Friday, 31 March 2017

Firearms for Covert Missions.

Regular readers will know that Friday blogs tend to be a little more off-topic than usual. They will also know that I play the occasional video game and that sometimes these inspire eccentric trains of thought.

Recently I was playing a scenario where I had to infiltrate disguised as a civilian. The game let you arm yourself with any of the weapons you had unlocked, however. The game makes you use full-automatic fire when the weapon has the capability so my “covert” weapon was a Mk48 GPMG! This got me thinking about what would actually be practical in the real world.

Usually this comes down to two choices, neither of them ideal.

One option is a compact submachine gun. A problem with these is that while there are a number of models with small dimensions even these can be surprisingly massive. Very few of them are less than six pounds. The main exception that springs to mind is the Czechoslovakian Škorpion, but this is somewhat underpowered. A few of the more recent designs like the Steyr TMP/ Brügger & Thomet MP9 are under six pounds. Machine pistols have other undesirable features. Most fire from an open bolt and the movement of a relatively massive component does not facilitate accurate fire, even when firing semi-automatically. Most designs are single action, requiring a safety to be disengaged or the weapon to be cocked before firing. Not idea for a covert weapon that may be needed at very short notice!

The usual alternative to machine pistols are handguns. The main problem with handguns in this role is accuracy.

A real world attempt at solving these problems was the Soviet APB aka APSB weapon. I first saw one of these back in the 1980s in a magazine. It had been taken from a German “lorry driver”. The APB/ APSB is a modified Stechkin APS pistol. The most notable feature is the modifications made for use with a suppressor. In most weapons 9x18mm ammunition is subsonic. The longer barrel of the Stechkin took velocity up to the transonic range. Cold weather might also lower the speed of sound to levels where any shots might break the sound barrier. To prevent this the APB had a port drilled in the barrel and bled-off gases were diverted forward into the suppressor. Like the APS the APB can be fitted with a shoulder stock. This increases the accuracy of the pistol and is probably the main reason the APS was chosen as the basis of a covert weapon system. The stock also improves control when the APB or APS is used for fully automatic fire. I suspect, however, that the main intention of the APB was to provide an agent with a compact means of accurate, suppressed fire.

The APB was an good answer to the problem of covert/ clandestine armament. The TV show “Man from UNCLE” seem to have reached a similar conclusion, although their “Specials” often mounted an extended barrel rather than or as well as a suppressor.

Vietnam-era SEAL “Hush Puppy”. US army was using subsonic .45 ammunition as its standard pistol round. North Vietnam was using subsonic 9x18mm Makarov ammunition. Hush Puppy was based on a weapon that used supersonic 9x19mm Luger ammunition so needed special subsonic loadings….

If we update this concept the first decision is a suitable weapon, or more specifically a suitable calibre. On another blog I explain that the only logical choice for a military pistol calibre is the 45 ACP. It is a proven effective combat round and it is subsonic, facilitating use with suppressed weapons. All other likely choices are either underpowered or supersonic.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s the US special forces began shopping for an “Offensive Handgun Weapon System” (OHWS). The weapon selected became the Mk23. Logically enough, it was a .45 ACP. The barrel of this weapon was a shade under 6” long. The motivation for that feature may have been to surpass the Colt Govt model that this weapon would inevitably be compared with. A friend of mine got to try out some of the early Mk23s on a shooting range. The extra barrel length caused many of the standard .45 loads he was trying to go supersonic. This drew considerable attention from other shooters. It was not, however, an ideal feature for a weapon that was intended to be used with a suppressor!

Any pistol used for a “Covert Offensive Weapon System” (COWS (I truly suck at naming things!)) should have a barrel length consistent with keeping bullet velocity subsonic under likely temperature ranges. A feature of the OHWS worth emulating is its flashlight/ Laser Aiming Module. As an intended primary weapon system it would be useful for the COWS to have a source of visible and infra-red illumination. A visibly aiming laser can be useful for intimidating an enemy and encouraging them to surrender. It can also be used to designate points of interest or potential threats. An IR laser may be the most practical way to aim the weapon when using night vision goggles.

