31 January 2013

Lance Armstrong

In college, studying biochemistry, I took a semester of "Medicinal Pharmacology and Toxicology" and one of the subjects we studies was "performance enhancing drugs" and the book we read to start the discussion was "Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping"

An entire chapter was devoted to the history of doping in professional sports.  Amphetamines, caffeine, androgen steroids, blood doping.  The doping history of the "Tour de France" has gone on longer than any living participant.

EPO is a hormone.  It is not an androgen steroid like testosterone or testosterone precursors and analogs.  EPO is a hormone that helps regulate the production of red blood cells, and also provides some benefit to healing after an injury.  Personally I don't fault Lance for taking testosterone, having lost his primary testosterone producing tissues to cancer.

Blood doping is the practice of putting your own blood back into your body to increase your blood supply.  Train at a high altitude to stimulate your body to produce more red blood cells, then donate a pint that gets stored, then before a big race get your pint back.  Now you have an extra pints worth of red blood cells to transport oxygen from your lungs to your muscles.

So the question becomes, what real benefit does this give an athlete?  The answer is that we really don't know.  Does the extra pint of blood make up for the added mass?  Does more red blood cells mean that oxygen is transported more efficiently or does the heart have to pump harder to move the added mass?

Often we find that with drugs of this class that the psychological effect is more measurable than a physical effect, although I've searched for research on EPO use in elite athletes and found nothing.  PubMed lists studies done on mice and horses which show an increase in VO2 Max in both species (5 to 19% , with no change in anaerobic power output).  The mice study showed that a high dose of EPO was associated with a decrease in voluntary activity.  I can't find a study where elite athletes have actually been tested for an increase in performance from EPO.

The truth is that EPO can be naturally produced by hypoxia, that is a lack of oxygen.  When athletes sleep in a nitrogen chamber this is what they are trying to accomplish.  Why is the nitrogen chamber perfectly legal, yet a shot of EPO to the thigh "doping"?  Why is it legal to train at high altitude, but not store blood outside your body?

These are the questions that I ask myself, that other doctors, therapists, and medical professionals ask themselves, when it comes to the realm of "performance enhancing drugs."  Especially when there is very little evidence that the practices/drugs in question actually enhance performance.

In the end I think of Secretariat, possibly the greatest racehorse of all time.  An enlarged heart, a genetic trait gifted through the breeding lines, gave Secretariat an advantage on the track that other horses could not match, no matter how much they doped.  I do not know what Lance Armstrong's eventual autopsy will reveal about his heart and lungs, but I do know that if they weren't world class, EPO and blood doping wouldn't be enough to get him where he got.

30 January 2013


One of these days I'm going to name an operation, "Operation Intangible Benefits" as an inside joke to military instructors everywhere.  Sometimes we send people through training that has no real bearing on what they will actually be doing for the military (case in point I know an admin specialist 42L who earned the Ranger tab).

Why do we send Cadets through Airborne training?  Even if they will never be a paratrooper?

Why do we award a tab for completing Ranger training?  If the training is worthy enough to stand on its own, why a piece of cloth?  RSLC, Cav Leaders Course, AALC, all longer or at least as tough as Airborne, yet no badge.  There might be some logic behind assigning an Additional Skill Identifier to getting a badge, but then that doesn't cover things like the Expert Infantryman Badge or Expert Field Medic Badge which don't have an ASI.

Why do we put so much emphasis by what goes on top of a uniform?  As a military culture we do this, and I guess it has something to do with every human's need to "prove themselves" and the accoutrements on the uniform become some of that proof.  We assume that the decorations are a proxy for the wisdom, judgement, and worth of the person wearing it.  That is why it is such a big deal when someone on active duty gets caught wearing something that they are not authorized.  In essence you are claiming to be better than you have the right to claim.

Ever wonder how the Army ever managed to win a single war without an Infantry Officer Corps that was 70% Ranger tabbed?  There is a common proverb that the clothes make the man.  That wasn't the case with Miyamoto Musashi, but there are exceptions to every rule.

The truth is that we put all those leaders, or potential leaders, through that training to get "intangible benefits" such as confidence, thorough tactical knowledge, and we put badges and tabs on those leaders so that the young Soldiers we tell them to take charge of will have confidence in their inexperienced but eager leader.

Those badges, tabs, wings...are all some proof of limited experience.  We hope that by giving young leaders enough "stressful" experiences that they will be good at handling stress, have grace under pressure.  The training really has nothing to do with the doodad you put on the uniform, it is simply an attempt to make the wearer of the uniform better.

The most decorated Division out of WWII wasn't the 101st or the 82nd.  It was the "Big Red One."  No jump wings on those uniforms.  But still, there is something about earning a decoration that causes people to strive to meet that standard, whether it be Eagle Scout or Green Beret.

But the tangible asset, whether it be a sash full of merit badges or a shoulder full of tabs, should only be an external witness to internal excellence.  Once you take off that uniform and put those tangible pieces of cloth away, if the intangible gains don't stay with you, then your time was wasted.

So train like you'll earn something.  Realize that the value isn't in the something, it is in the training.

29 January 2013

Women in the military, part XI

No matter how often I say "we need women in the military, we don't need them in the infantry" some jackwipe will post anonymously and tell me that women in the combat arms spells doom for freedom, motherhood, and apple pie.

Consider this a poll.

Have you served in the military during wartime with a gender integrated unit and with an all male unit?

Have you served in wartime with a female "attached" to handle gender sensitive jobs with the local populace?

If so, what was your experience?

The comments are open.  I look forward to hearing from those who have "been there, done that."

28 January 2013

Women in the Military, part X

Once again I've managed to stir the pot about women in the military.  So far I've managed to be called both schizo and hypocrite.  When people are calling you names it means you might be dangerously close to the truth, or so far out in left field that people should dismiss you instead of paying attention.  Since the readership of this blog has not gone down, I'm going to assume that I'm closer to the truth than fantasy.

Please watch this video, think about what the Nation is requiring from its military forces, and start asking yourself if this strategic planner doesn't make sense.


Ok, everybody understand that things won't be like they were before?  That we can't do it like we did in WWII?  That the world political situation has changed and we need to learn from the past instead of repeat it?

We can kick anyone's ass in a straight up fight.  Even with women in our ranks.  What we suck at is everything else the nation requires.

So yes, we absolutely need women in the military.  We don't need them in the infantry.  We need them for everything else.  If the civilian leadership changes the laws to allow women into more combat roles, that is their role as set up by the Constitution of the United States that all Oathkeepers are sworn to support and defend. 

And you want to support and defend the Constitution right?  The same Constitution that places the President of the United States as Commander in Chief of the militia. The same Constitution that requires the Army to have a budget that lasts no longer than two years, and must be approved by Congress.

The Constitution is silent on the gender makeup of the  Armies that Congress is allowed to raise.

If you don't want the military to do the "everything else" that the leaders you elect require of us, then take it up with those leaders and your fellow patriots.  If you want to insist that the number of pullups, or how fast you can run, is what determines military success.  Napoleon and Audie Murphy were both short men with something to prove.  There are Joan of Arcs, Lyudmilla Pavlechenkos, and Virginia Halls out there too.

27 January 2013


Recently I participated in a "team competition" where the various staff sections had to compete against each other in a 4 mile ruck march, eval, treat, and evac a casualty, weapons assembly, pullups, tire flip, high crawl and SALUTE report, water jug carry, and memorization game.

I had exactly one female on my team.  She did just fine on the ruck, litter carry.  However she couldn't do a single pull up.  She is a senior NCO, multiple combat tours under her belt, and she could not perform a single pullup.  For her entire career there has never been a single requirement for her to actually perform pullups.

First off, there are some jobs where upper body strength is a requirement.  Infantry and Field Artillery immediately come to mind, although Tankers have to handle some pretty hefty rounds in pretty small compartments as well.

Secondly, there are some jobs that do not require upper body strength, like being the tank driver, or a air ambulance medic.

Third, I've never had to do a pullup, pushup, or situp in combat.  But if I were going to assault a compound in a city I would want the men around me to be able to do pullups, in case we needed to get over a wall, negotiate around a blocked stairwell, or do something other than take the easy route.

