What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

Monday, January 20th, 2020

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

(Hat tip to Alistair, who led me down the Shadiversity rabbit hole.)

This “shadow ban” is very real

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

While sharing his best writing from 2019, Greg Ellifritz also provides a little “behind the scenes” look at his numbers:

Only about 23% of my visitors come to the site directly or read my posts via email updates. The vast majority (76%) of my readers arrive at my site from either a social media link or a search engine.

The social media giants are notoriously anti-gun. The largest search engines are regularly directing searches away from websites with lots of firearms or self-defense related content. This “shadow ban” is very real.

My website pageviews peaked in the year 2016. In that year, I had 5,120,608 page views. Coincidentally, that was the year that search engines and social media sites began their effort to “de-platform” content they don’t like. My site is filled with content that the large social media giants hate.

I went from over five million pageviews in 2016 down to 2,981,315 pageviews in 2017 despite releasing more and better content. Since 2017, my page views have continued to plummet. In 2019 I had 2,347,144 pageviews.

I intentionally created 22% more content in 2019, hoping the additional articles would boost my readership. It didn’t matter. Page views continue to slowly decrease year after year. Despite writing more than 50,000 more words (half a fictional novel) in 2019 as compared to 2018, I lost half a million readers.

That place is like Africa Light

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Greg Ellifritz just got back from Africa, where not quite everything went to plan:

Before leaving the airport, I tried three different ATMs to get local currency. All three rejected my card. My ATM card wouldn’t work at all in South Africa. That’s the first country I’ve been to (besides Cuba) where my ATM card didn’t work. That made life challenging, but I was smart enough to bring an emergency stash of American cash that I was able to exchange in a dodgy black market currency transaction (arranged by a taxi driver) for some local South African Rand.

I can understand why some folks don’t like traveling.

He booked a room in a guest house on a farm outside of Jo-burg:

Outside, there was an eight foot cement wall topped with an additional four feet of electric fence surrounding the entire property. It’s was crazy to see that every rural house was a completely walled estate. The South Africans really like barbed wire and electric fences. Almost every house was enclosed by a wall with an electrified fence.

[...]

On my third day, I hired a private tour guide (recommended by the owner of my guesthouse) to give me a tour of some of the grittier parts of Jo-burg. That was an education just as potent as the Apartheid museum.

There are entire parts of the city classified as “no-go” zones. If you don’t live there, you are not welcome. There are constant protests, roadblocks and tires burning in the streets of some neighborhoods. The downtown area of Jo-burg is a wasteland. Most of the skyscrapers are empty as large corporations have fled to the safer suburbs. Many buildings have no utilities, but were nonetheless inhabited by squatters.

I’ve never seen so many homeless people in one place. There were thousands of homeless people squatting in dozens of buildings without any electricity or running water. People defecated openly by the side of the road. There were huge trash drum fires and lots of people aimlessly hanging out in the streets.

While driving through the downtown area, we had to keep changing routes due to large amounts of rubble placed in the roadway as a roadblock during recent protests. I’ve been a lot of places. Downtown Jo-burg looked more apocalyptic than any other location I’ve visited and gave me an idea of what things would look like if our power grid fails. It wasn’t a happy thought.

Following the tour of downtown, we drove into some of the “townships” or slum areas. The most famous Jo-berg township is SOWETO (South Western Township) where Nelson Mandela lived. The townships had lots of ramshackle buildings, but the people seemed much more organized than the squatters living downtown. People were poor, but worked, had families and a purpose for existence. The townships I visited didn’t seem dangerous at all. The townships were kind of like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro without all the open air drug sales.

Ellifritz is a cop, and he carefully notes how gun laws and law enforcement work in other countries:

My tour guide was a former soldier, a gun owner, and an avid shooter. He explained that residents of South Africa could own a handgun and two hunting rifles with the proper permits. He owned a Glock 17 that he bought for 7000 Rand (about $500 US). Concealed carry was theoretically possible, but my guide didn’t know anyone who actually had the necessary permits to carry legally.

The cops in Jo-berg wore external plate body armor and often carried long guns (R-4 or R-5 rifles that are South African Galil variants). I only saw two cops armed with handguns. Both carried Beretta 92s. One was carried in a cheap nylon IWB holster that placed the gun so deeply in the beltline, that the grip was barely visible. The other carried his Beretta in a 1990s vintage Uncle Mikes “twist draw” retention holster on a duty belt with a big can of pepper spray.

I didn’t see any support gear like handcuffs or batons carried by the local cops. That fact might be a useful fact for you travelers to notice. When the cops aren’t carrying handcuffs, they clearly expect criminals to either submit to arrest without incident or be shot. No half measures.

No thanks. I’m good. I prefer to stay far away from cops who don’t train and carry less lethal weapons.

After Kruger, they made their way to the Karongwe Wildlife Reserve:

The monkeys in camp were an absolute menace. A group of about 20 raided our camp and began grabbing people. As I was trying to clear them off a neighbor’s porch, they tried an ambush attack.

I actually had a Mexican standoff with a growling monkey as I had my OC spray ready to hose him down. He kept growling and advancing. As soon as I pointed the OC canister at him, he stopped, stared at me for a few seconds, and then walked away.

He righteously should have gotten some spicy treats, but I didn’t want to forever be known as the dude who pepper sprays monkeys. The vervet monkeys are such a problem in some parks, that the government employs people armed with paintball guns and slingshots to keep them away from tourists.

At Karongwe they were also able to take a hike in the bush:

Since all of the “Big Five” most dangerous African game animals live on the property, we had to be accompanied by a guide and a “gun bearer.”

The gun bearer walked up to our group. He had a beat-to-shit CZ .458 Win Mag bolt gun. There was absolutely no finish left on the barrel. The wood stock looked like some small varmint had chewed on it.

The rifle was unloaded. The bolt wasn’t in the gun. The gun bearer was carrying the bolt stuck behind this belt in the appendix position. He was wearing a leather loop cartridge holder full of 10 rifle rounds at the four o’clock position behind his hip.

