A 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer

Friday, July 22nd, 2022

The recent unpleasantness in Japan piqued my interest in DIY firearms and electronic ignition, which led me to the Remington Model 700 EtronX, which was introduced in 2000 and discontinued in 2003. Ian of Forgotten Weapons explains:

It consisted of a standard Remington 700 bolt action rifle, with the trigger and firing mechanisms replaced by electric versions. The firing pin itself became an insulated electrode, the trigger operated an electronic switch instead of a mechanical sear, and a 9V battery feeding a capacitor provided the energy to ignite the new type of primer — basically a resistor that would generate heat to ignite a charge of smokeless powder.

[…]

Unfortunately, the only practical advantage to the electronic workings was a reduction in lock time of the action (the delay from trigger press to cartridge ignition). They did in fact achieve a virtual elimination of lock time, but this was not a problem that needed to be addressed for the general sporting rifle market.

Now, if they introduced a gun that didn’t need conventional primers today, they might have some success.

One hobbyist found it surprisingly hard to ignite gunpowder:

Experiments performed a few years ago and shown on the web page here found that weak sparks, such as from static electricity, are incapable of igniting black powder. Since I wanted to use smokeless powder in the rifle, and since it has a much higher ignition point than the black powder shown here, my first attempts used sparks from a stun-gun to see if they could ignite the powder.

The stun gun shown here is advertised as producing a 100,000 volt spark. The sparks were certainly loud and impressive, and they easily burned tiny holes through a piece of paper placed between the electrodes, but would they ignite powder?

Hundreds of sparks were struck into a pile of Hodgdon’s Tite-Group smokeless powder (left) and Swiss black powder (right) with absolutely no effect except for bouncing the grains around. The sparks were striking the grains, and you can see flashes when the spark hits the surface of the granules, but never once would the powder ignite!

The photo below shows a spark from the stun gun going completely through a line of black powder stuck to a piece of masking tape, and although hundreds of grains were simultaneously hit, nothing happened.

[…]

About this time I was ready to give up, but after a few days of reflection, I thought I knew what was happening. The spark in the chamber was clearly extraordinarily hot and was vigorous enough to blow the tamper out of the chamber, which meant that the air in the chamber had to be heated to a high temperature. But why didn’t the powder ignite? I believed the reason was the extremely brief duration of the spark; in trying to capture it on a video, it was so brief that it took many tries to accidentally capture a video frame on a camera running 30 frames/second. My guess is that it lasted only a few micro seconds, and thus, no matter how hot it was, it couldn’t transfer enough heat into the powder granules during this brief time period for them to ignite. Therefore, slowing down the spark, even if it meant reducing its intensity, might be enough to do the job.

To slow down the spark, I simply added a resistor in series with the capacitor so the current was limited to about two amperes — which is still a lot of current going through a spark. As you can see from the image, the spark was much brighter than from the spark coil alone, but was very much less intense than without the resistor. However, it seemed to last a bit longer — about 2000 micro seconds, so that elongation might do the trick.

I added some smokeless powder (this time without a tamper) and sparked it. It worked! Not only did it work for the Tite Group smokeless powder, but for all others I tried, and all ignitions were instantaneous.

China has a long and effective history of using massed small craft to rebuff stronger rivals

Monday, July 18th, 2022

China’s gray-zone fleet is hard to handle:

China has a long and effective history of using massed small craft to rebuff stronger rivals. The Communist regime employed massed small craft to project sovereignty as early as 1966, when eleven steel-hulled Chinese trawlers joined together to chase USS Pueblo’s (AGER-2) sister ship, the surveillance-oriented USS Banner (AGER-1), out of the East China Sea. For China, swarming is a long-standing, deeply rooted military tactic.

Coast Guards and Navies throughout the Pacific have long-struggled with strategies to manage China’s preference for fielding numerous but low-tech maritime vessels. Up till now, only aircraft and surface presence, in the form of massed, highly capable gunboats, have been effective against China’s militarized gray zone fleet.

