Military body armor must be designed to prevent military injury

Monday, May 29th, 2023

A look at military wounding and death statistics shows that small arms injuries to the extremities are rarely fatal, whereas wounds to the head, neck, or torso are frequently fatal, which suggests a few things:

First, that improvements to helmet design are at least as pressing and as important as improvements to body armor systems. The current combat helmet does not provide adequate protection from blast wave exposure, which is the primary mechanism of injury today, and is sure to remain a dominant mechanism of injury long into the future.

Second, given the overwhelming preponderance of fragmentation injuries, especially to the limbs, improvements in soft armor materials and systems, guided towards improved armor coverage, are of key importance. And, of course, technological improvements in this area will also result in better, lighter hard armor plates. This may also reduce the casualty burden associated with small arms wounds to the extremities, which are apparently fairly common but do not result in substantial morbidity.

Further, with the data from OIF and the data from Gofrit et al, it would seem that the overwhelming preponderance of bullet injuries are anterior — that is to say, when bullets strike, they are 10x to almost 20x more likely to enter through the front of the body. It may make sense to consider pairing a larger and heavier armor plate in the front, with a smaller or lighter armor plate in the back. This is indeed quite an ancient practice — one which Alexander the Great was known to promote — and was recently employed by the Soviets.

More data is required, but, though admittedly unorthodox, this doesn’t seem like an obviously bad idea; full body armor does not exist, and one must prioritize coverage based on (a) where shots are likely to be particularly damaging or fatal, and (b) where shots are likely to hit. If shots in the back are indeed that uncommon, it stands to reason that the front armor plate is vastly more important than the rear armor plate, and should be made larger, stronger, etc., whereas the rear plate can be made smaller and thinner. That they are of equal weight and capability seems unreasonable, given that one may be ~10-20x more likely to be impacted than the other.

The geography that makes Crimea hard to invade facilitates a modern-day siege

Sunday, May 28th, 2023

Ukraine can isolate Crimea without a costly ground offensive:

Defending the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014, has historically presented a quandary. A land invasion from the northwest — the direct route — must cross the narrow and easily defended Perekop isthmus between the peninsula and the mainland.

On the other hand, a hostile army can just as easily block communications between Crimea and the mainland. This would force Russia to supply the peninsula either by sea or by road and rail using the 11-mile Kerch Strait bridge on the eastern side of the peninsula, which connects Crimea with the Taman peninsula in southern Russia.


“The geography that makes Crimea hard to invade facilitates a modern-day siege,” Courtney and Savitz wrote. “All Russian movements by land must pass through one of two constrained corridors. The first entails traversing hundreds of miles of occupied territory, including areas relatively close to the front and crawling with hostile populations, saboteurs, and special forces. The final gauntlet is the isthmus, a target-rich place with minimal room for maneuver and within range of current Ukrainian weapons.”

That leaves the Black Sea route. Ideally, Ukraine would either launch an amphibious invasion of the peninsula — as Britain and France did in the Crimean War in 1854 — or starve out the Russians through a naval blockade.


“USVs are well-suited for networked swarm attacks, and relatively low-cost,” Courtney and Savitz wrote. “Their nascent designs can be modified to make them stealthier and harder to detect than most crewed vessels. Sinking a warship in a confined channel could create obstacles that would take weeks to clear, or longer if under fire.”

It could have accuracy like a rocket but cheaper

Saturday, May 27th, 2023

A Ukrainian “shopping” on behalf of his government at the SOFWeek special operations conference in Tampa explains what they need:

Q: So you’re basically serving as a front person to bring Ukraine weapons and other systems that you need?

A: Yes. You’re right. So I’m trying to find something which is quite interesting. Then we help U.S. companies to organize some demo because if you bring something new, the first question from our military guy is like ‘okay, I like it. But bring it here in Ukraine and I will test it.’ Why is this necessary? Because you know, in Ukraine now it’s a very hard electronic warfare situation. Russians are great at jamming GPS, radio signal, everything. So sometimes you have no LTE [long-term evolution or broadband communications network], no GPS, no radio communication systems, or nothing.

And this is why the equipment — if you’re talking for example, about drones — needs to be tested in the real battlefield where it goes to the bottom line and we have some place where we could switch off, switch on some Russian electronic warfare equipment which we have in our hands and test it but we could not make it outside of Ukraine. So that’s why we asked all producers to bring such equipment to Ukraine make some tests and then we could send this equipment back. It’s up to the producer.