I thought: “Wow, they are actually sending us out into the bush with our ‘protection’ carrying a disassembled and unloaded rifle. What could possibly go wrong?”

We walked about 100 meters away from the camp and the gun bearer installed the rifle bolt and loaded it with five rounds. He took the rounds from the most forward cartridge loops, thereby guaranteeing that he would have to reach far behind his back to access the remaining cartridges should he have to reload in a hurry. Brilliant.

The gun bearer made an elaborate show of loading each round into the magazine. He then pushed the cartridges down with his thumb and moved the bolt forward. Once the bolt was over the top of the cartridges in the magazine, he closed and locked the bolt with a flourish, stating “Now we are ready.”

I normally shut my mouth in the evidence of such stupidity, but I couldn’t hold back.

“There’s no round in the chamber. You aren’t ‘ready.’ The gun is in a better condition to fire now as compared to when you brought it out unloaded, but you are far from ‘ready’.“

He kind of looked at me sheepishly. I continued:

“Don’t worry. When the lion attacks you while you are trying to get the gun in play, I’ll be there. I know how to run that bolt. I’ll pick up your rifle off the ground, chamber a round and shoot the lion off your corpse.

It’s great having a plan. Now we’re ‘ready.’”

Neither he nor the guide really had too much to say after that.

Absolutely frightening muzzle discipline displayed during the whole hike. When the guide talked, the gun bearer stood with the rifle butt placed on his boot, leaning forward with both hands covering his muzzle. He was essentially using the muzzle of a loaded .458 Win Mag as a hand rest.

Then they went to Zimbabwe:

A passenger on the flight from South Africa to Zimbabwe said the following as we were disembarking and walking into the sweltering airport:

“We aren’t in South Africa anymore. That place is like ‘Africa Light.’ Now we are in the real deal.”

That’s a quality analysis.

California’s mandated background checks had no impact on gun deaths

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

A joint study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of California at Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found that California’s mandated background checks had no impact on gun deaths:

In 1991, California simultaneously imposed comprehensive background checks for firearm sales and prohibited gun sales (and gun possession) to people convicted of misdemeanor violent crimes. The legislation mandated that all gun sales, including private transactions, would have to go through a California-licensed Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. Shotguns and rifles, like handguns, became subject to a 15-day waiting period to make certain all gun purchasers had undergone a thorough background check.

It was the most expansive state gun control legislation in America, affecting an estimated one million gun buyers in the first year alone. Though costly and cumbersome, politicians and law enforcement agreed the law was worth it.

The legislation would “keep more guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn’t have them,” said then-Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

“I think the new laws are going to help counter the violence,” said LAPD spokesman William D. Booth.

More than a quarter of a century later, researchers at Johns Hopkins and UC Davis dug into the results of the sweeping legislation. Researchers compared yearly gun suicide and homicide rates over the 10 years following implementation of California’s law with 32 control states that did not have such laws.

They found “no change in the rates of either cause of death from firearms through 2000.”

Serving Him in the Real World

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

I was not expecting to stumble across an Atlantic video-profile on John Correia and Active Self Protection:

“If you can’t be safe, be dangerous.”

Assegai is more savage sounding

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

One of the odder decisions Robert Graves made in translating ancient terms into modern English was his decision to call the German spear an assegai:

It has been difficult at times to find suitable renderings for military, legal and other technical terms. To give a single instance, there is the word “assegai”. Aircraftman T.E. Shaw (whom I take this opportunity of thanking for his careful reading of these proofs) questions my use of “assegai” as an equivalent of the German framea or pfreim. He suggests “javelin”. But I have not adopted the suggestion, as I have gratefully adopted others of his, because I need “javelin” for pilum, the regular missile weapon of the disciplined Roman infantryman; and “assegai” is more savage sounding. “Assegai” has had a three-hundred year currency in English and acquired new vigour in the nineteenth century because of the Zulu wars. The long-shafted iron-headed framea was used, according to Tacitus, both as a missile and as a stabbing weapon. So was the assegai of the Ama-Zulu warriors, with whom the Germans of Claudius’s day had culturally much in common. If Tacitus’s statements, first as to the handiness of the framea at close quarters, and then as to its unmanageability among trees, are to be reconciled, the Germans probably did what the Zulus did — they broke off the end of the framea‘s long shaft when hand-to-hand fighting started. But it seldom came to that, for the Germans always preferred strike-and-run tactics when engaged with the better-armed Roman infantryman.

When I rewatched Zulu Dawn a few years ago, I did a little digging and realized that assegai isn’t a Zulu word at all:

Assegai is a Berber word for spear, which somehow became the English word for any African spear.  Shaka’s innovative short-hafted spear with a sword-like blade, designed for close combat, was dubbed the iklwa — a grisly bit of onomatopoeia for the sound it made when pulled from a victim.

That’s a goofy sounding scheme

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

Jerry Pournelle closes There Will Be War Volume II with a discussion of the strategic dilemma facing the United States, where any defensive measure reduces the stability of Mutual Assured Destruction:

Civil Defense structures were originally planned as part of the Interstate Highway System. There were to be fallout and partial blast shelters under most of the approach ramps. This would have been easy to do as part of the construction, and a few model shelters were actually built as a demonstration.

[...]

The Triad is composed of manned bombers, submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Prior to the ICBM leg we had Snark, an air-breathing pilotless aircraft capable of flying intercontinental distances—an early “cruise missile.”

Each leg, then, depends on a different mechanism for survival. The manned bomber is very soft; it can be killed on the ground by nukes landing a long way off. It depends for early survival on warning: unlike the other two legs of the Triad, the manned bombers can be launched at an early stage of alert and still be recalled.

[...]

(I helped work on updates to the B-52 as my first aerospace job.)

[...]

One USAF colonel recently described a B-52 as “a mass of parts flying in loose formation.”

[...]