Over the past few years, minor successes in rebuffing China’s coercive fleets has sparked something of a low-tech arms race. As Pacific states slowly up-armed their defensive resources, increasing presence in both ship numbers and in individual ship tonnage, China has, in turn, quietly “super-sized” their low-tech armada, making their ships too big and fast for other countries to confront.

While low-key, the growth of China’s low-tech fleet has been dramatic. China’s Coast Guard cutter fleet is expanding in number and size, and now boasts over 130 ships of over 1,000 tons. Today, the largest Chinese cutters are able to shoulder aside anything short of an Arleigh Burke destroyer. And while still lightly-armed, China’s Coast Guard fleet has gotten better basic weapons as well. Rapid-fire guns and man-portable anti-aircraft missiles make approach by rotary wing aircraft increasingly perilous, complicating efforts to target ships with laser-guided munitions, weapons the U.S. has used to clear the seas of lightly-armed adversaries in the past.

But now, America’s QUICKSINK makes even the queens of the Chinese Coast Guard, the massive 12,000-ton Zhaotou Class Coast Guard cutters, vulnerable.

Quicksink provides a low-cost anti-ship capability by using a modified 2,000-pound class GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, with a new Weapon Open Systems Architecture, or WOSA, seeker.

Most regimes would have great difficulty killing large numbers of people quickly and procedurally

Sunday, July 17th, 2022

The “hogtie, throw to the ground, and shoot in the back of the head” approach to killing people was popular with both the Soviet Cheka and Nazi Einsatzgruppen:

The innovation that the CCP has adopted is to involve a large proportion of their police and judiciary in the process as directly as possible. […] Western governments generally take great care to insulate law enforcement personnel from state-sanctioned killing. The environment and process of an execution is controlled, clinical, and highly restricted. Very few cops ever see the inside of a death chamber. In PRC the opposite is true.

When the CCP decides to kill you, they usually do it outdoors, and often in semi-public places. Regular judicial personnel handle identity confirmation and terminal legal dispositions. Multiple officers are required to wrestle the victim to the ground and hold them there. Then another officer walks up with a gun, and bang, lights out.

Once the deed is done and the victim is deceased, or wounded badly enough that death is inevitable, they are often harvested for their organs. The medical personnel who do this are usually conscripted and not told in advance what they’ll be required to do.

At every step of the process the maximum number of personnel from the mainline police and judicial system are used to carry out the killing. Why? It spreads out the complicity by making sure that everybody who could have blood on their hands does. It’s insurance for the CCP.

The CCP knows that the biggest threat to its continued rule is members of its security apparatus deciding not to do their jobs anymore. One of the best ways to ensure that ordinary cops toe the line is to make them a crucial part of your killing machine. The logic is pretty straightforward: if a substantial fraction of your armed police have directly participated in “social cleansing” of undesireables like petty drug abusers, liquidation of badly-behaved members of minority groups, or outright political murders of people within the CCP hierarchy, it’s not particularly difficult to convince them that regime change would result in them being afforded the same treatment by whomever seizes power.

It’s also a technique for building a certain kind of very evil state capacity. Most regimes would have great difficulty killing large numbers of people quickly and procedurally, but not the CCP. They have a paramilitary police force that can conduct executions at scale. There’s no dedicated roving death squad, no group of commandos drugging people and dropping them out of airplanes, no warehouse-sized gas chambers, no mass graves. Just cops, judges, Maoist collective action, small arms, and crematoria.

Routine, in other words.

The students rejected a completely subterranean design as both too expensive and too depressing

Friday, July 15th, 2022

In 1959, the Cornell College of Architecture launched a study to design a city that could survive nuclear attack:

The Schoharie Valley Townsite project was one of the most ambitious civil defense proposals of the Cold War: a factory-town that could not only withstand nuclear attack, but maintain war production even as the hydrogen bombs burst around it.

[...]