Q: What kind of equipment are the Russians using to jam your equipment?

A: They have a lot and to be honest, they study very well. So they have an understanding of the waveform of radio waves and some other characteristics of this. I’m not a very big specialist on electronic warfare, but I know how it generally works. So they teach from time to time which signals they need to jam because you could jam everything but it’s just for low distance. If you want to jam something special you need to be very accurate with this frequency rate, this waveform and everything.

So for example, they know for sure the Harris [radio) waveform and it's very dangerous for us because if they could identify the Harris waveform, Harris radio stations, and arrays - if they know the location, they could immediately hit this place.

Q: Because not only can they jam but they can detect it, and then they can hit the spot. And they know that.

A: For example, if we're talking about drone operators, yes. So if you will define where is the base station located, you could hit the operator.

Q: Is there a big problem of Ukrainian drone operators being attacked because the Russians have picked up their frequencies?

A: I have no statistics, but understand how this works. It's why I think it's happened. Because now we use a lot of drones and it's some information which was in some open sources, the average time for DJI Mavic on the battlefield, it's like three to five days. So what this means is we lose a lot of drones and we need to replace it... It's now not like something unusual, we use it and we lose it and we need to be all the time replacing different types of drones. Of course, if the drone is better and flies higher and it's more protected from jamming, its lifetime could be longer but you never know.

If you want to ask questions about what we need...

Q: Yes

A: So we need a lot of different types of drones because we now operate with FPV [First Person Video] drones, with Mavic drones and also with all other type of drones for ISR [information, surveillance, reconnaissance] for sometimes for some civilians, [trying to understand] where’s the enemy located? And not just in an optic way, but in radio way because we could also scan some frequency and understand where this enemy is located.

So we need different types of drones and also we need a lot of kamikaze drones because drones [are cheaper to operate than rockets] which we don’t have. We use kamikaze drone to penetrate some special objects, like for example, an S-300 [air defense] complex etc. etc. So for this reason we use such kamikaze drones because the price of this equipment that would be destroyed, compared to the price of drones, it’s less than if you use the rockets. Rockets are quite expensive. Send a kamikaze drone? It could have accuracy like a rocket but cheaper.

Their other need is optical systems:

Let’s say this is why I’m interested in some different optics systems — thermal vision, binoculars, some type of lighter munitions, electronic warfare systems, some for civilians for when we try to find where the enemy is in an electronic way, let’s say…

A modernized steel helmet is simultaneously lighter than the PASGT and performs better against both fragments and handgun rounds

Thursday, May 25th, 2023

The first modern combat helmet was the French casque Adrian which was designed to address the threats soldiers faced in the Great War:

In WWI, explosive or fragmenting munitions were responsible for roughly 60-70% of all combat casualties. At the battle of Verdun, fragmentation and shrapnel from artillery bombardment caused at least 70% of the approximately 800,000 casualties that both sides suffered. The remainder were, for the most part, inflicted by relatively heavy rifle and machine-gun rounds which even the best helmets of today would not be able to stop.


The first helmet of the war to enter mass production and see widespread use — and the first modern combat helmet — was the French casque Adrian. This was made of mild steel, 0.7 to 0.8mm thick, with a tensile strength of at least 415 MPa and moderate ductility. (18% tensile elongation.) This helmet was capable of resisting a 230-grain, .45 caliber ball round at 400-450 feet per second, which is roughly half the .45 ACP’s muzzle velocity. But notwithstanding this poor performance against bullets, it is estimated to have defeated 75% of all shrapnel impacts from airburst munitions, and it had, therefore, an immediate positive impact on troop casualty rates and morale. In the Adrian’s wake, every other participant in WWI — except for Russia — hastened to develop and issue steel helmets of their own. Like the Adrian, these helmets had very poor resistance to small arms impacts, but were highly effective at protecting their wearers from shrapnel and fragmentation.

These same steel helmets, with minor modifications in some instances, were employed by all American and European forces through WWII. And here they proved even more vital, for whereas fragments and shrapnel accounted for approximately 65% of all WWI casualties, they accounted for 73% of WWII’s wartime wounds. The widespread use of the steel helmet shifted patterns of wounding and was highly effective at preventing fatal head injury. When the war was over, it was calculated that of all hits upon the US military’s M1 helmet 54% were defeated and, in fact, of all incapacitating hits upon the body, the M1 helmet prevented 10% of them.