The role of the COWS will be to provide accurate, suppressed semi-automatic fire.

The most obvious difference between systems such as the OHWS and the COWS would be the provision of a shoulder stock to facilitate accurate shooting. Some readers will be aware that shoulder-stocked Mauser pistols were a very practical alternative to conventional rifles in the early part of the previous century. An updated design of pistol stock might be telescopic or folding. Unlike some current commercial offerings it would attach to the weapon, not the magazine.

To use a pistol stock the weak hand can be used to support the butt. This is similar to the way you would fire a bipod-mounted rifle or machine gun. A variation is to place the weak-side arm under the stock and place the weak-hand on the strong-arm forearm or biceps.

UNCLE wisely provided their agents with a small optic scope. Accuracy is often improved by a better sight picture. A reflex sight would improve the effective accuracy of the weapon system.

A foregrip for the COWS may also improve effective accuracy. An interesting option is to use a spare magazine as a grip. A dedicated design of grip offers a good location to mount the flashlight and laser systems. It may still be possible to use the forward pistol grip to store a spare magazine. A foregrip that mounts under the barrel could also be used as the mounting point for a telescopic or folding stock. Mounting such a grip would immediately convert a pistol into a COWS.
COWS is essentially a collection of accessories. A suppressor, a reflex sight and a foregrip/ stock. This means it can be used with existing weapons rather than having to go through the prolonged process that often accompanies the adoption of a new weapon.

So far, I’ve not seen a flashlight/ laser/ foregrip that also mounts the stock. If you saw the movie “John Wick” or the Bond film “Spectre” you may have noticed the KPOS carbine conversion for Glock pistols. Not quite as elegant as the one-piece COWS grip I suggest, but along the right lines. The Belgium VBR-B PDW would serve as a COWS if it was available in .45 ACP calibre.

The Books

Friday, 24 March 2017

Assumed Guilt, Assumed Blame and Assumed Persecution.

This is a subject I have been meaning to write about for some time. In fact it concerns a revelation I had several decades ago. It concerns a fallacy that most of the world’s population holds to be true. One that is responsible for much of the misery and strife in the world.

Let me begin with a silly illustration. Suppose an Italian flies into London from Rome. Once in the city he announces:

“You see those straight roads? It’s me you should thank for those. Like the alphabet? Yup, me again”.

Or perhaps an Englishman flies to India.

“You like those clocktowers in the town squares? Us to thank for those. Enjoying the cricket? You are welcome!”

This is obviously stupid. Someone taking credit for something that was done generations ago. Something that would have been done long before they were born. There is a good chance that no one directly related to him was involved whatever.

This is evidently preposterous. Why then, does most of humanity hold a view that the opposite is true. Why do we maintain that someone shares the guilt for acts done generations before? Acts that may not even have been made by their ancestors. Acts that are simply accredited to the national, ethnic or religious group they are identified with.

Talk to most young Germans and they have an admirable abhorrence of the crimes of Nazism. But they have also assumed responsibility, which is a quite different thing. You are not responsible for something that happened before you were born. You are not responsible for something that if you had been around you would have had no control over anyway. This does not mean that we ignore that such things might have been wrong or even downright evil. If the human race is ever to progress it must stop blaming innocent people for the crimes of others.

For all I know my great-grandfather may have spent his Sundays running through orphanages with an axe and a flamethrower. I never met the man. If I had I would have probably had no influence over him. His guilt is not mine. Nor is that of my grandfather nor father. Nor is that of the millions of people who just happen to be of the same nationality as me. I have very little influence over the actions of my nation's politicians. Many of the choices they have made I am against. You might just like to ask what I thought before you automatically tar me with the same brush.

Many decades back an intelligent but often confused friend told me that I should feel guilty because I am white. I was in Tennessee at the time, but this still baffled me. “Being white gives you privileges and you should feel guilty about that.”

