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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I went with three other members of the soon-to-be debuted webzine Shooting Reviews to Gunsite at the end of last month. Gunsite is one of the premier shooting schools in the U.S. Gunsite was founded by the late Colonel Jeff Cooper, who is known as one of the most influential voices of the acolytes of the single-action .45 automatic. 250 Handgun is described by Gunsite as their flagship course, and in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Model 1911 handgun, Gunsite offered a 1911-focused version of the class. It seemed like a good time to go for 1911 instruction!

I did learn a couple new techniques, but probably the most useful part of the course was just the experience of firing over 1000 rounds through 1911s in less than a week, often under pressure, and sometimes in unconventional firing positions. I finally learned the real importance of thing like large sights- and it's not accuracy! I also learned to really appreciate the difference between a $550 1911, and an $1100 one.

Gunsite focuses on what they (perhaps anachronistically now) call "The Modern Technique of the Pistol". Gunsite instructors say they're a fighting school, not a shooting school, and as a fighting school, I'd say they succeed quite well. Focus on combat awareness, proper reloads, and cover is excellent. One of my companions claimed that there are newer, better, (more evolved?) handgun techniques available now. Perhaps he's right, but I believe the "Gunsite Experience" will be a positive one for anyone who can afford the time and cost to attend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Little Soviet

I am not a huge fan of the M16 family, and its civilian AR-15 counterparts. I think that it's a dirty system, and the locking lugs (the infamous "star chamber") are annoyingly hard to clean. On the positive side, ergonomics are superb, accuracy is usually very good to excellent, and perhaps best of all, the system is modular. Modular usually means it's easy to exchange one part for a somewhat different part- say, a longer barrel for a shorter one- but in the case of the AR-15, this goes even further. These rifles are separated into upper and lower receiver assemblies.

This becomes especially useful when changing calibers. If you want to switch to another caliber (which has the correct dimensions to fit inside your existing receiver, obviously), it's as simple as purchasing the upper receiver of your choice, pushing out a couple of pins with your finger or a writing pen, dropping the new receiver on, and (if necessary) using a different magazine. A literal minute of time is required to change. Once the lower receiver or receiver is purchased (the piece that the ATF defines as the firearm), the upper receiver assembly can be purchased directly, in person, or through an online retailer. So, if you have an AR-15-type rifle, to switch calibers, you just need the purchase another upper receiver, and possibly, a different caliber magazine.

The price of metals has gone up dramatically in the past few years. This, along with U.S. inflation in general, has led to substantial increases in the cost of ammunition. The least expensive centerfire ammunition now available is surplus imported ammunition, and the least expensive rifle ammunition is 5.45x39mm, available from companies such as Aim Surplus, JG Sales, and Ammoman at no more than $.15/rd, delivered. The 5.45x39mm was the Soviet attempt to duplicate the U.S. 5.56x45mm, and the Soviet round is just slightly less powerful than the .223, with the 7N6 cartridge firing a 53-grain bullet at about 3000 feet per second.

5.56x45mm, 5.45x39mm, 7.62x39mm

I have long been of the opinion that any centerfire cartridge more powerful than .22 Magnum is sufficient for military use. Smaller rounds mean more ammunition can be carried. More ammunition equals more potential threats addressed. Putting a hole through a hostile target is more important than the size of the hole. If the threat is at closer ranges, put more holes in the target. Simple. In any case, I personally believe that 5.45x39mm is just fine for defending your home or your homeland. (Though if you're defending your home, I believe in using good expanding rounds.)

Smith and Wesson now make AR-15s. They made a 5.45x39mm AR-15 upper receiver and rifle, for a while, to capitalize on the cheap ammunition available for the cartridge. CDNN has the upper receiver assemblies available for $500,

with one magazine included. Additional 5.45mm-specific magazines from CDNN are $15, though standard AR-15/M16 magazines seem to work fine for folks who've tried them. This is an extremely good deal on a complete upper receiver assembly, with cartridge ballistics very close to standard 5.56mm rifles, and the cheapest rifle ammunition you can find. I suggest you get one while you can.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stay in the Fight!

The Ultimate Fighting Championship began as a single tournament of various fighters in late 1993. It was inspired by video showing the Gracie family beating other martial artists using Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). BJJ differs from traditional (Japanese) Jujitsu in that its chief focus is on groundfighting. BJJ, and martial artists who had at least a strong BJJ or wrestling component, dominated UFC fighting.

A couple of years later, the Rangers began searching for a new system of hand-to-hand combat. Because of its success in the ring, BJJ was chosen as the basis. The new fighting system, now called Army Combatives, was introduced Army-wide in 2002, when the Field Manual (Combatives: FM 3-25.150) was published. I entered the Army in late 2001, and received the new training as I went through my Infantry Basic course.