In my career there have been requirements to do pullups.  In OCS they were required to be done before and after chow, although it wasn't a "pass/fail" event.  In Ranger school, it was a pass/fail event.  If you don't do your six perfect pullups after pushups, situps, and running five miles, so sorry try again some other time.

I'm sure some feminist will tell me that by including a team pullup event we were automatically "marginalizing our female minority" or some such bull.  I don't care about what you have between your legs, or which team you bat for, or any other sort of identifier that people want to slap on in order to get special treatment.

Erin Pallette (see sidebar for Lurking Rhythmically) has been discussing this on Facebook, and the common theme is that "don't lower the standards" which most women have voiced.  The problem with not lowing the standards is that a lot of women will fail.  It doesn't matter that half of all Ranger students already fail, no, someone will get all butt hurt that girls are failing and dictate a standards change, I'm sure of it.

But none of this is addressing any tactical need.  We don't need women in the Infantry.  We need women in Female Engagement Teams, Military Police, MI Interrogators, Civil Affairs, MISO, Medics, and even in jobs that can be done by males like admin and logistics.  We've got the "kill the enemy" part of military operations down pat, we don't need women to do that.  We need women for all the peacekeeping crap that comes after.

Thoughts on Shotguns

I think I figured out where Joe Biden got the idea that a double barrel shotgun is better than an "assault weapon" for defense, watching Matt Damon in "The Borne Identity."  Evidently when you are a specially programmed CIA assassin and all you have available is some French dudes fowling piece you are fully capable of taking on another specially programmed CIA assassin armed with a machine gun.  Only in Hollywood I guess.  Then again, in opening scenes of "The American" George Clooney was able to defeat camo'd and concealed assassins with a rifle by using his handgun, after noticing their footprints in the snow over the ice of a frozen lake (if you leave footprints in the snow for your intended victim to find, and even though you have a rifle that can take them from several football fields away, and you probably deserve to get shot by a pistol).

Here is a tip from reality, don't get your firearms tactics from Hollywood.  What looks good on screen really doesn't translate too well into reality unless the director spends a lot of money to hire really good consultants (Mark Wahlberg trained at Front Sight to prep for his role in "Shooter" despite having a domestic violence conviction), or uses active duty Navy SEALs to act out the storyline.

I'm not a shotgun man.  If you are looking for advice on shotguns, there are literally thousands of experts out there who can help you find the right scattergun for you, from trigger pull to getting a gun fitted to your particular body.  Recoil sucks.  People who claim to like recoil are weird.  A properly fitted shotgun with recoil pad goes a long way to helping tame recoil, as does proper technique.

What I do know about shotguns is what I have been trained, using shotguns for "ballistic breaching" of door hinges and locks followed by battle drill 6.

I own one shotgun, a Norinco M372 which is just a clone of the old Ithaca M37.  It is a 5 shot bottom eject pump action 12 gauge that handles 2 3/4 or 3" shells.  I got it for less than the cost of an 870, and since it is a clone getting replacement parts has been easy when needed.  I chose it because I can use it to switch shoulders and never worry about getting a spent hull to the face, which is a consideration with the M500 shotguns used by the Army.

I've been thinking about the Vice President's advice that a double barrel shotgun being "better" than an "assault weapon" for personal defense, no matter the training level of the user.  I think this advice was a deliberate choice by the VP to begin the demonization of ALL semi-auto firearms, and start planting the idea that you only need two shots (to get rid of those nasty pump action murder machines).

First off if I were going to pick a shotgun for home defense, I would likely pick a Saiga 12.  Note that the Saiga 12 is on the list of "banned" weapons as proposed by Senator Feinstein.  Why would I do that?  Because it is a semi-auto and has MUCH less recoil than a break action, pump action, or bolt action shotgun.  The Army figured out that in war, the more rounds you fire the more likely you are to stay alive (using fire to pin the enemy down while you maneuver).  This is why three Joes with Garands can out shoot four Jerry's with Mausers.  More ammo + less recoil = much more controllable firearm.

Alternative semi-auto shotguns acceptable would be Stoeger, Benelli, Winchester, Remington, and Browning.  I'm not picky.  As long as it can handle buckshot and slugs reliably it would be fine, and bottom eject is a nice feature but not a deal breaker.

However, if I were limited to a double barrel shotgun (which seems to be the goal for the anti-rights cultists), I would feel much better with 5 of them to use in a "New York Reload" fashion.  And I'd make sure my break action fowling pieces had auto ejectors.  

26 January 2013

Transitions in Computing priorities

I don't know the exact transition when computer security went from "hardware oriented" to "data oriented" but at some point the continual lowering of costs and the rising importance of digitally stored data made the priority shift.

Originally computers were exotic, expensive, and built to last.  Times changed.  What was once expensive and proprietary became cheap, ubiquitous, and disposable.  Now people don't care so much about having a particular computer to manipulate data with, only that they have some sort of device that can do it.

The old mainframe computer model worked this way, lots of "dumb" terminals with a central repository for data.  Now the mainframe model has been replaced with "the cloud."

Cloud computing is the biggest opportunity for small business to set up an electronic presence.  It is also a way for bigger corporations to make use of idle CPU cycles and unused storage space.  So from an economic standpoint "The Cloud" (depending on whose cloud you are talking about) is a huge opportunity.

On the flip side, "The Cloud" is an opportunity for disaster, if you want to keep your data private.  When your data is "everywhere" then it is essentially available to "everyone" with enough skill or access to take it.

This is fine when your business is a small candy shop in a trendy vacation town in Colorado, the number of people threatening your little piece of the pie is extremely limited.  This is a much bigger problem when you are the Department of Defense.

It has been bandied about that 90% of all classified intelligence comes from "open source" media.  Whether this is actually true or not is irrelevant, the real truth is that open source intelligence is invaluable to governments, corporations, political groups, and individuals.  The billion round DHS ammunition order?  Open source.  What the plan DHS has to do with all that ammunition?  Well that is classified.

Personally I think that the ammo order fell at a time when things are in a "use it or lose it" budget cycle and DHS needed to spend money on "something."  For the DOD the end of the fiscal year is a really good time to stock up on toner and printer paper because Lord knows you never have enough of that laying about.

But wouldn't you really like to know the truth about WHY the DHS decided it needed that much ammunition?  I would, and I'm not privy to that information.  What is more valuable now?  The information, or the computer that it is stored on?

I'm not a fan of wikileaks, but I understand the publicly stated goals of wikileaks.  In a nation such as the United States people have the responsibility to know what their government is doing in their name.  And while sensitive diplomatic cables and AH-64 videos don't reveal much in terms of overall national policy it is our right as citizens to know what is going on.  When everything is "national security" and "state secrets act" protected, then power is not where it should be.  Knowledge is power, and it is the only power that should be shared as much as possible when it comes to our political activities.

That being said, I still think Bradley Manning is a complete douche bag.  I mean seriously, if you can't squelch your conscience and do the job you volunteered for, what sort of a man are you?  Although I think that in Bradley's case his actions were more a cry for attention than an act of civil disobedience.

Knowledge is power...I like that phrase.  Information is the first step towards knowledge.  Right now no one cares about computer hardware, but the data...well the data is priceless.

Joe Biden Fail Report

In any argument people are allowed their own opinions, however they are not allowed their own facts.  Evidently this doesn't stop the vice president of the United States from speaking an untruth with a straight face.

“Guess what? A shotgun will keep you a lot safer — a double-barreled shotgun — than an assault weapon in somebody’s hands that doesn’t know how to use it, even one who does know how to use it.  You know, it’s harder to use an assault weapon to hit something than it is a shotgun, OK. So if you want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells.”
Which is exactly the reason that the Department of Homeland Security has put forth a bid for 7,000 AR-15's as a "personal defense weapon."

Maybe the Department of Homeland Security wants to kill a lot of people quickly?  According to the Violence Policy Center there is no other reason for an "assault weapon."   
The plain truth is that semiautomatic assault weapons look bad because they are bad. They were designed and developed to meet a specific military goal, which was killing and wounding as many people as possible at relatively short range as quickly as possible, without the need for carefully aimed fire. In short, they are ideal weapons
I feel a little dirty now, having quoted the VPC's "Bullet Hoses" propaganda, but it serves a point that a liberal will say absolutely anything, abandon any previously held position, and do whatever it takes to press for the agenda of the day.

