The flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

U.S. Marine Corps’ new anti-tank rocket is its old anti-tank rocket, the M72 Light Assault Weapon (LAW), upgraded to destroy buildings and bunkers:

Equally significant, the M72 Fire From Enclosure (FFE) is designed to be fired from inside buildings, without the flash revealing Marine positions. [...] “When firing at night, the flash from the M72 FFE’s muzzle and back blast is less than that of an M9 pistol. The ability to fire from an enclosed position combined with reduced noise and flash allows Marines to maintain a covered and concealed position, reducing the enemies’ ability to identify the point of origin.”

The M72 FFE will come in two versions. The M72A8 anti-armor round will feature improved armor penetration. The M72A10 multi-purpose round is designed to destroy buildings and bunkers.

“The M72A10 incorporates an advanced warhead design with a multipurpose explosive and a self-discriminating fuse that operates in either fast- or delay-mode based on target construction,” said Richard Dooley, a Marine Corps project officer. “These advancements enable Marines to engage various targets, such as structures, bunkers and enemy personnel.”

We must be strong there just as we are on earth

Friday, August 21st, 2020

In June 1965, the Directorate of R&D of the Future Weapons Office in Rock Island, Illinois published The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Such as the Moon:

The purpose of this brochure is to stimulate the thinking of weapon people all the way from those who are responsible for the establishment of requirements, through those who are responsible for funding, to the weapon designer himself.

“If space is truly for peace,” it reads, “we must be strong there just as we are on earth.”

It presents early thoughts and then corrected thinking, like this:

Although the widely advertised temperature of from –250° to +250° F. are actualities on the moon, they are the approximate extremes reached on the surface at midday and midnight. (Days and nights are two weeks long.) The surface of the moon is a poor conductor of heat, consequently a little shade during the day and earth light during the night, plus  a reversible white and black umbrella may be sufficient to keep the temperature in the vicinity of the space suit within limits of from –65° to +125 to +160° F. Assuming a direct proportion to the reflecting area, earth light on the moon will be sixteen times greater than moonlight on the earth.

The discussion involves some calculations. A “5 to 95 percentile” man has an unrestricted maximum line of sight of from 1.4 to 1.6 miles on the moon, with its mean radius of 1080 miles:

Any object propelled horizontally from the shoulder of a man six feet tall (shoulder approximately 5 feet above the surface) would impact the surface after an uninterrupted flight of 2.73 times its velocity. For a velocity of 3000 ft/sec the impact point would be 8190 feet or about 2500 meters. [...] Therefore, the maximum range of a projected object at a velocity of 3000 ft/sec is about 320 miles when propelled at an angle of 45 degrees with the lunar surface. Its maximum ordinate is approximately 80 miles above the surface.

Orbital velocity at the moon’s surface is 5,600 feet per second — totally doable.

Pages 10–16 could have come from an early 1980s sci-fi roleplaying game:








The flesh-head bolt cuts more than flesh

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Tod Cutler of Tod’s Workshop shot a medieval crossbow (350-lb draw weight) using three different bolt heads (needle bodkin, flesh head, plate-cutter), against three types of flexible medieval armor (gambeson, aketon, and mail):

(Tod and his friends previously showed that medieval longbow arrows explode on impact with a breastplate.)

Grunts in the Sky

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

I don’t remember Grunts in the Sky from when it was leaked in 2015 or officially released a couple years after that:

Actual underwater combat occurs silently with very little reaction time

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Submarine movies such as Crimson Tide and Hunter Killer use torpedo chase scenes for dramatic effect:

The reality is that a torpedo maneuvering and hunting submarines that are frantically trying to evade is the least likely scenario in a modern submarine attack. As already noted, in a 21st Century torpedo attack, the target will likely never know it’s about to be destroyed. Modern submarine torpedoes have sound silencing built into their design and, unless they use their active sonar modes, they may not be detected until the moment before detonation.

A common event observed in naval exercises is two submarines passing within a few hundred meters of each other, detecting each other at the same time, and racing to get a shot off before the other. The other type of engagement is when one sub detects the other sooner, and often at range, resulting in a first shot, first kill. So, the underwater prolonged dogfights that are such beloved set pieces of modern submarine thrillers are just not the reality. Actual underwater combat occurs silently with very little reaction time to fend off an impending attack.


65cm Wake homing torpedoes, like the Russian 65-76A, are large long-range torpedoes designed to search for a ship’s wake and follow it. 65cm torpedoes have enough fuel to travel in excess of 100 kilometers at 50 knots for just over an hour. This makes evasion a very time-consuming affair, allowing the attack submarine time to evade and re-engage. There are ways to actively defeat a wake homing torpedo, but a salvo of this kind of weapon is a carrier killer.

Sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

I recently started listening to the audiobook version of Sharpe’s Tiger, the first novel of the series that inspired the show starring Sean Bean (Boromir), and it’s so comically grim and cynical that I sought out its TV tropes page — which hardly emphasizes what stood out so much to me. 

This first story takes place in India, at the siege of Seringapatam, in 1799, and I was surprised to learn that British sergeants carried halberds regularly until 1792:

Fading as a battlefield weapon, the halberd stayed in military usage as a symbol of a sergeant’s rank. Gervase Markham wrote in 1625 that in England “halberds doe properly belong to the serjeants of companies.” For two centuries, halberds were closely associated with sergeants in European armies. Havildars, the equivalents of sergeants in the Indian companies of the army of the British East India Company, also carried them. Expressions such as “to get a halberd” meant receiving promotion to sergeant. By the late 17th century, if an English sergeant was demoted his dishonor was intensified by the confiscation of his halberd in front of the assembled company or garrison.

Sergeants straightened their formations, set distances between the ranks, or prodded men into line with the halberd. François-Apolline de Guibert wrote of the Prussian Army in 1778, “The sergeants’ halberds are sixteen feet long …. The divisions are closed at the right and left by sergeants; who, when there is occasion, hook their halberds together, and by this means enclose their platoons, so that the soldier cannot make his escape, but is obliged to fight.”