As a baseline, they decided to design the town to withstand a 20 megaton blast at a distance of ten miles from city center, and to then maintain industrial production while buttoned up against fallout.

The next step was to choose a location in New York state for their new town. Based on local geology, the availability of transport, and being outside the blast radius of existing cities, they narrowed the choice to either the Schoharie Valley or Slaterville.

[...]

The Schoharie Townsite was explicitly modeled after the factory towns of the IBM corporation, and centered around the “EMF”, or Electronics Manufacturing Facility. Based on existing IBM factory-towns, they estimated a population of 9,000, of whom about 1,500 would work at the EMF itself.

The students rejected a completely subterranean design as both too expensive and too depressing to live in. Instead, they decided to build the town on the surface, with underground communal shelters for each neighborhood linked by tunnels. Since the different shelters were all connected, in an attack people could head for cover immediately, without worrying about being cut off from family members in different shelters. Every point on the surface would be within 1500 feet – about five minutes walk – from a shelter entrance. All underground space would be buried beneath at least four and a half feet of earth and a foot of concrete for blast protection and radiation attenuation.

The 9,000 residents would live in 1,158 apartments, 372 rowhouse and duplex units, and 951 detached houses, split among three main residential areas. Each residential area would be centered around a community center with an elementary school, shops, social center, churches, communal recreation areas, and a park. The entrances to the neighborhood shelter would be in the elementary schools. Each entrance would include mass decontamination stations, able to handle 60-75 people per hour.

At the center of the three residential areas would be a central business hub with a high school, municipal buildings, stadium, and shops. The town high school would sit on top of the downtown shelter, which would also be the hub of the subterranean network. The municipal offices’ basements would be hardened and serve as the town’s civil defense control center.

Unlike the rest of the town, the Electronics Manufacturing Facility would be entirely underground, in limestone one hundred feet below the surface. The access tunnel would have a series of turns to dilute blast, and the internal structures would be shock-mounted. The student planners saw the subterranean character of the factory as a bonus – “by virtue of its subterranean character, the plant inflicts no objectionable atmosphere upon adjacent residential areas, so that usual difficulties in industry-residence relationships should not arise.”

The town would get its water from underground wells, with an underground treatment plant and million-gallon subterranean reservoir in the rock above the EMF, and three other million-gallon reservoirs located elsewhere. A small light water reactor would supply the electrical power.

All of the underground spaces would serve secondary roles in peacetime. The rooms of the high school shelter would be used a gymnasium, library, auditorium, cafeteria, and storage facilities. The underground tunnels would hold a “seatway” transportation network, a sort of minimalist subway: “trains” of eight to ten chairs would be pulled along by a continuously moving belt, briefly disengaging from the belt at stations to allow passengers to get on or off.

This reminded me of a morbidly fascinating fact from Table C, “Per-Cent Mortality at Various Distances,” of The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: from 0 feet to 1000 feet from ground zero, percent mortality was 93.0. Not 100.0 percent. Not 99.9 percent. But 93.0 percent.

Hiroshima was 12 kilotons, less than a thousandth as powerful as a 20-megaton bomb.

(This reminds me of The Atomic Cafe, which makes a splendid Rorschach test.)

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had rather different results:

In considering the devastation in the two cities, it should be remembered that the cities’ differences in shape and topography resulted in great differences in the damages. Hiroshima was all on low, flat ground, and was roughly circular in shape; Nagasaki was much cut up by hills and mountain spurs, with no regularity to its shape.

[...]

In Hiroshima over 60,000 of 90,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged by the atomic bomb; this figure represents over 67% of the city’s structures.

In Nagasaki 14,000 or 27% of 52,000 residences were completely destroyed and 5,40O, or 10% were half destroyed. Only 12% remained undamaged. This destruction was limited by the layout of the city.

Rolling hills and a linear, rather than circular, shape could go a long way in reducing the damage to an otherwise ordinary city.

(Hat tip to Adamas Nemesis.)