Even if the bombers can penetrate, they’re not useful for fighting a nuclear war. You can’t send the bombers to attack Soviet missile bases; there’d be nothing to hit but empty holes by the time a subsonic bomber got to the target.

[...]

Cruise missiles can be an excellent supplement to the strategic force, but they are certainly not a potential leg of the Triad. They are vulnerable to everything that kills airplanes (on the ground or in the air) without the recall advantages of manned aircraft.

The second leg of the Triad is the submarine. Its survival depends entirely on concealment. If you can locate a submarine to within a few miles, it can be killed by an ICBM carrying an H-bomb.

[...]

Note, by the way, that all the subs in harbor — up to a third of them, sometimes more — are dead the day the war starts.

[...]

Unfortunately, the submarine’s concealment isn’t what it used to be. Subs can be located in at least two ways. First, by tracking them from their bases; every submariner can tell you stories about playing tag with the Russkis when they leave Holy Loch.

Worse, though, the oceans aren’t nearly so opaque as we thought. Not long ago we took a look at some radar pictures made from a satellite. “Look at that,” one of the engineers said. “You can see stuff down in the ocean! Deep in the ocean.” And sure enough, using “synthetic aperture” radars, the oceans have become somewhat transparent down to about fifty meters. While the subs can go deeper than that, they can’t launch from deeper than that.

[...]

Incidentally, as I write this, a Soviet naval surveillance satellite is about to fall. It carried a 100 kilowatt nuclear power plant. The United States has yet to put a ten kilowatt satellite into orbit.

[...]

Submarines have to launch their missiles from unpredictable places (by definition; imagine what the KGB would pay to find out where our subs would launch from), and this drastically limits their accuracy.

[...]

Suppose one morning the Soviets knock out our Minutemen installations (not too difficult, as we’ll see in a bit) and many of our subs. They still have quite a few birds left. The Red Army is marching into Germany. The hot line chatters, and the message is pretty simple: “You haven’t really been hurt. Most of your cities are in good shape. Cool it, or we launch the rest of our force.”

At that point it would be useful to have something capable of knocking out the rest of their strategic force.

To have that capability, you need land-based missiles. To be exact, you need MX. MX, and only MX, has both the accuracy and the Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVS, and they’re different from multiple warheads; MIRVS can attack targets much farther apart) that might give some counterforce capability.

[...]

If you attack a target with an ICBM, your “single shot probability of kill” (PKSS) depends on three major factors: attacker’s yield, attacker’s accuracy, and hardness of target.

[...]

While there are classified refinements, all the numbers you really need have long since been published in the US Government Printing Office’s “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons”. They’ve even been put on a circular slide rule that the RAND Corporation used to sell for about a dollar in the 60’s.

[...]

The Minutemen Missile lies in a soil that’s officially hardened to 300 PSI. When we put in Minutemen—the last one was installed in the 60’s—it was no bad guess that the Soviets could throw a megaton with a CEP of about a nautical mile. This gave them a PKSS of about .09, and it would take more than 20 warheads to give better than .9 kill probability. That was obviously a stable situation.[...]Going to ten megatons puts the PKSS to about 35%, and it still takes more than five attackers to get a 90% chance of killing one Minuteman; still not a lot to worry about.

Changes in accuracy, on the other hand, are very significant. Cutting the CEP in half (well, to 2700 feet) gives one megaton the same kill probability as ten had for a mile. Cutting CEP to 1000 feet is more drastic yet: now the single shot kill probability of one megaton is above 90%.

If you can get your accuracy to 600 feet CEP, then a 500 kiloton weapon has above 99% kill probability. Now all you need is multiple warheads, and you’re able to knock out more birds than you launched. Clearly this is getting unstable.

In 1964 we figured the Soviets had 6000 foot CEP, and predicted that by 1975 they’d have 600 feet. By 1975 I’d given up my clearances, and I don’t know what they achieved.

[...]

Item: weather satellites; winds over target are predictable, so you can correct for them. Item: lots of polar-orbiting satellites; by studying them, you can map gravitational anomalies. Item: observation satellites; location errors just aren’t significant any more. Item: the Soviets have been buying gyros, precision lathes, etc., as well as computers. They already had the mathematicians.

[...]

Two: in the 60’s we studied lots and lots of mobile basing schemes: road mobile, rail mobile, off-road mobile, canal and barge mobile, ship mobile, etc. We even looked at artificial ponds, and things that crawled around on the bottom of Lake Michigan. There were a lot of people in favor of mobile systems — then. Now, though, there are satellites, and you know, it’s just damned hard to hide something seventy feet long and weighing 190,000 pounds. (Actually, by the time you add the launcher, it’s more like 200 feet and 500,000 pounds.)

[...]

Worse, you can’t harden a mobile system very much. Even a “small” ICBM rocket is a pretty big object. Twenty PSI would probably be more than we could achieve. The kill radius of a 50 megaton weapon against a 20 PSI target is very large: area bombardment becomes attractive.

[...]

And nearly every mobile basing scheme puts nukes out where they have to be protected from terrorists and saboteurs including well-meaning US citizens aroused in protest (and you just know there’ll be plenty of them).

Air-mobile and air-launched were long-term favorites, and I was much for them in the 60’s. The Pentagon’s most recent analysis says we just can’t afford them; it would cost in the order of $150 billion, possibly more.

[...]

In fact, every alternative you’ve ever heard of, and a few you haven’t, were analyzed in great detail back in 1964. I know, because I was editor of the final report. I even invented one scheme myself, Citadel, which would put some birds as well as a national command post under a granite mountain. The problem with that one is that the birds will survive, but if they attack the doors, how does it get out after the attack?

[...]

First try the obvious: harden your birds. In 1964 we called it “Superhard,” 5000 PSI basing. Now 5000 PSI isn’t easy to come by. There are severe engineering problems, and it isn’t cheap. Worse, “Superhard” didn’t buy all that much: at 500 foot CEP’s a megaton has a 95% chance of killing “superhard” targets. (A megaton weapon makes a crater 250 feet deep and over a thousand feet in diameter even in hard rock.) Thus putting MX in 5000 PSI silos separated by miles didn’t seem worth the cost.