Because they could serve as measuring rods, halberds were useful for surveying the layout of a new camp. In a more macabre function, halberds were used to drag the dead from the ranks during a battle.

British Sergeant with Halberd

Some armies allowed sergeants to strike soldiers with the staffs of their halberds. For more formal punishment, sergeants tied halberds together to form makeshift whipping posts. Often, three were placed together as a tripod, while the prisoner was lashed to the staff of a fourth halberd tied horizontally across two of the other ones. In the British Army in the 18th century, to be “brought to the halberds” meant to get a flogging.

Sergeants of British grenadier and light infantry companies carried fusils instead of halberds. But, in battalion companies, sergeants carried halberds until 1792. In that year, sergeants took up pikes or spontoons.

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics

Friday, March 20th, 2020

After failing to impress the king of Brob­­ding­­nag, Gulliver tries another tack:

In hopes to ingratiate myself further into his majesty’s favour, I told him of “an invention, discovered between three and four hundred years ago, to make a certain powder, into a heap of which, the smallest spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment, although it were as big as a mountain, and make it all fly up in the air together, with a noise and agitation greater than thunder. That a proper quantity of this powder rammed into a hollow tube of brass or iron, according to its bigness, would drive a ball of iron or lead, with such violence and speed, as nothing was able to sustain its force. That the largest balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole ranks of an army at once, but batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down ships, with a thousand men in each, to the bottom of the sea, and when linked together by a chain, would cut through masts and rigging, divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all waste before them. That we often put this powder into large hollow balls of iron, and discharged them by an engine into some city we were besieging, which would rip up the pavements, tear the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side, dashing out the brains of all who came near. That I knew the ingredients very well, which were cheap and common; I understood the manner of compounding them, and could direct his workmen how to make those tubes, of a size proportionable to all other things in his majesty’s kingdom, and the largest need not be above a hundred feet long; twenty or thirty of which tubes, charged with the proper quantity of powder and balls, would batter down the walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute commands.” This I humbly offered to his majesty, as a small tribute of acknowledgment, in turn for so many marks that I had received, of his royal favour and protection.

The king was struck with horror at the description I had given of those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. “He was amazed, how so impotent and grovelling an insect as I” (these were his expressions) “could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner, as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines; whereof,” he said, “some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver. As for himself, he protested, that although few things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy to such a secret; which he commanded me, as I valued any life, never to mention any more.”

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his subjects, should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people! Neither do I say this, with the least intention to detract from the many virtues of that excellent king, whose character, I am sensible, will, on this account, be very much lessened in the opinion of an English reader: but I take this defect among them to have risen from their ignorance, by not having hitherto reduced politics into a science, as the more acute wits of Europe have done. For, I remember very well, in a discourse one day with the king, when I happened to say, “there were several thousand books among us written upon the art of government,” it gave him (directly contrary to my intention) a very mean opinion of our understandings. He professed both to abominate and despise all mystery, refinement, and intrigue, either in a prince or a minister. He could not tell what I meant by secrets of state, where an enemy, or some rival nation, were not in the case. He confined the knowledge of governing within very narrow bounds, to common sense and reason, to justice and lenity, to the speedy determination of civil and criminal causes; with some other obvious topics, which are not worth considering. And he gave it for his opinion, “that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

The learning of this people is very defective, consisting only in morality, history, poetry, and mathematics, wherein they must be allowed to excel. But the last of these is wholly applied to what may be useful in life, to the improvement of agriculture, and all mechanical arts; so that among us, it would be little esteemed. And as to ideas, entities, abstractions, and transcendentals, I could never drive the least conception into their heads.

No law in that country must exceed in words the number of letters in their alphabet, which consists only of two and twenty. But indeed few of them extend even to that length. They are expressed in the most plain and simple terms, wherein those people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation: and to write a comment upon any law, is a capital crime. As to the decision of civil causes, or proceedings against criminals, their precedents are so few, that they have little reason to boast of any extraordinary skill in either.

They have had the art of printing, as well as the Chinese, time out of mind: but their libraries are not very large; for that of the king, which is reckoned the largest, does not amount to above a thousand volumes, placed in a gallery of twelve hundred feet long, whence I had liberty to borrow what books I pleased. The queen’s joiner had contrived in one of Glumdalclitch’s rooms, a kind of wooden machine five-and-twenty feet high, formed like a standing ladder; the steps were each fifty feet long. It was indeed a moveable pair of stairs, the lowest end placed at ten feet distance from the wall of the chamber. The book I had a mind to read, was put up leaning against the wall: I first mounted to the upper step of the ladder, and turning my face towards the book, began at the top of the page, and so walking to the right and left about eight or ten paces, according to the length of the lines, till I had gotten a little below the level of mine eyes, and then descending gradually till I came to the bottom: after which I mounted again, and began the other page in the same manner, and so turned over the leaf, which I could easily do with both my hands, for it was as thick and stiff as a pasteboard, and in the largest folios not above eighteen or twenty feet long.

Their style is clear, masculine, and smooth, but not florid; for they avoid nothing more than multiplying unnecessary words, or using various expressions. I have perused many of their books, especially those in history and morality. Among the rest, I was much diverted with a little old treatise, which always lay in Glumdalclitch’s bed chamber, and belonged to her governess, a grave elderly gentlewoman, who dealt in writings of morality and devotion. The book treats of the weakness of human kind, and is in little esteem, except among the women and the vulgar. However, I was curious to see what an author of that country could say upon such a subject. This writer went through all the usual topics of European moralists, showing “how diminutive, contemptible, and helpless an animal was man in his own nature; how unable to defend himself from inclemencies of the air, or the fury of wild beasts: how much he was excelled by one creature in strength, by another in speed, by a third in foresight, by a fourth in industry.” He added, “that nature was degenerated in these latter declining ages of the world, and could now produce only small abortive births, in comparison of those in ancient times.” He said “it was very reasonable to think, not only that the species of men were originally much larger, but also that there must have been giants in former ages; which, as it is asserted by history and tradition, so it has been confirmed by huge bones and skulls, casually dug up in several parts of the kingdom, far exceeding the common dwindled race of men in our days.” He argued, “that the very laws of nature absolutely required we should have been made, in the beginning of a size more large and robust; not so liable to destruction from every little accident, of a tile falling from a house, or a stone cast from the hand of a boy, or being drowned in a little brook.” From this way of reasoning, the author drew several moral applications, useful in the conduct of life, but needless here to repeat. For my own part, I could not avoid reflecting how universally this talent was spread, of drawing lectures in morality, or indeed rather matter of discontent and repining, from the quarrels we raise with nature. And I believe, upon a strict inquiry, those quarrels might be shown as ill-grounded among us as they are among that people.