So, if according to the VPC, "assault weapons" are so dangerous because they are so easy to use because of their low recoil and ability to get back on target more quickly than a manually operated firearm (including double barreled shotguns) and because they have a better range than a handgun even if they aren't a true long distance rifle (although most AR's are accurate to several football fields)....

One can only come to three possible conclusions; 1) that Joe Biden is utterly ignorant, 2) the VPC is full of shit, or 3) BOTH Joe Biden is utterly  (even purposefully) ignorant AND the VPC is full of shit.  My guess is option 3.

But then again, as President Reagan said, "It isn't that Liberals are stupid, they just know so much that isn't so."

24 January 2013

Unpossible Insurgencies

If the people don't have "military grade weaponry" then the powers that be should rest easy right?

Well, only if they are fools who don't study history.

When "military grade weaponry" isn't available, insurgents steal it from the military, adapt weapons that are available to their own use, or manufacture weapons as needed.  Clearly "gun control" is no threat to an insurgency.

Gun control is no threat to the assassin.

Gun control is no threat to the criminal.

Gun control is only a threat to someone who has something to lose by not playing by the rules.

In America, or what used to be America, the right of the people to keep and bear arms has been a hotly debated topic for centuries.  In the Dred Scott case the Supreme Court ruled that negroes could not go free as then they would enjoy the same rights as whites, including the ability to keep and bear arms where ever they chose.  The thought of armed, free, blacks (or in the case of New York, immigrants) was so scary that white people willingly laid their own legal traps against gun ownership.

The idea behind "gun control" has always been that the "uncivilized" should be mastered by their betters.  Always.

No matter the language they hide it in, "for the children", gun control has always been about keeping those uppity niggers in their place as "a reasonable solution."

When a politician talks about "second amendment remedies" liberals are reduced to pants shitting hysterics.  When private citizens talk about second amendment remedies, the liberals like to use that as yet another excuse that "the uncivilized niggers" need to be disarmed so that the good liberal (white) folk can rest easy from the threat of those who would be free.  Joan Peterson, you are a racist small minded and petty person with delusions of both adequacy and relevance.

The second amendment has always been our "Sword of Damocles" that has hung over politics in this nation.  When the South withdrew consent by force of arms, it took force of arms and an invasion to push a political agenda down the throats of those who didn't want it.  After Waco and Ruby Ridge who thinks that it "can't happen here, again?"
"Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent."   Thomas Jefferson
What good old TJ was trying to tell us, is that those who would be your masters want the power only for themselves.  And TJ would be ashamed of how the term "democrat" has been twisted into what he considered "aristocrat."  The 2nd Amendment is all about keeping an armed an dangerous populace.  Armed with weapons of war, what the liberals call "military grade weapons" is the intent of the 2nd.  Hence the "militia" language.  If the arms are not suitable for use in the militia they wouldn't need protecting.  The Founding Fathers knew this.  What they underestimated was the stupidity of the men that followed.

But what does that matter?  I can make nitric acid from urine over time (anyone can, just need access to your own urine and some readily available reagents).  Once you have nitric acid all sorts of neat explosives are readily synthesized.  So what if it is illegal?  If you are going to break a few laws, might as well make them BIG ones, right?  So what if making guns illegal has never stopped an insurgency, EVER.  Clearly gun control has nothing to do with political stability.

Gun control is the worst kind of nostrum, like opium it makes people feel a little better while slowly killing them as they have to take more and more of it to feed a mindless, irrational addiction.  There is one good medical use for opium, palliative care, when a terminal patient just needs to be made comfortable before death.  Gun control...less useful than opium.

The problem with disarming a populace to gain political power is that you make rebellion ever more likely.  And once the people are "fully disarmed" and you are able to implement your "final solution" to build your utopia, well that is the time for one of those unpossible insurgencies to happen.

Sniper Pistols and Shotguns

In the world of precision marksmanship the term "Sniper Rifle" is relatively meaningless, as the proper definition of a "Sniper Rifle" is a "rifle that is used by a sniper."  This means that Grandpa's lever action 30-30 is fully capable of being a "sniper rifle."  Other definitions have come up, one that I like is, "a rifle chosen or built for accuracy for issue to trained marksmen."  Snipers are trained to make a precision shot from a concealed position, with additional duties including scouting and serving as a forward observer for indirect fire. 

The truth is that the "sniper rifle" doesn't have to be a rifle at all.  If it can make the shot, then it can be used by a sniper. 

The sport of long range hand gun has been dominated by the Thompson Contender for as long as I can remember.  This is because of the it can handle traditional rifle cartridges (something that neither revolvers nor traditional semi auto pistols can do although some of the AR and AK pistols are exceptions) and does not bleed off any of the propellant gas between the chamber and the barrel like you would see in a revolver.  

So having a highly accurate pistol that is capable of printing MOA or smaller groups at 200 to 400 meters is a pretty awesome capability.  If I were "deer stalking" in the traditional manner a single shot pistol chambered for a suitable caliber (30-30 power level or up) then I would not feel undergunned at all.

On the other end of the spectrum, shotguns are almost universally equated with "short range" firearms.  However the existence of rifled shotgun barrels in pump, break, semi auto, and bolt action configuration changed all of that.  Now you can put three rounds inside an inch at 200 meters with a bolt gun using sabot slugs. Anyone who has seen a 175gr SMK shot at a typical vehicle windshield at the same distance will understand the usefulness of a "sniper shotgun" in that situation.  It isn't that the slug will not deflect, it is just that it will deflect a lot less.

In the grand scheme of things of "all things sniper" the actual weapon system is not much of a concern.  If the bullet can make it there with enough energy to be lethal, and you are good enough to put the bullet where you want it reliably, congratulations, some day soon the Brady Bunch and VPC will decry whatever it is you have; rifle, pistol, or shotgun, as a "long range murder weapon."  Of course the weapon is nothing of the sort, I've yet to see any tool use itself.

23 January 2013

Strategy fail

 Can you think of the last time when "attacking the enemies infrastructure, transportation, and communications networks was decisive?  Gulf war?  Nope, think again.  Civil War?  Closer, but no cigar.  Napoleon's march to Moscow?  Closer still, but not quite.

In truth you have never been able to win a war, or end a conflict, through air power or attacking the enemy's logistic support.  You can weaken them, you can make them mad, but you cannot win solely be concentrating on that which is not decisive.

All this comes about because of this comment, left by Anonymous.  Much like the myth of 20 million deer hunters spontaneously rising up and actually protecting freedom, this myth of "victory through logistics" doesn't seem to die.
Destroy economic infratstructure along with transportation and communications infrastructre and you will bring authority to its knees. Bridges, powerlines, dams, tunnels, food processing plants, waterways, power plants. Then hit the personnel. Watch the wheels grind to a halt. You don't need to eliminate the head. Mostr revolutionaries go after low level authorities and soon there is no one to cooperate with the Obamaists.
Clearly we are in the presence of a military genius, and yes that is a sarcastic insult.  I mean, it isn't as if we tried to stop the Ho Chi Minh trail, or bomb German ball bearing factories and oil refineries.  No, dominating the Confederate States of America in the "Anaconda Plan" did nothing but SET CONDITIONS for an actual confrontation between the field armies of the Union and Confederacy.

 The history of warfare is rife with examples of why sieges are the last desperate act of an army too stubborn to settle for peace.  Most wars that end in long sieges also end in a bankrupt state, as Sun Tzu taught all those thousands of years ago.

You know where the power lines are in your neighborhood, why don't you shoot them?  For the same reason you don't shoot your own foot.  You know where the bridges, dams, tunnels, and warehouses are, why don't you destroy them?  Because you travel on them, get power, water, and food from them.  And so do your neighbors.  And so do your families.

The truth is that if you hate someone else badly enough to destroy the thin veneer of civilization, you have already chosen barbarism.  And while the barbarians may be able to sack an empire, it doesn't happen overnight.  And the barbarians can never set up a better form of government than the one they just destroyed.