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

Back in 2004, Jerry Pournelle described the original Bastille Day:

On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob aided by units of the National Guard stormed the Bastille Fortress which stood in what had been the Royal area of France before the Louvre and Tuilleries took over that function. The Bastille was a bit like the Tower of London, a fortress prison under direct control of the Monarchy. It was used to house unusual prisoners, all aristocrats, in rather comfortable durance. The garrison consisted of soldiers invalided out of service and some older soldiers who didn’t want to retire; it was considered an honor to be posted there, and the garrison took turns acting as valets to the aristocratic prisoners kept there by Royal order (not convicted by any court).

On July 14, 1789, the prisoner population consisted of four forgers, three madmen, and another.  The forgers were aristocrats and were locked away in the Bastille rather than be sentenced by the regular courts. The madmen were kept in the Bastille in preference to the asylums: they were unmanageable at home, and needed to be locked away. The servants/warders were bribed to treat them well. The Bastille was stormed; the garrison was slaughtered to a man, some being stamped to death; their heads were displayed on pikes; and the prisoners were freed. The forgers vanished into the general population. The madmen were sent to the general madhouse.  The last person freed was a young man who had challenged the best swordsman in Paris to a duel, and who had been locked up at his father’s insistence lest he be killed. This worthy joined the mob and took on the name of Citizen Egalité. He was active in revolutionary politics until Robespierre had him beheaded in The Terror.

The national holidays of the US, Mexico, and France all celebrate rather different events…

(This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned thus.)

More than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

Contrary to the claims in Michelle Alexander’s 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow, drug prohibition is not driving incarceration rates, Rafael A. Mangual explains:

Yes, about half of federal prisoners are in on drug charges; but federal inmates constitute only 12 percent of all American prisoners — the vast majority are in state facilities. Those incarcerated primarily for drug offenses constitute less than 15 percent of state prisoners. Four times as many state inmates are behind bars for one of five very serious crimes: murder (14.2 percent), rape or sexual assault (12.8 percent), robbery (13.1 percent), aggravated or simple assault (10.5 percent), and burglary (9.4 percent). The terms served for state prisoners incarcerated primarily on drug charges typically aren’t that long, either. One in five state drug offenders serves less than six months in prison, and nearly half (45 percent) of drug offenders serve less than one year.

That a prisoner is categorized as a drug offender, moreover, does not mean that he is nonviolent or otherwise law-abiding. Most criminal cases are disposed of through plea bargains, and, given that charges often get downgraded or dropped as part of plea negotiations, an inmate’s conviction record will usually understate the crimes he committed. The claim that drug offenders are nonviolent and pose zero threat to the public if they’re put back on the street is also undermined by a striking fact: more than three-quarters of released drug offenders are rearrested for a nondrug crime. It’s worth noting that Baltimore police identified 118 homicide suspects in 2017, and 70 percent had been previously arrested on drug charges.

Not only are most prisoners doing time for serious, often violent, offenses; they’ve usually received (and blown) the second chance that so many reformers say they deserve. Justice Department studies from 2000 through 2009 reveal that only about 40 percent of state felony convictions result in a prison sentence. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study of violent felons convicted over a 12-year period in America’s 75 largest counties shows that 56 percent of the offenders had a prior conviction record.

Even though most state prisoners are serious and serial offenders, nearly 40 percent of inmates serve less than a year in prison, with the median time served about 16 months. Lengthy sentences tend to be reserved for the most serious violent crimes — but even 20 percent of convicted murderers and nearly 60 percent of those convicted for rape or sexual assault serve less than five years of their sentences.