As to their military affairs, they boast that the king’s army consists of a hundred and seventy-six thousand foot, and thirty-two thousand horse: if that may be called an army, which is made up of tradesmen in the several cities, and farmers in the country, whose commanders are only the nobility and gentry, without pay or reward. They are indeed perfect enough in their exercises, and under very good discipline, wherein I saw no great merit; for how should it be otherwise, where every farmer is under the command of his own landlord, and every citizen under that of the principal men in his own city, chosen after the manner of Venice, by ballot?

I have often seen the militia of Lorbrulgrud drawn out to exercise, in a great field near the city of twenty miles square. They were in all not above twenty-five thousand foot, and six thousand horse; but it was impossible for me to compute their number, considering the space of ground they took up. A cavalier, mounted on a large steed, might be about ninety feet high. I have seen this whole body of horse, upon a word of command, draw their swords at once, and brandish them in the air. Imagination can figure nothing so grand, so surprising, and so astonishing! it looked as if ten thousand flashes of lightning were darting at the same time from every quarter of the sky.

I was curious to know how this prince, to whose dominions there is no access from any other country, came to think of armies, or to teach his people the practice of military discipline. But I was soon informed, both by conversation and reading their histories; for, in the course of many ages, they have been troubled with the same disease to which the whole race of mankind is subject; the nobility often contending for power, the people for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion. All which, however happily tempered by the laws of that kingdom, have been sometimes violated by each of the three parties, and have more than once occasioned civil wars; the last whereof was happily put an end to by this prince’s grand-father, in a general composition; and the militia, then settled with common consent, has been ever since kept in the strictest duty.

Being able to quick draw is probably the number-one skill in this sport

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

John Jackson is credited with founding the sport of archery dodgeball in 2011:

Also known as combat archery and archery tag, it’s grown to more than 1,300 locations throughout the U.S.

Rules differ state to state, but essentially when a referee blows a whistle, teams rush to a central dividing line, grab as many arrows as possible and attempt to hit their opponents while simultaneously dodging incoming fire. Unlike dodgeball, players can shield themselves behind inflatable obstacles. If players are hit, they’re eliminated and move to their team’s sideline. If they catch an arrow, the shooter is out and a sidelined teammate can return.

“At a distance, you can catch or dodge an arrow, but at close range you’re getting hit,” Mr. Reckner says. “The speed and force is comparable to a dodgeball thrown by an adult who is pretty good at dodgeball.”

The arrows are foam tipped:

Games consist of seven rounds, each of which may have different rules. For example, each team may have a target resembling a domino, with foam circles as dots. If a player shoots a foam circle out of the opposing target, an eliminated player on the shooter’s team can return to play. The round ends when one team has all players eliminated.

“It’s easy to think the most accurate shot wins, but really the game is more about being quick on your feet, being fast with the bow and having solid cardio conditioning,” Mr. Reckner says. The Cincy Aimbots have won a round in as little as 30 seconds, but Mr. Reckner says some last over five minutes. “Getting gassed in the middle of a round makes you an easy target,” he says.

Mr. Reckner started watching YouTube videos of Danish archer Lars Andersen:

To build speed, he lines up five arrows on the ground and attempts to pick up, load and fire all five within 10 seconds. “Being able to quick draw is probably the number-one skill in this sport,” he says. He repeats the drill 10 to 20 times. To build muscle memory, he loads an arrow on the bowstring and draws it back 25 to 50 times as quickly as possible.

Mr. Reckner says being able to hold an extra arrow is very useful—you become vulnerable when you attempt to grab an arrow from the gym floor. To build grip strength, he practices shooting while holding an extra arrow or two in his left hand. He also keeps three grip trainers of varying resistances in his living room. While watching TV, he’ll do three sets of 10 reps with each grip trainer. “I don’t have the biggest hands, so a strong grip helps me hold a bow and extra arrows,” he says.

He rides his Peloton bike four to five days a week, simulating hill climbs to build leg strength. “There is a lot of squatting during the matches, to either hide behind a low barrier or to pick up an arrow from the arena floor,” he says. He isn’t as committed to his strength routine and says he only uses his home gym one to two days a week, performing dead lifts, squats, bench presses and overhead presses.

Three authentic historical WWI infantry combat helmets were acquired for blast testing

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

Helmets on Hybrid III Head in Test SetupAt the start of the Great War, helmets were not standard equipment for any of the Allied or Central Powers, but they were quickly adopted once it become clear that over fifty per cent of fatalities occurred due to shrapnel or artillery shell fragments, often striking the head:

In 1915, France was the first nation in WWI to equip soldiers with steel helmets, utilizing the M15 Adrian helmet, named after the design by General Adrian. Inventor John L. Brodie addressed the British need for head protection in late 1915 with a helmet design aimed at shrapnel protection while focusing on ease of manufactur­ing. Other nations also used the Brodie helmet, including the United States when they joined the war in late 1917. After extensive testing of Allied helmets, the Stahlhelm (translation: steel helmet) was rolled out to German soldiers at the start of 1916.

These helmets were designed to protect against fragments, not the primary blast of the high explosive:

Three authentic historical WWI infantry combat helmets including the original lining, were acquired for blast testing: an M15 (1915 model) Adrian Helmet used by the French Army (denoted FRC), an M1916 Stahlhelm used by the Imperial German Army (denoted GER), and an M1917 Brodie Helmet used by the U.S. Army (based on the M1915 British design and denoted AMR). The M1917 Brodie Helmet was manufactured by the Columbian Enameling and Stamping Company (Terre Haute, IN, USA). The Advanced Combat Helmet, the current combat helmet used by the U.S. Army, was included (size large, denoted ACH) for comparison to current combat helmets. A ‘no helmet’ bare head case was used as a control (denoted BAR).


