Putting the infantry out of work?

As many of you know, my books feature the Armored Infantry in combat in the 24th century. What this would look like would be humans encased in approx. 2.5m tall exoskeletons equipped with weaponry, supplies, armor, etc. They would be able to operate in all environments, carry very heavy loads, move fast and far, and shoot a variety of weapons better than the unaided infantryman. At this point, such powered armored suits are not available.

Something, though, tells me that people want this to happen. After all, humans are constantly looking for better ways of killing. The Armored Infantryman will eventually become a battlefield reality, I can almost guarantee it. Whether the suits are manned or unmanned is really the key question (I think for the foreseeable future they will be manned).

That’s why it peaked my interest when I became aware of the METHOD-2, a powered and manned robot created “for extreme environments” where humans might have some difficulty surviving. From what I’ve read, applications would be search and rescue, cargo handling, etc. But when you see an image of the crazy thing, its military applications are obvious as well.

And really, what better suits the description of “dangerous, extreme environments” than combat? From all reports, the METHOD-2 won’t be ready for combat or search and rescue work any time soon. Most videos I’ve seen show the robot attached to power leads. In the famous picture of Jeff Bezos in one at his MARS show you can clearly see that the machine is held up by chains. Of course, that was probably for safety reasons at a public venue. I do not doubt that the machine can stand.

For any type of practical work, the power lines and chains will have to go, obviously.

For me the import of METHOD-2 isn’t in its remarkable appearance or cool factor. It’s in the fact that people are paying a LOT of money towards research along these lines. It won’t be tomorrow, but machines like the METHOD-2 will be fielded in the future by both civilians and governmental organizations.

If the government fields such a machine, rest assured it will be armed.

No, I don’t see any lack of employment for the infantry into the future. What I see is an extreme enhancement of their ability and lethality through machines like the METHOD-2.

The Ripsaw


“Immolation,” the final installment in the Paul Thompson military sci-fi trilogy, is proceeding through its paces with my publisher. Right about now the manuscript is being put through the copyediting wringer. In a couple of weeks, I will get it back with about a million track changes that I need to approve. You never know how bad your grammar actually is until you do something like this. It’s humbling. My cover design is also being finalized, I think it looks pretty cool. Whether anybody else does… lol, we shall see.

In any case, today’s blurb is about the Ripsaw, the coolest looking mini-tank ever. To see an image of this wild little machine, just click on the link above. Apparently, the little war machine can go about 60 mph and climb very steep grades. The engine is a 600 hp diesel, it doesn’t lack for power. It has the option of two operators. Note that I said option. This little tank can be remotely operated, as well. Pretty cool.

However, the US Army can’t seem to find an appropriate use for the little buggy.

Really? That must require a truly terrifying lack of imagination. As the article above states (the first half that you can read for free, anyway), uses proposed have been as an anti-tank platform, an ambulance, an ammunition hauler (amen, brother), etc.

I’ll go with a tank killer, although the other ideas are pretty good, too. Imagine mounting a Javelin and a .50 cal on this mean little machine. Holy crap, it would run rings around regular tanks, have a very low profile, and just generally be able to shoot-n-scoot. And it doesn’t even really need human operators. I’ll bet it costs a small fraction of what a regular tank would cost, too.

That’s probably why the Army hasn’t found a “use” for this little machine yet. Its potential scares the crap out of some people.

Yeah, I know I’d talk about Trappist-1, and I will. That’s just too juicy of a subject to not comment on- seriously, three planets within the goldilocks zone and only 39 odd ly away. But this caught my eye. That robot-thing Bezos was playing with did, too.

Write soon about both.


The PKM vs. the M-240B


There are a lot of things to discuss this week, one of the big items being the exciting discoveries in the Trappist-1 system, some 39 LY from Earth. Four planets in the “goldilocks zone” of a neighboring star, exciting stuff. For the millionth time, I wish we had some kind of feasible FTL transportation. This system is worth looking at, and in terms of interstellar distances, it is fairly close by.

But that’s not what I’m going to discuss this week, I will get to it soon. Today, I will lay out my subjective judgment on two of the most widely used general purpose-machine guns in use worldwide.