Needless to say, all of the helmets of the war were totally incapable of stopping 8mm Mauser, 7.62x54mmR, or .30-06 bullets at most engagement distances — and in fact they would, invariably, fail to stop 7.62x25mm Tokarev handgun/submachinegun rounds within 100 yards under normal ballistic test conditions — but that wasn’t their intended function.


Interestingly, the soft, large, and extremely heavy .45 ball ammo that was used as the test projectile for the M1 couldn’t possibly have been more different from the fragment-simulating projectiles (FSP) used to test helmets today. The FSPs are much lighter — ranging from 2 to 64 grains — and they’re made entirely of AISI 4340 steel heat-treated to 30 HRC. With no jacket, no deformable lead core, and much lighter weights and lower diameters, they’re a qualitatively different threat in every respect.


In the mid 1960s, duPont chemists working on materials for automobile tire reinforcement identified a high-modulus polymer fiber which was first named PRD-49-IV was later trademarked and sold as Kevlar® 29. This material was of immediate interest to the US military. For at the time of its production it was 2.5 times as strong as any other textile fiber, and its performance was 60-100% better than ballistic nylon on a weight basis. Little time was wasted in replacing the nylon and fiberglass flak jackets with more protective and lighter Kevlar vests. And, taking a page from the Hayes-Stewart, Kevlar-laminate helmets — stiffened with about 20% by weight of a polymeric (PVB-phenolic) resin — were developed. Both the vests and the helmets were introduced as the PASGT program, and were issued to the troops in 1983. Some U.S. soldiers wore PASGT helmets in Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury) in 1983, Panama (Operation Just Cause) in 1989, and in the Middle East (Desert Shield/Desert Storm) in 1990-1991.


The PASGT, though not officially rated to stop handgun rounds, was also demonstrably capable of stopping 9mm FMJ service ammunition at typical muzzle velocities.

All of this is tempered somewhat by the fact that the PASGT helmet is markedly heavier than the M1. A size XL PASGT weighs 4.2 pounds; a size XL M1 weighs 2.85 pounds. (The M1 was only offered in one size, which corresponds to an XL in dimensions and coverage.) Were the M1 made 47% heavier, thicker, out of a more modern steel alloy, it stands to reason that its protective capabilities could have kept pace, at a much lower cost and with superior performance against small-arms projectiles. Indeed, we know that this is the case, for a modernized steel helmet — the Adept NovaSteel — is simultaneously lighter than the PASGT and performs better against both fragments and handgun rounds. It is frankly surprising that something along such lines was never attempted or, seemingly, considered. As things stand, it could be argued, and very convincingly, that the introduction of the Kevlar helmet was a mistake.

And that’s without taking into consideration the fact that the PASGT was perhaps an order of magnitude more expensive than the M1, which cost the military $3.03/unit in the early 1950s. ($1.05 for the manganese steel shell, $1.98 for the liner.)

While ballistic protection provided by helmets has increased significantly since WWI, blast protection has not.

The heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile became the Hellfire

Saturday, May 20th, 2023

In 1974 the US Army needed a “tank buster” missile for its helicopters. This heliborne laser, fire-and-forget missile became the AGM-114 Hellfire.

It’s still a force in being

Saturday, May 20th, 2023

One of the “mysteries” of the Ukraine war has been the ineffectiveness of Russia’s air force:

Despite superior numbers and technology, Russian pilots have been surprisingly timid in pressing their attacks.

One reason for that is the effectiveness of Ukrainian ground-based air defenses, but the recent leak of secret US intelligence assessments has confirmed what some have suspected for a while: Ukraine is running out of anti-aircraft weapons.

Which raises the question: If Ukrainian air defenses fade, will the Russian Air Force — known as the VKS — finally become a decisive factor in the war?

“As a force, the VKS is still intact,” Dara Massicot, an expert on the Russian military at the RAND Corporation think tank, warned during an April episode of the Geopolitics Decanted podcast. “Yes, they’ve lost squadrons of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, but all in all that’s a single-digit percentage of the total force. It’s still a force in being.”