[...]

Just about every honest analyst who takes the trouble to work through the numbers comes away muttering “That’s a goofy sounding scheme, but damned if it doesn’t look like it might work…”

[...]

Use the space environment and our lead in high technology to construct missile defenses. They won’t be perfect, but they won’t need to be: the enemy can’t know how good our defenses are. Thus he can’t be sure of the outcome of his strike.

[...]

Whether space research pays for itself fifteen times over, as space enthusiasts say, or only twice over, as its critics say, nearly everyone is agreed that it does pay for itself — which is more than you can say for most other parts of the budget.

If we fail to provide for the common defense, it does no good to promote the general welfare.

No one ever complained about those burns

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

The piston-engined Skyraider was designed during World War II to meet United States Navy requirements for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range, high performance dive/torpedo bomber. The Skyraider wasn’t ready to fight before the end of World War II, but it did see service in Korea and even Vietnam, where it was much appreciated by SOG troops on the ground:

In the northern side of Da Nang, at the joint military/civilian airfield Air Force SPAD pilots who flew the single-wing A-1 Skyraiders received their initial op order for Operation Tailwind. The single engine warplane was loved by American groundpounders and feared by communist troops because of the havoc and death they rained down on enemy troops.

Additionally, through the unique design by Ed Heinemann at Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II, the Skyraider could stay on station over a target longer than any aircraft and it brought bombs, cluster bomb units (CBUs), 2.75 rockets, 20mm cannons and two miniguns to the battlefield.

One of the key reasons this SPAD unit was successful in providing close air support to ground troops was a major tactic used during gun runs: the pilots stayed close to the jungle, thus lowering the old lumbering A-1s profile for enemy gunners, while providing spot on gun runs.

Over the years, several SOG recon and Hatchet Force Green Berets recalled getting showered with shell casings from the A-1 Skyraiders as they flew danger close to the teams they were supporting.

Some later reported receiving burns on the back of their necks from hot shell casings that fell from the war bird and landed on the soldiers’ necks, burning their skin once they lodged in the collar. However, no one ever complained about those burns — burns that were often life saving.

The Americans should have looked up

Friday, December 13th, 2019

In Ghost Fleet, the Chinese “Directorate” — the replacement for the Communist Party — uses a manned space station armed with lasers to take out satellites:

The chemical oxygen iodine laser, or COIL, design had originally been developed by the U.S. Air Force in the late 1970s. It had even been flown on a converted 747 jumbo jet15 so the laser’s ability to shoot down missiles in midair could be tested. But the Americans had ultimately decided that using chemicals in enclosed spaces to power lasers was too dangerous.

[...]

The Directorate saw it differently. Two modules away from the crew, a toxic mix of hydrogen peroxide and potassium hydroxide was being blended with gaseous chlorine and molecular iodine.

[...]

There was no turning back once the chemicals had been mixed and the excited oxygen began to transfer its energy to the weapon. They would have forty-five minutes to act and then the power would be spent.

[...]

For years, military planners had fretted about antisatellite threats from ground-launched missiles, because that was how both the Americans and the Soviets had intended to take down each other’s satellite networks during the Cold War.

More recently, the Directorate had fed this fear by developing its own antisatellite missiles and then alternating between missile tests and arms-control negotiations that went nowhere, keeping the focus on the weapons based below. The Americans should have looked up.

[...]

A quiet hum pervaded the module. No crash of cannon or screams of death. Only the steady purr of a pump signified that the station was now at war.

The first target was WGS-4,16 a U.S. Air Force wideband gapfiller satellite. Shaped like a box with two solar wings, the 3,400-kilogram satellite had entered space in 2012 on top of a Delta 4 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral.

Costing over three hundred million dollars, the satellite offered the U.S. military and its allies 4.875 GHz of instantaneous switchable bandwidth, allowing it to move massive amounts of data. Through it ran the communications for everything from U.S. Air Force satellites to U.S. Navy submarines. It was also a primary node for the U.S. Space Command. The Pentagon had planned to put up a whole constellation of these satellites to make the network less vulnerable to attack, but contractor cost overruns had kept the number down to just six.

The space station’s chemical-powered laser fired a burst of energy that, if it were visible light instead of infrared, would have been a hundred thousand times brighter than the sun. Five hundred and twenty kilometers away, the first burst hit the satellite with a power roughly equivalent to a welding torch’s. It melted a hole in WGS-4’s external atmospheric shielding and then burned into its electronic guts.

Chang watched as Huan clicked open a red pen and made a line on the wall next to him, much like a World War I ace decorating his biplane to mark a kill. The scripted moment had been ordered from below, a key scene for the documentary that would be made of the operation, a triumph that would be watched by billions.

[...]

Originally known as the X-37,17 USA-226 was the U.S. military’s unmanned space plane. About an eighth the size of the old space shuttle, the tiny plane was used by the American government in much the same way the shuttle had been, to carry out various chores and repair jobs in space. It could rendezvous with satellites and refuel them, replace failed solar arrays using a robotic arm, and perform many other satellite-upkeep tasks.

But the Tiangong’s crew, and the rest of the world’s militaries, knew the U.S. military also used USA-226 as a space-going spy plane. It repeatedly flew over the same spots at the same altitude, notably the height typically used by military surveillance satellites: Pakistan for several weeks at a time, then Yemen and Kenya, and, more recently, the Siberian border.

With its primary control communications link via the WGS-4 satellite now lost, the tiny American space plane shifted into autonomous mode, its computers searching in vain for other guidance signals. In this interim period, USA-226’s protocol was to cease acceleration and execute a standard orbit to avoid collisions. In effect, the robotic space plane stopped for its own safety, making it an easy target.

The taikonauts moved on down the list: the U.S. Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness system was next. These were satellites that watched other satellites. The Americans’ communications were now down, but once these satellites were taken out, the United States would be blind in space even if it proved able to bring its networks back online.