These two guns are the PK series machine gun, and the M-240B, also known as the FN MAG. Both weapons have been used extensively in wars and conflicts worldwide, and they are frequently used by opposing sides, but certainly not always. I have had the pleasure of being trained on the use and employment of both, and I have used both in combat operations.

I won’t get into mechanical descriptions of the two weapons. You can read about the PK here, and the 240B here. Instead, I will give you my subjective judgment on the two based upon personal experience.

First, impressions and differences. When you set the two weapons next to each other, the first thing you notice is the “tinny” appearance of the PKM and its relatively slender build. It has a cheap looking skeleton stock, the gun looks as if it would fall apart with heavy use. That goes to show you, however, that appearances are deceiving. The PKM is tough as nails.

In contrast, the 240B looks well-made. Its receiver is a bulky block; its furniture looks solid, heavy. And it is heavy- it weighs nearly 28 pounds. Trust me, the thing is no joke to carry over long distances. The biggest walk I’ve ever made with one was some twenty miles. I thought I would die at the end of that.

The relative weights of the weapons, 17 pounds (9kg) for the PK, and 28 (12.5kg) for the 240B, is an important subject. I will return to that in a bit. Needless to say, the 240 has more heft than the humble PK.

Also, the weapons feed differently. The 240B feeds left to right, belt “sunny-side (brass exposed in the links)” down. In contrast, the PK feeds right to left, belt “sunny side” up. Also, the 240B uses the NATO standard disintegrating link, while the PK uses the old-fashioned one-piece belt.

The rounds used are more or less as powerful as one another. The 240B uses 7.62 NATO, while the PK uses the 7.62x54R. If either of these rounds hit a human target, the results are dramatic. No lack of potency with either choice. Accuracy is excellent with the 240B, it is good enough with the PK.

Field-stripping of both the weapons is pretty easy, too. If you don’t do anything dumb, there are no small parts to lose or put in backwards. By dumb, I mean tearing down the feed-tray in the field. I knew a guy who did that once, and when he went to use his weapon (the 240B) the feed mechanism fell apart into tiny parts after the first shot. Springs and pawls went everywhere; the weapon was inop. A combat mission was delayed because the guy was overzealous and did something he wasn’t supposed to do. The feed-tray on the PK is much less prone to curious-soldier tinkering. However, if used properly, both do the job very well.

Older, widespread versions of the PK can’t mount optics, while the 240B does. In a fixed position, that’s a major advantage. The 240B is known as “an automatic sniper rifle” because of its inherent accuracy, and the use of scopes like the ELCAN make it so that you can drop a burst on a dime. Also, it’s nice to have thermals mounted on a 240B at night, it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that no one is sneaking up on you in your crummy outpost in the middle of nowhere.

So which weapon is better?

My answer is ambiguous. It depends on what you’re doing, really.

Here are my subjective impressions of the two weapons.

First, some background. I worked as an advisor attached to the Afghan Army once upon a time, we used a mixture of US and Warsaw Pact weapons- we used the NSV, DShKM and M2 heavy machine guns, the Mk19 grenade launcher, the 82mm Soviet mortar, the M-240B and PKM GPMGs, the AK-47 and the M-4 rifles, the M-24 and M-107 Barrett, numerous pistols, the RPG and an M-3 grease gun. We had a real mix of stuff.

As one of my additional duties was a vehicle gunner, I got to use a lot of this stuff regularly. Also, I was the lead US advisor to an Afghan rifle company and a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. So sometimes I rode, and a lot of the time I walked.

I think the PKM is a better weapon on a dismounted patrol (dismounted=walking). Why? It weighs ten pounds less! And it works well within 500 meters- past 500 you have a lot of trouble ID’ing targets, anyway. One pain with the PK is that you have a partially expended belt dangling from the weapon, but you can stuff the thing into a pouch or something. The weapon works well, it has a nice rhythm and is dead reliable. One night on an ambush I carried a 240B up the side of a mountain- I wish I would have brought the PK, instead. By the time I made it to our position at the top, those extra ten pounds were crushing me.

For fixed position work, the 240B is the best. It is very stable, very accurate, and has the side bennie of the optics that I mentioned earlier. If you put it on a tripod with a traversing and elevation (T&E) mechanism, it cannot be beat.

