Welcome to Milgeek.co.uk, my blog about my obsession with things military, including my airsoft hobby, family history in World War 2, military gaming, defence news and much more.
Watching series 3 of the Walking Dead we are slowly reaching a scenario that was perhaps inevitable, even in gun rich US of A - the ammo is running out!
Now good ol' boy Daryl - pictured above - seems to have pre-empted the eventual ammo crisis by wisely arming himself with a crossbow right from the start. Oh yes, there were those who sneered at his choice of ranged weapon in the beginning - but who's laughing now?
Bows - whether crossbow of traditional bow - do have a lot going for them. The ammunition is re-useable and they are a weapon of silent killing. The down side is, of course, the relatively low rate of fire, the expertise required to handle one correctly and their relative unsuitability for use in enclosed areas. But is there any other options?
Above: The hi-tech Carbon Express Covert SLS - 185-pound draw weight slings arrows at 342.5 fps. It's ingenious design means it is very compact and relativelt fast to reload. Things have changed a lot since the days of William Tell!
Daryl uses a comparatively cheap (about £450) Horton Scout HD 125 compound crossbow which is actually a bit old school compared to the Carbo Express pictured above. It also only shoots about 250fps but I'm not an expert on killing the undead with X-bow bolts so exactly what will go through a skull I'm not sure!
Well, discounting a blow-pipe or slingshot (!) why not get back to basics with a spear? Actually, I don't think I have to spend too much time on why that would be a bad idea - although a short stabbing spear would make a good pole arm for defence. But that's getting into the area of personal defence, we are interested in ranged fire-power...
Here's thought, black powder. The recipe for black powder is freely available on the Internet and can be produced from fairly easily found materials. So, if only the Walking Dead crew had some black powder firing weapons - like fintlocks - they would have a good fall-back for their soon to be useless center fie guns.
Now before you blow a fuse and start thinking of flintlocks as the sort of thing a pirate would use, in actual fact black powder shooting has come a long way (yes, people still like to shoot with black powder)...
You are a little limited unless you revert to 'antique' black powder fire arms, and modern black powder pistols seem to be non-existent. But it wouldn't take long for a small survivalist group to set up a black powder production line. Bullet casting is likewise a fairly simple process - these processes are all easily loked up on a number of survivalist web sites and forums.
If you want something a little more rapid fire - like a revolver - you would have to consider 'cap and ball' weapons like the Colt Navy (modern replicas are available) but then you would have to manufacture primer caps, which isn't easy. This would also open up the option to create other breach loaders, which would improve your rate of fire. At this point your are looking at having to have a more industrialised society - which, for our Walking Dead crew - would mean having a settled location, with access to a basic machine shop and (more importantly) enough man-power to scavange the materials and know-how to reproduce these advanced technical achivements.
So as things stand I'd be learning how to create primitive bows if I were them - as good flintlocks won't just be laying around. Luckily, manufacturing bows in a fairly well understood process that doesn't require hi-tech tools.
But learning to accurately firing a bow is a different matter.
How could I not return to World of Tanks for the launch of version 8.1 and the introduction of the British line of tanks?
Above: One of my favourite British tanks, and the first British tank of WW2 that really put us on a square footing with the Germans. The Comet could be considered the British Panther, it was a excellent Medium tank of good reliability, sufficient armour, superb mobility and excellent gun. Sadly it was a year too late and only saw action in the later part of the war in Europe - how different things might have been had it been the standard tank during D-Day.
I know many are scathing about this infamously 'Pay to Win' game, but my view has been the same right from the beginning - I would rather give some money towards a game that works and I enjoy than pay for some of the terrible clunkers that have been released over the past two years.
The British line of tanks has breathed new life into the game and I noticed a big rush to try them out. Although a great people seem to have done what I have been doing and saving up their silver and XP just so they could get to the stars of the show - the Comet and Centurion tanks. I had stored up enough game credits to shoot past all the early Cruiser tanks and get straight to the Comet (level VII).
Above: The legendary Centurion - perhaps one of the greatest tank of the post-war period. When designed this was considered a Heavy tank and was meant to compete with the German Tiger series, but in the post-war period it was downgraded to a Medium. This is the first of two Centurions you can earn in the game, it's the Mk. I (albeit heavily upgraded and having the excellent 20 Pounder gun).
As you can see the game developers have also given us a nice spooky Halloween theme to our garages. It's a pity we couldn't have painted our tanks to match!