Craft-produced firearm used to assassinate Shinzo Abe

Saturday, July 9th, 2022

The assassin who shot and killed former Prime Minister Abe likely used a craft-produced, muzzle-loading, double-barrel smoothbore weapon, using separate-loading ammunition which was initiated by an electric firing mechanism:

The barrels of the firearm appear to be constructed from two metal tubes (most likely commercially available pipe) that were sealed at the rear using screw-on endcaps. The barrels are attached to a piece of wood using black adhesive tape (probably electrical tape). A pistol grip is attached to the wooden body of the weapon. There may also be other fasteners which are not visible underneath the tape. Based on the general arrangement of the firearm, its design, and its apparent build quality, it is likely that the weapon was a smoothbore design — that is, the barrels were not rifled — and the ammunition was fired under relatively low pressures. The significant plumes of smoke generated when the weapon was fired indicate that it does not make use of commercial small arms ammunition propellant (‘smokeless powder’), and may instead use blackpowder or an alternative propellant. This makes the use of ‘separate-loading’ ammunition (i.e., propellant and projectile loaded separately into the weapon) more likely, as well as increasing the likelihood that the weapon was a muzzle-loading design — that is, loaded from the bore (‘front’ of the barrel), rather than the breech (‘rear’ of the barrel) of the firearm.

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A popular design for simple craft-produced shotguns is the so-called ‘slam-fire shotgun’. Several observers have suggested this is the type of weapon used in the attack against Abe. However, these designs rely on conventional, impact-sensitive primers as found in modern small arms ammunition. The firing signature of the weapon suggests the use of an alternative propellant composition, as noted, and thus a slam-fire design is unlikely. The assailant likely used similar iron plumbing pipes and endcaps similar to those used on craft-produced firearms chambering conventional shotgun ammunition. However, the weapon appears to use an electric firing mechanism. Images of the firearm show that an electrical wire passes through each endcap. The trigger mechanism seems to connect these wires to two battery packs. There are several different designs of electrical firing mechanism. There have been, for example, significant developments focused on electric primers within the community of 3D-printed firearms designers. Probably the most prominent electric firing mechanism for 3D-printed firearms has been developed by the user ‘@SuckBoyTony1’. This mechanism uses an 80 kV High Voltage Pulse Generator that converts 6–12 V (the electric potential typically provided by battery packs such as that seen with the assailant’s weapon) into 80 kV. This high voltage creates a hot plasma arc between two conductive contacts that can be used to ignite flammable materials — such as propane in a grill or blackpowder in a firearm. In @SuckBoyTony1’s design, the contacts are held in place by a 3D-printed housing (see Figure 4). This igniter design can repeatedly create the hot plasma arc as long as the batteries can provide enough power and the contact rods are not worn off.

[…]

A few hours after the shooting, Japanese police raided the assailant’s home. Following this, images of three further firearms with similar physical features emerged. One example featured five barrels, arranged in two rows (see Figure 7); the second example featured six barrels, arranged in two rows (Figure 8); and the third featured nine barrels, arranged in three rows (Figure 9). Both are wrapped in a similar black adhesive tape, and both appear to use electrical firing systems similar to that seen on the weapon used in the shooting. Improved concealability is the most likely reason for the assailant’s selection of the double-barrelled example, although reliability may also have been a factor.

[…]

Japan has long implemented strict arms control laws. Under current Japanese law, civilians are barred from owning handguns and rifles under most circumstances, and shotguns are tightly regulated. The most recent estimate (2019) suggests that there are only 132,127 shotguns in private hands. Japan’s per capita rate of firearms ownership is the lowest amongst G7 countries, estimated at just 0.3 firearms per 100 people in 2018. As such—and in common with most craft-produced firearms users around the world—Abe’s assassin most likely made his own firearm because he could not gain access to an industrially produced example. Ammunition is also tightly regulated in Japan. Indeed, the strict control of conventional cartridges in Japan makes it more likely that the assailant selected separate-loading ammunition to avoid these legal restrictions. Reports that explosives were located at the assailant’s home may also indicate a store of loose propellant and/or a capability to produce propellant.

Shawn Ryan interviews Erik Prince about the rise and fall of Blackwater

Thursday, July 7th, 2022

Shawn Ryan interviews Erik Prince — who’s close to a real-life Bruce Wayne — about the rise and fall of Blackwater:

No Western artillery system is as capable and none apparently has the accuracy offered by GIS Arta

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022

Two technologies have helped Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion:

While the Russians are able to jam satellite transmissions, so far they have not been able to jam Starlink. Musk has reported that they are trying but so far have not been successful.