No, that is bollocks! Firstly I dispute that being white does give you privileges anymore. Tell that to my girlfriend who cannot get the money she is legitimately entitled to from the DSS because the staff at the local branch are only helping their friends and families. Secondly, I’ve never owned slaves nor dealt in them. If any of my ancestors ever were involved in the slave trade they were probably the poor sod with the mop and bucket who had the worst job on the ship! Thirdly, I have never, to my knowledge, ever met a slave. Yes, I have met people whose ancestors may have been slaves. Or whose ancestors may have been slavers, for that matter. Often glossed over is that many African tribes happily sold their enemies and prisoners into slavery. But no one I have met actually had this happen to them. That such a thing did happen to an ancestor is terrible. But it did not happen to them. Here we have the third corner of a toxic triangle. With “Assumed Guilt” and “Assumed Blame” we have “Assumed Persecution”.

Terrible things have been done in the past and we should not forget these, lest we fail to learn from them. Your ancestors may have been subject to persecution, genocide, slavery or eviction from their lands. But these things did not happen to you. This does not entitle you to do similar things to someone else. And the people you are blaming and victimizing probably are not personally responsible.
The whole world works on “I hate you because your grandfather might have done something to my grandfather”.
Currently in the world millions of people are blaming millions of other people who were not responsible for wrongs that they did not experience. And we use these crimes of previous generations to justify new crimes against the innocent.
 There is a school of thought that the only real right is to be responsible for your actions and choices. If that is the case then perhaps we also have the right not to be held responsible for the actions and choices of others.
The Books

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Soldier's Mantle.

In previous blogs we have seen how useful items such as scarves, keffiyeh and bandanas can be. North Vietnamese soldiers often favoured a neckerchief cut from camouflaged cargo parachute material. This was generally worn inside the jacket but could be spread over the shoulders for additional camouflage. A similar idea is seen below using capes of more conventional camouflage material. Capes and cloaks have often been a topic of these blogs but so far I have not made much discussion of their merits for concealment.

Recent posts should have made it clear that there is a lot more to camouflage than simply colours and pattern. Shape and silhouette are also very important. There is very little point in camouflaging your face and headgear if a distinctive head and neck shape is visible.

Some camouflage systems recognise this. The Soviet system shown below is obviously designed to conceal the distinctive head and shoulders shape. Modern sniper ghillie suits often address this too. There is, however, in some quarters, a silly attitude that such levels of shape disruption are “just for snipers or special forces”. While it is not practical for all infantrymen to operate in ghillie suits improvements can be made over current levels of camouflage. There is more involved in camouflage than simply wearing a patterned jacket and helmet cover!

Possibly the most practical approach is to create a sort of “soldier’s mantle”. In effect a short cloak or shawl. Shown below is a small net-like item that might be a good starting point. Ideally it would be a light sand colour to be suitable in the widest range of environments. A few blobs of a darker, contrasting brown colour would not hurt. Like the helmet camouflage that was described in a previous blog the camouflage effect is greatly improved if three-dimensional materials such as hessian, scrim and raffia are added. One of the reasons for selecting a net-like material is so that natural materials can be added too.

To correctly position the mantle drape it over the head as was described in this post. The material can be then folded back to gather around the neck when on the move, draped over the head for better concealment when more static. The best way to keep the mantle in place is to sew laces or toggles where you jacket collar meets the shoulder. This leaves most of the mantle free to be draped over your webbing or rucksack straps. The material hanging down in front may help conceal your weapon and chest equipment. Material at the rear will help conceal the top of your pack. The mantle should be of a size that it just covers the upper arms. The folds of the cloth help break up the shape of the shoulders, even when not worn over the head.

The Books

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Non-Slip Knot

Yesterday I learnt a new knot! I came across a rather informative article on the Kryston website which includes the “non-slip knot”.

The non-slip knot resembles some of the honda knots in that it is made from an overhand knot in the standing part. If you tie the overhand by passing a bight through a loop the knot will be half-tied already. Wrap the running end around the main part and feed the end back through the overhand knot.  This knot forms a very strong fixed size loop.

The article was about fishing line but the knot also seems to be suitable for larger cordage. It is easy to learn, easy to tie, easy to adjust and relatively easy to untie. The knot itself looks compact and neat. This is a knot that is worth adding to your repertoire.