After that was the mere five satellites that made up the U.S. military’s Mobile User Objective System, akin to a global cellular phone provider for the military. Five pulses took out the narrowband communications network that linked all the American military’s aerial and maritime platforms, ground vehicles, and dismounted soldiers.

Then came the U.S. Navy’s Ultra High Frequency Follow-On (UFO) system,19 which linked all of its ships.

It was almost anticlimactic, the onboard targeting system moving the taikonauts through the attack’s algorithm step by step, slowing down only when a cluster of satellites sharing a common altitude needed to be dispatched one by one.

The last to be “serviced,” as Huan dryly put it, was a charged-particle detector satellite. The joint NASA and Energy Department system had been launched a few years after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster as a way to detect radiation emissions. A volley of laser fire from Tiangong-3 exploded its fuel source.

[...]

On the other side of the Earth, discarded booster rockets were coming to life after months of dormancy. The boosters turned kamikazes advanced on collision courses with nearby American government and commercial communications and imaging satellites. The American ground controllers helplessly watched the chaos overhead, unable to maneuver their precious assets out of the way.

We carried nothing that made any noise

Friday, November 29th, 2019

In his SOG Chronicles John Stryker Meyer describes the stuff they carried and did not carry across the border into Laos:

“When we went out on patrol the enemy could hear us coming a mile away,” Black said. “The canteens were metal, with a metal chain that attached the black plastic cap to the body of the canteen. The metal canteen sat inside of a metal cup. As we walked that chain would bang on the canteen and the canteen sometimes rattled inside the metal cup. A squad of guys sounded like a Chinese drum line. Our weapon sling swivels would bang on the weapons providing even more noise. Dog tags would rattle as we walked.”

The paratroopers also wore metal helmets with the paratrooper chinstrap, with plastic helmet liners. Many paratroopers smoked and used Zippo lighters, which had a distinct, metallic clicking sound when opened and closed. They also wore jewelry such as silver or gold colored watches and rings, carried entrenching tools and L-shaped flashlights that attached to the upper web gear and often got caught in the brush.

At night, if available, they would drink beer or soda from old tin cans that had to be opened with a can opener, as there were no pull-tabs on drinks at that time.

The infantrymen also carried: sleeping bags, gas masks, bayonets, personal knives, and rubber ponchos that were rolled and folded onto the back of the pistol belt. It provided a cushioned seat for sitting, but also a hiding place for small snakes, leeches, spiders and other jungle insects and creatures

[...]

The early paratroopers also wore their jump boots that Black called “fungus factories.”

[...]

The early paratroopers also wore military issued underwear that caused rashes and infections and socks that caused a foot fungus, a fungus some are still fighting today. It wasn’t until a visit from the Secretary of State, who caught the fungus, that a cream was developed to fight it.

Nearly everyone smoked in those days. Five cigarettes were packed in neat little packs with each C-Ration meal. The smell of American cigarettes in Southeast Asia was unmistakable.

[...]

“We were noisy as hell in the 173rd,” he said. “We used to carry those metal ammo boxes that always banged against the metal canteens. Even taking a drink of water with the metal canteen made a metallic noise that could be heard off in the distance. A lot of us carried a poncho, but often didn’t use it in the field because they were so noisy when you unfolded them. And, once it started to rain, the rain hitting them gave off a different noise that the enemy could hear.

“SOG was just the total, complete opposite. We carried nothing that made any noise. Everything was taped down or tied down.”

[...]

To avoid rashes, infections and fungus, Black and I didn’t wear underwear or socks. All SOG recon men didn’t wear helmets, helmet liners or armored vests of any sort.

Most of us didn’t carry entrenching tools, bayonets, sleeping bags, hammocks, ponchos, ponchos liners or air mattresses because they added weight to our total load.

I weighed my gear on a small scale once at Phu Bai and it weighed approximately 90 pounds.

No one carried an M-16, an M-14 or a 9 mm weapon as his primary weapon.

For all missions we never carried any form of identification: no dog tags, no military ID cards, no letters from home — nothing with any personal information on it. Our uniforms were sterile: no rank, no unit designator, no jump wings, no CIB or South Vietnamese jump wings were displayed. Our green beret remained at FOB 1. We went to extreme measures to insure that our anonymity remained intact to provide deniability  to the U.S. government in the event we were killed or captured.

We cut out the section of a target map to carry to the field, thus only showing the grid in the target area, with no further information about the map or the cartographers who produced them.

Additionally, we never smoked or cooked in the field.

The most important piece of equipment we carried was the CAR-15. The sling for it would vary: sometimes I used a cravat or a canvas strap taped tightly to both ends of the weapon for soundless movements. That was the preferred weapon of choice by everyone on ST Idaho. The only exception was an AK-47 for Son when he ws our point man wearing an NVA uniform, and an M-79 carried by our grenadiers.

[...]

Every American on ST Idaho carried a sawed-off M-79 for additional firepower. We thought of it as our hand-held artillery. During patrol, the Americans would load a special M-79 round with fleshettes or double-ought (00) buckshot for close contact. The sawed-off M-79 would be secured either with a canvas or rope lanyard or a D-ring that was covered with black electrical tape to prevent any metallic banging. During the fall of 1968, I had a one-of-a-kind sawed-off M-79 holster, which I lost when I was unconscious after a rope extraction in Lao.

I would carry at least thirty-four 20-round magazines for the CAR-15 — we only placed 18 rounds in each magazine, which gave me 612 rounds for that weapon, and at least 12 rounds for the M-79. The CAR-15 magazines were placed in ammo pouches or cloth canteen pouches, with the bottoms facing up to prevent debris from getting into the magazine and all of the rounds pointing away from the body. We taped black electrical tape to the bottom of each magazine to make it easier to grab them out of the pouch during firefights.

I also carried 10 to 12 fragmentation grenades, a few of the older M-26, the newer M-33 “baseball” grenades and on or two V-22 minigrenades.