The other technology is homegrown and is software known as GIS Arta (GIS stands for geographic information system and Arta stands for artillery).

GIS Arta is an Android app that takes target information from drones, US and NATO intelligence feeds and conventional forward observers, and converts the information to precise coordinates for artillery.

GIS Arta was developed by a volunteer team of software developers led by Yaroslav Sherstyvk. It bears a resemblance to Uber taxi service software, on which the GIS Arta software is modeled.

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GIS Arta makes it possible to do two things not possible before: Targets can be identified and verified visually almost immediately, and artillery and rocket systems can fire quickly and accurately.

Consider that typically it takes 20 minutes to program coordinates into an artillery piece and fire the weapon. Complicating that is verifying the target; for the US that also includes making sure there isn’t a risk of collateral damage.

The artillery previously used by Ukraine was mainly Russian and its firing system was dated and slow. GIS Arta not only changed that but also significantly improved accuracy.

GIS Arta reduces the time to fire to about 30 to 45 seconds. No Western artillery system is as capable and none apparently has the accuracy offered by GIS Arta. According to reports, Ukrainian artillery can now hit a far-away target with an accuracy of between 18 and 75 meters.

Ukraine has also modified its deployments of artillery, separating units by greater distance to make them more difficult targets for Russian counterfire. That, too, has been enabled by GIS Arta.

The GIS Arta complex also selects which gun or rocket system to use and automatically provides the coordinates to any selected system. In fact, the system is so good that Germany, which has already delivered some of its Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer 155mm mechanized guns to Ukraine, reportedly has integrated GIS Arta.

Happy Secession Day!

Monday, July 4th, 2022

Once again, happy Secession Day:

They yelled, fought, had fires, used power tools, and behaved in various undesirable ways

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

One of Scott Alexander’s commenters changed his take on homelessness significantly in the last year and a half:

The lot next to my house had a giant three story tree which formed a dome around its base. Shortly after moving into my house a camp of 5–15 homeless people (depending on the day) moved into the tree. They yelled, fought, had fires, used power tools, and behaved in various undesirable ways. I called the police on them for various offenses ~5 times without ever having even a single officer or official appear on site. About 8 months after they had moved in (I found the backstory out in retrospect) the lot was purchased by a developer. Construction workers came and told the homeless people they should leave because the tree was being cut down tomorrow. Per said construction workers the response was “over our dead bodies, we will burn it down first!” to which the construction workers, who were planning to cut the tree down anyways, responded with a shrug. Mind you the edge of this giant tree was ~15 feet from my house. That day/night the homeless people gathered >20 propane tanks and strapped them to the tree, then lit it on fire.

I woke at ~2 am to rattling bangs shaking my house, a weird bright red glow shining through my kitchen window, baking heat emanating from the windows, and my wife and six day old child screaming. We fled the house naked with our child, injuring my wife who had just given birth. I went back in once for some documents and clothes after determining the house was not actively on fire. After maybe 5 minutes the fire department showed up and put out the fire. The next day the construction workers cut down a sooty and much reduced tree. One cop spoke to me on the phone once and never followed up. All the same homeless people still roam the area and now live in a wash ~150 feet away.

I’ve now moved to a fancy expansive HOA community that costs more than twice as much. I used to think homelessness was a hard problem with no good solutions. I no longer think that. I’m now in favor of basically anything that results in fewer homeless people.

Your suburban home will not offer true cover

Saturday, June 25th, 2022

Your suburban home will not offer true cover:

Tested against gypsum drywall (Sheetrock), .22 LR cartridges penetrated eight inches, while higher velocity and larger calibers, like .22 Magnum or 9mm and .45, penetrated up to 12 inches. Note that each panel is usually 5/8ths of an inch thick.