The weapons are tied when used in vehicular gunnery. As weight is no longer a problem in this application, either gun does the job. I do think that the PK is a tad more responsive when you swing it onto a target, but the 240 is more accurate so it cancels out. I’ve used both off of trucks, and both work very well.

Both weapons have good ergonomics; neither weapon has truly significant flaws.

Bottom Line:

Both machine guns are first-class weapons. They share a lot of plusses, but both have some different minuses.

The 240’s big drawback is its weight. However, its weight becomes a strength in a fixed position or in a turret- the extra mass makes for more operator control. Another drawback is that you must remember to disengage the safety before cocking it; otherwise you can jam the bolt up.

The drawbacks of the PK are that stupid non-disintegrating belt, and the barrel change is not as smooth as the 240. Also, older, widespread versions can’t mount optics, a definite disadvantage. Later versions can mount optics, though. I’d love to do a field test of the two weapons side by side with optics and fixed-distance targets to get a true apples-to-apples comparison. I never had the opportunity, though, and I probably never will. Out of the business, these days.

On balance, I think the 240B edges out the PKM. However, both are excellent, first-class weapons. In an ideal world, the soldier would have his or her choice between the two for different missions. However, one rarely gets those types of choices. My team and I simply had the luck to be able to choose from a wide variety of tools in the toolbox.

Soldiers in “line” outfits get what they get. But if the choice is either a 240B or a PKM, then either way the soldiers have a fine machine gun.

You don’t want to be on the receiving end of either.


Hey, everybody.

I’ve been in a flurry of motion with the finalization of the final book in The Valley Trilogy, Immolation. I started writing in December, finished the rough draft by mid January. Then I put it out there to my crew of Betas, who did an awesome job of tweaking the product. I set an internal deadline of 15MAR17 to have the completed manuscript ready for submission to my publisher.

I am pleased to report that it’s ready for submission, all 94866 words of it. Going off of past experience, the publishing process will take several months. My company will design a cover, lay the book out in both print and ebook format, and put the script through the wringer of professional copyediting. At the other end of the process will be a shiny new book with my name on the cover, and the Valley Trilogy (and Paul Thompson’s tale) will be complete. Barring some unforeseen disaster, the book should be available NLT June.

Not sure yet where I’m going in the future, but there are some intriguing prospects out there. We shall see.

Keep an eye peeled for excerpts from the book and other stuff.


As we stood around and Pete shared his tales of Ranger School between swigs of Natural Light and the occasional tobacco-laced gob of spit, the thought struck me that everyone has his or her limits. That applied no less to an elite soldier like Pete. We had both seen those physical and mental boundaries in training and in combat.

Napoleon said “Poverty, privation, and misery are the school of the good soldier.” By those measures, Pete was an excellent soldier indeed.

Each phase of Ranger School brought new forms of punishment. Pete started at Darby, at FT Benning Georgia, where there was a five-mile run, the Army Survival Water Test, and a twelve-mile ruck. Then his class moved on to desert phase where they did “long walks between objectives.” Then they moved on to mountain phase where they did rappelling and mountaineering. Finally, there was Florida phase, where the students would finish in the swamps.

“The purpose of Ranger School is teaching people to lead in a combat environment. Because you can’t put them in combat, you take away their sleep, and you would take away their food to put everyone on edge.” He paused and continued. “People get like zombies.”

“You try to stay awake, but you’re asleep, and you don’t know you’re asleep.” Sleep was the enemy, being caught sleeping could result in flunking out of the course. According to Pete, the worst times were when you were laying in the prone. However, he was quick to add that he had fallen asleep when kneeling, or even standing or walking. “I’ve seen people fall asleep, and fall onto the ground… they’d stay asleep, after they just fell over.”

“I had started down the zombie path.” Pete was on a patrol base, pulling security. “Somehow I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was standing in the middle of a road.” This meant big trouble for Pete. He was outside his perimeter without his weapon, position unknown. “I had no idea where I was. This was an oh-shit moment at Ranger School.” He went on to say that if he had been missed, he was “fucked.”

Pete started walking up the road, and the endless ten or fifteen seconds he walked before he saw other Ranger students was “terror.” He had no idea how he had gotten to where he was, and he was frightened by what had just happened. Eventually, as low-key as he could, he found some guys from his squad, located his gear and weapon, and went back to pulling security as if nothing had happened. It was a close call. “I didn’t get caught.”