In an insurgency the decisive terrain is the hearts and minds of the people.  If you fight the empire, even as a barbarian, expect to lose.  There are exceptions, but they are extraordinary exceptions.  Chief Joseph failed.  The Indian victory at Little Big Horn did not change the outcome of the Indian Wars.  Stay focused.

When I was last in Afghanistan the Torkum Gate was closed for several months.  The logistic wizards made sure that the soldiers going outside the wire didn't notice the closing of the one major land line of communication.  Attacking the logistics of your enemy is a sideshow, at best setting conditions for something else.

20 January 2013


War drives technology forward.  From the first government contract for muskets with interchangeable parts leading to the industrial revolution, to the use of RADAR in WWII, to the use of GPS in Desert Storm.  Conflict makes nations and individuals strive for some sort of equipment advantage over the adversary.

War has always been fought over terrain.  Sun Tzu touched on the concept of "non-geographic terrain" in the third chapter of "The Art of War."

It is best to attack your enemies plans.
It is next best to attack your enemies alliances.
It is next best to attack your enemies Army.
It is worst to attack your enemies cities.
The first two things to attack are not geographic or formation specific (although they can be, depending on how you want to attack plans and political alliances).  These exist in the "human terrain."  Today we look at this and call it "Information Warfare" or "Lawfare" depending on how it is accomplished.

Today we have something that Master Tzu could not have dreamed of, instantaneous worldwide communications.  From round the world radio, satellite, telephone, and internet capabilities there exists the shared infrastructure that every government (and non-government groups and individuals) use to do things like "planning" and forming political alliances.

Imagine for a moment that you are the chief of a tribe in Ozztailia, and some government entity wants to put a bridge across a river on your tribal land.  For some reason you do not want this bridge, how would you go about it? 

According to Sun Tzu the best thing to do is to attack the enemies plans.  This means that the enemy has to have some level of planning, such as a budget set aside for the bridge.  The tribe could bring legal challenge after legal challenge to the bridge construction so that it becomes cost prohibitive for the government, this is using Lawfare to attack the plan.  Alternately the tribe could attack weak points between the Bridge Building Government Division and the Environmental Stewardship Division, in essence attacking the alliance.  When the bridge guys have to fight the people they are "nominally allied" to they are probably not going to be fighting you.

If anyone is following the recent rash of "registered helicopter landing pads" in rural areas where the wind energy companies are trying to build windmills, this is a form of attacking the enemies alliances.  Once the FAA recognizes a helo pad, then it is a DOE/FAA fight, not an old farmer against a relentless corporataion.

All of what I wrote above is background information for what I really want to write about, neutralizing a technological advantage.  Say that the security for the construction site building this bridge is a series of wireless IR cameras.  How would you defeat that?  I wouldn't blow them up.  I'd just find out what frequency the cameras are transmitting back to the base station on and then jam the heck out of it.

Ever wonder how important electrical engineers and hobby radio folks could be in a high tech insurgency?  When you think about all the wireless data links that modern forces rely on, then you understand that denying those links is important.  In WWII US radio operators complained that German forces would jam their radio frequencies and make them change channels constantly.  A Hollywood starlet (and a much better looking woman than half the current crop) by the name of Hedy Lamar worked with a musician to use the principle of player piano roll to automatically change frequencies, and thus the concept of "Frequency Hopping" was born. 

Now if you want to jam a "frequency hopping" radio you have to either know the hops, or jam the whole spectrum (jammers are like machine guns or indirect, if what you are doing isn't having the desired effect you need to use more).  And that is how you frustrate your enemies plans, by denying them terrain through information operations or lawfare, or denying their tactical decision making capabilities.

Spot the error in logic.  Give up?  There are only two weapons listed.
Other than the two dudes standing and kneeling, everything else is just a tool

None of this is new, the concept of "electronic warfare" have been around since before WWI.  What is new is the idea of "cyber warfare" which has been around in science fiction almost as long as it has been around in science fact.  Instead of attacking the links between devices, a cyber effect attacks the function of a device.  Stuxnet is a good example of a cyber attack that had a destructive effect.  Less lethal effects are DNS exploits or other malware that creates botnets.  A denial of service (DOS) attack takes out key nodes in the comms infrastructure. 

Right now the lawyers are arguing about where civilian hacking transitions into an act of war.  So far no one has a good answer to that and I don't have anything meaningful to add to that argument.

The picture I found on my timeline on Facebook.  It isn't that a rifle and a pistol can beat the entire might of the US Armed forces.  And while someone posted that "they have silhouettes of civilian planes" I happen to know that those "civilian planes" are actually special purpose aircraft which have some pretty awesome capabilities (even the loach is good for spotting arty and recon).  The point is that other than two guys, everything on that poster is just a tool.  And a tool doesn't do the work, a weapon doesn't win the fight.

 Think.  Understand the box, think inside and outside the box.  Turn thoughts into understanding.  Turn understanding into action. 

18 January 2013

Front sight

Two of the three rifle and pistol clubs in easy driving distance from me have published their High Power match schedules. To get prepped I took out the circular front sights on my Daisy 953 and CMP refurbed 853 air rifles and replaced them with post inserts.  Shooting with a front sight post felt like coming home.

I also got in some practice with the shooting jacket.  It is amazing how much that coat helps me stay steady.  And it is amazing how much that even without the coat I shoot better on what seems like everything else because of daily practice session in the basement.

Last November I had a chance to catch a quick trip to the Army popup qual range, and I decided that I would do it.  I ended up using an M16A4 with back up irons.  It is a bit different than shooting an A2 model.  The NCO in my section that I was shooting with that day is B4 qualified (Army Sniper) and we ended up shooting the same lane.

The lane sucked, rolling hills made the 50 meter targets a significant dip, and the 300 meter targets a significant elevation.  I shot a 34, the sniper qualified NCO shot a 32.  And that made me realize that a lot of the time when I have shot 40 out of 40 it has been on an "ideal" range, where shifts between targets are small and easily done.

It also brought back the lesson that being good on the range is not the same as being good in combat, and the other way around either.  Being good in combat isn't about tight groups, it is often about being aggressive enough and accurate enough to dominate the situation.  Being good on the target line is often about ritual perfection.

Now, that is not to say that I think competition should be abandoned, by all means it should be your primary avenue of judging your skill level.  If you are good on the target line that can only help your accuracy in combat.  However marksmanship cannot replace ruthless aggression combined with cunning wisdom.

For the last three years of my life military school or deployment has prevented me from competing in EIC matches, and this year looks to be no different.  No matter.  One thing I learned about myself from earning the Ranger tab is that it didn't fundamentally change me in any way.  A marksmanship badge is no different.  The skills needed to earn the Ranger tab, or an marksmanship medal, are much more important than the proof you earned it.

Why the Right cannot morally compromise

Lately leftist pundits have screamed loud and clear about "obstructionist" Republicans in Congress and have openly supported Harry Reid in getting the rules changed to allow Senate Democrats to run roughshod over the Republican minority.

The reason that this country is on a Leftist slide, and has been since before I was born, is that every time the Right compromises with the Left, they in essence have to move left.  The TEA party isn't radical by any stretch of the imagination, the TEA party would look like a normal political movement to either the Democrats or Republicans prior to FDR.

The radical political parties in America have always been the Communists and Socialists.  As the Democrats compromised with them (or openly colluded with and welcomed into the ranks) the Democrats went further left.

Instead of "sticking up for the little guy" the Democrats are now about "punishing the successful."  Take a look at cities and states where Democrats have successfully waged their class warfare on the successful, and spread the misery around.  By spreading the misery and then lying to the gullible about "being on your side, we just really need to take a little more away from all those rich guys that left our area and decreased our tax base, it isn't YOUR fault that you are lazy and selfish, those rich guys made you that way, it is THEIR fault!" they have consolidated their power in the urban centers.

So the slide to the left has been gradual.  The only difference in how quickly we slide down the slope is how far left we lean on the snowboard to speed up.  As anyone who has studied physics or ballistics, gravity is a constant acceleration, so as time goes on, things speed up.  The faster something is going, the more spectacular the crash.