The dummy head was faced downwards, and the center of the head was aligned with the open end of a cylindrical blast tube (schematic in Fig 3). This orientation and blast exposure simulate an overhead blast scenario, as would have been common in trench warfare due to artillery shells exploding above trenches.


An interesting result from these experiments is the blast protective effect provided by the French Adrian helmet, which had a lower crown pressure than all other helmets, despite being manufactured using similar materials as the Stahlhelm and Brodie Helmet, with a thinner helmet wall (Table 1). This result might stem from the deflector crest along the midline of the helmet (Fig 1a). Specifically added with overhead shrapnel in mind, this feature of the helmet could deflect the shock wave off to the side of the head, rather than allow shockwave impingement onto a more planar surface seen in the other helmets. The crest also provides an added first layer for shock wave reflection before reflecting a second time off the helmet itself. The crown pressure sensor used in the measurements was located under the deflector crest and may have experienced a decreased peak pressure because of this. Further studies are needed to see if surface geometry manipulation or helmet attachments may augment the protective capabilities of helmets against blast exposure.

Peak pressures measured in locations other than the crown of the head were much lower because of measurement at an orientation incident to the blast wave and being partly or completely covered by the helmets. In these locations, the Adrian helmet did not provide the same protective advantage seen at the crown. Pressure attenuation was seemingly determined by the width of the brim and/or coverage of the helmet (Fig 2). At the ear, the small brim and limited coverage of the Adrian helmet resulted in higher pressures than the other helmets (Fig 11d), with a corresponding increased risk in eardrum damage (Fig 12). The ACH, without a brim as seen in the historical helmets, had increased pressures at the eye (Fig 11c) but provided similar protection at the other measurement locations.

While ballistic protection provided by helmets has increased significantly since WWI and saved many lives, the results found here suggest that the ACH did not perform quantitatively or qualitatively better than the historical helmets, and performed worse than the Adrian helmet for overhead primary blast at the crown of the head. On the other hand, while ballistic protection has been an active focus in combat helmets design, protection from primary blast has not been an important design element, and the level of protection from primary blast from all of the helmets tested is large compared with the bare head.

Patriot Games was notable for subverting the moral ambiguity of the antagonists

Saturday, March 7th, 2020

I somehow managed to go this whole time without reading a single Tom Clancy novel — or watching a single movie adaptation, except for The Hunt for Red October — and only just now listened to the audiobook version of Patriot Games, which was originally published in 1987.

I didn’t remember the character of Jack Ryan, from The Hunt for Red October, so I was a bit surprised to find that he was not a Bond- or Bourne-like super-spy, but a history professor with a wife and daughter — and I was a bit concerned for his family’s safety, in those first few pages, since their deaths could explain and justify a book full of righteous vengeance, but they merely witness the inciting incident of the novel, where our former-Marine hero tackles one Irish terrorist, takes his pistol, and kills another. That seemed…out of character for a professor — even a young one who was briefly a Marine lieutenant — and there really isn’t any further explanation.

The book is a product of its time, and it features the first foreign terrorist attack on American soil. These foreign terrorists are vengeful Irish extremists, and they side with local Marxist revolutionaries belonging to The Movement, a Black Panther-like group. The novel is conspicuously progressive on issues of race and sex. Our hero’s best buddy is a top-notch black fighter pilot — pardon, naval aviator — and the evil Irish terrorists disrespect their more-competent black partners, before turning on them.

The technology is mid-1980s, too, with the “newer” spy satellites using CCDs, which give real-time intel, rather than film, which has to be used up and then dropped back down and recovered for processing. Our hero is oddly rattled by seeing low-res video of a special operations assault on a terrorist training camp.

The coolest gun in the world in the 1980s is the Uzi, which makes an appearance. The pistols offered to our hero include a Colt .45 automatic, a Browning Hi-Power, and a .22 target pistol. The Beretta M9, which was adopted in 1985, doesn’t appear. The grizzled Marine Sergeant Major, Breckenridge, teaches our hero to shoot one-handed, purely for accuracy, before introducing him to the two-handed Weaver stance and “rapid fire” shooting, one shot per second. This is all rather quaint to a modern practical shooter.

When I looked the book up on Wikipedia, it raised a point about it that never occurred to me:

Patriot Games was notable for subverting the moral ambiguity of the antagonists in espionage novels by John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Robert Ludlum. According to Marc Cerasini’s essay on the novel, “Clancy’s sensible revulsion toward the terrorists is so strident and intense…that it verges on the physical.” He added that “the author’s understandable disgust toward his villains is ‘bourgeois’, for there is not a shred of sympathy for these Irish ‘patriots’.”

Yes, terribly bourgeois.

Pepper spray isn’t cool

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Pepper spray has many advantages over a gun, Greg Ellifritz notes — permissibility, versatility, accessibility, (reduced) legal and civil jeopardy, (reduced) expense — but its social acceptability may be its greatest strength — and weakness:

One of the reasons for pepper spray’s lack of popularity (in my opinion) is also one of its big benefits. The lack of popularity (at least among gun guys) is that pepper spray isn’t cool. Pepper spray always “feels” like a second-best, cop-out option for chicks that won’t carry guns. And I’ll be honest: pepper spray isn’t cool. It doesn’t look sexy on Instagram, you can’t order a custom one, there are no photos of SOF guys pepper spraying terrorists. Pepper spray just doesn’t have that cool-guy cachet.

But that’s also a huge benefit. Pepper spray flies completely under the radar. Pepper spray is acceptable af. Your mom probably carries some in a leatherette case on her keys. They literally sell pepper spray (Sabre Red, decent spray in cheesy form-factor) in the checkout line at Lowe’s. There’s no license, no waiting period, usually not even a glass counter between you and a can of pepper spray. No one looks at you askance when you say you have some.