The non-slip knot has been added to the new version of “Scrapboard Knots”.

The Books

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Isotonic Trap

 Osmosis “is a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semi-permeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one”. It is distinct from diffusion, which is movement from a region of a high concentration to regions with a lower concentration.
What has this got to do with survival, self-defence or any of the other topics this blog has been known to cover? Keep reading and all will become clear.
Suppose you have an orange. You peel the orange and drop it into a vase of water. What happens? After a while the orange begins to swell up as it absorbs water. This is osmosis. The interior of the orange is relatively concentrated with lots of sugars and other molecules. Proportionally its interior is rather low in water compared to the liquid it is floating in. The orange skin is a semi-permeable membrane in that it will let water across but not the larger molecules.
Suppose we take a big bag of salt or sugar and empty it into the water in the vase. If we add enough we may see the orange begin to shrivel. The solutes in the solution surrounding the orange are more concentrated than the orange’s interior so water is being drawn out.
This is a very important mechanism in nature and biology. To give you another example. A freshwater fish is more concentrated than the water it swims in. Its body is therefore constantly absorbing water and the freshwater fish must constantly pee to maintain an equilibrium. The sea fish, however, is surrounded by fluid that is saltier than its body fluids. Water is constantly being drawn from the sea fish and it must constantly drink to avoid “dehydration”.

Some of you may have realized that the concentration of the fluids in the glass could be adjusted so that it matched that inside the orange. There would be no net water gain or loss. Such a condition is called “isotonic”. If an environment is more concentrated than another it is termed “hypertonic” and its less concentrated compliment “hypotonic”.
Isotonic is a word you will have encountered. Many sports drinks are described as isotonic. Very often the marketing of these involves misrepresented facts and sometimes outright “snake oil”.
Sports drinks fall into two categories. The first are “power drinks”, which are effectively liquid food. They are intended to replace energy and salts (aka electrolytes) consumed during heavy exercise. They contain lots of carbohydrate, usually in the form of sugars. There will also be a smidgen of salts and other stuff. Because they contain so many solutes power drinks tend to be hypertonic.
The second category of sports drink are designed to rehydrate the body and replace salts lost from sweating. Some of these drinks are hypotonic. Many promote the fact that they are isotonic. The blurb often says something like “by being in balance with your bodily fluids drink XXX rehydrates you better than plain old water”.
Sound logical? Think back to our orange in a glass. Imagine the orange is the lumen of your gut and the liquid it is floating in is the rest of your body. When the two were isotonic there was no net movement of water! If we wanted water to leave the orange the interior of the orange needed to be hypotonic.
So, are these drinks more efficient than water? There is a grain of truth here but it is often misrepresented. I will need to sketch a crude picture of how the body moves water out of the gut. In essence what the body does is create a very high, localized concentration gradient across the gut wall. It “pumps” sodium ions across the gut wall. This is an active process that requires energy. The energy comes from ATP, which is generally generated from sugars in the gut.. This osmotic gradient created pulls water across the gut wall. Moving small quantities of sodium allows the movement of large quantities of water. It’s a bit like moving a herd of donkeys with a single carrot.
So yes, a little bit of sugar and salt will aid water uptake. But that sugar and salt don’t need to be ingested with the water. Except under extreme circumstances the body generally has sufficient reserves and humanity has managed to rehydrate drinking just pure water for millennia. Carry some raisins or boiled sweets. The replenishment of water and supply of sugars can help offset fatigue.
Taste is another factor. Because they are sweet and/or acidic it is easier for some people to drink larger volumes of sports drink than they would of water, so actual intake of water is higher. There is an interesting experiment that you can try. Take two glasses of water and add just a dash of lemon juice to one. Try each.
It should be obvious that for rehydration you need to drink something that is hypotonic, although a pinch of salt and a little sugar won’t hurt. Drinks with high carbohydrate concentrations will be poor for rehydration, despite some manufacturer’s claims.
Many sports drinks may be isotonic when they are in the can, but is this still true when they reach the gut? Isotonic saline is 0.9%. Incidentally it is useful for soaking bloodstains out of laundry. You can make some isotonic saline by dissolving 4.5 gms of salt in half a litre of water. Taste it. You will find it is way too salty to make a pleasant sports drink. Whilst sports drinks do contain some salt they mainly use sugars to make them isotonic. A body that has been exercising wants sugars and sugars are needed for water uptake, so this seems logical. An isotonic glucose solution is 5% and isotonic sucrose solution is about 9.75%. 47.25 gms per half litre! Yes, that is a lot.
Another factor to consider is that sugars and other complex carbohydrates are mainly digested in the small intestine. They are broken down into monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose and most of them will be absorbed in the small intestine. The majority of water absorption does not take place until later in the large intestine. By the time your sports drink reaches here it will have lost most of its sugars and no longer be isotonic.
Let me return to the topic of power drinks. Most people do not need to ingest calories in this manner. That includes most athletes. You are being subjected to marketing to make you think you are not really trying, not a true athlete, unless you use drink XXX. Taking in lots of calories in liquid from is a bad idea. The lack of solids means that you never feel sated. This is why we have an obesity crisis. People are drinking vast quantities of sugar as soda or fruit juice and never feeling full. It seems likely that even isotonic drinks have way more sugar than they need. You may be drinking more calories than you exercise off!