When teamed with striking techniques, BJJ is a good fighting system, but only if two conditions are met:
opponents must be unarmed, and opponents must be alone. Going to the ground with a partner outside the ring is a good way to find yourself holding onto a man with a knife, and putting yourself deliberately in range of a sharp is a Very Bad Thing. I have unfortunately actually heard Army instructors advise deliberately going to the ground with an adversary, which is just silly. In real life, the way to win a fight without a working firearm, is to hit the adversary with something. You never go to the ground if you can help it- knocking your enemy down and then hitting him with objects or kicking him is fine.

I was dreading our several-week course of Army Combatives at BOLC. The first day, when the captain teaching the course showed up apparently still drunk, and gave us a heaping helping of his ego- also giving unsolicited advice about our training in general, even though our own training officer was present- didn't help. I can't say I loved getting up before 0430 every morning, either.

After the first day, things got a little better. The captain did (correctly) point out some very important things.
o if you can shoot the enemy, shoot him
o if you can't shoot the enemy, hit him with something
o Army Combatives was partially created so Soldiers could practice getting "close and personal" to an adversary with less risk of being injured than other types of martial arts
o if you are wrestling with an adversary on the ground, the one whose buddies show up first, wins!

Over the course of a couple of weeks, working with the variety of body sizes and types in the class reinforced some other truths.

1. Technique matters. Even when there was substantial size difference, the more skilled partner usually won.

2. Size matters. All other factors being equal, the larger partner won.

3. Strength matters. I am not much of a groundfighter, but when I took on class females, I moved almost effortlessly from position to position on them. One of these officers is a very tough, intelligent, extremely fit personal trainer. The strength gap is so great between most females and males, that a woman is going to have to put in a lot of extra training time to have enough technique to just hold her own against many men.

4. Fitness matters. Even some of the most skilled groundfighters present got worn down rapidly when "rolling" with multiple partners in relatively short order, to the point where they lost to less skilled partners.

5. Don't discount a wrestler on the ground. To the chagrin of many, not everyone in the class got to participate in our final rumble royale. Of those who did, both the heavy and light categories were won by people with wrestling backgrounds. BJJ and "mixed martial arts" are the faddish thing on the martial arts circuit now, but wrestling and boxing are still very effective methods of unarmed self-defense.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hot Fuel

I am in the fuel and water portion of my BOLC course. After 4 agonizingly boring days in the classroom, we were pumping fuel Friday. We were working on the Forward Area Refueling Equipment, designed to rapidly refuel two choppers at remote locations. Protocol is for a fire man to cover the service member hooking up the aircraft. The system being used was a "wet" system, actually pumping JP-8 fuel to decommissioned choppers with intact fuel tanks.

I had already cycled through each of the three team positions and volunteered to be the fire man for one of the last two class members. She hooked up to her chopper- a crumbling Cobra- and began pumping fuel. And, suddenly, she was shrieking, clawing at her face.

"She's got fuel in her eyes!" the trainer yelled. Oh, god. I frantically motioned for the pump man to cut the fuel, instantly ran through my options, then dropped my extinguisher and sprinted for her. I grabbed the LT by the shoulder fabric and the arm, and began hustling her towards the emergency shower. Oh, god. Oh, god. This girl's eyes may be riding on my ability to rapidly flush them. How long would figuring out the shower mechanism take? Would that delay cause permanent damage?

Now, I know how people whose eyes are on fire behave. They are very cooperative to those trying to help. The LT wasn't being very helpful. I also noticed that our trainer, who looks like he spends most of his free time in the gym, had not covered the 70 meters to us yet. Okay, I thought. But if she wants to keep playing, I'll wet her down. I looked for the shower controls.

"Stop!" the trainer commanded. He was laughing. Bastard.

My LT was told to simulate her emergency. It certainly shook me up for a few minutes. And then I thought about what I could profitably take away.

Every Army activity is supposed to start with a risk assessment. The facilitating officer or NCO identifies potential risks, and then, measures to reduce those risks. If you are in a hot environment, dehydration may be identified as a risk. A control measure may be water points nearby, and the instruction to drink water during breaks.

While risk assessments may be an Army thing, they are useful for anyone. In my case, taking just a few extra minutes to point out where the emergency showers were, and to give basic instructions on operating them would have ensured that I was as ready as possible if my emergency had been genuine. For your work or play activities, reminding everyone present of potential hazards, and how to deal with them won't take long. And it could save a life, or someone's eyes. Maybe yours.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

La Police Gear 3-Day Backpack

As a former light infantryman, good load-bearing gear is a subject I am enthusiastic about. There are few things worse than trying to carry a large amount of heavy equipment without a good pack.