Remember I mentioned carrying O.C. spray on the campus where I’m attending my EMT class? There’s a chick in the class with a can on her key chain that is always laid out, openly displayed on her desk. Do you think I have any qualms whatsoever about having a can in my pocket? Do you think anyone would think twice if they actually noticed it?

If you need an even more discrete option that doesn’t look like pepper spray, there are some good ones out there. My buddy Rich Brown really likes the ASP Palm Defender. It’s a cylindrical aluminum key-chain attachment that takes replaceable pepper spray canisters. It just looks like a Kubaton-style key chain attachment. If you didn’t know better you’d never know it was pepper spray. My only beef with this tool is the very limited spray range of about 3?.

You don’t want your first exposure to be on the street

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

In New Jersey recently a shoplifter pepper-sprayed two store security guards who confronted her after she stole some merchandise. Greg Ellifritz has been exposed to pepper spray over 50 times in training and on the street and offers his advice:

I think the first step to consider is retreating. Most small cans of chemical irritant have a very limited range. The small keychain type sprays only shoot about five feet. The larger canisters that cops carry shoot a stream that is 10-15 feet. Excepting the large fire extinguisher-style cans, you would be out of range of any commonly carried chemical spray if you could get at least 20 feet away.

If escape isn’t an option, shielding can work. If the spray doesn’t get in your eyes, you will likely still be able to function at almost full capacity. You might cough a bit, but you won’t be disabled. Cover your eyes with a hand. Alternately you can go into a “horizontal elbow shield” position and tuck your face inside the crook of your elbow for protection. Even holding something like a briefcase or notepad over your face will stop the majority of the spray from getting into your eyes.

If you can’t escape or shield, recognize that you are going to be sprayed. Know in advance how you will react. You can usually continue fighting, but some people panic when they are hit with the spray for the first time. Their panic leads to a freezing response that makes them unlikely to be able to defend themselves. The spray painful. It makes you cough and your eyes burn. But most of you can fight through the pain as long as you know what to expect.

You don’t want your first exposure to be on the street while you are fighting a criminal. It would be a great idea if you had someone spray you in a controlled situation first so that you aren’t shocked by the effects when you have to fight it on the street. If you don’t want to take a full spray to the face, spray some OC onto a gauze pad and wipe the corner of your eye with it. You’ll get a good taste of what the spray feels like and still be able to decontaminate relatively quickly.

Just respect it and respect China

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

When Evan Osnos started studying Mandarin, twenty-five years ago, China’s economy was smaller than Italy’s:

It is now twenty-four times the size it was then, ranking second only to America’s, and the share of Chinese people in extreme poverty has shrunk to less than one per cent. Growth has slowed sharply, but the country still has legions of citizens vying to enter the middle class. It is estimated that a billion Chinese people have yet to board an airplane.


To a degree still difficult for outsiders to absorb, China is preparing to shape the twenty-first century, much as the U.S. shaped the twentieth. Its government is deciding which features of the global status quo to preserve and which to reject, not only in business, culture, and politics but also in such basic values as human rights, free speech, and privacy.


For nearly a century, the U.S. has been the dominant military power in the Pacific, as it has in much of the world. Xi sees this as an unacceptable intrusion. “It is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia,” he has said. To achieve that, China has strengthened its military to the point that Pentagon analysts believe it could defeat U.S. forces in a confrontation along its borders.

The most anticipated moment of the day was the début of a state-of-the-art missile called the Dongfeng-41, which can travel at twenty-five times the speed of sound toward targets more than nine thousand miles away, farther than anything comparable in the American arsenal. Watching the missile roll by, Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a nationalistic state newspaper, tweeted, “No need to fear it. Just respect it and respect China.” Hu, a seasoned provocateur, added a sly jab at the travails of democracy: above a picture of the missile, he wrote that China was just fine forgoing the “good stuff” of electoral democracy on display in “Haiti, Libya, Iraq and Ukraine.”

The gun is mounted on an unstable platform

Friday, January 31st, 2020

In Men, Machines, and Modern Times, Elting E. Morison looks at how we learn to live and work with innovation. He illustrates the three stages of users’ resistance to change — ignoring it, rational rebuttal, and name-calling — first with an example from naval history:

The governing fact in gunfire at sea is that the gun is mounted on an unstable platform, a rolling ship. This constant motion obviously complicates the problem of holding a steady aim. Before 1898 this problem was solved in the following elementary fashion. A gun pointer estimated the range of the target, ordinarily in the nineties about 16oo yards. He then raised the gun barrel to give the gun the elevation to carry the shell to the target at the estimated range. This elevating process was accomplished by turning a small wheel on the gun mount that operated the elevating gears. With the gun thus fixed for range, the gun pointer peered through open sights, not unlike those on a small rifle, and waited until the roll of the ship brought the sights on the target. He then pressed the firing button that discharged the gun. There were by 1898, on some naval guns, telescope sights, which naturally greatly enlarged the image of the target for the gun pointer. But these sights were rarely used by gun pointers. They were lashed securely to the gun barrel, and, recoiling with the barrel, jammed back against the unwary pointer’s eye. Therefore, when used at all, they were used only to take an initial sight for purposes of estimating the range before the gun was fired.

Notice now two things about the process. First of all, the rapidity of fire was controlled by the rolling period of the ship. Pointers had to wait for the one moment in the roll when the sights were brought on the target. Notice also this: there is in every pointer what is called a “firing interval” — that is, the time lag between his impulse to fire the gun and the translation of this impulse into the act of pressing the firing button. A pointer, because of this reaction time, could not wait to fire the gun until the exact moment when the roll of the ship brought the sights onto the target; he had to will to fire a little before, while the sights were off the target. Since the firing interval was an individual matter, varying obviously from man to man, each pointer had to estimate from long practice his own interval and compensate for it accordingly.

These things, together with others we need not here investigate, conspired to make gunfire at sea relatively uncertain and ineffective. The pointer, on a moving platform, estimating range and firing interval, shooting while his sight was off the target, became in a sense an individual artist.