More importantly, Russian pilots encountered an effective Ukrainian integrated air-defense network composed of a patchwork of systems. It combined early-warning radars, manned interceptors, and Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, such as the long-range S-300 and the short-range, man-portable Igla. These were quickly supplemented by Western weapons such as the man-portable US Stinger, British Starstreak, and, more recently, German Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.

Given a choice, most air forces would perform deep strikes behind enemy lines rather than dangerous close-air-support missions, for which heavily armored ground-attack aircraft such as Russia’s Su-25 or the US’s A-10 are best suited. But as Russia’s ground invasion faltered in the early days of the war, the VKS was tasked with providing close air support to help the army.

“Then you saw them getting chewed up in various Stinger envelopes, various SAM envelopes,” Massicot said. “Ever since that, the VKS has been essentially used very conservatively.”


If Ukrainian SAM coverage at medium altitude does ebb, Bronk expects Russian aircraft to become much more active, but they may still struggle to provide close air support.

These missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc

Friday, May 19th, 2023

Simplicius breaks down Russia’s recent Patriot attack:

Russia was said to have conducted a layered, multi-vectored attack which came from various sides including north, east, and south, which included both Geran drones as screening cover, Kalibr missiles, Kh-101s, and finally the Kinzhals. The attack also likely included other cheaper types of drones as decoys to saturate the air defense, and in fact Kiev does attest to that, as in their official ‘shoot down’ graphic they include several drones they comically ID’d as Orlan ‘Supercum’ which was later changed to ‘Supercam’.

First, let’s break down how such an attack happens. Most logically, the cheaper decoy drones are sent in first to see if they can bait out any of the air defense into opening up on them. Kiev would try to use only its less important SHORAD (Short Range AD) systems against them, such as German Gepards and any Tunguskas/Shilkas and such that they might have.

Next would come the cruise missiles in order to bait out the true high value AD that may have held back with the first wave, and which Ukraine’s SHORAD systems may be useless against.


It should be stated that there are certain positions Russia already knows are likely, and are prefigured into their search matrices. For instance, Mim-104 Patriot system is an extremely complex and large system, you can’t just set it up anywhere, like in the middle of an apartment building courtyard or something like that. These systems not only require a lot of room but also, since they are much less mobile than drivable units like Gepards and such, they are preferably situated somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of civilian ‘eyes’ in the area, so that no one films or rats them out, whether accidentally or not.

This leaves only a few real, solid choices where you can put such a system. And they are almost always put in airports, as an example. It comes as no surprise then that during the attacks on 5/16, word now has it that two of the Patriots were located at Zhuliany airport in Kiev and one at or near the Zoo…

The launch angle of Patriot rockets is fixed at 38° above horizontal. Many other missile systems fire straight up.

This brings up the next issue: a lot of the Patriot missiles appeared to fail. These fallen pieces are not ‘discarded rocket stages’ or anything like that, but the actual missile heads themselves. In fact, we have photo proof that several of them “failed” mid-flight and did the famous ‘Patriot maneuver’ caught long ago in Saudi Arabia:

The Russians’ infamous hypersonic missile is the Kinzhal:

If we take its alleged Mach 10 value, a Mig-31K / Tu-22M3, flying approximately 100-150km north of Kiev over the Russian border, could fire the Kinzhal and it would take a mere 90 seconds or so to arrive in Kiev.

This means that, using the above methods of monitoring, tracking, and observation, once the Russian MOD homes in on a Patriot battery / radar location, it can transfer the coordinates to the Mig-31Ks already in the air, and the Patriots would only have 90 seconds, which is no where near enough time for them to move or do anything to really save themselves.


The other important thing to note is that no one actually knows how fast the Kinzhal or any hypersonic weapons system goes at the point of terminal impact, however it is almost certainly not hypersonic at that point. Yes, you heard that right: no hypersonic weapon on earth actually impacts the target at hypersonic speed.

No where is it actually stated it hits the target at hypersonic speed; this is merely a misleading assumption that people make. In fact, the official description for most hypersonic vehicles like the Kinzhal is that it hits hypersonic velocity at burnout speed. Burnout speed typically means when its engines finish firing during the peak of its ‘ballistic arc’.

People wrongly assume that the point of a hypersonic missile is “to hit the target at a hypersonic speed”. That’s actually not the main advantage. The real point of a hypersonic vehicle is to get to the target as fast as possible, and faster than any other conventional munition, which gives your enemy very little chance to react, such as trying to scramble or hide underground, etc.