So, the only moral move for Republicans is to stop the Democrats at every turn. The only moral move is to filibuster, and fight.  I can understand compromising with one evil so you don't get eaten by another.  But just because you have a common enemy doesn't make you friends.  Sooner or later, a compromise with evil will turn around and bite you in the ass. If you look at what we did as a nation in WWII, it all makes sense.  The Cold War that followed WWII was set up by compromising with one evil over another, which led to Vietnam, which led to Desert Storm.  History is linear, and cause and effect is relatively easy to see in hindsight.

So I am not interested in "compromise" with whatever "common sense" bullshit the talking heads are spewing in order to justify the restriction of freedoms and the trampling of human rights.

Military Departments most likely to violate your rights

The US Army National Guard, when deployed to another state under Federal powers such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the United States Air Force.
When questioned about the supposed federal agents wandering the floor, the caller said that despite the fact that OSI was a military agency, breaches of security when it came to the "kinds of equipment displayed at SHOT Show" gave them full domestic arrest powers.
The kinds of equipment displayed at SHOT Show are freely available to anyone with enough cash to buy them (with certain legalities to observe for NFA items).

Tyranny is always justified by "extreme circumstances" such as a hurricane, or "the kinds of equipment."

16 January 2013

New York gun control laws

Everything that Senator Feinstein wanted for America has been signed into law in the state of New York.  And the people of New York will not see any reduction in crime, only a reduction in freedom.

The 7 round limit in New York is sad.  High power competitors will never hear the command, "On the command of Fire you will load one two round magazine, fire two rounds, and load your eight round magazine."  Functionally High Power Service Rifle competitions are now over for the residents of the Empire State.  Oh they can own the rifle and magazines needed to compete, but load 8 rounds into that legal 10 round magazine and commit a felony.

Evidently Garands, with their 8 round magazine will still be allowed, as they are under the 10 round limit, but since it is now illegal to load a rifle with 8 cartridges, guess the Garand shooters will have to only hold 7 in the clip....

How soon do you want to bet that a loaded 8 round enbloc clip outside of a Garand is considered a "loaded magazine" in the state of New York?

The anti-rights bigots will never get the difference between "clip" and "magazine" correct.

15 January 2013


This post has been in draft form for a long time.  It really doesn't have much to do with firearms, and more to do with the things to think about when confronted by a barrier.

An ethical hunter will not take an obstructed shot on game.  The rules of good sportsmanship prohibit taking risky shots that might wound and animal. 

A Soldier or even Law Enforcement Officer may need to engage another human being who is using cover or concealment.  Let us define each.

Cover is something that stops the bullets aimed your way.  They might be able to see you (through bulletproof glass or a big block of ice), but they cannot hit you with direct fire.

Concealment simply hides you from direct observation by your opponent.  The enemy can't see you, but if they have enough bullets to shoot through the tin shack or apartment door you will learn the difference between cover and concealment the hard way.

The definitions are fairly simple, but what could be "cover" for a 9x19 could only be "concealment" to a 357 Sig.  In fact this little bit of wisdom is why the Chicago Subway Police are issued firearms in 357 Sig, it can launch a bullet fast enough to penetrate a subway seat with enough terminal velocity remaining to do significant damage to someone behind the seat.

The last few posts in the Firearms Lethality series have dealt with bullet construction and velocity.  Barrier penetration is something that has been touched on with Armor Piercing rifle ammunition and KTW pistol rounds.  The barriers designed to be defeated were made of steel.  But barriers can be anything, from sheetrock to tempered "bulletproof" glass.  The guys at the "Box O' Truth" showed that bulletproof glass really is bulletproof, for a while anyways http://www.theboxotruth.com/docs/bot48.htm.

The truth is that in order to defeat "cover" or a "barrier" all you need is time and ammunition.  I don't want to think about how many 22LR cartridges you would need to defeat NIJ level 3 rifle bulletproof glass.  But you would need significantly less 50 BMG to get the same effect.  Even standard ball 50 BMG would be fine, but specialty rounds are available just for punching through armor steel or bulletproof glass.

But, bullet design is nothing without some terminal velocity bringing kinetic energy into the act of turning cover into concealment.  Toss a rock at a bulletproof glass viewport and you might not even make enough damage to obscure vision, but hit it with a precision 12 gauge slug a couple times and things get interesting to anyone behind the glass.  Conversely, if you don't want to go the "big and slow" route, you can always go with the "screaming fast" method.  These two schools of thought are not mutually exclusive, and so you can get some really screaming tough bullets.  In a low mass, high velocity cartridge like the 5.56x45, making the projectile "tougher" is the easy answer.  If you want to compare two bullets against each other, test them against some barrier and find the "V50" numbers (lower is better).  V50 describes the velocity where 50% of the bullets defeat the armor in question.  http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA567525&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf  One should note that using standard M855 or M855A1 bullets in a higher velocity round like the 22-250 or 223 WSM would increase the range at which the bullet would remain "armor piercing."  What exactly that extra velocity would do at closer ranges is beyond my ability to predict, but assuming the bullet can behave as designed, ballistic performance against barriers should be improved.

Now, there are different types of barriers.  Bulletproof glass (and most non-homogenous armor in general) uses alternating layers of hard and soft to redirect, absorb, and disperse the kinetic energy and momentum of the projectile.  Other types of barriers, such as sandbags or snow (do not underestimate the ability of an unpacked snowbank to stop a bullet) simply use a lot of mass to bleed energy and momentum away from the projectile.  Composite materials (carbon fiber reinforced ceramic, resin impregnated aramid fibers, fiberglass reinforced concreate) use a bit of both properties (mass, and multiple materials) in order to spread out the impact to an area larger than the diameter of the projectile.

The hole in a sandbag will be the same size hole as the bullet.  The hole (or impact crater) on bulletproof glass will be orders of magnitude larger than the size of the bullet.  Some materials (like homogenous steel) behave more like sandbags than like bulletproof glass.

In the race between small arms and armor, armor has won.  That is why explosively formed projectiles and warheads have been developed, for everything from Rocket Propelled Grenades to anti tank missiles.  Because in the end, if your small arms fires simply aren't working, several pounds of explosives usually help out quite a bit.

Explosives are a lot like machine guns, if you aren't effective, you need to use more....  And if you always choose the biggest, fastest, toughest thing you have, all that remains is to ensure you have ENOUGH of it to defeat the barrier you want to defeat.

13 January 2013

Air Rifle AAR

I've been without internet for a while.  I spent the last few days shooting an air rifle match, and managed to actually score the same as some of the junior high school shooters.

Valuable lessons that I learned.

Lesson number one, in my basement, with no pressure, and no distractions, it is much easier to be a good shot.

Lesson two, on the line, with all the other shooters, it is just as much a mental game as a physical game.

Lesson three, athletic running shoes with thick soles suck, a cheap pair of WalMart style "converse" sneakers gave me a much better foundation.  Less cushion meant less wobble.

Statistically, I shot a 58%, which is the bottom level "marksman" rating.  I'm ok with that.  Having started to train in my off time three months ago this is about the level where I should be, regardless of my age.  I didn't come in last, but I came in pretty close to the bottom.  I knew that going in, and I got some good coaching on my stance work.

Last lesson I learned, single pump pneumatic rifles can be just as accurate as Pre Charged Pneumatic rifles in terms of accuracy.  But having to pump the rifle means having to rebuild your stock weld from scratch every time.  The shooters with the PCP guns and a stand to rest them on between shots didn't have to rebuild the stock weld.

That being said, I won't be buying a PCP rifle any time soon.  The Daisy 953 I have, and the 853 I picked up are accurate enough for actual training, without the need to buy a hand pump that cost more than either rifle (or the SCUBA tank and adapter to fill the PCP rifle).

In terms of Sporter PCP air rifles, the Crossman Challenger seemed to be the dominant rifle, with what appeared to be T200 shooting just as good.  The Daisy 887 made a strong showing with the JROTC clubs, and some of them posted good scores, although I saw a lot of shots pulled due to the long trigger pull of the Daisy.

Air rifle is challenging as heck, and I think I'm hooked for life.

09 January 2013


Google analysis tools tell me that I passed the 500,000 page view mark a while ago, but the original hit meter on my sidebar just turned the half million mark, and it has been there since the beginning.

Thanks for reading my random thoughts.

