyond, things heat up pretty fast thanks to friction and air resistance, so any plane hoping to go that fast and survive the experience would need to be cloaked in advanced materials that haven’t even been invented yet. None of this even touches on the fact that maneuverability at such speeds will also be a gargantuan engineering undertaking, and that combining a traditional jet engine with a scramjet has never been successfully accomplished.

Because of this unique operating environment and the necessity of precision-sensitive design, Project Mayhem is turning to model-based engineering (MBE) to digitally construct every system on the hypothetical plane.