In 1898, many of the uncertainties were removed from the process and the position of the gun pointer radically altered by the introduction of continuous-aim firing. The major change was that which enabled the gun pointer to keep his sight and gun barrel on the target throughout the roll of the ship. This was accomplished by altering the gear ratio in the elevating gear to permit a pointer to compensate for the roll of the vessel by rapidly elevating and depressing the gun. From this change another followed. With the possibility of maintaining the gun always on the target, the desirability of improved sights became immediately apparent. The advantages of the telescope sight as opposed to the open sight were for the first time fully realized. But the existing telescope sight, it will be recalled, moved with the recoil of the gun and jammed back against the eye of the gunner. To correct this, the sight was mounted on a sleeve that permitted the gun barrel to recoil through it without moving the telescope.

These two improvements in elevating gear and sighting eliminated the major uncertainties in gunfire at sea and greatly increased the possibilities of both accurate and rapid fire.

You must take my word for it, since the time allowed is small, that this changed naval gunnery from an art to a science, and that gunnery accuracy in the British and our Navy increased, as one student said, 3000% in six years. This does not mean much except to suggest a great increase in accuracy. The following comparative figures may mean a little more. In 1899 five ships of the North Atlantic Squadron fired five minutes each at a lightship hulk at the conventional range of 1600 yards. After twenty-five minutes of banging away, two hits had been made on the sails of the elderly vessel. Six years later one naval gunner made fifteen hits in one minute at a target 75 by 25 feet at the same range — 1600 yards; half of them hit in a bull’s eye 50 inches square.

Now with the instruments (the gun, elevating gear, and telescope), the method, and the results of continuous-aim firing in mind, let us turn to the subject of major interest: how was the idea, obviously so simple an idea, of continuous-aim firing developed, who introduced it into the United States Navy, and what was its reception?

The idea was the product of the fertile mind of the English officer Admiral Sir Percy Scott. He arrived at it in this way while, in 1898, he was the captain of H.M.S. Scylla. For the previous two or three years he had given much thought independently and almost alone in the British Navy to means of improving gunnery. One rough day, when the ship, at target practice, was pitching and rolling violently, he walked up and down the gun deck watching his gun crews. Because of the heavy weather, they were making very bad scores. Scott noticed, however, that one pointer was appreciably more accurate than the rest. He watched this man with care, and saw, after a time, that he was unconsciously working his elevating gear back and forth in a partially successful effort to compensate for the roll of the vessel. It flashed through Scott’s mind at that moment that here was the sovereign remedy for the problem of inaccurate fire. What one man could do partially and unconsciously perhaps all men could be trained to do consciously and completely.

Acting on this assumption, he did three things. First, in all the guns of the Scylla, he changed the gear ratio in the elevating gear, previously used only to set the gun in fixed position for range, so that a gunner could easily elevate and depress the gun to follow a target throughout the roll. Second, he rerigged his telescopes so that they would not be influenced by the recoil of the gun. Third, he rigged a small target at the mouth of the gun, which was moved up and down by a crank to simulate a moving target. By following this target as it moved and firing at it with a subcaliber rifle rigged in the breech of the gun, time pointer could practice every day. Thus equipped, the ship became a training ground for gunners. Where before the good pointer was an individual artist, pointers now became trained technicians, fairly uniform in their capacity to shoot. The effect was immediately felt. Within a year the Scylla established records that were remarkable.

At this point I should like to stop a minute to notice several things directly related to, and involved in, the process of innovation. To begin with, the personality of the innovator. I wish there were time to say a good deal about Admiral Sir Percy Scott. He was a wonderful man. Three small bits of evidence must here suffice, however. First, he had a certain mechanical ingenuity. Second, his personal life was shot through with frustration and bitterness. There was a divorce and a quarrel with that ambitious officer Lord Charles Beresford, the sounds of which, Scott liked to recall, penetrated to the last outposts of empire. Finally, he possessed, like Swift, a savage indignation directed ordinarily at the inelastic intelligence of all constituted authority, especially the British Admiralty.

There are other points worth mention here. Notice first that Scott was not responsible for the invention of the basic instruments that made the reform in gunnery possible. This reform rested upon the gun itself, which as a rifle had been in existence on ships for at least forty years; the elevating gear, which had been, in the form Scott found it, a part of the rifled gun from the beginning; and the telescope sight, which had been on shipboard at least eight years. Scott’s contribution was to bring these three elements appropriately modified into a combination that made continuous-aim firing possible for the first time. Notice also that he was allowed to bring these elements into combination by accident, by watching the unconscious action of a gun pointer endeavoring through the operation of his elevating gear to correct partially for the roll of his vessel. Scott, as we have seen, had been interested in gunnery; he had thought about ways to increase accuracy by practice and improvement of existing machinery; but able as he was, he had not been able to produce on his own initiative and by his own thinking the essential idea and modify instruments to fit his purpose. Notice here, finally, the intricate interaction of chance, the intellectual climate, and Scott’s mind. Fortune (in this case, the unaware gun pointer) indeed favors the prepared mind but even fortune and the prepared mind need a favorable environment before they can conspire to produce sudden change. No intelligence can proceed very far above the threshold of existing data or the binding combinations of existing data.

In 1900 Percy Scott went out to the China Station as commanding officer of H.M.S. Terrible. In that ship he continued his training methods and his spectacular successes in naval gunnery. On the China Station he met up with an American junior officer, William S. Sims. Sims had little of the mechanical ingenuity of Percy Scott, but the two were drawn together by temperamental similarities that are worth noticing here. Sims had the same intolerance for what is called spit and polish and the same contempt for bureaucratic inertia as his British brother officer. He had for some years been concerned, as had Scott, with what he took to be the inefficiency of his own Navy. Just before he met Scott, for example, he had shipped out to China in the brand new pride of the fleet, the battleship Kentucky. After careful investigation and reflections he had informed his superiors in Washington that she was “not a battleship at all — but a crime against the white race.” The spirit with which he pushed forward his efforts to reform the naval service can best be stated in his own words to a brother officer: “I am perfectly willing that those holding views differing from mine should continue to live, but with every fibre of my being I loathe indirection and shiftiness, and where it occurs in high place, and is used to save face at the expense of the vital interests of our great service (in which silly people place such a child-like trust), I want that man’s blood and I will have it no matter what it costs me personally.”