For headgear, I only wore a green cravat, a triangular bandage, on missions. It was light, didn’t get caught on jungle branches, or knocked off my head by prop wash and it broke up the color of my blond hair. As a practical matter, it kept the sweat out of my eyes — hats didn’t do that. I often more camouflage “paint” on my face.

I wore the traditional Army jungle fatigues because they dried quicker while on the ground than the camouflage fatigues available at the time. I had the Phu Bai tailor sew an extra zipped pocket on the upper right and left arm (see cover of book) where I carried pens, notebooks, pen flares, one plastic spoon and my signal mirror. The tailor also sewed zipped pockets between the front top and bottom buttoned pockets, where I’d place maps, morphine syrettes, an extra notebook with any mission specific notes and the URC-10 emergency rado.

On my right wrist I wore a black, self-winding, luminescent Seiko watch, which was so bright at night that I wore it face down on the bottom of my wrist, under my glove. Thus, even in the pitch-black jungle, I knew when to make communication checks with the airborne command aircraft, usually at midnight, or at 2 a.m. In the jungle I always wore black contact gloves for protection against jungle plants, thorns and insects. I cut the thumb, index finger and middle finger off of the right glove down to the first joint, for improved grip. I always wore an extra cravat around my neck.

On my left harness strap, I taped my K-Bar knife, with handle facing down, hand grenades, small smoke canisters and a sterile bandage. On my right harness strap was a strobe light, held in a cloth pouch, hand grenades, a rappelling D-ring, and a smoke grenade.

My preferred web gear was the WW II BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) ammo belt and shoulder straps because five CAR-15 magazines fit snugly into each individual pouch. One puch would be used for M-79 rounds.

A plastic water canteen in a cloth canteen holder would be fit onto the belt, as well as one white phosphorous grenade and my survival axe.

The amount of water available in the AO would determine how many plastic canteens of water I’d carry to the field. One canteen would have a small bottle of water purification pills taped to it. I used those pills for all water outside of camp. The water in our AO’s was often tainted with the defoliant Agent Orange —  we hoped the purification tablets would counteract it.

On the right side of my harness I always carried the Frank & Warren Survival Ax Type II, MIL-S-8642C. I preferred it to the machete because the backside had a nasty sharp hook that cut through jungle vines on the return swing.

I carried my folding compass around my neck, held by green parachute cord.

I used a cravat as a belt, because it was silent.

In my right pocket was the Swiss Army knife, secured by a green parachute cord to a belt loop on my pants.

Because I always wore the bulky gas mask bag on my left side, which held the black M-17 gas mask, I rarely put anything in my upper left pocket.

[...]

In my lower left pant pocket I carried a small and large colored panels to mark our position for Covey and tactical air strikes.

In my lower right pocket were extra pen flares, a dehydrated Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol ration (LRRP, pronounced LURP), bug repellant to squirt on leeches and an extra cravat and sterile bandage.

I always carried the Swiss rope. The 12-foot section of green-colored rope was used for a Swiss seat for extractions by helicopter. We would hook a D-ring through the seat’s rope and onto 150-foot-long pieces of rope that hung from the chopper.

On all missions, I carried the PRC-25, our primary radio contact with the outside world. It took up the most space in my indig rucksack. Most times I had the short, flexible antenna screwed into it, which was folded under my right arm and tucked into my jungle fatigue jacket because the NVA always searched for the radio operator, knowing he was the primary link to U.S. air power. I carried the long antenna, folded in sections, in my rucksack.

Other items included: one can of C-Ration fresh fruit, either peaches or apricots, extra hand grenades, the remainder of my CAR-15 magazines, extra M-79 rounds — including one tear-gas round, an Army long-sleeved sweater, a thin, hooded waist-length plastic rain jacket and toilet paper. Both the sweater and rain jacket would be folded under the PRC-25 to buffer where it hit my back. I also carried an extra PRC-25 battery, an extra URC-10 battery, extra smoke grenades, an extra canteen of water if needed, and extra LRRPs.

On a few occasions, especially when we ran targets in Cambodia, which was flatter and more wide open, I’d carry a claymore mine and a few pre-cut fuses: five-second, 10-second and longer-duration fuses, used to break contact with enemy troops chasing us.

On several occasions I carried .22-caliber High Standard semi-automatic pistol with a silencer for ambushes or to kill enemy tracker dogs.

I also carried cough syrup for Hiep or anyone who coughed at night, cans of black pepper and powdered mace for enemy tracker dogs and a compact toothbrush.

[...]

The emphasis was packing firepower for survival. I preferred to go hungry as to running out of ammo.

[...]

There were at least two missions when ST Idaho was extracted from the target, I was down to my last CAR-15 magazine, M-26 grenade and M-79 round.

Arrows explode on impact

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

A team of experts tests arrows versus armour and finds that a breastplate does the job it was designed to do — well enough to produce spectacular results:

A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility

Friday, October 11th, 2019

American defense experts who come to the island all agree that the Taiwanese military needs cheap, expendable, mass-produced weapons systems to deter a Chinese invasion force, but that’s not what Taiwanese leaders buy:

On June 6, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced a $2.25 billion arms purchase from the United States. package was broken down into two parts: $250 million for a consignment of Stinger missiles, and $2 billion for 108 main battle tanks. The first part of the package fits well enough within a distributed “anti-access” defense posture. The second purchase does not.

Taiwan is a piebald of jungle-covered mountains, muddy rice paddies, and densely populated urban cores—terrain that frustrates tank maneuver. The most likely use for tanks like these would be in formation near beaches for counter-landing operations, where they would be extremely vulnerable to attack from the air. As Chinese commanders would never land an invasion force unless they first secure air superiority, these tanks will never amount to anything more than 108 very expensive sitting ducks.

