Thursday, June 23, 2016

New ARK with Retention Sheath

The ARK is a knife that Sam Owens and I designed in early 2012 during my last deployment.  Spyderco liked the overall design, but made a few tweaks for mass production or to enhance wear, like making the sheath wider.  The ARK, I can proudly say, is perhaps the best neck knife I have ever seen, being large enough for its designed task (emergency self defense), while being a true neck knife, not a "combat knife" hung on a chain.  Its shape also lends itself to doing many common tasks for those who just want a small, lightweight, completely rustproof fixed blade.

The one issue a few users had was sheath retention.  The sheath is well designed, but because it's usually hung inverted, it's vital to have a very secure fit, and at least one user lost his ARK.  Spyderco got to work on a sheath with additional retention, deciding to add a physical block to the knife coming out of its sheath.  The first ARKs with the new sheaths have just begun shipping.

The ARK with the new sheath seems to be a well-thought out solution.

Instead of just a friction fit, the sheath now has a tab that locks under the blade.


Partially open.

Retention is very secure- I exerted at least three times the force withdrawing the ARK from the old sheath would have taken without the knife moving.  I think the only way to draw the knife without pressing the retention tab would be to break the sheath.

The tab will probably be released by most people with their first finger.  It should allow a quick draw after a little practice.

There are tradeoffs with almost everything.  A left-handed owner will now have to experiment to see if they can also quickly disengage the retention tab.  The tab also means that owners with the new sheath can't begin the draw with the grip they'll keep throughout the movement, since moving at least a finger will be required.  For most people, though, the new retention sheath should provide an even more secure way to carry the ARK, even in physically vigorous situations.

John Shirley

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dazzle U

Spurred by the widespread use of digital footage in public areas and facial recognition software, a camouflage idea a hundred years old is seeing a renewal of interest.  "CV Dazzle" is the what this movement has been named.  Here's a link to a video showing it in action against Facebook's facial recognition program.
Image from
In 1914, John Graham Kerr had suggested a scheme using natural principles to make ships harder to spot.  The early 20th Century found the British and the Germans in a naval arms race, but the British stayed ahead.

SMS Kaiser from
Due to the might of the British navy, the German fleet returned to unrestricted submarine warfare around the British Isles in 1917.  (WW1 U-boat history can be found at Sharkhunters has detailed information about WWII U-boats, but unfortunately not WWI models).  Between February and April of that year, over 500 merchant vessels were sunken.   In 1917, Norman Wilkinson, a marine painter and British sailor, suggested using patterns painted on ships in a way that would confuse range-finding and targeting from U-boats.

After the war, Wilkinson went to court to claim the development of dazzle paint.  He was able to win the case and earn compensation based on his contention that Kerr's patterns were an attempt to hide the ships, while his dazzle paint was meant only to confuse U-boats stalking the ships.

A very interesting article about the development of dazzle paint can be found here.  Ohio State University has an entire section devoted to influential camouflage artists and theorists as part of The Camouflage Project

A gallery of dazzle camouflaged ships can be found here

USS West Mahomet (1918) from Wikimedia

Though dazzle paint was primarily used in WWI, and to a much lesser extend in WWII, here's a picture of a US prototype littoral warfare vessel with a modified dazzle paint scheme from 2006.

That's the story behind dazzle paint.  Created to make ships harder to hit by the enemy, it has now been adopted as a way to confuse our machine overlords and their human puppets.   If you want to use it on yourself, you can, or you can do what I do: I switch back and forth between a Guy Fawkes mask and an old-school Zorro black silk classic.  With a cape.  Recognize that, SkyNet

Thursday, February 28, 2013

CamelBak Better Bottle: Hydration on the Move

So-called survivalists may have gotten a bad rap.  The word conveys up images of burned-out 'Nam vets stockpiling vast quantities of MREs, crates of ammunition, Playboys, and hexamine tabs in the basement.  While some people may indeed just store up for the zombie apocalypse- seeing as how the nuclear holocaust  has been postponed, and all- I take a a different tack.

I think the practical way to prepare for bad times is to keep yourself in good shape all of the time. ( I know, call me crazy.  It's been said.)  With this in mind, I like keeping food, clothing, defensive items, and especially water available as much of the time as possible.  A couple of months before I left on my last deployment, I bought a Camelback Better Bottle from the Clothing and Sales store on Fort Mead.  I think it was about $13.

There is a lot to be said for keeping a small bottle of water with you at all times.  A 16 ounce bottle of liquid makes a terrific improvised defensive tool if you're jumped while on the way to the library.  Unfortunately, buying bottled water is expensive.  I keep a large Pur pitcher filled so I'll have tasty, lead-free water available.  Refilling a disposable bottle unfortunately has some health risks, so a dedicated water bottle is the way to go.

CamelBak Better Bottle

The Better Bottle version I have carries .75 liter (25 oz) of water.  The Better Bottle is a sturdy plastic bottle with a built-in plastic hook that a carabiner can be snapped onto.  The bottom part of the hook protects a rubber nozzle when it's in the closed position.  With the lid on, the Better Bottle has proven spill-proof.  The Better Bottle has been unbreakable under practical conditions, fits into most car cup holders, and is easy to clean.

I took the Better Bottle to Afghanistan.  I used it at CRC and on the trip out, but rarely used it in theater due to the bottled water that's everywhere for US troops.  It suffered no damage being shuffled around the country with me during the better part of a year.  I keep the Better Bottle with me virtually everywhere.  Having it close by reminds me to drink water, even when I'm not thirsty.  Staying hydrated is just one of the ways to be ready for that next big emergency we don't really want to happen- and be more comfortable, in the meantime.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The V-22 Osprey: Innovative, Expensive, and Dangerous

The airplane enabled people or cargo to be moved quickly and without dependence on roads.  The major downside from a military standpoint is the necessity of a runway to take off and land airplanes.  With the creation of the first practical helicopter, the FW 61 in 1937, militaries had an option that could take off and land at remote outposts with minimal landing area required.