World of Tanks version 8.1
Aside from the British tanks the game has been through a bit of a revamp of late, culminating in this new 8.1 version. The main difference is the introduction of game physics - the feeling that your tanks are heavy metal lumps of metal clattering over uneven and rocky ground!
It's not just a minor tweak though, maps and vehicles have been more or less redesigned completely to allow for a greater sense of reality in their interaction with one another. While in the earlier version of the game tanks seemed to skate across the ground and you didn't really get a sense of there being ground underneath your tracks, now you feel every bump and rock with bone-shuddering realism.
The first thing you notice is the friction caused by this new physics engine seems to have slowed the top speeds down somewhat - my rocket-sled M10 Hellcat feels like it's been neutered a bit!
But the main thing you will see is the change in the maps, you can now drive off cliffs and the geography has been given a tweak too so although you recognise the maps there are subtle differences that have changed the way you play them.
Worth having another go?
Well, despite the overhaul it is still the same game format underneath - those that spend gold - a lot of gold - can expect to win a lot more than those that do not. That hasn't changed.
I still find it fun, but was already tiring of it and am ready for World of Aircraft. The British tanks has given me a bit of impetus, but the lack of new maps and new ways to play has taken the edge off the joy of playing with my favourite tanks.
No sooner had I got my new iPhone home than I had SureFire's free Shot Timer app downloading. As I'm getting into practical airsoft pistol (or Action Air as the governing body - IPSC - calls it) I wanted to have a way to time my draw and fire routines. Obviously you could do so the good old fashioned way by having a mate time you with a stop watch, but as I am practicing on my own I wanted something that would automatically time my scores without my having to activate it in any way.
The SureFire Shot Timer is a free app for the iPhone which uses the smart phones built-in microphone to listen out for shots fired and so records your shot times based on that. And that's about all it does, it's a very simple tool - but that's all I need at this point. So this is a good cheap way to start your Action Air practise.
I should mention that there are other similar apps available out there - including an official and very sophisticated 'Pro' one done by UPSC themselves. But you should make sure that the one you try is meant for airsoft (the IPSC one is made for center fire shooting really) and costs $9.99. The two free ones I have encountered are suitable for airsoft - those being the SureFire one and another called 'Free Shot Timer' by Innovative Applications.
I am testing both the free ones at the moment, but my initial look at them has favoured the Innovative Applications one simply because it gives you a shot total time, which is important for IPAS and Practical Pistol (the SureFire one just lists you times and you have to do some maths for a total).
All these apps are available from the Apps Store. Links to reviews here...
A date bandied about for the SA80 ( L85A2) replacement has been 2020, although given cut-backs and the state of the country's finances this may 'creep'. However, serious discussions about this will have to start (if they haven't already) within the next five years. I personally think they have been put on ice until after Afghanistan comes to a conclusion...
Anyhoo. What choice is there? Well, frankly, at the moment it's rather like the great Henry Ford once said about the Model T - 'you can have any colour you want, as long as it's black.'
In reality that famous saying is a bit of an urban myth, but it's slight inaccuracy is sort of like the situation is with possible replacements for the SA80. There are contenders from Colt, Diemaco, FN, H&K, Steyr Mannlicher and many more, but the fact is that the majority of these so called competitors actually produce a derivative of the Armalite AR15 design. Amazingly, H&K, FN and Steyr, who are noted for their innovative G36, SCAR and AUG respectively have relented and dabbled in the Armalite format.
Above: The 'new' Steyr Mannlicher STM556. Whatever happened to the space-age AUG you might ask? Well, it seems that the whole Bulpup adventure that Europe embarked on was something of a blind alley, the majority of manufacturers are now returning to the more conventional arrangement for magazines. Photo source: The Firearm Blog
So much for market forces and competition breeding innovation!
If you research the infamous British ex-squaddie forum - ARSSE - and throw away a lot of the nonsense you do tend to get the impression that the HK416/17 is the favoured contender (along with the reintroduction of the L1A1 SLR)!
This modified variant of the Armalite design has such a good reputation that even the US Marine Corp use it in preference to the Colt manufactured version. It put's right many of the intrinsic faults with Stoner's original AR design including the introduction of a 'new' short stroke gas piston system (derived from the G36).
The SAS (and similar) use the Canadian Diemaco, although there have been recent rumours that they are turning to the H&K417 instead. If you look at the list of global Special Forces groups who use the 416/17 then the case for it's reputed reliability becomes quite strong (SF groups traditionally having the ability to chose what's 'best').