The fact is, no manmade object can travel at hypersonic speeds at ground atmospheric levels. The atmosphere is way too thick and any object going such a speed would quickly heat up to astronomical levels and then vaporize. How do space rockets hit hypersonic speeds then, you ask? They accelerate very slow and don’t actually cross the hypersonic threshold until they’re basically already in space.

Most missile types like ballistic missiles and even air to air missiles fired by jets actually shoot up to a very high altitude for most of their cruise, and then come down only as they’re nearing the target. The point is to fly where the atmosphere and air resistance is much thinner to get maximum fuel mileage and acceleration/speed. Cruise missiles are an exception as the exigencies of needing to be ‘below the radar’ require most of them to fly very low.


The second most important thing is that hypersonic vehicles, as noted above, generate a plasma shield around them. This has been by far the biggest reason behind the ‘difficulty’ of creating hypersonic weapons. To accelerate something hypersonically, especially with a basic rocket motor, is easy enough. The problem is then communicating with the object. The plasma shield completely negates all electromagnetic waves, making the object completely impermeable to waves which means you can’t send it any signals to ‘guide’ it to a target.


No one knows which method Russia settled on and uses for the Kinzhal, it’s all classified. However, the likely fact is that the Kinzhal, as well as the Iskander, simply are no longer hypersonic by the time they reach the target, which allows radio signals to give them mid-course correction to the target. The reason is, once they accelerate to their hypersonic ‘burnout speed’ at the top of the ballistic arc, everything after that begins to bleed speed. No one actually knows for certain, but it is likely that by the time of target impact they may be going somewhere in the range of Mach 3-5.

This is still very fast, but keeps them from the ‘plasma field’ problem. How do we know this? Well, there are some videos of Iskander impacts, and while Iskander is said to top out at Mach 6-7 at burnout speed, its impacts do not look hypersonic, though they do look much faster than any other conventional missile types.


Because clearly, if it’s no longer being propelled by thrust, and is merely a ‘glider’ after the zenith of its ballistic arc, then the hypersonic speed it reaches from that point on will be slowly bled little by little. This is likely naturally timed such that the missile is no longer creating a plasma shield or disintegrating itself, such that it’s still going faster than anything else, but can receive course-correction data. This is why my best guess is these missiles actually impact at something like Mach 2-5 at the most.

Also, note that during the May 16 attack, on the night camera footage there was no “glowing objects” descending in the sky. If a Kinzhal was actually traveling Mach 5-7+ when it hit those Patriots, it would have streaked down like a meteor, glowing and throwing plasma.


But there’s one other important aspect not yet mentioned. A plasma bubble absorbs all electromagnetic signals, making the vehicle impervious to them. Guess what that means? That’s right—a hypersonic vehicle is essentially ‘stealth’ and cannot be detected by radar. The radar waves are simply absorbed and ionized by the plasma bubble, and in fact there have been many long years of stealth research in this field.

So the point is that, apropos the argument of whether the Patriot can intercept the Kinzhal or even the Iskander, the fact is, these missiles are likely completely stealth to the Patriot radar for the majority of their ballistic arc. Once they hit the arc and go into ‘glide mode’ and begin slowing down, they slowly come out of stealth, but the problem is, at that point they are already likely over the target and only 15-30 seconds at most from impact, maybe less, and still going a very fast Mach 4-5 at the beginning of the slow down.

It’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

The Air Force plans to spend $320 million buying 1,500 units of Raytheon’s 204-pound GBU-53/B StormBreaker precision glide bomb:

These relatively small (7” diameter) but sophisticated weapons will be built at a facility in Tucson, Arizona through June of 2027. European missile manufacturer MBDA will contribute the pop-out wings that swing out from the bomb upon launch. The latest order is comparable to past unit costs, equating to $213,000 per bomb.


While it’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name used by Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it still has a whiff of the supernatural thanks to its three-eyed “tri-spectral” seeker, offering the option of laser-guidance, an uncooled infrared seeker and a millimeter-wave radar—all mounted on the same moveable gimbal in the nose.

Those sensors can be used in concert to improve accuracy, or used individually if one sensor type is degraded by counter-measures or the explosive device encounters smoke, fog, or rain (which is why ‘StormBreaker’ is all-weather capable). On average, the bomb lands within a meter of its designated target.