Against cinder block, only bullets larger than 9mm caused structural damage. It took multiple shots to crack the block. One .357 Magnum round would “chunk” the brick and multiple rounds caused the brick to fail. Various sources have reported that anything smaller than 9mm will not seriously damage cinder block, but multiple shots from larger calibers may damage the block sufficiently to penetrate.

Shotgun slugs easily penetrated drywall and destroyed cinder blocks; shot tended to ricochet off the blocks without causing damage. Buckshot penetrated 12 inches of drywall and birdshot penetrated two inches.

Canadian researchers fired .38 Special, 9mm, and .40 caliber rounds from handguns and found a third to two-thirds loss of velocity after bullets exited a simulated stucco exterior wall. Wood and vinyl siding covered walls caused about a 15% loss of velocity after penetration. Stucco walls were the most durable, which would slow a standard range type bullet down to about half-velocity.

However, bullets traveling at even 500-700 feet per second are deadly.

[…]

Clay and concrete bricks (solid) exhibited strong bullet resistance. Large-caliber high-velocity hunting rounds (7mm-.30 caliber) created holes and cracks but did not penetrate. This is consistent with US military testing that multiple rounds centered in one place were required to penetrate solid blocks.

Not so much storming the beaches as trying to keep an airbase open

Monday, June 20th, 2022

In a war against China, tiny islands could become strategic strong points for the U.S. military’s advance across the Pacific Ocean for the first time since World War II:

The Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept, for example, calls for putting small numbers of forces on “a series of austere, temporary locations ashore or inshore,” an August 2021 Marine Corps story explaining the concept says. The story includes a diagram showing how Marines would move from ships onto islands using MV-22B Ospreys and CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters.

[...]

Rather than invading and clearing islands such as Saipan and Tinian, U.S. troops would likely set up airfields and air defense systems on them and then defend those islands against Chinese air and missile attacks, said Dean Cheng, a China expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C.

“These are islands that aren’t even defended,” Cheng told Task & Purpose. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about it: Island hopping, not so much storming the beaches of Iwo Jima as trying to keep an airbase open,” Cheng said.

First, however, U.S. ships and troops would have to fight their way across the Pacific Ocean, and they would likely take casualties along the way, Cheng said. Just to get from Hawaii to Guam, U.S. forces would have to brave Chinese DF-26 intermediate ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, submarines, and possibly Chinese merchant ships armed with missiles.

[...]

Instead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to redesign the force calls for Marines to operate from Expeditionary Advanced Bases inside the range of enemy missiles and other defenses.

The term “Expeditionary Advanced Bases” is intentionally vague so that adversaries cannot be sure which forces are ashore and which are embarked on ships, according to a 2018 Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Concepts & Plans Division paper about the concept.

“Historically, advanced naval bases have frequently been found astride straits or on islands,” the paper says. “It is appropriate to think of future EABs being similarly situated, but the expeditionary advanced ‘base’ is purposefully ill-defined in terms of its perimeter and specific geographic location. ‘Amorphous’ is an apt description of how we wish EABs to appear to adversaries.”

The Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept envisions small numbers of Marines managing to operate undetected from islands, from which they can fire anti-ship missiles, collect intelligence, and possibly coordinate long-range strikes from ships and aircraft, said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.

500,000 men capable of teaching the Japanese a definition of absolute victory not seen since the Mongols

Sunday, June 19th, 2022

I remember being confused as a kid that we had an army, a navy, and another, smaller army, which was part of the navy — sort of. Then, years later, I learned that navy had its own elite troops, which weren’t marines. In By Water Beneath the Walls, Benjamin H. Milligan explains why the US Navy’s elite commandos aren’t Marines:

Except for some magnificent excursions into the deserts of Libya and up the slopes of Chapultepec, the US Marine Corps —­ from the American Revolution to the American Civil War —­ was mostly an indentured adjunct of the blue-­water American Navy. In peace, a ramrod insurance against mutiny; in battle, mast-­clinging marksmen intended to replicate Admiral Nelson’s fate upon the enemy — Nelson had been killed by a French sniper in a crow’s nest. Later, after the Navy’s conversion to steam stacks and the elimination of mast-­top rifle nests, the Marines had adapted too, matching themselves to meet the national demand for foreign expedition. What followed was a Marine Corps of broad-­brimmed campaign hats and leg-­wrapped puttees, of guerrilla hunters like Smedley Butler and Chesty Puller, of brushfire victories in China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua. It was a Marine Corps that had not only stretched the Navy’s reach beyond the beaches that blocked its ships but along the way had also stretched the Navy’s expectations for its own go-­anywhere utility force.

Because of this history, the Marines of this period seemed poised to evolve into the Navy’s very own corps of guerrilla hunters and amphibious raiders, but this was a logic that was upended during the First World War, when the Marines’ battles at Belleau Wood, Soissons, and Blanc Mont proved as far removed from their small-­war past as was a man from a monkey. More important, these meat grinders proved the Marines were every bit the battlefield equals of their soldier-­cousins in the US Army, an upstaging that the Army sought to avenge by harnessing Congress’s belt-­tightening calls for consolidation in the early 1920s to turn the corps’ 13,000 Leathernecks into soldiers.

Threatened by consolidation with the US Army, by disbandment, by the elimination of their entire branch of service, the planners of the US Marine Corps scrambled for a solution. Their options: 1) decrease in size and thereby stature to return to filling the Navy’s need for a shipborne utility force — ­essentially to return to their past as the Navy’s guerrilla hunters and not-­quite amphibious raiders; or 2) identify a future enemy and a future mission that would catapult the Marine Corps to an equal rank with the Navy and Army and thereby preserve it for half a century. Actually, this wasn’t much of a choice at all; only one future appealed to the Marine Corps’ planners: the option that would do nothing to satisfy the Navy’s inland ambitions. More important for our purposes, it was a choice that would unintentionally produce a unit of raiders the Marine Corps didn’t want, and a raid so near to disaster that its Navy planners wouldn’t want any more of them, at least not from the Marine Corps.

A composite of islands and rapaciousness, the Empire of Japan was an enemy defended by water and fueled by a lust for resources. After the First World War, the only power that had stood between this lust and the vulnerable islands practically sinking beneath the weight of oil, tin, and rubber was the United States. If war ever came, it would come on these islands; if the US was going to win, it would need an army capable not simply of landing on them, but of stripping them clean of Japanese defenders.

[…]

On December 7, 1941, the day the Red Sun wings blackened the skies over Honolulu, all Marines awoke to the world for which Holcomb had prepared; amphibious war was upon them. The next day, sitting beside General George Marshall in the House Chamber packed with legislators, secretaries, and black-­robed justices, Holcomb listened to his old friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulate the terms of Japan’s future. “No matter how long it may take us,” the president promised, right hand gripping the lectern, his son James seated behind in a shadow to catch him should he stumble, “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” Few could understand what this meant in terms of lives and logistics, method and strategy. For Holcomb, it meant a Marine Corps of 500,000 men capable of teaching the Japanese a definition of absolute victory not seen since the Mongols. It definitely didn’t mean a Marine Corps of behind-the-­lines commando raiders; especially not commandos whose service was indentured to the Navy.

Drones and hypersonic missiles in the 1960s

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

A few years ago I read and enjoyed Skunk Works, about Lockheed’s legendary Advanced Development Project. I just recently got around to listening to the audiobook version of Kelly: More Than My Share of It All, the autobiography of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the famed aerospace engineer behind the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird.

A few things stood out as at least mildly prescient for a book written in 1985. First, he expected planes to become pilotless soon. His experience with the D-21 drone in the 1960s helped there. Second, he mentioned that an SR-71 variant, the YF-12, was designed as a high-altitude interceptor with missiles that, when launched, quickly went hypersonic, because the aircraft was already going Mach 3.