From Scott in 1900 Sims learned all there was to know about continuous-aim firing. He modified, with the Englishman’s active assistance, the gear on his own ship and tried out the new system. After a few months training, his experimental batteries began making remarkable records at target practice. Sure of the usefulness of his gunnery methods, Sims then turned to the task of educating the Navy at large. In thirteen great official reports he documented the case for continuous-aim firing, supporting his arguments at every turn with a mass of factual data. Over a period of two years, he reiterated three principal points: first, he continually cited the records established by Scott’s ships, the Scylla and the Terrible, and supported these with the accumulating data from his own tests on an American ship; second, he described the mechanisms used and the training procedures instituted by Scott and himself to obtain these records; third, he explained that our own mechanisms were not generally adequate without modification to meet the demands placed on then by continuous-aim firing. Our elevating gear, useful to raise or lower a gun slowly to fix it in position for the proper range, did not always work easily and rapidly enough to enable a gunner to follow a target with his gun throughout the roll of the ship. Sims also explained that such few telescope sights as there were on board our ships were useless. Their cross wires were so thick or coarse they obscured the target, and the sights had been attached to the gun in such a way that the recoil system of the gun plunged the eyepiece against the eye of the gun pointer.

This was the substance not only of the first but of all the succeeding reports written on the subject of gunnery from the China Station. It will be interesting to see what response these met with in Washington. The response falls roughly into three easily identifiable stages. First stage: At first, there was no response. Sims had directed his comments to the Bureau of Ordnance and the Bureau of Navigation; in both bureaus there was dead silence. The thing — claims and records of continuous-aim firing — was not credible. The reports were simply filed away and forgotten. Some indeed, it was later discovered to Sims’s delight, were half-eaten-away by cockroaches.

Second stage: It is never pleasant for any man’s best work to be left unnoticed by superiors, and it was an unpleasantness that Sims suffered extremely ill. In his later reports, beside the accumulating data he used to clinch his argument, he changed his tone. He used deliberately shocking language because, as he said, “They were furious at my first papers and stowed them away. I therefore made up my mind I would give these later papers such a form that they would be dangerous documents to leave neglected in the files.” To another friend he added, “I want scalps or nothing and if I can’t have ‘em I won’t play.”

Besides altering his tone, he took another step to be sure his views would receive attention. He sent copies of his reports to other officers in the fleet. Aware as a result that Sims’s gunnery claims were being circulated and talked about, the men in Washington were then stirred to action. They responded, notably through the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, who had general charge of the equipment used in gunnery practice, as follows: (1) our equipment was in general as good as the British; (2) since our equipment was as good, the trouble must be with the men, but the gun pointer and the training of gun pointers were the responsibility of the officers on the ships; and most significant (3) continuous-aim firing was impossible. Experiments had revealed that five men at work on the elevating gear of a six-inch gun could not produce the power necessary to compensate for a roll of five degrees in ten seconds. These experiments and calculations demonstrated beyond peradventure or doubt that Scott’s system of gunfire was not possible.

This was the second stage — the attempt to meet Sims’s claims by logical, rational rebuttal. Only one difficulty is discoverable in these arguments; they were wrong at important points. To begin with, while there was little difference between the standard British equipment and the standard American equipment, the instruments on Scott’s two ships, the Scylla and the Terrible, were far better than the standard equipment on our ships. Second, all the men could not be trained in continuous-aim firing until equipment was improved throughout the fleet. Third, the experiments with the elevating gear had been ingeniously contrived at the Washington Navy Yard — on solid ground. It had, therefore, been possible to dispense in the Bureau of Ordnance calculation with Newton’s first law of motion, which naturally operated at sea to assist the gunner in elevating or depressing a gun mounted on a moving ship. Another difficulty was of course that continuous-aim firing was in use on Scott’s and some of our own ships at the time the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance was writing that it was a mathematical impossibility. In every way I find this second stage, the apparent resort to reason, the most entertaining and instructive in our investigation of the responses to innovation.

Third stage: The rational period in the counterpoint between Sims and the Washington men was soon passed. It was followed by the third stage, that of name-calling — the argumentum ad hominem. Sims, of course, by the high temperature he was running and by his calculated over-statement, invited this. He was told in official endorsements on his reports that there were others quite as sincere and loyal as he and far less difficult; he was dismissed as a crackbrained egotist; he was called a deliberate falsifier of evidence.

The rising opposition and the character of the opposition were not calculated to discourage further efforts by Sims. It convinced him that he was being attacked by shifty, dishonest men who were the victims, as he said, of insufferable conceit and ignorance. He made up his mind, therefore, that he was prepared to go to any extent to obtain the “scalps” and the “blood” he was after. Accordingly, he, a lieutenant, took the extraordinary step of writing the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to inform him of the remarkable records of Scott’s ships, of the inadequacy of our own gunnery routines and records, and of the refusal of the Navy Department to act. Roosevelt, who always liked to respond to such appeals when he conveniently could, brought Sims back from China late in 1902 and installed him as Inspector of Target Practice, a post the naval officer held throughout the remaining six years of the Administration. And when he left, after many spirited encounters we cannot here investigate, he was universally acclaimed as “the man who taught us how to shoot.”

The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Both Marine Corps air wings and Navy Tactical Air have glaring capability holes, which could be filled by repurposing Air Force platforms:

The U.S. Navy should acquire B-1s and Marine Corps A-10s.


The Air Force’s number one priority is procuring a fleet of more than 1,700 F-35s and 100 B-21 heavy bombers, which is an enormously expensive goal. The Air Force is also updating its part of the nuclear triad, beginning to develop its sixth-generation air-dominance platforms, recapitalizing elements of the F-15 fleet, procuring the KC-46, re-engining the B-52, and more. To help pay for these priorities, the Air Force has published plans for accelerated retirement of both the B-1 and the B-2 and continues to loudly proclaim its desire to retire the A-10. (Warthog).