The purchase fits a longstanding Taiwanese pattern: prioritizing high-prestige platforms over people. The Ministry of National Defense has cut military pensions and failed to pay volunteer soldiers a competitive wage or provide them with necessary benefits, and it doesn’t have enough bullets on hand for conscripts to practice riflery more than a few times in their entire course of duty.

Yet in addition to buying the tanks, President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has promised to find $8 billion—equivalent to 70 percent of Taiwan’s 2019 military budget—to purchase 66 new F-16 fighter jets (even though in the event of a conflict with China most of these would be destroyed by PLA missiles while still on their runways). The Taiwanese navy also regularly promotes plans for an indigenously constructed helicopter carrier and Aegis-style destroyer. Billions have been poured into developing indigenous jet engines and fighters. Most disastrous of all, around one-tenth of the defense budget has been earmarked for the development of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program. According to the wildly optimistic government projections, the very first of these submarines will be seaworthy in 2025. Only a few more could be built before the decade’s close, at an estimated $1 billion per ship.

Taiwanese leaders’ defense priorities make a perverse sort of sense, T. Greer argues:

Taiwanese leaders have a powerful political incentive to raise Taiwan’s stature on the international stage and publicly resist Chinese attempts to cut it away from its allies. Similarly, they are incentivized to show that under their leadership, the Taiwanese military remains a world-class fighting force. Purchasing fancy military equipment makes little strategic sense, but it accomplishes both of these objectives.

In an anonymous interview, one DPP official told me why he believed the purchase of the tanks was so important: “The purchase is a signal that the DPP can lead on defense. It will give the people more confidence that we are not being outclassed by the Chinese. And most important, that Tsai’s good relationship with the Americans is the reason for that.” A senior official interviewed by a Center for Security Policy Studies research team justified Taiwanese requests for F-35 fighter jets, rather than less expensive drones, with similar logic: “You can’t create a hero pilot of a UAV.” The CSPS team concluded that for most of the Taiwanese officials they interviewed, “buying advanced aircraft from the United States was at least as much about assuring the public as it was about improving war-fighting capability.”

This is especially important given Taiwan’s lack of a formal alliance with the United States. For Taiwanese leaders, weapons sales are one of the few metrics available to judge the U.S. commitment to their cause. Taiwanese leaders can trumpet their purchase of American-made weapons systems as something their party has done to raise Taiwan’s international stature. A tank or fighter jet is prized not for its practical utility but its symbolic value.

Nobody needs more than seven rounds for self defense

Friday, September 27th, 2019

The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 restricted the sale of normal-capacity magazines; it only allowed seven rounds of capacity. Older magazines were “grandfathered” in, but you weren’t supposed to load them with more than seven rounds.

Chris Hernandez noted at the time that nobody needs more than seven rounds for self defense:

After all, when you shoot someone even once, they fly through the air and drop dead, just like in the movies.

I arrived on a robbery call one night. A robber had shot a man through the sternum with a 9mm hollow point. He looked dead. I got on the radio and notified dispatch that we had a murder. Thirty seconds later, the victim started moaning and squirming. Less than a minute later he was fully conscious and complained, “This is the fifth time I’ve been shot.”

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. One round is usually fatal. And nobody could possibly still be a threat after being shot more than once.

The same robbers shot another victim that night. One round in the ankle, one in the face and one in the forehead. 9mm hollow points. This victim turned and ran about 500 yards through an apartment complex, pounded on a door to beg for help, and passed out. Last I heard, years after the shooting, he’s still alive.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When you shoot someone, they fall to their knees, pledge their soul to Jesus, gasp dramatically and die.

I answered a disturbance call one night. A teenage girl calmly told me that she had gotten into a fight with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Several minutes into the story she informed me she had been shot through the thigh. I looked down and saw a bullet wound through her leg. She was completely unconcerned about it.

I responded to a burglary in progress. A teenager on PCP picked a random house and started kicking the sun room door in. The homeowner stood by the door with his 9mm pistol, called 911 and warned the teenager he was armed. The teenager kicked the door in. The homeowner shot him in the leg, then retreated into the house. The teenager forced his way into the kitchen. The homeowner shot him in the stomach. When we arrived, we had to wrestle the teenager into handcuffs. Had the teenager been armed, he still could have fired a weapon.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. Seven rounds are more than enough to stop any criminal threatening you. When a criminal gets shot, their body’s entire blood supply sprays onto all the walls and they die within milliseconds.

I answered a call about a man with a gun. When I knocked on an apartment door, a drunk inside pointed a gun at me through a window. I jumped out of the way, drew my weapon and screamed at the drunk to drop the gun. He kept moving the gun, trying to get me in his sights. Another officer in a different spot shot him.

When we got inside the apartment, we found the suspect wide awake, flailing around on the floor. Fortunately a family member had disarmed him. He could still have shot us. The officer had hit him under the left arm. The round went all the way through his upper body and stopped just under the skin below his right arm. Last I heard, years after the shooting, the drunk was still alive.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. When someone is trying to kill you, all you have to do is fire slowly and carefully to make sure you don’t run out. You can even count your rounds as you shoot. It’s easy.

When investigators asked the officer who saved my life how many rounds he fired, he said, “Two or three, I think.” But when they counted rounds in his magazine, it turned out he had fired eight. He had been a cop for over twenty years, and was a survivor of several shootings. Under stress, he lost count of his rounds. Because that’s what happens when you’re shooting to save your life, or to save someone else’s life.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. You can just shoot the bad guy in the head. It’s easy to make a head shot under stress, right? And they’re immediately fatal.

I answered a stabbing call at a nightclub. When I arrived I found two women standing at the open door of a truck, telling the driver, “You’ll be okay.” When I shined my flashlight on the driver, I was stunned; he hadn’t been stabbed, he had been shot in the head with a .38 from close range. About a third of his skull was blown away. And he wasn’t just alive, he was awake. He nodded to the women, wiped his face, did his best to stay calm. When paramedics arrived, the man got out of the truck with minimal assistance. He died hours later.