06 January 2013

Shooting in the wind

Wind calls are part science and art. Science because we can accurately predict what a bullet will do in a given set of conditions.  Art because in reality, wind behaves differently at different ranges.  I was shooting at a 500 yard High Power match where the flags at 500 stood straight to the left, the flag at 300 straight to the right, and the flag on the target line hung limp.  Safe to say that my wind reading skills aren't that good, and more than one Master ranked shooter that day said, "screw it" and stopped fiddling with sights and started using holdovers as the conditions changed randomly.

I have tried different software solutions over a decade ago to help train wind calls, and I'm sure that they are helpful to some people.  I found them frustrating and not very helpful, but I should probably go back and see if there are any current software solutions that will be helpful for training wind calls instead of just maintaining skills.  The first part of reading the wind is learning how to estimate wind speed based on how it interacts with flags, trees, grass, mirage, etc.

Wind Rosette chart from Flea, snipersparadise.com
The second part is is figuring out what the wind is doing between you and the target.  The wind conditions from halfway between you and the target to the target get more time to influence the bullet, so the accepted wisdom is to use that wind condition to set up your shot. 

There are two common ways to predict wind drift.  The first is to do the equation, d = w (t-t_0) which is not helpful.  Deflection equals wind velocity multiplied by the quantity of time of flight actual minus time of flight in a vacuum (ie, constant muzzle velocity).  So there is another equation that will "get you close" which is; Range [hundreds] x wind speed [mph] / constant = MOA adjustment.  The problem with this formula is that the "constant" isn't a constant, it is actually a non-linear function in its own right.  For 200 meters the constant is 10, for 800 meters the constant is 7, with an M855 bullet at 3100 fps.  When going through the SDM train the trainer course, we were told, "use 10, it will get you close enough."  Obviously this is just a simplification to get a tactical shooter on a torso sized target.

I'm a math geek, and I don't like these formulas because they are difficult to do in your head when you are behind the rifle trying to keep your front sight or cross hairs on target (red dot aiming points need not apply).

So there is the second method, which is a bit simpler.  Print out a dang ballistics table for the conditions you are shooting in.

I used the JBM Ballistic trajectory calulator (simplified) to generate this chart.  I set the zero range for 300 meters, and set the interval range for 50 meters.  This is more than enough data for an SDM to use.

The wind data is set at 10 mph, and this is a good baseline.  Got a 3 mph wind?  Divide your number by 4 to get a 2.5 mph wind correction and use that.  Got a 5 mph wind? divide by two and use that.  See where I'm going?  with simple mental math you can get pretty close, really quickly.

Now, if you don't want to do any mental math, or pull out your handy dandy calculator from your final firing position, you can do the math ahead of time to get a wind drift chart that is specific to your altitude, bullet choice, and muzzle velocity.

Wind and Lead chart, courtesy of Flea, www.snipersparadise.com
If you don't have a spotter, this is the only way to go that can get you on target relatively quickly. 

The chart to the left was generated using the same JBM ballistic calculator, but setting the wind speed to 1 mph (and this is using a standard M118LR load, not the M855 chart above).

If I do the same exercise for M855 at 3100 fps, and extend the columns for more than just 1 mph and multiply by the wind speed, I end up with something such as this.  No math necessary, print and laminate, keep handy for when you are on the firing point and have done your wind speed and direction estimate.  With a service rifle using stock sights, anything under 0.5 MOA is too small to account for (the sights are pretty rough).  With competition irons, 0.25 MOA is the limit of precision.  I don't know anyone who competes with a 0.125 MOA (1/8th MOA) scope, but they make them so I'm sure someone has them.

The chart above is for standard temp and atmospheric pressure.  Obviously a change in atmospheric density (due to temperature, humidity or altitude changes means you need to make a chart for those conditions).

If you don't making 10 ballistic charts each with the exact windspeed from 1 to 10, you don't even have to do math, just type in the numbers on your spreadsheet.  This is a "full value" chart (wind at 9 or 3), and it is easy to make a 0.866 and 0.707 chart simply by multiplying each value by .866 or .707 and labeling your chart as such.

So there it is, the easiest way to do the math for a wind correction is now, on your computer.  Print out the 3 wind tables you need for your cartridge (full value, .866 value, .707 value, you could do a half value if you really wanted to).  I guarantee you that you can flip through 4 laminated cards faster than you can plug an equation into a calculator.

What a wind chart can't give you is experience.  And if you want to get experience, there are no shortcuts.  If you don't shoot prairie dogs, compete in High Power or F-Class (or Palma), you are probably not building the experience necessary for being a good shot in the wind.

05 January 2013

Choke Points

Have you ever driven through a canyon and thought to yourself, "man I hope no one primed these canyon walls to blow and cause a landslide." as you went through?  If you have, you identified a natural choke point.  The intersection of roads, trails, and paths are natural choke points.  Canyons, bridges, are choke points (sometimes referred to as canalizing terrain). 

Examples of a cut and fill, note potential for explosive initiated landslide
It is common wisdom that choke points are a good spot to set up an ambush.  The reasoning is that the terrain naturally inhibits the enemies freedom of movement without significantly hindering your own.  This means the enemy has to stay in the kill zone longer.

Choke points are also a good place to set up checkpoints, roadblocks, and other "movement control" operations.  Whether checking for papers, overweight vehicles, contraband, or persons of interest, the basic principle is the same.  Set up an overwatch position on the choke point, set up the movement control station, and get down to business. We will come back to this aspect of choke points in a bit.

How do you choose a choke point to set up an ambush?  If you were a combat arms NCO E5 or E6, right now you are thinking, "Well the commander tells me where to go, what to do, and when to do it, so I really don't know how to pick a good area to set up an ambush."   If you were a Military Intelligence NCO, you say, "Well, I don't really pick the spot, but I nominate it based on the tools of predictive analysis to increase the likelihood of mission success."  If you were an E7 Combat Arms NCO you probably have a damn good idea where to set up a platoon level ambush and helped develop new Lieutenants so they could too.

If you were a Company Commander, you probably didn't get much love from the S2 in planning company mission priorities, so you had to put together your own team of smart guys (I've met more guys eligible for MENSA in the Infantry than in MI) and they start looking at things going on in your area.  Most of the time they get a week or two week class on how to use time wheels, pattern analysis tools.  This training helps, but in the end having a smart person look at a problem, look at data, and they will normally figure something out.

The cycle usually goes something like this:  The enemy does something twice in your area, the smart guys work through details trying to answer the question "how" the enemy did what they did.  This creates a list of infiltration and exfiltration routes.  The routes are compared against other known enemy locations and units.  The routes are prioritized and assets are assigned to watch them.  Once the enemy triggers an asset (could be anything from a security camera to a scout team) the ambush team gets the mission to go to the spot on the map where the Commander wants the enemy killed.

Chock points can isolate a town or city
That sums up a Company level targeting cycle.  Identify an enemy formation.  Identify likely places where that formation will be.  Allocate an asset to detect that enemy.  Allocate firepower to destroy the enemy.  The detection asset triggers the firepower asset.  Filling in the details for each stage of the cycle gives you the idea of how much work needs to be done to give a combat arms NCO the "do this, here, at this time" type order.

On the other side of the equation, choke points can be used to isolate.  The Torkhum Gate on the Afghan/Pakistan border is a good example of key economic terrain.  Shutting down that port of entry grinds the delivery of goods to a halt for a large chunk of real estate.

What follows is not a game plan, this is not advocacy for violence.  None of this information is classified, and you could plan this with a Rand McNally state map.  This is why security professionals tell you that you can't protect everywhere, all the time.  Think about the US state of Washington as a mental experiment in using choke points to isolate a population.  Say that the Communist Revolution Of The Common Humanity (CROTCH) took place in the Olympia Tacoma Seattle (OTS) area, the rebels managed to sabotage all the military assets not deployed from Joint Base Lewis McChord, and the communist scum were supported by sympathetic suppliers in Oregon and Colorado.  A month after the revolution anyone who wanted to leave the OTS area is gone and JBLM is being resupplied via air, but the post lacks the ability to project power without reinforcements.