It would be difficult for the Marine Corps to imagine a better aircraft than the A-10. The current A-10C configuration provides a partial glass cockpit, a full suite of laser and GPS precision-guided weapons, targeting pods, and tactical data links, as well as a mission-computer capable of continuous upgrades. The A-10 is equally capable in roles such as close air support, strike coordination and reconnaissance, forward air controller airborne, and tactical recovery of aviation personnel. It can execute offensive air support, air reconnaissance, and self-defense anti-air warfare. It could also readily fill the Corps’ light-attack gap due to its legendary ability to dispense and absorb damage and its gun.

For a Marine air-ground task force commander, especially a special purpose or Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) commander, a Marine A-10 has sufficient loiter and slow speed capability to provide both close and stand-off escort to air combat element (ACE) tilt rotor and rotary wing elements while having enough speed to work with Harriers, Hornets, and Lightnings. Such capability would allow ACE assets escorted access into higher threat areas than are currently feasible. For a Marine expeditionary brigade or Marine expeditionary force, A-10s would massively enhance ACE offensive air support, deep air support, and close air support capabilities. With an upgrade to fly Intrepid Tiger II pods, A-10 EW capabilities could even support Marine maneuver non-kinetically.

Though the A-10 is exclusively land based, the expeditionary nature of a Marine air-ground task force in no way precludes its employment. OV-10s were always land based as are F/A-18Ds. Marine EA-6Bs were exclusively land based until their retirement. F/A-18C squadrons remain split between those that support a Navy carrier air wing (CVW) and those that remain land based. The C-130s attached to a MEU ACE remain land based while the MEU is afloat. Having a land-based component to an afloat expeditionary force is the norm for the naval services, not the exception.

Close air support is a classic example. Though the F-35 can provide close air support, the role does not capitalize on the aircraft’s capabilities. An F-35 knocking down air defenses and attacking command-control nodes followed by A-10s executing close air support in the newly lowered threat environment is the definition of a synergistic effect. The Marine A-10s providing close air support in the newly lowered threat zones free F-18s and F-35s to stay forward and shape the battlespace. The combination of aircraft creates and sustains a virtuous circle. The A-10 thus complements and enables the F-35 instead of competing with it.

The A-10 is also an inexpensive aircraft to fly. At $6,118 per hour, the flight hour costs for the A-10 are minuscule compared to any fixed wing aircraft the Marine Corps is currently flying.


With the reintroduction of a B-1 as a maritime patrol bomber, the Navy would reconstitute a capability that was divested after World War II—a capability that takes distributed fires to a logical extreme. In an airborne operations in support of maritime operations fight, B-1Bs could support fast-attack craft/fast inshore attack craft defense with heavy loads of cluster munitions or other precision-guided munitions, as well as function in a strike coordination and reconnaissance role to bring other assets into the fight. In permissive environments, the B-1s heavy precision-guided munitions load would provide a massive anti-surface warfare magazine. In non-permissive environments, a single B-1B can carry 24 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles from a sanctuary halfway around the world.


At the design level, this not only brings symmetry, but overmatches the current heavy asymmetric anti-surface warfare advantages enjoyed by both the Chinese, with their anti-ship cruise missile equipped H-6 series bombers, and the Russians, with their newly modernized anti-ship cruise missile carrying TU-22M Backfires. A B-1 can also bring all its anti-ship cruise missile back if they are not expended, something that is not guaranteed with a carrier air wing strike.

B-1Bs also bring an aerial mining capability far beyond the current fleet capabilities with both gravity and extended range versions of the Quickstrike series mines. The extended range Quickstrikes mate the mine with a winged joint direct-attack munition kit, meaning the B-1 can sow denser minefields that are faster than anything in the current inventory, while remaining at standoff ranges. En route to a strike, a Bone could provide theater intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance support to a maritime operations center or over the horizon targeting for surface action groups, enhancing their survivability and lethality. With its heavy weapons load it could also free carrier air wing assets for other missions or reduce the numbers of carrier air wing assets needed for a strike, increasing carrier flexibility. B-1Bs already provide close air support to the Joint Force and could continue to do so while providing outstanding armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and forward air controller airborne capabilities in support of troops on the ground—plus the heavy conventional bombing capability that the Navy has never possessed.

Upgrades could unlock even more potential with anti-submarine warfare on the table, as B-1Bs could be modified to carry the HAAWC air-launched torpedo, creating synergy between hunter P-8s and heavily armed killer B-1s. It could be modified to carry the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM ER) and its developmental cousin the Stand-in Attack Weapon (SiAW) and team with carrier based Growlers to knock down air defense radars with anti-radiation homing shots.[5] It could serve as an arsenal jet, supporting hitherto unexplored air to air combinations for defensive counter air and offensive counter air missions or be a mothership for a future air launched unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles.

Two of the greatest advantages to Navy acquisition of the B-1B are directly associated with the Air Force’s desires to divest itself of the bomber: its lack of nuclear role and its lack of broadband low observability. The lack of a nuclear role means there is no treaty obligations preventing its retention. The B-1 was intended to be a penetrating nuclear bomber, but the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) removed its nuclear capabilities and made it subject to yearly inspections by Russian observers. Because of the required yearly inspections, the Air Force has fully invested in the infrastructure to support them. The Navy could retain all the existing infrastructure to support New START inspections without paying for them. This precludes costly spending to build new hangars or other base infrastructure.

The lack of low observability capabilities is also highly advantageous to the Navy. Though overland penetration demands the highest levels of survivability, the open ocean provides a wholly different threat environment, especially when coupled with standoff weapons. Additionally, because the B-21 will need extensive, specialized hangarage to support its maintenance, the existing B-1 infrastructure will not suffice, even if the B-1 is retired. Since the Air Force will not be able to use those hangars, signing them over to the Navy will function create infrastructural savings, freeing up budget dollars for B-21 infrastructure. A true win-win situation.

B-1Bs cost $49,144 per flight hour, a little more than flying a section of F-35Cs or a division of F/A-18Fs but with intercontinental range and 75,000 pounds of munitions.