I arrived on a shooting/riot outside a club. One man was dead in the street, another had been taken to the hospital by private car. As we tried to control the crowd, a severely beaten young man walked up to me and slurred, “Hey man, we need an ambulance.” I answered, “Yeah, we have one on the way.” As I spoke, I noticed a bloody dent on the side of the young man’s head. I thought, Is that a bullet hole? The man collapsed at my feet. A 9mm Black Talon hollow point had bounced off his skull. The wound didn’t put the man down until several minutes after he was shot. He survived.

I assisted on a rollover accident. The driver was an older woman who lost control of her truck. At the emergency room, a CAT scan revealed a bullet in her head. The woman died. Her husband was unconscious. Days later, when the husband awakened, investigators asked who shot his wife. The man answered, “Oh yeah, that. She told me she got shot in the head about ten years ago, before we got married. She never went to the doctor or nothing, though.” An autopsy showed it was an old wound. This woman got shot in the head, and never even bothered to get medical attention.

But nobody needs more than seven rounds. If little bullets don’t work, get a pistol that fires bigger bullets. Nobody could still be a threat after being hit by a big round.

In one of our firefights in Afghanistan, three French Marines were hit by gunfire. One died from a head wound. The other two were hit in the upper body and badly wounded. Those two Marines got back to their feet, kept their weapons ready and made it to safety with help. And they were hit by either 7.62×39 AK-47 rounds or 7.62x54R PKM machine gun rounds. Those are far more powerful than what any typical pistol fires.

These stories are all from my personal experience. Secondhand, I know of a man who was shot in the forehead, sneezed and blew the round out his nose. I know of a gang member who had half his head blown off by an AK round, then told the first responding officer, “They shot me, dog.” I know of a robber who ran into a restaurant with an Uzi and was immediately shot twice by an off-duty officer, then ran to a payphone and called 911 to report he had been shot.

Historically speaking, I know of the suspect in the Miami FBI shootout who sustained a non-survivable wound in the first few seconds of the fight, but still managed to kill two FBI agents and wound several others. I know of a drunk suspect who shot an Arkansas deputy twice, then took seventeen 9mm rounds in the torso without effect before the deputy finally shot him twice in the face. I know of the young Georgia mother who shot a burglar five times in the head and neck. He asked her to stop shooting, cried, and drove away. I know of many Soldiers and Marines who sustained horrible wounds and stayed in the fight.

Superior recon trumps hypersonic missiles

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

If U.S. and Chinese aircraft carriers were to clash, the U.S. Navy would win — according to a Russian expert:

Konstantin Sivkov, a member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences, argues that superior U.S. reconnaissance capabilities would trump China’s advantages in hypersonic missiles.

Sivkov lays out a sort of wargame for an America vs. China carrier clash that seems based on the World War II carrier battles between America and Japan, particularly the Battle of Midway. Those battles tended to be nail-biting, knife-edge affairs where victory or defeat rested on which side first spotted the other side’s carriers, and then dispatched an airstrike against the vulnerable flattops.

“The key role that determines the course and outcome of hostilities at sea in modern conditions is played not so much by the power and quantity of strike weapons, but by the capabilities of the reconnaissance system on an ocean theater of operations,” Sivkov writes in the Russian defense publication Military-Industrial Courier. “Surpassing the enemy in this respect, the U.S. Navy is able to significantly level the superiority of the Chinese in hypersonic anti-ship missiles.”

[...]

The smaller Chinese carriers, about half the size of their U.S. counterparts and carrying about half the aircraft, would depend on submarines, land-based H-6K patrol aircraft and satellite surveillance to locate the American carrier force. In contrast, the U.S. carriers would have their own onboard E-2 Hawkeye airborne radar aircraft and EA-18 electronic warfare planes, as well as AWACS land-based radar aircraft. Sivkov believes that U.S. carrier group defenses would neutralize Chinese submarines and patrol planes, keeping them from fixing the task force’s location, while Chinese satellites would pass overhead too swiftly to maintain continuous contact. Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft and submarines, would find the Chinese force, while the American subs would attrit the Chinese fleet with anti-ship missiles.

[...]

Now comes the crux of the battle. In this scenario, Sivkov estimates that Chinese carrier could only attack with perhaps a half-dozen aircraft, while the rest are retained for defensive combat air patrol. These strike planes will launch anti-ship missiles that might disable or sink a couple of U.S. destroyers on the carrier group’s outer screen. But the U.S. carrier can muster a strike force of 30-plus aircraft, which will destroy some Chinese escorts. To destroy the Chinese carrier, the American flattop would need to launch as second strike.

Meanwhile, four or five Chinese destroyers will try to advance into missile range of the American task force, with each ship firing 16 YJ-18 missiles each, a 6-plus missile salvo that destroy the U.S. carrier. The U.S. will try to advance the carrier escorts to head this off, and use the carrier’s air wing to try and destroy the Chinese surface ship threat.

“Modeling the situation at this stage shows that the Chinese group has a good chance to reach the line of attack with a loss of up to 40 to 50 percent of its potential,” writes Sivkov. “A missile salvo of 30 to 40 YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, taking into account the possible weakening of the American defenses after the previous hostilities, will put the American aircraft carrier out of action with a probability of 20 to 30 percent. The effectiveness of the second strike by U.S. carrier-based fighter jets (about 24 aircraft) against a Chinese aircraft carrier is estimated at 40 to 50 percent.”

Sivkov assumes that at this stage, the Chinese force will withdraw, while the American force will pursue and try to mount one last air strike. “Bottom line: the Chinese aircraft carrier will be severely damaged and disabled, or even sunk, along with four to five guard ships, one or two submarines and more than half of the carrier-based aircraft,” Sivkov concludes. The U.S. carrier group will lose “two to three warships and 17 to 20 percent of the carrier-based aircraft. The American aircraft carrier will receive relatively little damage or none at all. In other words, the PLAN carrier group will be defeated and lose the ability to continue fighting. The U.S. carrier group will emerge from the collision only slightly weakened.”