If you do need a sports drink dilute some cordial and add just a pinch of salt. A friend of mine and myself discovered that “fruit squash” is much more refreshing if you make it very dilute.
I am a qualified biologist who used to try to teach medical students science and physiology. But as always, don’t take my word for it. Do some research of your own, but be wary of advice that is actually just a rehash of marketing. Start by reading the links below.

The Books

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cross Stepping Post: Part Two.

Some time ago I started what was intended to be a series of posts on the “Cross Stepping Post”. Part One introduced two of the movements and the intention was to let the reader try these out for a couple of weeks before covering the thing as a whole. As with most of my plans, real life intervened and a year has gone by! Here is part two, the full sequence. (or rather, one side of it!) 

For part two we will only consider the footwork, which is the essence of the thing. There are some hand movements that can be added but it is better to concentrate on your footwork, balance and co-ordination for now.

Begin with your right foot slightly advanced and your left foot angled out. Your spine should be straight, your belly and bum pulled in. Your knees are slightly bent, your shoulders are relaxed and your arms hang down by your sides. Try not to look down at your feet. If you have some familiarity with Tai Chi or other soft or internal martial arts these conditions will be familiar. If you are not familiar with this body condition consult the Tai Chi section of my book or other good works on the subject.

Still with your feet in the starting position it should be possible to lift your right foot from the ground without noticeably shifting your weight. If you are new to this you probably cannot do this. This is one of the objectives you will aim for.

For the second step you raise your right foot and place it behind your left. Your calves should brush or touch. The right foot is raised “flat”, without the heel or toes lifting first. It is placed flat behind the left. This will take practice, so persevere.

For the third stage the left foot is raised and the heel passes down along the inside of the right foot. As the left heel passes the right heel the left foot straightens up. The left foot is brought forwards in a sort of sweeping action and is placed on the ground. The final foot position is a mirror of the start position. You should have maintained your balance throughout this sequence. The chances are you did not, but this will improve with practice.

For the fourth part the left foot is raised and placed down ahead of the right. The lead leg will touch the rear knee. Note that for the previous steps the forward foot has been used. The right/ forward foot is stepped back. The left foot is now the forward foot and is moved in the next two steps.

The next step involves the rear foot, which in this case is the right.

The rear/ right foot makes a semi-circular step forward. Again, lift the entire sole rather than the toes or heel. Place the entire sole down. This move returns you to the start position with your right foot advanced, although you may have changed location slightly.

The next step is the “transition” step. This will take you from a right forward stance to a left forward stance. The action is the same as the fourth step, but in this instance the right foot steps before the left. The rear foot steps forward so that you are back in the starting position, but this time with the left foot forward. You now repeat the sequence on the other side. You left foot steps behind the right. The right then withdraws and advances etc.

Here is the sequence as a single image you can print or load onto your phone.

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