So are there ANY non-AR contenders as a possible SA-80 replacement?
Well, the FN SCAR is highly thought of and has been adopted by French and American Special Forces units. But otherwise there aren't a great many weapons systems out there that can compete with the ARs flexibility and cost effectiveness.
Above: The main SCAR versions - 5.56mm & 7.62mm - form the basis of a family of weapons for a variety of infantry roles, from CQB to sniping. The French and US Special Forces have adopted the SCAR system, but one gets the idea that the French only did this to say 'f** you, America' in that way that they do (and at least it's a Belgian design!), but I think they got a good deal. Interestingly they adopted this so they could dump thier FAMAS bullpup - can you see a pattern forming? Photo source: Wikipedia
What about a new British design?
The million dollar question. Could a UK company (which would have to mean BAE) come up with a competitor for any hypothetical replacement competition?
BAE - under the guise of their subsidiary GSC - do have the technical ability to design and build a new weapon, but considering the amount of R&D required AND the emphasis on a 'combat proven' system the likelihood as they would probably come up with - guess what - some sort of AR15/M4 based design. The UK government and MoD in all likelihood feels that they got their fingers so badly burnt wit the SA80 that anything other than a proven system will not do.
There might be a strong case for BAE setting up a manufacturing plant for the production of any successfully adopted weapon in the UK, and tradition has it that the MoD would probably add some form of modification unique to our needs. But as for a truly British military rifle, I'm afraid that will in all likelihood never happen again (unless we develop some form of phaser in the future).
In conclusion...Stating the obvious
Well, Henry Ford may have not said that famous phrase but his attributed bon mot is a truism which is uniquely apt when it comes to Western military rifles. Whatever design is chosen to replace the SA80 it will most likely be Armalite influenced.
Above: A Danish soldier using the 5.56mm HK416 in Afghanistan, the M4 (carbine) format is the current trend for infantry, but that does mean a DSR - like the 7.62mm HK417 - needs to be added to the mix for ranged engagements.
What we have to do is bite the proverbial bullet and decide whether this is actually a bad thing. Both Heckler & Koch and - more recently - Styre Manlicher have produced very worthy improvements over the original Stoner/Colt AR15/M16 designs. And whether 'we' (gun enthusiasts) like it or not British soldiers are in favour of the HK416/17 and at least we can say we have the 'best of European' designs if we do adopt it.
Me? I am actually less concerned about the platform we adopt so much as whether we will act on what we have learned in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and adopt a sensible new cartridge! (Say the 6.5mm Grendel for it's proven knock down superiority over the NATO 5.56mm round.)
...But that's a different story!
Here's a nice wee video about IPAS, one of the shooting disciplines - technically - open to airsoft pistols for competition. Now I say 'technically' as in reality - I have discovered - the UK practitioners of this sport actually use .177 lead pellets rather than 6mm plastic BBs, but with good reason.
Shooting metal plates at close quarters with BBs (plastic or steel) would be apt to cause splash back but lead pellets squash and drop (hopefully). Now I do not see any reason why you cannot practise Iron Plate with airsoft pistols - as long as you take the normal safety precautions regarding eye protection - and were I to start a Tactical Airsoft club I would include this as a format along with Practical Pistol and T.A.P.S.
It's fast and fun and unlike Practical Pistol doesn't require a lot of running round. I'm buying some 'tin' pepper pot targets this week with a view to practising some primitive IPAS type shooting, it's the ideal winter distraction for airsofters (and I don't see why a modified varient could not be cobbled together for SMGs or other CQB 'long arms').
OK, this is very much revenge after the Gunny did that 'Garand versus Lee Enfield' shoot-off in his excellent Lock'n'Load series (for the History Channel). Here he compared the British Bren - and yes, I know it's really a Czech design but the British modifications made it better - to the very nice Browning Automatic Rifle...
Now I have always like the BAR but the superiority of the Bren is undeniable. That we were still using it - in 7.62x51mm NATO - during the Falklands War is a testament to it's brilliance.
I should mention that I found a way to get the Gunny's series on UK telly - it is available if you have Sky HD Plus and go to the On Demand section, under Catch Up TV.
Above: Would you call this a 'desecration' of an American classic? Or just beautiful?
The blog world has been a funny one today. As I just finish my lunch and my regular trawl through my favourite blogs (not all military btw) - a sort of pattern has emerged regarding Americans and their adherence to traditions and reverence of 'the way things used to be done'.