Pete mentions that they called his class the “Sunshine Class,” because they didn’t get rained on until the last phase, Florida phase. Then the rain started. “And I mean rain,” Pete says with emphasis. “In Ranger School, you’re not allowed to put on that poncho you’ve been carrying around with you in your rucksack, because the RI didn’t say you could.” It was November, and it was cold. “It sucked. You’re laying there in the prone, and water is running down the crack of your ass.” Pete was sick of lying there, soaking wet, with a thousand other places he’d rather be. A lightbulb went off in his head. He had a trash bag in his ruck, everyone was required to have one. So he got his out and put it on under his t-shirt, no-one could see a thing. He began to warm up, his misery factor ticked downwards slightly. “I was snuggly warm, like a hug from your mother.”

“People noticed what I had done.” Before he knew it, lots of people were putting on trash bags underneath their clothes. He didn’t care, “I didn’t think it would go bad.”

But it did. That night, as the students were getting into boats to paddle down a river, a Ranger Instructor was giving the students a hard time. He bumped into a student, and he heard the noise of a trash bag rustle beneath their clothes. He grabbed the student, heard the trash bag, and said “What the fuck?” The RI realized that everyone probably had the unauthorized trash bag beneath their clothes. He started grabbing students by their shirts, and if he heard the crinkle, he singled them out for punishment.

Pete knew he had to do something. Something that no-one wanted to do was to jump in the cold water first to paddle the boat. Pete really didn’t want to face the punishment that the increasingly irate RI was threatening, so he jumped in the water and swam to the back of the boat, unscathed and undiscovered. “I got away with it, I didn’t get caught.” He managed to get the trash bag off in the dark, he left it in the river.

In desert phase, “You would start moving as soon as the sun went down and the rattlesnakes came out.” The students would walk twelve to fifteen klicks, fully loaded, to an objective. Then they would walk to the next one, over and over again. Pete could hear singing in his head, he thought he was losing his mind. The walking was endless, he was bored and a little bit crazy by the end of it.

Florida phase seemed to have made the biggest impression on Pete, he came back to it again. The surging ice-cold swamp water made an impression on him, “you were in it continuously.” One night they were in chest deep water again. The RI that accompanied the students called into range safety (called “Watertown”) because the students had to build a rope bridge. Range safety called back and said that the students weren’t allowed in the water, it posed a real hypothermia risk. “Motherfucker, I’d been standing in chest deep ice-cold water for hours!” Pete said.

The RI was in trouble, and he knew it. He marched the students up on to a dry road, and they crossed the river via a permanent bridge. Pete’s toenails had mostly fallen out, but one that had not was partially loose and was digging into the toe next to it, every step was agony. His feet were bleeding.

The Ranger Instructor told the students they could turn on their “Ranger TVs.” That meant they could start a fire, one fire per four students. He needed to bring everyone’s body temperatures up. It had been a close call.

Finally, Pete had another bad experience with a rope bridge. He got volunteered to swim the rope across the river and tie off to the tree on the far side. So Pete jumped into the November water with all of his gear and a rope tied around his waist. He successfully managed to tie off, and he stood by. That’s when he heard that Watertown had again forbidden the students from swimming; it was too cold.

Pete was pissed. He was soaking wet and bone-cold; he had made the swim for nothing. He heard the RI call out. “Ranger, swim back over here. We’re not getting wet tonight.” Pete was furious. He told the RI to “Fuck off.” Pete had lost thirty pounds when he had come to the school with none to spare. He was at the end of his endurance. The RI didn’t care. Pete lost the argument; he had to swim back.

In the middle of the river, “he couldn’t do it no more.” His platoon had to pull him in by his rope, they fished him out of the scummy swamp creek like a drowned rat.

On another occasion, a carelessly tossed artillery simulator blew him out of an inflatable raft, with ringing ears and a headache he was at least relieved of the duty of paddling the boat.

By the time he graduated, he was “one scrawny, starved, smelly Ranger.”

Pete had discovered his limits, and he had learned that while the limits were real, one could always find that little bit extra that would help you cross the finish line.

Pete the Ranger showed back up at Ranger Regiment with a Ranger tab sewn to his uniform, he felt like a “god.”

Thus concludes Pete’s Ranger School tale.

More to follow from Pete.