While gliding to its target, the bomb’s sensors also allow it to function as a reconnaissance system, feeding back sensor data to be used in locating additional targets or updating mission plans. It can even be instructed to search for specific enemies, using its infrared system to classify possible targets and send back targeting suggestions for approval or refusal by a human operator. This allows use in a fire-and-forget manner, improving survivability of the launching aircraft.

For a good measure, StormBreaker also uses jam-resistant GPS and inertial guidance, and can receive course-corrections from other aircraft or ground forces via its two-way Link 16 datalink. That could potentially allow re-directing of strikes to avoid collateral damage to civilians, or to hit higher priority targets as they’re detected.

When launched from maximum altitude, the glide bomb can engage moving targets up to 45 miles away, or static ones at 69 miles—allowing use from outside the range of short-range air defenses, and even lower-end medium-range systems. Against closer targets, though, the bomb employs an energy-burning ‘spiral mode’ trajectory to avoid overshooting its target.

The weapon’s 105-pound multi-purpose shaped-charge warhead is said to be effective against targets ranging from main battle tanks to infantry, unfortified buildings, and patrol boats. The bomb’s ability to hit moving targets is meant to make it capable of enforcing a ‘no-drive’ zone (the ground-based equivalent to a No-Fly Zone), forbidding traversal of an area by a warring party’s ground vehicles. It also seems useful for battling navies that rely on numerous smaller boats, like those of North Korea or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Between the warhead’s precision and relatively small size—as compared to unguided or GPS-outfitted bombs often clocking in at 500-, 1,000 and 2,000 pounds—Raytheon has argued that this bomb is ideal for minimizing collateral damage in densely populated areas.

Having all of these options built into one weapon streamlines logistics by removing the need to load multiple weapon types on a warplane in the interest of accounting for various contingencies.


Intriguingly, Raytheon has also suggested adding propulsion—likely a rocket booster—to further extend the weapon’s reach. If that can be done at limited additional cost, the glide bomb might transform into a comparatively cheap missile for picking off air defenses and high-value mobile targets from a moderate standoff distance.

The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000

Wednesday, May 17th, 2023

A lifting body is the opposite of a flying wing; it’s an aircraft or configuration in which the body itself produces lift. Some aircraft with wings also employ bodies that generate lift, like the F-15 Eagle, which produces substantial lift from the wide fuselage between the wings:

A simulated dogfight training took place between two F-15D’s and four A-4N Skyhawks over the skies of the Negev, Israel. The F-15D #957, (nicknamed ‘Markia Shchakim’, 5 killmarks) was used for the conversion of a new pilot in the squadron. Here is the description of the event as described in “Pressure suit”:

“At some point I collided with one of the Skyhawks, at first I didn’t realize it. I felt a big strike, and I thought we passed through the jet stream of one of the other aircraft. Before I could react, I saw the big fire ball created by the explosion of the Skyhawk.

The radio started to deliver calls saying that the Skyhawk pilot has ejected, and I understood that the fireball was the Skyhawk, that exploded, and the pilot was ejected automatically.

There was a tremendous fuel stream going out of my wing, and I understood it was badly damaged. The aircraft flew without control in a strange spiral. I reconnected the electric control to the control surfaces, and slowly gained control of the aircraft until I was straight and level again. It was clear to me that I had to eject. When I gained control I said : “Hey, wait, don’t eject yet!” No warning light was on and the navigation computer worked as usual; (I just needed a warning light in my panel to indicate that I missed a wing…).” My instructor pilot ordered me to eject.

The wing is a fuel tank, and the fuel indicator showed 0.000 so I assumed that the jet stream sucked all the fuel out of the other tanks. However, I remembered that the valves operate only in one direction, so that I might have enough fuel to get to the nearest airfield and land. I worked like a machine, wasn’t scared and didn’t worry. All I knew was as long as the sucker flies, I’m gonna stay inside. I started to decrease the airspeed, but at that point one wing was not enough. So I went into a spin down and to the right. A second before I decided to eject, I pushed the throttle and lit the afterburner. I gained speed and thus got control of the aircraft again.