How would you isolate the CROTCH from support? The southern border is mostly the Columbia river.  The Cascade mountain range cuts the state in half, and the northern border is Canada.  If you wanted to isolate OTS the easiest way to do it is to blow up bridges (I-5, (-205, US 87, and US 101) crossing the Columbia from Oregon, and blow up bridges and cause landslides on the freeway and highways that cross the Cascade range (I-90, US 14, US 2 and US 12).  This would force truck traffic to have to go all the way into Canada.  Blowing a few bridges on I-5 north of Seattle would frustrate that route as well.  Around 30 explosive devices to bring a big chunk of real estate into economic isolation.  Now OTS forces are cut off from their base of support.  The sea port remains open, but a naval blockade along the Straights of Juan de Fuca stop support coming in that way, and the airport is functionally grounded due to air superiority.

Choke points can isolate a region
If you do this, the CROTCH is in a world of hurt. 

If you want to isolate a smaller geographic area, all you have to do is identify the choke points going to and from that area, then deny them. The enemy or civil populace will react and start using low volume "rat lines" to move personnel, equipment, and food.  Rat lines are a good place to conduct ambush operations.  The only difference between a Company level operation and a Campaign level operation here is scale.  An attack is an attack is an attack (although the bigger the organization the more things you have to deconflict, so while the principle is the same the execution can be vastly different).

Conversely, if you want to "get there from here" you need to identify choke points in advance, send out advance forces to secure them (this is the role of scouts), and make sure you deny the enemy a terrain advantage over you.  This is how a large ground force invades, why every Airborne brigade has "airfield seizure" as a mission essential task, why our Engineers have bridging capabilities, and why our logisticians get to dictate the pace of movement more often than not. 

Some products are easier to disrupt using choke points than others, even on a worldwide distribution network.
So, how do you defeat an enemy that is isolating you using check points?  The best way is to cache what you need on the other side of the choke point before the enemy occupies.  Anytime you can travel light, without looking like a target, you should take that option.  The terrorist organizations in Afghanistan are pretty good at this, of course they've been setting up cache's for this purpose since the 80s.  Other methods include bribing your way through a checkpoint, smuggling items in multiple parts and assembling them later, or figuring out how to capture the material you need from the enemy closer to your objective.  Your imagination is the only limiting factor when it comes to trying to solve this problem, or use the data set to frustrate your enemy.

04 January 2013

Firearm Lethality: Concluding thoughts, for now.

When I started the Firearm Lethality series I wanted to cover a broad range of topics without going too deep into any single one of them.  Most good education programs are like this, getting the big facts and figures straight before delving deeper into specifics.  This broad coverage of a topic gives the "critical mass of knowledge" needed to understand the more detailed and harder to grasp aspects of a subject.

However, I am not a teacher.  None of this has been anything other than me trying to put what I know in some form other than my memories, sharing knowledge as opposed to instructing anyone.  I've tried to keep the physics equations to a minimum, I edited out the chemistry showing the transition from solid to gas, and only briefly touched on anatomy.  My higher education is in biochemistry, so I actually feel most confident in commenting on the chemistry portion of guns, although physics and anatomy are the two most important subjects.

So for the first time in this blog's history, is there anything someone thinks I should cover in greater depth or something that I may have overlooked? 

In my experience getting a large number of page views (for me anyways) and few comments means that people generally agreed with what they read and felt no need to add to what I wrote.  The moment I write something in error, or is understood to be in error people chime in quickly (with very good reason, there is enough falsehood and untruth going around that I don't want to add to the sum of garbage).

Conversely, if I write something that is controversial due to established cultural norms I do not lack for comments.  When I wrote about women in combat (my opinion is still that we need them, but we don't need them in the Infantry) or growing the diversity of the pro-freedom movement several comments indicated I would lose readership.  On the contrary I gained subscribers and my page view per day remained normal.

If there is nothing that anyone wants to follow down a rabbit hole, I'll put this series to bed until I'm inspired to pick it up.  If anyone wants to go deeper, the comments are open.

02 January 2013

Firearm Lethality: Bullet Flight

This post will ignore handgun bullets entirely.  Long range shots with handguns will have all the same considerations, so for the sake of simplicity I will focus on rifle bullets.

In the normal course of ballistic study bullets are shot into gelatin at 90 degrees.  The goal is to find out what the bullet will do under normal conditions at relatively short ranges.  Sometimes loads are reduced to test expansion at lower terminal velocities, to simulate a long range shot.

Shadowgraph of bullet in flight.  Note turbulent drag
There is a bit of an issue with this assumption.  Bullets don't always fly straight.  Generally they fly "straight enough" for government work.

No matter what the construction of an individual bullet is, there will be imperfections in uniformity which lead to "bullet imbalance."  The faster you spin a bullet, the greater the effect of bullet imbalance in terms of group size.  In practical terms for service rifles used for war, this doesn't mean much.  For service rifles designed for competition, it means the world.

Dr. Mann's experiment with bullet flight through screens, 1907
This imbalance will cause the bullet to fly in a decreasing spiral pattern until some optimum stabilization is achieved (where we can't detect it any more) for that projectile.  Looking at the path of a bullet 90 degrees to path of flight shows an irregular wave motion.  Not a smooth sine wave at all.  Dr. Mann's plot is instructive, but it only shows half the picture.

The other half of the picture is how the bullet is flying as observed in line with flight.  Pictured on the right on the bottom, labeled nutation, are two sets of spirals.  The greater the bullet imbalance the larger the spirals.  If there were such a thing as a mathematically perfect bullet it would fly true, and the center dot of the "nutation" column would simply be the path of flight.

Historically one of the ways to minimize bullet imbalance was to use the slowest possible twist rate for a given bullet length.  The faster the rifling twist, the more the imbalance will show, ergo the most accurate rifles all else being equal, use the slowest twist possible.  Consider the standard 1:10 twist for 308 caliber rifles.  As the twist gets slower we see accuracy platforms arise.  The 1:11.25 twist of the Remington M24 sniper weapon system has been cloned to death on the civilian market.  Palma competitors have been known to use a 1:13 twist or 1:14 twist optimized for the 155gr Palma bullet.  For those shooting 30 Benchrest, a 1:16 to 1:18 twist barrel will toss those lightweight benchrest bullets very tightly.

Remember the triad of lethality, Accuracy, Penetration, Tissue Disruption.  By maximizing accuracy with a slow twist and light bullets, we are going to limit penetration.  Twist rate is the compromise point between accuracy and penetration.  In reality, it doesn't matter very much unless you are using a firearm unsuited for the target you are shooting, but from a pure engineering perspective, it matters.  Dan Lilja wrote a very nice article about this over a decade a go, and if you haven't read it now is a good time: http://www.riflebarrels.com/articles/bullets_ballastics/bullet_imbalance_twist.htm

What twist rate you choose should not be determined by anything other than the ranges at which you intend to shoot.  If I were to build a High Power service rifle for 200 yard reduced distance courses I would have no issue at all using a 1:12 or 1:14 twist barrel shooting a 53gr Sierra Match King bullet.  However I would not choose that for a full course rifle, and in fact I chose a 1:7 Colt and 1:7.7 Krieger barrel for my service rifle which handle 80gr A-Max bullets very nicely out to 600 yards. 

And on the subject of service rifles there are a lot of myths about the M16, and the most common is "the bullet tumbles and causes horrendous wounds" which is utter nonsense.  The original M16 had a 1:14 twist which proved too slow for a 55gr bullet in sub zero Arctic conditions, so the twist was tightened to a whopping 1:12.  What is really happening is that the bullets used in the M16A1 (m193, 55gr FMJBT) and M16A2 (M855 FMJBT) were "yaw dependent" to fragment.  That chart showing bullet fragmentation at various velocities a few posts back?  That fragmentation doesn't happen reliably if the bullet has stabilized.

Donald G. Miller, International Journal of Impact Engineering

Going to the first picture in this post you see that the largest period of instability is in the first 100 yards.  By the time the bullet has reached 200 yards it will be "terminally stable" so to speak.

The diagram to the right shows how the spiral effect decreases with time and distance.  As the bullet flies through the air it loses energy relatively quickly due to drag.  This provides a level of stability, which some have theorized explains why some loads measure better at further distances.