Nothing in life is really free, and the helicopter's vertical take off and landing (VTOL) ability was offset by disadvantages.  Traditional airplanes work by forcing air across a wing, which creates lift.  Helicopters work by moving the "wing" itself, which then creates lift.  Less energy is required for an airplane to produce forward momentum to create lift than for a helicopter to spin its wings.  The helicopter cannot travel as far, fly as fast, or usually carry as much as an airplane of similar size.

The V-22 Osprey is an attempt to combine the speed and range of the airplane with the VTOL ability of a helicopter.  The Osprey has stubby airplane-like wings ending in huge rotor/propellors.  The project was begun in 1983, and the first entered service in 1999.  Along the way, costs skyrocketed, and the Marine Corps was left as the sole customer.

The Osprey in plane mode is about twice as fast as a helicopter, and does have much greater range.  What the Osprey does NOT have is sufficient armament.  Current V-22s only carry a rear-facing M240 7.62mm machine gun.  Plans to add a swiveling multi-barrel .50 machine gun to the nose of the aircraft have been tabled for the moment due to the additional cost and weight of the system.The Osprey also does not have auto-rotation.

Traditional military helicopters have the option of autorotating if they suffer a power loss in flight.  The unpowered rotors can provide enough lift to allow a controlled crash instead of the aircraft just falling from the sky.  The V-22, airplane-like, can glide down if flying in airplane mode, but pilots on V-22s are not allowed to even attempt autorotation except in simulators.  This is a serious concern for a purported combat assault aircraft which will invariably be flying in helicopter mode every time it enters or exits a small combat outpost.

The lack of sufficient defensive armament and the critical lacking autorotating ability would be damning enough without the incredible costs over-runs which have led to everyone but the Marines backing out of the project.  What remains is a very expensive aircraft that seems to perform well when operating in the current environment without significant enemy anti-aircraft threats.

The CH-53 currently in US inventory is not as fast, but actually carries  more, is well armed, and can come in fast compared to the V-22, which has a very slow allowable rate of descent.  The V-22 seems more like an exploration of abilities than a mature war-fighting machine, and it is disturbing that Marine leaders have been willing to pursue their VTOL goals at the cost of an authentic weapons system.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

1st Article

Shooting Reviews is finally up and running after several platform changes. My first article, on one of my favorite subjects, the personal light, has been posted.

In this age of bright and compact lights, I have often suggested carrying 2 or 3 lights. It's just too easy to carry a Photon microlight on a keychain, and I have frequently also carried a lower-powered task light and a higher-powered tactical/emergency one.

Redundancy is a good thing, when it comes to personal protective devices, and lights certainly fall into the category of frequently-used PPD. I still suggest carrying the Photon, or a similar small backup light, but I think you'll agree after reading the review that the ElZetta M60 is the most light you'll need for the rest of your life. It's not the most expensive light I've ever owned, but it's certainly the toughest, and I think the most useful.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Source Code

I have added a little "Easter Egg" to the blog title picture. If interested, here is more information about the ill-fated ship in the photograph. The final, violent end is here.

Suddenly, I want to knock out Billy Mitchell. Since he's not available currently, please accept this gratuitious painting of the USS Arkansas instead (click to see entire piece).

Saturday, December 3, 2011


The United States is currently fighting against opponents who are weaker militarily. When one group of combatants has significantly fewer resources (perhaps it would be more accurate to say fewer resources in kind) than another, asymmetric warfare is the natural result. Simply put, if one team can't play on the same court, that team will find another game to play. If you have fewer disciplined and equipped military forces with shorter-ranged and less accurate systems, hampered by communications challenges and facing a highly mobile enemy who has complete arial domination, how do you compete? With explosives.

Improvised explosive devices are nothing new. They were used to great effect by the Confederacy, another combatant nation considerably out-resourced by its foe. Some of the techniques used by the Confederate IED planters, most especially command-detonating buried artillery shells by wire, are essentially the same as some current threats US and Allied forces face. The HMMWV standard small vehicle that replaced the Jeep was designed for transport, not resisting blasts.

South Africa faced years of asymmetric warfare, during which mines were frequently used by anti-government forces. In response, they developed several mine-resistant vehicles, such as the Casspir.

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles have at least a couple features in common. Each has higher ground clearance to reduce transmitted shock to crew members, and a v-hull to direct most of the blast away. The US started testing MRAPs in 2004, and received the first large order in 2007. The decision that MRAPs were vital to protect US service members was quickly made, and the need was deemed urgent, so multiple companies were used to procure vehicles. These include Force Protection, who make the Cougar in 4

and 6 wheel versions, as well as the Buffalo route clearance vehicle; Navistar MaxxPro (the highest number of US MRAPs, according to Defense Industry Daily),
and others.

Each potential solution brings its own set of problems. With the MRAP, the additional protection brings a resultant size and weight penalty. This is less an issue in areas with well-developed, wide roads. Afghanistan's very poor road system, which traces its way over many mountains, limits the utility of larger vehicles. The Oshkosh M-ATV was created to conquer this challenge by providing a lighter, more mobile vehicle with the protection of the larger, heavier, MRAPs.

I had the opportunity to ride in a 4x4 Cougar and the M-ATV Thursday. Fortunately, I had no opportunity to see how either respond to detonations. They are considerably more comfortable than the HMMWV, though. It remains to be seen how well they will meet the competing demands of agility and protection for our troops.