Next thing I did was lower the arresting hook. A few seconds later I touched the runway at 260 knots, about twice the recommended speed, and called the tower to erect the emergency recovery net. The hook was torn away from the fuselage because of the high speed, but I managed to stop 10 meters before the net. I turned back to shake the hand of my instructor, who had urged me to eject, and then I saw it for the first time – no wing !!!


Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon

Tuesday, May 16th, 2023

In Ukraine, as in previous major conflicts, artillery is the biggest killer, accounting for 80% of casualties, but Ukraine appears to be doing more damage with fewer rounds:

In November NBC quoted US officials estimating Russian expenditure of 20,000 rounds per day against 4,000-7,000 for Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated in February that Russia was firing around four times as many shells as Ukraine. In March, Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted EU insider sources as saying that Russia was firing 40-50,000 rounds per day, compared to 5,000-6,000 for Ukraine, while Estonia (which has supplied shells to Ukraine) estimated that Russia was firing 20,000-60,000 per day compared to 2,000-7,000 from Ukraine.

So Russia is likely firing something between four and nine times as many shells as Ukraine.

And yet, Russia has suffered much higher casualties. To take just one figure, recently leaked Pentagon documents suggest 189,500-223,000 Russians killed or injured compared to 124,500-131,000 Ukrainians or 1.4 to 1.8 to 1.


While Russia has stuck mainly to Soviet doctrine of massed area fires, Ukraine uses artillery fire as a long-range sniper weapon to pick off individual targets. This has been made possible with the widespread use of two innovations: small drones for artillery spotting, coupled with cheap tablet computers running software like Nettle system to direct fire.

Back in 2014, Ukrainian volunteer organization Army-SOS set out to use its technical skill to help the military. They initially helped soldiers fly and support drones, but soon found the biggest problem was using the data gathered by drone operators efficiently. So they developed Kropyva (“Nettle”) proprietary intelligence mapping software, which can run on any Android tablet.

Nettle is supplied as a tactical system compatible with NATO-standard secure communications and is used from divisional command down to individual vehicles. It maps battle lines and targets and calculates artillery fire missions. It is specifically designed to work with drones, receiving data and using it to calculate the adjustment needed. The gunner changes angle and azimuth accordingly, and shells land on target.

Several other Ukraine-developed software packages — GIS Arta, ComBat Vision, and the major Delta battlefield management system – are also used to share data, locating targets and directing fire.

Ukrainian forces use a wide variety of small drones, including several locally-made military-grade types such as the Leleka-100 and Spectator-M for artillery spotting, as well as thousands of DJ consumer quadcopters. The latter has a range of just a few kilometers and a flight endurance of perhaps half an hour, but their low cost means they are expendable and universally available.

In March 2022, Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the office of President Zelensky, told the media that a standard platoon defensive position took normally took 60-90 artillery rounds to destroy, but with drone-guided fire this was reduced to just 9 rounds, and that drones had been supplied to all artillery units. This suggests an improvement of a factor of 7-10, which is roughly what we see in the ratios of artillery shells: casualties above.

Previously, a vehicle, especially in a dug-in, camouflaged position or behind buildings or trees might not be detected until enemy forces were close by. Drone observation changes this, with small drones buzzing overhead spotting everything below in real time – not just vehicles but even individual soldiers. Hiding behind a ridge or hill no longer helps. Given suitable software and communications which Nettle supplies, every potential target can be geolocated precisely, the co-ordinates passed to artillery, and rounds walked on to it.


Increasingly drone-enabled Ukrainian tanks are acting in an indirect fire role, engaging Russian armor beyond normal combat ranges and beyond line of sight. In August 2022, a video posted on social media showed a Ukrainian T-64BV destroying a Russian tank at a claimed range of 6.5 miles, which would make it the longest ever tank vs. tank kill. This required some twenty 125mm projectiles, but the Russian could not fire back to the ‘duel’ was entirely one-sided.


Older, supposedly obsolete weapons are being transformed into effective indirect-fire platforms. Videos show 100mm T-12 Rapira anti-tank guns dating from 1961 in this role, and even a T-12 mounted on an MT-LB tracked vehicles. The 73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifle (from 1962), again originally a direct-fire anti-tank weapon, is being also used for precision indirect fire, as is the AGS-17 Plamya 30mm automatic grenade launcher. In this latter case, there does not seem to be any software, just the drone operator standing next to the gunner directing them, or in some cases the gunner observing the drone feed directly to adjust fire.

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.

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.

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 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.