For example, I just read an interesting argument over at a blog where an American Eagle Scout modified his Eagle Scout Award medal ribbon. The young guy happens to be a homosexual - and as there is a big uproar in the US about whether gays should be allowed to be Scouts this young chap made a point by changing his red, white and blue ribbon on his scouting medal to one that has the rainbow colours of the Gay Pride movement.
OK - it's a bit of a stunt. But the lad has a right to make his point. After all the US Military have officially accepted that some people are gay, why not the scouts? But, boy oh boy, has this caused a rumpus, with some people actually accusing the guy of 'desecration'! Anyway...
This brings me onto my tenuously related point about Americans and their conservative views.
The other article I read was about an American gunsmith who now offers America's favourite rifle - the M1 Garand - in a customised variant with shortened barrel and M14 style box magazine. It actually is very much like the Italian M1 variant called the MB59 and is a very beautiful - IMHO - take on the venerable Garand.
But, oh boy! Did that open up a can of worms...Accusations of ruining of a 'Masterpiece' and people taking sides for and against such a conversion.
OK, I get the iconic role the classic Garand M1 has among American gun enthusiasts and veterans, but please guys it's just a gun! It's a product of America's industrial ingenuity and production lines - it's not the Mona Lisa!
The irony is, what the Italians did - and the Americans themselves with the M14 - by adding a box magazine was to cure one of the greatest faults with the M1. A fault that cost the lives of many US troops!
In case you don't know the story - the M1 makes a resounding 'DING!' when the 8 round clip is emptied and German troops during WW2 learned to recognize this as a hint that the GI's rifle was now empty. Not something you want your enemy to know really.
So it's funny really. All that hoo-ha about 'desecrating' American icons - it all smacks of King Canute trying to hold back the sea. Still, I suppose we Brits are just the same, I still haven't forgiven 'them' for changing 'Marathon' to 'Snickers'!
...The more I look at the Mini-G with the M14 mag the more I think that if it had a bayonet lug then that would be my ideal Zombie rifle!
I don't think it's possible to be a Milgeek and not love 'The Gunny'...Since his role as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket he has carved out a career playing himself really! This included the excellent 'Lock n' Load' series that he did for the History Channel, which annoyingly only ran for one season (you can see it on YouTube).
Here's a short clip of Gunny Ermey trying out a M16 replica airsort gun...
Now, it might just be me but I think his comment about there being no difference between the AEG and a real M16 is somewhat ironic - being as he is a staunch M14 man - but I think that went right over the head of the very pleased airsoft host! But having said that I think he was genuinely impressed with the general realism of the replica...
On a safety note, however, he didn't wear shooting glasses - perhaps regarding the AEG as a 'toy' - and there was some noticeable BB bounce back when he went full auto. Naughty Gunny!
Yesterday I featured a beautiful airsoft replica of the infamous Russian AS VAL special forces silenced 'rifle', well this morning I tracked this product down to a Russian online store and to my surprise it offered a wider range of these AEGs - all mouth wateringly desirable.
The site - Soviet Propaganda, a fantastic resource for Russian surplus gear - not only has the AS VAL replica but the classic wooden stocked VSS Vintorez (see above) and a new design I haven't seen before called the SR-3M. This new AEG is even sexier than the AS VAL. What I love about this is that teh scilencer can be removed to give you a fantastic looking SMG (but this does mean that the inner barrel is a relatively short one)...
The advanced VAL - the SR-3M...
And, by removing the long scilencer, you have an amazing looking Russian SMG...
The bad news? This would be the price - the SR-3M will set you back $1,2500! But man, how cool is this SMG?
A very mean friend of mine forwarded me (...knowing as he does my inability to resist stuff like this...) a link to a Russian web site that is advertising a beautify airsoft replica of the infamous VAL silenced Special Forces rifle.
I've been toying with making my own VAL (or closly related VSS Vintorez) out of a SRC Beta Spetz AEG, but this incredible replica just blows this idea away. How much it is and whether it will even be available in the UK I do not know, but I will be keeping a eye out for this.
Co-incidentaly I did actually buy the ideal BDU outfit that would go amazingly well with this sort of gun - a superb set of Russian made Splav BEKAS in GOROD camo...
And I have been working on a nice fake Russian style helmet to go with this outfit.
The airsoft VAL seems to have been created with a level of precision craftsmanship that will no doubt come with a premium price tag, but for the Russian loadout fan this would make a very welcome alternative to the AK as a primary AEG.
Link: The AS VAL 'Airsoft Machine' (in Russian)