I have been very happy with the packs I have from Camelbak. I bought a H.A.W.G. in 2003, and used it for carrying books weekly to class for two years, and then, took it to Afghanistan for over 10 months. (I also have a MULE that a service buddy gave to me.) I used it occasionally since then, and began carrying it again with me to work almost a year ago. Aside from a little wear on the bottom, and the name tape sewn to the back being faded, my H.A.W.G. could be a month old, instead of over seven years old.

The one area that the H.A.W.G. is sometimes not ideal, is the load-carrying capacity. It's a little over 1200 cubic inches, which is fine for a few books, or a compact change of clothes, but not big enough (for instance) for several extra-large books and a laptop. So, with winter approaching, I decided to get a larger pack.

I have frequently used LA Police Gear for buying outdoors and "tactical" products. Prices are usually very fair to great, and shipping almost always very timely. They sell a "3 Day Backpack" that they claim rivaled $100 to $250 packs. I was dubious that a pack that usually sells for $30 was that good, but since LAPG had always treated me well in the past, I decided to give it a try.

I bought the pack for an even lower than usual $25.99, along with a few other bags and containers. It shipped 17 December, 2010. My first impression was that the size was pretty good- maybe even a little larger than I needed.

I would have preferred a hydration bladder, but for $30, that was unrealistic. The zippers were large, but did not run as freely as I would like. The material felt a little thin and weak. The carry straps were reasonably well padded and wide, with an unpadded waist carry strap with a large fastex-type buckle.

 The main storage compartment also holds a netted storage pouch with zipper.

There is a storage area on the upper rear of the pack, and a larger storage area beneath it.

The overall layout of the bag seemed pretty good. Aside from the zippers sticking somewhat, and the bag material not feeling strong enough, the only major problem I had with the bag was the lack of additional small pockets for pens, knives, flashlights, lighters, multi-tools, and other small pieces of equipment. I purchased an LAPG Gear Organizer for $9.99 to give me additional space for hygiene items like a toothbrush, travel deodorant, and hand sanitizer.  (LAPG no longer seems to be offering this small bag, but it's similar to this Maxpedition.)  

The 3-day pack was sent from LAPG on the 17th of December. I used it an average of 4 days a week for just under 3 months.  With the addition of a Camelbak hydration bladder, and the organizer, the 3 Day worked well for carrying a lunch, miscellaneous small gear like cell phone and BlueTooth chargers, my gloves, balaclava, watch cap, and sometimes, a change of clothes.  While being bigger than needed for most purposes, the 3 Day was almost perfect for carrying bulky but lightweight gear.  I added an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic ring from County Comm to hold the nozzle end of my Camelbak hose, which I funneled out through a velcroed opening.  The ring worked- mostly.  It was a little too large to always securely hold the nozzle.  This was mostly just inconvenient, except when the protective "valve cover" nozzle cap was knocked aside, and the nozzle end of the drinking tube dragged on the bottom of some rarely-cleaned floor of a guard post. Considering the bladder and organizer, total cost was about $70- not too shabby for a pack this size with a hydration bladder.

And then...this happened.

This is an almost 3" rip that happened with nothing more strenous than carrying 20 pounds, and probably no more than 15 pounds worth of gear in this pack. Most of that time was spent sitting on the floor of a guard shack. Examining the rest of the pack showed this wear:

Considering the very short period before the damage, the LAPG 3 Day Pack was not a good value. You often hear "you get what you pay for". In this case, that definitely appears to be true.

In this case, I'd one of these:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We Own the Unmanned Skies

A major advantage and force multiplier for the United States in the last few years has been our unmanned aerial platforms.  UAVs like the Predator gave our intel guys "eyes in the sky" for significantly less than a manned vehicle would have cost, also while not exposing one or more US air crew to the hazards of flying over sometimes unfriendly airspace.  When armed with munitions, UAV become a way of immediately projecting force.  A "Predator pack" of 4 Predators, ground control station, and satellite link cost $20 million in 2009 dollars.  When considering that a single F16D cost about the same amount in 1998 dollars, it can easily be seen that UAVs are a very cost-efficient way to watch the battlefield and attack high-value targets with little risk to mission personnel.

The Predator is larger than many battlefield UAVs designed to give battlefield intel to nearby commanders.  The  Reaper , at 4900 pounds, with over 3500 lbs of potential payload, and up to 1150 miles of range, is even larger.  These UAVs are capable  for projecting force from a low-observability, cost-effective platform, but they are still small and slow compared to strike aircraft like the F/A-18E.  With the (J-)UCAS program, this may be changing.

The Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems has the goal of producing an unmanned strike fighter.  There are two current contenders for the title, the Boeing X-45, and the Northrop Grumman X-47.  The X-47B had its first flight 4 February 2011.