Our M193 55gr FMJBT bullet gets stabilized rather quickly, and after about 175 meters becomes really good at poking 22 caliber holes in tissue, flipping around as all boat tail spitzer bullets do, and causing the normal wound channel we expect to see without fragmentation.

Note the smoothing of the path of flight wth distance.
All of this is fascinating, but what does it really matter?  Not much, really, but in an absolute sense, the bullet you are aiming, even if it hits perfectly, is going to impact at a different angle than you are looking at your target. At short ranges, the bullet will be rising up, at long ranges the bullet will be pointing down at an angle that increases with range.  To explain how much of a non issue this is, a 308 Winchester shooting at a mile will have one yard of drop for every seven yards of horizontal travel.  If that bullet impacted an animal, the deflection would be less than 5 inches at 4 feet inside the animal assuming normal penetration.

There you have it folks.  If you have a bullet designed to expand you don't need a yaw dependent bullet.  If you have a bullet designed to penetrate you don't need a yaw dependent bullet.  If you are stuck with what Uncle Sam (or Papa Ivan, or Supreme Leader Ying, whatever) decides to issue you, sometimes it is helpful to know when to call for a different weapon system.

Firearm Lethality: Pressure

The most important aspect of bullet accuracy is uniformity.  The powder/primer combination that turns solids into gasses to create a pressure curve needs to be very uniform which means a uniform burn rate of the powder, and a uniform resistance of the bullet to the bore.  With the same type of bullet it is not uncommon at all to get different accuracy from different powders.  This is due to harmonic vibrations and barrel timing, as well as pressure curve differences during bore time.  Bore time is the term for how long the bullet spends in the rifle after the primer has detonated.  I'm not going to go into great detail about internal ballistics, just touch on the most common types of propellants; black powder, flake powder, ball powder, and stick powder.

M1A destroyed by old '59 German milsurp 7.62x51
Primers are a "primary explosive" which means they will detonate on their own.  Smokeless powder is also an explosive, but in firearms we aren't going for an "explosion" or "detonation."  Black powder explodes, it does not burn.  We are looking to use a primary explosive to cause "deflagration" of smokeless powder, basically causing it to burn, while some sort of spark/fire (from a match, fuse, or primer) will cause black powder to explode.

Soldiers in various wars may have used C4 explosives to boil water in the field.  C4 burns very hot, and as long as you let it burn out it won't explode, however, the moment when pressure is combined with that burning heat, someone is losing a limb.  Smokeless powder will burn at atmospheric pressure quickly, so you can't use it like C4 to boil water.  But just like C4, the right combination of heat and pressure will cause it to detonate.  Safe loadings are designed to keep smokeless powder from exploding.

Why you want powder to burn, not detonate
Thankfully smokeless powder isn't as sensitive as C4, but if you let pressure get too high too quickly inside of a cartridge case the effect is the same, a loaded cartridge becomes a bomb waiting to happen.  So the key to making safe ammo is to control the pressure, by using the right amount of a powder with the appropriate burn rate.

In the first post in this series we took a look at lead projectiles being fired by black powder.  It is not a very efficient explosive as 55% of the combustion products are solids instead of gas.  But black powder explodes faster than smokeless powder burns, so in order to harness that energy bore sizes for black powder firearms are large.  The bigger an area at the base of the bullet that gas pressure has to push against the more efficiently it can move the projectile down the bore.  When a solid turns to gas, pressure is equal on all surfaces that the gas pushes against.  So the larger the bullet base, the larger a percentage of total pressure that the bullet can receive at any given time.  This is true for air guns, black powder firearms, and smokeless powder firearms.  Black powder firearms have to have large bores or the pressure would overcome the strength of the steel and turn the firearm into a bomb.
Bulky powders with >60% case fill help
prevent double charges in pistol cases

There are different "grades" of black powder, which have different speeds of detonation based on grain size.   Smokeless powder does not come in grades, but in different names with associated uses and burn rates.  Compared to smokeless powder, black powder is very uniform.  Smokeless powder ranges from ultra fast pistol powders (Norma R1), to powders slow enough to propel 20mm cannon shells (WC872).  When the range of ballistic performance is compared, black powder seems very uniform.

Without going into the details of converting a mol of smokeless powder into the equivalent molar mass of gas (I did it once to show the process) the basic volumetric change is you can expect 2.4 liters of gas from a powder charge that goes into the average 308, but at the high temperature that the gas coming off the burning powder it will be over 7 liters in volume due to heat.  Think about how much energy is in a Ford 7.3 liter Powerstroke diesel engine.  Then imagine every cylinder firing at the exact same time.  That is about the best mental comparison I can think of for how much energy is released when a rifle cartridge is touched off, and energy wise it is a poor comparison.

Leaving black powder behind, smokeless powder comes in three main shapes and three types.  Flake, stick, and ball shapes, single, double, or triple base as far as chemistry.  Single base is nitrocellulose.  Double base is nitrocellulose plus nitroglycerin or nitroguanidine.  Triple base is all three.  The shape of the powder influences things like burn rate, ease of ignition, and potential case fill (there are some powders that are "sponge" shaped by mashing them with salts and then rinsing the salt away during the manufacturing process, but I don't know of any company still using that method). 

Unique pistol/shotgun powder
very versatile
Flake powders are generally used now with pistols and shotguns.  The flat flakes have the highest surface to volume ratio of any of the powders, are generally the easiest powders to ignite, and are generally formulated for a fast burn rate due to their intended use in pistols.  It should be noted that Turk 8x57 surplus ammunition was loaded for a number of years with a flake rifle powder, so you might still find some flake rifle powder around, but it is uncommon.  Some handloaders use pistol/shotgun powders like Unique and Red Dot for reduced power rifle loads with excellent results (anyone interested should google "Ed Harris 13gr Red Dot" for more info).

Extruded powder Left, Ball powder Right
note the denser pack of ball powder
Stick powder, or "extruded" powder is generally used with rifles.  This has the lowest surface to volume ratio of any of the powders (as measured by mass, the individual kernels are much larger than ball so the same mass of ball kernels will have much more surface area than the equivalent mass of stick), but ironically because of how it "packs" in a case (more empty space between kernels of powder) it is easier to ignite consistently than ball powder.  More accuracy records have been set with extruded powder than ball powder, and it is my educated guess that the consistency of ignition is the reason behind this.  Water content of stick powders affects burn rate, so powder factories making extruded powder must account for this.  There is a reason that IMR extruded rifle powders are made in Canada.

Stick powder from Australia,
note the golden hue of the coating
Ball powders are found for both rifle and pistol.  The method for manufacturing ball powders can be done entirely under water, which is why St. Marks powder plant in Florida specializes in ball powder, as the production staff does not have to worry about humidity the way their Canadian counterparts do.  Ball powders meter the best of any shape in volumetric powder measures, and with the exception of sniper ammunition, all ammo used by the US military is loaded with ball powder.  The common wisdom that stick powder is better than ball powder comes from lots of M118SB loaded with WC846 powder, which did not shoot as well as the lots loaded with IMR4895.  In the mid 90's with the adoption of the M134 minigun a study was done on M80 ball ammo loaded with WC846 and it was found that the arsenal primers wouldn't consistently light that powder, so a powder change to WC846FS (flash suppressed) was made.

To sum up, your primer and propellent is there to create pressure by turning chemical energy into kinetic energy.  Too little is just as bad as too much, and using the wrong burn rate is potentially disastrous.  Since Accuracy is the most important aspect of lethality, it is important to have a consistent primer/powder interface that produces a shot to shot uniform pressure curve.

At the end of the day, the proof that the primer and powder did their job correctly is a hole in a target.  Modern loaders, commercial and hobbyist alike, have an amazing assortment of propellents to choose from in the quest for accuracy.

Remember that accuracy is always relative against what you are shooting.  A benchrest rifle capable of 1/8 MOA accuracy at 200 yards is more than you need for deer.  A 4 MOA service rifle is plenty for harvesting deer out to 200 yards, as long as you can maintain that level of accuracy.  Some handloaders will find a very accurate load that is at a low velocity, and choose to push the bullet faster even though it might open groups up from .5 MOA to .9 MOA.  Giving the bullet extra energy and momentum is a good thing, as the difference of .4 MOA is largely academic in most hunting/defense situations.